Nothing of public interest in lurid headlines about SNP MPs

Pick up any newspaper today, particularly the Scottish ones, and you’ll find a whole load of froth about two SNP MPs who have apparently had relationships, not at the same time, with the same woman. Both MPs have separated from their wives, most recently Deputy Leader Stewart Hosie from Scottish Health Minister Shona Robison at the weekend.

Those events will be particularly traumatic for the people involved and most especially for their children. I can’t however, see why it is any of our business. If either of them had shown hypocrisy and sought to curb others’ personal freedom, then perhaps calling them out for that would be relevant. Where is the public interest in this?

Much of the reporting is sensationalised and, more importantly, misogynistic on all sorts of levels. The woman concerned is cast as the “home wrecker” and extensive scrutiny is made of her blogs she has written which are simply not relevant. Nor is it appropriate to compare with the SNP MPs who have had to resign the whip and sit as independents. They have had to do because of various allegations of financial misconduct which are being investigated, not their personal lives

We really don’t need to know all of this stuff, and I wish editors would think about the effects of their articles on everyone affected. It’s hard enough for kids to come to terms with parents’ separation without their schoolmates hearing all sorts of lurid, unverifiable speculation. Maybe people who buy these papers and enjoy reading these stories should ask themselves how they would feel if it was their child going through it. We need to remember that behind each wild headline are lots of people having a really hard time. Our demand for such coverage makes their lives worse and it’s not necessary.

A great deal is made of the situation in which Nicola Sturgeon finds herself. Robison has been a close friend of hers for decades and Hosie is her deputy. Her lack of public comment is commendable on both a personal and professional level. There is nothing she could have said that would have made the situation any better. Yes, it may be a bit awkward, but, like any other situation when this sort of thing happens in a workplace, she and everyone else just has to get on with doing their jobs.

If there are questions about Angus MacNeil’s expenses, and I struggle to see how there are, then the relevant authorities should look at them, but it seems to me that legitimate hotel bills are being used to give a fig leaf of public interest to a story which is essentially a private one. However, I’m more than happy to have a go at him for whinging earlier this year that he wasn’t able to claim more than £150 per night for accommodation. It’s perfectly possible to find accommodation in London for that amount. It might not be as glam as the hotel across Westminster Bridge, but them’s the breaks. He could always rent a place. Then he wouldn’t be subject to the volatility of the hotel market.

Most facile is the reaction of the Labour Party, reported in the Herald:

A Labour source said: “People will question whether Stewart Hosie can credibly lead the SNP’s summer campaign for independence when he has been caught up in scandal like this.”

We should remember that Robin Cook, who was arguably Labour’s best Foreign Secretary, principled enough to resign from the Cabinet over the Iraq War, also separated from his first wife after his affair with his assistant (whom he later married) was discovered by the press. I don’t remember any Labour sources saying at that time that he should not continue in his job – and nor should they.

I don’t have a lot of time for either Hosie or MacNeil, but that doesn’t mean that I think that the reporting of their personal lives in the last 24 hours has been either fair or justified, for them or those around them.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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25 Comments

  • I’m not sure the press need to “justify” their coverage. The default position should be that the press are entitled to report on things like this. I’m as angry as you are about the damage to these men’s families, but I would place 100% of the blame at the doors of Hosie and Macneil themselves.

    Quite apart from the questions being raised about expenses, voters are entitled to take politicians’ personal integrity in to account if that’s important to them. You may disagree, but it’s their prerogative, so in this sense the reporting is entirely valid.

  • Very good, Caron, I don’t know any of these people and had never heard of one of them but you are right in principle. This is not new behaviour by the press.

  • I would place 100% of the blame at the doors of Hosie and Macneil themselves

    Indeed. No one forced them to commit adultery. That was their choice and they must suffer the consequences.

    It must be horrible for the children, but they should blame their fathers for not keeping it in their trousers.

  • Things like this also always remind me of Stoppard, opining through one of his characters: ‘Junk journalism is the evidence of a society that has got at least one thing right, that there should be nobody with the power to dictate where responsible journalism begins.’

  • Rightsaidfredfan 18th May '16 - 5:43pm

    I agree it’s none of our business and believe a persons freedom to have a private life trumps the presses right to make money out of publishing details of people’s personal lives. However perhaps we should know if those who rule us are adulterers as adultary is one of those things most people feel is morally wrong and unacceptable behaviour? I believe adultary is against marriage law in that it’s grounds for divorce?

    I don’t believe the press are misogynistic as people who do not respect other people’s marriages are generally selfish home wreckers, but blame mostly goes on those who have affairs.

    Reminds me of a joke I once heard that women won’t date a guy who lives with his parents but will date a guy who lives with his wife.

  • Tony Dawson 18th May '16 - 6:50pm

    It is interesting that the very different things which different people will define as being in ‘the public interest’ are often not what actually interests the public.

    One can rail against this truism as much as one likes. There will be no effect. The initial and prime responsibility in the matter reported here lies plainly with the gentlemen concerned. In a way, today it almost does not matter how the print media treat this subject. Had they not done so, the same number of people would, almost inevitably have been reached within a very short time by people gossiping about the matter on social media.

  • Stevan Rose 18th May '16 - 7:14pm

    Actually I can think of 2 reasons why the press should publish adultery stories concerning politicians. First it illustrates a deceptive and untrustworthy character… if they can cheat on their partner they are fully capable of doing that same to their electorate. Second it acts as preventive treatment against hypocrisy and attempts to impose moral standards on the rest of us. Remember Back To Basics while Major had been having a fling with Currie. That said I don’t read papers that print such garbage and there’s a case for a 48 hour embargo so family can be informed. Start imposing censorship on journalists and where does it end? Turkey and it’s insulting the President laws? No thanks. I put it in the category of necessary evil.

