I want to start with an apology to my readers. You were entitled to hope you had heard the last of me and I have struggled to honour that expectation. If you are interested in the current micro-politics of the Scottish Labour Party, and are prepared to try hard enough, you will probably be able to find me out somewhere in the blogosphere but I have had my time at the Law Society and it was undoubtedly time for a newer and better leadership.
I am however moved to re-enter the fray temporarily in response to the events of the last few days. Eilish Angiolini has come under sustained criticism over remarks she made at the launch of Pro Bono Week. Now, in an odd way, I subscribe to some of that criticism. Legal aid lawyers, indeed High Street lawyers of any sort, already do a huge amount of pro bono work and it is wrong to suggest that this needs to be a recorded professional obligation. For us it is already a professional obligation. There is no need to record it.
But why, once again, has Eilish become the focus of this public criticism?
There are any number of avenues of attack on Eilish. That she is a career prosecutor. That she is a (mere) solicitor. That she (only) went to the University of Strathclyde and, before that, a state school. That she is (whisper it) a practising Roman Catholic. But, you know, these are only the icing on the cake. The real objection to her rise to the ranks of the legal establishment is that she is a woman, and a relatively young woman at that.
I’m no great believer in the glass ceiling, and as resentful as the next man of anybody who has used the excuse that “Women must be given their chance”, as code for “I personally must be given a (preferential) chance”. I am also aware of the dangers of “My flirtation is my fortune” progress.
No one however could ever level such a charge at the former Lord Advocate. She has risen on her ability as a lawyer and in that capacity achieved the distinction of being the first fiscal law officer; the distinction of being the first Lord Advocate to serve, on merit, two diametrically opposed political administrations; and, yes, the distinction of being the first woman in that role.
When she departed office in May, civil society in Scotland, the corporate sector, the public institutions, even the political parties were falling over themselves to secure her talents.
But for some in the legal profession, her supposed (though denied) aspiration for the position of Sheriff Principal of Glasgow, which, distinguished role that it is, is hardly membership of the Supreme Court, was nonetheless an outrageous over-ambition.
There is one word for what is going on here and that one word is misogyny.
I have known Eilish for more than 20 years. She is a prosecutor and a very good one but it is unlikely her side and my side will ever exist on any basis other than mutual suspicion. Nonetheless, for what she has done: opening up the decision making of the Crown; placing victims' rights at the heart of the criminal justice system; and using her public position to promote, not herself, but the causes she believes in, she has my respect and she deserves the respect of others. Even if she will always be, in the eyes of some of them, just a wee lassie.Ian Smart is principal of Ian S Smart & Co, Cumbernauld, and a former President of the Law Society of Scotland