The vanishing tycoon, his knighthood, and the first minister


By Kenneth Roy

When I saw the words ‘Disappearing tycoon’ followed by the word ‘Souter’ on the BBC’s home page, I thought for a few delicious moments that we had the story of the year. After an eventful summer of scandal and civil disorder, the start of autumn has been news-lite. Katia, with whom many an editor flirted hopefully, was not all she was cracked up to be; frankly, the girl from America was a bit of a tease. We needed something to kick-start the new season. What better than:


With unsteady hand I clicked on the link in question – we are having broadband problems, so it took longer than usual – as my mind raced with possibilities. I remembered Catherine Czerkawska’s recent advice in the Scottish Review to anyone minded to escape: on no account do so to the country. Our rural correspondent warned that any newcomer was sure to be exposed by prying eyes behind twitching Laura Ashley curtains.

Had he, on the other hand, made for Prestwick, bound for some obscure continental resort, the deputy editor or myself would have observed the fugitive from our office window. There are not so many Sir Brian lookalikes in this world that we would have failed to note that disconcerting beard. No, the chances were that the disappearing tycoon was holed up in some urban environment. But this strategy, too, seemed fraught with potential danger, since he risked being picked up or run over by one of his own buses.

Alas, none of this was to be. The magnate, as he is sometimes described, had not disappeared in person, merely from the pages of the world’s best-known search engine; and even this was not really true. It transpired that his personal website had been demoted, or inadvertently mislaid. Were we expected to be titillated or even mildly engaged by this minor inconvenience to Sir Brian, made more risible by the fatuous attempt of his PR man to dress it up as a freedom of expression ishoo?

It seems we were. All the Scottish newspapers, some of the English tartan editions, as well as the BBC, reported it with a straight face, repeating the fanciful claim that Sir Brian had been censored. The disappearing tycoon is now everywhere on the internet. I know this because I checked it on Google. So much for censorship. It is hard to say what is more ridiculous: the non-hurricane which failed to eliminate Saltcoats from the face of the earth despite the attendance of two BBC film crews, or the non-disappearing tycoon in a strop. If this is the best we can do for news this autumn, let’s have an early Christmas.

Or is all responsibility for this bizarre knighthood about to vanish as mysteriously as Sir Brian’s personal website has now done?

Here is a fact. It is still possible to visit Sir Brian’s personal website; I have done so myself within the last 12 hours. It is probably more popular since it vanished than ever it was when it was more obviously visible. But I do not propose to supply the address. I am not part of his PR machine. You must find it for yourself, should you be so inclined.

Since I consider it unlikely that you will be so inclined, I will briefly describe what you have been missing. To be entirely fair to Sir Brian, I can see why he might be a little upset. Unlike almost everything else published about him on the internet, his personal website is completely favourable. It is, indeed, a rave review. Some have called it narcissistic, even egotistical, but if a man cannot be narcissistic, even egotistical, on his own website, what is the point of having one?

But this was the only rave review of Sir Brian I could find on the internet – the one written by himself. Elsewhere it is the same tedious litany of complaints and abuse from an aggrieved collection of bus users, homosexuals, atheists, socialists, semi-literates, general malcontents and other bus users. Oh, and some train users too. They are not happy with Sir Brian. No one seems to be happy with Sir Brian apart from Sir Brian himself. Yet, here, I do him a slight disservice. The Scottish Government is happy with him – well, happy enough to have recommended him for a knighthood.

That’s another story. We have no stories about Sir Brian for months and then suddenly, like his buses, two turn up at the same time. There is the story of his disappearance and there is the rather larger story of his knighthood. And, behind it all, there is a still larger philosophical question. In the spirit of existential inquiry, I will put it plainly: what is the Scottish Government?

Was it the Scottish ministers who recommended Sir Brian (as he then wasn’t) for his knighthood? Are Eck’s Men in any sense the Scottish Government? Was it Eck himself? Is Eck in any sense the Scottish Government? Or was it a group of senior civil servants who, familiar with Mr Souter’s considerable services to public transport, took it upon themselves to recommend him, uninfluenced by the Scottish ministers and quite unmoved by wholly reliable rumours that he was about to donate half a million pounds to the governing party? Are these faceless persons, not notable for their use of buses, in any sense the Scottish Government? Or is all responsibility for this bizarre knighthood about to vanish as mysteriously as Sir Brian’s personal website has now done?

While I was re-arranging the furniture here, I missed a hilarious piece of small news. The first minister, anxious to clear his name, has reported himself over unworthy suggestions that he gave misleading information about the circumstances of the knighthood. The cheery chappie of the Scottish Bar, Lord Fraser of Carmyllie, has been appointed to consider this weighty matter. The only surprise is that good Lord McCluskey has not been invited to keep him company.

It is Ayr Gold Cup on Saturday. I shall refrain from betting in it. Instead, I am putting all my money on that sturdy old mare, Lord Fraser of Carmyllie, and his conclusion after painstaking investigation that, on the part of the first minister, there was no wrongdoing whatsoever.


Courtesy of Kenneth Roy – read Kenneth Roy in the Scottish Review