* The second item of Brian Wilson’s column was missing from the first posting yesterday. That error was ours. We apologise for that. It is here now. Editor
The arrogance of petty power comes in many forms and Scotland is awash with it. At some point, that reality has to be confronted and corrected. Will this week be a turning-point?
Every government and minister needs the constraints imposed by accountability. Otherwise, the arrogance – the sense of being able to get away with anything – just grows. That has been the trend over the past decade and is now rampant.
To be fair, such a presumption of untouchability is understandable. Holyrood barely registers in terms of holding to account. Beyond it, the tentacles of government have been used ruthlessly to stifle dissent, where any dependency exists on Nationalist largesse.
Critically, there is now a substantial minority in Scotland who do not care how many Health Boards are in crisis, how filthy our streets are, how many hundreds of millions are squandered on unbuilt ferries, what proportion of our children can read and write…
All their belief is vested in a mirage of the future and the flags which represent it.
If that minority is substantial enough to produce a permanent hold on power, then why not be arrogant? Why not believe in one’s own invincibility?
Eventually, in theory at least, a rebound follows as this conceit fosters complacency and people wake up to the fact they have been taken for a very big ride. Scales fall from eyes and political mortality reasserts itself.
Nobody, however, should rely on scandal alone to deliver these outcomes, even if it creates an environment in which doubts are raised and arrogance recognised.
It was not sleaze which defeated John Major in the 1990s but the impression, which it fed into, of a tired, talentless administration that had little to offer. That is where Scotland is now.
I have no interest whatsoever in Derek Mackay’s personal life.
Such anguish transcends politics.
As it happens, Mr Mackay should have been under pressure to resign this week for entirely different reasons – his role in the Ferguson ferry scandal. Reasons which should matter. Reasons which reflect the arrogance of untouchability when it came to public money and political opportunism.
But do these matter enough in the court of Scottish public opinion?
In Holyrood’s early days, Henry MacLeish was forced to resign as First Minister of Scotland over an expenses imbroglio involving the princely sum of £36,000. Nobody seriously doubted that it was, as he asserted, “a muddle not a fiddle”.
But that did not silence his tormentors, and none was more acerbic in pursuit of the wounded than Nicola Sturgeon.
This week, we learned – unless they are prepared to call Jim McColl a liar – that Sturgeon apparently pre-empted negotiations so she could announce a £97 million contract for the political purpose of pre-empting “good news” from the Chancellor of the Exchequer in the hated Westminster government.
The £97 million has since turned into £230 million and counting – every penny of it public money. Politicians cannot abuse a tender process for political convenience.
But what politician would act in such a cavalier way?
Only a politician who is consumed with her own arrogance of untouchability.
That is the scandal Scotland needs to address.
GLASGOW NEEDS THE MONEY TO CLEAN UP ITS ACT
When asked which environmental issues concern them, a majority tend to answer in terms of their own environment rather than great challenges the world must confront.
This may be disappointing for activists who believe, quite rightly, we should all be worried about climate change. But if you live in an environment polluted by litter, over-flowing bins, dog-fouling and derelict shops, these tend to take priority.
That is a truth which Glasgow and the Scottish Government need to learn urgently. Not to beat about the bush, the city which will host the world’s biggest environmental jamboree in November is an environmental disgrace, according to popular criteria.
I passed Donald Dewar’s statue outside the Concert Hall and could swear he looked even gloomier than usual. Around him lay litter-strewn streets and a scatter of poor souls in sleeping-bags, symbolising our new status as homeless deaths capital of the UK.
Then I walked from Dalmarnock Station to Celtic Park. There had been no game for a fortnight but bottles, cans and other detritus lay undisturbed. Once I started noticing, similar conditions were evident all over the dear green place. Maybe the fact I was in Lisbon earlier in the week made me more aware of a shocking contrast in cleanliness.
This is what happens when council budgets are relentlessly cut. Prior to 200 heads of state hitting Glasgow in November, there will doubtless be a great clean-up. The streets will shimmer. Rough-sleepers will be found a haven.
But a cosmetic, temporary exercise around COP26 will be even more insulting to ordinary Glaswegians. Now is the time for Glasgow to clean up its act, to give refuge to the homeless and to receive funding which the city so obviously needs.