Andrew Marr deserves to be canonised as our new patron saint - Brian Monteith

Today, as our now secular Scotland celebrates the day of Andrew, our patron saint, without, I suggest, the majority of our people really being able to explain why, we now endure a similar void, only far larger and darker at the heart of our democracy. It is this: how do we hold our government to account?

Andrew Marr put First Minister Nicola Sturgeon through a tough grilling on his politics show
Andrew Marr put First Minister Nicola Sturgeon through a tough grilling on his politics show

That is the short question. The longer version is: how do we hold our government to account when the opposition parties are more willing to agree than disagree with it; when so many in the media are servile to it for motives of self-interest; when it is run as a personality cult, not just with one First Minister but then for the next who follows on; when it faces no check or balance from a second chamber that might return contrition and compromise to our body politic; when legal interdicts prevent investigations being reported and these legal interdicts themselves cannot be reported either; and when – in this not exhaustive list – the ruling party by its own constitution does not brook any dissent that allows the searing light of truth to illuminate the dark void so it is gone? How can we obtain justice?

When we develop the original question to cover some of the reasons Scotland resembles a one party state more like North Korea than too many can bring themselves to admit, we can see scale of the challenge – and how the advantage is with our masters.

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Let me, therefore, raise on this day of our Patron Saint a Hosanna for Andrew Marr who, on his political show yesterday, interviewed Nicola Sturgeon with the informed and indefatigable curiosity required of him

It is not enough to ask a question – frankly anyone can do that – the skill is to have a range of follow-up questions at the ready to deal with anticipated answers to the first, so that any deflections, distortions or deceit can be challenged.

It is this technique of having even more powerful secondary questions that has made another Andrew, Andrew Neil, also formerly of this parish, such a formidable interrogator – often appearing better informed than his victim. So we should rejoice that Andrew Marr took it upon himself to not settle for the first answer but to ask again and again if need be.

The result was required viewing for anyone who claims to have a care for Scotland, be they of nationalist bent or favouring the opposition parties. The First Minister was decidedly uncomfortable when confronted with the fact her answers used sleight of hand or went beyond being economical with the truth.

The facts cannot be refuted; there is no justification for the anti-Boris Johnson narrative promoted by both London’s metropolitan elite and Scottish nationalists that Nicola Sturgeon has handled the Coronavirus pandemic better than the UK government.

There is no excuse for Scotland’s shocking record of continuing to send infected patients from hospitals into the virtual petri dish that was our care homes when it had already been stopped in England.

There is no explaining away the failure to introduce restrictions to Glasgow when the evidence showed it was enduring infections far worse than those in Aberdeen that was shut down.

Andrew Marr’s snare of putting on screen the facts about how Scotland ‘s recent death rate for Covid-19 deaths per million is “considerably worse” should have been enough for any reasonable and objective person to accept we have been lied to about the virus being almost defeated in Scotland during the summer.

The First Minister was made to squirm – and well she might. Of course she had answers, she is a skilled politician and a quick thinking communicator – but the facts are chiels that winna ding – and the lesson is that getting the facts across that refute her attempts at deceit (for that is what it is) must be repeated ad nauseum.

Just as telling the same lie often enough will see it become accepted as truth, so the only way to break that spell is to use the government’s own statistics against it repeatedly until the penny drops.

This not only requires the media to be willing and able to repeat the truth, it also requires the opposition to be wear that position on its sleeves with pride. Labour should be Labour; representing the working class (for people do still self-identify in this way), speaking up for those without a voice and lacking the self-confidence or opportunities to progress in what can be a hard world.

Conservative’s need to be conservative; seeking to maximise personal responsibility so the state need not be called on to be so large that it does more damage than good.

Thus the parties should learn from how the SNP this week claimed responsibility for making sanitary products free when the origin of the reform was from Labour MSP Monica Lennon – and the Tory policy of free school breakfasts and lunches for all primary pupils announced by Douglas Ross back in September was hijacked by John Swinney. The SNP now owns these policies.

The reality is the SNP government cannot be outbid for supposedly “free” bribes that are funded by state borrowing paid for by English taxpayers. It can always up the ante. The opposition needs to get smart and ask how would the SNP pay for such benefits of being in the UK when it already presides over a financial black hole to go with the dark democratic void – both of its own making.

Establishing and telling the truth like Andrew Marr did is what will defeat the SNP. Let that be the lesson for St Andrew’s Day.

Brian Monteith is editor of ThinkScotland.org