The headline to Tom Gordon’s article on Thursday (15/7) read, “Police probe into SNP will will grind Sturgeon down”. A catchphrase of sports commentator Jim White – at least according to “Only an Excuse” – was “let’s all hope so”. Was it an oversight that this was missed out of the above headline – “Police probe into SNP will grind Sturgeon down – let’s all hope so”?
By Alasdair Galloway:
The basis of the Jim White “joke” was that he was a Rangers supporter, and when anyone said anything negative about Celtic – “Celtic won’t do well this season” for instance – Jim would turn to camera and leer “let’s all hope so”.
Tom Gordon has made something of a career of forecasting doom and gloom for Nicola Sturgeon, the Scottish Government and most things SNP. Anything goes wrong – “let’s all hope so”.
Thursday’s was but one example. A quick search on the Herald website shows there are loads
- On Tuesday (13/7) “Police Scotland launch ‘fraud’ probe into SNP fundraising for Indyref2” – complete with picture of the First Minister with Peter Murrell (who will be the focus of the Police investigation) at Wimbledon
- On Sunday (11/7) “Nicola Sturgeon’s husband Peter Murrell accused of ‘hypocrisy’ after urging financial transparency amid SNP secrecy row” – same thing, same picture
- Thursday last week (8/7) – the “golden goodbye scandal” as if there weren’t resettlement grants at Westminster and former MPs didn’t cosy up to all sorts including bankers and weapons dealers, but that doesn’t deter Tom, whose piece is headlined “Golden goodbye racket is now tarnishing Holyrood”.
- Monday (5/7) last week it was “National clinical director Jason Leitch rejects call to shorten wait between Covid jags” – ok, so not the FM and not the SNP, but still the Scottish Government. In fact, NHS England in “COVID-19 vaccination programme: Information for healthcare practitioners” (Version 3.9, updated 6/7) maintains, “Evidence shows that delaying the second dose to 12 weeks after the first improves the boosting effect. Data from clinical trials shows that the efficacy of the AstraZeneca vaccine was higher when the second dose was given at, or after 12 weeks4, and a study of people aged over 80 years found that extending the second dose interval to 12 weeks for the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine markedly increased the peak spike-specific antibody response by three and a half times compared to those who had their second vaccine at 3weeks” (page 16). Of course, despite this, Gordon’s article publicises the views of Anas Sarwar and Jackie Baillie.
- And then on 1st July, his article is headlined “The SNP’s latest ‘power grab’ claim is lazy garbage” and we will consider this one in a bit more detail as it most obviously shows the lengths that Mr Gordon will go in his obvious obsession.
This article concerns the hearing at the Supreme Court at the end of last month on the competence of Holyrood to incorporate into Scottish law the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), as well as the European Charter of Local Self-Government. Gordon, however, discusses only the former.
“The key argument”, he tells us, is “whether Westminster’s writ would be lessened.” Essentially, “The UK Government argues this (the UNCRC Act) goes against a key part of the 1998 Scotland Act that created the Scottish Parliament. Section 28(7) says that Holyrood’s ability to make laws “does not affect the power of the Parliament of the United Kingdom to make laws for Scotland”, including in devolved areas, as Westminster is sovereign.”
Let’s dwell on that “including in devolved areas, as Westminster is sovereign” for a moment, shall we? In other words, if Holyrood votes for an Act, without a single exception, Westminster, as the sovereign Parliament can undo it at will, because …. well … it’s sovereign and Holyrood (you know, the Parliament we elected) is subordinate to it.
But the clincher is this. Having owned up that the “law redistributing repatriated laws after Brexit was a power grab on devolved turf, no doubt about it”, Gordon goes on “But there was no suggestion in court, from any quarter, that the UK Government is trying to extend its existing powers through this challenge [to the UNCHR Act].”
This remember is what Gordon chose to describe as “lazy garbage”. He goes into the detail of the hearing and it might well be that Westminster’s case will succeed (if it doesn’t, no doubt they will change the law so that they will get their way). However, the lesson will still stand – Holyrood can legislate only at the tolerance of Westminster. This is your Parliament folks, but Gordon thinks it’s just fine – indeed to challenge it is “lazy garbage”.
One of the things I learned in First Year Sociology at Glasgow Uni, was that power can be used in two ways – to make something happen and to prevent something from happening. A key citation is Bachrach and Baratz, “The Two Faces of Power”, published as long ago as 1962. They argue that power can be exercised by a power elite not just by fixing decisions that are actually taken, but also by ensuring that other issues of importance to the less powerful never even get on to the agenda. My own doctorate (“Maintenance of Hierarchy”, Glasgow University 1987) dwelt on this distinction to some extent, citing for instance the normality of management negotiating as a matter of routine with trade unions on such as the exercise of internal discipline or wage levels, but that issues such as investment and financial strategies were strictly not for negotiation. My interest was in how and why it came to be the case that others, outwith management, accepted this (hence the title).
