At its best, Wednesday’s recall resembled a second-rate pantomime performed with the grace of a school rugby team looking for something to tide them over until the end of term.
Fitting, then, that MSPs were dragged back into work between Christmas and New Year, that period unburdened by the laws of time and space, when there is nothing better to do than watch people make jokes that haven’t made sense since the Seventies while begging to know what day it is.
We had references to a foggy Neville Chamberlain, fluffed Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy quotes and, at one point, Ruth Davidson made a loud declaration that Nicola Sturgeon “hated the Arbroath Smokie”.
Scottish Labour, meanwhile, decided to use the event to finally confirm their stance on Schrödinger’s Brexit, voting in favour and against the deal simultaneously, with all the effectiveness of cat hiding in an oven.
Riddles in the dark
Following Wednesday’s day in Holyrood and Westminster felt like trying to work out the plot of a Christopher Nolan film without the sublime cinematography.
Scottish Conservative leader at Holyrood Ruth Davidson — who resigned as boss last year because she could not work with Boris Johnson — led the cry for the prime minister’s Brexit deal. Even though it contains special exemptions for Northern Ireland – another line in the sand the Lady-in-waiting hinted she would quit over.
The Scottish Tories said they were backing the deal because the alternative was no-deal, which up until recently Mr Johnson had said would not be such a bad thing. Not only that, but they were celebrating becoming “an independent coastal state”.
Meanwhile, the SNP wanted the voice of the Scottish Parliament to be heard (in this instance, if not when it comes to inquiries into harassment handling), with Ms Sturgeon putting forward a motion to not give consent to the trade deal.
The first minister had previously said no-deal would be catastrophic for Scotland, so asked her MPs at Westminster to vote against prime minister’s deal.
Fishing, she argued, had been let down, with EU boats still allowed into UK (and therefore Scottish) waters. The boats, she argued, should only be allowed in after Scotland had invited them as an independent nation of the union (the European one).
Labour, who claimed they could have gotten a better deal, or offered another referendum, or had other things to be concerned about, voted with the Conservative government to see the agreement approved by Parliament, while at the same time telling MSPs (and Welsh and Northern Irish equivalents) to NOT support the deal by refusing to give it consent.
Oh, and to make matters even more complex, the vote on whether or not to give the deal consent took place after Westminster had already approved it, meaning Boris Johnson didn’t even have to pretend he wasn’t ignoring it.
If it sounds confusing, that is because it is, and this is before Scottish Labour decided the pot had not been stirred enough.
Labouring the point
Scottish Labour MSP Alex Rowley pointed out the vote was a bit “meaningless” (oh no it wasn’t) and without reform, devolution was at risk of being completely undermined by Boris Johnson and his “shambolic” Westminster government.
Interesting, then, that Labour had a pretty good whack at shambolic themselves after getting tied up in knots on how best to defend the union this week.
Scottish Labour would, according to Richard Leonard the night before, vote against giving Boris Johnson “legislative consent”. This was announced at the same time the party’s only Scottish MP said he would NOT vote for no-deal by voting with the Tories in Westminster — in conjunction with other Labour MPs led by Sir Keir Starmer.
The initial statement did not mention Mr Starmer’s or the Westminster position, much to the chagrin of a fair few Labour MSPs, before it transpired Mr Leonard might not have even “signed-off” the release.
One prominent party source, when asked just what was going on, said “best ask Anas”, which could very well become the go-to response for many in Scottish Labour ahead of May’s election.
Anas Sarwar, who had been a leadership rival and only recently returned to the frontbench, sent another press release ahead of the vote, clarifying where the rock and the hard place was and the reason the party had managed to get itself stuck between the two.
Ultimately, Scottish Labour’s amendment (urging the UK and Scottish Government to protect workers’ rights, the Erasmus student exchange scheme and environmental standards) passed, but not before a full day of trying to bring doon the cloot.
Of course, it wouldn’t be a debate in the Scottish Parliament if the whole afternoon did not descend into an argument about independence, which it quickly did.
Willie Rennie warned the SNP of using wanting EU membership arguments as a weapon for a different fight (separation) and that the Lib Dems would always be the party for Europe and the UK.
The Scottish Greens voted for the SNP motion as diligently as they would have during term time.
In the end, Wednesday’s debate served as a rather handy metaphor for Brexit. Lots of perfunctory shouting, time wasting, protracted heart-felt pleas summoning the ghosts of the past and accusations about a leader’s hatred of fish — all carried out long after the ship had set sail.