Spin cycles

Nicola Sturgeon churns through familiar excuses at First Minister’s Questions.

Anas Sarwar took a risky scatter-gun approach to First Minister’s Questions and it paid off.

The Scottish Labour leader raised the plight of island commuters, who have been told to limit their ferry voyages, something ministers have largely taken care of already. The closest islanders are likely to get to a maritime vessel this winter is Mutiny on the Bounty on Christmas telly.

The First Minister had a glorious line about her nationalised Ferguson Marine shipyard. She told Sarwar: ‘Ferguson’s is on a journey back to recovery.’ It’s on a journey, all right. One day it might even get out of the dock.

‘The First Minister says that the company that she owns is on a journey,’ Sarwar quipped, ‘but people want ferry journeys.’

He can be a right wee scamp and he pulled the old jape of quoting Sturgeon back to herself. It’s getting a bit hackneyed but he’d brought along a good’un. Noting reports that Scottish Government ferry contracts could go to Poland, Sarwar read from the record of a 2005 debate in which an SNP MSP took the Labour First Minister of the day to task on the very subject of Ferguson contracts going overseas.

‘The First Minister must raise his game. Will the work go to Poland or will it go to Port Glasgow?’ this opposition spokesperson had fumed, adding: ‘He should take the decision and make it clear that, if it is challenged in court, he will defend it. That is called standing up for the national interest.’

Who could this mystery defender of Scottish shipyard jobs be? Turns out, if you pull off Nicola Sturgeon’s mask, Scooby Doo style, there’s another Nicola Sturgeon underneath with entirely different views. And she could’ve gotten away with it, too, if if wasn’t for those pesky Labour researchers.

Sarwar reminded her that last week ‘the health secretary told the public to think twice before calling an ambulance’.

‘Anybody in this country who needs an ambulance should phone for an ambulance,’ Sturgeon replied. ‘I am clear about that and the health secretary is clear about that… It is not helpful for people in the chamber to misrepresent the position when people’s lives are at risk.’

We cross now to the transcript of the radio interview Sarwar had taken so wildly out of context:

GARY ROBERTSON (BBC Radio Scotland): ‘Should people be thinking twice before they lift the phone to call an ambulance?’

HUMZA YOUSAF (Health Secretary, for now): ‘Yes is the short answer to that.’

I don’t know how Anas Sarwar sleeps at night.

Walking back his ambulance gaffe wasn’t the only bullet Sturgeon took for her health secretary this week. Yousaf apologised on Tuesday after the details of his plans to fix the paramedic crisis were conveniently leaked to a friendly newspaper before being announced in parliament.

This is technically a breach of the ministerial code, except the person responsible for investigating breaches is Nicola Sturgeon, which is like putting Ronnie Biggs in charge of the British Transport Police. This rigorous, independent process has concluded that Yousaf won’t be investigated.

Douglas Ross’s questions about the crisis in Accident & Emergency wards were dismissed with 1) repeated claims that A&E consultant numbers had risen 242 per cent since 2007, 2) an obligatory reference to Covid and 3) a detour into waiting times in England and Wales.

Ross was on fiery form: ‘We got the usual tactic from the First Minister of saying, “Look at what is happening in Wales. Look at what is happening in England.” Nicola Sturgeon is Scotland’s First Minister and she was Scotland’s health secretary, and I would like her to take some responsibility for what is happening in Scotland’s health service.‘

Sturgeon is a dazzling dervish of humbug, birling around awkward questions in a bluster of half-truths, red herrings and selectively deployed statistics. She cycles through more spin in an hour than a top-of-the-range Hotpoint.

Originally published in the Scottish Daily Mail on September 24, 2021.


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