The Cold Reading: An election story by Citizen Cuddis


A decidedly hingin’ luggit Wullie Rennie addresses the threadbare remnants of his party. No loaves or fishes will be required to feed this mini-multitude at today’s meeting: A family sized bag of Monster Munch and a bottle of ginger should cover it.

‘Since nobody on earth has a Scooby what the Liberal Democrats stand for any more, we have engaged a psychic to see if anyone in the spirit world can freshen up our 2017 manifesto before we go the way of the seven banded, sabre-toothed bandicoot.’

‘Daytime TV fanatics amongst us will be familiar with the renowned psychic, Derek Acorah,’ Wullie says. ‘Unfortunately, Mr. Acorah declined our invitation, saying that he’d rather throw himself off a 10 metre diving board in his best suit, belly flop into a septic tank and swim forty lengths without a snorkel.’

Wullie is the one on the right … we think

‘Disappointing that Derek turned us down. But after scouring the Spiritualist bars of Govan, where many are blessed with second sight and/or double vision, and plying a variety of punters with copious amounts of Old Speckled Hen we secured the services of a worthy substitute: a sub-famous psychic named after my favourite Indian starter: Eric Pakora.’


A willowy man in his early thirties emerges out of a cloud of dry ice, looking like Ichabod Crane three months into the Atkins. He strides forward, stops, leans over. He appears to whisper briefly to a small, invisible person by his side. The unseen figure is Eric’s spirit guide, the famous Victorian Liberal and world’s smallest political giant, Inch-High Mackay, known as the Whig with the wig, though Eric affectionately calls him Whiggy.

Eric launches straight into his warm-up spiel. ‘I’m getting the ‘Sh’ sound,’ he proclaims. ‘Someone is coming through with a name like’ — he looks down at Whiggy then back at the audience — ‘Scheherazade?’ No takers. ‘Sherman?’ Nothing. ‘Showaddywaddy?’ Diddly squat.

Not a good start. The LibDems, known only by their codenames: Pugh, Pugh, Barney McGrew, Cuthbert, Dibble and Wullie, desperate for higher media profile, might as well believe in this sort of metaphysical polly-wolly-doodle than bang on about Wullie’s modest penny. They ransack their memories for a connection.

‘My chiropodist’s granny had a ‘Sh’ name. They called her Shuggy,’ Barney McGrew, MSP for somewhere-or-another, pipes up. ‘Will that do?’

Not half, thinks Eric. ‘That’s it! Shuggy,’  he says. ‘We’re cooking with gas now, lad! Now, did Shuggy ever play on the right wing for Queen of the South by any chance?’

‘Not to my knowledge, says Barney.

‘The left wing?’

‘I don’t think so.’

‘Centre half?’


‘Reserve goalie?’


‘Did she cut up the oranges at half-time, perhaps?’



Despite the fact that no windows are open, a sudden cold draft gets up. It blows at right angles across Cuthbert’s left ear hole. An owl-like hooting sound reverberates through Cuthbert’s skull as if a jug band percussionist has just puffed across the open neck of an empty cider flagon.

Spliffs? Did someone say spliffs? I’m yer gal!

Stung by his failure to rack up a single hit that would identify Shuggy as the person ‘coming through’, Eric goes on to list a Smorgasbord of footballing jobs from Chief Coach to boot boy. Still nothing. Whoever’s trying to contact the living, the evidence seems overwhelming that it isn’t Wullie’s chiropodist’s granny.

Eric consults Whiggy again, eager to escape this early run of failures. He veers off on a new tack. ‘This person. Who isn’t Shuggy. Who’s passed—‘ Eric says.

‘Passed what?’ Dibble, MSP for Wherever shouts. ‘Water? A hospital ba’? The 11 Plus?’

Eric ignores the snark. ‘I’m being told to say Cliff. Or Spliff, perhaps.’ Wullie Rennie is out of his seat faster than an American Wrestling fanatic whose grappler of choice has just been fore-arm smashed in the goolies.

We’re legalising spliffs!’ Wullie says, like a four year old who’s just been promised a trip to the circus. Wullie is ecstatic that anyone should be talking to him at all. That they are dead and therefore not eligible to cast a vote doesn’t seem to matter. If his whizzy new manifesto clicks with the electorate maybe the living will start speaking to him too. It’s almost too much to bear.

‘Man, I’m gone, Daddio! Solid gone,’ he says.

Eric briefly glances at Whiggy. ‘I’m being asked to tell you to put forward a radical agenda of Austerity Lite. He says you should pay down the deficit. But propose innovative ways in which to make savings.


Wullie rummages through his pencil case and snatches a biro. He waits expectantly for the shade who isn’t Wullie’s chiropodist’s granny to tell Whiggy to tell Derek Pakora to reveal a manifesto more ethereal than a Tory Party election pledge.

Eric nods. ‘Whiggy says restrict ladders to a maximum of two rungs,’ he says.

Willie writes this down. ‘Excellent,’ he says.

‘Save energy by disabling the pop-up feature of all toasters by 2025.’ Clearly, Whiggy is on fire. Which is exactly what hundreds of kitchens will be if this gem is ever enacted.

Willie coos. ‘Wow! How green. We’ve never had anything as good as this before. We should go home and prepare for government!’

Whiggy has kept his best idea for last. Eric Pakora passes it on. ‘Upstage the Monster Raving Loony Party’s pledge to introduce a 99p coin by introducing a 99-and-a-half pence coin and bringing back the halfpenny.’

‘This is the dog’s’ says Wullie. ‘It’s a triple whammy! Wait until the public get wind of this. Come in Nicla Sturgeon, yer times up.’ An orgy of backslapping ensues. This comes than abrupt halt when Eric Pakora produces a groan of anguish. His hands clasp his head as if he were executing a Vulcan mind meld on himself.

‘What’s up? Dibble asks.

Eric explains in sombre tones: ‘Whiggy says that he stands by his suggestions, but since the chances of you lot being in power anytime before the earth turns to a cinder are thinner than soup kitchen broth, you can basically say what you like. There’ll be nobody listening.’

Pugh, MSP for that place up Fife way, silent until now, speaks. ‘Dead people, eh? Whadda they know?’