you're reading...
Alex Salmond, benefit cheat, BNP SNP nationalism racism Gallagher homecoming, lunchgate, nicola sturgeon, sale of lunches

Nicola Sturgeon didn’t do anything wrong – but politicians need to think about who they help.

   Sturgeon intervenes in aid of benefit cheat; First Minister lobbies for illegal immigrant on drug charges; SNP leadership in cash-for-access row over sale of parliamentary lunches… You could be forgiven for thinking that the SNP administration had taken leave of its senses recently, or belatedly started playing catch up with Labour and the Tories over sleaze. 

  It’s given the Scottish press a new angle on the SNP administration, which has been boringly competent for nigh on three years now.  Brings to mind one of those cod ‘apologies’ in Private Eye: “Readers of the Scottish press may have been under the impression that Super Salmond and his team of political visionaries were transforming Scotland through a virtuoso display of modern minority governance and sheer hard work. We now accept that there is not a jot or tittle of truth in this.  In reality, Fat Eck and his sleazy crew of misguided misfits have turned Scottish democracy into a disgrace from which it will never recover. We apologise for any misunderstanding.”

   So what exactly is going on?  Is it all got up by the press as the legion of cybernats believe? Has the SNP been infected with mad party disease?  Is it all over for nationalism?  Well, first of all this is about the curiously intense relations politicians choose to have with their constituents, especially those from an ethnic background. I’ve often been surprised by the lengths MPs and MSPs will go to help them.  As the SNP rightly pointed out last week, Gordon Brown himself has been known to give character references to people on drugs charges, just because they happen to live in his constituency.  Alex Salmond got into some presentational difficulties  lobbying the home office on behalf of a Chinese asylum seeker, also facing drugs charges.  Why do they bother?   Well, partly it’s about votes.  Supporting a member of an ethnic minority in a seat like Govan, where the Asian vote is crucial, can’t do any harm at election time. But I don’t think that was Nicola Sturgeon’s prime motivation.  
   These days MSPs are desperate to show that they can actually do things for people. They hope that helping constituents in a jam will generate goodwill as the tale gets circulated round Somerfield and Tescos.  No –  I can’t really explain why Nicola Sturgeon didn’t see why helping this particular individual, guilty of defrauding £80,000, would go down badly in these establishments.  There is nothing that angers people more than benefit cheats.  I can accept that she genuinely felt that Abdul Rauf had shown remorse and started to pay back the money and that incarceration might endanger his health.  But many Govan constituents will say he should have thought of that before he did the crime..  Alex Salmond insisted at First Minister’s Question Time last week that it was an MSP’s “bounden duty” to support a constituent “without fear or favour”.   But that doesn’t mean supporting them right or wrong. 

   Of course, Nicola Sturgeon herself did nothing wrong, as far as we know. There was no ministerial impropriety, no money involved and no cover up.  But these issues are all about perception, about judgement.   There was an echo of the al Megrahi affair, when the SNP justice Minister, Kenny MacAskill suffered collateral damage from his dogged decision to follow “due process” and release the Lockerbie bomber to die at home in Libya.  MacAskill similarly argued that he had done the right thing – while others said that giving special treatment to convicted mass murderers sent out the wrong message.  

 Actually, I think these latest scandalettes have more to do with independence than constituency politics or the law.   How so?   Well,  because this latter half of the first ever nationalist term of office was supposed to be about one thing and one thing only: securing that referendum on independence.   The bill should have been presented by now,  allowing Scottish voters the opportunity to demonstrate their enthusiasm for leaving the UK.  Nothing was supposed to get in the way, which is why there’s nothing really hot on the legislative agenda right now, nor any innovative policies emerging from Bute House.   

   Cynics might say that the SNP were anyway running out of ideas and running out of puff.  A lot of manifesto promises have had to be ditched –  local income tax, class sizes, the futures trust.   But  in Alex Salmond’s plan, 2010 was always marked out as the year for “raising Scotland’s game”.  Unfortunately, the Scots don’t seem to want to play at the moment.   I’m not saying that independence is a dead duck, but it’s not looking too healthy right now.  Support for independence in most tests of opinion remains well below 30%, while the SNP itself is losing ground  to Labour in voting intentions, both for Holyrood and for Westminster.  Partly this is an inevitable backwash from the economic crisis – people simply have other things on their minds right now, like their jobs, houses.   There’s some truth in the claim by Jim Murphy, the Labour Scottish Secretary, that the banking crisis made voters look to the security of the UK.   But whatever the cause, the urgency seems to have gone from the whole constitutional issue. This doesn’t mean it’s all over for nationalism, but what it does mean is that the SNP is stuck on the stage without any music to play – or anything the voters want to hear.  The government has begun to drift, and when governments drift, thing go wrong.  Ministers lose concentration and become accident prone.

