Chris Deerin's Notebook: Ruth Davidson's new arrival, Holyrood redux, and rocking out for Rowling

The release of my band's debut album at the age of 45 has taken me away from one of Scotland's few think tanks and into any number of weird worlds.

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It’s not every week you release your debut record. At the grand young age of 45, that’s exactly – and yes, perhaps ill-advisedly – what I’m doing. My band, Fat Cops, launched its self-titled album on the poor bloody public on 1 March. Nerves and excitement compete for dominance. What will people make of it? Will they laugh at us? What will our mums think?

Fat Cops have an eclectic and target-rich line-up: I’m a political commentator and think tanker, and provide lead vocals; Al Murray, the Pub Landlord, is our drummer; on guitar is Bobby Bluebell, of the Bluebells’ “Young at Heart” fame, who has penned a quite bewildering array of hits for an equally bewildering array of artists over the years. Journalist Euan, IT manager “Bass Chris” (can you guess what he plays?) and doctor Neil, who happens to be married to JK Rowling, complete our sextet.

If we’re a motley crew, we’re also – and I say this with no humility whatsoever – not bad at what we do. The reviews of our glam-punk-garage-disco stompalongs are hearteningly enthusiastic. David Quantick, giving the record eight stars out of ten, astutely captures it as resembling “200 little boys fighting under a blanket”. It combines “the relentless surreal thunder of a good-day the Fall and the melodic sensibilities of the Dave Clark Five”, he says. The Sun gives these “middle-aged, slightly overweight blokes” four out of five and a full page in the paper. We’ll take that. Now we just have to get through our album launch gig at the Social in London on Monday night.

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A few months ago I started a new day job as director of Reform Scotland, an Edinburgh-based think tank. It’s not an area I ever thought I’d work in – I’m a hack, not a wonk – but it has been a rewarding and perspective-altering experience.

Scotland doesn’t really have a think-tank culture. Although there are a handful around, they’re all pretty tiny – even Wales is better stocked. My ambition is to build the nation’s first substantial think tank, and help stimulate a richer flow of policy ideas at Holyrood – something noticeably lacking over the first 20 years of its existence. It’s a muscular parliament, but the politicians haven’t really used its levers to their full potential.

Five years after the brutally binary independence referendum, I detect a change in mood among both the MSPs and the public. Whether Yes or No, there’s a view that it’s time for Holyrood to grow up, stop blaming Westminster for its problems and start taking some risks. As a senior Scottish businessman put it to me this week, “If the SNP want independence, they’d better show they can make a difference with the powers we already have. If the other parties want to save the Union, they’d better show it can be made to work better.”

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Coffee with Angus Robertson, the former Westminster leader of the SNP. The last time we met, Angus was still in his Commons pomp. He made his reputation at PMQs, where – certainly compared to Jeremy Corbyn’s random noodling – his spiky contributions often saw him described as “the real leader of the opposition”.

I like meeting front-line politicians once they’ve departed office. They’re always different: softer, a bit baggier, wryer. And almost always thoroughly relieved to be out. The suit of armour is left on the battlefield and the human that was buried inside emerges blinking into the light.

Angus has always had what we Scots call “a guid conceit o’ himsel”. But defenestration by the electorate – he lost his Moray seat in 2017 to a man who was not just a Tory but also a football referee – is a stiff corrective to the ego. Today, he is self-deprecating, at times startlingly honest, and also considerably hairier.

I ask him if he’s given up elected politics for good, and his non-committal reply suggests he hasn’t. I suspect we’ll find him filling a seat at Holyrood after the next devolved election in 2021. Which would be no bad thing for the SNP.

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Scottish politics and its attendant coterie are squeezed into a relatively small geographical area – Edinburgh often has the feel of a village, where everyone knows everyone else’s business. I’m leaving a restaurant after lunch when I bump into Ruth Davidson, the superstar Scottish Tory leader, who is currently on maternity leave. Pleasingly her new son, Finn, is with her. He is an impossibly cute wee boy and it’s quite something to see one of the hard women of Holyrood fussing and tucking and dabbing with maternal gentility. Ruth looks tired but content. She’ll have to put her armour back on soon enough, though. It’s hard to imagine she’s looking forward to it.

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It’s Tuesday, the morning after the night before. If Fat Cops are an eclectic bunch, the audience was even more so. From my vantage point at the front of the stage I looked out over a bouncing, sweaty crowd that contained, among others, Sharleen Spiteri, Tom Watson, Robert Peston, Jesse Norman, Clare Grogan, Ms Rowling and Frances Barber. A stiff drink before kick-off settled the nerves, and we banged through the set with only the occasional thought for personal safety.

I managed to remember all the words and come in at the right times. The guitarist didn’t flunk his big solo. The bass player only accidentally kicked the lead out of his guitar once. No one booed or threw stuff at us. Folk bought T-shirts and records, pals previously known only on Twitter introduced themselves, and there was some truly terrible dancing (that was largely me). In the end, it felt like a coming together of the band’s various weird worlds. We crossed the streams but I think we just about got away with it. What a daft, magnificent adventure it all is. Now, I must get back to the think tank.

Chris Deerin is the New Statesman's contributing editor (Scotland). 

This article appears in the 08 March 2019 issue of the New Statesman, The next crash