2007 - 2022

Bono, Groupthink and Partners

The race is on for the job, as Robin McAlpine has put it, that “no one wants”. [1]

The three candidates to be the SNP’s next Depute Leader will gather this Saturday at Airdrie Town Hall for the first hustings of the contest. However, as others have already observed, the nature of the contest does not exactly suggest that the party is in rude internal health.

Keith Brown and Chris McEleny have both already tried, and failed, to become the party’s No.2. Julie Hepburn, although a respected activisit and former member of the party’s National Executive Committee, has little profile. She also just so happens to be the wife of Jamie Hepburn, MSP and Minister for Employability and Training. If Scotland is a village, Scotttish politics must be a family.

Kezia Dugdale, Scottish Labour’s former leader, newly-minted celebrity and honorary Shelia, is in a relationship with Jenny Gilruth, SNP MSP for the concrete jungle of Glenrothes. Jenny is Parliamentary Liaison Officer – bag-carrier, to you and me – to the Deputy First Minister, John Swinney.

John is married to Elizabeth Quigley, is a former BBC Scotland political journalist. While a reporter, Elizabeth was a frequent guest on the corporation’s flagship political analysis programme, Newsnight, presented then as now by Kirsty Wark.[2]

Kirsty – owner of the best and most bizarre accent in British broadcasting after the incomparably eccentric Robert Peston – is married to Alan Clements, STV’s Director of Content. Alan, one of Scotland’s “most experienced, and successful, TV producers”, [3] and Kirsty, one of Aunty’s biggest big hitters, are close to fellow Scottish power couple, the McConnells.

Kirsty and Alan invited old friends Jack and Bridget to their Majorca holiday home for Hogmanay in 2005 [4]. This Spanish soiree caused something of a stooshie back home, where it did not go unnoticed that Jack was First Minister and Bridget was Chief Executive of Glasgow Life, Glasgow City Council’s vast sports and culture arm.

Jack the lad, ever a man of the people, is now safely ensconced in the House of Lords. Bridget, meanwhile, was a member of the Organising Committee of the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games, the bidding for which Jack had helped to set in motion and win. Sitting alongside Bridget on the Organising Committee was the familiar face of Archie Graham, stalwart of Glasgow Labour politics and Glasgow City Council’s Executive Member for Culture and Sport. Archie is the husband of Johann Lamont, then-manager of the Scottish Labour “branch office” [5].

Jack, upon entering Bute House, was the subject of the most banal and obsequious political biography in recent memory, written by ex-Labour spin doctor Lorraine Davidson [6]. Lorraine, a one-time STV and BBC journalist now at the Times, is the ex-wife of the late Tom McCabe, Jack’s Finance Minister in the then-Scottish Executive. Lorraine is now married to David Martin MEP, an experienced Labour parliamentarian who also sits on the First Minister’s Standing Council on Europe.

David and the Standing Council report directly to the present occupant of Bute House, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon. Nicola’s partner is Peter Murrell, Chief Executive of the SNP, the party which governs the country and which Nicola leads. The two most powerful people in Scotland not only share a postcode, they sleep in the same bed.

Also now reporting to Nicola is Jack’s immediate successor as Labour leader, Wendy Alexander. In November, Nicola appointed Wendy to the Scottish Government’s Enterprise and Skills Strategic Board, which advises it on economic policy [7]. Wendy, also a former Scottish minister, is the sister of the Plato of Paisley, Douglas Alexander. Douglas is a former MP, Secretary of State and Brownite apparatchik, now an occasional academic at Harvard [8] and, even more bizarrely, an adviser to Bono [9].

Wendy is now “Vice Principal (International)” at the University of Dundee [10] and married to Professor Brian Ashcroft, Emeritus Professor of Economics at the University of Strathclyde. Brian used to be Director of the Fraser of Allander Institute, where he remains one of the most quoted commentators on the economy in the Scottish press. Brian’s new boss, and the Institute’s current Director, is Graeme Roy. Until May 2016, Graeme worked for Nicola as the Scottish Government’s Senior Economic Adviser and head of the First Minister’s Policy Unit.

