EVERY Wednesday in London, and a day later in Edinburgh, a hullabaloo erupts.
This ritualistic brouhaha lies at the core of our respective democracy and semi-democracy.
Both are often called Question Time – not to be confused with the Scotland-baiting television programme of the same name – but, more technically, they are Questions to the Prime Minister and, in Scotia (where we do things only slightly differently), First Minister's Questions. I've got a question: what's the point of these?
I'm not gainsaying them. I'm just asking. Whom do they serve? Why so much sound and fury, which the citizenry affects to ignore? What has it to do with them, by which I mean they, The People?
I speak after top person David Cameron was accused of dodging the weekly pantomime in yonder Hoose o' Commons. Unusually for a Labour Party accusation, the charge was unfair, as the PM has missed only three of 57 sessions, one of which was due to the death of his faither.
On the other paw, as The Herald astutely noted, asked last November what was the most tedious thing about his job, Mr C burst into tears and wailed: "Waking up on Wednesday morning and realising it's Prime Minister's Questions." You can't blame the man.
My admiration of politicians, and concomitant dislike of their mortal enemy – They People, as previously mentioned – is a matter of record. I'd like to see some of these moaning schmucks have a shot of the ducking stool at Prime or First Minister's Questions.
While conflating the two Question Times there, I'm aware there are qualitative differences. There's more hullabaloo but less hate in the London event. Maybe it's a Celtic thing here. I'll never forget the vicious loathing on the coupons of Labour MSPs when they became an opposition.
The expression largely remains (though not on all phizogs – I exempt Hugh Henry, Malcolm Chisholm and Patricia Ferguson), even though its leading bug-eyed practitioner, Iain Gray, has gone, having been replaced as Labour leader by that wee grim wifie who looks like she's aye up – arms folded, fag danglin' from mooth – for a stairheid rammie.
But, in other respects, similarities exist between the London and Edinburgh palavers. Opposition leaders lob insults which end with a question to the Prime or First Minister. You must be able to think on your feet if you want to answer these credibly. I couldn't do it and – after considerable thought – have decided never to put my name forward. The nearest I've come to any sort of question time is appearing (invisibly) on the radio, which also despairs of dithering. Radio – like The People generally – abhors silence, and interviewers pressing me for an answer would despair when I replied: "Shh, I'm trying to think."
Similarly, if I were First Minister, my reply to questions from the opposition would be: "Aw, shurrup." True, some long answers might be translated as saying roughly the same. But you can't, by and large, be curt at Question Time, and must micturate in a continuous stream (hence all the "Let us be clear" preambles, which provide time to think).
There are some terrific performances at FMQs, but most go unreported. The press gathers for one purpose only: the hope of gaffes. I've spoken before of how almost ghostly I find democracy, certainly as practised in parliaments. It's like a shadow world into which the public rarely venture.
They should. It's the best free show in town, featuring grown men and burdz in suits and frocks (or whatever it is) insulting each other with happy abandon. Apart from entertainment for the anorak-clad, the point of Question Time is point-scoring. You stand up with your mob behind you – ready to burst into gargantuan belly-laughs out of all proportion to your quips – and engage in word-fencing with the right honourable clot opposite.
But it's one clot after another. It can really wear you down. So spare a thought for The People's Dave next Wednesday morning when he wakes and says: "Hello birds, hello trees, hello Samantha. Aw – and you'll forgive my lapse into Scotch here – naw. Wednesday. Question Time. I think I'll just tell them all to shurrup."
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