The Scotsman is publishing a selection of its best opinion articles from the previous seven days to showcase some of the most insightful writing in Scottish journalism.
Ruth Davidson’s barnstorming attack on Donald Trump created headlines in other newspapers after she accused the US President of “desperate – and dangerous – sycophancy” towards Vladimir Putin.
“Nothing attracted a wannabe strong man, it seems, than thuggish strength,” she wrote, adding that Putin’s regime was “contemptuous of international law and our democratic way of life”.
But she said Trump would not bring about the end of Western democracy as we know it because those fighting to preserve our hard-earned freedoms would ultimately prevail.
Lesley Riddoch also had a thing or two to say about Trump, saying reports that he “totally hates” First Minister Nicola Sturgeon were essentially a feather in her cap.
“Whether the head of state is North Korea’s Kim Jong Un or Germany’s Angela Merkel, [Trump] flatters and insults by turn, aiming to destabilise rivals in the run-up to important trade talks. But hate? That’s an emotion largely reserved for his own former members of staff ... and now it seems the First Minister. That’s no mean feat.”
By taking part in Scotland’s largest gay pride march in Glasgow during Trump’s visit, Sturgeon delivered an “indirect rebuke” to the US president as this allowed her to “contrast a society which ‘champions equality and fairness at all times’ with Trump’s America where transgender people are banned from the US military and LGBTI content has been removed from US government websites, including an apology to gay people persecuted in the 1950s and 60s”.
Davidson and Riddoch, a Unionist and a Nationalist, united by Donald Trump. The need for unlikely alliances in these strange times was the theme of Joyce McMillan’s column. “We are ... in a situation where those who want to combat the rising tide of racism, xenophobia, institutional collapse and jingoistic brutalism across the West now have to shape up, pick their side, and put an end to pointless disputes about who, among the opponents of Trump, Brexit and all that they bring in their wake, has the best claim to perfect political virtue. “Misery acquaints a man with strange bedfellows,” says Shakespeare in The Tempest; and all our futures may depend on our ability to see that new times also demand new alliances, and a willingness to stop being distracted from the main task by increasingly irrelevant arguments,” she wrote.
Darren McGarvey, The Scotsman’s Orwell Prize-winning columnist, had an unusual take on the US President, warning that we all have an “inner Trump”.
“For me, Trump is a mirror, a mirror in which I see clearly the kind of man I am capable of being should I become unvigilant in the face of my glaring absurdities,” he wrote.
And, with the searing honesty for which he has become well known, he added: “Drunk and sober, I’ve behaved poorly. I’ve lied to people to preserve a false self-image. I’ve mistreated those I love, whether family, friends or partners in relationships. I’ve engaged in ‘locker-room banter’ and co-signed misogynistic and racist ‘jokes’. For me to get up on stage and pretend I’m some paragon of virtue would be to engage in the very hubristic nonsense for which ‘The Donald’ is infamous.
“I did all those things, without a modicum of self-awareness, because the ego I constructed to fortify my demoralising insecurities was so huge that when it came time to hear a bit of sobering truth, I was ill-equipped to take incoming calls. I wonder how many people, at these rallies across the country, are pondering similarly uncomfortable truths about themselves?”
John McLellan, a Conservative councillor and former Scotsman editor, pulled no punches as he tore into fellow Tory Ross Thomson on the issue of our times, Brexit. The Aberdeen South MP had attacked Theresa May’s Brexit plan, claiming it would turn the UK into a “vassal state”, and praised Boris Johnson and David Davis for “standing by their principles” and resigning from the Cabinet.
McLellan suggested this appeared to be “a pitch to be Scotland Secretary in PM Bojo’s Barmy Cabinet”. He pointed to a different take on Johnson’s character by Max Hastings, the ex-editor of the Daily Telegraph, who wrote that it was a “common mistake to suppose Johnson a nice man ... he is a man of remarkable gifts, flawed by an absence of conscience, principle or scruple”.