Nicola’s close pal is Shona Robison, Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport. Shona separated from her husband Stewart Hosie MP in May 2016. Stewart was until that point also Nicola’s deputy in the SNP. Stewart’s successor as the party’s number two is Angus Robertson, now an ex-MP. Angus is married to Jennifer Dempsie, a key special advisor to Alex Salmond when he was First Minister. Jennifer, another ex-journalist, is now a lobbyist, helping to secure meetings for her clients with SNP ministers [11]. Her PR firm boasts of possessing “the best little black book [of contacts] in Scotland” [12].

Another of Alex’s key advisors was a man named Kevin Pringle. Kevin joined Edinburgh-based “strategic communications company” – lobbyists, to you and me – Charlotte Street Partners (CSP) in 2015. CSPs refuse to publish their client list, but it reportedly includes some of richest and most powerful companies, landowners and institutions in Scotland [13].

CSP was co-founded by Andrew Wilson, another alumnus of the SNP SpAd academy. Former MSP Andrew is close to high finance and big business having worked for the Fred Goodwin-era Royal Bank of Scotland as Deputy Chief Economist and as Head of Group Communications at the height of the 2009 crisis. In September 2016, Nicola appointed Andrew to chair the SNP’s Growth Commission, due to report soon, tasked with imagining Scotland’s post-independence economy.

Andrew’s one-time colleague and former CSP Partner is the journalist Chris Deerin. In 2016, Chris’ superior during his time writing for the Daily Mail, Political Editor Alan Roden, was appointed Scottish Labour’s Director of Communications by – yes, you guessed it – Kezia Dugdale! And so we return to where we began. I could go on.

Welcome to the absurdly small world of Scottish politics. If it all sounds very cosy, that might be because it is. Scottish politics is a place where everyone is on first name terms with “Willie” and “Kez”; where journalists call the Leader of the Opposition, an erstwhile Beeb reporter, “Ruth”; where “I’m with Nicola” is the actual slogan of an actual political party’s actual election campaign.

For fear of rocking the boat – lest they destabilise the good ship Consensus – criticism is diluted, dissention is self-censored and rebellion is rare. Independent-minded backbenchers were already an endangered species when the late, great Margo MacDonald – herself the wife of a one-time SNP depute – was at Holyrood. They are now surely extinct.

Scottish politics is evidently a place where who you know, and where you come from, is lubricant for climbing the greasy pole. Dense networks of close familial and personal ties cover the zenith of government, academia, media and business – what we might call Scotland’s “elite system”.

This elite system is composed of networks which dominate individual parties, but also cross party lines and generate a bipartisan elite class. By marriage, blood and close professional relationships, the Scottish elite is bound together in the most intimate way. In a small country such as ours, it is perhaps inescapable that Scotland’s elite is so intimate and incestuous. In a country of small towns and “a kent yer faither”, it is probably fitting.

Of course, every country suffers from centralisation, cronyism and nepotism. It is most evident in authoritarian states like the Russian Federation, where so many of Moscow’s richest and most powerful men just so happen to be old neighbours or ice hockey buddies of Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin [14]. But it blights our great, sprawling democracies too. A member of the Nehru-Gandhi family has governed India, the world’s largest and most diverse democracy, for over four of the seven decades since independence in 1947. The United States has its Kennedys, its Bushes, its Clintons – and now its Trumps.

Scotland has its own political dynasties. Take the Sarwar clan, which handed down a seat in parliament from father to son like an old watch. Or the Ewing dynasty which saw iconic elder SNP stateswoman Winnie, her son Fergus and his wife Margaret all elected to the “reconvened” Scottish Parliament on the very same day. Annabelle later became the fourth Ewing to be elected, rising to ministerial office alongside her brother.

Clearly this phenomenon is not new. The German sociologist Robert Michels identified what he called the “iron law of oligarchy” over a century ago [15]. Michels wrote of the inevitability of elite rule in any organisation or institution in 1911, because of “tactical and technical necessities” [16]. Direct democracy is impossible; ordinary citizens of capitalism simply do not have the time, resources or insider knowledge to properly challenge power; and getting anything done requires devolving power to smaller, manageable groups. Michels concludes: “who says organization, says oligarchy” [17].

