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Karen Whitefield

<em>Picture: Tony TM</em>

Picture: Tony TM

Time, sang David Bowie, waits in the wings and speaks of senseless things. Which brings me inexplicably to Labour leader Elmer Fudd’s interrogative extravaganza at First Minister’s Questions in Parliament yesterday.

Mr Fudd, who adopted the pseudonym “Iain Gray” to sound more dynamic and interesting, accused the Scottish Government of not acting urgently enough on funding for higher education. He wanted an urgent review or an urgent committee or something. Something that of itself negates urgency.

First Minister Ecksworth Salmond said the timeline was the same as that south of the Border and that, in the meantime, his administration was looking for a “Scottish solution”. A Scottish solution? Surely, that would mean giving England all our resources and then being called subsidy junkies when they give us a fraction of these back? That’s the solution most Scots seem happy with.

Never mind. Eck reminded the charismatic leader of the Popular Fuddite Front that the cuts currently being planned by the coalition in London were started by that hero of the people, Lord Mandelson (Lab).

This point of information brought the usual seated fits from the batty bauchles on the Labour benches, the air turning damp with bile and spittle, two words that they should translate into Latin and put upon their party crest. The other day, I wondered what these bauchles do with salaries of 50-odd thousand a year, and got a picture of one of them leaving Aldi with a bag of oven chips the size of a car. But I digress.

Eck noted: “I see the Labour members shaking their heads.” It is their cranial default position. Theoretically, you could keep pointing out the cuts they’d planned themselves and their heads would eventually shake clean off.

Fudd, however, admired the brisk efficiency with which Englandshire had come up with a solution (“Kill the poor! Cut everything!”). In his book, it’s not so much what you do but how quickly you do it. Here was a man in a hurry. A man, too, with a fine grasp of economics. He wanted £1.7 billion of additional spending at a time when the Scottish budget was being cut by £1.3 billion. Presumably, he wants the Nats to look behind the couch. Certainly, no other source for this largesse was adduced.

Fudd made a fine allusion to education minister Michael Russell taking “a leisurely stroll through ideas”, and added perspicaciously: “You would almost think that the First Minister knew it would be someone else’s problem by [next year].” Cynical fellow, and you’d be tempted to think he might have a point, if it weren’t for his track-record of talking total tosh the rest of the time.

Eck said, fair enough, if you’ve a solution, Comrade Fudd, let’s hear it. The silence was deafening, though Elmer mimed histrionically, his mooth twisting into grimaces, while his peculiar eyes sparkled like cheap fireworks. Eck tried to help him out, with a reminder of the Labour leader’s previous solutions: raise council tax; don’t raise council tax; raise council tax but put a cap on it. Up, down, up a bit. Anyone remember The Golden Shot on telly?

Eck reminded Fudd that he had another golden shot: “Now, he has got one more question. Maybe he will give us a wee inkling of what his policy is.”

Elmer looked about his person for a wee inkling (and we all thought: “Try the trousers!”) before replying lamely: “That’s right, I’ve got one more question because this is First Minister’s Questions.” I could see Karen Whitefield (Lab), aged 4 and a half, struggling with the logic. The question, Elmer said, was: what is the answer? To be honest, I was getting a bit fogged now too, particularly when Elmer added: “Of course, if he had one, we wouldn’t believe it anyway.” I think this is what is called constructive opposition.

The previous night, he added, Ecksworth had reminded his audience, at a do to celebrate the Reformation, that our universities had been founded by papal bull. “Now, they’re being jeopardised by Alex Salmond’s bull.”

Whoa, there! That John Bullshit came perilously close to being unparliamentary language. I could see presiding orifice Alex “Hercules” Fergusson looking up the index of standing orders for bovine excreta.

The First Eck retorted: “Well, I tell you, if Elmer Fudd is going to become a statesman” – security guards raised their brollies for the predictable mouth-foaming from the Labour benches – “then he will have to recognise that it’s best not to telegraph his jokes so far in advance.”

True, you could imagine Elmer sitting up all evening working on that one. He probably sat grim-faced – at a do to celebrate the Reformation, of all things – scribbling notes from his thought processes on his napkin: “Bull? Something with horns. Of a dilemma. Or cow. Say he’s a silly cow. Salmond’s a silly cow. Cow doesn’t begin with s. Shame. No alliteration. No shit. Salmond’s a silly shit. Can’t say that. Salmond’s a silly bull. Bullshit! Got it! ” An evil grin spreads across his face, as he thinks: “That’ll get them laughing in the gallery.” Nope.

Scarlet-clad temptress Annabel Goldie is usually good for a laugh, but yesterday the Tory leader was greetin’ aboot a Euro-directive to give prisoners the vote. She asked Eck what he thought of that. Eck said that, as he understood matters, it was the Conservative government in Londonshire that was framing the legislation.

Annabel looked baffled by this intelligence. She shrieked: “The Prime Minister said yesterday that the prospect of votes for prisoners was sickening. He said it made him physically ill.” Yes, apparently he was unable to finish his caviare. Still managed the oven chips, right enough.

As for Eck, Annabel averred he didn’t want prisoners in prison in the first place. “He wants convicts in the community, and you can just see him outside our Scottish jails, brandishing his placard: ‘Freedom! Vote SNP for a soft-touch Scotland!'” Ha, nice one, Auntie Bella.

Lib Dem leader Tavish Scott crooned “Fly me to Dunoon”, as he lamented the lack of a ferry for the quaint nuclear resort. And whose fault was that? Salmond’s, of course! Eck said the matter was being looked at, but wondered, given Lib Dem support for the London coalition’s cuts, how they could continue their traditional tactic in Scotland of asking for additional spending on everything.

Tavish shot back: “I’m not asking for more money.” Ooops: manna from Heaven for Ecksworth. Rubbing his hands with glee, he averred: “Let me welcome this self-imposed declaration that Tavish Scott is not going to ask the Scottish Government for more money in his questions.”

He added: “I intend to hold him to that … and the next time he stands up and asks for more money … I’m going to ring a bell and tell him he’s out of order.”

Yup, folks, from now on it’s ding-dong merrily on high spending.

<em>Picture: Erix</em>

Picture: Erix

Introducing Banana-Mooth, Guilty Jack, and the Airdrie Avenger
One of the first senior ministers was Wee Wendy Alexander (Lab). She’d a big brain in her wee heid, which doesn’t necessarily make for good judgment or ideological logic. Being New Labour, she could endlessly make reality fit her shifting principles. But there was nothing remarkable about her in that respect. What generally distinguished those categorised as bright from those deemed dim was a command of detail. And Wendy’s grasp of detail was remarkable.

I wrote recently in The Caledonian Mercury about being forced to attend a dinner hosted by then Hootsmon editor, the late, great Alan Ruddock, at an SNP conference in Inverness. Wee Wendy was there as, bravely, she’d agreed to attend a fringe meeting (at which she was greeted with warm applause and booed off).

It was the night of a by-election in, I think, Hamilton. The paper’s photographer had an up-to-the-minute laptop (how we humble hacks used to envy them) and, on it, he got the result. Wendy came over, glanced at it for a couple of seconds and, in the succeeding discussion, showed quite clearly that she’d memorised every vote instantly, including that of the “Save Our Football Club” candidate (who pipped the Lib Dems, if I remember rightly).

But the first thing you noticed aboot Wee Wendy was her big mooth. I think it was my Scotsman colleague, Simon Pia, who remarked in his Diary that it looked like she was eating a whole banana sideways. While playing the mouth organ. Simon later became Wendy’s spin doctor, when she was (briefly) Labour leader.

