In the chamber last week, the recent disruption on Scotland’s rail network was the first subject up for discussion in a heavily subscribed topical question time. Representing the Government was Michael Matheson, the Cabinet Secretary for Transport, Infrastructure and Connectivity, who had to deal with more detailed questioning on the same topic at Wednesday’s meeting of the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee. However, the issue that was uppermost in committee members’ minds at that meeting was the delayed completion of the Aberdeen western peripheral route, on which it had earlier heard from the contractors for the project. As part of his evidence, Stephen Tarr of Balfour Beatty explained the nature of the problem with the River Don crossing.
Unsurprisingly, given the febrile atmosphere at Westminster and the series of lengthy debates in the Commons on exiting the European Union, the main debate in the chamber on Wednesday afternoon was on the EU withdrawal agreement and political declaration—more specifically, on a Scottish Government motion that the agreement and declaration
“be rejected and … a better alternative be taken forward.”
Following the debate, which was the occasion for the first use in the Official Report of the term “clusterbùrach” (see the accompanying post for more on this!), the motion was agreed to by all parties except the Conservatives.
The issue of EU exit—this time, in the context of the environment—was also the focus of attention at last week’s meeting of the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee, with Roseanna Cunningham, the Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform, and Fergus Ewing, the Cabinet Secretary for the Rural Economy, setting out the likely negative impacts of Brexit on their portfolios.
On the matter of the UK Government replacing funding that has hitherto been provided by the EU, Fergus Ewing was moved to quote Burns:
“‘In gath’rin votes you were na slack;
Now stand as tightly by your tack:
Ne’er claw your lug, an’ fidge your back,
An’ hum an’ haw;
But raise your arm, an’ tell your crack
Before them a’.’
That is, after the voting, you have to fulfil your promises. We are saying, ‘Do what you promised you would do.’”
But Ayrshire lad John Scott wasn’t willing to give the cabinet secretary the last word, retorting:
“I do not really want to get into an exchange of Burns quotes, but I refer you to ‘To a Louse’ and the suggestion that:
‘O wad some Power the giftie gie us
To see oursels as ithers see us!
It wad frae mony a blunder free us,
An’ foolish notion’.
I think that you are overemphasising the uncertainty beyond 2020 and 2022.”
At Westminster, too, poetry was resorted to on Brexit, with Conservative member Sir Nicholas Soames selecting some lines from Lewis Carroll’s “The Hunting of the Snark” that he felt were appropriate to the UK’s present situation. You can read his speech, which was graciously received by the SNP’s Stewart Hosie, here.