What, then, is perhaps more remarkable than the simple fact that this problem exists, is how peculiarly little comment or concern it has generated. Indeed, few seem to think of it as a problem at all. Mandy Rhodes has noted that Sturgeon and Murrell often make big decisions alone, together [18]. Kenny MacAskill’s suggestion in 2017 that Murrell should step aside in the aftermath of the SNP’s UK election losses, was the very first time that the notion that a husband and wife duo running a country could potentially be problematic was publicly aired by any SNP figure of note [19]. Even among rank-and-file members, questioning the wisdom of this arrangement remains something of a taboo, or a trivial, petty afterthought.

(Imagine, for a moment, if Philip May ran the Conservative Party. Or, if you can, Cherie Blair as Labour’s General Secretary during her husband’s premiership.)

Sturgeon has claimed that she would sack her husband (“If I thought it was merited”), but the likelihood of this coming to pass seems vanishingly small – and therein lies the problem [20]. Under what circumstances exactly is a spouse likely to conclude that the love of their life deserves the boot?

For some, this narrative is deeply uncomfortable (which, you would think, rather proves the point). They might counter-argue, somewhat implausibly in a country of over five million people, that they just so happen to be the best, or even the only, person for the job. They would also likely dismiss the critique as “getting personal”, which the Scottish press has been commendably reluctant to do. Spouses of Scottish politicians have been relative non-entities compared to their English and American equivalents, where wives (and, unhappily, it is almost always wives) are wheeled out as political props with unseemly eagerness – before they are marked out by opponents for partisan attacks with disturbing relish.

This essay is not, however, an attack on individuals. Rather it is a questioning of the elite system which they have inherited and perpetuated. The concentration of political, social and economic power in fewer and fewer hands is not a private matter, but a political issue of vital public concern. This oligarchy – in the sense of government by the few – threatens our democracy, because it corrodes public faith in democratic politics, impedes social mobility and encourages a dangerous, and frankly dull, groupthink.

As Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky write in Manufacturing Consent, their influential 1988 analysis of the American media, elites inhabit a “system of presuppositions and principles that constitute an elite consensus, a system so powerful as to be internalized largely without awareness” [21]. Few within the system question its underlying ideologies or orthodoxies, far less the efficacy or morality of its very existence. Few members of Scotland’s elite will see themselves as such, or perceive their social incestuousness as in any way problematic.

“system of presuppositions and principles that constitute an elite consensus, a system so powerful as to be internalized largely without awareness”

Gerry Hassan [22] and others have repeatedly warned of this elite consensus, which makes our politicians nervous of, or even hostile to, new and radical ideas. The fatal timidity of the McConnell Executive, like the reflexive caution of the second-term Salmond Government, was no accident. The cosy social democratic consensus between Labour and the SNP is no accident. This particularly Scottish brand of leftist conservatism is an fundamental feature of our politics; an inevitable product of both the narrow horizons of devolution and the incestuous elite system which profits from and governs it.

Living in the same suburban neighbourhoods; attending the same dinner parties; graduating from the same universities; marrying into the same family networks; sending their children to the same schools – this undoubtedly has a homogenising and corrosive effect on our politics. Politics is a battle of competing ideas or it is surely nothing.

Holyrood has become the establishment club for “Glasgow University debaters and lawyers” pined after by Donald Dewar, the Glasgow University debater and lawyer par excellence [23]. One in four MSPs, one in four Scottish MPs, half of all Scottish Government ministers and seven of the ten-strong Scottish Cabinet, including the First Minister herself, are alumni of this single institution. As the Herald observed, this means that “Glasgow University alone has more influence in Scotland than Oxford and Cambridge combined have in the UK” [24].

Is this the kind of country we want to be? Can we honestly say that this is what meritocracy, diversity or social democracy looks like? Are our horizons and our ambitions – is our very idea of Scotland – so small? [25]

The words of Hugh MacDiarmid, full of scorn, should be ringing in our ears: “Scotland small? Our multiform, our infinite Scotland small?”



