Tuesday, 29 December 2020

Why May?

There is a vaccine. Thank God there is a vaccine. By the Summer we should all have had it and things be back to (the new) normal.

And that new normal would include elections and all that goes with them. Door to door canvassing: street stalls; hustings; TV debates with a live audience; Party rallies. Above all, scrutinised counting of the votes. Unless the vaccine is rolled out much more quickly than currently envisaged however that will not be the position in April or early May. Yet it remains the position of the Scottish Government that we should still have a vote on the first Thursday in May. A Scottish Government, you might note, who have already decided that the challenges of dealing with the pandemic and its aftermath means that we can't have secondary school exams in June or, indeed, conduct a Census at any time during the calendar year 2021.

On its last sitting day of 2020, Holyrood did pass legislation to allow for the possibility of the 2021 elections being postponed. So far was it recognised that we are far from out of the woods that it even provides that the election can be postponed by the presiding officer alone if (and the Bill, soon to be Act, says this expressly)  the Parliament can't meet because of continued Coronavirus restrictions.

So, in April/May it is acknowledged that the crisis might be far from over but the plan is still to have an election.

Indeed, on looking at its actual terms of the Bill, it is clear that the SNP Government wants an election in May. They give themselves powers to conduct an entirely postal ballot and reserve powers to conduct in person voting over several days. How logistically possible the first would be at this short notice is altogether another matter, while pulling essential local government workers away for days to act as polling clerks, Police officers being diverted from their duties to guard polling stations overnight and many schools being closed for days during a year of already widely disturbed educational is, how would you put it, an odd sense of priorities. 

And this is all wholly unnecessary. Almost as soon as the pandemic broke out, English local government elections were cancelled for a year by cross Party consensus. I understand there are quiet conversations going on about them being further postponed. The Electoral Commission have already recommended that.  But this time we wouldn't be talking about a year, for, if all goes to plan, there should be no reason that we couldn't have a normal election, as described above, on the first Thursday in October. Given they would remain in power in the interim in Scotland, why would the SNP object to that?

Here's why. They know they need to cut and run. The polling might look good at the moment but who says that will last. Particularly if, as I suspect, the failure to apply the cash they were given for business support, choosing instead to spend it on pre election freebies, sees the economy bounce back here much more slowly than in the south. Particularly further if, on more considered reflection, given our inherent advantages (in pandemic terms): far lower population density; far fewer multi generational households; far fewer particularly vulnerable ethnic minorities, people begin to question whether we really did much better than "them". Or even better at all. Except, even I would concede, in the field of public presentation.

Public presentation I suspect the Nats hope that, if they can hold on to May, they'll can continue with until a few weeks before the polls open? And also, in the process, avoid a Party Conference that might finally have to be confronted with there being no plan B. 

In summary therefor, there should be no election in May and if that is not a decision willingly taken at Holyrood, it should be taken at Westminster. Power devolved is, after all, power retained. 

Sunday, 29 November 2020

The Walking Dead

Party Conferences have two purposes. Firstly they allow the Party's activists, among their own herd, to  feel important, although in any well run Party they will not actually be. Secondly they require the media to pay your Party some attention and provide some favourable coverage. In both respects the SNP Conference has been, for them, a disaster. It is no wonder their leadership postponed it repeatedly.

Sturgeon's interview on the Marr show today was a meltdown moment. She was caught out lying on not one but two occasions. About two unrelated matters, the first of which, about how many people in Scotland were dying of Coronavirus, was a performance which, in its indifference to the population she governs and  regard instead for protecting her own image, would have put Donald Trump to shame. 

Whether this will be a breakthrough moment only time will tell, but I suspect wiser heads in the SNP have appreciated for some time that Nicola is only the air in an increasingly over inflated bubble and that someone might come along with a pin at any moment. If she has just evaded this pin today, there will be others to come. In my lifetime first Ally McLeod and then Fred Goodwin went from being the most admired person in Scotland to the most despised person in Scotland within the space of a month. If it became common currency that Sturgeon had used an hour of live telly every day not to inform the people of Scotland but to lie to the people of Scotland, you could see a similar moment coming. 

But the second way in which the conference has failed is in making the Party's own activists, herding among their own, to feel important. Don't take my word for this, look no further than The Reverend Stuart Campbell, proprietor of the Nationalist's favourite website, Wings Over Scotland. He suggests the SNP leadership are treating their ground troops like (his simile) mushrooms. To be kept in the dark and fed shit. Now, to describe many SNP activists as as insentient as mushrooms is probably an insult to funghi worldwide but, if those continuing to support the leadership's strategy of waiting for the UK Government to grant them as.30 are stupid, how much more are those wanting a "Plan B"?

