Yes­ter­day’s men and Stur­geon’s cyn­i­cal bid to re­vive their flag­ging ca­reers

Scottish Daily Mail - - Comment - Grant GRA­HAM

LIKE an age­ing Hol­ly­wood ham given a late-ca­reer second shot at the big time, John Ni­col­son is back on the elec­tion trail.

De­feated two years ago in his for­mer con­stituency of East Dun­bar­ton­shire, at the hands of Jo Swin­son, he is now the SNP can­di­date for Ochil and South Perthshire.

Some­thing of a fish out of wa­ter in ru­ral parts, ur­ban­ite Mr Ni­col­son is rein­vent­ing him­self as a coun­try gent for the next month.

The am­bi­tiously coif­fured ex-news­reader has his beg­ging bowl out, after launch­ing an on­line fundraiser to help with the cam­paign.

It is a sur­pris­ing de­mand from a man who rented out his top-drawer prop­erty in Tower Ham­lets, Lon­don – but for all po­lit­i­cal par­ties times are lean.

One elec­tion has fol­lowed another and funds have taken a ham­mer­ing, so the Na­tion­al­ist hi­er­ar­chs are re­sort­ing to in­creas­ingly des­per­ate mea­sures.

Mr Ni­col­son has been parachuted in to the con­stituency, as Ni­cola Stur­geon de­ploys some trusted pals in a bid to win back old seats.

Miss Stur­geon is pulling the strings to en­sure some of her clos­est acolytes are in with a chance of help­ing her to pro­pel Jeremy Cor­byn into Down­ing Street, in the event of a hung par­lia­ment.

In Ochil and South Perthshire, for­mer in­cum­bent lawyer Tas­mina Ahmed Sheikh – found guilty of pro­fes­sional mis­con­duct ear­lier this year – was ousted by Tory MP Luke Gra­ham at the last poll in 2017, with a ma­jor­ity of more than 3,000 votes.

So Mr Ni­col­son has been dis­in­terred and dusted off as one of a num­ber of re­li­able place­men drafted in to try to re­cap­ture for­merly SNP con­trolled fief­doms.

Coyly, the wily Mr Ni­col­son has ex­cluded all men­tion of in­de­pen­dence from his pam­phlets – well, no point in giv­ing the game away at this stage…

De­spite his ap­peal to the pub­lic to help bankroll his cam­paign, as an MP Mr Ni­col­son had a gen­er­ous streak, shelling out staff bonuses amount­ing to £7,000.

He was more can­did when it came to the SNP’s de­volved re­spon­si­bil­i­ties, ad­mit­ting ahead of the 2017 elec­tion that state ed­u­ca­tion was a post­code lottery – but he did go on to lose.

Then there is for­mer com­mer­cial lawyer Alyn Smith, another slightly pre­pos­ter­ous fig­ure, who was forced to is­sue a grov­el­ling apol­ogy to the chief of Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party ear­lier this year after de­scrib­ing the out­fit a ‘mon­ey­laun­der­ing front’.

He also agreed to pay dam­ages and a ‘sig­nif­i­cant’ por­tion of party chair­man Richard Tice’s le­gal fees after con­ced­ing that he ‘spoke in the heat of the mo­ment’.

Boasted

On BBC Ra­dio 4’s Any Ques­tions de­bate pro­gramme on Fri­day, Mr Smith boasted about his lawyerly use of pre­cise lan­guage (lawyerly and, well, in­ter­mit­tent).

He also main­tained that win­ning a ma­jor­ity of Scot­tish seats next month would give the SNP a man­date for another Scexit vote, even though, of course, he claimed, it al­ready has a man­date after win­ning the 2016 Holy­rood elec­tion and se­cur­ing more than half of the seats in Scot­land at the last gen­eral elec­tion.

Man­dates ga­lore, and yet the SNP did not win the Scot­tish elec­tion three years ago, and the Scot­tish par­lia­ment’s ‘pro-in­de­pen­dence ma­jor­ity’ hinges on the sup­port of the Greens, who in their man­i­festo ad­vo­cated only a mass pe­ti­tion on sep­a­ratism – one that has yet to hap­pen.

