This article appears as part of the Unspun: Scottish Politics newsletter.

Peace broke out at the Scottish Parliament for a brief moment at First Minister’s Questions today, as parties united to send their best wishes to the Scotland men’s football team as it embarks on its European Championship campaign.  

Douglas Ross wished them the “very best of luck,” John Swinney agreed – and let slip he’ll be at a game – while Anas Sarwar name-checked manager Steve Clarke, Andy Robertson and John McGinn in his tribute.  

Only Lorna Slater of the Scottish Greens held back her inner fan. Perhaps football is beneath her high-minded party, or maybe she just thought the love-in had gone on long enough? 

But just as avid watchers wondered if the boys were about to don their kilts and see-you-Jimmy hats and thumb a lift to Germany, the old political football of the NHS emerged and it was time for the SNP’s handling of that venerable institution to get a kicking.  

Douglas Ross is not a man long for this parish. Having launched a bid to become MP for Aberdeenshire North and Moray East in circumstances best described as ‘murky’, he’s stepping down as Scottish Conservative leader after the election.  

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He’s even managed to commit a sort of political Schrödinger's seppuku, existing in a superstate where he’ll also quit as an MSP if he wins election to Westminster, but go to the back benches if he doesn’t.  

And so, half-in, half-out, he rose to half-ass his questions with all the fervor of a man who knows some form of exit door is but a month away.  

Usually the perfect picture of pique, Mr Ross just wasn’t himself and had four goes at asking the same question. This basically amounted to ‘what is John Swinney going to do, personally, about NHS waiting times?’  

Having given his answer the first time round (work with local authorities on delayed discharge, spend more), the First Minister was able to wax at leisure on the constraints on Scottish spending imposed by Westminster austerity, a topic he never, ever, tires of.

The general election campaign is in full swing, and the race for Westminster has begun to bleed into the Holyrood chamber and into the weekly FMQs bunfight.  

With the polls making grim reading, and even government ministers coming close to admitting the jig is up, the Tories seem subdued while Labour and the SNP clash with stump speeches and lines straight out of the manifesto and campaign brochures.   

Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross seemed like he had one foot out the door of Holyrood at First Minister's QuestionsScottish Tory leader Douglas Ross seemed like he had one foot out the door of Holyrood at First Minister's Questions (Image: Scottish Parliament TV)
And so onto the man with two jobs. Not Douglas Ross (he has three; MSP, MP, linesman), but Anas Sarwar, who straddles a great dividing line in British politics.

As the leader of Scottish Labour, he has to contend with the policies of the SNP and the machinations of Scottish politics.  

But as a small part of a bigger party contesting the election on the UK national stage, he’s also got to pay heed to what his leader down south has to say, and the plan Sir Keir and his cabinet advocate for the country as a whole.

Throwing caution to the wind, Mr Sarwar also sought to interrogate John Swinney on the NHS, in this case the number of people going private because they can’t get treatment elsewhere.  

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Starting small, as he often does, he concentrated on dentistry before widening out his attack to cover knee operations, hip operations, cataract operations and even cancer treatment. All being paid for by patients who can’t access the NHS.     

But mention of private healthcare is an open goal for the SNP right now, and Mr Swinney was able to trot out one of his favorite quotes to puncture the Scottish Labour leader’s point.  

“I do have to say to Anas Sarwar – he's on very, very thin ground in challenging me on the question of private involvement in the national health service,” the First Minister replied. 

“Let me just remind him of the comments of Labour’s Shadow Health Secretary Wes Streeting, who said that a UK Labour government would, and I quote, ‘hold the door wide open for the private sector in the National Health Service.’

“He said also: ‘We will go further than New Labour ever did. I want the NHS to form partnerships with the private sector that goes beyond just hospitals’.” 

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He added: “Now, what we have here is a classic example of what Anas Sarwar gets up to in public debate. He comes here in Scotland and says one thing, and in England his bosses are doing a completely different thing which will have an affect on our budget here in Scotland. 

“Anas Sarwar has already been caught out by this this week. It’s not good enough to say one thing in Scotland, and be contradicted by your bosses in London.”  

Mr Sarwar’s response? To quote from the Labour Party manifesto. Westminster may be far from Holyrood, but at the minute it feels very, very close.