February 4, 2009 / 3:22 AM / 9 years ago

"Mac" brings Scottish flavor to German politics

BERLIN (Reuters) - Might Germany one day be ruled by a man nicknamed “Mac” who got married in a kilt and whose Scottish father first arrived in the country to fight the Nazis?

<p>David McAllister, head of Lower Saxony's Christian Democratic Party (CDU), gives a Reuters interview in Berlin, in this January 26, 2009 file photo. REUTERS/Tobias Schwarz</p>

David McAllister has been likened to a young Helmut Kohl and is currently the only member of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU) below the age of 40 to lead her party in one of Germany’s 16 states.

McAllister, born to a Scottish soldier and a German mother, is one of a growing number of lawmakers of foreign extraction whose success is giving Germany’s politics a face more reflective of its increasingly multi-cultural landscape.

“My Scottish origin has never been of any disadvantage to me,” the Berlin-born McAllister, 38, told Reuters. “Perhaps it’s even been an advantage because you’ve quite an exotic name for German politics.”

It seems so far to have helped the trained lawyer.

When the CDU in the large western state of Lower Saxony voted to endorse McAllister as party leader last year, they did so by a record margin -- even though his predecessor, incumbent state premier Christian Wulff, has often topped polls of Germany’s most popular politicians.

Before the Berlin Wall fell 20 years ago, such a rapid ascent within the country’s main conservative party would have been unthinkable for the likes of McAllister, said Dietmar Herz, a political scientist from the University of Erfurt.

“Society needed to change first -- and it has. It’s a new phenomenon. And it’ll increasingly be the case in coming years. There’s much more acceptance of diversity here now,” he said.

More than 18 percent of the population, or some 15.1 million people are classified as of migrant origin, which means people who moved to Germany since 1950 and their offspring. The number is rising, but is not yet reflected in political representation.

Of the 612 members of the Bundestag lower house of parliament, only a handful belong to this category. They include five of Turkish origin, two of Iranian extraction, and two half-Indian. Another was raised in Croatia and one left Poland in the 1950s.

With Germany’s population aging fast and its birth rate one of the lowest in the world, many argue that bringing in more immigrants is an economic necessity although studies have shown that Turks, the biggest ethnic minority, have struggled to integrate. This suggests the future may hold challenges.

“A few years ago, nobody in the CDU would have brought up immigration,” said Herz. “Now they’re saying it has to take place. However, society is still a step or two behind.”

CHANGING TIMES

Outside the Bundestag, however, change is more apparent.

European Parliament deputy Cem Ozdemir, 43, became the first politician of Turkish origin to head a major party in Germany when he was named last year to lead the Greens.

In Hesse, the Greens scored their biggest ever success in a state election this January under the leadership of Tarek Al-Wazir, whose father was Yemeni. Surveys showed Al-Wazir to be Hesse’s most popular politician at the time of the vote.

Back in Lower Saxony, the CDU’s coalition partners, the Free Democrats, are headed by Philipp Roesler, 35. Born Vietnamese, Roesler was adopted by German parents as a baby.

Though McAllister proposed to his wife on the shores of Loch Ness and married in a kilt, he is keen not to be categorized as the CDU’s token German-Scottish politician and only uses his mother tongue with his two young daughters at home.

Nevertheless, McAllister, whose father’s family hailed from the Gorbals area of Glasgow and who speaks English with a slight Scottish accent, said politicians in Germany could learn from their British counterparts and Westminster’s debating culture.

“The ability to laugh at yourself is a typical British quality. You hardly get that in German politics,” he said. “When I‘m out and about I like to make fun of myself. The problem with Germans is there needs to be a crisis first: then they react.”

Like his father James, whose first experience of Germany was fighting the Nazis with the 51st Highland Division, McAllister spent time in the army. Living behind the Iron Curtain in West Berlin as a child, he developed a lasting aversion to Communism.

“I think anyone in Lower Saxony -- with a few exceptions -- would say that even though McAllister is a CDU man through and through, he can also have a beer with his political opponents,” he said. “Whereas I don’t drink beer with the Communists.”

SHARP TONGUE

McAllister cites British Conservative leader David Cameron as an inspiration, and is renowned as a fiery speaker who gives no quarter to his opponents.

“An election campaign is not a kids’ birthday party,” he said. “I had a look at the last UK election campaign, which I thought was much tougher than what we’re doing in Germany. I had a look at the campaign in Taiwan. That is really fierce.”

German weekly Stern last year compared McAllister’s career path to that of Kohl, Germany’s longest-serving postwar Chancellor. However, the man nicknamed “Mac” by local papers says he has no plans to enter federal politics for now.

Should McAllister seek Germany’s highest office, he has the potential to be Chancellor, said Klaus Wallbaum, political editor at the Hannoversche Allgemeine Zeitung, a Hanover-based daily.

“There aren’t really that many others in the CDU of his age who look like coming through,” he said. “It could happen.”

Karl-Heinz Nassmacher, a political scientist at Oldenburg University, said the Scottish name would not hurt his chances.

“It wouldn’t bother anyone here,” he said.

Editing by Sara Ledwith

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