Mr Smith was born in Glas­gow, grew up in Scot­land and Saudi Ara­bia, stud­ied at Leeds Univer­sity, spent a year each in Ger­many and In­dia, worked as a lawyer in Ed­in­burgh and spent most of his work­ing life in Brus­sels as an MEP, from 2004.

He is now stand­ing in, er, Stir­ling, where Tory Stephen Kerr is de­fend­ing a slim ma­jor­ity.

Mr Kerr has had a tor­rid time, after hav­ing to clean up his con­stituency of­fice fol­low­ing at­tacks by vandals – Mr Kerr be­lieves SNP sup­port­ers – who branded him a ‘traitor’.

There is a his­tory of fight­ing dirty in the area.

In 2015, the Mail re­vealed that An­drew Szwebs, con­vener of the Stir­ling branch of the SNP, op­er­ated fake Twit­ter ac­counts which sought to ‘par­ody’ po­lit­i­cal ri­vals – and la­belled one of them a ‘quis­ling’, or Nazi col­lab­o­ra­tor.

For his part, Mr Smith once called for an on­line code of con­duct to stop such nasti­ness – per­haps the ul­ti­mate ex­am­ple of shut­ting the sta­ble door long after the horse has bolted.

Oth­ers func­tionar­ies with years of al­le­giance to party chiefs are also on the list of con­tenders for next month’s elec­tion.

Dave Doogan, a for­mer case worker for John Swin­ney and a coun­cil­lor in Perth, is stand­ing in An­gus, a mar­ginal seat where Tory Kirstene Hair won in 2017.

When Mr Doogan made an­tiEnglish re­marks about ‘quis­lings’ and claimed that Scot­land had been ‘un­der the heel of for­eign in­flu­ence for 300 years’, the SNP re­fused to dis­ci­pline him – per­haps know­ing that a chunk of its sup­port base would not be able to see what Mr Doogan had done wrong.

SNP ac­tivist Paul Robert­son, who worked for Miss Stur­geon as her head of re­search and pol­icy in West­min­ster, is the party’s can­di­date for Tory-held Banff and Buchan – amid a row within the party over claims that he has been parachuted into the seat by Na­tion­al­ist HQ. For­mer SNP Cru­den Bay coun­cil­lor James Tow­ers wrote to a news­pa­per to say ‘it seems to me that there is a con­flict of in­ter­ests here as to which is the more im­por­tant: the party or the per­son­al­ity’.

He said the SNP seems to feel that ‘they know best; that in their wis­dom they can se­lect the most suit­able can­di­date by pre­sent­ing a “cho­sen few” to the con­stituency at vir­tu­ally the last minute’.

The ‘cho­sen few’ have al­ways held sway in the Na­tion­al­ist move­ment – and now their loy­alty to their su­pe­ri­ors has been re­warded with a chance to sup­plant a Tory.

Bat­tle

Other veter­ans are grimly cling­ing on: Pete Wishart has a bat­tle on his hands in Perth and North Perthshire, where the Greens have handed him a boost by de­cid­ing not to stand against him.

That is lucky be­cause Mr Wishart holds a slen­der ma­jor­ity of only 21 over the Tories – who are now ramp­ing up their ef­forts to top­ple the for­mer Run­rig star once and for all.

A con­tra­dic­tory char­ac­ter who poses as an anti-Es­tab­lish­ment fig­ure de­spite his (failed) can­di­dacy to be Com­mons Speaker, Mr Wishart once re­ferred to sup­port­ers of Tony Blair as ‘your em­bar­rass­ing in­con­ti­nent old rel­a­tives’.

The wheel has come full cir­cle and Mr Wishart, him­self, has be­come some­thing of an em­bar­rass­ment for his own party, de­spite at­tempt­ing to change his image by con­demn­ing pro-in­de­pen­dence web trolls. Sadly, this back­fired as many of them then turned on Mr Wishart over his ap­par­ent volte-face; one even de­scribed him as an ‘Eto­nian boot licker’.

But it is clear from the crop of Stur­geon­istas se­lected to fight for mar­ginal seats that lick­ing boots is de­cent ca­reer ad­vice – as long as the footwear in ques­tion be­longs to the First Min­is­ter.

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