[1] Robin McAlpine (2018) “Robin McAlpine: No-one wants to be SNP deputy leader – which should worry you”, Common Space, 8 March 2018 https://www.commonspace.scot/articles/12478/robin-mcalpine-no-one-wants-be-snp-deputy-leader-which-should-worry-you

[2] Tom Peterkin (2001) “Swinney’s photocall with his new girlfriend takes on a surreal air”, The Telegraph, 2 January 2001 http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/1336100/Swinneys-photocall-with-his-new-girlfriend-takes-on-a-surreal-air.html

[3] The Scotsman (2009) “Interview: Alan Clements – Independent means”, The Scotsman, 8 June 2009 http://www.scotsman.com/lifestyle/interview-alan-clements-independent-means-1-1041496

[4] Matt Born and Auslan Cramb (2005) “Wark’s holiday ‘puts BBC in difficult spot’”, The Telegraph, 6 January 2005 http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/1480535/Warks-holiday-puts-BBC-in-difficult-spot.html

[5] BBC (2014) “Johann Lamont resigns saying role ‘questioned’”, BBC News Scotland, 25 October 2014 www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-scotland-politics-29772670

[6] Lorraine Davidson (2005) Lucky Jack: Scotland’s First Minister, Black & White Publishing: Edinburgh

[7] BBC (2017) “Wendy Alexander joins Scottish government advisory panel”, BBC News Scotland, 27 November 2017 http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-scotland-politics-42136451

[8] Harvard Kennedy School (2017) “The Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs: Rt. Hon. Douglas Alexander”, Harvard Kennedy School: The Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, 6 January 2017, https://www.belfercenter.org/person/rt-hon-douglas-alexander

[9] Jim Pickard (2015) “U2’s Bono hires Douglas Alexander as adviser”, Financial Times, 29 November 2015 https://www.ft.com/content/6babdf24-96b7-11e5-95c7-d47aa298f769

[10] University of Dundee (2017) “About: Ms. Wendy Alexander”, The University of Dundee https://www.dundee.ac.uk/about/athenaswan/meetourrolemodels/executivegroup/mswendyalexander/

[11] Daily Record (2015) “Former SNP leader slams party candidate for her role in the process that secured £150,000 grant to support T in the Park”, The Daily Record, 13 August 2015 http://www.dailyrecord.co.uk/news/politics/former-snp-leader-slams-party-6245811

[12] Daniel Sanderson (2017) “Former SNP aide boasts of her firm’s ‘little black book’”, The Times, 17 February 2017 https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/former-snp-aide-boasts-of-her-firms-little-black-book-pbxvp2dg7

[13] Peter Geoghegan (2017) “Charlotte Street Partners lobbying for Rupert Murdoch papers”, The Ferret, 5 April 2017 https://theferret.scot/charlotte-street-partners-lobbying-for-rupert-murdoch/

[14] Emma Burrows (2017) “Vladimir Putin’s inner circle: Who’s who, and how are they connected?”, CNN, 28 March 2017 http://edition.cnn.com/2017/03/28/europe/vladimir-putins-inner-circle/index.html

[15] Robert Michels (2001) Political Parties: A Sociological Study of the Oligarchical Tendencies of Modern Democracy, (trans.) Eden Paul & Cedar Paul, Batoche Books: Kitchener, Ontario

[16] Michels (2001) Political Parties, p. 241

[17] Michels (2001) Political Parties, p. 241

[18] Mandy Rhodes (2016) “Chapter 18: Nicola Sturgeon”, Scottish National Party Leaders, Biteback Publishing: London

[19] Paul Hutcheon (2017) “MacAskill: Sturgeon’s husband should be dumped as SNP chief executive”, The Herald, 11 June 2017 http://www.heraldscotland.com/news/15340704.MacAskill__Sturgeon___s_husband_should_be_dumped_as_SNP_chief_executive/?ref=mrb&lp=1

[20] Paul Hutcheon (2017) “MacAskill: Sturgeon’s husband should be dumped as SNP chief executive”, The Herald, 11 June 2017 http://www.heraldscotland.com/news/15340704.MacAskill__Sturgeon___s_husband_should_be_dumped_as_SNP_chief_executive/?ref=mrb&lp=1

