Editorial: Behave yourself, man

Graham Ogilvy
Graham Ogilvy

Our report yesterday of Alex Salmond’s defence of the Offensive Behaviour Act has rightly drawn emails of complaint from our readers — many of whom found the former first minister’s comments to constitute the sort of offensive behaviour he himself seeks to outlaw.

The language used by the former First Minister in his Press and Journal column is completely inappropriate.  His caricature of sheriffs as rugger playing “toffs” is the worst sort of cheap demagoguery betraying either at best a complete ignorance of the work of the Judicial Appointments Board for Scotland over which he and his government exercise control or, at worst, a cynical willingness to distort reality for short-term political gain.

Who are these mythical shreival toffs? Certainly none of the sheriffs of my acquaintance fit the bill, including those who have expressed reservations about the OBA. This outburst is as ill-judged as Mr Salmond’s embarassing and intemperate attack on the Supreme Court while he was First Minister and is unbecoming of a senior statesman.

His cheap and nasty characterisation of hard-pressed defence solicitors struggling to get justice for their clients in an era of disappearing legal aid as “clever-Dick lawyers” is downright offensive. It is as puerile and ignorant as branding all MPs as self-serving, opportunist, expenses-fiddling imposters or describing the chief constable of Police Scotland as behaving like an unaccountable gauleiter.

Who are these clever dick lawyers? Does Mr. Salmond extend this description to his talented Westminster colleague Joanna Cherry QC  or to his able boss Nicola Sturgeon? Does he include former justice secretary Kenny MacAskill among the clever dicks? Many SNP solicitors will be as uncomfortable with Mr Salmond’s terminology as they are with Mr Macaskill’s  record which includes a disastrous court closure programme and the creation of Police Scotland — measures felt by many to distance the law from the communities it serves. Wiser counsel prevailed over his attempt to scrap corroboration but Scotland’s remaining sheriff courts continue to be clogged up with bewildered middle-aged couples facing criminalisation over trivial domestic disputes.

And what is a “clever dick” anyway? The Collins dictionary definition is: “a person who is obnoxiously opinionated or self-satisfied; a know-all” - a description that politeness and  human decency prevents us from applying to the former First Minister.

But we can offer perhaps one piece of advice apparently so often favoured by Mr. Salmond: Behave yourself, man!

Graham Ogilvy