  • @ Steven Rose…….. Every political party has its ‘scandals’ of every description – without exception – including this one. No doubt it wouldn’t go down too well with the LDV powers that be if I specified them

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 18th May '16 - 10:12pm

    Stevan: I never once said that I thought journalists should be censored. I just think it’s a shame that we live in the sort of society where we feast on this sort of deep trauma.

    And the other thing – I don’t necessarily want my politicians to be perfect. I want them to be just like the rest of us. I also don’t believe in sitting in judgement on people. If I am going to judge it’s how they do their job, not their imperfect personal lives.

  • @Caron
    I’d rather our politicians were more like those of us who don’t cheat on our wives, rather than those who do, for the reasons (i.e. harm to families) you described so well in your article. It may not be a deal breaker but I would certainly see it as a strong negative quality in a politician.

    ” If I am going to judge it’s how they do their job, not their imperfect personal lives.”

    This comment made me think of the time Michael Howard sacked Boris Johnson – not for cheating on his wife, but for lying to Howard about it. I guess Howard was following a similar principle. But why should anybody expect honesty from a man who treats his family that way?

  • Caron Lindsey

    “If I am going to judge it’s how they do their job, not their imperfect personal lives.”

    Absolutely spot on.

  • Alastair Ross 19th May '16 - 8:05am

    Remind me. Are either of these guys holding a cabinet post for Culture, Media and Sport? Thought not. I see the gutter press is back to business as usual then.

  • I don’t necessarily want my politicians to be perfect

    I don’t think ‘not committing adultery’ counts as ‘perfect’, does it?

    I thought far form ‘perfect’, it was the absolute bare minimum that would be expected of a decent human being.

  • But Caron the SNP are the morally superior party, so they can hardly complain when they turn out not to be; so yes this should be reported you can’t claim to be one thing and actually be another.

  • @Frank Little
    Your “story” appears to be something about two single adults going on a few dates. What exactly is your point?

  • Considering that over 40% of marriages end in divorce it is likely that 5 of those commenting, so far, may well fall into that category….Most marriages don’t break down instantly so I’d contend that in a ‘rocky’ marriage infidelity is likely to happen…

    Were these men happily married? Who knows; but emphatically “blaming the men 100%”, without knowing the background is just knee jerk nonsense…
    If they were spending taxpayers’ money on their affairs then that, not skewed moral judgements, should be the focus….

  • @expats
    You’re quite right, I shouldn’t blame these two men 100% without all the facts. But if the reports are true – and nobody has attempted to contradict them – and the wives in question were indeed cheated on and deserted then I’ll be happy to put the 100% blame back on.

    One of the men once had a fling with two teenage girls (simultaneously) while his heavily pregnant wife was in hospital. I assume you don’t mind me reporting this as fact since he publicly admitted it. I actually would withhold my vote from such a man, purely on the basis that trustworthiness is a quality I look for in a politician.

  • but emphatically “blaming the men 100%”, without knowing the background is just knee jerk nonsense

    No, it isn’t. They could have said, ‘No’; they (in the words of the song) should’ve said, ‘No’; they didn’t; therefore they are 100% morally responsible for not saying no.

    And this does matter. A politician is elected on the basis of a promise, that they will faithfully carry out the trust that you put in them as a voter.

    If they can’t even keep their solemn marriage vows, why on earth would you trust them with your vote?

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 19th May '16 - 1:00pm

    In cases like these, I tend to take a “let those without sin cast the first stone” kind of approach. We all do things that we shouldn’t. We all behave badly and I find the morally superior attitude of some commenters quite disturbing.

    We can make assumptions, but we do not have all the facts so any rush to public judgement is at best premature.

  • Dav 19th May ’16 – 12:59pm……..And this does matter. A politician is elected on the basis of a promise, that they will faithfully carry out the trust that you put in them as a voter…..

    I wish you well in your search for an ideal MP….Perhaps, you might see if Diogenes is still selling lamps…or maybe I’m just being cynical?

  • In cases like these, I tend to take a “let those without sin cast the first stone” kind of approach

    This always reminds me of somethign G.K. Chesterton had Father Brown say:

    ‘For it seems to me that you only pardon the sins that you don’t really think sinful. You only forgive criminals when they commit what you don’t regard as crimes, but rather as conventions. So you tolerate a conventional duel, just as you tolerate a conventional divorce. You forgive because there isn’t anything to be forgiven.’
    — ‘The Chief Mourner of Marne’

  • Alastair Ross 19th May '16 - 7:10pm

    The hypocrisy of the press is what gets me. The contrast between their approach to these two clowns and John Whittingdale is surely the story. There’s clearly one rule for chums of media barons and a different rule for the rest of us. In the case of The Sun its a bit odd as theh so clearly backed the SNP earlier this month. Keep looking for the ‘self interest’ is my thought. It will be there somewhere.

  • @Caron
    “We all behave badly and I find the morally superior attitude of some commenters quite disturbing.”

    It’s really no different from people taking a “morally superior” line on things like xenophobia and sexism or any of the numerous other issues people (including yourself) make moral judgements on all the time in political debate. If you took the moral judgements out of politics, there wouldn’t be an awful lot left!

  • It’s really no different from people taking a “morally superior” line on things like xenophobia and sexism or any of the numerous other issues people (including yourself) make moral judgements on all the time in political debate

    That being Chesterton’s point: it’s not that people think that adultery, xenophobia, racism etc are all wrong but should be forgiven because we are all imperfect, it’s that they think xenophobia and racism are really wrong, whereas adultery is a mere peccadillo and can be forgiven easily because there’s nothing really to forgive.

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