Postcards
from Scotland

We asked a selection of SR
contributors for a memory
of an outstanding holiday in
Scotland – good or bad



Marian Pallister in Tobermory
George Chalmers in Ayr
Islay McLeod in Rockcliffe
Judith Jaafar in Carrick Castle
Barney MacFarlane on Arran



Bill Jamieson on Bute
Tessa Ransford in North Berwick
Michael Elcock on Harris
Ronnie Smith in Largs

Katie Grant on Mull
Thom Cross in Kirkcaldy
Morelle Smith in Glencoe
Bob Cant in Carnoustie

Robin Downie on Arran
Bruce Gardner in Glen Livet
Fiona MacDonald on Tiree
Walter Humes at home

Jill Stephenson at Loch Duich
Quintin Jardine in Elie
Iain Macmillan in Gleneagles
Douglas Marr on Skye
Andrew McFadyen in Kilmarnock

R D Kernohan on Arran
David Torrance on Iona
Catherine Czerkawska at Loch Ken
Chris Holligan in Elie

Rose Galt in Girvan
Alex Wood on Arran
Andrew Hook in Glasgow
Alasdair McKillop in St Andrews

Sheila Hetherington on Arran
Anthony Seaton on Ben Nevis
Paul Cockburn at Loch Ness
Jackie Kemp in a taxi
Angus Skinner on Skye

30.11.11
No. 486

The Scottish Review continues to make waves. The row over funding of the arts in the Highlands, revealed exclusively in SR, was then extensively covered by the BBC, while the Sunday Times, Times and Guardian all followed up the literary feud.
    The recent weekly readership figure of 18,882 was one of our best-ever, though still short of the record (20,930) achieved in one week in early September.
     All this is achieved without a marketing budget; and without any form of advertising or sponsorship.
     We depend entirely on the generosity of private individuals (the Friends of the Scottish Review) to meet our essential costs and pay our tireless deputy editor, Islay McLeod, who brings the magazine together three days a week every week. 
     Fund-raising, then, is essentially an all-year-round activity. But it is particularly vital in the quarter running up to the end of the year: in order to give us a sound financial base for the new year.
     I appeal to readers of the magazine who have not so far enrolled as Friends to ensure the future of the Scottish Review by signing up.
     SR is one of the very few independent voices left in the Scottish media. It is non-party-political, espouses no ideology, and is free of corporate interference. It exists to champion intellectual freedom in this country: a freedom which is constantly threatened.
     Help us to survive and flourish.

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Kilmelford, Argyll
Photograph by
Islay McLeod



The Leveson inquiry

 


Should we start

worrying about

free speech?

 

Part 2: Questions of taste

 

Kenneth Roy


When Jack McLean, the first Scottish journalist to have been put through the mincer at the Leveson inquiry into media standards, was introduced to the readers of the Glasgow Herald on 1 May 1981, the then editor of the paper, Arnold Kemp, issued a health warning of remarkable prescience:
      'The Editor regrets to announce that in a moment of inattention he made an agreement for Jack McLean to contribute regular articles...The Urban Voltaire has, however, been given stringent warnings on questions of taste, although readers of an irritable or genteel disposition are advised to give him a miss.'
      Mr McLean himself, many years later in a volume of autobiography, referred to the persona created for him as that of 'the cheeky wee droll who pushed the barriers out a bit'; even his alter-ego, the Urban Voltaire, was not 'self-styled' (as is usually claimed) but thrust upon him, perhaps by Arnold Kemp. In the same book I am cast as the 'good but by no means uncritical friend' who understood both his melancholy and the 'sulphurous vituperation' of his personality.
     By August 1991, Mr McLean had forgotten those 'stringent warnings on questions of taste' if indeed he had ever taken them seriously. In one of his columns that month, he did not 'push the barriers out a bit', but took those barriers and smashed them.
     A few weeks earlier, 15-year-old Barbara Glover had been ordered to be detained without limit of time for the murder of Diane Watson, aged 16, in the playground of Whitehill Secondary School in Glasgow. Diane's friends carried her the short distance to her house, where she died of stab wounds. It was a disturbing case to say the least, made more tragic still by the suicide 18 months later of Diane's brother Alan, who was found with press cuttings in his hands.
     It seems that one of these cuttings was Mr McLean's article of August 1991 in which he discussed the trial and sentence of Barbara Glover in unusually emotional language. The sulphurous vituperation in this case was directed at Scottish justice. But the object of his 'long-lost compassion', re-ignited by the Glover case, was not the victim, Diane Watson, but the perpetrator.
     Mr McLean dwelt on what he saw as the iniquity of the 'horrible punishment' and 'savage fate' of Barbara Glover. 'I see no rationality to the sentence...Why are we adding one tragedy to another? Nothing can bring back young Diane Watson's life, nothing at all. To add the destruction of another child's life, a child who will live with the appalling trauma of her terrible deed in that moment of madness, cannot be, surely, acceptable to a civilised people'.
     Was it a moment of madness? Since Barbara Glover had packed the murder weapon in her bag before going to school that morning, there was evidence of premeditation. No matter: Mr McLean, unexpectedly reinvented as a bleeding heart liberal, came close to suggesting that Miss Glover, convicted of murder, should not have been detained at all. It is a point of view which would not have seen the light of day in the Daily Mail. Mr McLean, the resident controversialist, got away with it in the Glasgow Herald because Arnold Kemp, his patron, ran a fine, radical paper of independent voices.

 

There should have been an apology. It would not quite have disposed of the matter, but it would have softened the bitter resentment and frustration
that the grieving family has been carrying for so long.


     Mr McLean's error of judgement – his professional moment of madness – was not to suggest that Barbara Glover should have gone unpunished  but to make offensive references to her victim based on a very poor understanding of the case. He said that it was a case based on class: that while Barbara Glover ('lost distressed child') came from the wrong side of the tracks, Diane Watson had 'the smart white socks of the daughter of the labour aristocracy'. I am not sure what the 'labour aristocracy' amounts to, or how people in Dennistoun, Glasgow, qualify for membership of it, but the Watsons were struggling badly. Mr Watson was unemployed; Mrs Watson was working part-time as a school meals attendant; the household income amounted to £75 a week. Yet Mr McLean hinted that Barbara Glover had been provoked by 'snobbish disdain'.
     At the risk of losing my status as the author's good but by no means uncritical friend, it is necessary to state that this was deeply unpleasant stuff – 'horrible' to borrow one of Mr McLean's adjectives – and that Mr and Mrs Watson were entitled to feel sickened by it. There should have been an apology. It would not quite have disposed of the matter, but it would have softened the bitter resentment and frustration that the grieving family has been carrying for so long. There was no apology. It is too late for one now.
     Nevertheless, two questions remain. The first is a question of personal fairness. Is it fair that one bad lapse should ruin a man's reputation, as Jack McLean's has been ruined by exposure at the Leveson inquiry 20 years after the events complained of? 
     The second is of more general importance. This inquiry was set up as a result of, and in the immediate aftermath of, the telephone hacking scandal and the revelations of widespread corruption and criminality involving the Metropolitan Police as well as the media. There was no expectation – or, if there was, it passed me by – that the inquiry would also be concerned with the expression of opinion. Are Leveson and his advisers, including the director of the human rights organisation Liberty, now telling us that in effect nothing is off-limits and that we should start worrying about free speech itself?

Click here for part 1


2Kenneth Roy is editor of the Scottish Review

Tomorrow in part 3: Defaming the dead?