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Petticoat strangle

Annabel Goldie called it “a petticoat strangle” with that slightly lurid coquettishness the Scottish Tory leader brings to parliamentary occasions. It was Alex Salmond’s final conflict with the women at First Ministers Questions. Petticoats at dawn – well, midday. Would Alex be able to hold up the y-front with pride, or would he go down, caught in a hail of underwear between Annabel and Wendy Alexander, the new leader of the Scottish Labour MSPs?

In a desperate attempt to switch metaphors, Salmond told Annabel that he felt a little like the “meat in the sandwich”. A curiously pornographic image flitted across my mind before the rest of my brain resolved not to go there. Certainly, Salmond looked the big enchilada as he batted away wee Wendy’s strangely ill-conceived attack on the SNP for allegedly wanting to remove universal entitlement to free central heating for pensioners.

Unfortunately, the government isn’t intending to means test free central heating which rather undermined the thrust of this line of questioning. But the Labour’s new Scottish leader went on with it regardless. Wendy is supposed to be much better at doing her homework than Jack the mouth, especially on economics, so it was strange that this first assault by the new Labour leader was based on someone in the Labour group being told that someone had heard the SNP communities minister, Stewart whatsisname, say something about targeting, er, something or other. Well. it’s an easy mistake to make.

Mind you, the viewers – and there are quite a lot of them actually – might not have thought it was such a push-pover for Big Eck. The dynamics of question time were subtlety altered by the presence of a woman at the head of the now almost entirely female Labour front bench. Apart from the odd token man, like Malcolm Chisholm, there is scarcely a boxer short left in the front rank of Scottish Labour.

What ever happened to sex equality? If it goes on like this it will soon be time now for all-male shortlists for Labour candidate selection. Groups of Weegian Labour numpties will have to start burning their boxers; invading women-only spas and nail bars; getting together in consciousness raising groups dressed in boiler suits with masculinist badges saying “a man needs a woman like a fish needs a bicycle”.

I don’t know if Salmond is into cycling, but he does sound a bit fishy, and he would certainly have difficulty riding Wendy Alexander. Perhaps I should rephrase that. He has yet to find a way of dealing with the new sexual dynamics of question time. It’s not so easy to crush women with those cutting put-downs for which the SNP leader is famous. Salmond found it noticeably easier to deal with the few remaining Labour men, like Iain Grey and Andy Kerr, who were left bruised and angry after feeling he back of the First Minister’s hand. You just can’t do that to a woman. Not nowadays.

Partly it is the apparent unfairness of the contest, since against the very large, male SNP leader, Wendy Alexander looks vulnerable and almost girlish, despite being over forty years of age. We all know that she can look after herself, but it looks a little unequal, and Salmond’s smirk of self-satisfaction doesn’t help. The danger for Salmond is that he looks either patronising or a bully. The SNP leader isn’t renowned in his own party for his subtlety in dealing with its female members.

Salmond hasn’t quite got the measure of the women’s vote yet, and the other half of Scotland is waiting to see whether he can get the tone right. So, following Annabel, you could say that petticoats are Labour’s new secret weapon. Except that, somehow, I find it difficult to envisage Wendy Alexander or Margaret Curran or Sarah Boyack actually wearing them. Or not wearing them. (This column will stop here owing to an excess of lurid metaphor).

About @iainmacwhirter

I'm a columnist for the Herald. Author of "Road to Referendum" and "Disunited Kingdom". Was a BBC TV and radio presenter for 25 years - "Westminster Live" and "Holyrood Live" mainly. Spent time as columnist for The Observer, Guardian, New Statesman. Former Rector of Edinburgh University. Live in Edinburgh and spend a lot of time in the French Pyrenees. Will that do?


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