Bad jokes and worse manners play
to empty seats
Holyrood sketch: The Times
Filed 02 Jul 09
This article was originally published in The Times on 1st July 2009.
It is reproduced here with the kind permission of its author and of the newspaper.
What a lamentable affair. A day that should have been rich in ceremony, and joyful in celebration turned into a limp and vacuous occasion, with more than a third of the MSPs whose role we were meant to be applauding, simply absent. The tenth anniversary of the Scottish Parliament, snubbed by its own members, turned into an ill-mannered comment on the democracy they represent.
Quite what the Queen made of it was hard to see. Her voice was distinctly croaky, her expression inscrutable. She peered through her spectacles at the empty seats wondering, just possibly, whether she had got the date right. The Duke of Edinburgh looked round him with cheerful resignation, as if to say: you chumps have made a bit of cock-up, haven't you?
To be fair, some members had made an effort. There was a sprinkling of kilts - the Finance Minister John Swinney, the Liberal Democrat and oldest member, John Farquhar Munro, a couple of Nationalists, Rob Gibson and Alasdair Allan, the Labour MSP Lewis Macdonald; and the Presiding Officer Alex Fergusson had donned a pair of tartan trews. Seizing the moment, Angela Constance, the SNP member for Livingston, wore a fetching hat in black lace.
But, oh what a dismal show it was. Apart from a spirited fanfare from the brass players of the Royal Scottish Academy of Music, the cultural contribution was a dire rendition of a Burns song with a few falsetto moments and a strumming guitar of the kind one used to tell one's children to desist from in case they disturbed the neighbours.
As for the speeches, well, the best that one can say is that they passed muster. But the reality in front of us never lived up to the rhetoric. “We find ourselves in a parliament that has established itself as one of the most open and innovative in Europe,” said the Presiding Officer. Hmm. “We have become a parliament worthy of the name and the nation,” boasted the First Minister. Double hmm. The Queen sounded a more salutory note of warning: “Your challenge ... is to ensure that [the Parliament] continues to reflect the priorities and aspirations of all Scotland's people (her emphasis) and to retain the public's confidence and trust.”
Well, if I were a member of the public I would be asking how much confidence and trust I could place in a parliament whose members have so little regard either for their monarch or their electorate that they prefer to attend the House of Lords, or open a creamery or attend a transport meeting than to gather to mark the tenth anniversary of the parliament and the democracy they are meant to serve.
To add insult to injury, Alex Salmond, in his speech, had the temerity to mock Westminster. He suggested that the Queen might find some “words of encouragement for another parliament elsewhere” - a bad joke at the best of times. Any suggestion that Holyrood enjoys some moral superiority over the House of Commons was wiped out yesterday. Over the Queen's face, as Mr Salmond made his comment, there passed the merest shadow of a grimace. Some of of us felt something far worse.