In woeful strains then let us sing: Avoid Australian fare

SKETCH: Insular Holyrood bemoans the UK-Australia free trade deal.

Fretting that Scotland had missed its climate targets three years in a row, Patrick Harvie groused to Nicola Sturgeon: 'Year after year, the Greens propose stronger action and, year after year, we are told, “Don’t worry, we have a new climate plan".'

O brave new world that has such broken promises in it! If Patrick Harvie gets his hands on whoever keeps propping up this government, he won't be responsible for his actions.

The Green leader segued into a gripe about the ‘Australian trade deal that threatens to flood the country with cheap imports’, a theme picked up by fellow nationalist Jim Fairlie.

Sturgeon called for Holyrood to have a vote on approving the agreement. When I think of international trade negotiators, I often think of Fulton MacGregor. This is a parliament that took six hours to elect two deputy presiding officers. I’m not sure investor-state dispute settlement mechanisms is their forte.

The First Minister intoned darkly that the Australian deputy PM had hailed Aussies as the ‘big winners’ of the trade deal while pronouncing himself ‘not so worried’ about British farmers. Strewth! The First Minister had caught the Aussie government promoting their trade deal to Aussies as good for Aussies. Then again, hearing a government talk about its achievements must be pretty novel for Sturgeon.

Scottish nationalist efforts to turn a landmark trade deal into a grievance positively drip with paranoia and parochialism. If these upside-down, shrimp-barbieing kangaroo-wranglers think they can force their wares on us they can didgeridoo one. I mean, it starts with Tesco stocking Riverina lamb chops, then soon enough they’ll be making us swap Tennent’s for VB, River City for Home and Away and taps aff for budgie-smuggling. Before you know it, Dundee City Council will have to add ‘Crocodile’ to its letterhead.

Holyrood is seldom better than this, so whenever someone interesting or capable or unadorned by half a dozen saltire lapel pins arrives on the scene, you sit up and take notice. Russell Findlay piled in with a question about the malicious prosecutions against people connected with Rangers, noting the ‘self-inflicted damage’ done to the Crown Office’s reputation and the uncertainty over the final bill facing taxpayers.

After cheekily characterising the forthcoming inquiry as ‘the SNP agreeing to most of the Scottish Conservative demands’, the West Scotland MSP pressed the First Minister on the chairmanship.

‘One big question remains unanswered: will the judge who leads it be from outwith Scotland?’ he enquired, then, before sitting down, thrust in a final dig: ‘That is a Yes or No question.’

He didn't get a Yes or No answer (‘I think there is an argument for that’) but he drew a look the First Minister usually reserves for NEC meetings and the words ‘Pete Wishart’s been tweeting again’. I get the sense Findlay is going to make a nuisance of himself, which is to be roundly encouraged.

Presiding Officer Alison Johnstone is known to be impatient with party leaders and ministers who waffle on and squeeze out backbench questions. She reminded the chamber at the outset: ‘I have begun discussions with parties on our shared aim to include as many members as possible in FMQs, so I would be very grateful if all participating members would bear that in mind.’

Things didn’t go quite to plan. According to Philip Sim, the BBC’s admirably geeky politics maven, the leaders and the First Minister took up more time this week— 27 minutes, to be precise.

If our Antipodean cousins are going to take over anyway, maybe we should take a leaf out of their book when it comes to verbose parliamentarians. In the House of Representatives in Canberra, ‘pollies’ get 30 seconds to ask a question and when their time is up, their mic is cut and the Speaker tells them to park it.

The same treatment applies to the Prime Minister if he tries to go over the three minutes allotted for answers. I would amend this slightly to include a gunge tank and a phone-in vote.

Originally published in the Scottish Daily Mail on June 18, 2021.

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