Toys and turnips

Christine Grahame
Image caption Christine Grahame had a policy basis for her packaging complaint

One could only empathise. Indeed, Christine Grahame evoked the sympathy of the entire chamber as she described her battle with a musical toy torch.

Not, you understand, that she was deploying the torch as a combat weapon. To the contrary. It was a present for her grand-daughter, aged one.

No doubt Ms Grahame anticipated that the musical torch, replete as it was with whirly coloured lights, would provide a source of innocent merriment to her youthful descendant.

Except that she couldn't prise it from its packaging. According to Ms Grahame, it took her fully twenty minutes, and required the assistance of a Phillips screwdriver, to free the tuneful torch.

All the while, doubtless, Grandma Grahame grew increasingly anxious for the eager infant. Would she ever hear the torch, with its charming tune? When would she thrill to those promised lights, so whirly, so coloured?

And there was more. Ms Grahame complained that "even the humble turnip" was now wrapped in plastic, for sale.

That it should come to this. Our neeps, encased. Our musical torches, with whirly lights, inaccessible.

We've all been there, haven't we? Defeated by that tub of hummus, with the immovable lid. Thwarted by the sauce bottle, which has an internal guard more impenetrable than a medieval moat.

Ms Grahame had a policy point, beyond sharing the pain which attended her grand-maternal generosity. She argued that environmentalism was scarcely aided when every conceivable product was encased in an artificial shell.

Image copyright Philip Sim
Image caption Nicola Sturgeon faced a broad range of questions from opposition leaders this week

Nicola Sturgeon rose to respond. Perhaps the thought briefly crossed her mind that it would be a courageous torch which would dare to resist the redoubtable MSP for Midlothian South, Tweeddale and Lauderdale.

Instead, the FM endorsed the wider sentiments advanced by her colleague - while voicing ironic relief that the torch had been destined for her grand-daughter.

Toys and turnips apart, this was a fairly sombre session of questions to the first minister. She was pursued, vigorously, on the subject of hospital waiting.

Statutory targets, she was reminded, had routinely been breached. Jackson Carlaw for the Conservatives said the policy had proved an "unqualified failure".

Later, Willie Rennie for the Liberal Democrats resumed the attack, arguing that patients had been "tricked".

Ms Sturgeon made little attempt at rebuttal on the issue itself. She conceded that the stats were challenging, while also noting the issue of increased demand and highlighting remedial initiatives by government.

Image caption Jackson Carlaw wondered if a new Questions to the Opposition session had been established

However, she did essay a counter-attack, aimed at Mr Carlaw. Firstly, she said that Conservative tax plans, had they been implemented, would have left Scotland with less to spend on the NHS.

Secondly, she cited a letter from medical practitioners to the effect that NHS staffing was seriously imperilled by Brexit. Twice, she invited Mr Carlaw to respond.

Glancing toward the chair, the Tory interim leader said that, if the presiding officer cared to instigate Questions to the Opposition Leader, then he would happy to participate. For now, though…

Labour's Richard Leonard raised the fate of the Caledonian railway works. This factory in Glasgow's Springburn is more than a workplace - although the jobs really matter. It is totemic, redolent of Scotland's industrial history.

Mr Leonard knows that. He knows that it speaks to subterranean depths in the Scottish psyche. He invited the First Minister to take the plant into public ownership, as had been done with Prestwick Airport.

Ms Sturgeon voiced huge sympathy for the workers at the closure-threatened plant. But she stressed that any government intervention had to be accompanied by due diligence, by a thorough examination of the options. She urged the company to extend the consultation period.

'Knee-jerk hostility'

Patrick Harvie of the Greens urged the FM to improve her government's record on cutting emissions through curbing car use.

Ms Sturgeon insisted that there had been progress. Not enough, said Mr Harvie.

OK, said Ms Sturgeon, but we are trying hard - and it should be recognised that car users had to be cajoled towards change. They could not be ordered.

If only, she added, some parties would dump their "knee-jerk" hostility to policies which might help reduce car use.

By policies, she meant workplace parking, an option for local council levies agreed with the Greens. By knee-jerk parties, she meant the Tories. Thoroughly unabashed, Jackson Carlaw smiled benignly.

And that was it. Our tribunes left to continue governing a grateful nation. Or perhaps to practise their turnip and torch liberating skills.

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