OPINION: McConnell confession was shrewd move

One of the results of Scottish devolution has been that the

'English' papers don't report anything that happens north of the border.

When I told a BBC colleague last week that Jack McConnell was set to

confess to an old affair with his secretary, the reaction was 'Jack

who?'.



McConnell may be First Minister for Scotland but most English people

only know that because of his very public confession by him and his wife

of his adultery. This may not have been as sensational as the 'stand by

my man' statement of Hillary Clinton but it was every bit as

effective.



Many can't understand why a man who was about to be elected unopposed to

the top job in Scottish politics found it necessary to tell the media

what they all already knew but had never reported. This is a fair

reaction because long gone are the days when a 'bit of nookie' by a

politician would lead to his or her downfall.



Indeed former Lib Dem leader Paddy Ashdown actually became more popular

when news of his affair became public - and Clinton was one of the most

popular US presidents ever. Even Robin Cook survived as foreign

secretary for a parliament despite a high-profile affair and subsequent

divorce.



The reason McConnell put his wife and family through the most traumatic

ordeal since they learnt of his affair seven years ago was because of

the atmosphere whipped up in the Scottish media. With little politics to

report from a parliament that Blair called 'a parish council', the huge

contingent of Scottish political hacks are left with little else to do

except dig up dirt - and some eventually sticks. Just look what happened

to the previous first minister Henry McLeish, who was forced to resign

not for his 'crime' but for his handling of it.



Inevitably McConnell was worried that any scandal, however small, could

ruin his career, too. He knew that all the political classes were

gossiping about his past affair because he was constantly referred to by

the more downmarket tabloids as 'Jack the Lad', and even the BBC talked

about his 'colouful' past. We don't know for certain if someone was

about to tell the public what the hacks all knew but McConnell rightly

reckoned that it is always best to come clean.



The argument still rages as to whether or not he was right to do what he

did but judging by last weekend's papers the gamble seems to have paid

off. McConnell may have been forced to say that there were no other

affairs but so far no-one has discovered another woman, despite the

massive resources the tabloids have thrown at it.



There now seems to be a press concensus that it is time to 'lay off',

particularly as Scottish politics is seen as a joke in the rest of

Britain.



Some are even worried that the Queen may refuse to come to Holyrood to

annoint their new leader - but given the marriage record of her kids,

that's thought unlikely. At least Jack is still married.



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