During September, TCW brought you the tale of Douglas Ross, Conservative MP for Moray and part-time football referee. During an online question-and-answer session, Ross had dared to suggest that gipsies and travellers might not be an unalloyed joy for local communities, and he expressed a wish for stricter enforcement. For this heresy the MP incurred the wrath not just of political opponents from the Left, but complaints from Amnesty Scotland and Show Racism The Red Card, all of whom responded with customarily disproportionate outrage.
Remarkably, the ‘Witch-hunted Linesman’ also received from the Scottish Football Association the equivalent of a yellow card: Ross himself conceded that he had been cautioned regarding ‘the use of certain language’. But although that episode did not end his selection as a match official, Ross’s political rivals remained determined to put in a tackle that would bring him to the ground.
It was not long before the SNP found an opportunity to play the man rather the ball. Douglas Ross spent the evening of Wednesday 18 October in Barcelona, part of a Scottish team officiating at a Champions’ League tie; a football commitment which meant that earlier the same day Ross had been absent from the Commons for the debate and (non-binding) vote on the rollout of Universal Credit. This no-show allowed the SNP’s John McNally, during the preceding PMQs, to tell the House that ‘the honourable member for Moray is not in his place’; also, to ensure maximum publicity, he theatrically flourished a red card at Theresa May, asking: ‘What signal does she think this sends to hard-working members of the public?’ Ramping up the sanctimony to eleven, McNally tweeted: ‘Absentee Tory MP should donate lucrative refereeing pay to local food bank.’
Other adversaries also put the boot in. Nationalist MSP Stewart Stevenson accused the Moray MP of ‘leaving his constituents without a voice in parliament’, while Labour’s shadow Scottish Office minister Paul Sweeney (nope, me neither) averred that Ross had displayed ‘a perverse sense of priorities’. In a newspaper column, SNP tyro Mhairi Black raged: ‘Douglas Ross cared so little that he was completely absent . . . choosing instead to earn big cash on the side and spend time rubbing shoulders with celebrities.’
Although the SNP’s attempt at competitive caring rang hollow, surely they had a valid point that, despite Ross’s claim to have been ‘paired’ for the occasion, the Moray MP’s place ought to have been in the Chamber at Westminster? Perhaps. But the Nationalists’ cant was soon exposed when it became apparent that Douglas Ross’s attendance and voting record compares favourably with those of his Nationalist accusers – most notably the vociferous Mhairi Black, who by comparison has been a stranger to the House.
Douglas Ross did speak regarding the rollout of Universal Credit in the subsequent Commons debate which took place the following week, on 24 October. In his statement to the House, Ross dryly noted that the card-flashing John McNally ‘is not in the Chamber on this of all days’. Touché.
Nevertheless, having earlier made enemies because of his non-approved views on the ‘travelling community’, it had become clear that there was now a Greek chorus intent on using any refereeing absence as a stick with which to beat Douglas Ross and his party. Following several days of speculation that he would drop the refereeing but only after the World Cup, on 27 October Douglas Ross caught everyone on the hop by announcing to local newspapers: ‘This week I have taken the decision to inform the football authorities that I will no longer be able to accept any appointments while Parliament is sitting. The consequence of this decision is that I can no longer do the majority of international matches and my hopes of representing Scotland, and most importantly for me, Moray, at a World Cup, now end.’ With FIFA’s policy being to appoint officials as experienced groups rather than as individuals, Ross’s immediate retirement from international refereeing now puts a question-mark against there being any Scottish representation in Russia next year – something of an own goal for the hounding Nationalists.
As an aside, Douglas Ross was not the only Scottish MP who has recently spent time in in Barcelona. MPs Douglas Chapman and Joanna Cherry of the SNP, the party outraged by Douglas Ross’s supposed neglect of his constituents, were part of a delegation which travelled to Catalonia to ‘observe’ the illegal referendum. Chapman claimed that he and his colleague were there to ensure ‘no undue intimidation’ at the polls, which was extremely selfless of them.
In a filmed interview, Channel 4’s Cathy Newman pertinently asked Douglas Chapman what on earth the rogue ballot in Catalonia had to do with him and his party; coincidentally, the sight of a shirt-sleeved crowd milling behind Chapman confirmed that in late autumn Barcelona can be a very pleasant destination.