Sturgeon favourite Antonio Giugliano who will stand for election to the Scottish Parliament against Labour’s Jackie Baillie at the election next May.
SPECIAL REPORT by BILL HEANEY
Scottish Nationalists have been mopping up the blood after a long couple of weeks of internal party back stabbing and in-fighting in Dumbarton and Edinburgh.
Two major prospective candidatures for the seats currently held by Jackie Baillie, the sitting MSP for Dumbarton, Helensburgh and Lomond, and Ruth Davidson, the stand-in leader of the Conservatives in Scotland, were targeted by the SNP.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and her cabal of clever, but not too clever mind you, hangers-on accompanied by her husband, Peter Murrell, the SNP chief executive, wanted to be entirely certain that the candidates who would be chosen to fight the Edinburgh and Dumbarton seats were the ones who had been anointed by them.
If that didn’t happen, then the ever-deepening tide which currently threatens to swamp Sturgeon entirely, including the Salmond sexual misbehaviour committee hearings and the Covid-19 Care Homes deaths scandal about which there is to be an imminent inquiry, could be Nicola’s nemesis.
If anyone believed that all the pre-election blood-letting over the past week or so was going on only in Trump’s White House, then they should check out the stains on the carpets of Bute House, where there’s plenty of evidence of sleekit and stealthy political manoeuvrings.
It’s quite remarkable that Nicola Sturgeon and the US President Donald Trump have so much in common when it comes to the lengths they are prepared to go to in order to hang on to their jobs.
Democracy is not their strong suit, just as it’s not in the armoury of the SNP in Dumbarton, where this platform, The Democrat, was banned contrary to custom and practice in Scotland about open government and freedom of speech.
Clockwise: Karen Conaghan, Caroline McAllister, Marie McNair, Gil Paterson, Joanna Cherry and Marco Biagi with his parents.
In Dumbarton, there have been some very strange goings on with Trump and Tammany Hall-type politics written all over the process.
The latest one kicked off when it was revealed that the selection process for an SNP candidate to take on Labour’s Jackie Baillie had been taken out of the hands of the Dumbarton SNP Constituency Association.
Domestic abuse and women’s rights campaigner, Cllr Caroline McAllister, depute to Cllr Jonathan McColl, leader of the SNP administration at West Dunbartonshire Council, looked a pretty fair bet to represent the Nats and become the one to wear their black and gold rosette in the election next May.
That was until the telephone rang in the pocket of Dumbarton Constituency Association chairperson Graeme McCormick. It was Edinburgh. Hold the bus. That would not be happening, lawyer Graeme was told by the voice from the capital.
The Sturrells – FM NIcola Sturgeon and her husband Peter Murrell, CEO of the SNP.
Whether that was Sturrell (the compressed name now given even by colleagues to Sturgeon and Murrell) I don’t suppose we’ll ever know.
It was made clear that while Cllr McAllister might be a rising star in the Vale of Leven and Renton, that this was not the case in Edinburgh, where she was viewed as having over-stepped the mark on the issue of transgender politics.
She had gone too far by agreeing with millionaire Harry Potter author JK Rowling, who stated publicly that she had reservations about legislation being proposed to accommodate transgender people.
Rowling later wrote: “For people who don’t know: last December I tweeted my support for Maya Forstater, a tax specialist who’d lost her job for what were deemed ‘transphobic’ tweets.
“She took her case to an employment tribunal, asking the judge to rule on whether a philosophical belief that sex is determined by biology is protected in law. Judge Tayler ruled that it wasn’t.”
The writer added: “All the time I’ve been researching and learning, accusations and threats from trans activists have been bubbling in my Twitter timeline.
“This was initially triggered by a ‘like’. When I started taking an interest in gender identity and transgender matters, I began screen-shotting comments that interested me, as a way of reminding myself what I might want to research later.
“On one occasion, I absent-mindedly ‘liked’ instead of screen-shotting. That single ‘like’ was deemed evidence of wrong-think, and a persistent low level of harassment began.
“Months later, I compounded my accidental ‘like’ crime by following Magdalen Berns on Twitter.
“Magdalen was an immensely brave young feminist and lesbian who was dying of an aggressive brain tumour. I followed her because I wanted to contact her directly, which I succeeded in doing.
