Lloyd Evans

Why does Ian Blackford get a free pass at PMQs?

Why does Ian Blackford get a free pass at PMQs?
Ian Blackford in action at PMQs (Getty images)
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The Speaker was busy at PMQs. He jumped in at the start and told Michael Fabricant, the orange-haired member for Lichfield, to stop rambling and get to the point. He admonished an SNP member for addressing the Prime Minister as ‘you.’ Convention dictates that ‘you’ in the Commons means the Speaker himself. ‘You keep saying 'you'. I’m not responsible for any of this,’ Lindsay Hoyle said.

And he jokingly called Boris, ‘Father Christmas,’ after a Tory suggested that the PM was like Santa for school kids. So there seemed to be a semblance of seasonal cheer in the chamber. And then Sir Keir Starmer stood up and read out a list of apocalyptic tidings like a town-crier during the Black Death. ‘Infection rates are rising,’ he moaned, ‘in some areas up by SEVENTY per cent.’ He quoted the British Medical Journal which no longer affects neutrality and uses the tone of a Momentum press-release. ‘The government is about to blunder into a major error that will cost many lives’. This was a reference to next week’s truncated Yule-tide revels.

Boris wanted to know Sir Keir’s alternative plan. ‘Cancel Christmas?’ he suggested. ‘I think that’s what he’s driving at.’ He accused the Labour leader of ignoring the heroic efforts of the country as it ‘comes together’ to defeat the virus. ‘He’s a one-club golfer,’ said Boris, confirming that his gag-writing efforts for the year are over already.

Ian Blackford stood up and embarked on a lengthy preamble to an even lengthier question. Where was the Speaker when he was needed? He’s keen to terminate gabblers like Michael Fabricant but he invariably allows Blackford to pump out enough gas to fill a bouncy castle. Today’s theme from the SNP was fiscal treachery and the ‘extreme Tory Brexit.’

Blackford, who has quite a stomach for figures, relied on a whole series of whoppers. He quoted a study claiming that Brexit has already cost Scotland £4bn. Another confederacy of pessimists predicts that every Scottish citizen will lose £1,600 as a result of Brexit. Then came the big one. 

Bloomberg Economics reckons that the UK’s bill for Brexit will be £200bn. Blackford demanded that Boris spend the rest of the afternoon writing a detailed assessment of Brexit’s impact on Scotland’s economy. Boris laughed this off and told him that Britain would ‘prosper mightily’ outside the EU. Blackford’s two queries took up five minutes of Commons time. Someone should put a hole in his bellows.

A better question came from the SNP’s Ronnie Cowan. He asked about the failure of drug policy in Scotland and the establishment of ‘consumption rooms’, that is, nice, squeaky-clean places where addicts can take drugs in the presence of clinicians wearing mauve scrubs. 

Boris repeated a common error and suggested that these safe spaces might encourage the use of narcotics – as if being a heroin-addict is like being a movie-star, and that everyone would do it given the chance. That view is disputed. However, he wasn’t about to add ‘funding junkies’ to his roster of achievements. He passed it back to the SNP. ‘The vast panoply of powers needed to tackle drugs and drug-crime is already vested in the devolved assembly,’ he said. ‘The failures he talks about are very much down to him.’ In other words, the SNP is turning Scotland to smack.