Friday, 31 August 2018

Salmond's £80,000 warning to Sturgeon


From my Daily Record column

Of course he has the money to pay for it. Court actions are for the rich and no one bothers the Court of Session without the wherewithal to put money where their over-extended mouth is.

So Alex Salmond is pulling a stunt in crowdfunding his legal action against Nicola Sturgeon’s Government over how her civil servants handled sexual harassment complaints levelled at him.

In crowdfunding campaigns, sums can be quickly raised by a few generous backers funnelling donations through micro-contributions. In turn, the naive and devoted part with their small amounts of cash and an impression of popular support is created.

Raising a populist £50,000 (now £80,000) is a banker for Salmond – and not just a financial one. It is a symbolic show of strength warning the SNP, Sturgeon and Scotland not to trifle with him.

It demonstrates he has a substantial well of loyal support should the ride get any rougher than it already is.

Salmond has, typically, taken a massive risk in ending 45 years’ membership of the SNP, jumping before his protege came under irresistible pressure to push him, with all the internal party rancour that would cause.

Already there are signs these divisions may just be delayed, not avoided. It is why Salmond hitched his money appeal to the lodestar of independence, a cause bigger than any individual, he said (subtext, but not bigger than me).

But if Salmond closed the door on his own membership, then his dream will have died.

The whole situation is a nightmare. For Salmond, who cannot address the complaints against him, for Sturgeon in a stomach-churning fight between political expediency and personal morality, and for the women whose harassment complaints are sidelined in this spectacle of legal distraction.

Having had the courage to come forward, they will go through hell wondering if the process and substance of their complaints will be legally undermined and their credibility shredded.

Salmond’s fight for “fairness”, as he labels it, only serves to telegraph to them, and us, what forces are stirred when women choose to cross a powerful man, as he undoubtedly is.

With his connections to the ruling party and his well-deployed ability to command media attention, the former first minister is wrestling for the conductor’s baton. The police and the law courts must play in this unwilling orchestra, and the strings connecting the village web of political, legal and civic Scotland are tuned up too.

This weekend, we lament the passing of my former paper, the Sunday Herald, launched as the Scottish Parliament first convened, at a time when things could only get better.

In the years since, Scotland has become a toxic and divided polity where allegations of sexual harassment are viewed through a “for us or agin us” prism, where MPs air state conspiracies and connections appear out of thin air.

In the early days of the Sunday Herald, we attempted to map out the real links between politics, law, media and the PR industry in cosy village Scotland.

It is perhaps time to draw that map again. For the least edifying aspect of the last week is how influential commentators, with a stake in currying favour with the ruling party, attempted to shield the First Minister from media scrutiny under the guise of concern for the complainants.

Sturgeon could deal with this situation in no other way except the way she has. The rules apply to everyone regardless of status. But the rules of politics are incontrovertible too and this scandal has the potential to consume her premiership.

Sturgeon, by her own admission, had three meetings with her mentor at which the situation was raised and has questions to answer, personally and publicly.

What Sturgeon knew, and when she knew it, is only the beginning of it.

Sunday, 26 August 2018

Runrig - the parting glass

From my Daily Record column

So that was what Liam Clancy meant with “the parting glass”.

When Malcolm Jones raised his guitar for the last time, when the emotional rip current caught him, it really was “soraidh leibh”, goodbye to Runrig.

The unassuming Malcolm, always more attentive to his guitar work than the applause, was most affected by the crowd at the end of Saturday’s final gig.

Don’t worry Malcolm, in the dark, under the ramparts of Stirling Castle, there were many tears.

Younger readers will find out later, but a great trick of ageing, I noticed on Saturday, is that everyone stays the same when the 45 year soundtrack of our lives is played. 

Like the “s├Čthean”, the little people, Runrig on stage still looked like the boys from the village hall, the ones who took their music to the world.

Lifelonrg friends spooled by with the songs. There was Iain “Smithy” Smith, a born for the stage musician, whose mandolin drove Donnie Munro’s evergreen set. 

Great that Donnie was given his due, that Gaelic threaded every minute, that Gary Innes’s accordion echoed of the late Robert MacDonald, of Blair Douglas, of the ceilidh chords that set Runrig on the way.

When I recorded Seumus Heaney’s paean to Sorley MacLean he said the Raasay bard saved Gaelic poetry in the 20th century and so saved the language forever. Quite a claim but, you know, poets.

That honour now belongs to Calum and Rory MacDonald, the band’s soul brothers, whose music ensured Gaelic’s recovery. Their authentic Highland charm was ever the secret tune of Runrig’s success.

Where these boys led with song, others followed with words and deeds, pens and policies. 

Without that 1970s “Runrig generation” we’d have been drinking a parting glass to Gaelic long ago.

Some of them were there on Saturday, forever young, dancing like the fairies, toasting the joy of a wedding, not a wake.