It’s a brave man who gets between Nicola Sturgeon and Ruth Davidson when they’re knocking seven bells out of each other on the floor of the Holyrood chamber, trading barbs so thinly veiled they could be spotted from the top of Calton Hill. But Anas Sarwar drew that particular short straw on Thursday, making his debut at FMQs as leader of the Scottish Labour Party.
‘You broke the ministerial code and you have to resign!’ thundered Ms Davidson.
‘Why should we listen to you, anyway, you’re slinking off to the House of Lords!” fired back Ms Sturgeon. I’m paraphrasing but you get the idea.
“Can’t we all just get along?” ventured Mr Sarwar, in so many words.
“The exchanges we have just heard represent the worst of our politics. Each day, each and every single one of us comes into this chamber and we sit in front of that mace” he points “inscribed with the ideals of this parliament.”
Oh no. He’s going to say it. He’s going to say the exact words.
“Wisdom, compassion, justice and integrity.”
It’s pretty clear at this point if Anas could hold the mace aloft and repeat “wisdom, compassion, justice and integrity!” while imagining himself bellowing “by the power of Grayskull!” he would. He definitely would.
But all the honeyed words in the world about being nice to each other are going to have little effect on the First Minister and Ms Davidson. Not today.
And yet he persisted.
Jackie Baillie and the SAS
Anas went through his talking points on Ms Sturgeon’s Wednesday appearance in front of the Holyrood committee, asking some of the key questions about why the Scottish Government had dragged its heels on cooperation, or why it took the threat of a vote of no confidence to get some documents handed over.
Unfortunately for Mr Sarwar his colleague, Jackie Baillie, had asked the same questions the day before with much more forensic chill – SAS soldiers trained to resist interrogation wouldn’t want to come face to face with Jackie Baillie, shining a desk lamp into their eyes, I suspect.
And unfortunately, too, for Mr Sarwar, Ruth Davidson made similar points just moments before, so he came across a little limp by comparison, even his hand gestures seemed half hearted.
It’s pretty clear at this point if Anas could hold the mace aloft and repeat “wisdom, compassion, justice and integrity!” while imagining himself bellowing “by the power of Grayskull!” he would. He definitely would.”
But he plodded on, eventually getting some claps of support from his own MSPs at the denouement.
First impressions count
It’s no easy task to land a killer political blow in parliament, the one you’ve been dreaming of your whole political life, leading up to the moment where you’ve just been elected leader of your party and there’s a huge political scandal.
It’s even more difficult to land that blow when there’s some very skilled politicians around you who have already been deep in the trenches on this same topic, and have rehearsed many times on the centre stage.
In general for Mr Sarwar, it can’t be easy being the leader of a denuded Scottish Labour Party, the latest incumbent after a long decline in popularity, with their sole Westminster representative and low expectations for the upcoming Holyrood elections.
Yes, most voters in Scotland vote for centre-left political parties. Just not Labour.
So Anas Sarwar has all his work ahead of him. He didn’t make a bad first impression at FMQs, it’s just that everyone else this week, all the other players in the drama, gave much better performances.
And you rarely get a second chance to make a good first impression.