Orcadian Column, 13 June 2024

11 Jun 2024

For ‘embarrassing uncles’ everywhere, I may have raised the bar unsustainably high last week. During First Minister’s Questions on Thursday, I invited the Deputy First Minister to join me in congratulating Orkney and Shetland’s young athletes on a superb Junior Inter County competition and to confirm ongoing government support for the Island Games in Orkney next year.

Under parliamentary rules, I should’ve declared an interest as the former Chair of the Orkney Island Games Bid Committee. While putting the record straight in a Point of Order later that afternoon, I thought I’d go the whole hog and declare my interest as the uncle of Emily McArthur, who’d won the 400m and 800m races before joining her sister, Ella, and the rest of the Orkney hockey team in beating their Shetland counterparts 2-1.

MSPs across the Chamber seemed to approve, though I suspect the Presiding Officer won’t be calling me for a Point of Order again any time soon. Thankfully, Emily and Ella don’t appear to have been too mortified.

The following day, I found myself at Glaitness Primary speaking to P7 pupils about life as an MSP and the process of making laws. Asked what their legislative priorities might be, I was somewhat surprised when one girl insisted on the need to ban inflation. She went on to explain the importance of getting the cost of Freddo chocolate bars down to 10p again. Being able to explain complex macroeconomic concepts in simple, easy-to-understand ways shows the finely-honed political skills of Glaitness’ P7s.

They were also adamant that politicians promising to cut the cost of Freddos or ban vapes should then stick to their promise. It’s advice that Scottish Conservative leader, Douglas Ross might usefully have heeded to avoid landing himself in the mess in which he currently finds himself.

Serving simultaneously at Westminster and Holyrood over recent years, Mr Ross committed to stepping down as an MP at the next General Election upon taking on the leadership in 2020. This commitment was unceremoniously dumped last week when he announced he was parachuting himself into a North East seat, previously held by his colleague David Duguid. Mr Duguid recently suffered a serious illness but insists he was able and determined to stand for re-election.

Whatever the rights and wrongs, what is not in doubt is the ill-feeling that Mr Ross’ manoeuvring has stirred up within his own party. MSP colleagues have privately expressed astonishment and anger, while internal leaks of Mr Ross’ MP expenses claims have placed him firmly in the media firing line.

It all feels rather ironic for someone who has gleefully been claiming full credit for the resignation not just of former Health Secretary, Michael Matheson over his false expenses claim but also Humza Yousaf as First Minister, ignoring the not insignificant part each played in their own political downfall.

Of course, it’s not the first time Douglas Ross has been accused of poor judgment or flip flopping. His initial strong backing for both Boris Johnson and Liz Truss inevitably ended in ignominious back-tracking. This time, however, it has cost him his leadership of the Scottish party and potentially his seat at Holyrood. Hot on the heels of Rishi Sunak’s early retreat from the Normandy beaches during D-Day commemorations, Douglas Ross’ self-sabotage reinforces the impression that the Conservative election campaign is just a re-run of It’ll Be Alright on the Night.

As all this was unfolding over the weekend, I escaped north of the Galt for the formal opening of the Sanday Kirk. Alongside Alex (four months) and Mary (101 years), the island’s youngest and oldest residents, I had the privilege of being on ribbon-cutting duties. In the interests of safety, though, I thought I’d stick to holding Alex and let Mary wield the scissors.

Orkney Rocks choir then led a packed congregation in song, raising a roof that will soon need to be raised for real. Hats off to the Friends of Sanday Kirk for getting to this stage and ensuring an important community asset remains available for people to gather in prayer, to socialise and sometimes for yoga lessons. On reflection, me performing yoga in public is probably too ‘embarrassing uncle’ even for Ella and Emily to tolerate.

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