A trip to Fantasy Island with the Telegraph’s man in Scotland


Review by Thomas Connolly

Gordon Brown’s departure from Westminster politics — strung out like one of his many pre-Budget off the record briefings — was finally confirmed today, amidst media coverage akin to the death of a minor Royal and the familiar crocodile tributes from his peers.

The news — for reasons unknown spun out for more than a week that just happened to coincide with the publication of the hollow conclusions of the Smith Commission — followed the publication of a remarkable referendum memoir from one of the Yes campaign’s most outspoken critics, the gutteral Telegraph hack Alan Cochrane.

In a “diary” published at the weekend Cochrane spins a tale that gives the – most unlikely – impression that he was at the very heart of the Better Together campaign, variously advising David Cameron, Alistair Darling and John Reid before being summoned to the presence of the Great Clunking Fist himself, G Brown.

Cochrane’s boastful memoir is remarkable only in the apparent lack of self-awareness of the author, who appears to believe that the graceless barging around of a Nat baiting “editor” might actually have had real and meaningful impact on the people with whom he deals. He remains blissfully unaware that his role is that of court jester rather than sage. We can only hope he is mocking himself as he writes.

For Yes campaigners, Cochrane does manage unwittingly to offer some insight into the way things are “done” among certain levels of the political class in Scotland.

His sycophantic descriptions of meetings with Cameron are amusing. And, when he isn’t dining with the PM at the Peat Inn, he is supper guest at the Darling home, served an excellent “fish lasagne preceded by the kind of duck/pancake dish that you normally only get in Chinese restaurants” by Mrs Darling.

Back in 2012, Cochrane attempts repeatedly to persuade John Reid that he should lead the No campaign. Reid declines, stating that as he had a further six months to serve as chairman of Celtic (as he was then), many Rangers-leaning voters would say: “We’re no’ listening to a bloody Tim like John Reid.”

This suggests that loyal (Loyalist ?) football fans might vote yes simply because John Reid said vote No, a supposition that tells us much about Reid’s ego and misplaced understanding of things. It is just as fair to assume that by this time so many Celtic fans might react the same way, in response to his dismal chairmanship of their club.

If only Cochrane’s sage advice had persuaded Dr John to take on the BT chief role. It is safe to imagine a Yes landslide might have ensued.

Cochrane reveals that at one stage he considered becoming a “special adviser” to Downing Street – a remarkable admission for a man who has repeatedly attacked the SNP for its use of such advisers and their alleged links to the media.

In revealing his claimed advisory role to Darling, Reid and Cameron, is Cochrane  – “Scottish editor” of a newspaper with a circulation of somewhere around 15,000 in Scotland – conceding a glaring conflict of interest?

His account of being summoned to Edinburgh’s Grand Sheraton Hotel by Gordon Brown is unconsciously comical. Cochrane found it to be “astonishing”, revealing for example that the Clunking Fist wished he’d attended Oxford instead of Edinburgh University. Gosh.

Interesting too that one of Brown’s gophers – he’s always had lots of gophers – is one Bruce Waddell, a former editor of the Daily Record and later PR man with the Big Partnership. Surely there can be no greater rehearsal for the role of Brown flunky than being the former editor of the paper that published “The Vow” just before September 18. Cochrane wonders who was paying Waddell for his time. Yes, let’s wonder…

The Darlings are pitying towards Brown. They paint an image to Cochrane of a lonely ex-PM trapped in North Queensferry with his children while the missus spends her time in London on business. They cannot realise in their mocking that in fact the Great Gordo remains in constant touch with the UN, ex-Presidents and world bankers advising, cajoling, leading opinion and all the things that a Great Leader does.

Of course, he only had time for saving the world when he wasn’t “saving the Union” for the British establishment. Sadly lacking the insight to realise that he had walked Labour into a Tory trap from which the party may find it impossible to break free.

Alan Cochrane has apparently written an entire book called – very appropriately – “Alex Salmond: My Part in His Downfall”. It comes out on Dec 4, priced £18.99. Wise readers might prefer to wait until it’s available at clearance rates, which shouldn’t take too long.