Thirty years ago – exactly – I moved to Scotland: it has been my home ever since. In the months before my partner joined me, kind friends made sure I didn’t feel alone. One evening, some of them took me to a concert by Runrig at the old Capitol theatre in Aberdeen. Anyone reading this blog is likely to have heard of Runrig but if you haven’t they were (still are) a Celtic rock band. I like their music very much. A year or so after I saw them they were joined by a keyboard player Wikipedia still calls ‘Peter’ Wishart. In a reversal of the usual formality and occasionally dignity that accrues to old rockers as they age gracefully, Peter Wishart has become Pete. He left the band in 2001 and was transformed almost instantly into an SNP Member of Parliament, where he has sat for the last fourteen years as MP for, first, North Tayside and now Perth and North Perthshire.
Peter/Pete is an avid tweeter and at the top of this post you’ll see an exchange I had with him last night. It started with what I thought was a reasonable comment on a post he’d just written on his blog called HEALTH, EDUCATION AND THE POLICE (the capitals are his). If you can be bothered to read it, it’s a defence of the SNP government’s performance in those areas against the criticisms of them by his ‘unionist friends’ (sic). This is a precis of what he says:
In the coming months to the Holyrood election in May next year unionists will attack the government’s stewardship of health, education and the police. Don’t be fooled by this. It’s a distraction from the more important constitutional issues that face Scotland. Of course there are challenges but the SNP has met them as well as Labour or Tories would and have delivered some important policies and major improvements. Attacks on these will be counter-productive for our opponents and polls show that most people are happy with the government’s achievements.
You’ll see above that my initial comment to Mr Wishart was that he seemed to be under the illusion that the performance of public services drove political opposition to the SNP. No, I said, it was opposition to the one thing he wants and a majority of his fellow Scots don’t – separation from the UK. You can debate whether or not I’m right (Twitter has its limitations in this respect) but you’d have to concede it’s a point of view that can be evidenced. It’s certainly what drives my view of the SNP since they’re the only political party that could deliver separation.
Wishart’s response was characteristic: he was just trying to understand why Labour and Conservative attacks on SNP stewardship of public services were failing. I’m afraid I see little evidence of him trying to understand in his post and plenty of polemic. Nothing wrong with that. I’m prone to it myself. But don’t pretend you’re doing something you’re not. And in any case if you want evidence of the SNP’s at-best mediocre performance in government there’s plenty out there.
My second tweet made the again not unreasonable point that if these attacks Wishart was so dismissive of were failing, why bother to spend time and effort refuting them? Perhaps, I said, there was some truth in them that was worrying his party. Not being adept with emojis I ended my tweet with a cheeky little raised eyebrow – 😉
You’ll see the response to that above but it’s worth highlighting, so here it is again:
I’ll let that contribution speak for itself. But do you see why I use the phrase ‘mediocrity and the SNP’ in the title to this post? Are we entitled to a tad of dignity in how our elected representatives comport themselves? Does this one realise how he demeans himself and his cause with that sort of comment? This is the man who on Hogmanay last year tweeted new year’s greetings to ‘all Yessers and Nawbags.’ If you’ve come from a far off planet I’ll explain nawbag for you. It’s a play on the Scottish ‘bawbag,’ a colloquialism for ballbag or scrotum. It is not a friendly term. This is the man who now chairs the Commons Scottish affairs select committee. I cannot think of an MP of any other party who writes in public like this.
My exchange with Wishart ended at the point I show above but it has engendered a lot of comment on Twitter which, as I write, continues. It’s the usual mixed bag the medium attracts but this contribution from @GlasgowAlbum hits the mark most closely for me:
There is some quiet talent among the 55, but by and large they are a dim and graceless bunch – Wishart is the norm.
I spent last weekend in Stirlingshire. Through the driving rain a friend pointed out where the car came off the motorway that Police Scotland failed to find for three days while a badly injured woman lay next to the dead driver before being rescued (although she also died subsequently). In demonstration of the fact that this dereliction of duty and incompetence was a systemic failure not a one-off event, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary in Scotland have just issued a highly critical report on Police Scotland’s call handling. This is part of the SNP’s ‘stewardship’ of public services Pete Wishart is so proud of but which of course he does not mention in his blog.
You may spot the reference in the title of this article to Runrig’s beautiful instrumental tune ‘On the edge.’ Pete Wishart seems determined to live on the edge, albeit without much beauty or grace.
Footnote: the facts, such as they are, that Wishart cites in his tweets and his blog are at best, as academics say, ‘contestable,’ for example current levels of support for the SNP. This post, as you’ll realise, has a different purpose than analysing those claims.