Yesterday’s men and Sturgeon’s cynical bid to revive their flagging careers
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’s 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 and 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 line his coffers, 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 then he did go on to lose…
Then there’s 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 ‘money-laundering 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’.
On BBC Radio 4’s Any Questions debate programme on Friday, Mr Smith boasted about his lawerly 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 indeed securing more than half of the seats in Scotland at the last General Election.
Mandates galore, and yet the SNP didn’t 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’s 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’s 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 caseworker 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 anti-English 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 wouldn’t 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 SNP 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.
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’s lucky, because Mr Wishart holds a slender majority of just 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’s 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.
*This column appeared in the Scottish Daily Mail on November 12, 2019.