Reporting on one boring afternoon, I wrote in a sketch that I’d like to leap down from the gallery and plant a big kiss on Wendy’s pouting lips, which prompted uber-feminist Malcolm Chisholm (Lab) to pen a letter of complaint to the paper. Bad move. It led to my christening him “Jessie” Chisholm for many years to come.

Whatever was going on in Wendy’s mooth, she only had eyes for Donald Dewar, the most eligible bachelor in Anniesland. Even Donald’s weakest jokes saw her pouting him a big smile as wide as the Clyde.

Among the men, Tommy Sheridan, the Scottish Socialist leader (and indeed follower), stood out as the ladies’ choice. Fit from football, his muscles rippled beneath his shirt (though this garment was often badly chosen; Tommy had a fatal weakness for a dark shirt with a light tie, always a no-no in my sartorial book of rules). He may or may not have had also a fatal weakness for the ladies, which led him to have a famous – and, at the time of going to web, continuing – contretemps with the News of the World, the Sunday newspaper devoted to exposing examples of people shagging.

At the same meeting mentioned above, in which David McLetchie was getting on Jim Wallace’s case, Tommy found himself making unexpected common cause with the Tory leader, saying: “If people want a new politics, there you go.” People did want a new politics. They didn’t get it. The likes of otherwise likeable Mr McLetchie didn’t help, his ultra-Britishness leading him to ape the Hoose o’ Commons with loud cries of “Hear-hear!” at every opportunity.

Thankfully, these opportunities were to prove few. I can’t remember anyone ever cheering a speech by Karen Whitefield (Lab). But, at least, among the other ranks, hers was one of the personalities, most of them odd, that started to shine through. Mind you, I’m not saying that’s necessarily a good thing when there’s a sketch-writer on the premises.

You couldn’t call Karen a stateswoman. Like many unconfident members, she read her speeches line by line from notes, but in the voice of a seven-year-old child reciting at school. Her constituency was Airdrie, a town which would look pretty much the same before and after a nuclear attack.

Still, Karen loves Airdrie – an odd statement, admittedly, with a verb never before applied to the place – and, in her first speech (and many subsequent ones) she boasted about how the Lanarkshire resort – of last resort – enjoyed more ill health than the rest of Scotland put together. Others tried intervening in her peroration but, as with many not used to debate, Karen pooh-poohed these interruptions and continued her celebration: “As I was saying, more people die in my constituency as a result of … ”

Other Labour members rose to introduce themselves. Jack McConnell, a future First Minister, told his gasping audience that he had the honour of representing Motherwell and Wishaw, not a stone’s throw from the aforementioned scenic leper colony of Airdrie. On first observing Jack, I declared him the guiltiest looking man I’d ever seen. This was to prove an unusually prescient observation.

Karen Gillon was next up. If Karen had been at Stalingrad, the Nazis would have thrown in the towel a lot earlier. She’s actually a lot of fun, for a Rangers supporter, but on this occasion she aggressively barked out her joy at being elected for Clydeside, not to mention being a burd, a prole and so forth.

With this cast assembled, Carry On Holyrood was ready to go into production.

Laurel & HardyLast week, I began this sketch with a complaint about having to listen to porkies in Parliament. By a curious, almost cosmically mystical coincidence, it was also one of those rare occasions in which I thought Labour leader Elmer Fudd had made a good point. Oh, I should have known better. Silly, silly, silly me. But one desperately wants to be fair to the hopeless clot.

Readers will recall his claim that the youth employment agency, Skills Development Scotland, was going to rebrand itself as Scotland: The Works, at a cost of £0.5 million for new notepaper and £1.7 million for marketing. Elmer had the documentation and everything. Unfortunately, he might as well have brandished a bookie’s line, as the organisation had already rejected the name-change idea.

Flustered, Elmer later said he had another document showing it had indeed changed its name – while the organisation said it hadn’t – but declined to provide this in public, perhaps (and, in the absence of any better explanation, I am guessing here) because the Labour mole who leaked it might be identified. Or perhaps because the name-change couldn’t possibly be true.

To be fair, if the organisation was using expressions like “visual identity transition” and “brand migration plan”, then it should be wound up and its top staff imprisoned indefinitely. At any rate, in future, rest assured I’ll preface any backing for Mr Fudd with the words “Assuming he’s got his facts right … “.

It’s correct to say that it was a lovely sunny day outside today at Holyrood. There were rozzers everywhere. Unable to get into my usual cark park at Holyrood Palace, I hailed a constable. “Good morning, orifice. What’s afoot?” “Prince Charles is here. And your tax disc needs renewing.” “Splendid. Keep up the good work.” Embarrassing or what?

Meanwhile, in the Hall of Embarrassments, or Parliament debating chamber, we waited for Fudd’s latest offering. Really, he has only two choices: more of these truth-free “scoops” (anyone remember Balmoralgate?); or blaming the Eck for minor earthquakes in the Andes, adolescents with skin complaints and the fact that a lavatory in a Glasgow hospital was blocked for 15 minutes.

He began: “Presiding orifice, this week no surprises, no leaked documents” – no apologies – “just the Scottish Government’s own official figures on how many new teachers have found jobs.” Very few, according to Elmer, and that was “a disgrace”. It’s certainly odd that, at a time of UK-wide fiscal crisis and harsh cutbacks in spending, someone can’t get a job in the public sector. It’s mystifying.

First Minister Eck Salmond said 90 per cent of new teachers were finding jobs, and that pedagogical unemployment was lower in Scotia than the rest of the UK. Elmer said most of those finding jobs were supply teachers, sitting at home waiting for the phone to go.

Eck said the only way you could change the situation was to take funding away from other sectors. Where would Mr F suggest? The NHS? “[The] position of the Labour Party … is that we should increase all funding everywhere. And that is simply an extraordinary, untenable and ridiculous position.”

Eck accused Elmer of “crocodile tears”, adding that, oddly enough, the lowest rates of new teacher employment were in areas with Labour cooncils.

Elmer was irate. “Don’t accuse me of crocodile tears!” Oh, all right. Crocodile tears. Damn. Forgot already.

“It’s a Salmond shambles,” the leading Fuddite added. Ah, the old alliteration gambit. Shouldn’t that be a Shalmond shambles, Mr Moneypenny? Fudd’s fantastical floccinaucinihilipilification (real word: the act of describing something as worthless) continued with this bombshell analysis: “Is this the First Eck’s message to young people: if you want to be a teacher or nurse, emigrate?”

Why just a nurse or a teacher? Anybody would want to emigrate from this nuthouse of a country.

In Bedlam Avenue, meanwhile, Tory leader Annabel Goldie peeked out from her suburban hedge and demanded: “So what on Earth is going wrong in Kinloch Rannoch?” Good Lord, I’ve no idea. What was this? Something out of Take The High Road? She went on: “Why is the health secretary refusing to speak to the people of Kinloch Rannoch?” Nicola Sturgeon, the health secretary under advisement, looked totally fogged.

Eck looked equally baffled, but averred that community representatives from the aforementioned Kinloch R had met the parliament’s health committee. Karen Whitefield (Lab), meanwhile, was bawling away like a demented infant, forcing Alex “Hercules” Fergusson, the presiding orifice, to bring down his mighty club and warn: “I have had enough individual interventions from sedentary positions for the time being, thank you.” From her arse-based perspective, Karen looking guilty. By her side was Cathy Craigie (Lab), who was even worse. What a horrible high-pitched noise. She sounded like a sozzled Stan Laurel sitting on a tack after inhaling a large dose of helium.

Not all Labour MSPs are as bad. True, in front of these two harpies sat David “The Thug” Whitton, Duncan “Disorderly” McNeil, and Helen “Two Braincells” Eadie. But behind Karen and Cathy sat Richard Simpson, Malcolm Chisholm, Patricia Ferguson, Pauline McNeill, and that wee studenty wife, an aisle of sanity in the chaotic sea of bile around them. Wendy Alexander, meanwhile, just sits and reads the whole time.

