BULLYING: it’s everywhere. It’s particularly noxious when it takes place in schools. That primary school children can indulge it to a cruel and sadistic degree says much about the human race.

At secondary school, a most horrific environment pullulating with adolescent mutation, the cruelty is cliquey and often involves persecuting those better looking or cleverer than the bullies. If you’re a pupil experiencing this, fear not, for you – not they – will triumph in the end.

However, there are places more infantile than school, such as the world of politics and, this week, a spate of accusations has arisen in that most abnormal of environments about bullying.

The first involves Dominic Cummings, the Prime Minister’s peculiarly unkempt aide. Half the Cabinet reportedly feels unable to work with him and wants Boris Johnson to rein him in.

Stressed-out special advisers are said to have sought counselling, and evidence of a sadistic aspect to his character emerged when he supposedly told them collectively ahead of the recent reshuffle that he would “see half of you next week”.

I’ve no way of verifying any of this, and am far too busy for that sort of thing anyway. However, I discerned a classical trait of bullying when, on my television set, I witnessed the Rasputin-like figure (though, arguably, the infamous Russian aide was better dressed) being particularly rude to a television journalist who was pleasant and asked soft questions.

Later, I saw him being polite to hectoring hacks shouting insults masquerading as politically loaded questions. I knew then that he was a textbook bully. You see it time and again: bullies respect other bullies, and bullying is a classic trait of the journalist, particularly those of the broadcast variety.

Meanwhile, Home Secretary Priti Patel faced accusations that she “bullied and belittled” officials, made unreasonable demands on them, and created an “atmosphere of fear”.

Later, it emerged that the real problem between them, at least according to her supporters, was that she felt the officials were dragging their feet over tougher action against eco-warriors digging up lawns and obstructing decent life generally.

I have the feeling this might just be a case of an enthusiastic new minister, and one of these irritating people who work round the clock, experiencing uncooperative civil servants of the Yes, Minister variety.

You’ll recall that, in the television programme, Sir Humphrey liked to burden ministers with problems so that they “can’t get under our feet and can’t do any damage”.

Here, in Little Scotia, meanwhile, the Rural Economy Secretary, Fergus Ewing, is facing an “informal” investigation after accusations that he’d bullied civil servants at Marine Scotland. Although Mr Ewing has confessed in the past to being a trifle “forthright”, he denies uncategorically any bullying.

That doesn’t stop me reporting it here as unsubstantiated rumour. So much more interesting than dull old facts.

One wonders if all these cases just involve the assertive personalities of those who would attain high office. Alex Salmond was always rumoured to being similarly inclined, or at least working his staff right hard, and I recall an occasion when he was leader of the opposition and made me follow him up the road on the promise of a list of contacts for a forthcoming US trip that my paper of that time was forcing me to undertake.

I didn’t want his list (contacts: such a lot of nonsense), and indeed deposited it in a bin outside the building immediately afterwards. But I was aware of how the assertive personality had made me, a reticent fellow doing anything for a quiet life, follow in his slipstream.

Perhaps we cannot expect people of high office to be as WS Gilbert’s timid curate, who “plays the airy flute/and looks depressed and blighted/Doves around him ’toot’/And lambkins dance delighted”.

However, we should perhaps demand, in a whisper, that they rein themselves in a little. And, where a sadistic personality is suspected, we should have them anaesthetised and transferred to a caring place, there to receive sympathetic treatment.


ACROSS the globe a strange feeling persists that there’s something odd about Donald Trump. In China and Egypt, Bolivia and Iceland, folk say: “D’you know, I think there’s something peculiar about that chap.”

Such prejudices were bolstered this week with news that the American president is obsessed with … badgers.

According to a new book called Sinking in the Swamp, by Lachlan Markay and Asawin Suesbsaeng, in the early months of his presidency Donald questioned then chief of staff Reince Priebus about many things but often, specifically, badgers.

Such questioning sometimes came during briefings about foreign policy, troop surges in Afghanistan or health care initiatives, with Mr Trump interrupting to ask if badgers had a personality or if they were boring.

He would ask: “Are they mean to people?” And: “What kind of damage could a badger do to a person with its flashy, sharp claws?” He also inquired if Mr Priebus – who’s from Wisconsin, the “badger state” – had any pictures of the fossorial carnivores.

There’s nothing to worry about here. Indeed, I’m guessing that, if his aides want to distract the president from getting involved in policy, they can just say: “Heard an interesting thing about badgers the other day.”


CONTROVERSIAL. There’s no other way to describe a new Marvel comic that features superheroes representing Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland in a group called … The Union.

Actually, one gets the feeling Marvel didn’t see the controversy coming. After all, most of the comics, one imagines, will sell furth of troublesome Scotia.

The characters are called Union Jack (er, England), Kelpie (a Scottish gal with pink hair), Snakes (Northern Ireland, a place famously lacking in snakes after they were cleared out, allegedly, by St Patrick), and The Choir (Wales).

Their overall leader is a fifth character called – wait for it – Britannia. Well! Herald readers online had a good laugh at it, averring that Kelpie’s arch-enemy would be “Cringer”, that they’d all do what Captain America wanted, and that Kelpie would find her powers severely restricted.

Ach well, it’s just a bit of fun. It’s not as if the actual union is an escapist project based on fantasy. And the writer, Paul Grist, has dropped a hint that he knows what he’s doing: tensions may well emerge. Watch this space.


HOW endearingly Scottish to see Scottish pop singer Lewis Capaldi clutching a bottle of Buckfast, and wearing a magnificently glaikit expression on his face, as he was awarded a prize for song-writing.

Wha’s like us for producing gritty, down to earth characters such as this?

Indeed, Mr Capaldi comes across as a likeable laddie who still lives at home with his parents in the picturesque West Lothian spa town of Bathgate, and who recently made an Instagram, if that is the expression, wittily denying that he was worth $10 million, as reported mischievously online, when in fact he’d less than £200 in his bank account. “So,” he demanded, “who the f*** has my $10 million?” Ha-ha!

I have to admit that, at the time of going to press, I haven’t heard any of Mr Capaldi’s songs. As they are extremely popular, one has to assume that they are utter tripe.

However, he seems like an engaging young lad with his head screwed on, though it could soon loosen if he insists on lubricating his tonsils with Buckfast, the bam’s dram.

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