Someone — not, as is often claimed, Churchill — said the best argument against democracy was five minutes with the average voter.
Except, that is, in Scotland, where two minutes with the average Cabinet minister will produce much the same effect. Humza Yousaf didn’t utter a peep at First Minister’s Questions but his ears must’ve been burning because the whole 45 minutes was a raised-voices, furrowed-brows, heavy-sighing run-through of his report card after five months as health secretary. It was less a parliamentary Q&A than an incredibly awkward parents’ night broadcast live on BBC Scotland. Mammy Nicola took her wee angel’s side, of course, but she did so with a look that said: ‘Just wait till I get you home.’
Things were already going badly for Yousaf. Reliant on a knee-walker thanks to a recent badminton injury — you couldn’t get more Broughty Ferry if you tried — the health secretary who earlier this week warned Scots to ‘think twice’ before phoning for an ambulance tried racing his scooter up a notoriously slippery corridor outside the debating chamber only to dokey over and land in a manner reminiscent of Stan Laurel. The health secretary has a knack for slapstick comedy: he’s three stooges for the price of one.
Having already beclowned himself, Yousaf volunteered his face for another cream pie by whipping out his phone and griping to Twitter about the BBC’s political editor Glenn Campbell posting a video of his tumble. That he got so salty only guaranteed that the clip was shared farther and wider on social media. The nine-second scene is this generation’s Zapruder film. Years from now, people will ask, ‘Do you remember where you were the day Humza Yousaf made a complete prat of himself?’ and other people will reply, ‘Sorry, could you narrow it down a bit?’
Scotland’s answer to Evel Knievel supplied the only mirth on an otherwise sombre day at Holyrood. The talk of FMQs was ambulance delays and the heartbreaking stories of patients left to fend for themselves waiting for paramedics to arrive. Lilian Briggs, an 86-year-old great-grandmother from Edinburgh, lay on a floor for eight hours before the blue lights showed up to help, while 65-year-old Glasgow man Gerard Brown died while waiting 40 hours for an ambulance.
Douglas Ross recalled that his warning last week that ambulance delays could end up costing lives was ‘met with groans from SNP members’. He urged Sturgeon to ‘accept that the ambulance service is in crisis’ but she danced around the C-word, preferring the snappier term ‘operating at Level Four of its escalation plan’.
The First Minister tried to defend her health secretary’s ‘think twice’ remarks but without much gusto. ‘The health secretary should be providing solutions,’ Ross harrumphed. ‘Instead, Humza Yousaf is the problem.’ The Tory leader proposed that it was her minister ‘who needs to think twice before he speaks’. If Yousaf doesn’t buck up his ideas, he’ll end up being the worst health secretary since Jeane Freeman.
Sturgeon revealed she was considering asking for ‘targeted military assistance’ to tackle the ambulance crisis. What a turn-up: the SNP calling in the British Army to bail them out. Sturgeon is forever protesting that her strain of flag-waving is different from the others, and it turns out she’s right. She’s the first nationalist leader in British history to launch a Troops In movement.
The Tories’ Jamie Greene brought up Ferguson Marine. In 2016, Sturgeon declared her government’s bailout of the yard was ‘living proof of how the SNP stands up for… Scottish jobs’. Now, though, ferry-building contracts are going overseas. ‘Which bit of welding together Scotland’s future ferry fleet in Romania is standing up for Scottish jobs?’ Greene wondered.
‘Ferguson’s is on a journey to recovery,’ Sturgeon chirped. ‘It has a way to go in that journey, as I think is self-evident.’ And the Titanic’s going to need a bit of a patch job before its next voyage.
Originally published in the Scottish Daily Mail on September 17, 2021.