There are many facets to the independence debate, one of the most gnarly is press bias in favour of the status quo generally and Scottish Labour in particular. But every now and again and example comes up that is so obvious, so cut and dried, that even I feel like highlighting it.
...is Johann Lamont, I've mentioned Johann before, she's the leader of Labour in Scotland. Among other things, this means she is responsible for holding the Scottish Government to account. The only part of the previous sentence which has any connection with reality is that I've mentioned Johann Lamont before, the rest is bilge - yet - its what we're all expected to accept. In any case, saying Johann Lamont is the 'leader of Scottish Labour' is a bit like saying I'm the leader of...
... the World Champion Cheer-leading team of 2013 - its just not the case.
As usual, I digress.
Johann Lamont's preferred method of holding the Scottish government to account is to throw as much mud as she can and hope some of it sticks. Unfortunately, Johann's throwing arm isn't that great.
This week at FMQ's (First Minister's Questions for the uninitiated) Johann had a mud pie to throw. Here's the gist of it: Back in 2007/8 land was bought near Paisley for £840,000 for the then Labour/Lib Dem GARL project (Glasgow Airport Rail Link.) The project was subsequently scrapped by the SNP administration in 2009 due to a shortage of funds related to the global melt down of 2007/8 and subsequent cuts coming from Westminster which cascaded down through the Scottish Parliament. The land was bought from a company called Airlink Group ran by a chap called John McGlynn.
Fast forward to this year, the land - no longer required and much devalued - had to be sold under UK Government rules
The parcel of land was put up for sale with a reserve price of £50,000. I have no idea how land is valued, presumably some one turns up with a theodolite and a clip board and gives the owner a price way below what they expected.
In any case, the land didn't sell. Lawyers for Airlink with John McGlynn still at the helm bought it back for the reserve price of £50,000 with a nice profit of £790,000 in the deal.
I know what you're thinking...
What hell is going on here?
Which is what Johann thought too. She said, John McGlynn - who used to be a Tory donor but has since shown support for 'fiscal autonomy' had...
"...been on something of a political journey" adding: "Now he supports the Yes campaign. Since then he's been appointed to the Scottish government national economic forum."
Although John McGlynn is not a member of any referendum campaign or party - his support for independence is equivocal, the fearless Johann went on to suggest...
"Is there some connection here, or has Mr McGlynn just benefited from the first minister's gross incompetence with public funds?"
I mean, this looks terrible doesn't it? Finally Johann has a mud pie that's going to stick and stick badly to Alex Salmond and the SNP government he leads...
We need to look at it from a different perspective, instead of the most recent sale price, we need to have a look at the price paid and the circumstances around the purchase back in 2007/8.
So, the land was purchased from Airlink by the Strathclyde Passenger Transport Authority at the height of the property bubble, we can't blame them for that. The SPTA was under the direct control of the local authority which in this case was Labour controlled Glasgow City Council, with that in mind, it was stuffed with Labour Councillors. At that point the Scottish Government had nothing to do with GARL - it was all down to the SPTA (now known as Strathclyde Partnership for Transport) and the Labour dominated Glasgow City Council.
And guess what.
Johann Lamont's husband...
Archie Graham, who is also a Glasgow Labour Councillor (for Langside) was a board member of SPTA.
The Scottish Government at the time had nothing to do with the purchase of the land, it was managed by the SPTA and its officers. Local Authorities get a fair bit of leeway when it comes to how they comport themselves, they are after all overseen by democratically elected councillors, for MSP's to wade in on an as-and-when basis would be seen - quite rightly - as meddling.
Meanwhile The Herald is running with the story here. The facts are as they are, they can't really be argued with, occasionally it can be a bit grey, but in this instance? Its pretty clear. Johann Lamont's mud pie has backfired, this wasn't a Scottish Government thing, it was a Glasgow Labour thing. That John McGlynn profited to the extent he did is a bit difficult to swallow, but the SG followed the rules exactly as set out on its inception, it had to - by law - sell the land. The problem wasn't in the sale of the land, it was in the purchase of it - the SPTE could have put in place a Compulsory Purchase Order - they're doing it with enthusiasm for the Glasgow Common Wealth Games - but they didn't.
People tend to read the headlines then skim down the story, if they look at the details at all. In this instance, what most Herald readers will see is this:*
Salmond in row over claims land deal benefited supporter of independence
Or this from the BBC news website:*
Concern raised in Holyrood over Scottish government land deal
And this from the execrable Scotsman:*
Apology demanded over Lamont’s SNP land deal claim
And Johann as the leader of Scottish Labour will see her job as done.
Do you still think the press in Scotland are fair and impartial? Let me put that another way, do you still think I'm the leader of a world class cheer leading team?
* The headlines are correct at the time of publication. The press have a habit of changing headlines retrospectively - presumably once they feel sufficient damage has been done.