Tuesday, 13 October 2015

Follow the money

Sometimes longevity in politics allows you a bit of perspective and I've now been in this game a very long time.

At some point in the Autumn of 1976 I went to the Kelburn cinema in Paisley to see the film "All the President's Men".

This was in a different age. A "big" film had to be seen on the big screen unless you wanted to wait three years to see it on the telly. No Sky, no Netflix, no You Tube.

And this was a big film. And certainly one I wanted to see. Not just big in its cast and in its staging but big in the story it told. Of how two junior Washington Post reporters, sticking to their story like limpets, eventually brought down the President of the United States himself.

But even in 1976 I was sufficiently cynical to doubt the neat, feature length, version on offer. So I bought the book.

It remains an influence on me to this day.

It is a worthy tribute to probably the greatest piece of political investigative journalism ever undertaken, written by the practitioners themselves. But it also has a third hero, their editor.

Woodward and Bernstein have got a great story, but Ben Bradlee is the man who insists they properly stand it up.

And he, Bradlee, is correct to be cautious. This is not a casual piece of gossipy political reporting. It concerns a story so important, if true, that it must be capable of unimpeachable verification. In the end it is verified and the rest is history but the crucial qualification comes before that, "if true".

For the story Bradlee is initially presented with is this. That the President has, first of all, condoned illegality and then conspired in its cover up. Much as Bradlee himself, no less than his enthusiastic reporters, is no fan of President Nixon,  he doubts whether even Nixon would be so crooked. Indeed, for the sake of the system, he almost hopes his scepticism to be justified.

But there is something even beyond that that bears on Bradlee's consideration. This is such a big story, such a scandal, an event with such potential repercussions that, surely, it can't be true?

Now, nostalgic though I am, you would be right to speculate that I am not here just writing about the reading habits of my youth.

For two weeks back I wrote a wee blog about the significance of the previous day's Sunday Times story regarding the business activities of Michelle Thomson, one time leading light in the group Business for Scotland and the then, two weeks ago, SNP, but now independent, Member of Parliament for Edinburgh West.

I say with due modesty that it had something of an impact, not least in Ms Thomson's now "independent" status.

Yet at the time I did not appreciate the can of worms I had opened.

For something approaching panic then broke out within the ranks of our governing Party, despite their currently enjoying a 30 point lead in the polls. And panic is seldom an aid to sensible decision making.

But such a decision was made, by somebody. A decision to throw Ms Thomson to the wolves. The chosen mechanism the disclosure of internal emails from the Yes Campaign revealing that her participation in the referendum campaign was not the unalloyed triumph it had previously been maintained to be.

Indeed, in a momentary lapse of judgement that will have a tail so long that I suspect that we might well still discussing it ten years from now, it was revealed that Peter Murrell, the Chief Executive of the SNP, had decided, mid referendum campaign, that Ms Thomson was no longer worthy of remunerated employment by Business for Scotland.

A not insensible view. Indeed quite the opposite. Except that, from the perspective of the law governing the referendum, Mr Murrell was not entitled to have any view at all as to the activities of Business for Scotland, let alone to be deciding who they should or should not be remunerating. For he had his, the SNP's, money to spend on referendum campaigning, which he was proceeding to do more or less to the legal limit. Meanwhile Business for Scotland was repeatedly maintaining itself to be completely independent of the SNP, and indeed of Yes Scotland. It needed to be so if it wished to incur election expenditure separately, and in addition to, either. It was, after all, registered as an "independent" permitted participant in the referendum.   If the SNP, through Mr Murrell, was controlling the expenditure of another "permitted participant" then that had to be declared as part of the SNP's permitted referendum expenditure . And if that control existed and if it was not to be disclosed, then Mr Murrell would be breaking the criminal law. A breach significantly aggravated by it meaning that the SNP intended to exceed the money they were legally permitted to spend overall during the referendum campaign.

These are not trivial matters.

The law in this matter takes a bit of digging but it eventually found in Schedule 4, Paragraph 24, sub paragraph 5, sub sub Paragraph (b) of the Scottish Independence Referendum Act 2013. By virtue of that provision,  a person who "knowingly or recklessly" makes a false declaration [as to election expenditure] commits an offence bringing with it the potential penalty of a fine or even of a term of imprisonment "not exceeding twelve months".

Now, in conclusion, if Mr Murrell was merely some minor Party functionary then he, like Ms Thomson, could be disowned by the SNP hierarchy, consoling himself that, if no-one else, at least his wife would stand by him if he was prosecuted. Except of course Mr Murrell is not some minor Party functionary. Dare I say it, perhaps I am not wrong to be reminded of Ben Bradlee's initial reaction these forty years past. Surely this can't be true?


  1. Blimey. How well you put it! Thanks #snpout

  2. Blimey How self delusional! "We might well be discussing it ten years from now" I think you might worry a bit more about your Shadow Chancellor's volte face

  3. Well put. Question is: is there a Scottish Ben Bradlee out there to see it through?

  4. Interesting. I wonder if this is why our wee FM looked so distracted on telly Sunday last...?

    Problem is though that, even if this stands up, I am not sure it would have that great an impact...

  5. One of Spocks best quotes was "The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few"

  6. The worry that occupies me is the SNP polling numbers.
    It is very bad for Scotland if they don't shift because of this whole affair, and to a lesser extent the outcomes of SNP policy choices.

    There now seems to be a chunk of the Scottish electorate that will vote SNP at the next election whenever it arrives.
    They perceive it would be an injustice to not vote for the SNP, because they perceive it was an injustice that they lost the referendum.

    So long as this continues Scottish politics is in limbo. We are all diminished

  7. So , Mr. Smart , you've been waiting since 1976 for your very own deep throat moment. Maybe you should slip it to Clegg at the Daily Dreckord for a big front page vow-like expose. PLEASE read all about it.

  8. Same Smart that predicted that Scottish Labour would come back fighting after the referendum and win in Scotland. Same Smart that was kicked out of Austrailia for wrecking a campaign there. Same Smart that thought independence would fade away after the defeat!

    This guy is a legend for misreading future events.

    No legal case to answer and I doubt that will change, the allegations are falling to pieces on a daily basis. Just because you wish something to be so does not make it so.

    Give up Smart you are washed up.

  9. Straw house built by straw man gets blown down.

  10. Follow the money? Do you mean the 10k from yon Labour constituency office?

  11. If its such an open and shut case it would seem the wheels of justice are moving very slowly.......

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