McAllister enjoys teasing Martin for his aristocratic ways. He calls him “King Henry”, for he has long been struck by Mr Speaker’s Tudor hauteur. “Mairi Bhan” may be grand by Glasgow standards, but it is spartan against the grandeur of Mr Speaker’s grace-and-favour home in Westminster. “The Speaker’s House epitomises the status of the Speaker,” notes the official guide that celebrates an extensive refurbishment of the listed building, its two formal drawing rooms (Corner and Crimson), state dining room and state bedroom. In Glasgow, Martin presides over a formidable Labour-party machine; in Westminster, his authority is unchallenged, for nobody, not even a prime minister, dare antagonise Mr Speaker.
There is a dynastic quality to Martin’s Scottish political empire. Since 1979 he has been MP for Glasgow North East (formerly Springburn); his son, Paul, was elected to the equivalent seat in the same constituency in the Scottish parliament, despite having shown little dynamism while he served on Glasgow council. At election times, the pair of them appear together on the streets in identical suits and shirts. “We call them the Martin mafia,” laughs an SNP activist.
But this is not just a father-and-son political operation. For several years after Martin became Speaker, his wife, Mary, was also on his constituency payroll, earning £25,000 a year for unspecified duties, even though she was living in London with her husband. His daughter, Mary Ann, who lives in Glasgow, was for many years employed as his constituency secretary, and most people in the area assume she still is. In fact, as the autumn deadline approaches for MPs to declare which family members they employ, Mary Ann has been quietly removed from the payroll. The Speaker’s external PR adviser would say only that Mary Ann left her father’s employ “sometime this year”, though it is understood to be a very recent change. Martin declined a request for an interview, and his secretary wrote warning that nothing must be written that is “misleading or inaccurate as to fact”.
Although Paul Martin, according to one colleague, “has not exactly set the heather on fire” in the Edinburgh parliament, he is widely tipped to succeed his father as the Westminster MP when Mr Speaker retires. “Paul is not very bright, but he’s wily,” says Phil Greene, an SNP member of Glasgow city council. “He does the job of keeping the Labour vote up while his dad’s down in London.”
Greene’s Labour colleagues in Scotland are reluctant to criticise Michael or Paul Martin. “Michael runs a tight ship,” says one Labour councillor, who asked to remain anonymous.
He adds that there is considerable resentment of the way they seem to regard the constituency as a family fiefdom.
And how did they get there? Well ...
Apart from the Tesco superstore complex, there are few signs of private commerce. Most economic activity is state-funded, and the business of this part of the city is recycling different types of funding, from Brussels, London and the Edinburgh parliament. Labour lost control of the devolved parliament to the SNP at the last election, but it keeps a grip on the city of Glasgow itself, which it has ruled for as long as anyone can remember. The permanent Labour rule has created a vast bureaucratic operation, state-funded and based on patronage and old-fashioned machine politics. “It’s like Chicago in the 1920s,” says McAllister.
In the mid-1970s, Labour councillors frequently faced charges of corruption; the graft is apparently more subtle these days, but it is there, and many politicians (there is no suggestion that this includes the Martins) have to reach some sort of accommodation with the big family gangs who run the main drug and prostitution rackets in the city. In Michael Martin’s constituency, 60% of children live in “workless households”, where the entire family income comes from the state.
This kind of shit has no place in modern society, even among the sweaties. But the real fucking disgrace is not that Labour has done this, but that Glaswegians have let it be done to them. What happened to entrepreneurial spirit, the roaming urge that made Scotland punch way above its weight in centuries gone by?
Update: The Devil is a bit peeved, too.