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Stay zipped

Brian Taylor | 13:53 UK time, Thursday, 17 April 2008

By accident, I believe we may have discovered a new form of parliamentary discourse.

Wendy Alexander rose, stared at the first minister and declared: "I have no further questions." Majestic.

I won't say I felt like some watcher of the skies. But one or two on the Labour backbenches were certainly glancing at each other with a wild surmise as they contemplated their leader, silent, by choice, upon a peak in Darien.

This could be hot. Want to avoid a new outbreak of ministerial waffle? Here's the answer. Don't ask any questions. Maintain radio silence. Persist in a policy of glorious inactivity. Stay zipped.

Now there will be a few Luddites who insist upon the old ways. At Holyrood today, both Annabel Goldie and Nicol Stephen showed a lamentable determination to deploy their full interrogation quota.

Apparently, they felt MSPs would be the better for hearing their views on such minor matters as taxation and government efficiency savings.

Quiet chortling

Reactionaries, both. Don't they know about the "new politics"? Not Socialism, not even social democracy - but the sound of silence.

Of course, on the day, the new approach took one or two by surprise. Alex Fergusson in the chair appeared a mite discomfited but quickly rallied.

As the first minister rose to respond to the supplementary non-question from Ms Alexander, Mr Fergusson intervened.

Nothing, he said, had been asked. Therefore nothing was required in reply. Alex Salmond resumed his seat, chortling quietly.

When you think about it, this was a commendably radical approach by the presiding officer. After all, if he ruled out every intervention which contained zero content, then Holyrood could get through its monthly business in a morning.

And what of Ms Alexander herself? She had started with great gusto, challenging Mr Salmond about newspaper reports suggesting that extra compulsory PE in school was to be abandoned.

Rejoicing all round among the youthful occupants of the nation's couches? Alas, no. The reports, said Mr Salmond, were "completely unfounded".

'I'm havering'

Ms Alexander deftly changed tack, asserting a swift U-turn by the FM. (No doubt that is one of the new manoeuvres to be carried out during obligatory gym.)

But then, perhaps exhausted by all this compulsory exercise, Ms Alexander drew to a halt and offered "no further questions" content, she said, with the concessions she had drawn from the FM.

Not an entirely new gag, of course. In court, a QC might purr "no further questions".

Perhaps when the haggard interlocutor in the dock has owned up to everything, including original sin.

And, as First Minister, Jack McConnell once uttered the immortal line: "I'm havering, so I'll sit down." If only others would follow that advice.

But this was definitely a novel application of the technique. I look forward to its widespread use.


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