Great men and not so great men

I went to the David Livingstone Memorial yesterday, a kind of mission to the man who I think it’s fair to say introduced me to the idea of internationalism. That is, my mum was in the Women’s Guild and we were Church of Scotland whose World Mission followed the tradition of helping “those worse off than ourselves” on the African continent. Livingstone was integral to that, a standard bearer for all those thousands who trod the same African paths in the relatively vain hope of converting the natives. It was bred into me I suppose that there was a wider world to which we belonged and which we had a duty to support to the best of our ability. We were fortunate and untold numbers weren’t. Through the years that basic equation informed my beliefs and does today. I see no contradiction in being nationalist and internationalist. On the contrary…

It’s the 200th anniversary of his birth and I love the fact you can walk into the room he was born in and see some of the items from his home. There is nothing prepossessing about the memorial and museum – in fact it would have been nice if the National Trust had spent a bit whitewashing the tenements and upgrading the tearoom. On the other hand, I think it’s pretty much as DL would have liked it, unpretentious and educational. The most touching moment is a tableau of his death in a straw roof hut. He is depicted kneeling beside the bed and giving up the ghost in the moment of prayer. I wanted to reach out and comfort him.

Then last night I heard Jack McConnell talking about the scheme is launching to give financial help to young Scots to go to Malawi. I applauded inwardly. I’m afraid I take some effort to applaud Jack and did some self-examination seeking explanation. I remember a gallus young politician I think in charge of finance at Stirling Council where Michael Connarty was leader. I liked him. He was chatty, energetic and helpful to a journalist. I came across him several times later and he hadn’t changed. He was an advocate of Scottish Labour Action, a ginger group that irritated the leadership. It was a real surprise to me when he accepted the job of general secretary of Labour and became part of that leadership.

How things changed. He turned into the party apparatchik, the easy charm gone and although I understand the need to rise to the job, it was, for me, accompanied by what seemed like a campaign of disruption. I worked for the Radio Scotland political radio programme and, when I was featuring Labour, which was often, I did him the courtesy of telling him early in the week and reaching a tentative agreement to interview him on the Friday. It never happened. There never was an interview – which created all kinds of problems for me as I relied on it for balance and story-telling reasons. Not only that, but complaints started coming in to the BBC about my reports from Labour sources alleging stuff that wasn’t even in them. They weren’t accurate or even meaningful but they were sustained and had the unmistakable smell of set-up.

What had I done to be treated this way since, it was, after all, the BBC not Derek Bateman that was snubbed and not by McConnell but by the Labour Party? Well, I did spend time digging into the Labour cesspit that was Paisley. There were no real politics involved – as in policy – but petty and bitter personal resentments that tore the two CLPs to bits. In talking to the locals I discovered that Jack’s official investigation hadn’t a clue what was going on. They told me who he had been speaking to without any understanding of the relationships involved, family and otherwise and how everybody was inter-related…MPs, constituency officials and council Labour people. Jack didn’t know how to handle it so simply suspended both CLPs without limit. I spoke to the local paper, the Paisley Daily Express and discovered that the editor was a member of Paisley North CLP and the chief reporter a member of Paisley South. Talk about close to the community…

So digging around in that territory week after week wasn’t exactly what the new general secretary wanted. I’m afraid by that time I was identified by the Labour machine as a Nat, not through anything broadcast but through private conversations. (I never did feel the need to hide who I am but that doesn’t mean I was ever unprofessional)

When Labour appointed a new press officer I thought I’d get off on the right foot and invited him for a drink. The first words he said to me were: “What have you got against us?” His name was Tom Harris, the reporter from Paisley, later the MP.

When he was First Minister McConnell told me how a BBC employee – long departed – would let him access material from the in-house computer system via the radio van sent to his house in the mornings for interviews into Good Morning Scotland. That way he was able to see my questions in advance and my background info on which they were based – a serious breach of professional trust by the former employee. You might say Hard Luck to a journalist who is rumbled but I was struck by the total lack of compunction on the part of McConnell who didn’t seem to realise either what he was saying about the individual. Still, it’s all water under the bridge and it helps me move on and to welcome his Malawi initiative without further rancour. Honest.