[21] Edward Herman & Noam Chomsky (1988) Manufacturing Consent, Pantheon Books: New York City, p. 302

[22] Gerry Hassan (2014) Caledonian Dreaming: The Quest for a Different Scotland, Luath Press: Edinburgh

[23] Ian Davidson (2015) “The fall of Labour in Scotland – in their own words”, BBC News Scotland, 21 June 2015 http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-scotland-politics-33198969

[24] David Leask (2016) “Revealed: former students of Scotland’s ‘ancient’ universities control Holyrood”, The Herald, 9 August 2016 http://www.heraldscotland.com/news/14668093.Revealed__former_students_of_Scotland_s__ancient__universities_control_Holyrood/

[25] Hugh MacDiarmid (1994) “Scotland small?”, Complete Poems, Vol. II, Carcanet Press: Manchester



Comments (27)

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  1. Crubag says:

    Good article, to which you could add the current practice of politics, where the central party organisation increasingly determine the candidates, and the candidates don’t have the life skills that would give them independence outside of politics – which is why disgraced MPs and MSPs often hang on, they are dependents. They have no confidence they would be elected on their own merits.

    Social media is another aspect that seems to be having a narrowing effect on expressed opinion.

    The Scottish Parliament also has the added issue of the list system. On one hand a lifeline for smaller parties, but it is also a tool for central party control. Not with the programme? Not on the list.

  2. kel says:

    Interesting and timely reminder of the need for a vigorous debate, transparency of decision-making and information and holding to account of politicians and senior policy makers. During the 2014 referendum it was positive that a vast range of activists and organisations came together under the ‘Yes’ umbrella as it helped focus efforts and galvanise the message. However it was in the diversity of voices that helped engage voters and helped them feel ownership with the campaign. Perhaps in an attempt to keep the cause moving there has been a fear of ‘divide and conquer’ amongst those who laboured under the Yes umbrella? However it is very clear that group think and cosy, unchallenged decision-making will ultimately be very bad for Scotland if it goes unchecked and I applaud you for holding power to account on a daily basis. No Grit. No Pearl.

    1. Iain McIntosh says:

      “Welcome to the absurdly small world of Scottish politics. If it all sounds very cosy, that might be because it is. ”

      Is that comment true or unique?

      Is it not the natural consequence of Scotland being a medium sized European country with a small population?

      By enlarge in Scotland, the brightest go to university in Glasgow or Edinburgh, there they make their life long friends and find their political feet, join parties, secure their first job in Glasgow or Edinburgh and settle down with their partner. This has always been the way, exceptions being those that emigrate.

      But this phenomena of “those in the know, knowing each other” is not restricted to Scotland, look at the English cabinet under Cameron, May or any English PM, Eton, Harrow, Oxford and Cambridge! labour are very similar, but with different schools, but same Oxbridge university(ies).

      Comment on here that gets right to the core point is:

      “During the 2014 referendum it was positive that a vast range of activists and organisations came together under the ‘Yes’ umbrella as it helped focus efforts and galvanise the message. However it was in the diversity of voices that helped engage voters and helped them feel ownership with the campaign.”

      Taking the debate out of the ownership of the politicians and giving it to the people has been key to securing peoples freedom across the globe.

      I am absolutely in favour of SNP, Greens and others in arts, unions, business and civic organisations spearheading, but the people must own the process and drive them!

      YES movement will win by winning hearts and minds. BT, only have the fear they can buy thought money. We need to get YES up and running immediately!

  3. mince'n'tatties says:

    David, you should be commended for this exhaustive airing of our near incestuous political controllers spiders web.
    I look in vain though for even one name that doubts the European project for as much as a millisecond. Not a single dissenting voice questioning the given orthodoxy for 1,018,322 leavers.
    A lopsided oligarchy is indeed shoogly.

  4. david kelly says:

    Excellent. Although reading this just a few minutes after Craig Murray’s excellent excoriation of the SNP’s ambition to achieve ” a mangement buyout of the local NATO franchise” is a touch depressing…..

  5. Peter Curran says:

    A fascinating and detailed analysis. But it leaves the question – what’s to be done about it?

