The Michael Russell who stands before us is surely an imposter. The real one is decent

11th November 2011 at 00:00
Do we have the Education Secretary or an emotionless automaton? The jury's out

Does Education Secretary Michael Russell have a doppelganger? Maybe not, maybe he has an identical twin we didn't know about. Or maybe there's an impersonator going around pretending to be him?

Worse, perhaps one evening driving home he stopped for an obstruction on a lonely Argyll road, got out the car and, Dallas-like, was whisked away by aliens and the one we now have is not the real one.

Or, maybe Invasion of the Body Snatchers was based on truth; there was a pod in his greenhouse and overnight he was replaced by a lookalike, but one with a noticeably different behaviour. A being that looks like Mike Russell, walks like Russell, even talks like Mike Russell, but unlike the proverbial duck, is not Mike Russell but an emotionless automaton.

The first Mike Russell I knew as an MSP was a witty, humorous fella open on some occasions to new ideas. Then when this dangerous flamboyance and independence of thought cost him his high place in the SNP rankings and consequently his list seat at Holyrood, Mike Russell went through a Keith Joseph-style re-examination of his political past.

Emboldened by the expulsion of managerial demons, the first Mike Russell co-wrote Grasping the Thistle with Dennis MacLeod, a book full of ideas for liberating people from government, devolving power left, right and centre - including to councils. It was a breath of fresh air for a party with too much CO2 in its lungs.

Then, despite wearing some rather sinister dark glasses and challenging for leader and getting gubbed, the first Mike Russell got back into Parliament and, being the natural talent he is, was called upon to serve rather than be a nuisance on the backbenches.

Once he got his hands on the education brief we had the Mike Russell who suggested local authorities could dream their own dreams and devolve power to schools, school trusts and other revolutionary ideas. That was before the May election, but something happened during that recess.

Now we have a Mike Russell that issues diktats saying there shall be no school closures whatever is thought locally, deregulation of school management is a thing of the past and councils are still being financially blackmailed to do what Fiona Hyslop failed to achieve in her three years.

It's as if the real Mike Russell had never existed. The figure we see is surely not the liberal, delegating, diversifying Mike Russell we knew and loved, but a centralising, command and control, "I know what's right" Mike Russell.

I preferred the earlier incarnation, not the remodelled Mike Russell. Can we please have the old Mike Russell back?

Brian Monteith is a political commentator searching for the real Mike Russell.

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