Essentially this is what Gordon is arguing – that what Westminster is doing is ok because it’s the law, but then again so was the Poll Tax once upon a time. Westminster’s view of devolution – being hacked at by Westminster, by Gordon’s own admission – is that it’s just fine and dandy for Westminster to over-rule Holyrood when and if it wants. For instance, “If Scottish Courts start deciding some UK Acts are unlawful because they conflict with the UNCRC, Westminster’s unqualified power to legislate wherever it wants is curtailed”.
In years gone by Westminster sovereignty was acceptable. Alan Little in his series “Yes/No Inside the indyref” makes the point that Scotland had invested in the British Empire. Glasgow was one of the main factories of Empire, making ships, steel, heavy engineering, railway engines etc. However, as Empire unravelled during the post-war period of the 50s and 60s in particular, this kind of business came under pressure, and the sense of investment diminished, Little claimed. Over time, the right of Westminster to legislate for Scotland too came under pressure as Scotland’s investment in Empire disappeared. My research found that hierarchy was maintained by a kind of traditional authority that accepted not just power but even reward differentials. Maybe it’s different now – I did this research in an engineering company that’s not there anymore during the 70s – but it does seem the same kind of traditional authority for Westminster has come under tremendous strain and continues to do so, to the extent that even if Nicola Sturgeon takes forever to call the next referendum, the traditional acceptance of Westminster (which I can remember in my parents’ generation) is almost certainly not coming back any time soon.
But let’s look at this politically. The SNP he says “were keen .. for a fight”. They ignored warnings from their good, good friends, the Westminster government about lack of legal clarity. This was even, he tells us “to get a new stick to beat the Tories with at the election”. Leaving to one side the abundance of sticks being provided by the Tories at Westminster almost on a daily basis, did no one stop to tell Mr Gordon that the Bill in question was passed at Holyrood “unanimously” – or put another way, even the Tories at Holyrood voted for it.
Warming to his task, in conclusion he writes “If it (the UNCRC Bill) was an electoral tactic, that would be cynicism of the basest kind. Promoting bad law, ostensibly to help children, in order to help the party.” Well more or less cynical than telling folk that if they only voted Leave we could spend another £350 million every week in the NHS. For a Political Editor, Mr Gordon has a very naïve view of politicians as a species or has forgotten a very great deal.
But back to the core question of Mr Gordon and his doings. We have cited 6 pieces over 2 weeks with his name on them, which share one thing in common – an attitude toward the SNP and the Scottish Government which verges on nihilism. In his view, it might be said, they only have one flaw – they are still breathing. Too strong? Have a look at this https://www.express.co.uk/news/uk/1328136/Nicola-Sturgeon-SNP-Scotland-grilling-backlash-coronavirus-care-homes-latest-news and watch the video. What is particularly relevant is the tone of Gordon’s questions as the video proceeds. I’ve got plenty problems with the First Minister, but this questioning would not be allowed with any other UK politician, and verges on “that” interview between Alex Salmond and Kirsty Wark (you can find it here – Salmond is not at all perturbed, but Wark’s aggression is palpable https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=spGtyQFUhSM)
One last issue. Is Tom Gordon writing this stuff because it’s how Tom Gordon is? Or is it because he needs a job? I was at school in the late 1960s. My parents (Tories both – we all have a cross to bear) read the Scottish Daily Express (then in Albion Street), which was my introduction to newspapers (started with the footie pages and worked back – still read dead tree papers that way) just as I was becoming politically a wee bit conscious. I was though vastly amused by Michael Cummings’ cartoons, though I didn’t share his political interpretations (for your amusement one below, though not the best – Mr Footstool – Michael Foot and Mr Jelly – Roy Jenkins – were classics. Sort of Spittin’ Image on paper).
Another regular read were the tirades against Harold Wilson (which my parents both loved – the tirades that is) written by the Scottish Daily Express’s version of Tom Gordon, one Charles Graham. One day at school, expanding on my view that Graham was nothing more than a Tory lickspittle (or even worse) a teacher, acquainted with a full time official in the Labour Party in Glasgow, pulled me up by telling me that Graham was a fully paid up, card carrying member of the Labour Party. He was writing what he wrote – and it was, as I remember it from more than 50 year later, strong stuff – for economic reasons. Is Gordon in the same boat? Does he secretly have a pic of the First Minister by his bed, kissing it before closing his eyes to go to sleep to dream of independence, but writes what he does to earn a crust? OK, a loaf.
Just a thought, but one with an important consequence. How many do what they do for economic reasons? Well, I suppose apart from a few fortunate folk, we all do (or did, if you are on the never ending long weekend of retirement). Or is it that, as Noam Chomsky points out to a much younger Andrew Marr (you can find this here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lLcpcytUnWU), there is a process of selection, of holding the ‘right ideas’ – the system “selects for obedience and subordination”, according to Chomsky. From about 2 minutes in this interview is dynamite and perhaps reveals the kind of person we truly have in Tom Gordon.