I HAVE always been a political animal and am proud to be labelled a socialist and a pacifist.
But as a journalist I have tried to maintain a political neutrality and treat politicians from all parties just the same.
I was close personal friends with the late Tory politician Bill Hodgson and the SNP’s Margaret and Fergus Ewing. I also class as friends former Labour Defence Secretary Des Browne, SNP Leader Alex Salmond and the Lib Dem MP Charles Kennedy.
Among politicians, as in life, there are good and bad, and in my opinion these were some of the good guys.
But “proud and smug” are just two words I would use to describe the former Lib Dem leader Paddy Ashdown.
It is probably wrong to feel so strongly about one man after just two short intercessions, but Ashdown pressed the wrong button for me, and now when I see his face on TV or hear his voice on the radio… I turn off!
I will take you back to early 1992.
I was in my first editor’s chair overseeing The Argyllshire Advertiser, a wonderful small weekly paper in the west of Scotland.
Our paper happened to sit in the middle of the marginal Westminster constituency of Argyll and Bute.
It was a General Election year. The seat was held by likeable Lib Dem MP Ray Michie, but under threat from the Tories and the Scottish National Party (SNP). Indeed after the Tories committed electoral suicide by deselecting their own candidate, the SNP’s Neil MacCormick was coming up fast on the ropes as an unlikely favourite to take the seat.
Meanwhile, nationally it appeared that John Major’s Tory Government could be defeated by the narrow swing in just a handful of seats.
Argyll and Bute was one of them.
So in March 1992 I decided to commission a public opinion poll on the streets of our principal towns to gauge which way the votes might fall. We polled 450 people (about half that of a typical Mori or Gallup opinion poll) and were amazed to find that Prof MacCormick was ahead of the sitting Mrs Michie by about 3%.
The ramifications of this poll were bigger than anything I imagined at the time.
Within 24 hours of my paper publishing the poll results, both BBC and ITV were reporting on it. They wheeled out each of the party leaders for comment and each in turn gave their own turn or spin on the result.
Except for a clearly rattled Paddy Ashdown who in an obvious fury branded our poll as: “A Mickey Mouse poll taken by a Mickey Mouse newspaper”. Quite amusing in hindsight as my paper had been known locally for almost 100 years as “The Squeak”!
I was angered by Mr Ashdown’s outburst and sought to get a response for the following week’s edition of my paper. Each party obliged by giving us good reactive comments. But Mr Ashdown refused to even speak to me and the Scottish Lib Dems moved into dirty tricks territory to discredit our poll and our paper.
As it turned out the Mrs Michie held the seat at the General Election that year with a 2,600 majority.
She later privately told me that she often found Mr Ashdown: ‘quite pompous’ and she apologised for the way he had treated us.
But it wasn’t quite the end of my affair with Mr Ashdown.
Some years later while I was a reporter with Scotland’s national broadsheet The Scotsman I had to attend a question and answer event with the Lib Dem leader.
I sat at the front of the audience of about 200 people with my carefully prepared questions.
When it came to my turn to ask a question, I gave my name and publication. Ashdown looked down at me from his podium and as if he did not hear me, moved on to the next questioner!
This was Paddy’s cold shoulder.