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Rightward Lurch of the Year awards

The Scottish Politician of the Year nominations appear to reward a certain kind of politics – those that are moving towards the right…

Another year, another mainstream endorsement of ‘what just happened in Scottish politics’. The shortlist for the Herald’s Scottish Politician of the Year award is interesting. Not encouraging, interesting. It tells us what matters to the people who judge what matters to us. So what does it tell us?

Well, this year it feels like no nominee has failed to be rewarded for moving decisively to the right. So Johann Lamont is there for abandoning a commitment to the principle of the universal welfare state, Kenny McAskill and Angus Robertson are there for their pro-NATO campaign, Danny Alexander is there for doing George Osborne’s economic dirty work, Michael Moore is there for doing David Cameron’s constitutional dirty work. Of the others a lot are for routine stuff like ‘lobbying to bring X to Scotland’ or ‘making a good speech about Y’. Of every entry in every category I think I can identify only two which have even a touching-distance link to progressive politics. If one is to be generous, Nicola Sturgeon is there for what appears to be minimum pricing for alcohol (when her biggest achievement of the year was the gay marriage move). The only bona fide nomination for something progressive is the Equality Network’s pro-gay marriage campaign.

Is this because the left was just rubbish in 2012? Was there nothing worth recognising form a progressive front? Well, let’s just look at one example and scratch our heads in confusion. Kenny McAskill is ‘debater of the year’ for his pro-NATO conference speech but not a single one of the widely-praised speeches against NATO was worth a look-in? McAskill didn’t debate, he delivered a content-free carnival side-show routine in which he took credit for not being popular in the US. If saying ‘they don’t like me so I’m right’ makes you debater of the year then we’re in trouble. As everyone has now noted, it was just a Prescott moment, wheel out the once-popular guy to sell our case to an unhappy party. I don’t think I’ve come across a single person from any side of the political divide who, in private, hasn’t admitted that the real quality came from the other side. If McAskill is there for his schtick, why not Christina McKelvie, Jamie Hepburn or John Finne, all of who gave much better argued, much more intelligent and – bluntly – much more important speeches.

And political impact of the year seems to have become a euphemism. In the case of Johann Lamont the Labour movement is in turmoil. Few outside the Party leadership are happy with how the universalism thing is being handled and at a time when Labour might have wooed some of the left disaffected by the SNP’s NATO stance they made it comparatively easy for the SNP leadership. The same cannot be said for Angus Robertson who has fatally divided the SNP with his drive to turn the SNP into yet one more US puppet. In both cases it is hard to see how taking home an award is appropriate. Equally, one might ask who has had more of a political impact in Scotland, John Finnie and Jean Urquhart who have reduced the SNP majority to effectively one or Trician Marwick? My guess is that in five years looking back, things will look the other way round.

Campaign of the year? Again, there is a good case to say that with zero resources and no expectation the SNP CND group ran a remarkable campaign which came with 30 votes of defeating the SNP leadership. ‘Wise heads’ in the media and elsewhere were predicting 70/30. But no – instead the nod goes to a nine-year-old who photoed her lunch. I have all the admiration in the world for the girl but it wasn’t a campaign and it wasn’t political. Still, that’s what the media seems to want.

You could probably all pick other possibilities and of course everyone knows that awards lists are subjective and always open to criticism for inclusion and omission. And yet, there is a pattern in this that is fairly easy to see. It seems to me the Scottish media and its areas of interest are closing down in the heat of the constitutional debate. Any political issue which is more ‘London’ than ‘Edinburgh’ gets the credit (NATO good, universalism bad) and being part of the London scene gets you a nomination without any need to justify why (I quote “Mr Alexander, the most high-profile Scot in the cabinet for most UK voters, remains at the heart of the Coalition’s economic strategy” – so what?).

The Scottish media is becoming more conservative all the time, in large part driven by the impact of relentless conservative propaganda from Better Together. It is defining priorities in ways that seem strange to me. And it is not promising if we want a balanced political debate in the next two years.

Robin McAlpine