Euan McColm: Awards ceremony deserves the booby prize

Are you entirely mediocre at your job, barely capable of carrying out the duties for which you are employed and devoid of imagination?

Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport Jeane Freeman was named Scottish Politician of the Year. Picture: John Devlin

Do you survive by using a mix of disingenuousness and downright lies? Are you, to be blunt, taking the piss?

Of course you’re not. You’re a fine example of whatever it is you are and let me be the first to congratulate you for that.

Sign up to our Politics newsletter

Sign up to our Politics newsletter

But, I fear, not everybody lives up to the high standards you display.

Take the current crop of politicians at both Westminster and Holyrood; if it’s second-raters you’re looking for, close your eyes, throw a dart into a committee meeting, and I promise you’ll hear a dolt yelp.

Little Englanders and Scotlanders dominate our debate, making pie-in-the-sky promises, offering easy solutions that cannot withstand the slightest scrutiny. Tap your finger against any of their pronouncements and chances are they’ll shatter into a billion tiny pieces.

All of which makes the events of last Thursday evening all the more infuriating. In the Prestonfield House Hotel in Edinburgh, the neither great nor good of public life gathered for the Scottish Politician of the Year Awards, an event that passed its sell-by date long ago.

Of course, I’m sure it’s jolly nice for the recipients of the night’s awards to be told they’re special. Who doesn’t like to hear sweet words of praise? But in the current climate, an event that’s always seemed rather weird to me begins to look entirely inappropriate.

Members of the UK and Scottish parliaments are already handsomely rewarded for their work, with earnings of double the national average and then some. These fat salaries – in many cases the sort of money the politicians in question couldn’t possibly hope to earn in any other field – are reward enough, so far as I can see.

On Thursday, Cabinet Secretary for Government Business and Constitutional Relations Mike Russell was pronounced Debater of the Year. Victory by Russell, a man in possession of a first rate ego and a second rate mind, should tell us all we need to know about how worthless these awards are. Russell – braying and pompous – is, as the old saying has it, a stupid person’s idea of a clever person.

But if you require further proof of the meaninglessness of the prizes handed out on Thursday, how about the winner of the Politician of the Year category?

The Scottish NHS has lurched from crisis to crisis in recent years, with staff shortages forcing the use of excessively expensive agency workers. Meanwhile, waiting time targets are routinely missed and morale among medical staff is troublingly low. Who better, then, to be declared the best politician in Scotland than Health Secretary Jeane Freeman? Someone, somewhere is having a laugh.

I do not share with many of my journalistic colleagues the belief that politicians are the enemy. I have faith that most are well-intentioned and that they make sacrifices in other areas of their lives in order to do their jobs. But giving them trophies for doing – often incompetently – what they are paid handsomely to do is a nonsense.

Freeman, Russell and all the other elected members “honoured” on Friday are no more deserving of awards for their political achievements than I am for my contribution to synchronised swimming or three-day eventing.

But perhaps the most troubling award of the night went to Nicola Sturgeon, named E-Politician of the Year. The First Minister is undoubtedly a skilled user of social media, frequently using Twitter to bypass traditional media in order to communicate directly with voters, but she is not – or should not be – considered the great chum of the various hacks who bestowed upon her this prize. She is not the enemy but her pronouncements and actions – like those of all who wield power – should be treated with the utmost scepticism. The duty of the press is to hold power to account, not lavish it with baubles.

This awards ceremony has a rather ignominious history. Perhaps you recall the year a senior Labour adviser was given the sack after oddly declaring when Alex Salmond was announced as a winner that the then first minister was a “c***”? Or maybe you better remember that vintage year when Labour’s Mike Watson – now a member of the House of Lords, for heaven’s sake – was caught on CCTV setting fire to the venue, an act for which he was later imprisoned. These, and other moments, should have been enough to call the whole thing off. Instead, organisers plough on, handing out awards to people who, in some instances, would struggle to pass a P6 spelling test.

If politicians wish to have a nauseatingly self-congratulatory awards ceremony, let them organise it themselves. The rest of us should reject the idea that any serving elected member is worthy of a prize for doing something for which they are very highly paid.

Perhaps the one good thing to come out of this year’s ceremony was the reaction of SNP MP Pete Wishart to the announcement that Labour MP Paul Sweeney had been adjudged Best Scot at Westminster.

“Ha ha ha ha and then some more ha ha ha etc,” tweeted Wishart, displaying his usual lack of self-awareness. I agree with the SNP MP that this was a ridiculous decision – just as all of the others were – but given his track record of aggression towards voters who disagree with him and his all round complete and utter uselessness (“Pete is 100 per cent clown,” as one of his fellow SNP politicians recently told me) the idea that he might sneer at the victory of a rival is bleakly comical.

I bear the winners of awards on Thursday night no ill will. It’s not their fault that this bloody stupid ceremony grinds on, year after year. It’s not their fault that they won. But this event, which should never have been established in the first place, has long since become irrelevant.

Right now we should be demanding better from our politicians, not rewarding them for their mediocrity.