What is sauce for the Dom Cummings goose is sauce for the Sarah Smith gander. OK! That doesn’t quite work. But you take my point. Or rather I don’t accept Ruth Wishart’s. Which is that the two individuals in question are very different and the misdeeds under discussion cannot be compared. I disagree.
I will not be joining any witch-hunt against either of these people. Hounding public figures for sport is an activity which tends to reveal more about the hounds than their prey. And none of it flattering. How quickly holding to account descends into an undignified scrabble for scraps of scalp. But I look at the incidents which have made both Cummings and Smith the story rather than the story-teller and I see the same phenomenon. I see words and actions which betray a particular mindset. A mindset which the furore would suggest is an affront to the public’s sensibilities.
Even the mindsets revealed are fundamentally similar. In both these cases – and, I’d hazard, in most such cases – it is about entitlement. This may be most apparent, even explicit, in the case of Cummings. But is Sarah Smith really so different? Cummings exhibits the attitude of someone who considers himself part of an elite. The privileges afforded that elite he regards as no more than his due. Not privilege at all, really. No more than the trappings of the status he has earned entirely by his own skill and effort. His actions were not misjudged. They were judged in relation to a particular estimation of his status. There was, according to his mindset, no mismatch between what he did and what he is entitled to do.
Neither is it accurate to describe as an error of judgement Sarah Smith’s comment about Nicola Sturgeon enjoying the political opportunities of the current public health crisis. She didn’t choose the wrong word. She chose the word which she considered appropriate. To the very limited extent that she has expressed regret it is not for saying something inappropriate but for too clearly revealing what she considers is appropriate. What she said reveals that underlying sense of entitlement every bit as much as what Cummings did. Even her response when pressed reveals the same disdain for the opinions of others.
The problem is not that what Smith said was wrong or that what Cummings did was wrong, but that what each said or did is NOT wrong according to the mores and standards of the culture in which they both are immersed – the culture of entitlement. If their words and deeds are considered unacceptable then removing them from their positions will resolve nothing. Because only people with that sense of entitlement will fit in that position. The culture requires it.
Hunting witches is ultimately pointless because the culture which produces witch hunters must also produce witches to be hunted. If you are offended by either or both witches and witch hunters then you must change the culture, not the actors within it. And if you are powerless to change the culture – perhaps because it’s not yours to change – then your only option is to separate yourself from that culture in favour of something more amenable.
If you find these articles interesting please consider a small donation to help support this site and my other activities on behalf of Scotland’s independence movement.