Annabel was on up on her sensible brogues again: “The question I asked was about out of hours GP cover.” Good. Glad we cleared that one up. She wondered how many other rural areas were as unmedicated as Kinloch Rannoch. “Does he know?” Loud groans from the Nats’ front bench, possibly at the absurdity of the increasing number of “does he know” questions. “How many elderly men in the Anstruther area have syphilis? Does he not know? Eh? Eh?” Or it might have been, as the Eck explained, that the out-of-hours farce was created by the previous Labour administration.

The aformentioned Pauline M, one of those Labour MSPs with some dignity about them, rose to raise concerns about events in Gaza, a politically generous gesture since it risked making Scotland look like a normal country that might have a view on international affairs. She explained this by pointing out that “the First Eck is responsible for the general welfare of all Scots”, some of whom (one in her constituency) were involved.

Eck said he’d already sent a stiff letter to the Israeli ambassador (a missive treated, one imagines, with the same rapt attention as a letter to the Treasury). For this, and other gestures of disapprobation, he won sporting applause from Pauline and some of her colleagues.

Tory deputy leader Murdo Fraser asked the Eck about plans for another Homecoming in 2014. Eck thanked Murdo – normally a stickler for Queen, Union, and Glasgow Rangers – for his interest and drew attention to his recent press release, in which he stunned the nation by saying Bannockburn should be the centre of the celebrations. Eck said this made sense, since it would be the 700th anniversary of “a pivotal moment in Scottish history”.

Murdo then produced his hidden dagger and made a point about Nat ministers allegedly conspiring to dump a tourism boss. Shocking business. All together now: “Assuming it is true!” Eck said it was pish, and had more fun with Murdo’s press release, which called Bannockburn a significant Scottish victory against the English”. You could see Labour hackles rising at the very idea. Eck concluded: “Can I welcome Murdo to the cause?”

Murdo smiled wryly. Ten minutes later, outside in the sunshine, the Labour MSPs were cheesing away for a group photo. A tourist asked me: “What are they doing?”

“It’s for a progamme called Crimewatch,” I explained. “They’re among the suspects in The Case of the Missing Name-Change.”

<em>Picture: Quinet</em>

Picture: Quinet

Brollies up, ladies and gents, as we prepare to be sprayed with more immature ordure in the baby of parliaments, the numpty nursery, the kindergarten of cack. Actually, I do a disservice to many MSPs with these childish ascriptions. But, speaking personally, I can’t wait for the summer holidays. The toll of hearing retold porkies, unabashed hypocrisy, and hateful claptrap has been heavy on my soul.

I turned up at the national nuthouse, expecting the usual text: “You control nothing, Salmond, but it’s still all your fault.” The SNP, always tactically bonkers, never point out the asburdity of this, instead committing the hideous error of trying to convince everyone that they are indeed in control of the country, and that they’re doing a good job in their suits and everything. They’re as much in control of Scotland as Peru is of the European Union.

Labour leader Elmer Fudd, rebranded from Iain Gray, waddled into the chamber like a hamstrung llama and offered the following hee-haw: “What would the First Minister think of a Government organisation which plans to spend £0.5 million on a ‘visual identity transition’?” Eh? Well, this at least was something different.

First Minister Eck Salmond, known to himself as Leader of All Scotia, replied in a tired voice that he was sure Mr Fudd was going to explain “to a startled chamber” what this meant.

Mr F did just that: a “visual identity transition” was quango-speak for a £0.5 million name-change for a youth employment organisation, Skills Development Scotland, which was now going to be called – wait for it – Scotland: The Works. Gordon H. Bennett. Asked Elmer: “Why are they wasting our money on this?” Good question.

Eck declined to answer it, but took the opportunity to point out that SDS, or S the W as I suppose we must now call it, had exceeded its target of 20,000 new apprenticeships.

Fudd said the organisation was also planning to spend £1.68 million on a “marketing and brand migration plan”. Greeugh! What awful “mumbo-jumbo”, as the leading Fuddite correctly called it, adding: “Let’s not forget that this is the organisation that booked Paul McKenna for unemployed youngsters. Maybe they’re going to get him back to hypnotise the First Eck into handing this cash over.”

Retorted Eck: “Can I just say to Elmer Fudd that the Paul McKenna joke was not very effective the first time he told it some months ago. It’s less effective now that it’s been recycled.”

Maybe so, but I was with Fudd on this. Branding, rebranding and so forth was the leitmotif of the New Labour era. Now the New Nats are at it, and there’s just nae need. I don’t know if the Eck knew much about this instance but, if not, he should do his nut and cancel the whole ridiculous exercise.

Apart from anything else, how does it always cost so much just to change some headed notepaper and the sign above the door? Nonsense, all of it and – at a time of cuts – criminal nonsense.

After their traditional general election massacre in Scotland, the Tories are thinking of rebranding – disguising more like – themselves. Name-changes might included The Scotch Persons’ Party, Patriots for Powerlessness or, with respect to deputy leader Murdo Fraser’s mad outburst the other day, Spirit of Bannockburn. The last named needn’t be a problem. Most of their members will assume it celebrates Edward II.

Twin-set diva Annabel Goldie, in a refreshing change for Holyrood, sought not to blame Britland’s economic woe on Eck, calling it instead “Labour’s mess”. But the Tory leader asked of the top Nat: “What is he going to cut and when is he going to cut it?” Oh, they love cutting, your Tories do. Can’t wait.

Eck said an independent review was under way, but added that manically slashing and burning right away was not the way forward.

Annabel, with a machete stuffed in her suspender belt, was not impressed, saying: “The First Eck is like a man who refuses to fix a dripping tap then wonders why the house is flooded.” Plumbing the depths there, gal.

Lib Dem leader Tavish Scott said the SNP Government, “backed by the Tories” (loud laughter, given the irony of a Lib Dem making such an accusation), were limiting the measures needed to tackle climate change.

Eck said the target of a 40 per cent reduction in harmful emissions by 2020 had been agreed by the whole Parliament, and compared with 34 per cent set by Westminster, where the Lib Dems now had so much influence.

Tavish: “But Mr Eck is not in charge of the UK.” Not yet anyway.

Sarah Boyack (Lab) got on her green rocking horse to call for the boiler scrappage scheme to be extended, prompting Eck to express confusion at some Labour representatives (Baker, R., Kerr, A., and McNulty, D.) calling for cuts to be implemented immediately, while others were forever demanding increased spending on this, that and, arguably, the other.

Pauline McNeill (Lab) demanded the implementation of proposals from the Calman Commission, which considered with a half-open mind every constitutional option except independence – making it the Calman Omission – and whose recommendations may now include Scotia having control over drink-driving. Well, whoop-de-doo.

Oh, and there was some kind of income tax scam. Said Pauline: “If the First Minister continues to reject the principle of devolving tax powers” – loud laughter – “does he not miss making this Parliament accountable for what it spends?”

The Nat laughter concerned the Lib Dem-style divergence between Labour in London (Labour Lite) and its boorish Scottish branch (Labour Lout). Eck pointed oot that, when in power, the UK Labour Government had rejected nine of the 23 Calman proposals, many dealing with finance, and had stopped, for example, Scotland getting 50 per cent of the proceeds from tax on dividends and savings.

Sandra White (SNP), who missed her true vocation as a launderette manageress, said the general election results showed Scotland and England were two different countries. Well spotted, San. The only way to a fairer society, she said, was to get an independent Scotland. Can’t argue with that. Unless, of course, you’re Scottish and, by definition therefore, a total arsehead.

Eck said it would be good if Scots could get the Government they voted for instead of one that other people voted for. Er, didn’t the Scots – see definition of arsehead above – vote Labour?

