PRIME Minister’s Questions is the entertainment high point of British people’s week and, yesterday, it also had a support act: Questions to the Secretary of State for Scotland. Aye, him.
Odd cove, Alister Jack. Lacking confidence, he comes across as a loser, which is handy because, in Scotland, he is. His dull delivery is less statesmen and more final tired speaker after a long, hot day at the Annual Conference of Socket-Weld Flange Salesmen in Tillicoultry.
His oddness suits the peculiarity of these “Scottish” proceedings. The first four questions came from Tory MPs: two from Wales, one from Burnley and one from the Scottish Borders.
The resultant hot air occasioned a storm of windbaggery about “the strength of the United Kingdom family” and “our British armed forces”, sentiments that would bring a tear to a glass eye or other inert part of the anatomy.
Matters only became interesting with a question from the SNP’s David Linden: “What recent assessment has been made of the strength of the Union?” Ooh, cheeky. Mr Jack said recent pandemic largesse wouldn’t have been possible “if Scotland was not part of the United Kingdom”.
Mr Linden said Mr Jack should get to Finland. There, in “a small independent country in the EU with a population comparable to Scotland”, self-isolating workers were paid their full wage. “What does it say about the strength of the Union that we pay Scots a measly £95 a week?”
After Finland’s warm example, a chill fell on the House as former Scottish Secretary David Mundell’s disturbing visage appeared on the large screens like a fluffy monster looking for puppies to eat. He whinged about the Nats prioritising independence over pandemic-blootering, prompting the SNP’s Mhairi Black to rejoinder: “I don’t remember that same sense of responsibility when Brexit was being bulldozed through during that same pandemic.”
Mr Jack retorted tangentially that the best place for Scotland was in the UK, “all in the rowing boat together, pulling on the oars in these choppy waters”.
Hang on, does that mean we’ve all left the sinking ship? Mr Jack got a good one in, though, when Pete Wishart (SNP) asked how Scots could acquire the democratic right to their desired referendum.
Noting the gold discs behind the former Runrig trombonist, the Scottish Secretary said he was “beginning to sound like a broken record”. Badum tish!
At PMQs, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer asked the Prime Minister to explain Britain’s having the highest Covid-19 death rate in Europe. Said Boris Johnson: “I and the Government take full responsibility.” The parliamentary equivalent of “bite me”.
Mr Starmer said: “The question on everyone’s lips this morning is: why?” To which Mr Johnson replied: “There are no easy answers.” Well, that was easy enough.
For the second week in a row, SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford failed to bluster grandiloquently about “the people of Scotland”. It must be a ploy not to be seen talking about constitutional matters, and means the PM’s sub-text of “shut up about Scotland” is getting through.
Mr Blackford said the PM “dithers and delays”, to which Mr Johnson retorted: “On the subject of dithering and delay I am delighted that the British Army is putting the Scottish Government national, er, national party Government to roll out the vaccine faster and I think that’s… one of the benefits of the Union of the UK.”
He added: “We will continue to put our arms around people across the whole of the UK.” It’s what we all feared. No. Not that they’re sending in the troops. That Boris is putting his arms around us. Gerroff!