It’s hardly cutting edge journalism to reveal that there’s nothing as “ex-” as an ex-MP. The reality of life after parliament is very far from the common assumption by the public that former politicians easily glide into high-paying sinecures.
The reverse is more often the case, with “former MP” on your CV being more of a hindrance than a help. After my own defeat in 2015, it took me many months of effort and sleepless nights to get to the stage where I could be confident that I was earning enough to provide for my family and keep a roof over their heads.
Scotland being smaller than the UK, our ex-MSPs don’t always have a great time of it either. The writ of the governing SNP runs throughout civic and even industrial Scotland, and non-nationalist ex-politicians inevitably find the marketplace for their skills less receptive than it is for those who maintain a close personal relationship with serving ministers.
Normally, former Green MSPs (of which there are more than you might think) could expect to prosper in this new political environment, their party having kissed the hem of the first minister’s gown in return for two prized places around the ministerial table. Alas, if, like Andy Wightman, you performed an act of apostacy while still serving at Holyrood, and resigned the party whip on a point of principle, then you are, pretty quickly, deemed an un-person.
Wightman’s grievance with his former sandal-wearing colleagues stemmed from his unfashionable predilection for accepting the facts of biological science: the Green Party in Scotland, as elsewhere in the UK, is primarily focused on trans rights rather than the environment. It was not enough for Wightman to believe that trans people should not be victimised and to campaign for their rights; he was unhappy with the “censorious” attitude of his party on the issue and believed that the open, public debate that was required on trans rights was incompatible with his party’s views.
So Wightman parted company with the Greens, stepping down as an MSP in May last year. He has since had little success in gaining alternative employment and recently tweeted that he had obtained only four full days of work in the last seven months.
One might have expected his former colleagues in the Scottish Greens to offer at least some sympathy to someone who was among the hardest working and most respected MSPs of their former parliamentary team. Alas, the “be kind” injunction frequently used by trans ideologues was revealed to be no more than that: mere words. Paul Rodger, the Scottish Young Greens policy officer, said on Twitter: “Cw Andy Wightman. Never been prouder of the human race than learning that no one will pay him, almost gives you hope.”
The delight at another’s difficult circumstances was shared by Rodger’s party colleague, Ewan Smith, elections and campaigns officer, who said: “CW: Andy Wightman. Lol, Imao.”
Both men are young and both have now deleted their appalling comments. But in Twitter veritas, as it were. Deleting tweets after the fact is less a sign of remorse than an indication of having been caught saying what you think. And what many people in the Scottish Greens think is that anyone who disagrees with them on trans issues, even if all they want is for these difficult issues to be discussed publicly (in other words, the overwhelmingly vast majority of the population), then you deserve to exist in penury, with no job, no income, and all the appalling consequences which flow from that.
A desire to see your political opponents (as Wightman has become) not only outside parliament but also below the poverty line is not confined to the Greens. At the 2015 general election count for my own constituency, as I walked around the conference centre where the count was taking place putting on a brave face for the TV cameras and my own activists, I overheard some young SNP activists gleefully speculate about how it would not just be former Labour MPs who would now be unemployed, but their staff as well. Oh joy! What fun! Their laughter still rings in my ears and I hoped at the time that my own, now unemployed staff, had not overheard.
This kind of politics is cruel and unnecessary. Engraved on a wall in the Scottish Parliament building is the phrase coined by Canadian poet Dennis Lee: “Work as if you live in the early days of a better nation”. Is this the better nation our rulers wanted? Where men and women are mocked for being unemployed? Where party affiliation is considered so much more important than an individual’s principles and convictions?
Scotland perhaps can be a better nation than it once was, although on present evidence it has gone backwards in the devolution era. With the SNP and the Greens in charge, it is unlikely to make much progress in the right direction.