Emma Cowing: Yes First Minister then again, mibby no

Picture: Neil Hanna
Picture: Neil Hanna
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LATE last night, some papers were smuggled out of Edinburgh Zoo and delivered to The Scotsman’s offices. They appear to include the latest instalment of female panda Tian Tian’s diary, written following First Minister Alex Salmond’s visit yesterday.

Dear Diary, It’s been one indignity after another lately. First there was “the event” (I refuse to use those two words starting with “A” and “I”), the details of which I will not go into. Suffice to say it was every bit as ghastly as it sounds, and if anyone ever comes near me with a turkey baster again, I’m moving in with the penguins.

Of course, the situation wasn’t helped by my male companion, Yuang Guang, making it all about him. If I heard him mutter “it’s never happened to me before” once, I heard it a hundred times. Whatever you say, dear. To be honest, I could have done with a nice little spa break after all that – a few days of hot stone massages and some cocktails at the Scotsman Hotel would have gone down a treat – but the keepers said it contravened health and safety rules and, anyway, I might be pregnant, so I suppose I should do a Kate Middleton and just sit around looking pretty. Pity. I could have murdered a bamboo martini.

All of which brings me to yesterday’s shenanigans. The keepers informed me that we were to have a visitor. I rolled my eyes a bit. The first time someone told me that in Scotland – just after we’d landed after our flight from China – it turned out to be an excitable woman named Nicola, who kept droning on about fiscal autonomy. I believe the phrase is “haud me back”.

“But this is a very special visitor,” the keepers kept saying. “This is the First Minister.” I racked my brains. Yuang Guang yawned noisily in the background. Somewhere on the other side of the zoo, a pygmy hippopotamus grunted.

Of course I’ve heard of Alex Salmond. He’s in charge of something called the Scottish Nationalist Party as I recall, and he says the word “Yes” a lot. I’m sure he’s a scream at parties. Anyway, given that we pandas have been in Edinburgh for a good 18 months now, propping up the tourism economy and pushing bad political news off the front page with our will they/won’t they love tunnel saga, I think it’s a bit off that this Mr Salmond has only just got around to visiting us to say thank you. Honestly. And people say pandas are lazy.

When he arrived, he seemed very keen to know about the state of my pregnancy. Frankly, it’s none of his business, although he rather seemed to think that it was.

“It was the first question I asked, as you would expect in terms of my duties as First Minister of Scotland,” he informed the press. This was news to me. I thought the job of a First Minister was to answer questions but then, what do I know? I’m just a panda.

Then he told them: “ [I’ve] no information.” This, surely, must be a First Ministerial first? It doesn’t sound like Mr Salmond not to have clear and definitive answers about things that may or may not happen, does it? I’d bet my last euro on it.

Meanwhile, Yuang Guang lolled around his enclosure looking bored, munching a stick of bamboo and for all the world resembling a back-bench MSP during First Minister’s Questions.

As I expected, Mr Salmond started telling us what an asset we were to Scotland. He said: “Their presence here is proving to be a huge draw for visitors to the zoo, meaning a welcome boost for tourism and the economy. Already, they have attracted more than 500,000 visitors in their first year.”

I was so busy thinking that this was more voters than he could dream of that I almost missed what happened next. Mr Salmond dropped his voice to a whisper, looked straight at me and said conspiratorially, “vote Yes”. I looked at him quizically. “Vote Yes,” he said again urgently. “We’ll sort it all out for you. After all, we did it for 16- and 17-year-olds. Getting a couple of panda bears the vote ought to be a doddle.”

I should have been astonished. Shocked, even. But what Mr Salmond doesn’t know is that last week, we had another visitor. A strange man who looked like he’d stepped straight off Tracy Island and kept telling Yuang Guang and I that we would be “better together” (I’m not so sure about that myself, Darling).

So, which way to vote? What a choice. As for which way I’ll swing however, right now I’ve no information.