Matheson – How will Labour cope with his ill-judged indiscretion?

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  By G.A.Ponsonby
 
If 2012 was a bad year for Alex Salmond then 2013 hasn’t got off to the best of starts for his Scottish Labour counterpart Johann Lamont.
 
Gordon Matheson’s headline grabbing exploits in a Glasgow car park stopped Lamont’s much heralded momentum in its tracks.  The alleged sex act witnessed by a member of the public is a massive self inflicted wound to the Glasgow Labour leader’s reputation.

  By G.A.Ponsonby
 
If 2012 was a bad year for Alex Salmond then 2013 hasn’t got off to the best of starts for his Scottish Labour counterpart Johann Lamont.
 
Gordon Matheson’s headline grabbing exploits in a Glasgow car park stopped Lamont’s much heralded momentum in its tracks.  The alleged sex act witnessed by a member of the public is a massive self inflicted wound to the Glasgow Labour leader’s reputation.

He hasn’t the charisma of his predecessor Steven Purcell, but he was beginning to make his mark as leader of Scotland’s largest local authority.

Last May’s local elections appeared to have cemented Matheson’s position within the party – the images of the Glasgow Labour leader cheering with Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont, helped banish the demons of May 2011.

Matheson was rewarded by Lamont who appointed him the local government representative to the Labour Shadow Cabinet at Holyrood.

He was a safe pair of hands, if a little over exuberant in TV and radio interviews.  The Olympics had been brought to Glasgow and the Commonwealth Games loomed and Matheson would ensure some of the glory would reflect on the Scottish Labour party.

Matheson’s stock was buoyant and a bit part in the run-up to the independence referendum would entail the odd mischievous ‘hit and run’ on the SNP.

All that changed on Wednesday December 12th when Labour’s Glasgow leader was reported to the procurator fiscal for alleged indecency with another man in a parked car.

Insufficient evidence prevented Matheson from having to make a humiliating appearance in front of a judge, but the newspaper headlines were enough to inflict lasting damage.

BBC Scotland’s local government correspondent Jamie McIvor was kidding himself, but not the listeners, when he claimed on Radio Scotland that the planned George Square redevelopment was a bigger political problem for Mr Matheson.

This is a headache not just for Labour in Glasgow but the party nationally – and the silence from its leaders says everything you need to know.

Matheson, as well as representing local government on Johann Lamont’s shadow cabinet, is also the boss of Ms Lamont’s husband, Archie Graham who is Glasgow Labour’s deputy leader.

Matheson is said to be close to Lamont and the Scottish Labour leader also knows Matheson’s partner.  An affair, as some are insisting it was, would have caused little if any political fallout for Matheson, the real damage was the very public nature of the alleged sex act.

Indeed, the decision to paint the issue as an affair may well lead some to question whether such clandestine meetings with a former ‘old flame’ had happened before.

Matheson’s clean cut image has been damaged, and there will be those within his party privately furious at his behaviour. 

He has, we are told, the support of Johann Lamont and Margaret Curran.  However there is a noticeable reluctance to publicly back the man who took over from Steven Purcell.

Labour in Glasgow is currently weakened, and politics being politics we can expect opposition parties to try to capitalise.

Tory councillor David Meikle has called for Labour to take action – political code for Matheson to be removed – saying: “Just like the George Square fiasco, this incident shows a total lack of judgment.

“It’s now up to Labour to take action as we’ve seen them do with other councillors.  A sex act in public is considerably more serious than what some have been suspended for.”

The SNP meanwhile appear content to leave the weakened Matheson in place and are applying pressure over the actions of two Labour councillors who sanctioned a half million pound payment to an ex-charity boss.

An SNP spokesman said: “The issues which are important to the City are Labour’s scandalous £500,000 pay-off to a supposed anti-poverty boss, which has been condemned by the Charity Regulator; the closure of day centres for adults with learning disabilities without proper consultation, and their incompetence over plans to redevelop George Square.”

In the real world Matheson would be gone within a fortnight and the damage limited.  But this is Glasgow and Scottish Labour are currently caught like a rabbit in the headlights.

Matheson’s fate may well be decided by the referendum – Labour control Glasgow and the party heirarchy know that the local authority is a thorn in the side of the SNP.

“As city leader I see my role as giving a voice to what the implications of separation from the rest of the UK will mean for Glasgow.” he once said in a newspaper interview.

It’s difficult to see how Matheson can perform this role now.