Everything about the Sturgeon-Ross ‘Prole-Down’ is distasteful

by | 8 Nov 2021

The First Minister and the Scottish Tory leader are using Scotland's communities as a prop in a narcissistic battle in which only they are interested - and it speaks poorly of them

I clearly remember a passage from a William McIlvanney novel (The Big Man, I think) in which a well-meaning middle class person visits Graithnock (the fictional town) to see the reality of poverty. One of the characters offers a comment something like ‘I hope you brought bananas to throw to the locals’. (My copy of the book is 30 years old and must be hiding under another pile of books somewhere.)

It is this passage which has kept popping into my mind throughout the sorry saga of the First Minister and the leader of the Scottish Conservatives challenging each other to a ‘poverty safari’ so they can settle once and for all which of them is the spokesperson for Scotland’s working classes.

Ross says he’s more in touch with the working classes, Sturgeon is having none of it, insists she is more in touch with the working classes and challenges him to visit ‘a working class place’ and Ross accepts the challenge. It has now reached a sad denouement in which they’re off on a mutual jolly to a drug support group.

It is hard to think what exactly about this whole affair is most distasteful. This is really a shot at Ross playing culture wars, because clearly after the last 40 years he isn’t going to be able to make much of a case that the Tories are friends of the economic interests of the working classes.

And he’s certainly shooting at an open goal because frankly the current Scottish Government really does appear to drip contempt whenever it is drawn near an issue where the sentiment of those inside the Professional Political Classes clashes with the sentiment of those outside that little clique.

Sturgeon’s actual challenge, when quoted in full, really nails that point home: “Maybe Douglas Ross would like to come with me, and I’ll introduce him to some working-class communities across the country and then he will see who’s in touch with them”.

The idea that Nicola Sturgeon is in a position to ‘introduce’ people to working class Scotland must surely be an overreach, even by her standards. That Ross thought it classy and/or useful to accept the challenge just makes it all worse still.

That weeks later neither of them (or their staff) came to their senses and called off this whole awful narcissistic shit-show is beyond me. Communities where people live are not props for politicians engaged in a self-obsessed ego contest.

The idea that Nicola Sturgeon is in a position to ‘introduce’ people to working class Scotland must surely be an overreach, even by her standards

In fact, if you want any evidence that neither of them is anything like in touch with such a community it’s the fact that neither can see anything wrong with using a real community as a backdrop for a petty argument being played out for middle class journalists reporting on the court politics of the Holyrood bubble.

Let’s just get to the bottom of this. Neither Ross nor Tories get to claim bragging rights on giving a damn about the working classes after austerity (never mind the Thatcher revolution). But nor does Sturgeon or her administration which has clearly and unmistakeably governed for the monied classes and the ‘progressive’ Professional Management Class.

There are two many examples to begin to set out here but the fact that the First Minister’s key economic adviser is the owner of a secretive political lobbying outfit or that, given the chance to back either landlords or tenants during the pandemic, Sturgeon chose landlords, this is a government by and for the powerful.

That they’re going to a drug support group is almost worse. So familiar is Sturgeon with this ‘community’ that she accepts that she ‘took her eye off the ball’ – but not so much that she’s not still equipped to ‘introduce’ people to it.

Don’t kid yourself on; Sturgeon didn’t take her eye off the ball, she showed no interest in the ball whatsoever until it embarrassed her. This is a transactional administration and you get nothing in return for ‘helping junkies’. You actually have to be the worst on the entire continent at ‘helping junkies’ and have the chattering middle classes note it before it turns into a ball you actually accept you should have been watching in the first place.

That no-one came to their senses and called off this whole awful narcissistic shit-show is beyond me – communities where people live are not props for politicians

So the Prole-Down is clearly distasteful because it treats people’s lives and their suffering as cards to be played in a game of politicians’ bluff. But I think it goes beyond this.

It also speaks of this abominable culture of persona which has so polluted our civilisation, particularly since social media fooled people into thinking they have personal relationships with the powerful. Believe me, I’ve heard the powerful talking about ‘the plebs’ and if it’s a relationship it’s an abusive one.

Yet Scotland seems to have become a place where all issues of any note are now best understood to be a function of the personality of the First Minister. Climate change is about her lecturing world leaders to do things she hasn’t done, the pandemic is a crisis through which we must follow her despite the resultant death toll, independence is hers and hers alone to give…

No-one’s idea of a great leader, Douglas Ross seems to think that he can leverage some personality points for himself by hitching himself to the show, the jester questioning the queen’s supremacy.

About the best possible outcome from this now would be if all media are prevented from being within a mile of this stunt to enable Sturgeon and Ross to take a break from grandstanding for a second, to take a shot at listening to and understanding the lives they’re playing with and to pledge, with humility, never again to engage in this kind of mutual self-obsession.

One trusts they’ll bring the bananas and only toss them on the drier bits of the streets as they speed back to their comfortable lives in expensive cars.

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