Every year the Lord Provost of Glasgow hosts a St Andrews Day gala dinner for charity in the City Chambers.

This fund-raising and glad-handling event is one of the duties of the city’s civic leader, currently Jacqueline McLaren. It has not historically attracted a lot of attention, certainly not online. Until now.

On Friday the Lord Provost’s Facebook page was updated with photos from her big dinner and a cheery message from Ms McLaren herself about £29,000 raised for good causes.

The post provoked what council insiders call “weird” comments about a recently retired cadaver dog called Barra.

It has been like this for weeks. Every time anything is put online in Ms McLaren’s name - usually about some non-political civic event - there is a wave of demands for her to “recognise” the animal - and abuse about her not doing so.

The internet campaign has been getting, council sources stress, both unpleasant and conspiracist. It is also big: at least 2000 messages have been directed at the LP on Facebook alone. There are letters and calls too.

Most read:

'Academic vandalism': Protest against university's planned cuts

Boris Johnson's body language at the Covid-19 inquiry analysed by expert

Exhibition exploring race, identity and the power of storytelling

Ms McLaren, an SNP councillor, has been berated as a “dictator” who ignores “the will of the people of Glasgow”.  Last week her guests at the gala dinner were smeared as “freeloaders”. There are even suggestions that dark forces are at work to silence those championing the dog.

What is going on here? Who is pushing a campaign to have this dog recognised? And why?

Well, first of all everybody agrees that Barra is an impressive animal.

She was trained by her owner Iain Marshall - from Luss on the banks of Loch Lomond - to sniff out dead bodies under water (though some of her supporters seem to think she rescued the living).

The Springer Spaniel has already been officially feted for her remarkable work helping to recover corpses, bringing closure to the families and friends of those lost.

Mr Marshall, a Coastguard volunteer, has nothing to do with the increasingly vitriolic campaign to have his animal honoured by a local authority where he does not live.

In fact, the Barra recognition drive is led by a taxi driver and wannabe politician called Stef Shaw who goes by the internet handle Glasgow Cabbie.

The Herald:

Pictured above: Taxi driver Stef Shaw at the Union Street taxi rank outside Glasgow Central station with a poem he wrote about his love for the city

Shaw is a vocal opponent of independence, devolution and the SNP. He is best known for mounting a campaign against a pupil survey that included questions for senior school students on sex.

That campaign saw him declare that relationships education was nothing  “short of perverted grooming”. His supporters ended up peppering the then first minister of Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon, with questions about whether she engaged in anal sex.

The hook for Shaw’s attempt to get an Argyllshire dog recognised by Glasgow council was a children’s drawing competition organised by Ms McLaren.

The Lord Provost asked primary seven pupils to come up with a new city mascot.

This is the kind of thing civic leaders do all the time - rather like the Christmas Card design competitions local politicians routinely run at this time of year. 

Officials did not expect adults to demand she make a living dog win a picture competition for 11-year-olds.

Shaw decided she had to do so. He has made clear in numerous posts that he believes “the SNP” is refusing to recognise Barra because he is the one proposing an award for the dog.

“The main reason that Barra is being blanked for any kind of recognition from those in power within the City Chambers in Glasgow is due to WHO is promoting The People’s Mascot of Glasgow,” wrote Shaw.

Most read: 

Gender reform court case: Not just a defeat, a demolition job

Scottish courts can kill off extremist Tory Rwanda bill

Dad brought back to life after collapsing during football match

Council officials stress the drawing competition has nothing do to with politics - or retired cadaver dogs from another area or Shaw.

An official spokeswoman said: “This is a fun competition encouraging our young people to engage with the city and its rich heritage.

“The Animal Mascot Competition is open to all our P7 pupils. It’s captured their imaginations and had the desired effect of focusing young minds on their city and what Glasgow means to them.

“We’re thrilled at the excitement, sense of belonging and ownership its provoked. We’re also looking forward to viewing the entries which we expect will include imaginary animals dreamed up by our students.”

She added: “It’s a cause of deep disappointment and dismay that such a fun event, designed to spark the imaginations and creativity of our city’s young people, is being spoiled and piggybacked by adults with a completely different agenda. Attempting to drown out and subvert the original campaign and its purpose.”

The Herald:

Pictured: K9 Search and Recovery Dog Barra and their handler, Iain Marshall

Another local authority source - speaking on condition of anonymity - was blunter about the Glasgow Cabbie campaign. And the agenda the official spokeswoman cited.

“You might wonder what sort of adult mind becomes so consumed with the idea they should be allowed to win a children’s drawing competition – but, the reality is the subject or the issue really don’t matter to guys like this,” they said.

“All that matters is that they are in the middle of things."

Shaw is not shy about expressing his contempt for the council and its ruling nationalists. He stresses that he is not a member of any party but wishes to stand against the SNP, potentially at the next general election.

In a post to his 32,000 Facebook friends he called for pro-UK parties to stand aside for him.

“No other candidate will have better, wider or more life experiences than I have,” he posted. “Please go and tell ALL the established unionist parties they’ve not to split the vote and to get behind ME as the best candidate for the constituency I wish to represent!”

He has campaigned alongside the ultra-conservative Scottish Family Party, which has been branded as “sinister” by anti-fascist experts Hope Not Hate.

Shaw has said he is not a member of the SFP, but the cabbie endorsed abuse of First Minister Humza Yousaf by Niall Fraser, a party activist and candidate who declared Covid to be “bogus” on a neo-nazi podcast. He has expressed admiration for the party’s leader, Richard Lucas.

Shaw has also shared content from Katie Hopkins, the reality-TV star turned far-right influencer.

One prominent “Barra” supporter decided to declare that she was not a “far right” activist but her Facebook profile also linked to Hopkins.

In a recent post on a fake banknote the taxi driver wrote: “Foreigners, foreigners everywhere in the city and lots are causing mayhem!

“Is that bigoted or racist of me to say this Humza?

“No, it’s fact!!”

Shaw alleges that hundreds of his Facebook posts are being deleted as part of a conspiracy against him.

He did not respond to requests for comment from The Herald on Sunday.