“However, as Magdalen was a great believer in the importance of biological sex, and didn’t believe lesbians should be called bigots for not dating trans women with penises, dots were joined in the heads of twitter trans activists, and the level of social media abuse increased.
“I mention all this only to explain that I knew perfectly well what was going to happen when I supported Maya. I must have been on my fourth or fifth cancellation by then.
“I expected the threats of violence, to be told I was literally killing trans people with my hate, to be called c*** and bitch and, of course, for my books to be burned, although one particularly abusive man told me he’d composted them.
“What I didn’t expect in the aftermath of my cancellation was the avalanche of emails and letters that came showering down upon me, the overwhelming majority of which were positive, grateful and supportive.
“They came from a cross-section of kind, empathetic and intelligent people, some of them working in fields dealing with gender dysphoria and trans people, who’re all deeply concerned about the way a socio-political concept is influencing politics, medical practice and safeguarding.
“They’re worried about the dangers to young people, gay people and about the erosion of women’s and girl’s rights. Above all, they’re worried about a climate of fear that serves nobody – least of all trans youth – well.”
And so things moved on with the local SNP members, who should have been choosing their candidate shunted out of the way, and SNP big beast, public schoolboy Mike Russell MSP driving down from Argyll and Bute to oversee the interviews. The SNP know their place when it comes to Tartan Tories.
It then became clear that Cllr Karen Conaghan, whose family have been SNP supporters for generations, was favourite to take on Jackie Baillie.
Karen, who is the education convener at West Dunbartonshire Council can, unlike some of her inarticulate SNP colleagues, is well able to cobble a few words together in a coherent manner when she is making a speech.
But then darkness fell for Conaghan. Karen is pro-life, her father, Ian Murray, having been an SNP councillor in Dumbarton, who is a retired director of SPUC, the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children, a prominent Catholic and a high profile pro-lifer.
And she hadn’t fallen into line with the rest of her SNP colleagues when they were asked to support “A Woman’s Right to Choose” when it came to the vexed question of Abortion came up at the Council.
Indeed, if I recall rightly, while Cllr Caroline McAllister was vocal in support of a woman’s “right to choose” motion, at a meeting in Clydebank Town Hall, I believe Cllr Karen Conaghan may have abstained.
I suppose that, in a democracy, where we are supposed to have Freedom of Speech, Cllr Conaghan was well within her rights. And she has as much right to say No as others have to say Yes.
After all, Free Speech is supposed to extend even to SNP-run Dumbarton. Even if Cllr Jonathan McColl in the manner of Donald Trump, disagrees with that.
Then a stranger on the shore appeared. Antonio Giugliano turned up at Levengrove for a posed picture with Dumbarton Rock in the background to announce that he would be throwing his hat in the ring for the SNP nomination.
Although he said he had the political experience, contacts and credentials that qualified him to stand for the SNP, not many people recognised him.
Stranger on the Shore …
The SNP supporting National newspaper reported that the 35-year-old wanted to take Jackie Baillie’s constituency “in a bid to help deliver an SNP majority government and a second independence referendum”.
Jackie Baillie has held the seat for 20 years – since 1999 – but has seen her majority in that election of 4758 votes slashed to just 109 in 2016.
Large numbers of the electorate – even SNP supporters – are puzzled at the assertion that Mr Giugliano is well known in the constituency.
Many of them have never heard of him and this has come through clearly on social media where it is stated they would rather have someone who was up up to speed on pressing local issues.
The SNP was in crisis. The the big local issues of the day were care home deaths and the back to school debacle, not to mention austerity measures connected with grass cutting in parks, cemeteries and open spaces. And then doing a U-turn on Flamingoland at Balloch.
Those issues and Cllr McColl’s intransigence harvested page after page of bad publicity for the SNP.
One puzzling aspect of Giugliani’s pitch was that he mentions his support for the Save the Vale campaign.
According to the SNP, they won that long ago, although insiders at the Health Board don’t believe this is the case and that the hospital’s future remains in doubt just as it has under the past three SNP Health Ministers – Nicola Sturgeon, Shona Robison and Jeane Freeman.
This latest heave from Giuliani’s election team is not the first time the SNP have attempted to foist a carpetbagger on the constituency and local party.
Who remembers Lloyd Quinan, the television weatherman, who forecast he would win the seat and temporarily took up residence in a small flat in Glasgow Road, Dumbarton, in order to claim he had local credentials, which is important when it comes to appealing to voters.
