One insult, one apology: Holyrood is back

Nicola Sturgeon Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Nicola Sturgeon acknowledged the existence of a climate emergency

The Holyrood head count thus far today? One insult (at least). One apology. Tame, of course, by comparison with the visceral, permanent feud that is Westminster. But give them time.

I write "head count" advisedly. The topic was tonsorial. Raised, very unwisely, by Jackson Carlaw, he who once again finds himself the interim leader of the Scottish Conservatives.

Under teasing attack from the first minister, Mr Carlaw retorted: "At least I've got a full head of my own naturally coloured hair!"

The chamber, Tories included, squirmed and glanced furtively at their neighbours. Did he just say that?

Nicola Sturgeon looked coldly furious. By her side, John Swinney stroked his impressive pate, reflectively.

At the time, Mr Carlaw seemingly felt he had justice on his side. Ms Sturgeon had drawn attention to his red face, suggesting it arose from concerns over Tory hypocrisy.

'Getting under his west of Scotland skin'

Mr Carlaw, who does indeed occasionally display a rubicund complexion, muttered "not my skin tone again" before mounting his hairy jibe.

But, as he swiftly realised, he had gone too far. Nicola Sturgeon growled that he had contrived to insult nearly every woman in the country. Including, presumably, quite a few in the chamber.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Scottish Conservative interim leader Jackson Carlaw said the statement "both began and ended with independence"

Mr Carlaw later tweeted an apology to the effect that his comments were "crass" and that Ms Sturgeon was fully justified in getting under his "very red west of Scotland skin."

And so from cranium to content. Ms Sturgeon's programme for government focused substantially on measures to tackle climate change.

The detail you can find elsewhere. But let us consider the motivation.

Firstly, this is an authentic policy priority for this government and this first minister. Nicola Sturgeon acknowledges the existence of a climate emergency and is intent on contributing to the solution.

Secondly, parliamentary politics. Ms Sturgeon has depended of late upon the Greens to secure backing for her government's Budget.

OK, so Patrick Harvie was less than impressed by today's programme, suggesting it was a pale imitation of a genuinely Green approach.

But it was, at the very least, an acknowledgement of his party's priorities and an attempt to respond, while declining to adopt the Greens' overall economic programme which ministers and officials regard as impractical.

Transfer of power

Thirdly, external politics. Climate change is a key issue for electors, especially the young. Today's emphasis may be electorally popular.

But, to underline, the primary driver here is policy commitment.

As well as addressing the climate emergency, Ms Sturgeon tackled the Westminster political version.

Brexit, she said, added to the case for independence. And she confirmed that she would seek the transfer of power from Westminster needed to hold indyref2.

Should there be a UK general election in the immediate future, as she anticipated, then the SNP would put opposition to Brexit and Scotland's "right to choose independence" at the core of that contest.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Ms Sturgeon said Scotland's "right to choose independence" would be at the the core of the SNP's approach to a general election

Successive opposition leaders jibbed at this. Once again, they argued, Ms Sturgeon was obsessing about independence and neglecting the day job.

The first minister resolutely denied this. For one thing, she said, the constitutional crisis had its genesis in Westminster. For another, the programme for government was detailed and ambitious.

But opponents had another line to pursue. More than one listed past policies of the Scottish government which had been sidelined. How could the new programme be trusted?

Ms Sturgeon disputed the premise and the conclusion.

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