The Public Eye

I’ve taken an antsi view of two issues today – it’s not like me at all…

You probably get a queasy feeling about cronyism and corruption and how people in the know get the ear of ministers. It’s an insidious business and yet it doesn’t need to be, so long as all the information is freely available and the rules obeyed.

This week ex SNP staffer and Salmond adviser Jennifer Dempsie was named in some outlets as having secured £150,000 for TinthePark from Fiona Hyslop. Old pal’s act! She only got it because they’re mates. All Nats together emptying the public purse, etc

Now, of course the papers involved didn’t actually say that but they wrote the story in such a way that you would. Former Salmond aide set up meeting with SNP government to win funds – enough said. Not only that but she’s a candidate, said some – an active politician. Former leader Gordon Wilson went volcanic saying she had sullied her credibility and the rules would have to be tightened to stop this kind of thing. One paper called it ‘secret taxpayers funding.’

But hold on. Dempsie no longer works for the SNP. She was at the time employed by the company that runs TinthePark. They had warned it might be scrapped because of problems associated its move to Strathallan. Her role was to set up a meeting to bid for government support. The fact that she is known to the government and presumably trusted must be a help, as it is to anyone in the networking business – which is why Tom Harris and Kevin Pringle are in the same game. It’s hardly illegitimate. The question is: Is it wrong? As director of Sense, the disabled charity, would it be wrong of Andy Kerr to ask for meetings with a Labour minister?

So Dempsie got the meeting. She did not attend it. She did not secure the grant. The money was awarded, not as a bung from Hyslop, but as an appropriately signed-off support for an cultural event which generates £15m a year. There are rules about how money is allocated and criteria have to be met.

Was it opaque? Hardly. There is nothing secret or dodgy in the story but the implication of the coverage is clear – SNP corruption. In one source, this is even tied to previous innuendo of ‘links between Alex Salmond and media baron Rupert Murdoch, as well as businesspeople like Donald Trump and Ineos chief executive Jim Ratcliffe.’ This is tabloid conflation to construct an argument. Doubt the morals of Salmond if you like but what is the pattern behind those names? They are seriously important businessmen with big investments in Scotland (Murdoch probably the biggest private employer) and Salmond was First Minister charged with improving the economy and creating a positive impression of the country. Holyrood investigations failed to nail a single nefarious act by Salmond over Trump and with Ineos, wasn’t it Salmond who stepped in to help save the Grangemouth plant?

A miasma of implication and smear is created over a non-event. (If there is corruption or maladministration, why haven’t the journalists called it?).

Here’s another perspective. Is the argument that no former SNP person can take up such a role? Or is that any approach from a former SNP person must be turned down even if means a major event goes to the wall?

Jennifer Dempsie hasn’t been selected as candidate in Highland and Islands yet. My own view is that at the point where that happens, if it does, she activates a political career and direct approaches for commercial reasons to ministers become inapprorpriate. The meeting she organized was back in May before selection processes began and she was officially a civilian. It would be a shame if a talented young woman was prevented from standing by the effects of ill-directed innuendo. Still, the price of public life, eh?

The other issue that got me was whether Ally MacLeod should be entered in the football hall of fame. The problem here surely is with the idea of a hall of fame at all and what it really is. It has become an elastic definition as they search for more and more characters to fill it. The reality is that if you have to ask the question of a sportsman then the answer is almost certainly No. It implies greatness and you either have that or you don’t. MacLeod was a damned good manager and a motivator as he proved at two clubs and in winning the British Championship. That alone wouldn’t be enough in my view to enter anything called a Hall of Fame. But when you add it the failure in Argentina it eclipses all of those accomplishments and must rule him out.

There is little evidence that he did any proper research on Scotland’s opponents and allowed overconfidence to cloud his judgement. His descent from admirable cockiness at Hampden to powerless ineptitude in Argentina was the mark of a man lacking any patina of greatness.

I liked Ally and respect him and I understand his family’s frustration at the abuse of his memory. He didn’t lose us a referendum. But if we’re judging on any criteria of fame meaning more than celebrity which he undoubtedly had, then I’m afraid Ally fails the test. As in the previous rant, fame is a fickle mistress.

Leave a Reply