Scotland has more than its fair share of carpetbaggers. They arrive every week looking for a ‘better life’. Call them economic migrants if you like. A list would stretch the capital’s Princes Street end-to-end.
They include too many ready to counsel against Scotland’s interests, now ennobled for their sacrifice, members of the House of Lords, or hope to be rewarded ere too long. They are opportunists of a high order.
A carpetbagger’s job is short-term, a place to make as much noise as they can until noticed by London colleagues, and then receive the call to higher office, their assessment of their abilities vindicated.
It was the opportunistic ambitions of America’s white northerners that gave rise to the pejorative term, ‘carpetbagger’ – derived from the carpet fabric of their luggage – when they moved south to exploit the reconstruction of Southern states after the Civil War.
The term applied to those in Scotland holds the same resonance, though the trade is in the opposite direction, south to north. And let us be in no doubt, after losing the Referendum, even by such a small margin, Scotland is under reconstruction by the Tory party and those that think like them. There are fat pickings to be had by the belligerent.
British carpetbaggers are normally white southerners who come to Scotland to exploit its diminished political structures and hamstrung institutions. The intention is to build a reputation either fronting a leading Scottish institution, or to get elected to political office, each seen as a temporary situation.
Contemporarily speaking, the term carpetbagger refers to roving financial opportunists, often of middle-class means, that spot opportunities for personal enhancement and financial gain to which they would not normally be entitled had they been working in England. And of course, they are adherents to the doctrines of the Right.
Professor Adam Tomkins
Professor Adam Tomkins is one such recruit to the cause of self-enhancement. Whenever I hear his name spoken I think of the spotty oik at the back of the class skulking during the morning’s reading of the register. “Tomkins, Tomkins! Playing pocket billiards again? Hands on the desk, face the front!”
Tomkins is a good example of the breed. He was born in London, has a degree from a second-class university, East Anglia, was once a renegade socialist republican. In fact, together with illustrator and author Alasdair Gray, he published a pamphlet so socialist in ideals and independence for Scotland it was practically written in blood.
Tomkins is now a staunch member of the Tory Party in Scotland, and also manages to love the Royal family. His valued colleagues are members of Northern Ireland’s odious DUP party with whom he has cosy chats about ways to block Scotland’s progress.
Like any man on the political make he detests nationalism that is not English nationalism, the side he perceives where his bread is most buttered. He feels Scotland needs to be taught a lesson in humility, and when it comes to humility he thinks himself the best person to teach it. He might well have a Ph.D. in Supreme Arrogance from the University of Orange.
His most notorious assignment, or perhaps assignation, was as a member of the Smith Commission, the one cobbled together to honour the infamous pledge called ‘The Vow’. The outcome is best described as a sly attempt to destabilise an elected administration in order to stabilise it under a Westminster administration. How did a man who hates Scotland so much that he is prepared to harm the rights and happiness of its citizens get onto a committee established to enrich Scotland?
Teaching constitutional law at Glasgow University at the rise of Scotland’s confidence gave Tomkins a taste for the limelight. (Have we nobody in Scotland qualified to teach constitutional law but him?) Journalists are apt to introduce him as an ‘expert’ without caring about accuracy. Name tags aye impress them.
In good carpetbagger form he stood for the Scottish Parliament. Voters rejected him outright, but by the cockamamie rules of the system he got an also-ran place in Holyrood. As presenters of BBC’s Bargain Hunt say, “There’s no losers only runners up”.
Sir Timothy Clifford
Scotland’s most recent derided carpetbagger was the excessively flamboyant Sir Timothy Peter Plint Clifford. Plint always sounds like a posh Englishman buying milk, “I wish to make a purchase of ay half-plint, please, thenk you”.
Clifford arrived as many English do by a series of small-time posts, most likely supported by over-ripe references to have him removed to another place: assistant keeper to Manchester’s Art Gallery, assistant keeper of drawings at London’s British Museum, and then the big jump to director of our National Gallery, there free to create as much mayhem as his heart desired, which he duly did.
