John McLellan: House of Cards in kilts – SNP backstabbers are no joke

The O'Jays' song Backstabbers seems entirely appropriate for a party which plots against its own
The O'Jays' song Backstabbers seems entirely appropriate for a party which plots against its own
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To my knowledge, Philadelphia soul band The O’Jays never attended a meeting of the Edinburgh SNP but their 1972 hit might seem rather familiar to Councillor Gavin Barrie.

“All the time they want to take your place…

They smile in your face…

All the time they want to take your place…

The back stabbers.“

Back stabbers indeed. Ex-councillor Steve Cardownie has helpfully pointed out the internal plotting which led to Cllr Barrie being stripped of all his positions, and his resignation from the party this week, had been going on for weeks.

Something was clearly up in March when in a closed meeting, but in front of officers and opposition councillors, Cllr Kate Campbell attacked the draft economy strategy, of which Cllr Barrie was very proud, for not containing enough about inclusion. “But there is inclusion on every page,” said a forlorn Cllr Barrie, not without justification. It was a deliberately open challenge and within a week he was gone.

READ MORE: Steve Cardownie: Gavin Barrie quit SNP group after act of betrayal

It says a lot about his ex-colleagues when he says one reason he hasn’t triggered a by-election is that the Conservatives would win it. He can still cause mischief as an independent, but he’ll have to go some to beat his resignation letter, which exposed the degree of scheming behind the city’s administration by “careerists” as their Labour colleague Scott Arthur called them.

He confirmed rumours about a bid to unseat planning convener Cllr Neil Gardiner, who we are now told was Cllr Campbell’s first target. When that didn’t come off, she moved her cross-hairs to Cllr Barrie, but offered him Cllr Gardiner’s job as compensation.

It takes some chutzpah for someone elected only a year ago to attempt to unseat not one but two committee conveners, so it could only be with the full blessing of her leader, Adam McVey.

Cllr Gardiner can’t be feeling very secure after two attempts to dump him, knowing it’s only because Cllr Barrie told Cllr Campbell where to shove it that he’s still in post. It’s team building, Jim, but not as we know it.

Or perhaps there is another interpretation, one in which the leader is in position but not in charge, a puppet thrust into the hot seat by new faces who didn’t trust the middle-aged, middle-class, privately educated previous leader Frank Ross.

READ MORE: Senior councillor Gavin Barrie quits SNP

There have been constant mutterings around the City Chambers, with some SNP councillors making little secret of their unhappiness, and though Cllr McVey’s acolytes are quick to emphasisie how masterful is his command, as someone once said, they would, wouldn’t they.

From what I could see, Cllr Barrie was loyal to the cause and not chuntering in the background, so I have some sympathy with his view that “being sacked from my role … at little or no notice, when there have been no adverse comments or complaints about performance, is [not] treating someone with dignity and respect”.

Whether it’s “morally questionable”, as he put it, is another matter. I’ve seen too many people sacked for their faces not fitting to realise morals don’t come into it, especially in the grubby free-for-all that’s politics.

But let’s not forget this is about the running of a city with a £1 billion budget, not some game; these aren’t my words, but those of another SNP member who has felt the keen edge of Cllr Campbell’s ambition. This isn’t House of Cards in kilts, but that’s how some in the SNP group appear to be treating it.

“It might look to some as if some kind of purge has been carried out. I will leave that for others to judge,” wrote Cllr Barrie.

The question is not if a purge has been carried out, but by whom and who the next victim might be. It might even be Cllr McVey himself, for whom the O’Jays had a message… “It’s all of you fellows who better beware …”

An unlikely librarian?

Former Evening News reporter David Torrance is giving up his career as a columnist and political commentator to become the senior clerk in the House of Commons Library. As a trainee, he was somewhat miffed when he had to spend a stint on the business desk because his interest lay in politics, but I wonder what he’d have said if we’d sent him to the Scotsman library? As Gavin Barrie will testify, it’s funny how careers work out.