US watches Jack whatsisname as Scotland 'lurches to left'
IT'S a socialist society led by a left-wing parliament ruling a population with a tendency to boo its own leaders.
The dominant party just scraped to victory at the last election, thanks to an apathetic electorate with unrealistic expectations of its representatives.
But this is not a former communist regime struggling to embrace democracy. It's 21st-century Scotland as seen by US diplomats assigned to keep a close watch on the country.
The American view of Scotland is revealed in documents released under freedom of information legislation from the US State Department's central foreign policy records.
Although it may not rank in the top league of diplomatic gaffes, the papers may upset at least one prominent native. In one section, the First Minister is referred to as Jack Connell.
The documents include cables sent to the State Department in Washington DC from the US consulate in Regent Terrace, Edinburgh, and signs of discord over American-led policies rate special mention.
One official notes how Prime Minister Tony Blair was booed when he attended the Braemar Highland games in September 2003, just six months after the US-led coalition invasion of Iraq.
The consulate is also dismissive of Labour's "pyrrhic victory" in the 2003 Holyrood parliamentary election and describes First Minister Jack Connell (sic) and his party as "licking their wounds" the day after the vote.
Overall, the election result confirmed US predictions that devolution would produce a "gradual shift to the left, in line with Scotland's image as a generally more socialist society. This election puts the country well on the way down that path," a cable discloses.
More clashes with Westminster are predicted because of the shift in the political landscape. "There is no doubt now, with the strong showing of the Socialists and others, that Scottish Labour will have to stay to the left of London Labour. First Minister McConnell will find his party more often at odds with the more centrist policies of PM Blair."
The documents - three out of 10 relating to Scotland were withheld and four others were released only with "excisions" - chart the crucial period running up to and following the election in which the Labour-Lib Dem coalition regained power with a reduced majority. Career diplomat Liane Dorsey was the US consul general in Edinburgh at the start of 2003 but she was replaced in February by Cathy Hurst.
What seemed to be clearly exercising the Americans most in February 2003 was the effect the forthcoming invasion of Iraq was having on friendly countries. The US consulate notes that "despite the best efforts of the First Minister to keep Iraq out of the upcoming Scottish parliamentary elections, a motion filed by one of his backbench enemies [the demoted former health minister, Susan Deacon] has thrown the issue on to the front pages".
Then came Labour's spring conference, held in Scotland, in which McConnell introduced a speech by pro-invasion Prime Minister Tony Blair. "He now shares Blair's somewhat difficult position," the consulate says. "But McConnell, unlike the PM, is facing an election ...
"We're hearing that McConnell's unquestioned support for the PM has rubbed many in his party here the wrong way. Although there is no reason to doubt at this time that Labour will win the election and McConnell will continue as leader, it's worth remembering that Scotland had three first ministers in its first two years."
Three months later, a consulate dispatch noted that, although Labour had indeed won, anti-war protests had weakened its hold on power. "The low-key Scottish parliamentary election campaign may not have set the heather alight but yesterday's vote brought several surprises that will make Scottish politics more interesting over the next few years.
The new parliament will be more left-wing than its predecessor, with a number of small parties challenging Labour. Although the Labour party 'won' and will begin coalition negotiations with the Liberal Democrats later today, Jack Connell and his party are licking their wounds this morning, having lost a number of key seats, including an embarrassing defeat to a previously unknown independent running to keep open a local hospital."
Blair's low moment came at the Braemar Gathering, traditionally attended by the Royal Family and the Prime Minister.
According to the US consulate: "All the Scottish papers noted - occasionally with barely contained glee - that significant numbers of the 20,000 spectators booed the Prime Minister as he arrived. Even the little girl assigned to present flowers to the Queen refused to smile at the PM, referring to him as a 'nasty man'.
"The press concludes that the PM's problems in Braemar stem from his decision to join the war in Iraq."
Academics say the level of interest in Scottish politics is surprising.
Dr Alex Wright, an international affairs specialist at Dundee University, said: "The US does have an interest in the political integrity of the UK but I am surprised they are going into this in such micro-detail.
"An independent Scotland would have implications for the US, but the ties between America and Scotland are not as great as they used to be in the days when American forces were stationed here."
A spokesman for the First Minister said American surveillance of the Scottish political scene may have increased because of devolution. "But I would be surprised only if local representatives of any overseas administration were not sending back reports on the political situation," he added. "That's their job."
WHO NEEDS ENEMIES?
SPYING on your allies seems an odd concept, but is a relatively common occurrence. In 2003, the US government was caught intercepting e-mails of United Nations delegates in New York to get information on "negotiating positions, alliances and dependencies" of delegates of the six nations, under enormous pressure to support the campaign to disarm Iraq.
The espionage caused outrage, but appeared not to ruffle either the American press or the UN. "Everybody is always spying on everybody else at places like the UN," remarked Jonathan Tepperman, a UN spokesman.
Economic espionage is also rife. Former Canadian spook Jane Shorten has admitted her country's security service spied on friendly nations such as Japan and Korea for financial and technological reasons during the 1990s.
The European Union has also had its bugging scandals. In 2003, bugging devices were found on the phone lines of several countries in the Brussels building used for EU consultations and summits.
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