Hugh O’Donnell (Lib Dem), addressing the subject of violence against teachers, said of Eck: “I’m sure he would agree with me that even just shouting can be a form of abuse in any workplace.”

I think this was aimed at Eck, who turned it on its heid, assuming Hugh was attacking the Labour benches “for shouting during First Minister’s Questions”.

Actually, apart from Karen Whitefield, aged four and a half, and the usual harpies – and, unusually, Patricia Ferguson – they were a bit quieter than usual. I don’t know if someone had had a word. Certainly, I noticed Karen nervously looking towards the presiding orifice, Alex “Hercules” Fergusson, every now and again. It reminded me of the way Manchester United players look nervously towards their own Alex Ferguson, whenever they’ve muffed a chance. I wonder if Parliament’s manager fancies loaning our own Wean Looney to England for the World Cup?

<em>Picture: außerirdische sind gesund</em>

Picture: außerirdische sind gesund

Welcome to the new surreal realities. A Tory Westminster government, with its Lib Dem partners, is considering giving Scotland back £180 million of her own money that the previous Labour administration had kept locked up in a bank vault.

And, as that curiously interesting coalition government struggles to hold together the British arc of prosperity with Greece, Portugal and Italy, it emerges that only John Lewis can save the economy. More on that later.

In Scotland, meanwhile, the opposition Labour Party positions itself as the party of the easily duped proletariat (this morning’s first debate was on Protection for Workers) and continues to adopt with a straight face a policy of blaming Westminster cuts on the Nats.

Labour leader Elmer Fudd, alter-ego of the superhero known as Iain Gray, reckons he scored such a success with this latter ruse last week (“Nat cuts” was the parroted theme on several front pages of the Unionist press) that he picked up his boomerang again and, never one to learn, waited for it to return and clatter him on the coupon.

Not only that, but after last week’s bizarre performance by leading hysteric Karen Whitefield, he positioned her directly behind him, while behind Karen in turn lolled the drooling jaw of Helen Eadie, one of the leading political figures in the whole Dunfermline East area. Dumb and Dumber sprang to mind.

As Elmer repeated his smoke and mirrors act, First Minister Ecksworth Salmond, alter-ego of caped crusader Curryman, reprised the line that there were 10,000 more people working in the NHS in Scotland than under the previous Lib-Lab administration. And there’d be no compulsory redundancies.

Fudd listed horrendous sounding redundancies (planned by the NHS boards, of course; despite the impression Mr Fudd tries to give, they’re not acting on orders from on high) and asked whether these employees were necessary or not. If not, then “what on earth are they doing?”. Fair point. For someone to answer.

Eck dutifully ignored the question and quoted a BBC report which suggested a £2 billion pot had been set aside under Labour for NHS cuts and redundancies in England. Any mention of England always sets the Labour benches off. To them, England is Mecca. To them, when praying, we should get on our knees and face south.

Fudd did his own about-face, changing tack from his previous accusation that Eck didn’t know what was going on and now claiming he was masterminding the entire operation. Apparently, Eck had been sitting since 30 April with a list, saying: “Yes, he’s got to go. She’s no use. Who’s that fat nurse? Get her out. Sack them all. Now, if you will excuse me, I have a maniacal laugh to perform. Ah-ha-ha-ha! Ah-ha-ha-ha!”

Fudd’s fantasy continued: “How many NHS jobs is he planning to cut? He knows. Will he tell us now?” Eck came back with another report, to the effect that the NHS in Englandshire was planning to shed 137,000 jobs – one tenth of the workforce.

Again, he said, this was a Labour idea, and Eck wondered if we were all supposed to engage in “collective amnesia” about it. Labour remembered to shout abuse, prompting Alex “Hercules” Fergusson, the Parliament’s admirable presiding orifice, to sound genuinely annoyed in his calls for order. Fudd, meanwhile, ululated that the SNP’s election slogan should have been “More cuts, less nurses”, and added: “Yes, we know that the Con-Dem cuts are coming. They’re coming in June. But the Con Man cuts are coming now.”

Suddenly, the alleged Con Man under advisement made a move that sent a shudder through the chamber. A bolt of lightning crackled overhead. Schoolchildren hid under their seats. Security guards spoke urgently into walkie-talkies. Yes, Mr Eck brandished a copy of the Daily Mail. What had we done to deserve this?

This is the paper that hates Scotland so much it won’t accept the title “Scottish Government”, and still tries to keep the country in its place by referring to the “Scottish Executive”. What was Eck thinking of? He explained: “I don’t normally quote the Daily Mail.” Praise be. “It’s not my required reading of a morning.” Thank God for that. As the Daily Mash (brilliant website) t-shirt slogan has it: “The Daily Mail – like spending 20 minutes in a mental hospital.”

The First Eck continued nevertheless to confess fascination on reading a report in which Labour finance spokesman Andy Kerr had attacked the SNP for not cutting public spending this year.

Eck described this as “extraordinary”. Fudd looked stumped, and the FM advised him to reach agreement with his finance spokesman. “Then perhaps he can toddle along to this chamber with a semblance of credibility.” That wasn’t fair. Elmer doesn’t toddle. He lopes diffidently. There’s a difference, you know (and one I’m happy to point out, as he’s apparently sensitive about his controversial walking style).

Top Tory totty Annabel Goldie ambled in merrily, bringing sunshine from suburbia with her, so chuffed was she at how things were panning out at Mother Westminster. She pointed oot that, while former Prime Minister Broon had never visited Holyrood in three years, current PM Dave Cameron was here within three days.

She listed stuff planned by Dave, while noting: “We all know that this SNP minority government has run out of ideas.” Correct. “And it’s the UK Government now setting the agenda.” No need to sound so pleased, hen. “That, Mr Ecksworth, is real progressive politics,” she added.

Eck said that, when he’d proposed a “progressive coalition”, it was to keep the Tories oot of Scotland. “And we all know that Labour ran away from that responsibility,” he added.

Now, he expected the whole parliament to work in the national interest – ha, the hopeless idealist! – and lobby for Scotia to have access to her own money, such as the £180 million fossil fuel levy that had “lain unused in a London bank for the last six years”. That, he said, would be a “Good Thing”. It would also be a “Good Thing” if Scotia had the borrowing powers of a normal country, and a “Really Good Thing” if we could get consequentials from the Olympics.

Annabel knows a Good Thing when she sees it, and I wondered if that included the cut-glass decanter of sherry that doubtless sits on her immaculately waxed sideboard. She sounded like she’d been inhaling from it heavily when, quite unaccountably, she lurched into an exegesis about working with her beloved UK Government to stem binge-drinking.

Eck said it was surprising how much Tories south of the Border were in tune with good ideas on this subject, unlike their counterparts in Holyrood. Perhaps Annabel should try to reach consensus with them and, more importantly, with him on getting powers to expand the Scottish economy instead of just trying to mitigate Westminster cuts.

Lib Dem leader Tavish Scott claimed the coalition in Londonshire could help the Scottish economy, adding that, under the Nationalist Government, unemployment in Scotland was higher than in the rest of the UK. Could Eck explain that?

No offence, Tavish mate, but follow me closely here: are-you-thick? You can’t control unemployment if you don’t control the economy. It’s simples. No amount of repeating cack-filled canards can change that.

Eck pointed out dutifully that unemployment had been higher under the Libbery-Labbery administration, but what’s the point of bothering? He did add, though, that John Lewis was creating 400 jobs in Hamilton. Good old John Lewis. Even their slogan could be adapted to address the subsidy junkie myth: Scotland, always knowingly undersold.