There is literally no Plan B. Insofar as I can even comprehend it, it consists either of passing a referendum bill at Holyrood and waiting for the Supreme Court to vote it down. And then to be..... aggrieved. Or instead have a referendum about something else such as "Should Holyrood have the right to have.....a referendum?".

What all this ignores is that their has been a referendum in 2014 where, on a record turnout, 55% voted to remain in the UK. All the attention has been on the relative recentness of that event. Not enough of the decisiveness of it. Not just regarding the result but regarding the turnout. Now, were the SNP to have some sort of other referendum and get 2.1 million votes, or even something remotely approaching that, then I kind of agree that might make a difference. But there is literally no prospect of that! And if the Plan B team think otherwise they are not just stupider than a mushroom, they are stupider than a grain of salt. The only kind of goal they are pursuing is an own goal. 

The SNP is now existing in a strange zombie like incarnation, They can move about. They can, to be fair, still bite people. They certainly continue to take chunks out of the Scottish Labour Party. But they are in truth the walking dead. They should stop herding about  to draw attention to that.

Sunday, 22 November 2020


Yesterday, Douglas Ross talked about what everybody interested in Scottish politics should have been talking about for months. What happens if the SNP and their gardening wing don't have an overall majority at Holyrood in May next year?

That is much more of a possibility than conventional opinion allows. However, as I have pointed out elsewhere, conventional opinion has a vested interest in a narrative that an SNP majority is inevitable and so all attention should focus on there being to come, somehow, a second independence referendum. 

But, as you will surely know, I am on twitter a lot. And for a long time I had as my  pinned tweet one sent initially early in the morning of of Friday 6th May 2016, pointing out, based on early results, that the SNP were about to lose their overall majority. As I watched the live TV on the night, it was about two hours before those commentating acknowledged that this was happening, despite it surely being obvious to the informed participants. Because conventional opinion in advance deemed such an outcome inconceivable. Even after it had long since been conceived by the votes of the actual electorate.

So let me start by conceding the most likely outcome of a Holyrood election next May. The SNP, possibly relying on The Greens, will still have a majority in the chamber. And the second most likely, they will still have a plurality. But if you express that second result a different way? The second most likely outcome of the next Holyrood election is that the SNP and their allies will no longer have a majority. For a second independence referendum or, unless they cobble together votes on an issue by issue basis, for anything else. In 2016, the SNP lost six seats. If that happens again, and the Greens simply stand still, the second referendum game's a bogey but Scotland will still need a government. 

So why has there been an utter silence on this? As New Labour stored up opinion poll lead over opinion poll lead in the run up to the 1997 election, there were still counterfactual pieces written about what a fifth continuous Tory term might mean. As we in turn stumbled to defeat in 2010, reams written about the potential post election landscape. In Scotland however? Complete silence from the commentariat about what, as I say, is the second most likely outcome of an election six months away. An outcome about which current polling suggests is improbable but hardly impossible. An outcome, in terms of no Party and its obvious allies having an outright majority, being what PR systems normally produce. 

Yesterday, Douglas Ross did us all a favour by breaking that silence. The Tories would do a deal with anybody except any party proposing a second independence referendum. And, to be fair, our own current leader, Richard Leonard, responded almost immediately. We would do a deal with anybody except the Tories. I have literally no idea why he said this.

Logically it would mean that if he had come an improbable second to an SNP/Green block denied an overall majority, his immediate response would be to offer that block continued support as the government of devolved Scotland. Because he would never do a deal with the Tories. Even if Douglas Ross tracked him down on a picket line somewhere and begged him to become First Minister, even offering to take his place and hold his placard while he got on with the job, Richard would still never do a deal with the Tories. Really?

Dare I suggest it is not as simple as that. Let's model my six losses for the SNP, assuming an equal division of spoils. It gives you 57 Nats, 6 Greens, 33 Tories, 26 Labour and 7 Libs. 

Now let's look at the law. The aftermath of an Scottish Parliamentary election is dictated by sections 3 and 46 of the Scotland Act 1998. Unlike at Westminster, a First Minister does not remain in office until someone else is appointed. Rather, within 28 days the new Parliament must elect (or re-elect) a First Minister. If they do not, then there is another election. The Parliament itself can't change this because it is in the Act. Simple as that. 

