DCSIMG

Millionaire maverick plans 'what about us' party

A COLOURFUL Scottish businessman revealed yesterday he is to challenge the Holyrood establishment by setting up his own political party - just as it emerged that nearly two-thirds of MSPs came to politics from the public sector.

The Scottish Democrats will be launched next month by Archie Stirling, 63, a landowner from Stirlingshire.

He believes there are not enough politicians with private-sector backgrounds in the Scottish Parliament, and he wants to rectify that by attracting a new type of person into politics at Holyrood. "Some of those running the country have done nothing except be professional politicians all their lives; it's no wonder they don't know what's going on," he said.

Mr Stirling's concerns were borne out by a Scotsman survey that found only 39 per cent of MSPs (51 out of 129) have a private-sector background, and many of them are either lawyers or farmers. The other 78 were either in the public sector, or were full-time union officials, professional politicians or activists before they went to Holyrood.

Mr Stirling feels disillusioned and disenfranchised by the current system and his solution is to stand for election himself, and to persuade others to do likewise in an attempt to improve the governance of Scotland.

It is understood Mr Stirling, the nephew of SAS founder Sir David Stirling, has several wealthy backers and has been promised substantial resources for his new venture - if he can get it off the ground.

The main political parties reacted to the news of Mr Stirling's initiative by trying to both rubbish it and ignore it at the same time.

But Mr Stirling was insistent that he would go ahead with his plans because there was a desperate need in Scotland for a "better calibre" of politician.

Some of his colleagues admit privately his chances of success are slim and that everything rests on his ability to entice some formidable figures into the political spotlight, either to stand as candidates or to back his campaign publicly with money.

But the very fact he has decided to make such a public stand of his frustration with the current system and the present crop of politicians at Holyrood should act as a clear warning to Scotland's established parties that they have failed to connect with large parts of the country, particularly in rural areas and in the business community.

Mr Stirling stressed that the Scottish Democrats were not being launched to rival the Scottish Conservative Party, or that his aim was to attract disillusioned Tories.

But it is understood his policies are generally centre-right and that some of his backers are Tories who have become increasingly fed up with the Conservative Party's lack of progress and drive in Scotland.

He said: "This has got nothing to do with the Conservative Party. We may be at the centre of things, rather than right or left.

"My aim is very simple - to bring into politics people of quality."

He went on: "I don't think its a question of Union or no Union; it's more that we are on a ship and I don't like the crew, whether its independence or devolution or back up the channel, I don't want this lot running it."

Mr Stirling has two big grievances with the Scottish Executive: the size of government and the quality, or lack of it, of the ministers concerned.

He is particularly frustrated that so few have any sort of private-sector or business background and that most represent the urban West of Scotland, with no-one standing up for the rural areas.

There are seven Labour ministers in the Cabinet at the moment, representing seats in Glasgow, Lanarkshire, Paisley and Ayrshire, but no further afield.

Very few Labour Cabinet ministers have any private-sector experience, a characteristic mirrored by the Labour group as a whole. Of the 50 Labour MSPs, only nine came from the private sector to Holyrood.

Mr Stirling pointed out that the old Scottish Office, before devolution, ran the country with five ministers while the Executive does the same job with 21.

Mr Stirling said he would stand for election and hoped enough people of quality would come forward to join him after his official launch next month.

There were reports yesterday that Brian Monteith, the former Tory MSP, was involved in the project, but he ruled himself out and said he believed the best way to change parties for the better was from within.

Mr Monteith, who will not be standing in this year's election for any party or as an independent, said: "The idea of launching a new party in February for the 2011 elections is one thing, but trying to launch a party three months out from an election is just daft. The history of Scottish politics is littered with people who tried to change the system outside the established parties but who got nowhere. It is often easier to change things from within parties."

There will be consternation and concern within the ranks of the Scottish Conservatives over Mr Stirling's plans because, by going after disenfranchised people from the countryside and business, he is clearly tramping over natural Tory territory.

But, officially, the party reacted coolly to the prospect of a new party. A spokesman said: "The Scottish Conservatives are the only major political party which is addressing the biggest issues of concern to the public, such as supporting the NHS, creating affordable housing, tackling rising crime and fighting destructive drugs abuse.

"We have the policies which will deliver better devolution, an effective Scottish Parliament and a stronger United Kingdom."

Bruce Crawford, for the SNP, claimed the election battle was a two-horse race between Labour and the SNP and predicted the new party would cause problems for the Tories. "This party are out of touch before they have even begun," he said.

Labour peer Lord Foulkes, the campaign vice-chairman for Scottish Labour, also predicted the new party would be bad news for the Tories.

But Solidarity MSP Tommy Sheridan said: "The virtue of the electoral system for the Scottish Parliament is it allows for diversity in representation. So far, this has allowed diversity on the left - maybe it's time there was some on the right."

COLOURFUL LIFE

ARCHIE Stirling has led a decidedly rakish and colourful life.

In 1982, he married the actress Dame Diana Rigg, but they divorced eight years later after reports that he had an affair with Joely Richardson, the actress daughter of Vanessa Redgrave who is half his age.

Mr Stirling and Dame Diana, who remain close friends, have a daughter, Rachael, who has made a name as an actress after coming to prominence in the lesbian television drama Tipping the Velvet.

He has two sons, William and Ludo, by his 1964 marriage to society beauty Charmain Scott, the niece of the late Princess Alice, Duchess of Gloucester. The marriage ended in 1977.

William was reported in 2004 to be preparing to marry a woman dubbed by some newspapers the "Cracker from Caracas", a Venezuelan beauty called Vanessa Neumann who had first become famous by having an affair with the Rolling Stones singer Mick Jagger. The engagement was called off soon afterwards.

In August 2000, his father was married for a third time, in Long Island, New York, to Sharon Silver, who is half his age. They had a son in 2004.

Mr Stirling, whose uncle Sir David founded the SAS, lives near Stirling.

He is a keen horseman who is a member of the Turf Club and is friends with many members of the Royal Family.

 
 
 

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