<em>Picture: Ingrid Taylar</em>

Picture: Ingrid Taylar

Back to First Minister’s Queries at Holyrood and, boy, it was depressing. Whatever you think of the Rose Garden press conference at Downing Street – two public schoolboys twittering in front of a birds’ nesting box, just feet from a squirrel-proof feeder – it was charming and lovely. And whatever you think of Clegg and Cameron, at least they conduct themselves with a modicum of dignity.

Now, for something completely different. Come with me to the Holyrood chamber. If you’re unfamiliar with the layout, let me explain that the press gallery faces the Labour benches. What we get an eyeful of is neither charming nor lovely nor dignified. We witness sub-municipal, capering gimps squawking and screeching. It’s cheap, nasty, and would disgrace a nursery playground in the roughest part of town.

You say: “Surely, it’s just the rough and tumble of politics, Mr Rab. Don’t be so sensitive.”

Listen, I’ve been to the House of Commons several times, and it just isn’t like this. Whatever the ballyhoo of the Commons, its proceedings aren’t conducted with this level of hysteria, this naked hatred and sheer lack of class. I know I’ve banged on about it before, but the distinction between what we’ve witnessed on telly in recent weeks and this clod-hopping gaggle of yahoos struck me forcefully today. It’s only one party responsible. The others make a racket as necessary, but are more appropriate about it.

The misery started with Labour leader Elmer Fudd, baptised in a lightning-struck laboratory as “Iain Gray”, repeating the same question he asked last time, blaming Westminster cuts on the Scottish administration. Aw jeez. Onlookers begged for more Prozac.

Still, at least he took us out of the usual political quarantine of Holyrood, when he mocked SNP First Minister Eck Salmond, born Jemima Puddlepish, for getting six instead of 20 MPs in the general election. “Just like a baker’s dozen is 13 instead of 12, a Salmond score: six instead of 20.” It’s Eck’s Achilles heel, right enough. He can’t help making these daft, unwise predictions. Remember “Scotland free by ’93”, anyone?

Fudd said that, if Eck could stand to read the Scottish press – the equivalent of Gandhi eating a beefburger – he’d have learned about redundancies in the NHS.

“Was he covering up his cuts or does he just not know what’s going on? Is the First Minister shameless or just clueless?”

Shamelessly, Eck replied that NHS spending in Scotland was up despite cuts in the Scottish administration’s budget. I couldn’t hear the rest for the Labour hysteria. Karen Whitefield never gave it a second’s rest, endlessly ululating tripe about the cuts being caused by Eck. As I’ve said before, Karen has the voice of a six-year-old, but the intellect of someone half that age, and yesterday her piercing yowls grated like a fingernail down a blackboard. Foreign visitors, in the dignitaries’ gallery next to the press, looked on aghast and bewildered.

It’s shaming.

It’s embarrassing.

Eck accused Fudd of ducking responsibility for Labour’s cuts and reminded him that, during the election, his party claimed a vote for them would offer protection from a Conservative government at Westminster. But voting Labour had given Scotland a Tory government (appropriate, timely, humorous cheers from the Tories). Eck accused Labour of “ducking the opportunity to form an anti-Tory government”, and asked Elmer how he could then come to the chamber and complain about the Tory cuts to come.

Fudd: “Presiding orifice, we will get to the Tory cuts to come in a moment.” Eh? I thought cuts only came from Eck? Can it be that cuts do emanate from Westminster, but only when the Tories are in power?

Eck said Labour MPs had preferred opposition to government so they could spend the next five years absolving themselves of responsibility for the crisis they created. Labour, by its own admission, had planned deeper cuts than even Margaret Thatcher made.

Karen squawked: “Your cuts! Your cuts!”

Elmer joined in: “The cuts are his fault.” In the name of Christ, how? Cuts planned by Westminster, in response to the recession, are Salmond’s fault? This is nuts. But Fudd was by now shouting it, his twisted lips spitting venom: “Cuts! Cuts! Cuts!”

Eck played Yin to Fudd’s Yang, saying in level tones that it would be “tremendous” if he were able to tell Prime Minister Dave the Scottish government and the leading opposition party were united in seeking capital acceleration, borrowing powers, the £180m fossil fuel levy, and benefits from the Olympics – “all of the things that were denied us by a Labour administration in Westminster”.

Surely Labour, now “unencumbered by the guilt of office at Westminster”, could join Eck in asking for measures to revive the Scottish economy?

Dream on, Mr S.

Tory dreamboat Annabel Goldie, meanwhile, aired her oft-stated grievance that all the Nats stood for was grievance, prompting Eck to recall Auntie Annabel’s words in re Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg during the campaign: “A cleg [horsefly in Scots] bite swells up, hurts for a few days and then goes back down.” Whoops! Quoth Eck: “It looks like Annabel Goldie will have the Clegg bite for some time to come.”

Annabel retorted: “Oh well, there’s nothing that a little Tory anti-histamine doesn’t make a lot better.” Crivvens, we’ll have to refer to her as Auntie Histamine in future. The Nats applauded sportingly. Labour, incidentally, never barrack the Tories.

Lib Dem leader Tavish Scott said the new satrap of state for Scotland – Lib Dem Danny Alexander – had already announced the ending of the “shameful” detention of children at the Dungavel centre for alleged illegal immigrants. Labour had 13 years to do that, he said, yet in March kids were still being taken from school, in their uniforms, and dumped there. “Wasn’t that a shameful end to a Labour government?”

Labour didn’t even barrack this, since it didn’t come from the hated Nats, but Eck welcomed it and asked Tavish if the Lib Dems would be similarly positive in economic policy.

Tavish shot back with some variation on: “Vee ask ze questions”, but the question ve all want answered is: what are ve going to do with Scottish Labour?

I don’t know if the UK at large saw the undignified responses in electoral victory of Jim “consensus of me” Murphy and Mags “Stairheid Rammie” Curran, but they almost certainly saw wee Dougie Alexander – a comical, Pierrot figure of unfathomable shallowness – fulminating against any deal with the Nats, even if it meant Tory rule.

Worse still was seeing broken Broon walking the streets of Fife with close political friends and MSPs Helen Eadie and what looked liked wee timorous Marilyn Livingstone – some daft burd tottering along on heels at any rate. Put it this way, if you placed Mags, Helen and Marilyn in one laboratory with a supply of peanuts obtained by ringing a bell, and three chimps similarly situated in another lab, the chimps would soon be satiated while these three starved.

What was a prime minister doing with folk like that? No wonder the English don’t want us anywhere near Westminster. The irony of Labour is that they almost prove their own unspoken assumption: maybe Scotland is a second-rate country, if this is the calibre of representative.

And whoever is causing the cuts in the NHS, let’s hope supplies of Prozac don’t run out in Scotland. The nation is going to need them more than ever.

<em>Picture: Michael Maggs</em>

Picture: Michael Maggs

The words “numpty” and “sap” were bandied around the Scottish Parliament today. It’s what you’d expect really, certainly if our politicians truly are representative of what most objective observers agree is a timorous, dimwitted nation.

The homely insults were hurled during First Minister’s Queries, much of which was taken up with the Budget announced in that London yesterday. Scottish Labour were in full yappy poodle mode, their wee tails wagging with a rabid delight that baffled anyone who actually heard the Budget speech.

By contrast, First Minister Eck Salmond‘s assessment was predictably downbeat, claiming that after taking account of “all consequentials” – how could we forget? – the Scottish budget will be 1.3 per cent lower next year, “some £400 million at a cost of 4,000 Scottish jobs”.

Labour leader Elmer Fudd, aka Iain Gray, said that “in fact” the Budget had given Eck another £82 million to play with. “The fact” – the what? – “is he has over £1 billion more to spend next year than this year.”

Eck said Elmer hadn’t understood the figures. “For the first time in donkey’s years, the Scottish budget is going to be lower in real terms.”

