It is odd to think that Kenyon Wright is no longer with us. He was a fixture of the Scottish scene for so long – even when he went to live in Stratford upon Avon. He could justly be called the architect of the Scottish parliament, not that he was responsible for its physical construction. But for articulating how it might work, the chair of the Scottish Constitutional Convention deserves a large share of the credit – or blame, depending on your point of view.
Kenyon visualised an enlightened alternative to the Westminster bearpit. He believed the new parliament should flourish by consensus, a principle enshrined in the non-confrontational design of the chamber and the introduction of a scheme of proportional representation which seemed to rule out the possibility of any party winning an overall majority.
Only 12 years in, one party – the SNP – did win a majority. Likewise, the dream of consensus came unstuck. The polite arrangement of the seating made for a debating atmosphere of near-stultifying dullness, but largely failed, after the initial coalition, to achieve that thoughtful, co-operative spirit Kenyon had hoped for. He may have under-estimated the tribal nature of Scottish politics – and over-estimated its collective intelligence.
The parliament did, however, earn the respect, if not the obvious enthusiasm, of a majority of those who had clamoured for it and in whose interests it was set up. That is now in danger. There is even a risk that it will soon be regarded as something of a joke: yet another embodiment of the cynical theory that politics is just showbiz for ugly people.
The question prompted by recent events is broadly this: are the guys running this particular show entirely serious? They need not be entirely serious people – that would be asking too much, perhaps – but unless they are serious about what they do and how they conduct themselves, they might as well go home and leave the rest of us in peace.
Was Mark McDonald entirely serious?
I apply the past tense to him because, politically, he already feels like a figure from the past. The then children's minister tweeted an expression of disgust about the cruder aspects of public chatter over the Weinstein affair – and then, when the evidence of his own past behaviour came to light, apparently had the presence of mind to delete the message. The fact that so immature a personality was ever put in charge of a sensitive portfolio is astonishing.
Is Kezia Dugdale entirely serious?
She remains in the present tense, though only just. Many testify to her admirable qualities. In conversation recently with an observer from abroad, a person familiar with all the major players at Holyrood, I invited him to name any of them who had favourably impressed him. He nominated only Ms Dugdale, and in the warmest terms. Yet, weeks later, she is reduced – having reduced herself – to performing degrading tasks on low television, promising to be 'back in time for the Budget,' as if it still mattered. She is by all accounts bright, but obviously not quite
bright enough to see the reputational damage she has inflicted, not only on herself, but on the parliament whose good name she once personified.
Are the people responsible for the Scottish youth parliament entirely serious?
This is a creature of the Scottish parliament. It even meets in the Scottish parliament. Yet we now know that some in that curious organisation – whose members include children of 14 – have not felt safe. There is to be a police investigation into allegations of sexual misconduct. How did it come to this? How was such a culture allowed to breed under the noses of the Scottish parliament's directorate?
Is Alex Salmond entirely serious?
He was once the main man, the political megastar who brought us to the brink of independence. Now that he's working for Kremlin TV when he's not hosting phone-ins for London taxi drivers, there is a natural temptation to view him in a different light. His party maintains that, since he is no longer a member of the Scottish parliament, what he does is up to him. How true. And yet the questions keep coming: why is he not devoting his considerable talent to some humanitarian cause?; behind that statesmanlike facade, was there always a light entertainer struggling to get out?; and how does his new notoriety affect public perceptions of the institution that made him – the Scottish parliament?
Is the leader of the opposition entirely serious?
Ms Davidson has joined the Scotsman as a columnist. Here I declare an interest: I used to write a column for the same newspaper, six days a week at one stage, and a fat lot of good it did. But I had nothing better to do; I had no ambition to be the first minister of Scotland. Even the otherwise shameless Boris Johnson surrendered a handsome retainer from the Daily Telegraph when he got a proper job. But for Ms Davidson, being leader of the opposition at Holyrood isn't enough. There seems to be an incidental yearning for bylines and celebrity.
Is the first minister entirely serious?
Last summer a distinguished London-based journalist asked me why the first minister was at some book festival in the Borders interviewing Tina Brown. There was no obvious answer, but I reminded him that Ms Sturgeon had form in this matter; that she had earlier interviewed the actress who played the prime minister of Denmark in a television series. My friend did not sound wholly convinced. He still felt it was strange that the leader of a country should be interviewing a media celeb when she had so much else to do – like running a country.
This is a bold suggestion – but maybe the parliament deserves better. Even if it concentrated on only one voter's concerns – my own – there would probably be enough to keep it occupied until the new year. Our GP practice is folding because of a shortage of doctors that a former health secretary name of Sturgeon should have predicted and acted on; the hierarchy of Police Scotland is imploding in a scandalous fashion; the fatal accident inquiry system, which is taking half a decade to account for the deaths in the Clutha Bar, is a national disgrace; and the literacy of the average Scot is now so poor that even civil servants refer in correspondence to 'vacancies that have went live.'
No doubt you could name just as many concerns of your own, and then we could all make a valiant collective effort to prevail upon our parliamentarians to buckle down and get on with the day job unencumbered by vacuous distractions of one kind or another. But I'm not optimistic. I fear that Kenyon Wright – a serious man in a world of circus performers – might as well have saved himself the bother. The vision was there. There was nothing wrong with the vision. But the people. Oh, dear. The people...