Power Corrupts

So, the de facto President of Scotland, Henry McLeish, was caught with his hand in the cookie jar and has now resigned. For 14 years, this man had claimed the full allowance of taxpayers' money for running a parliamentary office whilst sub-letting part of it at a personal profit amounting to 36,000.

The trouble was that he never told the Parliamentary Privileges Committee about this little piece of business. He says that it was an administrative mistake, everyone else believes he deliberately trousered the goods.

Fiddling the expenses claim form has always been an immediate sacking offence wherever I have worked. Indeed, one salesman in my last company was sent packing faster than his feet could touch the ground when his receipts did not match his claim. But, when one enters the twilight world of politics, the rules of common sense seem to go out of the window.

Perhaps, in years to come, this sorry case will be presented at various Spin Doctoring classes on how not to handle the media. The classic steps of spinning were evident as the image-makers began to rotate at near Dervish speed in a desperate attempt to protect their boss – and I am thankful that they failed miserably.

First, they tried to repress the story with denials.

Secondly, when the names of the companies who rented the premises began to be revealed, the media frenzy began to turn supernova and the McLeish team had forgotten to equip warp drive on their spin machine. That led to an admission of a "mistake" being made and a derisory 9,000 was paid back to the Treasury.

Not good enough. The media and political opponents had sniffed blood and the hunt was afoot. In a final death throe, the now flagging spinners went into sackcloth and ashes mode by publishing a contrite list of all details and payments received.

Still not good enough. He's gone and his spin-doctors may be looking forward to practising their image techniques on their curriculum vitas. The only honourable thing he did was to go before the light became unbearable and further media revelations potentially damaged his remaining political career for good.

The worst thing in politics is not so much to plunder the public coffers but to be caught in the act. That's rule number one and so far rule number two is being hung onto like a barnacle – one may resign but, if possible, never admit guilt. Mr. McLeish accepted responsibility as the top of the chain of command, but personal sin is another matter.

He'll keep his lowlier job as Member of Parliament and we'll move onto the spectacle of politicians feigning reluctance to take over their buddy's job whilst salivating mentally at the prospect of being top dog in Bonnie Scotland. So, rule number one for this scenario is to lament the resignation of a good colleague – even one’s political opponents do that despite having clamoured for the axe to fall.

Rule number two is to avoid rushing in with undignified haste as a candidate for the vacant job. The mourning period must be dutifully observed in public whilst feverish lobbying goes on behind closed doors for the approbation of colleagues (with perhaps the promise of a ministerial post thrown in).

So, as we stumble out of the darkness of political ambition into the light of day, what can I say about this Scottish parliament?

It was hoped (not by me, I hasten to add) that this devolved government would display all that is best in Scottish culture. I could have saved them a lot of hand wringing by pointing out that the problem with the Scottish government is that it is full of politicians. Divest the parliament of those contents and it is a delight to behold.

And, not only politicians, but also a pretty low-grade roster recruited from the ranks of ex-social workers, trade unionists and local government councillors well versed in the art of town hall cronyism.

The less said about standards the better. The dumbing down of political morality means that what was unacceptable yesterday is perfectly okay today. Once it was virtually an unconditional resignation for a politician if he was caught playing the adulterer. But, as one recent politician caught in this deceit said, "It's no big deal, is it?" Called me old-fashioned, but if you can cheat on your wife, I have no trouble in believing you'll cheat on anyone!

As for me, I have little interest in who will replace their disgraced colleague as First Minister. The mould of socialism is cast in steel over here; it will be a long time before it is smashed in favour of the individual self-belief and ability that once fostered such great Scots as Adam Smith and Andrew Carnegie.

November 9 , 2001