    It seems inevitable, especially in a small country, that such relationships will exist. I spent my life in large companies and working with large companies, and the best had mechanisms to constrain relationships potentially prejudicial to the aims of the organisation. One international company specified that no manager at any level could have a relative working at any level in his or her chain of command, and if the recruitment and career development of essential people demanded that they be hired or appointed to a post within that chain of command, the most senior manager had to be moved to another post. That was the most radical policy I came across.

    Of course large organisations have something that political parties never, by their very nature, can have – a human resources department responsible for guiding policy formation in such areas, and monitoring and policing policy in recruitment, selection and promotion.

    It is often observed that the curse of party politics in a democracy is patronage, and patronage, bad enough in itself, has its vices compounded by nepotism. When political loyalty, envelope stuffing and canvassing is reward by salaried appointment or selection as a candidate for a parliament, the best candidate for the job principle goes out of the window. This is even more dangerous at the candidate selection panel for political office stage – in effect, the voters don’t get to vote for the MP or MSP candidate of their choice, they get to vote for the candidate small cabal of senior party members has permitted them to vote for.

    Unless radical measure are forced on political parties by law, this will never change. I am not hopeful it ever can be changed, and we are therefore left with only the hope that the incestuous elite will be a relatively benevolent one – rather like hoping for a benevolent dictatorship!

  6. Squigglypen Publishing says:

    Excellent article . I did laugh. What’s to be done? Relax I have the answer. Did you know that Tunnocks, a well known family run and successful Scottish confectionary business, were presented with the Prestigious Candy Kettle award for services to the Confectionary Industry in 1999. Why don’t we set up a Wooden Spoon Award for our family of politicians? It might encourage them to get INDEPENDENCE for our nation ..before I kick the bucket. (or kettle)
    First class research David Kelly.


  7. Peter Curran says:

    Afterthought – perhaps Scottish Nationalism had to create a new Scottish Establishment to counter the power, influence and dead hand of the old unionist Establishment, far from dead. Maybe putting our own patronage, nepotism and revolving doors problems to bed must be deferred until after independence?

    But Nicola could make the biggest gesture of all. Is she able to do it, and demonstrate total objectivity? It’s a huge ask – but I do ask it of her.

  8. w.b.robertson says:

    Excellent piece about Scotland`s political elite. All very cosy and all pissin in the same money/career pot. But it does not stop there…the [politicians are then provided with loadsoflolly (courtesy the taxpayer) to employ a host of relatives and pals as aides/assistants/office managers/etc etc. Plus exes and perks. All aboard a political gravy train and which flag the train carries does not matter.
    Once the question was what can I do for the Movement, now it is what the party can do for me.

  9. Jo says:

    Just one inaccuracy. Lorraine Davidson was never married to Tom McCabe although he’s one of a number of politicians she was involved with.

  10. Jo says:

    Very thought-provoking article, depressing too. Great comments.

  11. Monty says:

    you forgot to mention Robin’s SNP family connections

  12. Willie says:

    load of tosh.

    Not sure what this drivel is intended to say. Pathetic piece Bella if may opine. not up to the usual good standards of considered comment.

    Must howl at the moon now. They’re all out against me.

    1. Robert Graham says:

      Agreed Willie so many words to get the usual disguised i dont like the SNP . It might be better if Bella and its contributors started Pissn oot the tent rather than IN , after the first few lines it became obvious where this was going padded out with loads of history and Guff , ok we get it Scotland’s a small country so people know each other so bloody what it happens get over it .
      A final word about the left wing that has attached itself to the YES movement the support Bella gave to that disruptive element RISE and backed by the right wing press is still causing problems for the SNP government HAPPY ? .

  13. NodToBob says:

    Great article. This is why we need a broad based independence movement, separate from the SNP. If that doesn’t happen we’ll end up with a prospectus designed by (and for) the likes of Charlotte Street Partners and people won’t buy that. (Why bother voting for a tartanised version of the same shitty system we have at present?) The Yes campaign, the real one on the streets, was all about building a different, better Scotland and we’ll never get that if we leave it to the liberal Scottish establishment.

