Honestly! You wait for one heavyweight politician to throw their hat in the Holyrood ring and two come along at once. Yesterday former deputy SNP leader Angus Robertson formally launched his campaign seeking nomination for the Edinburgh Central seat currently held – if not exactly cherished – by ex Tory leader Ruth Davidson. Angus, you will recall, was also the leader of the party in the House of Commons until he met with an electoral accident in the shape of Conservative Douglas Ross, a part time football referee who doubles as occasional marketing manager for Baxters Soups.
Meanwhile, in the wings, is the equally redoubtable Joanna Cherry, currently the party’s justice spokesperson at Westminster and co-author of the legal action which sank Boris Johnson’s hopes of closing parliament long enough for nobody to notice what an indolent chancer he was. Thus it is that I am in the unfortunate position this morning of committing journalistic incest; writing about two fellow National columnists. Also in the position- one, I suspect, shared by many in the Yes movement - of being frustrated that two people with obvious intellectual heft to add to the push for independence should be bidding for the same piece of Holyrood real estate.
You can see the attraction for both. Small majority, enviable constituency adjacent to the parliament. Both were educated there, both have strong local connections – in Joanna’s case her current fiefdom is just along the road And, if the independence bandwagon really is on the home straight, then Holyrood will be the only serious game in town for ambitious Scottish politicians.
Yet as we have learned these past few weeks and months, any attempt to have a civilised conversation and debate about electoral matters is immediately characterised as a terminal split among Yes supporters . Given the miserable polling results of what used to be known as the other major parties, you can see how irresistible is clutching whatever anti Indy straw comes to hand. And in Robertson v Cherry there is a sub text, being furiously re-knitted as we speak. There are many in sections of the commentariat eager to suggest and put on repeat that this will be a juicy proxy war between Sturgeon and Salmond.
Now it is true that Angus is a long standing and fervent supporter of the leader he once served as number two. And it is equally undeniable that Joanna and Nicola are unlikely to be sharing a convivial, chatty supper any time soon. Such is the nature of politics in any and every party. Most especially in parties of long standing government. Familiarity breeds discontent. However, self evidently two into one won’t go, and the battle for the nomination will undoubtedly throw up behaviour nobody will mistake for collegiate. In Robertson’s website sales pitch is a blog which sets out his stall as the kind of MSP Edinburgh Central requires. It says this:
“Edinburgh Central needs an MSP that has a full-time commitment to their constituents and constituency, and the SNP needs a full-time candidate to win this important seat. I believe I am best placed to be that candidate. I will not pretend to constituents that I can be in two places at the same time.”
On the face of it, a well aimed dig at Ruth Davidson, now that ermine is apparently her favourite fur. And indeed the paragraph in question follows a sentence condemning Davidson’s London career interests. However another reading of the same text might seem to suggest he’s saying Ms Cherry cannot ride these two electoral horses, whilst Mr Robertson has campaigning time and location in his favour.
That might seem an unduly cynical interpretation of events were it not for the fact that efforts have been made to persuade the local executive to ensure any would be candidate first resigns their seat in another parliament. Cherry has indicated she will give up her Westminster role if she is elected to Holyrood which seems to me as much as electors could reasonably expect. Alex Salmond, we may remember, served in both Westminster and Holyrood for Banff and Buchan for a couple of years after the latter set up shop.
Yet it seems to me perverse that the SNP finds itself in a situation where two of its most effective operators and communicators are going head to head at all. Angus Robertson’s input into campaigning strategies and tactics has been invaluable over the years. Joanna Cherry has proved that with the right skills and commitment you can take on the UK government and trash them. Holyrood could do with both these talents, not least since it is losing other big hitters like Mike Russell at the next election.
There will be those out there in the big bad world of politics who think it naïve to ignore personal rivalries and internecine warfare. Let me assure them there are hundreds of thousands of voters who give not a stuff for who did what to whom and when. They could not be less interested in the minutiae of internal politicking and plotting. They care only that those in positions of power and influence focus down on winning independence. Just like the poor bloody infantry is trying to.
People clinging to the upper surfaces of the greasy pole do not have to love or even like each other – Gordon and Tony anyone? But if they are seriously interested in the only prize which motivates everyone in the Yes camp, they have to find a way of setting aside personal animosities. Two of Scotland’s most talented politicians washing dubious linen in the public gaze is unikely to end well.
Not least with the wicked month of August almost upon us.
FIRST PUBLISHED IN THE NATIONAL 27.7.20