If Alex Salmond and Mike Russell only learned one thing this week, it’s surely this: the only thing that looks worse that being smugly complacent is being smugly complacent when it turns out you’re completely wrong. We’re sure it was a painful lesson. So if you’re a newspaper columnist with a high opinion of yourself who planned to take them to task for it, you’d think you’d try not to fall into the same trap.
Perhaps one of the most self-satisifed of all Scotland’s political commentators is Euan McColm, whose Twitter bio boasts proudly of “poor people skills” and who regularly writes barbed, acerbic little pieces for the Scotsman. Today, for example, he lets rip at Mike Russell in full flow, with no holds barred:
“Is there a more delightful sitcom archetype than the puffed-up-but-thwarted little man? I’m struggling to think of one. Harold Steptoe, Captain Mainwaring, Basil Fawlty, Del Boy, David Brent… a string of lead characters, repeatedly brought low by their own unrecognised limitations, these are the greats, surely?
We laugh as they remind us of the silliness of men, and touch us with the pathos of their masculine delusion. But maybe, like me, you’ve watched those episodes too many times and the freshness has gone. Maybe you crave a new buffoon.”
It’s stinging stuff. We imagine Mr McColm was pleased with his work.
But what does Mr McColm identify as the root of Russell’s buffoonery? It all comes down to his attack on Kirk Ramsay of Stow College for having the temerity to record a meeting with the Education Secretary without his knowledge.
“Ramsay had used a recording device – a “spy-pen” for added breathless drama – during a meeting between Russell and around 80 representatives of colleges invited to discuss reform of their sector. Skipping over the fact that the idea of a meeting between a Cabinet Secretary and 80 people might result in any coherent, meaningful progress seems fanciful, this could not possibly have been considered a private event.“
(Our emphasis.) The last part in particular is a line that’s been used frequently to attack Russell over the affair in recent days – Gordon Brewer hammered away at it tenaciously on Newsnight Scotland, for example, mockingly asking how many people needed to be at a meeting before it no longer counted as “private”.
The picture at the top of this article is of the theatre inside the enormous and imposing Detroit Masonic Temple. While technically capable of hosting 5000 people, its capacity in practice is a still-impressive 4,404 – more than many Scottish football grounds can hold. Freemasonry is a section of society not particularly noted for its openness. Yet it seems we’re meant to accept that if the organisation were to assemble four-and-a-half thousand of its painstakingly-vetted adherents together in the room above to discuss mysterious matters Masonic, that gathering could not possibly be considered “private”, and indeed that the very idea is hilarious.
It is, of course, a fatuously stupid notion. Privacy is measured by exclusion, not inclusion. Private members’ clubs have no innate numerical limit on their membership. Yet the cream of Scotland’s media commentariat seems happy to glibly redefine the meanings of words however it suits it, particularly if an excuse to lambast the SNP results from the process. And we saw this week that their derisive lampoonery isn’t in the least bit discouraged by being based on a demonstrably idiotic premise.
Just a week ago, Euan McColm affected to proclaim his love of politicians, bemoaning the wide public contempt in which they’re held:
“But speckled through the chamber there are good, decent, even brilliant people. There are people trying to make a difference, people trying to understand complex problems, people who sacrifice a lot, driven to create some greater good. We could do with many more of them. But why would anyone bother? … Why step forward when complex ideas seem to be instinctively dismissed by a commentariat that seems unwilling to allow politicians time to grow?”
It’s a good question, isn’t it? If there’s anyone reading this who kent Mr McColm’s faither, maybe they could drop us a line and suggest an answer.