On Thursday I got an email from the Ethical Standards Commission. They were informing me that after an investigation, they’d dismissed a formal complaint about me. Good to know, but this was the first I’d heard about any of it.
It turns out that a Nationalist candidate had stated on Twitter how much more welcoming Scotland was than our neighbours south of the border and I’d replied with a picture of those anti-English bigots who hold that awful “England – get out of Scotland” banner outside airports and stations and above it I’d written the phrase: “Meanwhile in another part of the SNP...”
Twitter screamed at me for days – pointing out that the clowns with the banner weren’t supporting an official SNP policy and probably weren’t even SNP members.
I stood my ground, arguing that for as long as Nicola Sturgeon stoked the frisson of possibility around a quarantine blockade at Gretna, they were following her lead.
On the strength of that somebody dobbed me into the Commission. Now, a referral to the body which monitors ethical standards in public life is usually a big deal, but this was not my first rodeo.
Beat the SNP in a Holyrood election and that victory comes with an office in parliament and a great big target on your back. For all their power, they sure do worry about the opposition. Since I defied the odds and won Edinburgh Western from the SNP in 2016, I’ve faced: two police complaints and a full police investigation; two Electoral Commission complaints and a full Electoral Commission investigation; two Standards Commission complaints and now an investigation – all at the behest of the SNP or their followers.
The allegations levelled against me in every case were dismissed as being utterly vexatious.
While I’m glad my name has been cleared, it makes me angry on two fronts. I’m furious at the colossal waste of time (particularly police time) and public money that each complaint has triggered, but above that, I’m angry that this is how we do politics in Scotland now.
Any opposition politician who challenges the governing party, or their leader in any way these days, is immediately monstered on social media and can expect at least a venomous byline in their pet paper, The National.
If you score a few direct hits, they’ll find a way to shop you to a higher authority and that can tie you up practically and psychologically for months.
I can tell you from experience, when my election spending was referred to the police, that walking two detectives through the evidence that would ultimately confirm my innocence over two hours in a police station, was deeply unsettling.
It took up my time and attention for many weeks. But that’s why the SNP did it in the first place. There is no room for effective opposition on their path to independence, so they will seek to bring you down or derail your momentum, by fair means or foul and I am by no means the first they’ve done this to.
These tactics may be designed to put me off or slow me down, but the reverse is true.
If I’m such a target for the SNP, then I must be doing something right.
Alex Cole-Hamilton is the Lib Dem MSP for Edinburgh Western
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