The case against George Galloway MSP

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The Scottish left should resist any temptation to support this bloated egotist’s bid for Holyrood

by James Maxwell

Scotland’s fragmented, under-nourished left is in desperate need of a hero – although there are precious few of them about these days.

The death of Jimmy Reid last year and the incarceration of Tommy Sheridan this year serve as reminders of how few genuinely inspiring figures are currently active in the cause of Scottish socialism.

You don’t have to be a fellow traveler to consider this regrettable.  It would be difficult to find anyone who would deny that over the decades leftist firebrands like Jim Sillars and Margo Macdonald have added real colour and substance to our nation’s often drab political life.

It is tempting then, when reflecting on how Scotland’s vibrant radical tradition has run dry, to latch onto the first anti-capitalist prophet who happens to drift by.

But don’t – especially if he goes by the name of George Galloway.

Galloway’s reputation as a personal-private sycophant to some of the Middle East’s vilest regimes is well established.  Following his stomach churning display at the feet of Saddam Hussain in the 1990s, he slithered over to Syria to honour another Ba’athist autocrat, President Bashar al-Assad, whom he called a “breath of fresh air”.

More recently he has dismissed claims made by Iran’s democratic opposition movement that the 2009 presidential elections were fixed and described Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah, an unrepentant supporter of suicide bombing, as “the best leader in the Arab world”.

Mostly, though, Galloway prefers to reserve his highest praise for someone else – himself.

Announcing his candidacy last month for the Scottish parliamentary elections in May, he declared in typically conceited fashion, “People would be more interested in what was happening at Holyrood if I was there, because more interesting things would be happening.”

Except if he were to win the 12,000 votes in Glasgow needed to secure a seat at the chamber in Edinburgh, Galloway probably wouldn’t be there, at least not if his recent performance as an MP at Westminster is anything to go by.

As the representative for Bethnal Bow and Green in East London between 2005 and 2010, Galloway registered the tenth lowest voting record in the House of Commons.  Of the nine MPs who voted less, five were Sinn Fein and the other four were Speakers or Deputy Speakers.  According to some estimates, this is among the worst voting records in British history.

What on earth was he doing during these five years that was so much more important than serving his constituents?  Well, among other things, he was supping imaginary milk from Rula Lenska’s cupped palms on Celebrity Big Brother.

But in retrospect, Galloway’s breathtaking disregard for the people who were trusting enough to give him the privilege of acting as their voice in parliament is not all that shocking; willful political negligence of this sort should be expected from a man who is evidently more interested in swelling his own personal accounts than in fulfilling his democratic duty.

On top of the £65,000 salary he received as an MP in 2005, Galloway made £155,000 from his work as a “journalist, author and public speaker”.  This explains how he can so causally boast that he “doesn’t need the wages” of £46,000 – £21,000 more than the average working wage in Scotland – earned by a Holyrood MSP.  He is, on the basis of his 2005 tax receipts, a very wealthy individual – and proud of it too.

At this point I can almost hear his supporters say, “OK, George has some serious flaws, but he is a heavy-weight politician, an eloquent orator and a distinguished opponent of Anglo-American imperialism.  Surely he will improve the alarmingly low quality of our elected political class?”

No, he won’t.  In fact, he will serve only to diminish it further.

Notwithstanding a few contrarian tendencies, Patrick Harvie is one of Scotland’s most conscientious and intelligent politicians.  From climate change to civil liberties to constitutional reform, he has been on the right side of almost every major issue during his eight year tenure in parliament.

But at the 2007 Scottish elections Harvie just scraped past Tommy Sheridan by a few hundred votes to win a place at Holyrood.

Unlike Galloway, who threatens either to usurp him on the Glasgow list or rob him of vital votes, Harvie is also a strong supporter of Scottish self-determination.  The Greens understand that London rule severely restricts Scotland’s capacity to fully express its true social democratic and environmentalist character.

In contrast, Galloway’s opposition to the break-up of Britain is so entrenched and sectarian that he even refused to campaign on a joint ticket with his friend Gail Sheridan, who at one stage planned to stand as a candidate for pro-independence Solidarity.

Indeed, in one of his recent Daily Record columns Galloway said, “Blood is thicker than water … I’m a real Labour man – the John Smith Labour Party, that is – Tommy and his friends are a bit far out for me.  And because I’m against the break-up of this country – I generally loathe partitions.  The Sheridans believe in what they call ‘independence’ – though what that means in the era of mass slaughter of Celtic Tigers and collapsed Icelands I’m not sure.”

What these poorly constructed sentences reveal is that Galloway’s tribal instincts will always lead to him to support Labour in the battle against separatism.  He is, as he says, ‘a real Labour man’ – the disputes he has with his former comrades are particularly bitter because, at base, they are disputes between members of the same political family.

But don’t take my word for it.  In another article published last November he himself admitted, “If I was elected to parliament, I would back Labour to form the administration.  In most cases, I would advocate people in Scotland should vote Labour in the forthcoming elections”.

So what role would Galloway actually play at Holyrood?  In recent years he has made few, if any, meaningful contributions to domestic policy debates in Scotland, while his main area of interest – foreign affairs – lies beyond the constitutional limits of the chamber.  On the available evidence then, it seems his only real function would be as lobby fodder for Iain Gray.

Ultimately though, anyone tempted to support Galloway’s bid to become an MSP needs to ask themselves two questions.  Does this parliament really need another bloated egotist wailing from the Labour backbenches, ruining debates with histrionic, self-important interventions?  Or is one Lord Foulkes not enough?