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The Scottish Mail on Sunday - 2021-10-10

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It was all going so well then she applauded her own joke. Actually clapped herself. In front of everyone. Twice.

Scottish Greens Conference

By STEPHEN DAISLEY

SOMETIMES it’s not what you say but how you say it, and other times it’s the fact you didn’t try saying it out loud beforehand. Lorna Slater was full of beans (soy, presumably) in her opening speech to the Scottish Green conference and, caught up in the moment, declared: ‘In the face of the global pandemic, with millions dead around the world, it might seem difficult to properly celebrate our political successes but political successes they are.’ Hoo, boy. Opening with the bright side of 4.5 million pegging it sets a pretty high bar for the rest of your speech. In fact, it wasn’t a total disaster. It spelled out why the party had buddied up with the SNP and the impact that decision was already having on public policy. This is what the Lib Dems failed to do. Slater told the audience at Dynamic Earth in Edinburgh: ‘Many of the policies that you wrote, you voted for and you put into our manifesto are now being made into law.’ She is a natural Minister – just five minutes in the door and she is already reassigning blame. Slater gives off the energy of a smart but skittish chemistry teacher and you’re never quite sure whether she’s going to discover a new noble gas or blow up the science annexe. Born in Alberta, the most Right-wing province of Canada, she ended up in Scotland and in the most Leftwing party at Holyrood. This transatlantic trajectory has left her with a beguiling Caledonian Canuck accent and the distinction of being the only known person to routinely say ‘aboot’ and ‘eh’ before moving to Leith. What really makes her stand out, though, is that she had a real job before entering Holyrood. I say a real job, but I am not entirely sure what an electromagnetic engineer does. My working assumption is that she was one of the Ghostbusters. Another thing that makes her stand out: she actually talked about the environment. Reading out the climate change charge sheet, she demanded: ‘And what is Boris Johnson doing about it?’ Nothing good was the answer, and Slater even threw in a fleeting impression of the Prime Minister that amounted to briefly shaking her arms, like a jogger having second thoughts about a morning run. The ‘anti-climate Tories’ were also ‘working hand-in-hand with polluters’, which she pronounced ‘puhl-yooo-terrs’, the extra syllables chugging out like phonic CO2 emissions. The Conservatives at Westminster, she continued, had handled the pandemic ‘so badly’. From a Minister in Nicola Sturgeon’s Government, this was a bold statement. Akin to Gordon Ramsay accusing someone else of being a bit sweary. The highlight of Slater’s remarks came when she cracked a halfdecent joke about COP26 and independence – then immediately ruined it. ‘The Prime Minister has said that he doesn’t want the Scottish Government to be involved in case they use it as an advert for independence,’ she scoffed. ‘Every day that Boris Johnson is in Downing Street is an advert for Scottish independence.’ Ha! Not a bad gag, I thought. And then it happened. Slater began applauding her own joke. Actually clapping for herself. Right there. In front of everyone. It got worse: she did it again. Promising Indyref2 before the end of this parliament, she gave herself another round of applause. Scottish Government Ministers are a self-congratulatory lot but none quite so literally. ‘We are just getting started,’ she concluded. ‘There are big things ahead for us.’ In fact, what was immediately ahead for them was Patrick Harvie. The angriest little tortoise in all the land ambled over to the podium, which he was just about tall enough to peer over, and announced: ‘Scotland needs us.’ Harvie, a well-known fan of that children’s series about the weirdo who steals a police box and fights metal wheelie bins with toilet plungers on the front of them, pondered what it would be like if he could go back in time using a Tardis. If we could go back to the 80s or 90s, he mused, ‘we could make the world listen to the warnings of the green movement’. Or, we could use such a feat of quantum mechanics more constructively: to warn the world off denim jackets and PJ & Duncan.

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