The unravelling of the political career of the one time leader of Glasgow City council, Steven Purcell, has been dramatic as the skeletons (no pun intended) fall out of the closet. This has been the worst handled political crisis since… well the expenses row last year. However Purcell is not the only person who should be looking at their performance or their actions.
The first thing to say about Purcell, and this is a personal opinion, is that I do not understand why he was touted for great things by those in the know. Excluding his personal troubles, Purcell made too many political mistakes, and has stored up problems for his successors. His part-privatisation of key council services, turning them into “Arms-Length companies” has the potential to undermine democracy in Scotland as people look at these companies and question the relevance of electing councillors.
His council, like others across the country is also in debt, with schools having to be closed in order to make PPP re-payments, which brings into question his £60,000 wage for being Glasgow City Council’s leader. The decision to offer the former head of Education, Margaret Doran, some £278,000 in “redundancy payments” also raised questions about Purcell’s judgement. Then there is his “Anti-Glasgow” comments which struck a chord with core Labour voters but no one else. Scratch the surface and you find someone falling far short of the hype.
Yet Purcell was protected as if he was going to be the next big thing in Scottish New Labour. It is this protection which has exacerbated Purcell's problems. It’s not as if the warning signs were there, after all Inspector Knacker visited Purcell in May 2009, supposedly because a dealer had footage of Purcell on his mobile. The fact that Purcell does not seem to have been given a warning over his behaviour seems to have backfired on the New Labour group. Alarm bells should have been ringing anyway with the revelation that he used Cocaine in the past. Either he should have been “protected” better, or contingency strategies should have been contemplated.
The other way the desire to protect their leader backfired so spectacularly was the fashion which the New Labour group so suddenly were so defensive in the immediate aftermath of Purcell’s resignation. The hope that Purcell could recover from this and salvage his reputation evaporated the moment he employed Scotland’s Uber-Spin Doctors Media House and employed the Lawyers Levy & McRae. From here on the story was why did he really resign.
The main moral of the story is thus – stop anointing greatness on someone early on. Every news report parroted the line that Purcell was “a rising star” and “was tipped to be a future First Minister”, that kind of pressure or expectation must get to people, especially as, well, there’s not really anyone else on the up escalator for New Labour.