Douglas Ross is the fresh-faced Conservative MP for Moray, the man whose election in June denied Westminster the joie de vivre hitherto provided by the SNP’s Angus Robertson. Ross is also a qualified football referee and moonlights as a professional linesman. But he recently discovered that signalling for a dubious offside is far less hazardous than flagging an opinion which offends politically-correct Scotland.
In late August, participating in a quick-fire online interview, Ross faced the question: ‘If you were Prime Minister for the day, without any repercussions, what would you do?’ ‘I’d like to see tougher enforcement against Gypsies and travellers,’ was his instinctive response. For sure, a surprising priority for a putative Prime Minister; though perhaps less surprising coming from the representative of a rural area who attests to the issue long being a concern for some of his constituents. But if the answer was unexpected, the resultant howls of protest from political opponents were entirely predictable.
Green MSP John Finnie seethed that Ross ‘didn’t seek to eradicate poverty, work for a better planet or peace’ – answers Michael Aspel might have elicited from a Miss World contestant – ‘rather he chose to attack an already beleaguered minority, our Gypsy travellers.’ Not any old Gypsy travellers, mind, but our Gypsy travellers.
MSP Christina McKelvie of the SNP felt moved to hail ‘the Gypsy traveller community’ as ‘part of Scotland’s rich cultural heritage’ and denounced Ross’s choice of subject as further evidence of a Tory party that ‘openly embraces intolerance and prejudice’. Even the Scotland director of Amnesty International, Naomi McAuliffe, weighed in, indicting Ross for ‘divisive and inflammatory rhetoric’ which ‘creates barriers. For those marking a Leftist-boilerplate bingo card, it was a full house.
In the face of enemy fire, Ross apologised for having rashly selected Gypsies and travellers as his number one priority and for not having provided context of a ‘small number who give all travellers a bad name’. But, to his credit, Ross did not grovel as those in the crosshairs are often pointlessly prone; instead, he continued to insist that during his time as a Highland councillor, MSP and now MP, illegal and unauthorised encampments have been a significant local concern, about which ‘the settled community feel their voice does not get raised’.
Needless to say, such lack of contrition further enraged his critics. ‘Even his half-hearted apology did not adequately address the divisive impact of his remarks or show humility,’ fumed local Nationalist MSP Richard Lochhead. ‘The comments are unacceptable.’
Ross’s spontaneous remark had cited ‘enforcement’, which my dictionary defines as ‘the act of compelling observance of or compliance with a law, rule or obligation’. Therefore, even taken literally as his political priority, it seems Ross’s first act following his hypothetical accession to Downing Street would not be to impose new and stronger laws against travellers, but to ensure strict compliance with present legislation. However, expressing the belief that a protected minority group should fully comply with the existing law or face the consequences evidently is, in modern Scotland, beyond the pale.
But whereas the confected outrage of political opponents is now a given, perhaps the most remarkable aspect of this episode is that the part-time flag-waver found himself under investigation by the Scottish Football Association, the result of a public complaint that the professional linesman had breached a rule prohibiting match officials from making comments of a ‘discriminatory nature’.
Those who struggle to keep pace with what terms have become verboten might justifiably wonder which of Ross’s words were potentially discriminatory. Is ‘Gypsy’ perhaps now a proscribed, pejorative term? With the word having been liberally uttered by his critics, and still being widely used by travellers’ support groups, apparently not. It seems that simply being less than effusive towards a minority group is now a transgression.
Finally in mid-September, following an investigation by its Compliance Officer, the Scottish FA announced that the matter would not be referred to the Association’s disciplinary panel for punishment. However, the Scottish FA’s statement contained the public admonishment: ‘He should give careful regard to the Scottish FA’s disciplinary rules whilst under its jurisdiction’.
Ross himself dutifully acknowledged, ‘The Association did remind me about the use of certain language.’ But of course, this barely disguised warning to the MP, that to maintain his secondary career running the line in professional football he should avoid similar controversy, did not even begin to satisfy his accusers. In an overweening statement, the organisation Show Racism The Red Card pompously declared: ‘Under the Macpherson definition of racism, Show Racism The Red Card perceives Ross’s comments to be racist. So while the SFA may not consider it to be a breach of policy, we deem it to be a racist incident under the law.’ Ah yes, Macpherson’s requirement for nothing more than perception, now expanded to cover all sorts of new and exciting hate crimes, and a scoundrel’s charter.
As Douglas Ross said when the story broke: ‘This is an issue that needs to be addressed. It is unfortunate that we cannot openly discuss this issue for fear of being called a racist or a bigot.’ Whether or not Ross was correct, that the activities of some travellers are sufficiently troublesome for it to be one of his political priorities as an MP, is beside the point: the matter ought to be a legitimate subject for discussion. Of much greater concern is that on this and so many other contentious issues, too many Leftist politicians and pressure groups now cannot countenance there being any debate at all.