Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg was attacked last night in Glasgow with a blue paint bomb.
The blue paint ruined Mr Clegg’s perfectly good jacket and also hit Scottish party leader Willie Rennie. Predictably, the media were very keen to make the biggest possible deal out of the attack, which happened as Clegg was attending a meeting with Liberal Democrat activists in the city’s West End.
I really don’t see what all the fuss is about. After all, I’ve had a lot worse things than blue paint thrown at me in certain areas of Glasgow. Sky News were quick to point out that “The colour of the paint is thought to be a reference to the Conservatives, the Lib Dems' coalition partner.” Really? And there was me thinking someone was trying to suggest he was a Rangers supporter.
Sky was also on hand to suggest that the man throwing the pain had done so “to register his anger at the direction Mr Clegg was taking his party and the coalition's austerity measures”. Hmmm. If he really wanted to do that, why not simply direct angry questions at Mr Clegg in the full glare of the TV cameras...that might have made more of a point.
To be honest, this a complete non-story. Member of the public throws paint/custard/pie/egg (delete according to preference) at a politician. No-one gets hurt (unless you’ve been unwise enough to target John Prescott). The only remarkable thing about this is the light-hearted responses of Clegg and Rennie. Clegg dismissed the incident as one of those “things [that] tend to happen sometimes in the job and it's no big deal”. Rennie laughed “I've always wanted a blue streak in my hair but my mother wouldn't let me.” Priceless.
What this incident also highlights is the laziness of the British media, and their London-centric approach to politics. Neither Sky nor Channel 4 seemed aware that Willie Rennie was the leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats. And while the press were understandably keen to play up the attack, few in the media seemed very interested by the more pressing matter of what Nick was going to say to the party faithful and – more crucially – how he would be received.
As I wasn’t able to be there personally I can only go with what others have said. On facebook, Allan Heron commented that “Nick's defintition of values was that of a libertarian and not of a liberal. No mention of commuinity, and no mention of (to use Paddy's term) Citizen's Britain. He's very good in that arena but said nothing to convert any doubters (although that may not be possible). Like many in the Westminster bubble, still shows a disconnection with Scotland.” Another contributor, Graeme Cowie, addded that “whilst his UK strategy will recover, we've got no answer yet to the SNP's communication of a vision for Scotland. I like Clegg and I can make sense of and identify with his strain of liberal thinking but if we can't make it relevant to people in Scotland then 4% could yet be our glass ceiling rather than our worst case scenario.”
These are very serious and real concerns, and are represent the kind of anxieties many party members have. I am similarly concerned about the lack of a distinctive Scottish vision, the disconnection Allan refers to and the real possibility that unless we rebuild and become more relevant to Scots the hoped for reverse in fortunes might never become anything more than misplaced optimism. It is these questions that should be taken up by the media, not the irrelevance of a young man throwing paint around.
Personally, I’m tired of attacks on Nick Clegg – instead I prefer the intense questioning and constructive scrutiny of his leadership that I know party members have offered in recent days. Unfortunately, due to the actions of a foolish publicity stunt, the substance of what was discussed has paled into insignificance as far as the press is concerned. A crucial meeting about our party's future has been overshadowed by a tin of blue paint. And for that Scottish democracy is all the poorer.