Jo Swinson, after her speech to the Liberal Democrats, and two lawyers, because their performance in the Supreme Court case over the suspension of parliament, deserve to be called great Scots, writes Jim Duffy.
Us Scots do like to prattle on about how great we were in the past. We like to live in times past when we made our mark in Scotland, the UK and the world.
We had great footballers like Kenny Dalglish, Denis Law and Jim Baxter. We had great scientists like Alexander Graham Bell, James Watt and Alexander Fleming. But, recently, I’ve felt a bit flat when it comes to individual Scots doing great things that inspire me. We’re crap at football, rugby and, probably, tiddlywinks. Of course, we have Andy Murray and a few decent actors like James McAvoy, Gerard Butler and John Hannah. But after that I’m struggling to find names popping into my head that get my juices going and make me proud to be a Scot. That is until this week.
First up, Jo Swinson. Jo – and I’m sure she would tell me to call her Jo, instead of Mrs Swinson or ma’am – took to the stage in Bournemouth this week to address the Liberal Democrats.
Twenty-one years after she attended her first party conference, she was now on stage as the new leader of the Liberal Democrats. This is a party that now has a spring in its step. A party that feels that it is relevant again. A party that can get into government if the Prime Minister ever decides, and is able to decide, to call that general election wanted, but also not wanted, by Jeremy Corbyn. Yes, Jo Swinson seems to be in the right place at the right time.
Sitting proudly in the front row was her husband, of course. Then the great and mighty of the Liberal Democrats. Menzies Campbell, Vince Cable and Tim Farron (yes, I had to google him as well). Not present and not even given a mention was Nick Clegg. As Mr Clegg let the Lib Dems down on tuition fees and has since gone to the ‘dark side’ of the Force at Facebook, he was persona non grata at this year’s conference. Of course, Charles Kennedy and Paddy Ashdown have passed away, but rightly Paddy got a mention. Jo misses him... which I thought was rather apt for a Liberal Democrat get-together as these people are not afraid to show their emotions. I like that in politicians.
Jo got the stage, no lectern, just a well-placed auto-queue to give her comfort. She looked well-rehearsed, albeit a little nervy. But, she did not need to feel that way initially as her audience was in love with her and she was in love with them. In fact she talked about love quite a lot. Again, refreshing as others just talk about community cohesion etc. Jo really got going and, by the end of her maiden speech as leader, they were all their feet – even Chuka Umunna, who no doubt has his eyes on her seat as soon as he can get it. The applause was rapturous and genuine, but Jo didn’t hang about lapping it up. No, she got off stage, mingled with the commmoners and no doubt was in a hurry to get things done. I think Scotland has someone to be proud of here and I wonder if she will win votes from the Labour and SNP in the general election.
Jo Swinson inspired me this week.
Next up, Lord Richard Keen QC, aka Lord Keen of Elie. As the Supreme Court sat this week, Richard was called up to argue for the Government. I can call him Richard as I met and chatted to him while I was working at the Lockerbie bombing trial in Holland. Richard was defending one of the two bombers, who he got off – a real string in his bow career-wise. As I reflected on our conversation during short breaks in the proceedings, I recall he was pleasant, in the moment and happy to chat with a lowly constable as he gathered his thoughts for the next part of his questioning. Richard Keen has a sharp legal mind. Yes, he has other roles outside law, but he has built a solid career in his profession now, up with the big boys and girls of the Supreme Court. I was pleased to see him do his stuff again, albeit that, as a QC, you have to defend some shady characters right? Richard Keen inspired me this week.
I’m saving the last guy not because he was the best of the week, but because he completely turned the whole Supreme Court proceedings on prorogation from starchy to fun. Enter Aidan O’Neill QC. No posh titles yet for Aidan, although I am sure after this performance a “sir” is on the way. Instead of boring us all and the Supreme Court judges with folder after folder of case law and “tab 18, page 435, line 44...”, he went on a full shooting match of history that made everyone think a little about who and why the judges in front of him existed. Aidan took us on a journey from Orwell to the 1966 World Cup. The judges were smiling, the gallery chuckling and Aidan was the darling of social media. Well done matey. You showed a sense of humour mixed with a fine Scottish eye for detail. And some of your one-liners will live for years.
Aidan O’Neill inspired me this week.
Right under our noses, we have great Scots who are ploughing their furrows on the national stage, showing great prowess and skill in what they do. They were all over the TV and newspapers and showed Scotland in a good light. But, it has taken years of hard work, determination and sacrifice to get to where they are. It is inspiring to watch and listen to them.
Maybe we need to stop droning on about the past and look at the great Scots right under our noses...