This generated apoplexy on the Labour benches, with Andy Kerr in particularly doing his dinger, spraying Brylcreem round the chamber as he shook his head violently and pointed at the First Eck, shouting: “You cut it! You cut it!” Of course, no one knew what he was on about. Not even him.

Elmer said the “actual figures” showed an increase. Eck said they didnae, explaining as if to a child that “if-it’s-been-spent-this-year-it-can’t-be-spent-next-year”, when Andy erupted: “You’re a numpty!”

The presiding orifice, Alex “Hercules” Fergusson, was quickly on his feet. “I will not have accusations of that nature made across this chamber, you erse.” Well, he didn’t say the last bit, but he added: “I would hope you would withdraw that remark.” Andy duly did.

Eck said he took no offence, adding: “I have to say that description from Andy Kerr takes the biscuit in terms of an unparliamentary term.” Yes, it was a Blue Ribandy.

Even without Andy, the Labour benches kept up a barrage of hysteria, promulgated primarily from an unholy trio of Karen Whitefield, Cathy Craigie and Duncan “Disorderly” McNeil: see no reason, hear no reason, speak no reason. Even Star Trek’s equipment would have trouble detecting sentient life here. At one point, when Labour MSPs were clapping Eck ironically, it was clear from Karen’s coupon that she’d no clue why she was applauding. As for Duncan Disorderly, the presiding orifice was forced to exclaim at one point: “Mi-stur McNeil!”

I’m rapdily coming round to the view that the PO needs more powers to boot people out of the chamber and that this should become a regular occurrence, at least until they learn to behave. I don’t mind so much intelligent heckling, but the persistent attempts just to shout soemone down are straightforwardly anti-democratic and, I’m afraid, a real eye-opener for the schoolchildren forced to watch from the public gallery.

Eck tried to speak again.

Duncan: “Just make it up!”

Eck: “The United Kingdom has become the only country in the G20, with the exception of Argentina, who in this recession is tightening the fiscal stance.”

Elmer of Eck: “He is a grievance, not a Government.” Oh God, spare us the alliterative soundbite. It just has PR written all over it. Pish Rubbish.

Elmer alliterated a little more, adding of Eck: “He shouts, he screams, he stamps his feet to hide the fact he has no idea what to do with the money he has.”

Eck: “One single weekend … ”

Duncan: “Answer the question!”

Eck: “One single weekend last year, the Labour Party at their conference made annual spending commitments of £89.6 million. In the course of the year, they’ve made further commitments of £345 million. That’s four and a half times the budget consequentials announced by the Chancellor yesterday.”

Elmer said that, as well as saving 10,000 jobs in the violent gaming industry, Alistair Darling was going to create 150,000 green jobs in Scotland. Eh? I don’t remember hearing that. Elmer: “This is my question: how many jobs did Alex Salmond create yesterday?” I refer you to last week’s sketch, and ask this question: Does Elmer have any idea of current constitutional arrangements in this country?

Eck accused Elmer of taking Scottish Secretary Jim Murphy’s press statements too literally, adding: “One hundred and fifty thousand jobs is a total and utter fantasy, made up by the Secretary of State and now repeated by his sap in this Parliament: Elmer Fudd.”

The presiding orifice was up again: “Just as I think it is wrong for somebody to call another member a numpty, I don’t think the word ‘sap’ is advisable either, First Minister.”

Eck: “I willingly apologise to Elmer Fudd. I withdraw ‘sap’ and insert ‘placeperson in this Parliament’.”

When the new hulaballoo had died down, Tory titan Annabel Goldie asked how much Eck was spending on advertising this month in the run-up to the election.

Eck said he’d write to Annabel with the figures, and reminded the suburban paragon that she’d backed the SNP’s 50 per cent cut in PR spending.

Annabel, getting more Kelvinside the more she got agitated, said: “I can understend why the First Minister hed no desayre to enswer the quaistion thet I ectually esked.”

She said a Freedom of Information request revealed they’d blown 40 per cent of it, £1 million a week. “Something does not smell raight. This reeks more of SNP propagenda then provision of finencial information.”

Eck said most of the money had been spent putting out information during the Big Freeze (er, wasn‘t that a couple of months ago?), occasioning more outrage and hyper-hilarity of the political kind (Lab; at least the well brung up Tories know how to behave).

Back to the budget and, once again, Lib Dem leader Tavish Scott seemed to me to offer a good perspective, saying it proved the British economy was “excessively dependent on the City of London, property, the service industries, and debt, rather than on Scottish manufacturing, exports, and fairness.” Spot on, sonny.

Then he did that thing he does, with an abrupt question, almost changing the subject: “What is the First Minister’s pay policy?”

We’d been here before, with Eck again telling Tavish again about pay restrictions for top officials and freezes for ministers.

Tavish said the SNP’s pay policy was also punishing low paid employees, while quangocrats were still pocketing tens of thousands in bonuses. Eck said the Lib Dems, with Labour, had negotiated the quango contracts while in office. He added: “Now Tavish Scott is, if I remember correctly, a distinguished advocate.”

Eh, he’s a farmer or some rural nonsense, isn’t he? As Eck’s error was made clear to him, he said: “I apologise profusely.” Quite right, too. Saps and numpties are one thing. But to call someone a lawyer!

Up Helly Aa: another Scandinavian import. <em>Picture: Anne Burgess</em>

Up Helly Aa: another Scandinavian import. Picture: Anne Burgess

Tories usually look on Sweden with an expression of horror. Intelligent, progressive and humane, the Nordic nation stands for everything they detest. At least, that’s situation normal. However, abnormal developments are afoot, as the Swedes start to lose the plot and tinker with their “too good to be true” state.

This has attracted the attention of our impish Conservatives, ever eager to impose wrong and unnatural things on Scotia.

During an education debate in Holyrood yesterday, waspish Elizabeth Smith (Con) announced: “I hear on the grapevine that it is very difficult this weekend to get a flight to Scandinavia.” She seemed to be suggesting that most of the seats had been booked by Scottish ministers and Lib Dem leader Tavish Scott.

They were a bit late, she averred. Former Tory leader David “Taxi!” McLetchie had made the same flight years ago, and had learned all there was to know.

And what was that? Well, according to Elizabeth, the Swedes had improved their education system by giving parents the choice – ah, the “c” word; already I smell an “r” word – of different education providers. “They have got it right,” she hollered triumphantly. They were driving up standards rather than being content with the lowest common denominator. What’s wrong with the lowest common denominator? Never did me any harm.

It wasn’t just Sweden, she said. The Netherlands and Canada were also at it and they, like Sweden, are traditionally not very Tory-style countries (the conservatives in them are usually somewhere to the left of our Labour Party; mind you, isn’t everybody?).

Said Elizabeth: “I fully acknowledge that in Sweden it took eight years to convince a sceptical public that the new freedoms in the state sector would work.” She claimed that even socialists in these countries backed the system now. One fears that, in the matter of choice, they have no choice.

My view is that Sweden has started to lose its nerve in recent years. Traditionally light years ahead of the murky Europeans, it was nagged relentessly by followers of the so-called Anglo-Saxon, dog-eat-dog model of life to drop their progressive palaver and get real. One of the first casualties was the postal service, now privatised to a level of ludicrous inefficiency.

Now they were mucking up their schools, much to the Tories’ delight.

Elizabeth hollered: “Doing nothing is not an option.” Oh, don’t say that, gal. It’s only when politicians do something that all the trouble begins. Better to say: don’t just do something, sit there.

Education secretary Michael Russell acknowledged that he was going to Sweden, and indeed Finland, this weekend, to ask teachers there about strengths and weaknesses in their systems.

