By Kenneth Roy
What is it about Andrew Neil? It seems you only have to mention his name in polite company to be greeted with growls of derision. This was the reaction at the recent ‘Festival of Politics’ (ultimate contradiction in terms) when the dread words ‘Andrew Neil’ were uttered in relation to his possible inclusion in some ludicrous tapestry of the living great.
I happen to know this because, after Tuesday’s piece referring to the political re-positioning of the Scotsman, a reader wrote to describe the loud applause which greeted ‘a certain Mr Linklater’ when he undertook to cut Mr Neil from the patriotic quilt, an act of wanton vandalism which would be unworthy of the only Mr Linklater I have ever known.
Well, it is true that Mr Neil did re-position the Scotsman as a Conservative pro-union paper when it had been liberal and devolutionist as recently as, say, the editorship of a certain Mr Linklater. But it was not exactly the crime of the century, simply a serious commercial miscalculation of the paper’s Edinburgh readership. Behind those forbidding New Town doors lurks many a closet leftie.
It is possible that Mr Neil chose the wrong city for his right-wing laboratory. He might have had better luck in the more conservative city of Glasgow, with its tradition of Protestant unionism. Someone once said that there was not a tenement close in that city without at least one Tory family living somewhere up it. Until fairly recently, election results in Glasgow working-class constituencies demonstrated the truth of this observation. True, the quaint tradition appears to be extinct, but it would be swiftly re-ignited by an independent Scotland which turned out to be a floperoo. It is Miss Davidson’s best hope.
I have a vested interest in defending Mr Neil. Some years ago, when our cherished charity for young people was half-heartedly looking for sponsorship, I asked him if his company would bankroll one of our events. It was a long shot. I was not, nor am, a friend of Mr Neil. I scarcely knew him. But a few days later he came on the phone with an offer of the money. He put up the loot for the same event the following year. I call that unusually generous.
Further back – well, I have to confess something. For a while my professional life involved meeting the editors of national newspapers in London. They were a mixed bag. The worst behaved was the editor of a distinguished paper of the left who kept me waiting in reception for an hour until his embarrassed PA announced that Mr Buggerlugs would not be seeing me. I converted the non-encounter into a sketch for a magazine, about the experience of being stood up by the revered Buggerlugs, and enjoyed dining out on the mini-scandal it caused in Fleet Street. I learned later from his most famous columnist that Mr B had been feeling poorly that Friday after a slightly extended lunch.
In contrast, the figure of Scottish demonology – this Mr Neil who inspires such visceral loathing – was the personification of courtesy. I saw him in his Wapping bolthole not long after the controversial move from central London. Much as I wanted to dislike him – for his Thatcherite sympathies, his close association with Murdoch, all the usual reasons – I found that I couldn’t. Recently my impression of a person of civility and impeccable manners was confirmed by the hostess of a posh dinner party who told me that, unlike all her other guests, Mr Neil switched off his mobile phone as soon as he entered the house and did not switch it on again until he was leaving.
Ah, I hear you mock. So what? None of this makes Mr Neil an admirable person. And perhaps you are right. It is a shame that he forced the Scotsman into a sex change; the paper was confused enough as a cross-dresser. But it is not his fault if the nationalist movement is so poorly represented in the media; that is mainly down to a characteristic Scottish failure of enterprise and courage. If people wanted a nationalist paper, why didn’t they start one of their own when the going was good? It is a long time since I made this the challenging theme of my acceptance speech for the Scots Independent’s Oliver Brown award, and it aroused some interest, even enthusiasm. But I went on waiting for the brave new nationalist paper, and it’s too late now. No one of sound mind would start a newspaper any more, except possibly one devoted entirely to games and hero worship.
Let us, then, declare a new national sport of kicking Andrew Neil. It sounds more exciting than Scotland 1 Macedonia 1, and it would have a certain purgative value. We Scots need someone of our own kind to receive the venomous bile of our accumulated disappointments. And this man has form. He (a) comes frae Paisley – not a sin in itself perhaps, except in Edinburgh; (b) went to London – the indictment starts here; (c) disdains the liberal-left intelligentsia – we’re getting warm; (d) has done very well for himself – boo hoo; (e) is attractive to young women – why?; (f) has other defects of character and outlook too numerous to list. Yet I wonder…could it be that we are just a little envious of this highly successful Scot, who refuses to conform to all our lazy stereotypes of ourselves, who dares to be different? The letter (j) stands in this case for jealousy.
I would not put Andrew Neil in a Scottish tapestry. I would not have such a tapestry at all, unless all the names embroidered into it were certifiably dead and had passed some test of time. If you want a reason, I will give you a four-letter one: Fred. He would have been there by general acclamation as the saviour of the Scottish economy, before he was exposed as just another Paisley Grammar School boy gone to the bad, and a certain Mr Linklater would have had to apply his sharpest scissors to the job. The prospect is too grisly to contemplate. But, if such a loopy idea ever came to pass, I fancy that Andrew Neil would not wish to be part of a patriotic quilt that would have him as a member. Save it for the writers and the politicians. They like that sort of thing. It proves that they once existed.
Courtesy of Kenneth Roy – read kenneth Roy in the Scottish Review