“The aim for Team May, if I may be so bold, should be to get Brexit over the line, and the word from people a lot closer to this than me beyond the Conservative Party is that the key principles laid out in the Chequers blueprint, like customs alignment for manufactured goods and the end of free movement, are very close to doing just that.”
Brian Monteith, however, took a rather different stance. The public were being “taken for fools by the Prime Minister”, he wrote. “There are only two viable positions for our country, or indeed any country: being fully in the European Union or being fully out. Anything else is a self-deceiving construct that in time brings servitude to what the EU wants,” he argued.
“May has failed to make Brexit mean Brexit. If she will not resign and go gracefully her colleagues must remove her.”
But there were columnists who, somehow, managed to find things other than Brexit and Trump to write about. Susan Dalgety, on an epic clockwise trip around the entire mainland United States, arrived in New Orleans, a city that has an unusual attitude towards death. The Museum of Death warns visitors to prepare themselves as there have been a number of what it calls “falling down ovations” – people fainting. After recovering from the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, the city has returned to being a place famed for its non-stop party atmosphere.
“At four in the afternoon, the party was in full swing. James, squeezed into a silver, sequinned jacket three sizes too small, was drinking Bud from a champagne flute, while handing out stuffed toys from a large bag under his seat. ‘He always does that, he’s got a big heart,’ explained Cordell, who came back from the bathroom with a penguin,” wrote Dalgety in the latest instalment of what is a wonderful series of reports.
Admitting this might be seen as “heresy” by some, Kenny MacAskill, Scotland’s former Justice Secretary, called for fellow Nationalists to push for a second Brexit referendum, which he was confident would be won by the Remain camp, before another one on independence.
“The political circumstances of Brexit aren’t good for the independence cause and most certainly not a hard Brexit ... An implosion of the economy and collapse in living standards aren’t the best circumstances for a confident people to vote for independence. Suggestions that Scots will see no alternative to leaving the UK are offset by worries that when things are grim they ‘hold on to nurse for fear of something worse’. I’ve never believed that the worse it gets the more folk are likely to vote for independence. No! Sorry, the worse it gets, heads go down and hope fades!” he argued.
Bill Jamieson had a fairly scary warning for the BBC – that it could cease to exist as we know it within five to ten years. The rise of Netflix, Amazon Prime and other global giants of entertainment posed an existential threat to Aunty Beeb, he claimed, while bemoaning the number of repeats.
“The BBC’s ... authority has all but gone. Broadcast rivals are no longer reliant on advertising for their income but can raise massive amounts by subscription. The BBC and its £150.50-a-year license fee system has wilted under the assault. It still has the capacity to create stunning and opinion-changing programmes such as Blue Planet, and mount great documentaries and prize-winning historical drama. But why are viewers deserting in their millions? Netflix is capable of mounting first-class drama such as The Crown and House of Cards. Check into a hotel and the likelihood is your room TV will default to Sky News,” he wrote.
Alastair Dalton, The Scotsman’s transport correspondent, took on the scourge of the Highlands and Islands – a driver who doesn’t know how to use passing places on single-track roads. He reached back into his childhood memories to remember insults his parents developed for some of the worst offenders.
“Some will speed on towards you past the nearest passing place and then try to bully you into reversing into the next passing place back so they can continue on. The worst of such ‘graceless bores’ will keep edging closer and closer towards you as you do this,” he reported.
And, for those readers who have made it this far, here’s an extra one as a wee bonus:
Kevan Christie, The Scotsman’s health correspondent, made his feelings known about criticism of Health Secretary Jeane Freeman (for allegedly smoking) and NHS Scotland chief executive Paul Gray (for being over-weight) in no uncertain terms.
“It’s not my concern if Freeman smokes like a laboratory beagle – as long as she does something about NHS waiting times and delayed discharge. The same goes for Gray. He could go home at night and attach himself to a Toblerone drip for all I care. The important question here is – can he do the job?”