The aforementioned McLetchie rose and said: “Are schools in Finland and Sweden not closed at the weekend?” Mike let the laughter linger and acted as if he’d been caught out, before explaining that, while he was flying forth on Sunday afternoon, he’d be visiting the schools on Monday and Tuesday.

I like to think he’ll be going out on the piss on the Sunday night but I expect he’ll just sit in his room and keep telling himself: “I must not spend the taxpayers’ money.”

He rejected an accusation that he and Mr Spock look-alike Ken McIntosh (Lab) were having “a socialist love affair”. I’m not quite sure what that is. Do you have to queue for your conjugal rights? Are there forms to fill in? A tax on every snog? Whatever the case, Michael insisted there was nothing “x-rated” going on between him and the Vulcan.

However, he stunned the mob with this telling confession: “I was at a rather odd school.” You would never have guessed. Marr College, he said, was a grant-aided comprehensive. He said it admitted every child in Troon, but nobody from outside it, which sounded rather sinister. What had they to fear?

All this fearfully entertaining fare came to an end when top dullard Des McNulty (Lab) rose to drone. I wondered why the security guards were locking the doors and scurrying away. Even the pigeons on the roof flew off. He said he admired Sweden – it is, to be fair, a boring country – but was not impressed with the educational reforms.

In maths, he said, it had suffered the biggest drop in standards after Bulgaria. Maths. Bulgaria. Des. I was losing the will to live. I don’t mind Des being boring, but he’s double-boring because he keeps repeating his own words. At last, thankfully, he said: “I am at the end end of my time time.” Yeah, ta-ta, ta-ta. Don’t hurry hurry back back.

Bubbly Margaret Smith (Lib Dem) is always a breath of fresh air. She breenged in with a quotation from that Aristotle, to wit: “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.” This was rather reminiscent of the definition of a gentleman: someone who can play the accordion, but chooses not to.

Margaret went on: “We have heard a lot about Swedish models.” Oh, talk to me about it. Really, don’t go there. In my experience, they just use you and break your heart.

Adenoidal Bill Aitken (Con) rose to declaim: “Presiding orifice, to paraphrase what they say in Yorkshire: when something is broke you do fix it.” I see. And your point, baldie? “All is not well in Scottish education.” Well, cripes, we know that. No one produces more neds and thickies than us. Even Bill referred to “childrens” at one point. I kids you not.

He said that he, “a boy from a poor area”, had gone to a grant-aided school that was so successful it was shut down by socialist Glaswegians. They didn’t want to hear about … aw, shurrup.

Christina McKelvie (SNP), declaring herself a fan of Swedish pop music, invited Elizabeth to “Take a Chance on Me” and embrace other Swedish models, such as progressive taxation. It was “Money, Money, Money” which funded their education system, and she was sure John “Super Trouper” Swinney would love to pump millions into Scottish education. I’m getting an image of the accountant-style finance secretary dancing and snapping his fingers. Most distressing.

Karen Whitefield (Lab), who speaks like a four-year-old, described Sweden as “the country for which the Tories want us all to look”. Aw, isn’t it sweet to hear them struggling with the language? By next year, when Karen starts attending school, I’m sure she’ll be chorusing with the rest of us: “Du gamla, Du fria, Du fjällhöga nord/Du tysta, Du glädjerika sköna!” That’s from the Swedish national anthem. It’s a song I know well. It means: “Du-doobie, du-doobie, doobie-doobie-du.”


Detail from Sascha Schneider's Hypnosis

I’m going to count down from ten and, as we get closer to the number one, your eyelids will start to get heavier, and you’ll feel very sleepy. Oh yes. “Just another sketch,” I hear you cry. But this week the boy can’t help it, as hypnotism was the big theme that emerged from the soporific mind of Elmer Fudd (aka Labour leader Iain Gray) at this week’s First Minister’s Queries.

Good knockabout stuff it was too. Mind you, everything is relative, and you’ve no idea how brilliant FMQs appears after you’ve listened to a preceding session featuring Karen Whitefield (Lab) on the subject of the boiler scrappage scheme in Shotts. There are, I suppose, many reasons to go on living, but it’s at such times that the sunny side seems hidden by clouds ineffably grim.

Hats off to Elmer, then, for brightening the proceedings. And, in a surprise twist, this time it was intentional. He started off unpromisingly by complaining that unemployment was growing faster in Scotland than in Britain as a hole (it’s what my shorthand note says). All part of the Union dividend, as Iain didn’t quite put it.

Eck Salmond, First Minister of Scotia, said he found it remarkable to hear Labour moaning, when they’d voted against all the initiatives in the budget that were helping the situation now.

This set off the usual wifie wails and harpie howls from the Labour benches. Honestly, I don’t mean to complain, but what’s the point of having security guards if they won’t tape up Cathy Craigie’s (Lab) mouth? It’s like listening to a Chihuahua caught in a steel trap.

Elmer came over all uncharacteristically mesmerising, with this bombshell revelation: “Tomorrow, SDS [Skills Development Scotland] are spending £20,000 to fly in hypnotist Paul McKenna to give 260 unemployed youngsters a pep talk. Apparently, he’ll be handing out signed copies of his bestellers, Instant Confidence [Labour chortles], I Can Make You Rich [Labour hoots] and, of course, the classic, I Can Make You Thin [Labour confusion, since Eck sprang to mind – but was it politically correct to laugh at bloaters?].”

The First Eck retorted: “Scotland doesn’t need Paul McKenna when Iain Gray sends it to sleep every single week.”

The First Fudd foamed: “What is Paul McKenna going to do, hypnotise them into believing that they’ve got a job and a future and a chance in life?” He said Eck was the real illusionist.

Eck was under no illusions about Elmer. “Paul McKenna will be asked to do an additional course: how to be an opposition leader and not read out my funny lines in rote fashion.” He added: “No amount of coaching or training will ever turn Elmer Fudd into an effective politician.”

Wot, turn him into Annabel Goldie? Heaven forfend. One no-nonsense, doily-wielding amazon from the suburbs is quite enough, thank you. The Tory leader began by reading what sounded like an excerpt from science fiction: “Freedom of the press and independence of broadcasters are key pillars of a democratic society.”

How we laughed.

She suggested Eck was undermining these pillars by using taxpayers’ dosh to compromise the impartiality of STV. Oh, pass the smelling salts. She said the Government had spent £625,000 on sponsoring programmes.

Actually, this sounded promising stuff. Have there been headlines about it? I know that, normally, whenever I hear the acronym “STV”, I put my hands over my ears and say: “La-la-la. Not listening.” The economics of it are impenetrable and, of course, it’s not a channel that anyone with an education watches.

Whatever, the First Eck danced nimbly round the subject, like an elephant on ball-bearings. He noted that there had been a demand from one opposition leader – not Annabel, but the aforementioned Fudd – about how much had been spent. Answer: £618,000. Eck acknowledged this was a substantial sum, adding: “But it is half as much as was spent by the previous Labour administration.”

Presumably, that’s why Mr F had slunk back into his hut. Eck really should have chewed on a carrot at this point, rubbing in that he was Bugs to Iain’s Elmer. As it was, he asked Annabel to do him a favour, and try seeing the spending in that context.

Annabel put on her suspicious voice and said: “His response, I may say, is both intriguing but troubling.” Gordon O’Bennett, she sounded liked Holmes talking of Moriarty. Coughing as she puffed on her pipe, Annabel revealed: “I have a document here from Scottish Natural Heritage” – well, what do you want us to do, put it on eBay? – “confirming that more money was used to sponsor programmes on STV.” The beer was getting smaller by the minute here.

Annabel said she wanted to know what Eck was hiding. I don’t know. Chocolates? A bald patch? I’m not saying the Goldie Burd was making a pudding of herself with this trifling stuff. There may be something in it. A sixpence or some such. But it sounded like the scandal of the parson’s third glass of sherry. Picture the Tory leader as Miss Marple riding her bike straight into the duck-pond.

