I WAS pleased the other week to be invited to join the panel of Debate Night, BBC Scotland’s weekly political discussion programme. I’ve participated in a couple of these shows, which are always expertly and judiciously chaired by Stephen Jardine.

Sadly, the production company in charge of the show called me late the night before recording to inform me that my presence was no longer required.

This can happen for a variety of reasons and journalists who are asked to step down, no matter how late in the day, ought not to become agitated when it occurs.

On this occasion, the producers were informed by the SNP that the party’s original choice, Kaukab Stewart – the very able MSP for Glasgow Kelvin – had had to cancel owing to sudden illness.

Furthermore, the SNP were unable to find a female party representative to replace Ms Stewart and thus chose Alasdair Allan, the MSP for Na h-Eileanan

It meant that, in order to maintain gender diversity, a male guest with no party affiliation had to drop out. And thus, I became that soldier. Having always been an advocate of gender diversity on political shows, I was happy to do so.

Unhappily, though, a number of people on social media divined something nefarious in the SNP’s claim that no woman was available to represent them. And that they had “gamed” the system to ensure my removal. After all, along with several others, I have been critical of the party in recent months.

I find it highly unlikely, however, that the party of government, whose politicians are backed by a small army of researchers and advisers, would go to such lengths to remove a solitary and inelegant chap such as my humble self. I just felt I ought to clear that up.

We mustn’t lose sight of the human factor in all of this: namely the health of the stricken Ms Stewart. And so I’m delighted to report that she seemed to have made a rapid recovery from whatever had ailed her.

The following day she tweeted a heart-warming picture of herself at Holyrood where she had met representatives of Cats Protection to discuss the shortage of pet-friendly rental accommodation in Scotland. This is a cause which I’m sure we can all get behind.


The MSPs tweet

The MSP's tweet


Bonnie on the Clyde

THE highlight of my week was a visit to the Waverley down at Lancefield Quay by Glasgow Science Centre. The ship is a true national treasure, being the world’s last remaining, fully-operational paddle steamer.

The trip also gave me the opportunity to speak to my old colleague Ian Bruce, The Herald’s formidable former defence and geopolitics editor. Ian estimates that he’s sailed on the Waverley more than 600 times. These trips also gave him an opportunity to savour the delights of Scotland’s coastal hospitality sector.

Says Ian: “We thought of it as a paddle-wheeled version of the Starship Enterprise. Except our mission was more like Bar Trek, exploring strange new howfs and the new life forms they contained.

The old Harbour Bar in Ayr, now demolished, springs to mind. It was like Groundhog Day inside.

Always the same group of blootered, weary fishermen, the same shouted conversations and a jukebox which contained nothing after 1969 – no bad thing in itself.

The Islay Frigate Hotel in Tarbert was another regular haunt. It boasted a beer garden out the back and up an incline which could have done with a Sherpa and oxygen tanks.

Our favourites were, naturally, in Rothesay.

The Golfers, the Taverna, the Black Bull, the Galatea and the “Gluepot” – the Argyll Arms –

which boasted assegais, shields and sabres from the Zulu War on its walls.

See Scottish pubs, see culture … unbeatable.





Fruity language

I MUCH prefer Mr Bruce’s no-nonsense style of reviewing eateries and taverns to that favoured by the New Yorker magazine.

This is one from last week: “But nothing beat the ‘frozen yogurt’: half a grapefruit hollowed out and filled with absurdly creamy, tart soft-serve, swirled with grapefruit-Campari jam and a grassy, green olive oil, accompanied by a tiny tureen of extra jam.”

The writer describes this bacchanal as “a marvel of both luxury and restraint”.

I should like to see one of its dishes which has not been restrained.

Paradise not lost

I’M chastised by a friend who calls to object to my somewhat unholy description last week of the proposed new museum of Catholicism in Glasgow’s Calton district.

I’d referred to this as The Tim Capsule, which he felt did nothing but encourage depressing cultural tropes.

He’s an aficionado of Florence’s majestic Uffizi Gallery which he has used to inspire his own nickname for the new ecclesiastical museum: The Foritza Gallery.

This would be an elegant and subtle nod to the Celtic song which rings out at nearby Parkhead every other week.

But with European, neoclassical overtones befitting of any Scottish cultural endeavour.