A tale of two apologies and ‘doing’ the right thing


By G.A.Ponsonby
Labour MP Ian Davidson has apologised for using the word “doing” when making an apparently barely audible remark to a female SNP MP.
The story and belated apology cause a bit of a stir in newsrooms around Scotland after Mr Davidson resurfaced after disappearing for 24 hours or so before deciding to issue a statement ‘clarifying’ the sequence of events around his ‘doing’ remark to Dr Eilidh Whiteford.

On reappearing he firstly apologised for any offence that may have been caused, then when that didn’t work, he apologised directly on air to the injured party.

Another apology seems to have caused a bit more by way of excitement amongst Scotland’s fourth estate, I’ll include the BBC in that collective.

First Minister Alex Salmond apologised yesterday after misattributing a quote in giving an answer to one of many questions on the planned independence referendum.  The First Minister’s uncharacteristic slip up that was ‘seized’ upon by the SNP’s opponents both at Holyrood and elsewhere.

Listening to the radio around tea time the frenzy seemingly engulfing the studio at the BBC could almost be felt as the SNP leader’s ‘infallibility’ lay in ruins – Mr Salmond did not after all walk on water. The excitement made it into TV news bulletins as Glenn Campbell peppered his report with his trademark subjective melodrama.

The gaffe will provide opposition parties with ammo for the weekend, and that’s as it should be, it’s the way the game is played.  Newspapers will milk the apology and headlines will proclaim referendum ‘chaos’ has engulfed the Nats.

It’s part of the cut and thrust of political debate and one can only feel for the unfortunate assistant who provided Mr Salmond with the quote that never was.  But it will subside, as all rows eventually do, and the media bandwagon will roll on waiting for the next big story.

The difference between both apologies though is as clear as the nose on the end of Pinocchio’s face.  Where Mr Salmond acknowledged his mistake and accepted full responsibility for his words within hours of his error, Ian Davidson did not.

Because of his swift contrition, Mr Salmond’s moment of public humility has now nowhere to go, the gaffe was a brief fire cracker that has been extinguished.  The matter has been cleared up within one parliamentary session.

Notwithstanding BBC Scotland Brian Taylor’s puzzling assertion that the matter has been dampened only “for now”, even Taylor surely knows that there is no legs to an honest mistake and quick apology.  We will wait to see which of the two apologies (if any) make it onto Mr Taylor’s ‘Big Debate’ today.

The Davidson apology is another matter entirely.  Mr Davidson’s appearance on Good Morning Scotland yesterday, chronicled on this very site, threw up a number of questions regarding the “doing” remark, not least of which is where he actually said it.

Of the two incidents, I would argue that this is a far more serious matter than an honest misquote.  Indeed the ‘victim’ of the Salmond misquote, Dr Matt Qvortrup, seems to have been sufficiently content with Mr Salmond’s explanation that he has offered his services to the Scottish government in setting up the independence referendum.

The strangest aspect of the ‘Davidson Doing’ story is what prompted the un-named individual to pass a note to the Labour MP warning his remarks could have a sexual connotation?  What was it that Davidson said that led this third party to clandestinely rebuke the Scottish Labour chair of the committee?

If, as Davidson claims, his remarks were a description of a past collective censure administered to Dr Eilidh Whiteford by several committee members then there can be no possibility that the word “doing” could have had any sexual connotations.

The other interesting aspect, yet to be pursued, is the identity of the person so concerned about the Committee Chair’s language that they saw fit to warn him about sexual interpretations.  This person will be able to provide answers to many questions.  For example the tone of the remark and of course whether Davidson’s claim that there was no threat is a realistic interpretation of the comment.

At the end of the day such is the relationship between Labour and the Scottish media that the Davidson story will be quietly forgotten.  Davidson will remain as chair of a Committee established to provide Calmanesque soundbites to a starving Scottish media used to having their headlines provided by Unionist dominated Holyrood parliamentary committees.

In this tale of two apologies, Labour may well come to rue their decision to allow such a boorish and unpredictable maverick to remain the Chair of the Scottish Affairs Committee.

There’s doing the right thing and there’s doing nothing …