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by Louise Wilson
17 September 2023
Sketch: Alex Cole-Hamilton worries he's being watched

Credit: Iain Green

Sketch: Alex Cole-Hamilton worries he's being watched

Alex Cole-Hamilton is worried he is being watched. Followed. Spied on.

You’d think he’d be more concerned that no one is paying attention to the Scottish Liberal Democrats. But no – always convinced he’s the centre of the universe, Cole-Hamilton stood up in the Chamber to ask the Scottish Government to step in. He needed to know: was he being surveilled? Who by? What did they know?

Angela Constance assured the MSP that all was in hand, though she couldn’t provide any details of that because it was convention “not to comment” on such matters. Also it was a reserved matter so she really had no power over whether to look into concerns about people spying on Cole-Hamilton.

“I can assure him that we work very closely with the UK Government to understand the nature of the current situation,” the Scottish home affairs secretary said.

What of his deputy, Wendy Chamberlain? She claimed she’s a former police officer, but what if she never retired?

Indeed, the news that an alleged spy for China has infiltrated Westminster really seemed to have put a bee in Cole-Hamilton’s bonnet. What if they had infiltrated Holyrood too? He must be wondering what information the state had collected about him.

Are those men in trench coats behind him his staff or are they secretly feeding information to enemies? And what of his deputy, Wendy Chamberlain? She claimed she’s a former police officer, but what if she never retired? What if she’s an undercover cop? And those guests that last stayed in the garden shed he lists on Airbnb… they seemed awfully sketchy, didn’t they?

The thought terrified the poor leader of the smallest party in Holyrood. He was already concerned about the “spy balloons”. Then he’d been forced to end his plans for TikTok fame because MSPs had to remove the app from their devices. “Any suggestion that our democratic institutions are now open to infiltration by agents of the Chinese Communist Party should worry us all and be treated with the utmost severity,” he told his fellow parliamentarians.

“I hope I can reassure Mr Cole-Hamilton…” Constance began, sounding a little bored. It’s often much easier to pacify a distressed person than to be honest about the reality. Telling Cole-Hamilton that no one was at all interested in him would surely have led him down a rabbit hole. He simply would not believe it.

Well of course she’d say that, he’d tell himself, because the Scottish Government is in on it. They want to bring the Lib Dems down, he would murmur as he adjusted his tinfoil hat. We are too much of a threat to the status quo, he’d write furiously on internet forums dedicated to conspiracy theorists.

“We do take these matters with the utmost seriousness,” Constance insisted, back in the real world. And maybe that’s why the cabinet secretary couldn’t actually share any tangible information with Cole-Hamilton. He had been surveilled… and assessed as a risk. Maybe, in a M Night Shyamalan plot twist, he’s the spy.

If it is intelligence the Chinese are after, they might have better places to look than Holyrood

Cole-Hamilton raved on, warning of “digital asbestos”. What about the Chinese-linked CCTV cameras, he asked, have they been removed yet? Big Brother is always watching.

The Presiding Officer smartly moved the conversation on to the next topic of the day. But Cole-Hamilton is still concerned. Why did no one else care to raise a question about it? Maybe all MSPs are in on it. Maybe everyone is watching him.

Humza Yousaf had been asked about the spying revelation the day before. He admitted he was “concerned” about it, but told journalists there was a “good level of engagement” with the UK Government on all national security matters. And that included cybersecurity, the First Minister said, while the WiFi password of the place he was visiting loomed large over his shoulder.

Yousaf went on to acknowledge there were a “number of hostile actors” who could be a threat. The SNP leader knows all about hostile actors. Some of them happen to be sitting on his own backbenches.

But if it is intelligence the Chinese are after, they might have better places to look than Holyrood. In fact, they might as well give this whole island a miss. The last few years have shown there is little sign of intelligent life among any of the UK’s elected officials.

Speaking of, deputy PM Oliver Dowden had earlier told MPs his government would take steps to protect the UK from “any foreign state activity” which would undermine “prosperity”. But he’s totally fine, as it happens, with domestic activity which undermines prosperity.

Anyway, security was “one of the reasons” he’d taken the decisive move of banning TikTok on government devices. The other being that Rishi Sunak kept suggesting he choreograph new policy announcements with a cool new dance move in a bid to prove he was down with the kids. The billionaire is just a regular guy, yo.

Meanwhile, the person who is accused of spying continues to insist he’s “completely innocent”. Which is, of course, exactly what someone who is a spy would say…

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