Brian Monteith: Shot in foot by Calamity Joan

Timing can be everything in politics. Saying the right thing at the wrong time can make a really good idea look stupid. Saying the wrong thing at the wrong time makes the idea and the speaker doubly foolish.

Step forward and take a bow Joan McAlpine, former journalist and now MSP and aide to Alex Salmond, for Joan has won herself that inestimable reputation in Holyrood of being an accident waiting to happen.

This week, McAlpine decided to let her self-discipline desert her once more by revealing what she really thinks and yet again she was an embarrassment to her boss. McAlpine said “the union between Scotland and England is a bit like the marriage of a talented, well-educated girl with good prospects and her own income, to a domineering man”.

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Not content with painting a picture of bullying marriage, McAlpine went on to say that Labour, Liberal Democrats and Conservative politicians are “just like” the “sexist old dinosaurs who insist men should handle the finances”.

Funny that, I thought devolution has been supported by all of those parties at one time or another and was delivered by Labour in 1997.

McAlpine must have had a mental block when she thought the analogy up, for the union is not a marriage between just Scotland and England but involves four peoples, all of whom show every sign of contentment to stay together.

It says everything about McAlpine’s mindset that she discounts as irrelevant the relationship we enjoy with Wales and Northern Ireland and nurses her grievances about “domineering” England.

Unfortunately, there are also some people in England that see the “marriage” McAlpine portrays in quite a different way. They see the husband as constantly bailing out a spendthrift, grouchy wife that lives beyond her means and is always wanting special treatment. Of course, both views are wrong. The marriage, if we consider the union that way, has endured some of the toughest challenges through wars that we never asked for and survived severe economic recessions that were not of our making – without bitterness or rancour.

Indeed, by allowing ourselves the identity of being not just Scottish or English but British too, we have championed great causes such as the ending of slavery, spreading parliamentary democracy and the rule of law while through our joint industry, inventiveness and trade have enriched the lives of millions of people who otherwise would have faced lives of poverty and illness.

Through the years of partnership, Britain has given birth to some of the most brilliant institutions that are the envy of the world and which we take for granted at our peril, such as the BBC and the National Health Service, and these have been run by Scots as often as by English, Welsh or Ulster folk.

McAlpine’s rather poor metaphor only drew further attention to Bill Walker, SNP MSP for Dunfermline, suspended from the party only days before for, wait for it – not one, not two but three marriages that had allegedly failed due to his physical ill-treatment of his spouses.

The accusations against Walker came in a Sunday paper that dug up public records of the divorce papers and obtained affidavits from the women who spoke of being slapped and assaulted when they were married.

The SNP was very quick to distance itself from Walker, saying it took a zero tolerance approach to such behaviour and that the allegations referred to the MSP’s past before he became an active politician.

Hard on the heels of the claims about Walker’s abusive behaviour came the resignation of an SNP activist Tommy Ball in Glasgow for attacking British soldiers on Twitter, calling them “ignorant racists” who “bayonet children” and a “bunch of child- killers”.

Ball is not the first SNP internet activist to be found peddling hatred and abuse, and I wager he won’t be the last.

Does Salmond agree with McAlpine’s comparison? I think we deserve to know. Her comments only feed hatred based on where people are from. If that’s what nationalism is about then independence will be one hell of a messy and bitter divorce.

It’s dog sense

WHEN you hear them, there are some rules that make you wonder how on earth they came into being.

One such example is the rule that VAT is charged on dog food except for working dogs such as greyhounds or gun dogs – but that guide dogs for the blind and hard of hearing are not considered working dogs. The result is that in Scotland alone some £40,000 in taxes is paid on these dogs – enough to train such a dog – every year.

It’s small beer to the Exchequer but it would surely be an easy thing for the Chancellor to correct in his forthcoming budget. There’s an e-petition calling on the VAT to be removed, you can sign it at Do it now so it doesn’t have to wait another year to be changed.