24 February 2010

A Thirst Unquenched

One of the most fascinating aspects of this Scottish Parliament is the SNP Government's unerring ability to pull rabbits out of the deepest hats. For a while, it looked as though that skill had deserted the leadership, but today, fortune opted to smile on the SNP. And I'm not talking about the reaction to Jim Murphy's "We do do God" speech, which managed to piss off everyone, of all faiths and none, by alarming the secularists who want religion not to come within five miles of politics and government, and the religions themselves, who find the idea of a Government which has ignored a fair number of their teachings preaching to them somewhat sickening.

No, what I'm talking about is the basic smothering of two '-gate' scandals.

First, we learn that the Standards Commissioner has decided that there is, in effect, no case to answer regarding Lunchgate:

"Having fully considered the terms of the complaints and the terms of your own response (jointly with Ms Sturgeon) and other evidence, I have concluded that – for the purposes of the Scottish Parliamentary Standards Commissioner Act 2002 – the complaints, as submitted and insofar as within my jurisdiction, are not relevant and that there is no evidence of sufficient substance warranting further investigation. I have, therefore, dismissed the complaints for the reasons set out in the attached Note of Decision."

Now, I said at the time that in politics, facts take second place to appearances. The reality is that the lunch auctions are basically a whisky roll writ large but they looked like some sort of Cash for Access scandal, and as I said, I'm stunned that no one thought to look at how auctioning off time with a Minister would look, regardless of the good intention and target audience - who basically want lunch with someone they respect and support. Nevertheless, the background doesn't matter: what matters is the Standards Commissioner sees nothing worth looking into. The appearance now favours the SNP. Lunchgate is now pretty much off the menu (so to speak) though I suspect that a new fundraising approach may well be developed anyway - just in case.

Secondly, Nicola Sturgeon came before Holyrood today to account for her part in Lettergate, or Nicolagate, or whatever this one was called:

"In short, I assisted a constituent in good faith and for what I considered to be the right reasons, but in doing so I did get some things wrong and for that I am sorry."

It would appear that most took her statement of contrition for what it was and were content to leave it there: they were happy to accept her good faith, that she made a mistake. And I think it's cheering for a politician to admit to being human, and to hold their hands up for doing things wrong. It's now hard to see where this one can actually go, so it too is off the menu.

Except that while the Tories and LibDems opted for magnanimity (though couldn't resist a pop at Alex Salmond's characteristically boisterous defence of his Deputy), Labour still tried to go on the attack. Well, it doesn't seem to have worked, if Caron's reaction is any indicator:

So, would her gracious words have dragged the Labour Party up to a decent standard of debate. Nah. I think they realised that she had done enough to keep her job but many of them insisted on sticking the knife in to both her and Alex Salmond. I'll tell you what, I'm so glad Johann Lamont isn't my MSP. It seems that if I went to her I'd have to fill in a disclosure form at the door of her surgery. She seems to only want to represent the blameless. She asked if Nicola had performed background checks. I'm sure her staff have enough to do without turning into private detectives.

In a way Johann Lamont's words seem to sum up Labour's attitude to people. Most people who seek help from elected representatives are good people who tell the truth. Many are really vulnerable and desperately need help. Unless you have a good reason to doubt it, you have to take people's word for what they're telling you.

Iain Gray then asked her to withdraw the letter - which seems a bit daft seeing as she'd just publicly said that she'd change things and that the hearing was over and done with anyway. How can you take something off the public record as if it had never existed? A bit strange.

And there we go - everyone else is happy to draw a line under an unfortunate incident, but Labour still try to find a fight to pick, even if it means taking things to the ridiculous extent of insisting on background checks on constituents before taking up their case. But, as we already know, personal attacks are OK as long as a) they're made by Labour, or b) they're aimed at someone other than Labour politicians.

Here's something else to consider. This is what Yousuf said almost two weeks ago, as Lettergate was brewing:

And I would advise any Nationalists who feel she is being hounded to look back to what happened with Wendy Alexander.

And there it is. For Yousuf has, I fear, rather hit the nail on the head (albeit inadvertently). It speaks volumes that whatever Nationalists and others were looking at - probably the case in question on its own merits or otherwise, I'd imagine - Labour people were looking at what happened to Wendy Alexander.

That the Electoral Commission took the view that Wendy Alexander broke the law doesn't come into it.

That she was found to have breached rules on the declaration of gifts doesn't come into it.

That the only sanction she faced for breaking the law and breaching what are in effect anti-corruption rules was a one-day suspension from Parliament proposed by the Standards Committee which was subsequently quashed in the Chamber (compare and contrast that with Frances Curran, Colin Fox, Rosie Kane and Carolyn Leckie being banned for a month for acting like prats and one can't help but feel that MSPs' sense of proportion is somewhat skewed) doesn't come into it.

The only real punishment was the one she inflicted on herself: she chose to resign as Labour Leader. She was pushed out not by other people, not by procedures, but by circumstances, nothing more.

But as far as Labour are concerned she was taken down, and that's all that matters.

And they have to see someone else taken down in revenge.

