In 1999, many people were sceptical about the effect the new Parliament would have on the everyday life of ordinary people in Scotland. Few would have predicted at the time that within fifteen years, we would vote in an independence referendum, with the distinct possibility of a second before 2021. I for one did not imagine at the time the wealth of comedy material that it would inspire over the next twenty years.
The Scottish Parliament has not only been a great source for humour, it has also performed the invaluable service of getting under the skin of right-wing letter-writers from the leafy suburbs. Even its very creation was making angry people from Trinity (in Edinburgh) so hot under the collar that they had to fire off an outraged missive to the editor of The Scotsman to vent their spleen, and they’ve been doing it on a near-daily basis ever since.
Twenty years ago, the average person in Scotland would not recognise any politicians from our country unless they were in the Westminster government. It was impossible to make jokes about Scottish politics, because even in Scotland audiences did not know who they were meant to be laughing at.
It may have taken a while to get going, but once it did, the Scottish Parliament changed all that. Over the past two decades, it has brought us a colourful cast of characters who have entertained us with their exploits in the Parliament and with their extra-curricular activities. We’ve had people taking holidays with BBC presenters, ministers having to resign for eating pies in the canteen when they should have been at their work, we’ve had alleged visits to swingers’ clubs in Manchester and we’ve had a guy trying to set fire to a hotel. It has been more dramatic and twice as amusing as River City!
The 2007 Scottish parliamentary election was a watershed in the new parliament’s history. It not only delivered the first Nationalist administration, but it also represented the most incompetently-run election in our history, with a stunning 100,000-plus spoiled ballots were recorded. In other words, enough people to make up the population of an entire city failed to understand the question on the ballot paper.
While researching this piece (i.e. looking through my old joke books), I discovered this poem I wrote about it at the time, in the style of William McGonagall:
Passions rose so high the night of the 2007 election that a voter in Edinburgh attacked a polling station wielding a golf club. What a particularly Edinburgh way of making your feelings felt! In Paisley or Dundee, the sporting equipment of choice would have been a baseball bat.
In 1997, the Scots constitution
Was rewritten by the Act of Devolution
‘There shall be a Scottish Parliament’
The First Minister Donald Dewar said
But alas before it opened he was sadly dead.
Although his statue now stands in Buchanan Street in Glasgow
Often with a traffic cone on his head
When the building opened people came from all around
To see what they were getting for their four hundred million pound
They flocked to Edinburgh to visit Holyrood
But when they saw it many said ‘I don’t think it’s that good’
The nation’s leaders gathered there to talk
Unless they had gone on holiday with Kirsty Wark
Each member carrying out their parliamentary role
Apart from Tommy Sheridan who –
According to some salacious stories in the tabloid papers was –
Allegedly down in Manchester getting his hole
In 2007 election day
Was set for Thursday the 3rd of May
But it caused many people much distress and dismay
The spoiled ballot papers numbered 120, 673
The same as the population of Bonnie Dundee
Which the English treated with very much glee
South of the border they did laugh and did gloat
Saying bloody Jocks don’t even know how to vote
But it’s wrong to blame the entire population
For a highly confusing system of proportional representation
2014 was, of course, the year when the whole of Scotland engaged in the political process and we were introduced to a whole new cast of buffoons and pantomime baddies. I’m sure I am not alone in being able to watch endless re-runs of Jim Murphy being pelted with eggs in Kirkcaldy.
Where Scotland as a nation will be twenty years hence is anyone’s guess. We may be independent; we may be part of a third-world UK, or we may be under twenty feet of water if sea levels continue to rise. Let’s hope we’re still laughing in 2039!
Tickets are now on sale for Vladimir McTavish’s 2019 Edinburgh Fringe show ‘60 Minutes to Save the World at The Stand’s New Town Theatre https://www.thestand.co.uk/home