  They should console themselves that Alex Salmond’s approval ratings are still high.  Labour’s performance in Holyrood has been dismal until the row over Nicola and the benefit cheat presented Iain Gray with an open goal last week.   After an inordinately long honeymoon  normal political service is is jut reasserting itself.   Never having been in government before, the SNP is unused to this experience and is in danger of overreacting to it.   Governments must get used to being disliked and stay calm when things go wrong. They could still come out strengthened.   This is a test of the moral fibre of the nationalist movement.  They must learn the most important quality in government is an ability to keep the heid. 


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?


13 thoughts on “Nicola Sturgeon didn’t do anything wrong – but politicians need to think about who they help.

  1. Nice to see you following the aditorial line as per the SH today. You could of course concluded your article with:"Keep the heid" – especially in the face of near hysterical and "Infamous" (Herald's own words) press coverage.

    Posted by Dramfineday | February 14, 2010, 7:08 pm
  2. I have to agree with Dramfineday ,the Herald was so over the top ,its sad but the Herald was once a paper with open honest debate but has now stooped to the level of the Daily Record. Cant someone tell me why the Scottish media is so bad, its a sad day when we have to buy a paper like the Times which is London based to get information about Scotland .

    Posted by Conway | February 14, 2010, 8:03 pm
  3. M<y god the cybernat mythology seems to be hitting new highs."a legion' of cybernats….C'mon Ian, get a grip, maybe it's time journalists asked why there is such a presence online, could it be that not one of Scotland's media outlets even comes close to presenting a fair & balanced view of the issues.I suspect that your colleagues south of the border are laughing their socks off at the Scottish presses puritanical witchhunt lust over what in the end was a decision – nothing illegal, nothing wrong in the codes….The press have effectively done the oppositions work for them, indeed the Herald's rather lame excuse was that it's job is to hold the government to task – no it's not, that's the oppositions role.The media's role is to present factual analysis and commentary.

    Posted by Not the Messiah | February 14, 2010, 8:08 pm
  4. "the security of the UK."Can I giggle now? Someone really think such a thing exists? Oh, well, maybe if GB kicks the Icelanders a few more times someone will rescue the UK economy.Meanwhile the newspaper you work for (who wrote that whinging piece anyway?) throws it's toys out of the pram, kicking and screaming and insisting that readers don't have the right to criticise their coverage.Oh, dearie me.

    Posted by Jeanne Tomlin | February 14, 2010, 10:16 pm
  5. Newspapers are no longer where people find information and opinions, Mr. Macwhirter:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cYp3l1TvhE8You might want to wake up to being in a new age. You're an intelligent man (in spite of often hiding your head in the sand of history). You'd be a fine addition to reality.

    Posted by Jeanne Tomlin | February 14, 2010, 10:31 pm
  6. "Is it all got up by the press as the legion of cybernats believe?"I'm not sure what you're saying here Iain. Does questioning the press and their motives automatically make you a cybernat. There's that word again. Not nationalist commenter or blogger but cybernat. Strangely enough those who advocate the Union are never called cyberbrits and cybernat is always use to denigrate the opinions of those who dare to espouse nationalism.Nicola Sturgeon will help any constituent. The focus on the fact that Rauf is asian is almost racist in itself and it has implications that he was represented only because he was an asian. An MSP does have a duty to support a constituent without fear or favour but it's not supporting them "right or wrong". Rauf was guilty but he's no danger to the public if a non-custodial sentence is the outcome which is why Nicola Sturgeon was willing to suggest it."MacAskill similarly argued that he had done the right thing – while others said that giving special treatment to convicted mass murderers sent out the wrong message."Actually Al-Megrahi got no special treatment at all. He was treated in exactly the same manner as any dying prisoner so it's disingenuous to for you to suggest that he wasn't.As with Kenny MacAskill and Al-Megrahi there is a huge media and opposition frenzy which cannot find any breach of rules or procedure so ends up whinging about, "judgment", but just because the opposition claim her judgment is flawed doesn't make it true."Actually, I think these latest scandalettes have more to do with independence than constituency politics or the law."Actually you're right and at the risk of being branded a "cybernat" I'd say the intense press attacks on the SNP are a based entirely on trying to discredit the SNP and their independence claim. Please remember Iain, that when you accuse the SNP of failing on their manifesto promises, that they are a minority government and that their manifesto promises have been shot down by the opposition. Ahh. The SNP honeymoon.That has always been the mantra of the opposition who desperately need to believe that all will be well soon with Scotland firmly back under Labour control which is familiar and comfortable territory for all three opposition parties. The nasty nationalists are just a temporary aberration.I think there is a backlash coming against the anti-SNP press campaign and it's reached the point where the Sunday Herald has had to defensively justify its attacks on the SNP in its latest editorial.

