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
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
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
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
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.