Leaders: Mischief-making must have its place

Making an effigy of prominent political figures and burning them is nothing new. Picture: Richard Brown
Making an effigy of prominent political figures and burning them is nothing new. Picture: Richard Brown
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FOR 400 years, Guy Fawkes Day – the anniversary of the 1605 Gunpowder Plot to blow up parliament – has been marked by bonfires, fireworks and festivities. Its political and religious significance has long faded. But the date is still marked with bonfires, fireworks and ­anarchic festivities. Effigies are frequently burned.

This year, the annual parade through the streets of the East Sussex town of Lewes featured two effigies of Scotland’s First Minister, Alex Salmond.

Protests were made on social media that this was provocative and insulting to Scots. Assurances were given that the effigies would not be burned. However, that evening, one of them was blown up.

Making an effigy of prominent political figures and burning them is nothing new. Bonfire Night is no respecter of rank or fame. Among those whose caricatures have featured on Bonfire Night conflagrations are Tony Blair, George W Bush, David ­Cameron, Tsar Nicholas I … and Nick Clegg.

Yet, given that the flames of a ferociously fought independence campaign have barely subsided, that passions are still running high, and that Mr Salmond is still – if only for a few weeks – First Minister, the choice of Scotland’s senior representative for incineration was not perhaps the most politically astute that the citizens of Lewes have made. It may never have been intended to be taken seriously. But this choice was bound to be seen as provocative.

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However, it is a measure of the massive impact Alex Salmond has made beyond Scotland that he was deemed worthy of two caricatures in a southern English town.

And it has been, after all, the ambition of the SNP to put Scotland on the world stage. It wanted people to sit up and take notice, and well beyond Scotland. It has clearly succeeded in Lewes.

With such prominence comes greater exposure – as a long procession of internationally prominent figures will testify – to satire, ridicule and occasional combustion. It goes with the territory. If Cameron and Clegg have had to put up with this sort of treatment without complaint, then why not Mr Salmond?

And we are not above effigy-making of our own in Scotland when the mood takes us. Did not the North-east fishermen once burn an effigy of former Scottish Labour fisheries minister Rhona Brankin? How many Yes campaign supporters would rise in protest if an effigy of Baroness Thatcher was put to the torch?

The choice of Alex Salmond as a Guy Fawkes effigy was less than cautious. It was blind to sensitivity and was hardly calculated to improve relations between England and Scotland.

But if we are mature enough to come through a close-fought referendum campaign and now to press ahead for “more powers” for Holyrood, we should be mature enough to take this gesture in the anarchic, mischievous spirit that the occasion intended.

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A lot to be proud of

SO RARE is it for the costs of a government-backed prestige project not to explode out of control that we can hardly believe such an outcome can ever be avoided. So it is with relief – and considerable pride – that the Glasgow Commonwealth Games did not need to call upon a special reserve of £25 million set aside for emergencies.

Given the gross sums involved, this was no small achievement. The total budget was £575.6m, including £472m for the Glasgow 2014 event and £90m for security. The £472m figure comprised £372m of public money, with the balance coming from commercial income, sponsorship, ticket sales, broadcasting rights and merchandise sales.

A near flawless event was staged – and in great style – with financial responsibility. It breaks a long, inglorious cycle of projects that have resulted in public anger as budgets were busted and costs spectacularly overran. So full credit is due on this occasion.

The achievement truly buries the memory of the financial cata­strophe of the 1986 Edinburgh Games. The 2014 Games were undoubtedly one of Glasgow’s greatest successes, and an achievement in which it can rightly take pride. And it also underlines that we are capable of staging the big occasion in every sense – a benefit that will be felt for many years. The organising committee and the Games partners delivered a world-class Games for the Commonwealth.

The achievement made the people of Glasgow and Scotland feel proud. And from the warmth of the city welcome through the impressive haul of medals to the dancing Tunnock’s teacakes, it made for one of the most celebrated Scottish events to be beamed round the world.

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