One of the benefits of devolution has been giving Scots their own parliament in which the great issues of the day can be discussed. Issues that might not otherwise make it onto the political agenda. Now the Scottish parliament has posed a question that can be avoided no longer: are buses racist?
James Dornan is the SNP MSP for Glasgow Cathcart and the man who has brought these matters to light. Speaking in a debate at Holyrood last week, Dornan raised the enduring blight of ‘institutional prejudice’ against Irish Catholics in Scotland. He could have cited many examples in evidence but admirably chose to make a more original case:
‘To my knowledge, no one has questioned the decision by Lothian Buses to cancel the evening buses on 17 March. Edinburgh, our second-largest city and our capital, was still in Level 3 lockdown on St Patrick’s Day, and Lothian Buses restricted travel to essential workers commuting on a Tuesday evening. It briefly mentioned a rise in antisocial behaviour as its reason, but that was the only day on which that action took place.
‘I can only assume that Lothian Buses concluded one of two things: that I would be out celebrating my birthday or that Irish Catholics were to blame for the rise in antisocial behaviour. Why else would it cancel buses only for the night of a ubiquitous Irish Catholic holiday, when pubs were not open and a stay-at-home order was in place? Could members imagine that happening on 12 July or on a Muslim or Sikh festival? That was simply not acceptable.’
So, there’s a lot to unpack here. Firstly: no, Dornan isn’t a fictional character I’ve invented for satirical purposes. He’s a real person. He has been an MSP for a decade. Terrifying, I know.
Secondly, Lothian Buses has had a problem of late with anti-social behaviour. A company spokesperson told me:
‘At the height of anti-social incidents, our drivers were subjected to daily attacks, and on various occasions we were forced to take the difficult decision to remove services from the affected areas. Our decision to remove services after 1900hrs on 17 March was taken following serious concerns for the safety of our colleagues and we would not hesitate to do so again — regardless of the time of year.’
Of course, a true-believing nationalist like Dornan shouldn’t be expected to take Westmonster’s Unionist media at its word. Unfortunately, the cancellation of evening services on St Patrick’s Day was reported in SNP fanzine the National. It stood out because it was a rare story in the National not illustrated by an image of Nicola Sturgeon riding a saltire-branded unicorn, sporting a halo and curing the lame as she passed by.
Thirdly, the notion that Edinburgh’s main bus service gave its drivers the night off on St Patrick’s Day because of some prejudice against Irish Catholics appears to have sprung out of nowhere and taken up spacious residence inside Dornan’s head. It’s not even as though the company has some connection to sectarianism. (This is Edinburgh, not Glasgow.)
Fourthly, Lothian Buses is owned by Edinburgh City Council, which is run by an SNP-led administration, so Dornan was effectively levelling his bizarre allegations against his own colleagues.
The Cathcart MSP has earned himself a reputation for outlandish statements. He previously apologised for claiming that Club 1872, a supporters’ group for Scottish football team Rangers FC, ‘abuse me regularly on their website’. He also described former Scottish Tory MP Ross Thomson, who is gay, as Boris Johnson’s ‘fag’ and said Johnson would be telling Thomson ‘to keep still whilst he uses his back as a table’. Dornan later clarified he was using ‘fag’ in the public school sense of the term.
The SNP’s dominance of Scottish politics, and its position as the biggest of big tents, has secured it a disproportionate number of elected officials who are cringe, fringe and off the hinge.
It’s easy to pick on James Dornan but he is merely a more colourful example of a problem that has bedevilled Holyrood from the get-go: the dearth of political talent. Of all the arguments against Scottish independence, none is as vivid as ten minutes watching the Scottish parliament. Except maybe two watching James Dornan.
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