    Posted by DougtheDug | February 14, 2010, 11:10 pm
  7. It's a sad state of affairs when I have to ignore all the Scottish newspapers and get my news from blogs and London based newspapers. Aren't the Scottish press ashamed of their bias towards Labour and the union ? How could they sell out the people of Scotland in this way ?The Herald trying to tie Sturgeon in with Devine and claim they treat everyone fairly is a joke. Devine is on 2 criminal charges for corruption and has been suspended from the Labour party. How does this equate to Sturgeon who has done nothing illegal ?

    Posted by sad state of affairs | February 15, 2010, 12:32 am
  8. There’s some truth in the claim by Jim Murphy, the Labour Scottish Secretary, that the banking crisis made voters look to the security of the UK.There is also a lot of truth in the idea that the Scottish media have allowed this strange turn of events to develop due to their complete lack of proper analysis and investigation, otherwise known as the "proper journalism" that we're seeing less and less of.Under the union, Scottish banks were allowed to indulge in mergers and takeovers until they were "too big to fail". This is a fact. Under the union, they got into massive trouble when the "global economic crisis" hit, and ended up having to be bailed out. This is a fact. No matter how you slice it, the Scottish banks were failed by the union. This is a fact.Unionists claim we couldn't have survived as an independent nation, because we wouldn't have been able to bail out the banks. This may or may not be true, but it is most certainly not a fact. However, it is treated as fact by unionist parties, and the media perpetuate this idea to the extent that the Scottish public begin to take it as being fact. No one mentions that it's very possible that a Scottish independent government – unhindered by banking lobbyists in London – would have made banks be more responsible in the first place. Much is made of the fact that two of the countries the SNP held up as examples of small nations doing well on their own (Iceland and Ireland) were badly affected by the financial crisis. No one mentions that Norway, the one the SNP most often made comparisons to – and the country we're most like in terms of natural resources (fish, oil, renewable energy potential) – is possibly the least affected from the whole crisis, and they continue to top the tables in terms of things like the UN's Human Development Index (joined in the top 10 by SNP favourites Iceland, Ireland and Sweden, with Finland at 12 – the UK being a meagre 21).So here are the facts: the UK was brought to its knees, and has been one of the slowest to come out of the recession, and even then it is by a pathetic amount, only achieved by a lot of fiddling about with figures etc. This happened under the union. Regardless of how we would have performed as an independent nation, there is only one thing that we can say for absolute certainty: we have NOT performed well under the union. Maybe it's time for the media to reflect on that and start giving independence a proper hearing? Rather than placing emphasis on "breaking" the union (with its negative connotations), how about our journalists do their own thinking and investigate what would happen if Scotland was "freed" from the union?

    Posted by Douglas Daniel | February 15, 2010, 11:19 am
  9. Iain, Nicola suffered a contrived unionist witch hunt over the last few days. That the braying mob were prepared to force out such a talented person because she failed some subjective unionist "judgement" test is unforgivable.She broke no rules and the pathetic shouts from Labour about morals were enough to make this reader weep.

    Posted by Anonymous | February 15, 2010, 3:36 pm
  10. From "Wee Fifer"My problem is that I don't accept that this letter of Nicola's was a mistake, not at all, quite the contrary. By the sounds of Iain Gray, what needed to happen was that the Scottish Government should charter a private jet, with the windows blacked out, to take Rauf to Guantanamo Bay. And Richard Baker's disgraceful smearmongering and insinuations on Friday gave me no confidence in a future Labour administration with him at the Justice portfolio, god forbid.People should not be in put in prison willy nilly anyway, wouldn't a sustantial fine, plus community service, pay back the stolen monies, be much better, and reserve prison for VIOLENT offenders and people who really are a danger to the public? Is Rauf going to jail really in the public interest? I don't see how. Prison should be the last resort in all other cases except violence, not the 1st, 2nd or even 3rd.I would be happy if Mr Macwhirter were to turn his attention to the question of this continuous use of populist tactics on justice as a stick to beat the SNP with. Can't the media see how unseemly this all is, and how dangerous too? Surely we can do better than this.

    Posted by Anonymous | February 16, 2010, 7:11 pm
  11. You identify, people each time manufacture comments when anything is predicted to take place in 2012, like “fairly that is if the faction is still here.” You do effectuate that the Mayans prognosticate the creation will end on Dec. 21 (or 23rd)? So in all distinct possibility if anything is booming to take place in 2012 there is only the slimmest feasibility that the world hand down have ended forward of it happens.[url=http://2012earth.net/switch_to_consciousness_2012.html]2012 end of world [/url] – some truth about 2012

    Posted by Anonymous | March 3, 2010, 8:29 am
  12. "There is nothing that angers people more than benefit cheats."You and I must know different people.

    Posted by Vronsky | March 8, 2010, 7:09 pm
  13. Is it just me, or does Nicola Sturgeon look like Rab C Nesbitt's wife, Mary Doll?

    Posted by Anonymous | April 21, 2010, 7:05 pm

Twitter Updates

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 57,082 other followers

Follow Iain Macwhirter on WordPress.com



%d bloggers like this: