Although the Gaelic forename and surname belie it, it has occasionally been suggested that Tavish Scott had some Viking blood in him, presumably because of his Lerwick roots and launching his candidacy for the LibDem leadership among a group dressed as Vikings at Up Helly Aa in 2008.
I must say that, as a short-legged and once black-haired, wee Glaswegian, I would not have been in the least intimidated if Tavish had jumped off a longboat and ran up the beach at me in a horned helmet in days gone by. The instant assessment of the opposition required by a Glasgow east end childhood and young manhood would have instantly classed him as big safty - nae problem, Jimmy …
He’s a nice big guy, but niceness is something I value in people only if they don’t have difficult decisions to make that affect my life, in which case I readily sacrifice niceness for decisiveness, integrity, principle, and bluntly, cojones. And so to Tavish Scott, faux Viking and putative coalition member in the post May 5th Holyrood.
I never know whether to attack the LibDems or not, in these confusing political days we live in, since some evidence suggests that disillusioned Scottish LibDems are shifting their allegiance mainly to Labour. Presumably the closet Tories among the Scottish LibDems are not disillusioned, and are rather like CofE people creeping towards the Church of Rome in search of ultimate certainties. But who knows?
What adjectives come to mind in describing Tavish? The ones that jump to my mind are nice, diffident, ineffectual, vulnerable, uncool, lacking in street savvy. But he got elected and leads his party, you say - he must have qualities other than these? Well, maybe not, since these are the very characteristics that define a certain kind of LibDem and presumably appeal to a certain group of LibDem voters.
I don’t like pulling the legs off flies, or watching them being pulled off, and my toes curl when I watch Tavish’s attempts at humour in Holyrood, reading his laborious jokes and bon mots intently from his notes, flanked by equally nice, nodding colleagues, smiling bravely as their Leader dies the death, but with no hook coming from the wings to drag him offstage. Alex Salmond tries not to make it look too effortless as he swats him away at FMQs.
But here he is on Newsnight Scotland with Gordon Brewer, who is only too happy to pull the wings off anything that moves, and regards Tavish as light exercise, a limbering-up before the main bouts with other, more worthy opponents.
The LibDem leader deploys his limited arsenal of pea-shooter and water pistol against the Brewer Magnum, with the inevitable result - the diffident smile, the engaging laugh, the please-don’t-hit-me-again body language and the self-deprecation are no match for the Brewer neo-Paxman assault.
But unlike many of these often sterile encounters, this one actually illuminates an essential political truth of LibDemmery in the Coalition era - nothing is sacred, expediency is everything, and every value and principle may be sacrificed, every promise broken on the altar of power in coalition. Tavish will do what he has to to get into the big boys’ gang, just as Clegg, Cable, Alexander, Martin and the rest did.
Just tell me what I must do to join the club …
Of course, a pretence of Scottishness must be maintained. The beaming Tavish, on the studio backdrop image, sports a saltire badge, and in the interview he claims his independence of Westminster - “I'm not one of them …”. Nonetheless, he lists the Coalition ‘achievements’ that “didn’t happen under Laaaybah …” And so Tavish ducks and weaves, and dances round the ring on tiptoe until Gordon Brewer is ready to hit him, and then the principles fall, one by one.
Brewer asks, in essence - what are the deal breakers? Give me one policy, one principle, one value that you won’t trade for a place in government. “Can you give me a single Liberal Democrat policy that you would commit tonight - personally - that you would not sell in a coalition deal?”
The opposition to tuition fees, or any form of student charge, dies painlessly under the questioning, and incredibly, so does the refusal to rule out a coalition with the SNP despite the heretofore implacable opposition to Scotland’s independence. Tavish’s desperate and feeble attempts the throw up a smokescreen over the Scottish Government’s ‘failure’ to present an independence bill (to witness its inevitable defeat by the united unionist opposition presumably) is blown away effortlessly by Brewer pointing out that independence is going to be central to the SNP’s campaign.
So Tavish goes off home to don his Viking helmet with the marshmallow horns, make fierce faces at himself in the mirror, and dream of coalition after May 5th with - well, anybody, really …