Quinan was sent away disillusioned and defeated by Labour.
Along with East Lothian and Edinburgh Southern, Dumbarton is one of just three first past the post seats currently held by Richard Leonard’s Scottish Labour Party in the Scottish Parliament.
Giugliano is described by his publicists as a first generation Italian Scot and EU migrant who works as a senior policy manager for one of Scotland’s leading mental health charities, which would make him a relatively recent arrival in West Dunbartonshire.
One important omission from his political CV is the area in which he has the highest profile. Mr Giugliani is a militant Gay Rights/Transgender activist.
Giugliani is quoted in the National as saying: “I really want to unseat Jackie Baillie. I believe the SNP should have a European national to stand for the Scottish Parliament at a time when EU nationals are being treated with contempt by the Tories, by Westminster, having to prove how long they’ve been in this country and what have been their activities, despite contributing so much.
“As a result of the contempt they have been treated with, many are coming to the independence cause and I believe we need to embrace that. I believe electing a EU national to the Scottish Parliament sends a signal about what sort of country we would be with independence – open for business, tolerant and diverse.”
In saying this, Giugliani portrays himself as being amongst those who feel discriminated against because they are not indigenous UK citizens.
The Nationalist attempted to discredit Jackie Baillie in the electorate’s eyes by stating that she was the campaign director for the anti-independence Better Together organisation ahead of the 2014 referendum, where she worked alongside the Tories and the LibDems.
He added that he believed Baillie’s anti-independence views put her out of step with the majority of her constituents who voted Yes in 2014 – “As we emerge from Covid 19, I will be focusing on helping the local community recover by fighting for local businesses; a jobs guarantee for young people, and investment in local health services at the Vale of Leven Hospital.
“I think most people in the community are not interested right now in narrow, divisive politics; they want to see politicians spending their time on things that matter — the NHS, education, jobs, care homes and the economy.
“That’s what I will be putting my energy into at this election. Dumbarton constituency needs a strong voice in parliament who will stand up for our area and I would be proud to serve the area once again.”
Meanwhile, up in Clydebank, the SNP were busy electing Cllr Marie McNair, convener of the Health and Social Care Committee on West Dunbartonshire Council, to replace long-serving Gil Paterson, who is retiring. Cllr Paterson has been around local politics since 1974 when he was a member of Strathclyde Region.
Ms McNair is the sister of Andy White, a one-time leader of the local Labour-controlled council, who disappeared from the scene after an Audit Scotland inquiry and allegations of stuffing the party with his supporters to advance his career and push for policies he wishes to see supported by the Council.
The Council’s Health and Social Care Committee is the one in charge of care homes. Ms McNair alternates between chair and vice chair of that committee, which is chaired by an un-elected accountant.
A number of top officials including the Chief Executive Michael Waters and his deputy Ian Leitch left their employment at the recently demolished County Buildings at Garshake around that time.
MP Joanna Cherry announced she intended to stand for selection for the Edinburgh Central seat, currently held by Ruth Davidson, until at the eleventh hour changes to internal party rules meant the MP would have to resign her seat at Westminster to fight for selection.
Angus Robertson selected to compete for contested Edinburgh seat
Former MP Robertson was depute leader of the Scot Nats until 2018
Smart but sleekit move that by Nicola if she wanted her pal Angus Robertson to get the nomination.
This was yet another blow for Dumbarton and Helensburgh since ex-Scottish Government minister Marco Biagi, who held the seat for the SNP from 2011 to 2016, also sought the nomination.
The SNP, like all political parties are desperate to attract quality candidates and Marco Biagi fitted the bill for that. Bright, intelligent, articulate and openly gay and a Yale University scholar, he would have gone down well in the capital city – but he didn’t get the chance.
On Friday night, the SNP confirmed 70 of its 73 constituency candidates, including Robertson who was depute leader of the party until 2018.
SNP depute leader and campaign director Keith Brown said: “The Holyrood election six months from now will be the most important in Scotland’s history, and will determine our country’s future.
“Effective leadership during the global pandemic is proving a real boost to support for an independent Scotland.
“The SNP will continue to focus on what’s important to the people of Scotland, and each and every day we will work hard to retain the trust placed in us.
“Our outstanding field of gender-balanced candidates will be proud to stand on the SNP’s strong record in government, and the right for people in Scotland to decide their own future.”