  14. SleepingDog says:

    This is presumably why drones and missiles target weddings and funerals: decapitation strikes.

    The UK is so backward as to not have yet removed hereditary monarchy, second-chamber peers and land-owners. In spite of family politics literally causing centuries of warfare.

    Even when robots take politicians’ jobs, their AIs will be interbreeding.

  15. Graeme Purves says:

    I have just been reading about the Byzantine Empire, where Justinian I championed Chalcedonian orthodoxy while his wife, the Empress Theodora, led the Monophysite opposition. This proved a very effective way of managing Imperial and Church politics!

    1. Crubag says:

      And they both lived to be saints, which I doubt our current crop will manage.

  16. Redgauntlet says:

    Douglas Alexander advising Bono?

    I confess I didn’t realize Douglas Alexander offered musical tuition / singing classes too… ; )

    It makes you want to throw up, doesn’t it? All these shiny happy people holding hands…

    And of course, you can see the coziness in Parliament and in policy… David Kelly’s piece explains A LOT…

    Which is why I still think we need an indy party on the Left. Just to shake things up a little…

  17. Duncan Sneddon says:

    ‘…where “I’m with Nicola” is the actual slogan of an actual political party’s actual election campaign.’

    That’s a rather different category, isn’t it? That slogan is an attempt to create a sense of familiarity between a party leader and the country in general; the others are actual manifestations of real familiarity among, as you demonstrate, a fairly small group. This example is overreach.

    1. Crubag says:

      Doesn’t it risk substituting people for principles? It’s now what you know it’s who you know.

      Which was an old complaint in Scotland and England (though on an even more hereditary basis), and plenty of examples elsewhere.

  18. John Cawley says:

    An exhaustive and commendable dissection of the networks who really run Scotland. They transcend parties, they defy the electoral process. They lose elections and become lobbyists and/or commentators, untouched by the electorate, giving the lie to the myth of Scottish exceptionalism. We have developed all the faults of established political systems like Westminster in a fraction of the time. We can fire away our complaints to the BBC, contact the journalists, email the elected representatives, submit the FOI requests, but at the end of it all, Scotland belongs to the self selecting establishment so effectively skewered by Mr Kelly. The elite he describes must be subjected to such regular and rigorous scrutiny as that provided by articles such as Mr Kelly’s simply in order to protect and promote a healthy democracy in Scotland.

    1. Alf Baird says:

      Arguably there is more than one elite running Scotland. The article alludes to the political elite. However there is also an ‘institutional’ elite in Scotland comprising those heading up the hundreds of public/semi public social institutions which actually spend the money Holyrood and Westminster budgets for. The latter elite is predominantly drawn from the privileged classes, and from the private schools and elite universities, and it is of course Unionist with a big U. It is the latter elite who arguably really run Scotland (down!) for their own benefit, not the political talking heads. However all told neither elite properly reflects Scotland in the wider sense – they are all part of the £100k+ public salaried ‘mob’ and hence probably make up only 1% or so of the population.

      1. Yes this was definitely a take on the media-political elite but there are many other elite groups, some visible and some less so.

        I wasn’t sure of the Glasgow University – Oxbridge comparison – I’m not sure this stands up as if they are comparable levels of privilege / closed worlds.

        Some of this too is about being a relatively small country and less to do with cronyism.

        1. Alf Baird says:

          Re the Glasgow Uni ‘connection, Principal Muscatelli seems pretty well in with the SNP Scottish Government as some kind of economic guru, though thus far with questionable results, and the SNP Growth Commission has Glasgow Uni rather all pervading as far as I recall.

  19. SleepingDog says:

    Mona Chalabi had a crack at finding national statistics for nepotism (only part of what we are looking at here) in this Guardian article:
    Measuring nepotism: is it more prevalent in the US than in other countries?
    “it’s almost like governments don’t have an interest in publishing data on national nepotism.”

  20. Fergie says:

    Great piece. In this section below though, you missed out the third sector. That sector – predominantly funded by SG and also key to their “consultation” processes and policy making – is also rife with the same family and personal ties.

    “Dense networks of close familial and personal ties cover the zenith of government, academia, media and business – what we might call Scotland’s “elite system”.

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