“Holyrood Could Be Calling Me Home” read the headline above George Galloway’s Daily Record column last week, in which he claimed that he was coming under increasing pressure to contest next year’s Scottish Parliament elections.
Unnamed “football supporters, leaders of the Asian community, trade unionists, former constituents, and even members of the Labour Party” were supposedly all urging him to stand for election.
According to Galloway, they were urging him to stand because the Scottish Parliament needed “some heavier-weight members if it is to develop as a real parliament worthy of the name ... it needs members with principles on which they stand, come what may.”
Principles? George Galloway? You decide...
Galloway was first elected as an MP in 1987. Less than a year later the Executive Committee of his Constituency Labour Party (CLP) passed a motion of no confidence in him. In 1989 13 of the Executive Committee’s 26 members resigned after Galloway had managed to secure his re-selection.
In 1990, Tribune carried a classified advertisement headed “Lost MP who answers to the name of ‘George’ ... balding and has been nicknamed ‘gorgeous’.” According to the advert the missing MP had last been seen in Romania and had not been to a CLP meeting for a year.
(Galloway threatened legal action over the advert – he had attended five CLP meetings – and reached an out-of-court settlement with Tribune.)
In 1994 Galloway first established his reputation as an apologist for Saddam Hussein (and, in subsequent years, various other Middle East dictators).
In a meeting with Saddam, Galloway told him: “I thought the president would appreciate knowing that even today, three years after the war (the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait), I still met families who were calling their newborn sons ‘Saddam’. ... Sir, I salute your courage, your strength, your indefatigability and I want you to know that we are with you, until victory, until Jerusalem.”
A 1999 meeting between Galloway and Saddam’s psychopathic and rapist son, who had an established record of torture and murder, was caught on video (although the video did not become public knowledge until much later). Galloway greeted Uday as “your Excellency”, joked with him about Cuban cigars, weight loss and hair loss, and promised him: “We’re with you till the end.”
Galloway has also had warm words of praise for the former Iraqi Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz, recently sentenced to death for his role in massacres committed during Saddam Hussein’s rule. When Saddam was still in power, Galloway was on such good terms with Aziz that he described him as “a good friend”. He partied with him. He spent a Christmas with him.
After Aziz had been arrested following Saddam’s fall from power. Galloway called for his release. Aziz was “my friend and I think of him often, he is a good man.” Aziz, claimed Galloway, was “viewed with high esteem worldwide by international figures who have valued his counsel, met him, discussed and negotiated with him.”
Iraq, of course, was not the only dictatorship for whose rulers Galloway could find words of praise.
When a military coup overthrew Pakistan’s elected government in 1999 Galloway wrote: “In poor third-world countries like Pakistan politics is too important to be left to petty squabbling politicians... Only the armed forces can really be counted on to hold such a country together. Musharraf seems an upright sort to me and he should be given a chance.”
(This “poor third-world country” had tested its nuclear bomb the previous year.)
Writing in 2002 about the collapse of police-state one-party rule in the Soviet Union, Galloway lamented its passing: “If you are asking did I support the Soviet Union, yes, I did. Yes, I did support the Soviet Union, and I think the disappearance of the Soviet Union is the biggest catastrophe of my life.”
On a visit to Syria in July of 2005, Galloway said of a meeting with its ruler, Bashar Al-Assad “We covered the whole world in 60 minutes. I was very impressed by his flexible mind. Syria is lucky to have Bashar Al-Assad as her President.” (But the people of Syria had never been asked if they wanted him as their President.)
On a subsequent visit to Syria later the same year Galloway said: “All dignified people in the world, whether Arabs or Muslims or others with dignity, are very proud of the speech made by President Bashar Al-Assad a few days ago. For me, he is the last Arab ruler, and Syria is the last Arab country. It is the fortress of the remaining dignity of the Arabs.”
In more recent years Iran’s President Ahmadinejad has filled the void left in Galloway’s political universe by the overthrow of Saddam Hussein.
Galloway broadcasts for the Iranian government-backed “Press TV” station. Recent gems by Galloway on his show include “If I was Iran, I’d get nuclear weapons”, “Iran has only been a democracy for 30 years but in that 30 years it’s come a long way,” and “those who ridiculously claim that here’s no real democracy in Iran, hah, well, they’ve certainly had their comeuppance in the last few weeks.”
Galloway claims that his election to Holyrood is needed “if it is to develop as a real parliament worthy of the name.”
But Galloway’s record hardly qualifies him for this role. The countries which he has consistently defended over the years are ones in which parliamentary democracy is notable for its absence: the Soviet Union under Stalinism, Pakistan under military dictatorship, Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, Bashar Al-Assad’s Syria, and the Iran of the mullahs.
If elected to Holyrood, will Galloway perhaps work to turn Scotland into a “real democracy” — like Ahmadinejad’s Iran?
If Galloway were to take a transforming role at Holyrood it would require his participation. But that would be in stark contrast to his record as a Westminster MP.
Following his election as an MP for Respect, for example, Galloway’s voting record in Parliament in 2005 was 634th out of 645. Of the eleven with worse voting records, five were Sinn Fein MPs who refused as a principle to attend Parliament, one was the Speaker, and two were dead. By late 2009 he had voted in only 93 out of a possible 1,113 votes.
Just five days after Galloway’s Daily Record column was published, the national conference of what is left of Respect passed a motion sanctioning the party’s foray into Scottish politics.
The motion was proposed by Galloway himself, Rob Hoveman and Kevin Ovenden (two former members of the SWP who opted to become professional bag-carriers for Galloway after the latter had trashed the SWP in Respect) and the former Shadwell Respect councillor Abjol Miah. (Are the Holyrood elections really such a hot topic in Bethnal Green and Bow?)
According to the motion, “Respect has not organised in or contested elections in Scotland in the past because of the hegemony of other parties to the left of Labour. This hegemony no longer exists. In the context of unprecedented cuts by the Con-Dem coalition and disappointment with the Labour and SNP, there is now an opportunity for Respect to contest elections to the Scottish parliament with a realistic prospect of success.”
So, in the Daily Record Galloway claims he is thinking about standing in the Holyrood elections by popular request. But at the Respect conference the reason given for standing is: the disarray of the left provides an opportunity to carpetbag a seat (for George Galloway). What’s the truth here?