Some years ago, we received an unsolicited article from a Scottish Review reader, Nick Lyth. The editor read it with growing interest when it became clear that it was all about him. Kenneth explained to Mr Lyth that it would not be appropriate to publish the piece at that stage, but he would keep it on file. It seems that the moment has come to publish it.
Of the qualities that make Kenneth Roy unique, perhaps the most startling is his absolute disregard for fame. He cares nothing for the pursuit of his own fame, and has no respect for the fame of others. He has the extraordinary ability to treat everyone he meets as equals, which leads him to an unerring judgement because it is based on their words and deeds, not their reputations. His appreciation of exceptional people is generous and wholehearted. They are people we might be familiar with through the media, or they might be vague figures on the fringes of our consciousness, or we might never have heard of them at all. He makes no distinction between the three states.
However, Kenneth Roy is also an indefatigable attention seeker. He seeks attention, rather than fame, because he wants us to attend to his words. It is neither important that it is he who is expressing them, nor that they are so well-written, although they are both these things. It is important to him that we listen to the meaning of them. He sets out to expose bureaucratic corruption and self-seeking greed in public places, the abuse of trust and responsibility by those occupying the privileged positions in our society.
Kenneth Roy is a revolutionary, but not a rebel. He wants to cause a revolution in our systems, but does not want to rebel against the state. He occupies extraordinarily pure and altruistic moral territory. By definition, his cause is not self-seeking, but social. He is applying a moral corrective to the society he finds, as he finds it.
He does find it, of course. Kenneth Roy is also an old-fashioned investigative reporter in the finest tradition. He sniffs a story of wrongdoing, he tracks it down, he interrogates it, he follows on to the next leads, until he is satisfied that he knows enough and can expose it. Which he then does.
The tradition of the revolutionary is well-known. Kenneth Roy belongs to the world of the French and Russian revolutions, both of which had a brief flowering of success before the terror was imposed. In each, there was a period immediately after the outbreak when the monarchies in each country ceded power to a constitutional parliament, representing the interests of the community. These parliaments were dominated by essentially benign and patrician figures, whose sincere wish was the common good. This is the territory occupied by Kenneth Roy. His magnificent achievement, the Scottish Review, might lead one day to revolution. It will never lead to rebellion.
As France and Russia discovered, once the genii is out of the bottle, it can spin quickly out of control. A middle-class parliament aligned with the monarchy could only survive for as long as it took the radicals in France and Russia to stir up popular feeling, and then the mob took over and the rule of law was abandoned.
Kenneth Roy is not a radical. But he is a revolutionary. His cause is reform. His ambition is improvement. His words are polemical.
He is a fine man, because he lives out his life according to his principles. There are few finer ways to live a life. There are few examples among us of those who do.
Could he happen in England? The mechanics of England are different, because it is a much larger country with a different relationship to its prominent people. The Scottish Review would be impossible in England – a great paper, leading the critical thought of protest with a seriousness that gives it much attention and respect, but without any high public profile, or quest for self-aggrandisement.
In England, this does not happen. England offers its people the mainstream media, or the media of protest. Most famously, England has given us Private Eye. At first glance, there is a family resemblance between the progenitors of Private Eye and the Scottish Review. Like Kenneth Roy, Peter Cook and Richard Ingrams were entirely careless of fame, as were the likes of Auberon Waugh and John Wells. But this is deceptive. All these people were famous before they started Private Eye. They often chose to walk away from their fame, but fame was indeed theirs. Nobody found fame without first seeking it.
Kenneth Roy is a different breed. He really does care more about his work than his status. But could he have done the same thing in England? Almost certainly not, because the doing of it would have made him famous. Ian Hislop is a media personality, whether he likes it or not. He was almost exclusively known because of Private Eye. This alone pushed him into a limelight that he could only shun if he had walked away from his journalistic calling.
Scotland is different. Scotland allows Scots to be influential without being famous, to be prominent without being notable. Scotland allows Scots to talk to high and low with the same voice. It is a small country without a large media-induced culture of celebrity.
But very few of us choose to use the opportunities this creates for all of us living in Scotland. And so I come back to where I began. Kenneth Roy is unique for, among other things (he has several unique qualities), his absolute disregard for fame. He has used this quality to help establish a voice in Scottish public life for which we all should be grateful. He does not want our thanks, though. He only wants us to attend to his words. I intend to keep doing this, but will also thank him from time to time, whether he likes it or not.