The secret networkers

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Kenneth Roy

Two weeks ago, I suggested that my old paper, the Herald, should conduct an investigation into the activities of Team Glasgow, the shadowy group ‘working behind the scenes …

Kenneth Roy

Two weeks ago, I suggested that my old paper, the Herald, should conduct an investigation into the activities of Team Glasgow, the shadowy group ‘working behind the scenes to influence the workings of the city’ (as its Sunday stablemate put it), if only to show that it was no longer pulling punches in its reporting of Steven Purcell. Mr Purcell is one of only two people to have been identified by name as a member of Team Glasgow, the other being Donald Martin, the editor (or former editor – I am unsure of his current status) of the Herald itself.
     The Herald duly published an investigation. It was called an ‘analysis’. But it was not quite the sort of investigation I had in mind; not at all, really. It consisted of little more than a string of favourable quotes about Team Glasgow in general and Steven Purcell in particular, going so far as to claim that Team Glasgow was now being considered as a model for similar initiatives in other parts of Scotland. I looked at the date of publication – 1 April – and pondered whether this might be some elaborate seasonal joke before concluding that, unfortunately, it was completely serious – in intention, at least.
     According to the Herald, the network of key individuals branding themselves Team Glasgow are assessing how to fill the vacuum created by the downfall of figurehead Steven Purcell who, as a gregarious politician had been regarded as the epicentre of the group. I put many of these words and phrases in italics to show how language must be inflated in the service of something so devoid of merit as Team Glasgow.
     It does not appear to have occurred to the Herald, before it committed its ‘analysis’ to print, that Team Glasgow has no address, no telephone number and no website – in other words, that it is impossible for anyone to contact it; that it is appointed by no one and accountable to no one; that it is without constitution or status; that it has no authority to act on anyone’s behalf; and yet that it presumes to be ‘working behind the scenes to influence the workings of the city’ and, in doing so, is uncritically supported by the city’s own newspaper.
     
I repeat what I have asked several times before without answer: of whom does this ‘team’ consist? We know of Purcell (now, presumably, retired) and Martin (who has gone, or is going, to the land of Francis Gay and The Broons, from which no man returns). Who are the others? The most striking thing about the Herald’s ‘analysis’ is that no one is prepared to confess to being a fully paid-up member. Or non-paid-up, for who knows if there is a subscription for joining? This coyness is remarkable. If Team Glasgow is doing such a fabulous job for the city, and wishes to become a ‘national model’ no less, should there not be a queue of enthusiastic founders proudly and publicly associating themselves by name?
     But there are, perhaps, a few clues to its membership in the range of quotes assembled in its praise. Stuart Patrick, chief executive of Glasgow Chamber of Commerce, calls Team Glasgow ‘a valuable part of Glasgow’s success’ and counsels against ‘a kneejerk reaction endangering its continued existence’. Another fan is Lesley Sawers, chief executive of that mouthful known as the Scottish Council Development and Industry, the outfit whose dinner in London was one of Purcell’s last public engagements. According to Ms Sawers, Glasgow has ‘positive, focused, results-driven, partnership working’ with ‘a wide range of successes and achievements’, including the development of ‘a strong brand’.
     What on earth does any of that mean? It could have been plucked from some ghastly corporate annual report. It signifies nothing. If Ms Sawers wishes to sing of positive, focused, results-driven, partnership working, she should be challenged to give us specific, hard examples of what Team Glasgow has achieved which could not have been achieved by properly constituted organisations answerable to their membership or, democratically, to the public at large. She could begin by telling us where Team Glasgow meets – if, of course, she is a member, which she might not be.
     Another Team Glasgow fan, though not necessary a member, is Ross Martin, ‘director of the independent think tank, the Centre for Scottish Public Policy’. He describes Purcell as ‘a politician of his age…he had like-minded people around him. There was a critical mass of that new type of politician…this group is robust enough to cope’.
     I was so struck by the vacuousness of this statement that I decided to find out more about Ross Martin himself. He was the official Labour candidate parachuted into my old stamping ground of Camelon and received at the hands of the heroic Denis Canavan one of the worst drubbings in Scottish electoral history. He is also a big buddy of Eric Joyce, once nicknamed ‘Britain’s most expensive MP’ – a tribute to Mr Joyce’s expenses claims which included, in 2005-06, a consultancy fee of £3,525 (including VAT) to Networks Central, a firm owned by Mr Martin, for ‘research, planning and event organisation’. Nothing in the least improper about that. Every man needs research, planning and event organisation at some point in his life and Mr Martin is entitled to provide it. The taxpayer coughed up, although Mr Joyce’s claim for £34.91 for a wreath supplied by Lady Haig’s Poppy Factory around the same time was crossed out by the House of Commons clerks: a claim too far, even for them. Is Mr Joyce part of the ‘critical mass of that new type of politician’ Mr Martin has in mind? Perhaps we should be told.

After listing the testimonials of Patrick, Sawers, Martin and others, the Herald’s ‘analysis’ concludes that despite ‘the tarnish of cocaine misuse’ – would the Herald care to tell us what is the proper use of cocaine? – there is a ‘consensus’ that it was Steven Purcell’s personal drive which ‘transformed the civic agenda – and political landscape – in Glasgow’. Whose consensus is that, then? Is it merely the consensus of the secret networkers themselves? It is more than a little surprising that Glasgow Chamber of Commerce and the Scottish Council Development and Industry should be lending their names to a network of influence so deplorably lacking in the democratic spirit of Scotland. Team Glasgow deserves to be buried alongside the political career of Steven Purcell.

Read Kenenth Roy in the Scottish Review – click here.