Friday, 21 January 2011

Drama queens

Regular readers will probably be aware that I know a bit more about EastEnders than is probably good for me, but one soap opera that I gave up on some time ago is The Sheridans, starring Tommy and Gail as Scotland's Den and Angie (or Zak and Lisa, depending on taste), with a supporting cast largely from the socialist left. However, I am vaguely aware of a couple of court cases involving the Sheridans, the first under civil law and seeing Tommy and Gail emerge victorious, but the consequent second in the criminal courts, with Mr Sheridan facing a period in jail as a result.

Mrs Sheridan was of course acquitted on all charges, but as a result of the whole carry on has decided to seek election as an MSP in May's Holyrood vote. And in true soap opera style Gorgeous George Galloway has come back from the dead (it was all a dream, honest!) and will now be a regular in The Sheridans until May at least, because he'll be up against Gail and will thus split the socialist vote, probably guaranteeing a spat for a few months worthy of the best that the Queen Vic, Rovers Return and Woolpack can offer.

Naturally, therefore, some are accusing Gail Sheridan of being a bit of a drama queen about it all, and, equally naturally, I would tend to agree. Nonetheless, few who saw the police video of Mrs Sheridan being interviewed - in which she was accused of adopting techniques employed by terrorist suspects while being interrogated - can fail to have been slightly discomfited by it all, not to mention other matters pertaining to her treatment in the case which have formed the basis of a formal complaint about police conduct.

And the prize of a year's subscription to Planet Politics for anyone who sees where this is going, but I couldn't help notice another news article in the Herald this week about people getting a bit uppity about what they regard as unfair questioning.

Of course, I refer to our two distinguished professor friends, who reacted to Wendy Alexander's questioning on the Scotland Bill committee in the same way that a human rights lawyer might respond in relation to their client's detention at Guantanamo Bay, or if they had found themselves partaking of beer and sandwiches with the Emmerdale's Dingles rather than their expectation of a graduation garden party on the Lower College Hall lawn, St Salvator's Quad, St Andrews.

It's the reaction of the professors to the committee chairperson's attempt at a Paxoing that's most baffling, irrespective of whether there may have been an element of unfairness about her approach. Not to mention that of some of their supporters, such as the Scotsman correspondent who compare Ms Alexander's questioning to her stance on school bullying, or another one who mentions the treatment of David Kelly.

Couldn't the academics have appeared less petulant? Couldn't they have turned things to their advantage by doing so?

And to say they are "utterly schocked" by the Presiding Officer's dismissal of their formal complaint surely demonstrates a slight lack of proportion, particularly when compared with Gail Sheridan's grievance.

Of course, as I said in my previous post and as per this earlier effort called "Red rubber band relativism", the problem for some perhaps comes down to the difference between the professors' normal otherworldliness of their ivory towers and the environment of arrests, questioning and show trials experienced by Gail Sheridan, not to mention the less than rarefied world inhabited by many of the rest of us. If the academics and their supporters think their treatment warrants a parliamentary inquiry and accusations of intimidation then they must have a very rose-tinted view of our political process and, indeed, lead very sheltered lives generally. And in a letter to the Herald, another professor - who on his website cites Newsnet Scotland's and Joan McAlpine's perspectives on the episode as evidence of unfairness ('nuff said) - seems to think the events reduce Scotland's democracy to the status of a banana republic. This characterisation may have some merit, but in the grand scheme of things Professorgate (groan!) seems to me like the mere tip of the iceberg and to that extent of little real consequence beyond the narrow confines of the ivory towers.

Thus while Gail Sheridan may be something of a drama queen in relation to her Holyrood candidature, there is surely legitimate concern over her treatment leading up to her acquittal. As for the esteemed professors, methinks they doth protest too much.

(For the avoidance of doubt, and for what it's worth, please note that I have a lot more respect for academics than politicians, but this cannot be unqualified. Of course, and as usual, to an extent respect has to be earned rather than proffered unconditionally, with increasing cynicism underlining this!)


Indy said...


You are comparing being arrested and interviewed by the police with appearing voluntarily before a Scottish Parliament committee?

You can't possibly be serious.

Academics are under no obligation whatsoever to appear before committees. They do so entirely voluntarily and they can equally well choose not to appear. As Professor Neil Kay said in his letter to the Herald "No-one with a reputation to defend would be advised to be a witness to this [Scotland Bill] committee. That is how much things have degraded."

I suggest that you do not fully understand the issue you are talking about. Your whole attitude seems to suggest that if academics want to get involved in politics they should learn to take the rough with the smooth. But giving evidence to a Holyrood committee does not, in fact, mean that academics are getting involved in politics. It means that they are giving expert evidence to legislators - it is the legislators who are involved in politics. It appears to be this crucual point that you do not understand.

Stuart Winton said...

"You are comparing being arrested and interviewed by the police with appearing voluntarily before a Scottish Parliament committee?

You can't possibly be serious."

I think you've missed the point, which is that the academics were reacting as if they had been subject to some kind of criminal interrogation, not just "Wendied".

And, yes, I appreciate the academic/politics distinction, but why do the professors get invovled in such a politically charged facet of economics and then cry foul when they get tangled up in partisan politics?

And, to reiterate, why react with such vehemence, even assuming they were hard done by?

Because they know it will play well with their partisan sympathisers, perhaps?

"But giving evidence to a Holyrood committee does not, in fact, mean that academics are getting involved in politics."

Not directly, but it's perhaps instructive that you cite Professor Neil Kay, who as I said in the post cites Newsnet Scotland and Joan McAlpine as evidence - he's not even trying to look impartial, surely?