The mark of a man

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by Ken McNeil

The ‘doing-gate’ affair and the First Minister’s gaffe over the Professor Matt Qvortrup quote have given me pause for thought on the character and moral fibre of our elected representatives.

There could not be a starker contrast between the two situations and the reaction to them.  Ian Davidson offers to give Eilidh Whiteford a ‘doing’ and later assures her, rather bizarrely and disturbingly, that the doing in question was not of a sexual nature.

When a complaint is made Davidson goes into hiding and his friends and fellow Unionists spin that despite the fact Davidson actually said these words it is all a smear campaign by the SNP to do down the righteous Mr Davidson.

When Davidson emerges from the shadows he apologises.  He doesn’t apologise to Dr Whiteford, he apologises, very half heartedly, to the committee.  He later makes a further attempt at an apology on BBC radio.  When asked if he will make a more fulsome apology he says: “I am happy to apologise to anyone listening and to Eilidh for using the word ‘doing’.”  So he has now apologised to the committee and BBC radio listeners and has managed to tag Dr Whiteford on to the end of his remarks.

Is this how to apologise?  Surely the only acceptable way to apologise is to face the other person, look them in the eye and say you’re sorry.  Not this guy, he hides behind his colleagues who should be similarly ashamed of their behaviour.  Perhaps his party leader Mr Milliband might step in?  Not a peep.

Contrast this behaviour with the First Minister.  He is given an incorrect statement by an aide (who presumably has now also suffered a doing, albeit metaphorically) which prompts him to misquote a leading academic and misrepresent his views.  What does he do?  Hope nobody notices?  Hide away and send out his henchmen to spin their way out?  No, he goes back to the chamber at the first opportunity, makes a full apology, accepts full responsibility without deflecting blame and provides the correct views of Dr Qvortrup to the chamber.  The First Minister, being the adroit politician he is, has in the meantime telephoned Dr Qvortrup, apologised, clarified the Doctor’s views and invited him to be an adviser to the Government and the Parliament on the referendum which he happily accepts.

How do the opposition leaders react?  Do they welcome the First Minister’s statement, perhaps thank him for his prompt correction, maybe offer some mild chastisement to be more sure of his facts in the future?  Not this lot. Murdo Fraser: “This was a humiliating apology from the First Minister.”  Iain Grey: “It is clear the SNP will do anything or say anything to stop the Scottish people having their say on a fair question in a referendum.”  Willie Rennie: “The First Minister has been caught red-handed doctoring the evidence to suit his own interests.”

A telling difference in these two cases is the reaction of the ‘victims’.

Eilidh Whiteford commenting on BBC Radio said:  “It was a very half-hearted and conditional apology and at the same time he seemed to be saying he didn’t have much to apologise for for what he said and to try to justify or make excuses for what he said.  He tried to say it was some kind of joke or it wasn’t serious.  I’ve said all along that if Ian had come up to me after the meeting and apologised and said ‘I went too far, I shouldn’t have said those things’, I would have been probably minded to let this go.  I think you have to bear in mind it would have been a lot easier for me to walk away from this and pretend it never happened and sweep it under the carpet.”

Professor Qvortrup sent an email to the First Minister’s office and copied to the media. “I am very content with the First Minister’s correction to parliament, which is a clear reflection of my views.  And I am delighted to offer any assistance I can to ministers and MSPs regarding the referendum proposals.

“There is no doubt a referendum offering two options for change is perfectly feasible providing certain circumstances are met, and I look forward to discussing the detail of this with the First Minister and any other interested parties.”

Quite a contrast. It is the mark of a man how he reacts to his own mistakes and life’s reverses, self-inflicted or not.

When you consider the calibre and character of our representatives at Westminster and Holyrood then tonight whether you be a nationalist or a Unionist, a believer or an atheist, you might just offer up  a silent prayer to thank God it’s Alex Salmond who leads our country.