Except to say that I saw his career come full circle when he agreed to be interviewed about the disastrous loss of power to the SNP in 2007. When I walked into his office with the producer, his face fell faster than the RBS share price. He shuffled some papers and said to the producer: “I though Colin would be doing the interview…” He meant my colleague Colin McKay. He really didn’t want me to question him but it was too late. I’m afraid Livingstone would be ashamed of me, but I enjoyed it.

And do you ever think the former left-wing rebels look at their ermine robes and wonder what was it all about? I don’t think DL would have had a dead stoat wrapped round his neck.

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0 thoughts on “Great men and not so great men

  1. Ah, Derek, you a blowing like a breath of fresh air through the fetid swamp of Scottish politics and media. All this naming names and calling a spade a spade is just so different to what we’re used to – which was effectively the equivalent of political succulent lamb journalism.

  2. I’m afraid my opinion of McConnell plunged to zero long before he accepted the top unionist politiciians’ “reward” of an ermine jaikit and his bum on the plush red leather of the unelected House of Lords. I refer to the incident when he tried to use his self-important “status” as a retired First Minister, in order to bully an elderly neighbour over the ownership of a wee cellar situated between their adjacent properties – a case which he lost when he contested it in the court! Sad wee egotistical man – a lot like the odious misogynist bully Ian Davidson.

  3. I recall jack trying to persuade people prior to the 2007 election that he believed in retaining nuclear weapons when it was clear from his body language and tone, that this was the last thing he believed in. The credibility factor was one reason he lost

  4. Definitely no great men left in Labour…were there ever? I.m sure some of them think so.

  5. To put David Livingstone and Jack McConnell in the same story is almost sacrilegious. I’m happy for Malawi, but not sure about inflicting Lord Jack upon them. I certainly didn’t enjoy having him imposed on me, and that was before he became a ‘Lud’. Vastly over-rated by himself.

  6. Ive always thought jack mcconnel should be applauded for making pr for council elections happen, he couldn’t have made many friends within the labour party with that one

    the problem with labour is (apart from the cronyism) that it pretends its a Scottish party with scottish priorities but in reality its a uk party with uk priorities. Things have changed in Scotland over the last 20 years and labour hasnt kept up or adapted, maybe its good riddance to bad rubbish though

  7. Nae great surprise but weel duin Derek – we need tae stairt tellin the truth o jist hou ant-democratic the LP in Scotland his lang been, an still is – there are honourable fowk amang them but they’re gey thin on the grund

  8. Paisley! Do they still have ice cream vans touring aroud late at night with referee whistles in the mooths of school weans? I lived there for 6 months and its the craziest placed I ever lived. The council wouldn’t do anything about the sound polution made by the afore mentioned vans, until I mistakingly wrote to the wrong Paisley MP (Irene Adams) who turned out to be the right one becuase she had form on fighting drug barons, corruption etc. Cue Haud it & Daud it from the council coming round to measure the sound (and it was above acceptiible levels) but they were highly uncomfortable about the whole operation and boy where they happy when we were going to off to the US for work. I always suspected that the local LP was tied by the umbilical cord to some nasty elements in society round that way. I missed your whole reportage about the, since I’ve been away ever since. So I would be really interested in the whole story.

  9. Aye Derek, I well remember the long line of pennies we kids saved and laid out on the church hall floor as savings for the children of Africa.
    Concerning McConnel, no surprises, simply what I would expect of him.

  10. I just want to say how much I enjoy your bogs Mr. Bateman – keep up your excellent work!

  11. For anyone interested, the details of the Livingstone Volunteer scheme can be found here http://mcconnellinternationalfoundation.org/livingstone-volunteers/
    It offers a helping hand to young people to volunteer in Southern Africa.
    Livingstone did not, it is true, end up in the House of Lords. He is, however, buried in Westminster Abbey…

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