Known as Sir Timothy, and for his frequent verbal howlers ‘that buffoon’, he set about alienating Scotland’s art world with a fervour born of a man on an evangelical mission.
The first thing he did was to stuff all gallery staff into tartan trews, much to their embarrassment, parading his knowledge of Scottish culture that began and stopped in the 19th century.
Is that all he did?
Next, he turned the National Gallery on the Mound into a shrine for the excesses of Augustus Pugin’s Victorian gothic. For Clifford, the future of art lay in the Englishman’s colonial past.
Walls were clad in heavy-duty intense red flock wallpaper, ornate Victorian and Italian furniture placed everywhere, and a plethora of gilded paintings strewn about walls from floor to ceiling where you could not see detail. The effect can be likened to sitting in a dentist’s stuffy old drawing room waiting for a tooth to be extracted.
The Telegraph said of Clifford: “An omnivorous collector, he drew little distinction between the fine and decorative arts, being blind to the hierarchies that assign to painting and sculpture more prestige than drawings, furniture or prints. Though he started late, Clifford gradually turned the National Gallery of Scotland into an encyclopaedic museum, a mini-V&A or Ashmolean.“
Terrific. That’s exactly what Scotland’s National Gallery needed to become, a mini-V&A, an ersatz copy. Everyone will visit it, rather than the real one in London.
Clifford reduced himself to an interior decorator given a large budget, spending the lot on meaningless artefacts. His one and only reasonable purchase, the ‘Three Muses’, is shared with the V&A in London. As mentioned earlier, it is who you know.
On his retirement the Telegraph, always keen to insult Scotland by patronising it stupid, ran a page of puffery entitled, “The Man Who Put Scotland on the Map“. (The Scotsman, the Torygraph’s cousin in Scotland, followed suit.) Clifford’s successor, John Leighton, is a much more low-key chap, educated in Edinburgh in fine art. Never slow to be condescending the Torygraph said, “Once again Edinburgh has picked the right man”. The collective groans of derision rose higher than Clifford’s self-esteem, which is to say, above and beyond the pinnacle of the Scott Monument.
Sadly, the great elevation, the top London post Clifford had set has heart on securing, head of the V&A in London, “the only job I ever wanted” never materialised. He drifted off into relative obscurity. Being a professional carpetbagger does not guarantee international career success let alone world domination.
If the definition of a carpetbagger is someone or some group seeing a vacuum, a gap in the market, somebody who goes out of their way for personal profit at the expense of others, then the raggle-taggle political party RISE must fit that category.
RISE calls itself an alliance of the Scottish Socialists, Radical Independence, the Scottish Left Project and other groups, each planning to fight elections as part of an anti-austerity coalition similar to Syriza in Greece and Podemos in Spain. There’s ambition for you.
RISE stands for Respect, Independence, Socialism and Environmentalism, as if somehow the SNP does not already represent all those aspirations.
RISE is a Johnny-come-lately hotchpotch of egos, a pot pourri of like minds but with different political goals, surely a disaster in the making, just ask Jim Sillars of his experience. However, after losing the referendum the popularity of RISE petered out, not that it was peaking in thousands prior to that damned day.
RISE is a prime example of how Scots get onto a winning streak and no sooner the summit is in sight, split into arguing factions and fail to conquer the peak altogether.
Fox said: “RISE is an important ingredient in maximizing the strength of the on-going independence movement. The independence movement does not belong to the SNP. It is not Nicola’s plaything. Supporting Scotland’s democratic right to self-determination does not make you a Scottish nationalist, it makes you a democrat.”
“Nicola’s play thing’ – there’s socialist generosity for you. Sturgeon has devoted her life to Scotland’s democracy. The Better Together mob are surely smirking at the sight of their work carried on by their RISE opponents.
According to RISE the working class – most of Glasgow and Dundee who voted for independence – is somehow mistaken in allegiance. Fox is here to put them right.
Like Ian Rankin’s Rebus murder set in the Scottish Parliament less than one year after it opened, the pop-up shop appearance of RISE was far too early, pal.
To all carpetbaggers – Get a life! Don’t steal ours!