Ross McCafferty: Scottish Parliament debate not worthy of indyref2 hype

If the early evidence is anything to go by, the standard of debate for the next referendum on Scottish independence is going to be lower even than that of the Brexit bus of 2016.

Nicola Sturgeon speaks on the first day of the 'Scotland's Choice' debate. Picture: AFP/Getty Images
Nicola Sturgeon speaks on the first day of the 'Scotland's Choice' debate. Picture: AFP/Getty Images

Even at 5.30pm, long after the big hitters of the debate, the party leaders and the ministers, have sloped out of the chamber, the has-beens, the never-have-beens, and the never-will-be’s among the MSPs are indulging in rambling, confused speeches.

This was, despite how history may remember it, or despite how it will be cast by the SNP, an inauspicious day for Scotland’s still-young parliament.

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Nicola Sturgeon, an independence backer since she was a teenager, cast herself as a reluctant nationalist, dragged to the brink of achieving her lifelong dream by Theresa May.

Ruth Davidson gave a barnstormer of a speech criticising the SNP, but rather undermined her own previous statements saying that an SNP/Green majority was enough for another vote.

Kezia Dugdale didn’t even seem convinced herself by the Gordon Brown-led Scottish Labour vision for federalism.

Patrick Harvie tried to mask a u-turn on his 2016 manifesto behind chest-pounding outrage on Tories who backed Leave or Remain.

Willie Rennie just seemed happy to be in a primetime slot after losing his regular appearance at First Minister’s Questions, and wasted his time on poking Alex Salmond and trying to make his four fellow Lib Dems laugh.

And that was all before a whole host of unimpressive backbenchers from all parties made a series of rambling and inconclusive interventions that split down partisan lines.

One MSP even had the distinction of committing the work of Abraham Lincoln to the official report, before justifying blocking another MSP on Twitter.

The Main Event

If there is to be a defining Nicola Sturgeon speech to come at some stage between now and the result of a future referendum, then this was not it.

The First Minister was, she said, determined to explore alternative options to independence after the shock decision of the UK to back Brexit last June.

Ms Sturgeon took aim at the lack of clarity from those campaigners like Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage, but that says nothing about the far from clear approach of the Yes campaign in 2014.

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Ruth Davidson’s righteous anger reverberated through the Holyrood chamber as she criticised the SNP for seemingly prioritising a referendum over issues like education.

Ms Davidson also slammed Patrick Harvie for coming round to the SNP way of thinking on a new vote on independence.

Like countless others, the Tory leader noted that the SNP were willing to ‘ignore’ the parliament if it votes to change their policy, but not when independence is on the table.

Kezia Dugdale, for her part, looked genuinely world-weary as she found herself dragged into yet another debate on independence.

She spoke of federalism but her eyes seemed to betray that she has no belief that federalism will ever really come to fruition.

The backing band

Willie Rennie seemed to be having a rare old time, but if he did he was one of the only ones – a painful metaphor about the SNP’s commitments being like Alice in Wonderland was the lowlight of a middling speech.

Patrick Harvie’s rage was there for all to see – as he laid into Tory and Labour about for criticising the Greens’ change in petition.

The 1 million strong petition idea had fallen by the wayside, but so, claimed Harvie, had a lot of Tory promises on the future relationship with the European Union.

After the main players had finished their speeches, the floor was open to a whole host of unimpressive backbenchers to ‘contribute’.

Arguably the worst of the speeches came from SNP MSP Christina McKelvie, who must be the first politician to quote two U.S. Presidents in the space of a minute.

I’m not sure that Abraham Lincoln ever blocked someone on Twitter, but from the dizzy heights of quoting Gettysburg, Ms McKelvie found herself telling Labour’s Monica Lennon that the latter had been blocked along with “abusers”.

Acrimony followed, and there were audible groans when Ms McKelvie called the tabloid “Vow” a lie, a line ripped straight from the cybernat handbook.

Her colleague Clare Adamson faired little better, losing herself in quantum physics after attempting a joke on Shcrodinger’s Cat.

The famous thought experiment posits that a cat is both dead and alive according to laws until one or the other can be ruled out.

Ms Adamson’s gag (“The Brexit box is open, the cat is eating the poison”) was enough to have her colleagues hiding in boxes, rather than theorising about them.

Anas Sarwar declared that he was ‘angry’, but the Glasgow MSP looked more ‘stubbed my toe’ angry than ‘my Union is under threat’ angry as his speech lacked the gravitas he clearly thought it had.

All of the Tories’ speeches were by-and-large the same, talking about families and friendships apparently torn asunder in 2014.

Adam Tomkins declared that “We are the people” in a throaty contribution.

This was a grim spectacle - and the parliament looked all the poorer for the paucity of anything resembling a valuable contribution.

Presiding Officer Ken Macintosh seemed to speak for the whole country when he wearingly intoned: “The debate on Scotland’s Choice will continue tomorrow”.