Tuesday 27 April 2021

I could even mislead Parliament if I was in Scotland


If Boris Johnson were First Minister of Scotland and leader of the SNP, he wouldn’t have to worry about the cost of decorating his flat, nor would he need to worry about remarking in a meeting about bodies being piled high. In Scotland it is necessary to text small boys before you are pressured in to resigning and only after the SNP does all it can to prevent the story coming out. Even then the person forced to resign remains loyal to Sturgeon and the SNP. The payment for silence is usually a quick welcome back into the SNP. The payment for making a nuisance of yourself may be that there is a police investigation, an attempt to find witnesses who will tell all about what you did and when you did it, a court case and if you are unlucky a long-term visit to the big hoose at Bar L. Funnily enough we don’t have too many whistle-blowers or former advisors looking for revenge in Scotland.

I haven’t been bothered to follow the story of the redecoration of Boris and Carrie’s flat in any great detail, nor indeed his alleged remarks about trying to avoid lockdown and it being worth letting bodies pile high to do so. The broadcast news is filled with stories that will be forgotten next month let alone next year, but still, we have to go through the ritual of journalists swooping on gossip like seagulls trying to snatch your sandwich. They will tire of it after all and look for their next victim. A little wile ago it was the unnamed royal who might have made a dodgy remark about race (swoop, snap, bite). A bit before they were obsessed with ventilators (flap, squeal, peck). Next month it will be something else and someone else, but the significance of the press coverage will rarely rise above mere squawking.

It may have been beneficial if we had locked down earlier in 2020 and it certainly would have helped if we had stopped people flying here from where there were lots of cases such as China and Italy. But I recall no one in the press or on TV suggesting that we do so. The Conservative Government had a difficult start to the crisis and no doubt made mistakes, but Britain is now in one of the best positions in the world. We are coming out of lockdown, there are few cases and almost no deaths. Instead of focussing on what matters we talk about redecoration and a chance remark in the heat of the moment.

No one in the press suggested that Britain should go it alone in procuring vaccines. If we had done what the SNP suggested and stuck with the EU, we would today be no better off than the average EU country still stuck in lockdown with months to go before we could get out. The decision made by Boris Johnson has saved thousands of British lives and will save our economy billions of British pounds, but let’s worry about the cost of painting his flat.

I cannot remember the last remark that Nicola Sturgeon made during a cabinet meeting that was leaked by anyone. Even official meetings are unminuted. Scottish civil servants and special advisors far from leaking what Sturgeon says cannot even remember what was said, where they were or indeed what planet they were living on. The Scottish Government has a tame Crown Office to prevent anything that might possibly be damaging to Sturgeon from being seen by an inquiry. She has a tame press corps too who are more like budgerigars fluttering round her head tweeting pleasantly than the ravenous seagulls from down south.

In Scotland we can fail to build a hospital, we can pay a fortune for ferries that don’t float, and we can have the same sort of dodgy meetings with Greensill as David Cameron had, but we can never quite get into a flap about it let alone a squawk. Imagine if the likely successor to Boris Johnson was caught sending dubious texts to a teenage boy and that the Prime Minister tried to prevent the story getting to the press. Would the press be more or less excited than they are now? But in Scotland Mr MacKay is not followed by the press. No one much cares that he claims Holyrood expenses though he does not sit in the building and no one at all is very interested that Sturgeon hoped to cover the whole thing up.

If the battle between Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon had taken place in England it would have been the biggest political story in decades. There would have been an impartial judge compelling all evidence was provided. If an inquiry had said that the Prime Minister had misled Parliament, he would certainly have resigned. But in Scotland not merely did Sturgeon not resign, Labour and the Lib Dems thought she ought not to.

It cannot be that both Sturgeon and Salmond were innocent. If one of them is telling the truth, the other must be lying. One or other of their conduct was reprehensible. But the Scottish electorate has already not merely forgiven, it is as if it has completely forgotten and wants both Salmond and Sturgeon to be elected to Holyrood as if the reputation of neither is unstained. It’s like Jeremy Thorpe had a dog shot, nobody cared, and he kept on leading like nothing had happened.

Sturgeon thinks Boris should resign because of a remark that if she had made it would never have been leaked. Has she never once in private, due to exasperation or anger said something to a colleague that she later regretted and hoped would not be discovered by the rest of us? Which of us hasn’t? Boris’s alleged remark is merely the equivalent of my saying “I will arrive come Hell or high water”. It doesn’t mean I expect either Hell or high water. I am using hyperbole. Only a press that takes everything literally could think that anyone was proposing literally to pile bodies high.

In Scotland you can allegedly try to have your predecessor jailed and mislead Parliament about it, in England Boris Johnson has just been arrested because on returning home from a busy day he said that he could murder a cup of tea and his former special advisor called the police on the grounds that cups of tea matter and attempting to murder them is a crime.