Sunday, 19 February 2012
I came across this article I wrote about 10 years ago - which I must have been around the time that Jack McConnell took over from Henry McLeish - as Scotland's third First Minister.
Since that time only two of the MSPs who get a mention are still in the Scottish Parliament - John Swinney and Duncan McNeil.
John Swinney's political career took off once he had the burden of being party leader lifted from his shoulders - and Duncan McNeil has stuck at it as well while other supposedly bigger hitters in the Labour party have long since disappeared.
Our family had a Boxer dog when I was growing up - which is why I know this breed is hugely playful - but ultimately as daft as a brush.
Maybe I'll revisit the piece again with the present pack of MSPs in mind - if so Alex Salmond & Co. definitely represent a whole new challenge.
Many people choose a breed of dog which reflects the owner’s personality and physical traits, so they say.
A fanciful story, the sort of mindless pap one reads in the dentist’s waiting room as a distraction from the joys of root canal treatment, or an uncanny insight into the human condition?
Let’s test the theory on Holyrood MSP’s and guess which breeds would be man’s best friend to the sharpest and brightest political minds in Scotland?
Starting at the top with First Minister, Jack McConnell. He must be a Jack Russell, surely, a feisty little terrier with a fierce reputation and very sharp teeth, loves nothing better than chasing rats down dark holes, yet capable of seeing off much bigger opponents. Another contender is the Border Collie: McConnell grew up on a farm and has that classic sheepdog herding instinct, constantly shooing and corralling everyone back into line, though his skills are being tested to the limit, admittedly, by culture minister and cabinet rebel Mike Watson.
Wendy Alexander has to be one of those yippity yappity Yorkshire Terriers that constantly seek attention and never shut up, the sort of that could do with a well-aimed boot up the backside when its loving owner is looking the other way. Yorkie fans are incredibly loyal to the breed and never tire of fussing over and dressing up their little darlings, but to the uninitiated such devotion appears peculiar and one sided.
Going to the opposite extreme, everybody loves a well-groomed Red Setter, Tommy Sheridan or I’m a Dutchman. A special favourite with the ladies, so they say, but strong willed and ever so slightly barking mad. A breed that needs lots of exercise though and a healthy diet, but a bit high maintenance and well beyond the reach of workers on the minimum wage.
David McLetchie, leader of the Scottish Conservatives, has the nose if not the looks of a Bloodhound, no oil painting but single minded and quietly determined to get his man. McLetchie took the biggest scalp of the Scottish Parliament to date, running Henry McLeish to ground over the ‘Officegate’ affair, doggedly refusing to be thrown off the scent; Scotland’s second first minister ran and ran, defiant to the end, but ultimately had no place left to hide.
McLeish himself can only be a Boxer, athletic and strong before life takes its inevitable toll, but daft as a brush and prone to running off in any direction if not kept on a tight leash. Yet, somehow, people just can’t help feeling sorry for the poor crazed creature, with looks only a mother could love, a weird jumble of odd parts that seem to have been thrown together by a canine equivalent of Dr. Frankenstein.
John Swinney has an image problem: solid, safe and dependable, the kind of dog your granny would choose, a Labrador, with a personality that young people find dull and boring, unless it’s a puppy of course, one that runs around the house trailing toilet paper everywhere, leaving behind a mess. Who knows, maybe creative advertising can turn things around for the SNP leader in the run up to next year’s Holyrood elections, but time is not on his side. As everyone knows, ageing Labradors rapidly lose their appeal.
Jim Wallace, the Lib Dem party leader and deputy first minister, is undoubtedly a Pekinese, a refined little dog from a far off land (Orkney), unexpectedly spunky and tough, able to stand up to the streetwise and rougher types, the less blue blooded curs from the central belt who wonder what Donald, Henry and now Jack can possibly see in him or the rest of his snooty, pretentious little gang.
Among the backbenchers, the comparisons are just as eerie: Duncan McNeil is the closest a human can get to a traditional British Bulldog. Tory Brian Monteith shares the same physical traits, but in a more refined way, a Pug perhaps. Anyway, Brian would never be seen dead in the 1997 Labour party ‘bulldog broadcast’ inspired by that New Labour hound, Peter Mandleson. Come to think of it neither would Dunky!
Talking of hounds, Lord James Douglas Hamilton is clearly an Afghan: that most noble of breeds, sleek and slender, possessing an air of regal detachment at times, unfailingly polite and friendly, blessed with a common touch. Notoriously difficult to train, people tend to love or hate this unusual breed. If left at home all day, it quickly becomes bored and has a tendency to chew up the furniture.
Listening to Des McNulty can also induce furniture chewing, especially when Des is delivering one of his famously monotone speeches. Des is a loveable old Spaniel in Labour party terms, at long last his sad, pleading eyes and slipper-fetching abilities paid off big time and resulted in him being promoted as convenor of the Kennel Club’s finance committee.
Finally, in case anyone thinks the New Labour project ran out of steam at the border, just ask yourself why are there no cloth cap pooches to be found anywhere on the front or backbenches? In the modern People’s Party, there’s not a Greyhound, Lurcher or Whippet in sight despite all the talk of a resurgence on the traditional left.
Mark A. Irvine