Tax rows and Christmas jumpers

Politicians in jumpers Image copyright PA

It was quite a sight, I can tell you. There I was, quietly mopping my fevered brow after broadcasting to an astonished nation (or at least that portion of the nation which accompanies me in spectating on First Minister's Questions.)

I wheeled round and there I perceived a selection of senior MSPs, struggling to don knitwear. One by one, they forced themselves into colourful, nay lurid, gansies, bedecked with holly and sundry Santas.

A few inquiries soon disclosed that this was to mark Christmas Jumper Day, promoting children's charitable work. To which endeavours, all power.

Once bejumpered, they all stood about, grinning, for all the world like a 1960s folk group. Any second now, I thought, it will be fingers to the ears and a verse of The Wild Rover.

Finally, the lead singer arrived as Nicola Sturgeon glided down the stairs.

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Thatcher's shadow looms large over May

Theresa May at Downing Street Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Theresa May has insisted there is not alternative to her Brexit deal

In musing over the weeks and years on the Tory tribulations, I have had occasion more than once to borrow a phrase associated with Margaret Thatcher.

She and her acolytes were much given in the early 1980s to advance the view that "There is No Alternative". Or TINA, for short.

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Not her finest hour

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Media captionTheresa May announces Tuesday's planned Brexit deal will not go ahead: "I've listened very carefully"

Not, all in all, the prime minister's finest hour. Her opening gambit, explaining the delay in the Brexit vote, was greeted with raucous laughter from the opposition benches.

There was further laughter, that most potent weapon against a speaker, when she tried to defend the details of her proposed deal, despite the deferral.

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Brief queries and succinct answers

Nicola Sturgeon Image copyright PA
Image caption Nicola Sturgeon found herself drawn into increasingly lengthy exchanges at Holyrood

The presiding officer made it plain he was less than pleased. His role is to maintain order which includes hurrying things along a tad to ensure that everyone gets a shottie, particularly backbenchers.

But Ken Macintosh found today that he was thwarted in that task. Some questions to the first minister were more like speeches - and Nicola Sturgeon seemed willing to extend herself, verbally, in reply.

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A bricklayer, a used car salesman and a Lib Dem

Scottish Parliament chamber
Image caption MSPs voted by 92 to 29 to reject the draft withdrawal deal and the notion of a no-deal exit

He said it twice as if for emphasis but, to be frank, my ears had twitched just a fraction at the first mention. Adam Tomkins said that the only realistic Brexit alternative was the prime minister's deal - "or something very close to it".

Eh? Haven't we been told that every word of the withdrawal agreement is nailed down and that the accompanying political declaration is as extensive as it currently can be?

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Displacement activity at Westminster

Anti-Brexit demonstrators wave Union Jacks and EU flags opposite the Houses of Parliament on 3 December Image copyright AFP
Image caption Parliament is facing critical decisions about Brexit - but MPs keep finding excuses to row about other things

It is a truth universally acknowledged, at least in the animal kingdom. Now it appears that the phenomenon has extended to homo and femina sapiens.

I talk of displacement activity. You know, when a puzzled chimpanzee, torn between fight and flight, decides to scratch his head instead. Or, indeed, another part of his anatomy.

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Brexit and sellers of fish

Nicola Sturgeon
Image caption Ms Sturgeon has predicted that the UK government will "sell out" the Scottish fishing industry as it seeks post-Brexit trade deals

Words, words, words, bemoans Hamlet, in conversation with the garrulous but inconsequential Polonius, whom he labels a "seller of fish".

Given that the Prince of Denmark is himself legendary for vacillation and inaction, this always seemed a mite cheeky to me.

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Analysing the alternatives

FM presser Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Nicola Sturgeon faced the media at Bute House

In these troubled times, every word counts - especially those featuring in the 585-page Brexit withdrawal agreement and its concomitant political declaration.

But the prime minister's opponents also need to be wary. And so Nicola Sturgeon, while sounding confident, also proceeded cannily when facing the wicked media today anent the topic of her latest Brexit analysis.

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May's Brexit strategy: Tedium and terror

Theresa May in Parliament
Image caption Theresa May faced another gruelling session in the Commons

Remember the Rorschach test? You know, the one where folk are shown random inkblots and asked to describe what they see?

Some spot a sparrow landing on a roof. Some, looking at the same squiggles, see Hannibal crossing the Alps, complete with elephants.

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Brexit and alien life forms

Jacob Rees-Mogg Image copyright EPA
Image caption Jacob Rees-Mogg was comapred to an alien invasion the Scottish government's Brexit secretary

There have been times, it should be said, when an element of the surreal has entered into this prolonged Brexit discourse.

On occasion, particularly sharp exchanges have resulted in the challenge: "What planet are you on?" Faintly distressing, really. O tempora, o mores.

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