John Swinney, a decent man, until he gets dragged down by the company he keeps

by Colin Campbell

A RELATIVE of mine once did a tiling job for John Swinney at his home in Perth. Tiling, like other household work, can be tricky if you’re dealing with someone who’s excessively houseproud or unreasonably fussy. Get a slate a millimetre off line, so I’m told, and the backlash is as bad as if you’d stuck some chewing gum on to the back of it and thrown it at the wall from a yard away.

John Swinney.

But John Swinney certainly wasn’t in that category. Friendly, easy going, appreciative, even grateful was his style. “A really nice bloke,” was the verdict from my relative. “I wish everyone I deal with was like that.”

So Inverness MP Drew Hendry almost certainly had it right when he said yesterday of the Deputy First Minister: “Across politics, at all levels, all parties and none, over many years, I have heard countless remarks of respect and friendship for him.”

Hendry was among those responding to fierce criticism of Swinney’s involvement in the Salmond affair. He had refused to hand over secret internal documents, which Alex Salmond believes could prove that Nicola Sturgeon breached the ministerial code, to the Holyrood inquiry committee looking into the handling of harassment complaints against him. Swinney relented after being faced with a vote of no confidence.

However, Swinney’s essential decency and goodness as a human being is not in doubt. I’ll take the opinion of my tiler relative first and foremost, and bolster it with the testimony of Drew Hendry.

But when it comes to the SNP the qualities of goodness and decency are not exactly present in abundance. If you possess them it may be necessary to sideline them. If you try and cling on to them for a while it will soon become necessary to shed them, like tiles falling off a wall.

John Swinney, if he’s all that decent, should have been uneasy about the position he found himself in. But that was his problem. In the SNP there’s no room for dissent of any kind, not even the vaguest hint of it. The Central Command of The Party will have it no other way. And there’s absolutely no room for it when it comes to trying to protect Queen Nicola.

She will be questioned by the inquiry committee on Wednesday and there’s a chance that her appearance could be the precursor to her downfall. The enforced release of these documents should make her task in trying to convince those present and the TV audience watching that she’s not told a single lie about her involvement all the more difficult. And, for those of us who absolutely believe she did lie when she said she “forgot” about the meeting when she first learned of the allegations against Salmond, completely impossible.

With Sturgeon in trouble the SNP ramps up its efforts to support her. And a pretty sorry effort it looks.

Ross MP and SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford goes on TV and radio to claim she’s done nothing wrong. The frequency of Blackford’s appearance on the airwaves these days is in itself a signal the SNP hierarchy is losing the plot.

When he’s not bellowing at Westminster they should lock him away in his Skye croft barn. But it seems they still somehow haven’t got the message that Blackford is the most reviled politician in Scotland. This is partly because he’s tried blatantly to make a fool of people with his claim that he’s just “a simple 10 acres crofter”, partly because at the last count he raked in £256,000 in expenses from a Westminster system he claims he wants to destroy,  but mainly because he’s a blustering national embarrassment to Scotland. He generates only the most lukewarm enthusiasm among many supporters of the SNP. If the party hierarchy still believes this character is their best bet for winning over hearts and minds on TV and radio then their judgement really is falling apart.

Drew Hendry makes a point of putting up pictures of himself standing shoulder to shoulder with Sturgeon in a creepy crawly attempt to emphasise his belief in her and invites a barrage of criticism for his sycophancy, with some SNP supporters saying he’s lost their vote. A spontaneous act of loyalty, or at the command of Central Command? Apparently other SNP politicians cravenly did the same.

Angus Robertson, with a reputation for being a particularly bumptious character, in addition to his enthusiasm for counting up the number of dead No voters between now and 2014, expresses undying faith in the chief-grievance monger’s charisma, trustworthiness and all round saintliness. It’s over the top and instead of being persuasive looks desperate.

Inverness MSP Fergus Ewing manages to evade all this and probably takes the best course of action by burying his head in the sand and hoping it’ll all go away.

Meanwhile, down in the online cesspit of nationalist social media, there is not a trace of the John Swinney style of decency.

As support for independence tumbles while the SNP tears itself apart the zealots and fanatics pile on the bile and bitterness against anyone who disagrees with them, and of course the despised Tories and the equally despised English.

Needless to say, some within the lunatic fringe rant that the Salmond affair has been concocted by Boris Johnson and MI5, blind to the fact that if a conspiracy has been fomented, it lies much closer to home.

This is all far removed from the general decency of a man like John Swinney. Much of the time a friendly, easy going and likeable person. Until these qualities get dragged down by his weaselly involvement in the duplicitous machinations of the SNP.


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