FMQs: Renaming Rennie

Willie Rennie
Image caption Willie - not Edna, mind - Rennie

Willie Rennie, he who shepherds the Scottish Liberal Democrats, was mildly entertained to receive a missive from the first minister in her role as leader of the SNP.

He was even more amused to discern that the letter opened with the salutation "Dear Edna".

Was this Edna, the costume designer in The Incredibles cartoon? Or perhaps Dame Edna Everage, of the wisteria hair and pronounced opinions?

Neither. The letter was addressed to "Edna Rennie". Yet another minor confusion to add to the clanjamfrie that is contemporary politics.

Anyway, Nicola Sturgeon was apparently eager to secure Edna's support for the SNP in the European elections.

There was an opportunity, she argued, to send out the message that Scotland would not accept her wishes being ignored over Brexit.

Brexit must be reversed. No argument over that from Willie or, indeed, Edna.

But the Lib Dem leader dissented from another element of policy from the first minister; that of pursuing a further referendum on independence.

Image copyright Willie Rennie

You will recall that, yesterday, the FM published a bill setting out a template for the conduct of future referendums, should such arise.

Naturally, Ms Sturgeon had in mind one particular plebiscite - her demand for indyref2 in the latter half of next year.

Mr Rennie was less than gruntled at this prospect. It risked, he argued, fragmenting the emerging unity among Remainers that a second Brexit referendum should be the priority.

Instead, Nicola Sturgeon was about to "cut and run" down a different direction entirely. Come back, he said, and join me in a consensual campaign.

Image copyright PA
Image caption Nicola Sturgeon had as little time for Edna as she did for Willie Rennie

Now Ms Sturgeon was not about to put up with this from Willie Rennie, or his alter ego.

Yes, she said, parties supporting Remain had been to the fore in the European elections in Scotland. But it was the SNP who mustered the bulk of that vote, not the Liberal Democrats.

Plus, she said, it was entirely valid to argue for the UK remaining in the EU - while simultaneously preparing to give Scotland the choice of pursuing independence.

She was not prepared, she said, to see Scotland "sink" with that less than sea-worthy vessel, HMS Brexit.

Still, nothing if not polite. Ms Sturgeon prefaced this attack by thanking Mr Rennie profusely for confirming that the SNP had won the European elections.

Team Sturgeon whooped in delight, banging their desks. Team Rennie, more compact but still enthusiastic, sat in dignified silence, their muse mute.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Richard Leonard has had a tough week, but had the backing of his Labour benches at FMQs

In the earlier exchanges, both the Conservatives and Labour studiously avoided the topics of Brexit and independence.

Well, wouldn't you, if your party had been quite so comprehensively gubbed in the European Elections?

To be fair, both Ruth Davidson and Richard Leonard pursued valid, salient topics - and pursued them with vigour.

For the Tories, Ms Davidson cited statistics to the effect that hospital waiting time targets were routinely being breached.

Ms Davidson went further. She wanted the FM to put the health secretary's job on the line if the stats didn't improve by October.

Now Ms Sturgeon is eager for the hospital figures to improve. But she is also a paid-up member of the Former Health Secretaries League, Edinburgh Chapter.

So, wisely, she side-stepped the putative challenge to her chum's tenure in office, confining her remarks to an insistence that things were improving, while still difficult.

Labour's Richard Leonard has had a rough week. Dreadful results in the European elections were followed by a double resignation from his front bench.

Still, he rebounded from these troubles to pursue the first minister over the fate of the workforce at the Caledonian railway works in Glasgow. His intent was serious, his demeanour equally so.

In practice, he prised little from the FM who noted that her government stood ready to help, if and where possible. But his vigorous approach drew solemn support from his backbenches.