Brian Wilson: Here’s the real reason Derek Mackay should have resigned this week

The arrogance of petty power comes in many forms and Scotland is awash with it. At some point, that reality has to be confronted and corrected. Will this week be a turning-point?
Derek Mackay resigned this weekDerek Mackay resigned this week
Derek Mackay resigned this week

Every government and minister needs the constraints imposed by accountability. Otherwise, the arrogance – the sense of being able to get away with anything – just grows. That has been the trend over the past decade and is now rampant.

To be fair, such a presumption of untouchability is understandable. Holyrood barely registers in terms of holding to account. Beyond it, the tentacles of government have been used ruthlessly to stifle dissent, where any dependency exists on Nationalist largesse.

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Critically, there is now a substantial minority in Scotland who do not care how many Health Boards are in crisis, how filthy our streets are, how many hundreds of millions are squandered on unbuilt ferries, what proportion of our children can read and write…

These are the politics of the past.

All their belief is vested in a mirage of the future and the flags which represent it.

If that minority is substantial enough to produce a permanent hold on power, then why not be arrogant? Why not believe in one’s own invincibility?

Eventually, in theory at least, a rebound follows as this conceit fosters complacency and people wake up to the fact they have been taken for a very big ride. Scales fall from eyes and political mortality reasserts itself.

The veneer of competence slips.

The fear factor begins to fade and, once the emperor (or empress) is seen to be scantily clad, those who have deemed it prudent to stay silent or join in the sycophancy begin to recover their voices.

Nobody, however, should rely on scandal alone to deliver these outcomes, even if it creates an environment in which doubts are raised and arrogance recognised. It was not sleaze which defeated John Major in the 1990s but the impression, which it fed into, of a tired, talentless administration that had little to offer. That is where Scotland is now.

I have no interest whatsoever in Derek Mackay’s personal life.

There are no winners, political or otherwise, in personal disasters of this nature.

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Without doubt though there are losers, through collateral damage to family, friends, people who placed trust and feel betrayed.

Such anguish transcends politics.

As it happens, Mr Mackay should have been under pressure to resign this week for entirely different reasons – his role in the Ferguson ferry scandal. Reasons which should matter. Reasons which reflect the arrogance of untouchability when it came to public money and political opportunism.

But do these matter enough in the court of Scottish public opinion?

That is the turning-point which is awaited. I do not want to see any politician destroyed or self-destroyed on the altar of their own frailties. But I do want to see them held to account for their actions as politicians.

In Holyrood’s early days, Henry MacLeish was forced to resign as First Minister of Scotland over an expenses imbroglio involving the princely sum of £36,000. Nobody seriously doubted that it was, as he asserted, “a muddle not a fiddle”.

But that did not silence his tormentors, and none was more acerbic in pursuit of the wounded than Nicola Sturgeon.

This week, we learned – unless they are prepared to call Jim McColl a liar – that Sturgeon apparently pre-empted negotiations so she could announce a £97 million contract for the political purpose of pre-empting “good news” from the Chancellor of the Exchequer in the hated Westminster government.

The £97 million has since turned into £230 million and counting – every penny of it public money. Politicians cannot abuse a tender process for political convenience.

But what politician would act in such a cavalier way?

Only a politician who is consumed with her own arrogance of untouchability.

That is the scandal Scotland needs to address.