16 June 2010

Frank McAveety's Mouth

There's a very attractive girl in the second row, dark... and dusky. We'll maybe put a wee word out for her. She's very attractive looking, nice, very nice, very slim... The heat's getting to me... She looks kinda... she's got that Filipino look... You know... the kind you'd see in a Gauguin painting. There's a wee bit of culture.

And with those words, what was left of Frank McAveety's political career came crashing down around him. To be honest, I'm reluctant to join the line of people criticising him. Yes, it's pervy, yes, it's creepy, but the truth is that most of us have, at one time or another, perved on someone we spotted. However, we don't usually do it when a) we're Convener of the Public Petitions Committee and b) we're standing in front of an open mic.

As it happens, David Steel got caught out the same way back in 2003: when chairing the session to determine his replacement as Presiding Officer, Steel was faced with the sight of Rosie Kane and Carolyn Leckie approaching his desk to cast their votes, clad in their low-cut TK Maxx tops. Steel was heard to remark, "I tell you, the view's a lot better in this Parliament!"

But that was just a fly-away comment, and Steel was retiring anyway. McAveety is still an active politician and was overheard engaged in a borderline-stalky ramble. Nevertheless, this is what happens when we ask our politicians to be human: they get caught displaying a human weakness (in this case, the horn) and we condemn them. Then we get politicians who won't even go for a dump unless a focus group approves and we bemoan the lack of independent thought and the absence of real characters from the political scene. We can't have it both ways.

Mind you, this low-level fiasco is yet another hiccup on McAveety's CV. Having become Leader of Glasgow City Council, he then got elected to Holyrood in 1999, and was appointed Deputy Housing Minister. So far so good.

But then he miscalculated: at the time of Donald Dewar's death, in the ensuing Leadership contest between Henry McLeish and Jack McConnell, the McConnell-supporting McAveety changed horses mid-stream and backed McLeish. It was therefore no longer necessary for McLeish to keep him in the Ministerial team as a sop to his rival, and so McAveety was dismissed. Then, when McConnell entered Bute House a year later, and purged the Cabinet, McAveety was overlooked, until Richard Simpson's resignation in 2002, when he finally returned as a Deputy Health Minister. Back on track.

Indeed, promotion beckoned in 2003, when he was appointed Minister for Tourism, Culture and Sport. But even then, there was a catch: yes, he was called a Minister, and yes he was given a seat at the Cabinet table, but he was considered a Deputy Minister, allowing opposition parties to ask whether he was a senior junior minister, or a junior senior minister.

Then came Piegate, when he failed to show up when expected in the Chamber, and later claimed that he'd been 'unavoidably detained at the Arts Council Book Awards' when in fact he'd been having his lunch at the time he was supposed to be answering a Parliamentary Question. This put him in the wilderness until 2007, when he re-appeared as a junior spokesman, for Sport. Though getting the Public Petitions Committee Convenership wasn't a bad gig at all.

Still, this sums up McAveety's post-Glasgow career: getting relatively minor posts and ending up losing them on the basis of a relatively minor error. His career as Deputy Housing Minister ended because he made a political miscalculation; his career as Sport Minister ended because he couldn't just grab a quick sandwich then have something more substantial later; and his career on the Labour opposition frontbench has gone up in smoke because for one minute, his mouth opted to speak on behalf of his cock rather than his brain.

But what does this mean for Labour? With less than 12 months until a Holyrood election, Labour need to look like a Government-in-waiting. This is far more important at Holyrood than at Westminster: yes, people were fed up with Labour in 2007, but what pushed the SNP over the line was that the party appeared to be a credible alternative government - they say that oppositions don't win elections, but governments lose them: there's something in that, but always remember that governments have to have someone to lose an election to, and this was definitely the case in 2007. Conversely, last month, people in Scotland were fed up with Labour, but they still didn't trust the Tories, and of course, a basic point of both Labour and Tory campaigns - that the SNP couldn't form the Westminster government - was basically correct. So credibility counts, and just when Iain Gray's team needs to look competent, business-like, even statesman-like, McAveety makes himself look like a complete and utter perv. Oh dear.

But with this problem, comes an opportunity: one of the big problems with the Labour frontbench is that where most parties try and advance quality, Labour at Holyrood has gone for quantity, to the extent that an SNP ministerial team of 16 is shadowed by a Labour frontbench of 24. Now, in 2007, the SNP really pushed Alex Salmond to the forefront - even putting his name on the ballot paper - but the other key figures got their moments: Nicola Sturgeon was prominent; John Swinney and Jim Mather did their business presentations; the SNP's final election broadcasts basically gave us a glimpse of the key members of the next government. We don't get the same sense from Iain Gray's unwieldy, amorphous blob of a Shadow Cabinet and that will damage Labour. It doesn't have to reflect Government portfolios - at this stage in the political cycle, better for everyone that it look like Iain Gray's vision of a prospective Labour Government than a mirror of the current SNP Government - but it has to look like the team that will come in if, somehow, Iain Gray ends up in Bute House. You can't do that with a frontbench consisting of so many people. So McAveety's departure gives Gray a chance to wield a bigger axe, and cut his Shadow Cabinet down to size... if he dares.

That said, I don't see him doing so, which will serve only to highlight Iain Gray's weaknesses as Labour Group Leader.

And frankly, those weaknesses - a reliance on far too many people, an unwillingness to respond to change, a failure to address a clear problem and worst of all, a complete failure to present an alternative Government so close to the next election - will prove far more costly than Frank McAveety's weakness for dusky-looking women.


Andrea said...

it seems he has just placed Rhona Barking as convener and Bill Butler as sport shadow spokesman. No major reshuffle.

Julie said...


Frank McAveety's comments are part and parcel of everyday conversation. Maybe we're all pervs and hypocrites with it..

neil craig said...

This is considered a career ending scandal.

The facts that between them the parties have blown £41.3 million not building a Glasgow airport link they all know they were offered for £20 million; that £500 million is being blown digging up Edinburgh's streets; that £2.3 billion is being taken for the taxpayer to build a Forth crossing that should cost £10-40 million & that the entire numptocracy are committed to destroying half of Scotland's national wealth over the next 10 years seems to have put a glitch in the careers of nobody.

Does this not show what a petty, contemptable & incompetent lot our "leaders" are?