I knew. You knew. Pretty much everybody knew that Jackson Carlaw wasn’t up to the job. Not that the job is massively demanding. But it was fairly obvious he was going to crash and burn sooner rather than later. There’s a fatal flaw in Jackson Carlaw’s character that renders him unsuited to the role of leader of the Scottish Tories. He isn’t shallow enough.
That may seem counter-intuitive. But think about it! By the standards of the population as a whole you have to be exceptionally superficial to be among the British politicians squatting in the Scottish Parliament. Consider the basic qualifications. As a representative of a British political party you are seeking election to an institution that you neither trust nor respect. You do not recognise the authority of the Scottish Parliament. You do not accept that it speaks for the people of Scotland. At the extreme, you would have the whole thing dismantled tomorrow.
You are standing for a fake party. However successful the British media have been at obscuring the truth, the fact remains that the British parties in Scotland are not real political parties. They are mere offshoots of the actual parties. They have no autonomy. They decide nothing. They cannot make policy independently of the party bosses in England. Arguably the largest part of your function as an MSP simply doesn’t exist if you represent one of the British parties. Moreover and for the most part you agree that this policy-making role doesn’t belong in your hands and must be left to your superiors.
Another major part of the role of an opposition MSP – the terms ‘British party’ and ‘opposition MSP’ being virtually synonymous – is also all but entirely absent. Being from one of the British parties you will not be called upon to do very much in the way of scrutinising government policy. In most instances you will default to the ‘Bain Principle’. Also referred to with the hashtag #SNPBAD, this is the automatic and unthinking assumption that if it emanates from the SNP it must be opposed. There are exceptions. Some things are not easy to speak against. But as a rule you will not be required to even look at proposed legislation. As a British party MSP you will be provided with a list of stock words and phrases which can be deployed regardless of the content. Things like ‘ill-considered’ and ‘draconian’.
Thinking is not required. In fact, thinking is actively discouraged if you are an MSP for one of the British parties. Sometimes this discouragement can be too successful. Look at the likes of James Kelly and Murdo Fraser for examples of British party MSPs who have taken to intellectual abstinence as if born to it.
Of course, if you’re not thinking, you’re not thinking things through. You will tend to be oblivious to the consequences of whatever you say and do. An aspect of this is something I call constrained thinking. As a British party MSP you will be expected to think things through only as far as the first thing that can be used against the SNP administration or any organisation or institution that is closely associated with that administration – Police Scotland and NHS Scotland being two examples of what can stand as a proxy for the hated SNP. Damage the NHS and you hurt the SNP. That’s the guiding principle for British party MSPs.
I use the word ‘principle’ very loosely here. Because principles are not useful if you are part of the British political elite. Come to think of it, the word ‘elite’ may be inappropriate too – given that we are not only talking about that part of the British establishment which extends into the annexed territory of Scotland, but the small subset of same which chooses to squat in the Scottish Parliament. I hesitate to use the term ‘dregs’. But it is generally allowed even within the British parties in Scotland that the squatter contingent is what’s left over when those with larger egos and ambitions to match have headed south.
Getting back to those ‘principles’ that for British parties are advantageous in direct proportion to their absence, it may be said that anything resembling a moral or ethical code is a distinct handicap for a British party MSP. As much as or perhaps more than in the case of others who aspire to the British political elite. Bear in mind that these are people who have sought election to Scotland’s national Parliament, not to champion their constituents nor to defend and further the interests of the Scottish nation, but to represent solely the interests of England-as-Britain. Where there is a choice to be made, British MSPs will tend to favour the British state and the Union at whatever cost to the people of Scotland. I feel no need to expand on something we have all witnessed and continue to see enacted every day.
Given the foregoing it should not be surprising to find the the most important deficiency for a British party MSP is a total lack of self-awareness. Some can survive even encumbered by principles. We immediately think of Malcolm Chisholm in this regard. But none can rise to any prominence unless they have rid themselves of any capacity to be embarrassed or ashamed. Or even to reflect on whatever they’ve done that would normally be expected to induce embarrassment or shame.
Of course, the more the individual British party MSP is required by the duties of office to appear and speak in public the greater the need for lack of self-awareness. Because, self-evidently, being a public figure brings both increased scrutiny and more opportunities to do or say something cringeworthy or outrageous. The British party MSP cannot afford to be affected by any of this. Aided by an entourage of sycophantic advisers and such, the British party spokesperson will remain convinced that they are performing brilliantly despite having just appeared before a TV audience of millions delivering a catalogue of gaffe and gaucherie with a string of luminous green snot hanging from their nose.
Jackson Carlaw’s problem, and the reason he has lasted mere months as ‘leader’ of the British Conservative & Unionist Party in Scotland (BCUPS) is not that he is lacking in deficiencies or that he is defect-challenged. It’s not that he is burdened with principles – as forensic examination will surely reveal. It’s not because he’s rendered unsuitable for the role due to possession of an intellect impressive enough to interfere with his performance. Quite simply, Jackson Carlaw isn’t shallow enough.
In terms of superficiality he cannot compete with his predecessor. He’s not in the same league as Richard Leonard, nominal ‘leader’ (pro tem) of British Labour in Scotland (BLiS). He doesn’t compare favourably with Willie Rennie, a man who is known for taking shallowness to the molecular level. Jackson Carlaw just hasn’t got the shallowness the job demands.
Not that I’m suggesting the possibility of hidden depths. Not a bit of it! To survive as BCUPS ‘leader’ it must be that the slings and arrows of cruel FMQs either bounce off a carapace of self-regard or pass straight through without hitting anything vital. Or anything at all. Jackson Carlaw’s frailty is a membrane of self-doubt that makes him vulnerable to the barbs. The skin is just thick enough for those barbs to stick.
Jackson Carlaw is inadequate. He’s inadequate enough to be a British party MSP. He’s just not inadequate enough to be the face and voice of British Nationalism in the Scottish Parliament. His going is neither to be mourned nor celebrated. Peak inadequacy has yet to be reached. All eyes are on Douglas Ross.
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