Shortly before he passed away, the newsroom colleague I most admired suddenly lost all interest in the papers. I hope he hasn’t gone back to them, for he wouldn’t be resting in peace if he saw the recent four-page feature about our First Minister in the French daily Le Monde, headlined ‘Nicola Sturgeon, reine d’Ecosse’. Actually, we do know how Kenneth Roy would have reacted to a narcissistic besom being hailed as the ‘Queen of Scotland’ because he sought to nip in the bud Nicola idolatry when it first started to sprout here on her native soil.
On 4 May 2016, this wry wordsmith expressed dismay at both Scotland on Sunday and the Sunday Herald publishing front-page, full-page photographs of the Nat chieftain with a respectful caption overprinted on each image. Here is how the marvellously perceptive Mr Roy responded to that in the Scottish Review, the splendid little journal he (along with Islay McLeod) lovingly produced for many years from a small office at Prestwick airport of all places:
Since most of their readers, perhaps all of their readers, would have known in advance approximately what she looked like, we must assume that the editors were making a statement of some kind. Four days ahead of the Holyrood election, they may have been establishing her not only as the poster girl of Scottish politics but as a woman of destiny, the person who will lead us to the promised land, a female Mandela. Although it is tempting to dismiss Sunday’s picture galleries as an aberration of desperate men, there may be a danger that Ms Sturgeon is starting to believe her own publicity. The cover of that glossy production, the SNP manifesto, is adorned by another mega-pic of the leader.
Just under a year later, on 12 April 2017, Kenneth returned to the same subject when he dissected the plane crash of a television interview the FM gave to the BBC after a transatlantic flight that had obviously taken its toll (despite being seated in taxpayer-funded executive class):
Even first ministers are entitled to off-days. Clearly this was one of Ms Sturgeon’s. After her whirlwind tour of America in which she created (or ‘sustained’) the mighty total of 44 jobs in support of Scotland’s failing economy, she may have been suffering from jet lag. Cruel, yet justified: for the interview, nakedly transcribed, was a reminder of Orwell’s theory that muddled language is often a sign of muddled thinking. It also told us something about the first minister…It told us that, after two and a half years in office, Nicola Sturgeon may be developing messianic tendencies: that she is beginning to see herself as the saviour of the nation. Of the 209 words in the published transcript, 17 are ‘I’, ‘my’ or ‘me’. In contrast, the word ‘we’, in relation to the administration she heads, occurs only once.
Heaven (and, alas, only heaven) knows what Kenneth Roy would have made of Ms Sturgeon’s countless Covid briefings. If he were in a mischievous mood (which he often was), doubtless he would have obtained transcripts of each and every one of her televised addresses to the nation so he could tot up the total number of references to ‘I’, ‘my’ or ‘me’ in them. A seriously unhealthy amount, I imagine.
Mr Roy would certainly have ripped into that absurd video recording halfway through the Holyrood election, in which the FM stood at a lectern and introduced herself with the words: “Hi there, I’m Nicola Sturgeon and my chosen pronouns are she and her.”
Mr Roy was a master of more than just wry satire, of course. He would have deployed his inestimable muckraking skills to dig deep into the dark conspiracy to destroy Alex Salmond in any way deemed necessary. And he would have pointed up what really lies at the root of Ms Sturgeon’s Orwellian endeavour to turn her political mentor and promoter into an unperson:
I doubt that she has the political intelligence of her predecessor, who is entitled to be regarded as the creator of the modern nationalist movement, who knew exactly what had to be done to make the SNP electable and knew how to do it. Whether Ms Sturgeon has what it takes to complete the journey, I am less sure.
I think we all know the answer to that now, Kenneth. Rest in peace, my friend, by continuing to ignore the Scottish papers. They’re even more dire now than when you departed.