Alas, it was Eck, in plus-fours and with hair heavily Bryclreemed, who shoved her in. He said one of the programmes was called Make Me Happier, “something I try to do myself at every opportunity”. Then there was a series of programmes fronted – and I think that is the word – by Lorraine Kelly, which was aimed at holistic exercising, “something I try to do as well”. Now, he was lying. I’m surprised the presiding orifice didn’t pull him up for it.

Other programmes were dedicated to the Homecoming bacchanalia. Quacked Eck: “I saw two of the programmes which, incidentally, were watched by 2.517 million Scots, over half of the Scottish population.” If I were Annabel – and I have never seriously wished that – I’d have got up on my hind legs and shouted: “Two-point-five-one-seven million people, my arse!” Who made up that bilge? STV has never had 2.517 million viewers since the heyday of Cartoon Cavalcade. And we only watched that to see if the set would collapse on Glen Wotsname’s head.

Eck lamented: “I had nothing to do with the content of the programmes.”

Not guilty, in other words. “I’m not really, therefore, in a position to apologise for the fact that one of them was introduced by Alastair Campbell [Tony Blair’s former spin doctor] playing the bagpipes.” You have to hope this was on after the watershed. And by “watershed” I mean midnight.

Graciously, Eck said he hadn’t masterminded this gruesome televisual fare as a means of undermining Labour. Nor was he responsible for Charles Kennedy introducing another programme. “Hello, and welcome to another edition of I’m Pished!” Eck said Charlie had once been an outstanding Lib Dem leader. That’s right. He was their dramticket.

Tavish Scott’s beer was even smaller than Annabel’s. The Lib Dem leader spoke tearfully about business rates for hotels, a very important subject about which i couldn’t give a flying one. The exchange was only notable for Eck’s Freudian slop in which he referred to the “Small Business Boring – Bonus! – Scheme”.

You are sleeping very deeply now. So I’m going to count from one to ten. One, two, three … ten. Snap! Right, you can wake up now.

Don't panic!

Don't panic!

I want you to picture a man in his pyjamas lying down in front of a bulldozer. Ah, some of you are ahead of me already. You have recognised the man as Arthur Dent, from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Put the image in your pending tray, for we will return to it later (albeit briefly), as we discuss the topic: Whither Local Newspapers.

Their future has been threatened, allegedly, by Scottish Government plans to remove the legal requirement for councils to place public information notices in them. The plans gives council the choice of putting said notices (which nobody reads) online. These plans are, therefore, a threat to democracy.

So, at least, claimed Pauline McNeill (Lab) who had called a debate on the subject in Parliament. She argued that the proposal would cause serious economic damage to the papers, and pointed out that only 60 per cent of Scots had access to broadband. Moreover, seventy per cent of the over-65s think the internet is something vaguely to do with pornography. That’s what I’d heard too.

You’ve heard of The Invincibles. Well, Jim Mather too is a superhero. He’s one of the Impenetrables. The enterprise minister is so mired in business jargon that he’s the only MSP in parliament who has subtitles going along his navel.

The gist of his case was that council advertising had to be cost-effective and that what were effectively subsidies to local papers could affect their independence. Jim said you had to go with the flow (I’m summarising here), adding: “Just this week the launch of the Caledonian Mercury has shown the potential the web offers for people to develop a new model of newspaper provision.” Does it really? Good lord, I better inform the editor.

Jim said it would be up to councils where they put their public notices (if they involve roadworks in Edinburgh, I’ve a suggestion), prompting bovine Alex Johnstone (Con) to bellow gloomily: “If local newspapers do not survive that choice will not exist.”

Jim then made this bombshell announcement: “Consultation means consultation.” Glad we cleared that one up. He added that intelligent discussion involved hearing different points of view. He couldn’t bear polarising. When this resulted in a murmur of complaint, Jim hollered: “Polarise away! Lock horns if you will.” And, after that bull, he sat down.

Ted Brocklebank (Con), a former print and broadcast journalist who also declared an interest as a shareholder in STV – “albeit an increasingly impecunious one” – said the whole thing was about cost-cutting. He said many people, particularly the elderly, still looked to newspapers for public information.

That said, the estimable Ted said he’d been “underwhelmed” by the industry’s own attempts to communicate about the problem. Ted said he could hardly get newspapers to print a line about the danger facing them. “It was almost as if the newspaper industry believed that, by not mentioning the problems, they would somehow go away,” he said, adding that they’d reacted with all the resolution of rabbits caught in the headlights. To be fair, he exonerated the Courier and the Fife Herald titles, which newspapers coincidentally cover his constituency.

All of this led logically to North East Fife MSP Iain Smith (Lib Dem) giving us a dramatised reading, complete with voices, of the aforementioned Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. This seminal tome involves, as many of you know, Arthur Dent endeavouring to find the plans for demolishing his house. They were at the local council office, down unlit stairs in a basement lavatory on the door of which was written “Beware of the leopard”. Iain’s point was that making information available was not the same as making it accessible.

A good point too, well made.

Incidentally, Mr Dent once said: “I never could get the hang of Thursdays.” I thought I’d got them pretty taped in Parliament. It’s the day when all these discourses take place and, after a while, you think you know what’s coming. However, I have now to say something I’ve never said before: Karen Whitefield (Lab) made a good speech. Yup, unlikely though it sounds – and I ask you to bear in mind yesterday’s strictures re Labour leader Elmer Fudd that everything is relative – she appeared to have crafted her words. Why, she even looked up from her notes now and again.

Karen said she’d occasionally suffered bad press in her local paper – sounds like these guys are on the job – but she still supported it. Despite web-based news being free onlne, many people still bought papers. Well, it’d be worth it to see Karen panned in proper print.

Thuggish Kenny Gibson (SNP) accused Labour of trying to deny councils the choice of where to stuff their notices. He said Cosla supported the Government and that no one was going to stop councils putting notices in the papers. He also accused local papers of charging more for public notices, and conjectured that councils might now get more competitive rates.

Crucially, Kenny said he’d gone to a meeting of Saltcoats community council and, of 25 citizens present, only one had opposed the measure. Well, I think that’s that issue settled then.

Cathy Craigie (Lab) said the press was at the heart of our democratic process. That’s right. Thus, in Scotland, the national media is 98.82 per cent unionist, while the remaining 1.18 per cent occasionally give independence a fair hearing. Such a vital role in keeping Scotland free. From debate.

Bob Doris (SNP) claimed only two per cent of the mob read public notices, which brought incredulous laughter. Not sure why. Two per cent sounds like an over-estimate. Bob noted: “I hear opposition members laughing.” Oh well, at least his hearing was all right. He added: “I thought I’d come here for a constructive debate.” Good heavens, how could he make such a mistake?

Hugh Henry (Lab) said he’s been on the end of withering criticism by his local paper, but he thought this was healthy. Headline idea for local paper: “MSP says masochism is healthy.” Hugh O’Donnell (Lib Dem) made an admirable ass of himself when he advised the Government to “Drop the dead donkey”, while Cathy Jamieson (Lab) boasted of appearing on the front-page of the Himalayan Times. Headline: “Look at this nutter.”

And so it went on. I was intrigued to see what the voting would be at 5 o’clock. Of course, clearly Pauline’s motion would win – all the opposition parties were against the Government plans – but what would the margin be? Well, the result was 76-48 for Pauline, which suggests that all the Nat MSPs, and one other, supported the Government. A bit odd: you wouldn’t think it a party political issue, would you?

But there you are. Still, with that scale of opposition, local newspaper editors up and down the land may feel they can safely change out of their pyjamas. The bulldozer ain’t going anywhere – for now.