Scotland has had more than its fair share of carpetbaggers. Like refugees, they arrive every week looking for a ‘better life’. Call them economic migrants if you like. A list would stretch end-to-end of the capital’s Princes Street. They include those who counselled against Scotland’s interests and are now ennobled, members of the House of Lords.
Professor Adam Tomkins is one such recruit to the cause of self-enhancement.
Professor Adam Tomkins
Whenever I hear his name spoken I think of an errant alley cat. Next to mind comes 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!”
It was white northerners whose opportunistic ambitions gave rise to the pejorative term, ‘carpetbagger’ – a name 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 brave and 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, and then return south to be ennobled in the autumn of their days, a member of, say, the Garrick Club, smoking.
Contemporarily speaking, the term carpetbagger refers to roving financial opportunists, often of middle-class means, who spot opportunities for personal enhancement and financial gain to which they would not normally be entitled had they waited for promotion in England. In Scotland’s case, how does it work?
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 republican but is now an adviser to the Tory party in Scotland, and has also managed an about-face to love the Royal family.
Like any man on the political make he detests nationalism that is not English nationalism. He feels Scotland needs to be taught a lesson in humility, and when it comes to humility he is the man to teach it.
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. By constraining the Edinburgh Parliament’s rights on taxation, and imposing extreme doctrinaire policies on welfare from London, Westminster hopes the SNP fail to provide a buffer against severe austerity measures and lose face with voters.
You have to ask yourself, how did a man who hates Scotland get invited onto a committee established purportedly to enrich Scotland? The answer is, to impoverish Scotland.
Teaching constitutional law at Glasgow University at the rise of Scotland’s national confidence gave Tomkins a taste for the limelight. He appeared on political programmes as the Voice of Unreason.
Lately, in good carpetbagger form, he announced he would like to stand for the Scottish Parliament. Listening to him speak fails to find any concern for voters, the only reason to become a politician. What we get from Tomkins is a cynical career move.
To a carpetbagger their 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 back in the centre of their universe, their assessment of their abilities vindicated.
It really is all about who you know and the contacts you have.
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.
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.
In reality, Clifford reduced himself to an interior decorator given a large budget and spending the lot on meaningless artefacts. His one and only reasonable purchase, the ‘Three Muses’, is shared with the V&A in London. A 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 world success let alone domination.
If the definition of a carpetbagger is someone or some group seeing a vacuum, a gap in the market, goes out of their way to grasp the opportunity and profit by it at the expense of others, then the newly announced 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 who plan to fight May’s Holyrood election as part of an anti-austerity coalition similar, as the Sunday Herald announced it, to Syriza in Greece and Podemos in Spain. There’s ambition for you.
RISE stands for Respect, Independence, Socialism and Environmentalism, an attempt to be all things to all voters not SNP members. Only Toryism is missing, but their inclusion alters the acronym to TRIES. Its appearance is a Johnny-come-lately hotchpotch of independence supporters, a pot pourri of a gathering.
RISE is reported to have attracted around 500 ‘supporters’ to its inaugural event in Glasgow. How they can be called supporters at this early stage is questionable. Interested voters gathered to discuss ideals is truer. Its appearance is a prime example of how we Scots can get onto a winning streak – after seventy years of political struggle, holding power in Holyrood plus a history-making fifty-six MPs at Westminster – and no sooner the summit is neared we decide to split solidarity into factions and take different routes at the last-minute. RISE has all the components for perpetual bickering and ultimate failure.
So, what did Colin Fox, a ‘former socialist’, (there’s that carpetbagger move already) say that simultaneously unites RISE behind independence but equally removes it from the one party dedicated to regaining sovereignty?
He 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.”
In one paragraph he states power belongs to RISE, implying RISE will take it by removing votes from the SNP. The snide remark at Nicola Sturgeon who has devoted her life to Scotland’s democracy is insulting. The Better Together mob are surely smirking at the sight of their work carried on by their opponents.
With all the prescience of a hedgehog rolling into a ball on seeing an approaching vehicle, Fox proclaims, “With imagination and organisation we can build a programme to confront the evils of poverty and inequality in our society and use the powers of the Scottish Parliament to give working class people a voice, to give people back some hope. Justice and equality is not going to be handed out by the rich and the powerful, it’s going to be seized by us, the people, from below.”
The working class, which included most of Glasgow who voted for independence and then nominated SNP MPs, are somehow mistaken in their belief they voted for hope.
I can well understand distaste for Labour’s monumentally inept Scottish branch. I agree Labour London is treacherous and untrustworthy. And I can sympathise with socialist Scots who do not see Jeremy Corbyn as the deliverer of a free Scotland. But at this stage I cannot see RISE as anything more than a group of disaffected proselytisers forming yet another political party where the last half-dozen did not do it for them, nor the three previously to which they belonged.
Like Rankin’s Rebus murder set in the Scottish Parliament less than one year after it opened, it’s all to early, pal.