After all, their attempts to lever themselves back into office in the wake of last year's Budget debacle fell apart almost within minutes, and their attempts to use Lockerbie as a crowbar with which to prise Kenny MacAskill out of office failed, but after a year and a half of searching they thought they had it. But Lunchgate, it transpires, doesn't even merit a serious investigation. So comparisons with Wendy Alexander - who endured several investigations (though was fortunate to escape prosecution) - don't hold. And Nicola Sturgeon's response to Lettergate was to stand up, apologise, and admit that she got it wrong. Again, comparisons with Wendy Alexander - who dug in and ended up surrounded by acolytes who expressed horror that anyone might want to criticise their Dear Leader for, you know, breaking the law until her position became untenable - simply don't stack up.

But that doesn't matter - since Wendy Alexander's resignation, Labour have had a thirst for blood.

It's the same petty, vindictive personal politics that they've been playing at for years. The same mean-spirited vitriolic ad hominem attacks that they're crying foul over in this, the week when Gordon Brown is on the receiving end of them.

Yet even when they're saying how appalling it is when these things happen to their man, they're still trying them on others.

Quite simply, they deserve to fail.

Let this thirst of theirs continue to go unquenched!


Jeff said...

Very well said Will, cracking post!

Unknown said...

You're right to say that Nicola Sturgeon may have made an error, but that error was as good an error as you can get - she was actually genuinely trying to help but there was no breach of the law as there was with Wendy Alexander.

You make a very valuable point about Labour being thirsty for revenge. I remember when Angela Constance was about to give birth, there was stuff in the press about the other parties refusing to agree to give her maternity leave. This seemed to hark back to old grudges of several years previously when apparently the SNP created problems for the likes of Karen Gillan and Susan Deacon when they had their babies.

My point at that time was simply that it didn't matter what had gone before, it was important to do the right thing now. Angela had no part in the previous parliament so she shouldn't have to suffer - although I'd have said the same if she had been, if that makes sense.

Unknown said...

Good post. I'd much rather have an MSP that made a mistake out of compassion (for which she has excellently apologised) than a politician that won't do the right thing due to "party politics"

Will said...

Ta, Jeff, and I agree with you 100%, Caron - I think I said that NS was seeking to do the right thing by the wrong person and as errors go, you're absolutely right, that's not a bad one at all.

That's a good point about the arrangements over maternity leave. I suppose one of the factors to consider is that the Coalitions in 1999 and 2003 had a decent enough majority so could absorb absences in a way that the parties can't in this Parliament, but even so, it's not just a petty approach as you flag up, but it's also stupid politics: Labour could have given the SNP some slack, then issued a press release about how they were being the bigger people (and they could have also sent their Regional MSP into the area on a regular basis as a quasi-constituency member, had it been anyone than George Foulkes, I suppose...) and gained some long-term kudos for the measure. Instead, they went for the egg-throw. Sums them up.

Will said...

Paul, you're right - if there's any evidence beyond vote share and seat tallies which shows that you can either have a constituency-based parliament, or a party political one, but not both, this case is it...

Anonymous said...

"In a way Johann Lamont's words seem to sum up Labour's attitude to people....Unless you have a good reason to doubt it, you have to take people's word for what they're telling you."

Err... this guy is a twice convicted fraudster (does that perhaps count as a good reason to doubt it)????

subrosa said...

I doubt if it's still on iPlayer, but a couple of Fridays ago on Brian's lunchtime luv-in, that's exactly what Richard Baker said to Pete Wishart. Brian Taylor immediately pounced and said 'so this is about revenge for Wendy is it?'

How I wish I'd been in the audience.

Anonymous said...

what is it about labour and other unionists parties, that terrifies them about the snp or Scottish independence. What is it that they all have to hide, are they in great fear of what will be found out about them, when their english masters throw them to the dogs after Scottish independence, will the knowledge of their deceit and lies about their role in deceiving the Scottish people be used against them and expose them as the charlatans they undoubtedly are. They no doubt fear this exposure, not just in Scotland but internationaly

Ted Harvey said...

Will, re the point you touched on earlier about many Scottish Labour people themselves being unhappy about this continued petty , mean and meaningless current of thinking in their party. This rings true with a conversation I've just had.

The person I spoke with is well connected on the peripheral advisory hinterland of Scottish Labour and confirmed to me that they have been used as the proverbial 'shoulder to weep on'. They related how Party members and activists complain about their so-called leaders 'just not getting it', and 'focusing on the dirty wee minutue whilst missing the big picture'.

I offer this, fully acknowledging that it is pure coffee shop gossip and anecdote - but I'm taking as further confirmation of my conclsuion that the Scottish Labour stopped being capable of being a learning and adapting organisation a long time ago.

From the Scottish civic perspective, however, I do worry about all this becuase the SNP, like any other party neeeds a robust and capable challenger (otherwise we revert back to the type of scenario we had in Labour-dominated Scotland when, in the words of ex junior Labour Scottish Minister Davids Cairns, Labour was the establishment).

TartanSeer said...

The Herald is looking pretty daft now, is it not?

No surprise it is losing market share at a rate of knots.