Unusual for me to rattle off two successive posts touching on our friends in the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party. However, their bizarre candidate de-selection affair in Glasgow deserves a word or two. The press are offering a range of versions of what precipitated Malcolm MacAskill being pushed from the pre-eminent Tory place on the Glasgow regional list, to be replaced by Ruth Davidson. As our past analysis has demonstrated, if the Tory vote in Glasgow proves reasonably resilient, if they aren't kicked into fifth place on the list, and if Nicola Sturgeon wins in Glasgow Southside - the Tory top candidate is extremely likely to take up a seat in Holyrood. Why then would the leading candidate relinquish or be relieved of this comfortable-seeming position? Earlier this month, the Herald reported that Glasgow's only Tory baillie, the juvenile David Meikle, and a second Glasgow Tory candidate had raised concerns that the party list voting - which MacAskill had topped - showed signs of jiggery-pokery. The pair alleged that:
"... around 150 new members joined the Conservative Rutherglen association in the months running up to the election. Prior to the mass sign-up, they allege that the same association’s membership stood at 17."
Today, as MacAskill gets the heave-no, denials that the Meikle's call for an investigation are involved. In explanation, the Tory party chairman, Andrew Fulton, offered only bland, ameliorative saws. Nothing to see here, ladies and gentlemen...
"This change arose following discussions between the candidate and the Party's Candidates Board. As always in internal issues, such conversations are private and we will respect that confidentiality. I would, however, like to thank Malcolm for his service to the party."
The Herald and Telegraph disclose a rather more substantial explanation for this otherwise inexplicable development. "Chequered business career costs Tory his Holyrood hopes". Alan Cochrane writes:
"Mr Macaskill, who was virtually guaranteed a seat in the Holyrood elections on May 5, was kicked out by Mr Fulton, a former MI5 official, for allegedly failing to declare he had been twice been made bankrupt as a businessman – once 20 years ago and again 10 years ago. Mr Fulton made no mention of the reason for the dismissal in an official statement, merely saying Mr Macaskill had been dropped 'following discussions between the candidate and the party's candidates' board'".
The Herald have more precise details. Here's an excerpt:
"As part of the internal selection process to rank candidates on the list, Mr Macaskill produced a CV saying he had founded and “owned a successful manufacturing business since 1984” and was ranked top of the list in December. However, public records show he was sequestrated – the Scots term for bankruptcy – in 1987 and 1997. In 1994, he and his wife Moya were also taken to court by the Inland Revenue over bills of more than £8000 – including £6664 unpaid income tax – run up by their sandwich firm Kwik Snax. The court summons said the pair were “repeatedly called upon to make payment of the sums sued for but they refuse or delay to do so”.
I dare say MacAskill may be feeling pretty sore about all of this this morning. Not least, he might well reflect with a good deal of sourness on his party's irregular and capricious attitude towards those whose ruinous headships deliver their business concerns into financial calamity. He is frog-marched to the midden, while a ruddy-faced bloviator like Jackson Carlaw is being seriously (if implausibly) touted as a possible Tory leadership contender once Annabel Goldie goes on her merry way. Carlaw (above, right) is the Conservative candidate in Eastwood, and was the second Tory list MSP from the West of Scotland in the third Scottish Parliament, lately dissolved. Deputy Chairman of the Scottish Conservatives from 1992 to 1998, reappointed in 2005, Carlaw is a creature of Newton Mearns (land of leather-faced harridans and twee bourgeois flatulents, of which materialistic and narrow-minded community, Carlaw is exemplary). Carlaw boasts a very similar "chequered" business past to the booted MacAskill, littered with collapsed business ventures he was involved in. According to Jackson's own website...
"Prior to being elected to the Scottish Parliament Jackson spent 25 years in the Scottish motor industry, before acting as an independent business consultant."
He doesn't mention that his movement into independent business consultancy was presumably precipitated by the bankruptcy of his automotive ventures. As the Sunday Herald noted in an article of 2005, on Carlaw's appointment as interim vice-chairman to the party...
"A car salesman, [Carlaw] has also had a number of well-documented business problems. He was joint head of FirstFord, the dealership in the west of Scotland that was placed into receivership in November 2002. He was also a director of Wylies (Automotive Services), which went into administration in February 2003."
Carlaw was a governor of my old, unbeloved secondary school Hutchesons' Grammar, in Glasgow (which in itself, recalls my deep antipathies towards the ruling spirit of that bumptious petit-bourgeois institution, as I remember it). I quote from the Herald article of 2003. Carlaw faced...
"... parental opposition to his appointment to lead a strategic review at Hutchesons' Grammar, the independent Glasgow school. He resigned as a governor in July to take up the part-time post, and some parents are questioning how he can ensure the school ''remains at the forefront of modern educational expectations'' when two of his businesses have collapsed since November."
Another Herald article on the same appointment furnishes a few more details of Carlaw's failed business escapades:
"Mr Carlaw was joint head of FirstFord, the car dealership with eight franchises in the west of Scotland which was placed in receivership last November, threatening 300 jobs. He is also a director of Wylies (Automative Services), trading as Auto Contracts, which went into administration in February. The contract hire and leasing firm is being wound up, and 18 people have lost their jobs. The latest available documents lodged with Companies House reveal its four directors took (pounds) 163,248 from the company in the year ended 2000, when losses were (pounds) 39,000, compared with more than (pounds) 290,000 in 1999. A spokesman for Ernst and Young, the administrator, said yesterday: ''It is in wind-down mode, having been unable to sell it as a going concern.''
So a decidedly blotchy financial background is fatal to one MSP's candidacy, but another, arguably equally mottled commercial biography is discreetly ignored when you are mooting who should lead the whole dismal Tory tribe in Holyrood? The mind boggles.