In whose name: Political reputations are fleeting

by May 28, 2012 1 Comment

What strikes me this last week is how ephemeral political reputations can be.

Only last issue I was praising Johann Lamont for her gracious humility in the wake of the better than expected council election results for the Labour Party and this week, I remain stung by her crass intervention following the death of Megrahi.

Let me, on behalf of the people of Scotland, apologise to the families of all the victims of the Lockerbie bombing, for his [Megrahi’s] early release.

On behalf of the people of Scotland? How dare she? I found Lamont’s presumption that she could speak for me offensive in the extreme.

I have my own voice and I have used it to be vocal and supportive of the release of that dying man from prison no matter what evil he represented in some people’s minds.

Johann Lamont is leader of the opposition, of Scottish Labour whose vote collapsed in Scotland at the last election. She was elected to lead a party that has just over 13,000 members, most of whom did not vote for her, so for her to take on the mantle of Scotland’s shame, grates.

And I am not alone. Many Scots believe that the decision by our Justice Secretary to release a man dying of prostate cancer was taken for the right reasons and at the right time. The inconvenient fact that the Lockerbie bomber outlived original medical predictions – something normally celebrated in relation to cancer patients – was principally down to his access to an expensive drug in Libya that is not yet available in Scotland. That is a truth tacitly acknowledged by those that are now so vigorous in their efforts to get that same life-prolonging drug available to Scots, using Megrahi as the poster boy for its use.

But here is a simple fact; if Megrahi had stayed in Scotland, his death would have been considerably more premature. That may be some cause for consternation for some, including it would seem, Ms Lamont, but for others with a bit of humanity and a sense of compassion, like Dr Jim Swire whose daughter, Flora, was killed in the atrocity, there is no solace in that argument and still no justice has been fully seen to be done.

So, amid conflicting emotions, wild accusations and extreme scales of belief about guilt or otherwise, Lamont takes it upon herself to speak for a nation and in doing so, unravels all the goodwill she may have recently won.

There’s a paradox there, in that a woman who decries a country’s leader for having the nerve to go out into the world and talk up Scotland, is the same woman who has taken it upon herself to talk for Scotland.

Whatever your thoughts on Alex Salmond, and you may be less supportive than you were a couple of weeks ago (which suits my argument about the fugacious nature of reputation), when his dealings with Murdoch were laid bare, he undoubtedly has taken the role of FM to dizzying heights. He is ambitious for Scotland, he has used his platform as a respected and believable statesman to allow aspirations and reputations to soar while, by comparison, last week Johann Lamont diminished, radically, her ambition to aspire to that.

But that is the unfortunate see-saw nature of political engagement because in a week when Salmond launched the ‘Yes’ campaign for independence, the unionist parties could have seized the advantage and, building on Lamont’s post-local election successes, could have had in Lamont, a figurehead who could match the FM.

Notwithstanding, Salmond’s profile is less high than it once was. And he too, is taking a gamble. Reputations are like snowflakes and the heat’s on his in that some believe that the SNP has already reached its high water mark and sense a distinct cooling off towards Salmond: too bumptious, self-regarding, self-promoting -and none of that will be dissipated by either his being at the helm of a star-studded ‘Yes’ campaign or in his much anticipated appearance at the Leveson Inquiry.

Both will serve to coat the scab that Johann Lamont had started to pick away at with her own gibes that he is too full of himself. What right does he have to decide that Scotland should have a monarch, be part of Nato, should keep the pound, ditch the euro. But then, what right does anyone have to tell Scotland what to do or think?

And yet that is at the very crux of what this constitutional debate is about. Stripped down, independence is about whether you feel Scotland is best placed to manage fully its own affairs or not.

And the ‘Yes’ campaign should not be just about what Alex Salmond thinks, or what the SNP think, but even before its launch, its main cross-party political supporters are agitating about being dictated to.

No one wants to be told what they think or what they should do and yet that is exactly what this independence referendum debate has become. Some would argue that we should vote on the principle and then work out the details but that clearly does not suit the unionists who, bereft of their own narrative, want the SNP to spell out theirs so they can knock it down.

The ‘Yes’ launch got Salmond the headlines he wants, reminding Scots of his stature. But as Johann Lamont should know, that support is fragile. Salmond is next centre stage at the Leveson Inquiry and that could be the opening the ‘No’ campaign requires to say that while the FM says everything he does is for Scotland, it is not always what Scots want.

Mandy Rhodes Mandy Rhodes

Mandy Rhodes is Managing Editor of Holyrood Communications. Mandy is editor of the flagship title Holyrood magazine and responsible for the editorial content of all other associated titles and products. Mandy graduated from StirlingUniversity in the early 1980s with a joint Honours degree in Scottish History and Sociology. She trained on a local newspaper in Wester Hailes and completed her journalism training at Napier University. She has worked for nearly 30 years in journalism in Scotland in newsprint, television and radio broadcasting and was part of the launch team of Scotland on Sunday. She has won numerous awards over the years including PPA Magazine Editor of the Year, Feature Writer of the Year and Columnist of the year. She was social...

1 Comment

  1. lurid tales of doom

    definitely lost me at 'respected and believable statesman'.

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