Thursday/ Friday. 89 days of campaigning to go…
Sorry, Iraq! The big news on everyone’s lips was the England football team selflessly throwing away its World Cup chances to save the Union.
“Obviously we wanted to do well,” said gutted yet proud coach Roy Hodgson, “but we got word from Number 10 that if we accidentally won the cup, there would be such an insufferable outpouring of smugness that it would be easy for the Cybernats to whip up anti-English sentiment. A Yes vote would put the entire NATO alliance at risk, so basically if we wanted any MBEs we knew what we had to do. Rooney nearly buggered it up by unexpectedly equalising, but thankfully Stevie G dug deep to head the ball straight into the path of Suarez, and the rest is history.”
But the most important thing was that it was time for a witch-hunt. So the TV cameras swivelled round until they homed in on a bloke in a Jimmy wig and Scotland away top, waving a saltire as he celebrated in the midst of the Uruguay fans.
“The horror! The horror!” wailed a sunken-eyed Gordon Brown. “Let’s rake through his bins and interrogate his parents!” foamed the Daily Mail. “I have no son,” declared the bloke’s father, who didn’t give two hoots about the saltire-waving, but thought the Scotland away top was a fashion catastrophe. “Aw crap, is that what you have to do to get the BBC to notice you?” chorused 50,000 invisible anti-austerity marchers in London.
At Holyrood, where the weekly witch-hunt is called First Minister’s Questions, the Buckfast bees have settled in nicely and are already proving to be fast, manoeuvrable and armed with a sting, putting them streets ahead of Johann, Ruth and Wullie. The three “comrades”, so called by Alex Salmond because “stooges” might get him verbally tasered by the Presiding Officer, have worked hard at developing a hive mind, but it always seems to be they, not the FM, who end up bogged down in sticky stuff.
Johann’s problem, apart from needing a desk job away from any easily disturbed voters, is Labour’s apparent insistence that her chosen topic must always be “whatever Reporting Scotland’s been whingeing about all week”. On Thursday, that left her pontificating about an Audit Scotland education report that, on one interpretation, stated the SNP were achieving better pupil attainment than Labour, while spending less money in real terms.
And why was it less? Well, because our pocket money from Westminster’s also been cut in real terms. Kapow! Exit Johann, looking like she’d just found some Buckfast bees hiding out in her sandwich.
Ruth gets no brownie points from Conservative Central Office for asking about education, unless you count apprenticeships for 9-year-old chimney sweeps, so she chose an alternative topic, the old “independence set-up costs” chestnut. This has the advantage of being almost unanswerable, unless the Scottish Government receives co-operation from Westminster, which is about as likely as Andy Murray performing stand-up at the Edinburgh Fringe.
Of course, if you’re a First Minister worth his or her salt no question is unanswerable, although it may end up being not quite the same question your opponent thought of. Ruthie’s accusations of panic and confusion, backed up by a smoking copy of the Daily Telegraph (The Paper That Supports Our Civil Servants), were swiftly rebutted by the FM’s account of a meeting with Professor Dunleavy, the man who shreds Westminster mis-briefings like Edward Scissorhands doing origami.
Poor old Wullie was left to last again, even being tucked in behind a supplementary question. He always covers the same topic as Ruth, but in an “After the Lord Mayor’s Show” sort of way, where he’s the man with the shovel following the horses down the road. His opening gambit of “This goes from bad to worse” was tantamount to handing the irrepressible Eck a loaded water-pistol, with which the FM duly created havoc. In fairness to Wullie, though, it’s a pretty good summary of the general standing of the Lib Dems.
The final piece of witch-hunting on show - for now, at any rate - was that of Wings Over Scotland, the web site that is the referendum campaign’s answer to Marmite.
Its founder, the Rev Stuart Campbell, had already threatened to consult his learned friends over an online Scotsman article which, if not flirting with defamation, certainly appeared to be stroking its knee. Then, on Thursday, the Herald reported that the Yes campaign had “distanced itself” from Wings by ordering the removal of a leaflet where it featured in a list of handy web sites. Or perhaps they were just replacing an out-of-date leaflet with a more recent one. Or a purple unicorn had told the reporter the whole story in a dream.
I don’t know. God, sometimes I feel like a loose slate sliding down the roof of reality.
Anyway, let’s see: Alex Johnstone MSP publicly patronised the hell out of lottery-winning Yes donors Chris and Colin Weir, expressing concern that they might be simple dupes getting their strings pulled by the wicked SNP. The Weirs complained about this, but because they’re not MSPs all they got was a further sneer from Johnstone.
Some weeks later Rev Stu, never knowingly a candidate for the diplomatic service, tweeted in response to these events that Johnstone was “fat, troughing scum”. Johnstone complained about this, and because he is an MSP all righteous people must be appalled and Action Is Clearly Necessary. Brilliant concept, this asymmetric outrage, intit?
None of this is, of course, remotely connected with the fact that Wings Over Scotland, while not by any means everybody’s cup of tea, is the most effective debunker of nonsense since a certain wee boy pointed out that he could see the Emperor’s dangly bits.
But as we were soon to see, the witch-hunting was only just getting started….