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Three cheers for the new politics

13 January 2016

3:31 PM

13 January 2016

3:31 PM

I love the new politics. It warms my heart even on cold and gloomy winter mornings. The novelty of the always-new, freshly-minted, happy-shiny, more-decent-than-thou new politics will never fade.

Consider this stirring tale from beyond the wall. The Scottish Asian Women’s Association (SAWA) was launched amidst what tradition dictates we must refer to as great fanfare at a lavish opening gala at Stirling Castle in 2012. The canapes alone cost £4,500.

It is likely you have never heard of this charity which ostensibly exists to ‘promote religious and racial harmony’ by raising the profile of Scottish Asian women. Or, at any rate, raising the profile of one Scottish Asian woman.

That woman would be Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh, now MP for Ochil and South Perthshire and, tradition again dictates, a member of parliament who must always be referred to as a ‘close ally of Alex Salmond’.

The charity’s constitution, unusually, stipulated that Ms Ahmed-Sheikh be referred to as its founder for “all time coming in all literature, letterheads and promotional/publicity material”. Furthermore, in 2014 when Ms Ahmed-Sheikh was an (unsuccessful) SNP candidate in the european parliament elections, the charity’s Facebook page dutifully reminded its fans to “Remember to vote SNP on Thursday to get Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh elected and keep Ukip out of Scotland”. This too might be reckoned a modestly unusual position for any charitable enterprise to take.

But this is the new Scotland where such matters are of no account. So I don’t suppose it matters either that, as revealed by the Herald’s estimable Tom Gordon, the Scottish government handed SAWA £16,000 in 2012. And I don’t imagine it matters very much, either, that despite registering income of more than £25,000 between 2012 and 2015 SAWA distributed just £700 to (doubtless) worthy causes. That’s less than three percent of its income.

As Mr Gordon reports:

[SAWA] initially organised £100-a-plate award ceremonies, sponsored by RBS, at which prizes were given to Asian women in business, art, sport and public life.

However after ceremonies in 2013 and 2014 attended by Mr Salmond, Ms Sturgeon and senior Labour and LibDem MSPs, SAWA failed to stage the “annual event” in 2015.

The charity’s other activities also dwindled away in financial year 2014-15, which coincided with Ms Ahmed-Sheikh standing as an SNP candidate for Brussels and then Westminster.

SAWA’s net income was nil and its website, Facebook and Twitter accounts fell into disuse.

Ms Ahmed-Sheikh, 45, resigned as a trustee the day after she became an MP.

Well, well, well.

It should be noted that since its founder’s resignation SAWA has found the wherewithal to distribute some £11,000 to various causes. It should, of course, also be noted that there is no suggestion its founder has acted illegally or otherwise misused the charity’s funds.

Only a cynic would suggest there was anything improper – though not illegal! – going on here and mercifully cynics are thin on the ground in these happy times.

There are plenty of stout and worthy representatives amongst the new SNP intake. Were I minded to embarrass them I would name Joanna Cherry, Ian Blackford, Tommy Sheppard, Stephen Gethins and Stewart McDonald in this category.

But, of course, there are also spivs and charlatans too. (No names! None necessary!) ‘Twas ever thus and it is not as though other parties are in any great position to cast aspersions upon the SNP members. Labour, in particular, has a far from blemishless record of back-scratching, favour-bestowing, nod-and-a-wink politicking in Scotland.

Still, there are degrees of shamelessness and self-promotion and some people know how to play that game better than others. Who you know always matters and in Scotland these days it pays to know the SNP.

That’s only to be expected. It would be absurd to make political allegiance any kind of litmus test for public appointments or political favour. And it would, equally obviously, be strange to think supporting the SNP (or independence) should somehow rule someone out of a job. The law of averages dictates that plenty of senior positions, even in the judiciary, will be filled by SNP supporters.

Nevertheless, the reverse also applies and there is a sense, low-level perhaps but increasingly widely-felt, that being on good terms with the SNP is an increasingly necessary part of the road to advancement in Scotland.

Cronyism is hardly the most venal of sins but it’s also a stubbornly persistent and prevalent one. And here again we may pause to wonder at the extent to which the happy, shiny, lovely new politics is so uncannily similar to the old and rancid and crooked politics it was supposed to replace. Fancy that.

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