The First Minister so elected has to win a majority of votes cast, so, if, on my model, the three "unionist" parties voted consistently against any SNP nominee but failed to take any other initiative, there would be another election. 

But why conceivably would they do that? "Unnecessary" elections are never popular with the electorate. Those responsible never prosper. They are also expensive. And refighting an election on the platform that the choice was either continued stability (of sorts) with a returned SNP majority or, alternatively,  probably a third election. Really?

So there would be a mutual "unionist" interest in their not being an immediate further contest. At least until the Autumn of 2021, probably, assuming the local government elections still go ahead, until the Autumn of 2022 at the earliest.

But what happens in between!!!???

Surely the unionist parties also have a mutual interest in denying the SNP the advantages of continued incumbency? Of using public money to subtly and sometimes even not so subtly promote their separatist agenda. Of using the power of patronage to reward their friends or the threat of patronage withdrawn to silence their critics. And that logically must involve Labour talking to the Tories about some sort of interim administration.

Now would this be difficult or far from perfect? Of course it would. Labour and the Tories are agreed about the failures of the SNP but have radically different solutions. No Labour Party would support the criminal justice changes Douglas Ross proposed yesterday just as no Tory Party would support the permanent nationalisation of Scotrail. Much of the criticism of the SNP for being unwilling to do anything "bold" for fear of imperilling that part of their electorate with a vested interest in the status quo, would undoubtedly carry forward to an administration unable to do anything bold because the bold things the Tories would do would horrify us and vice versa.

But such an administration would not be without potential opportunities where we and the Tories (and the Libs) actually do agree. I say that particularly in relation to local government. We are entirely agreed that the failure to pass Barnett funding on to local authorities must stop. We are entirely agreed local government must be given more power and more respect. Written in to law. Although this would require a policy change on Labour's part, we might now be strangely agreed on directly elected Lord Provosts. We might even be able to find a way forward on non-domestic rates reform.

We would also have a mutual interest in rebranding the Scottish Government to reflect its true constitutional status. No more Saltires (alone) on everything from letterheads to commemorative plaques. No more overseas embassies. A happy embrace and acknowledgement of projects directly funded by the UK Government. Agreement with the UK Government when possible and respectful disagreement when required. But with the emphasis on respectful.  

I also think there is probably more agreement than you'd think on Pandemic recovery, using the powers of the Parliament to support small businesses and the Green revolution coming to assist the private sector (yes) in exploiting Scotland's natural resources in this regard. 

I couldn't see such an administration lasting five years. We and the Tories have too many genuine differences of opinion for that but I could certainly see it having a useful two years. While the SNP tore themselves apart over their (supposed) missed opportunity after Brexit and worked out that they hadn't known what they had with Nicola until she was (surely) gone.

The big question however remains which Party secures the key position of First Minister. I can't conceive of  us ever voting for a Tory FM or indeed them ever reciprocating. My answer would be neither. It should go to the third member of the triumvirate, the Lib Dems, on the understanding that this was to be a collegiate administration with the incumbent more chair than chief executive. 

But I also want to finish by stating one further clincher argument for Labour. If the Nats lose their majority and Labour stands aside, we will eventually get to a situation whereby the SNP, having been perceived to have lost the election, are nonetheless being kept in power by the Labour Party. If he had thought that through, that's above all why Richard should not have been so speedy in his response.

Sunday, 15 November 2020

Step aside brother.

The next few weeks are my least favourite period of the whole year. Autumn's glories are fast fading and all of that season's rituals passed. The September weekend; Halloween; Guy Fawkes night; Remembrance Sunday and, probably now also on that list, the start of Strictly. Yet the Winter Solstice and the Christmas Festival of celebration to follow are still a bit too far away to provide (forgive the cliche) a light on the horizon.

Yet last week was a good week. A vaccine was announced. Biden was confirmed as the winner of the US Presidential election to the satisfaction of everybody except Trump. Scotland qualified for a major football tournament. In UK politics Dominic Cummings was despatched back to Barnard Castle to spend more time with his family, while the Labour Party NEC was decisively regained by those who are more interested in winning elections than in excusing anti Semitism. In Scotland, there was even a straw in the wind that the pandemic fuelled bubble of enthusiasm for Scottish independence might be beginning to deflate.   

But in the midst of all this good news, one grim spire stood standing. Richard Leonard's ongoing disastrous leadership of the Scottish Labour Party. While it was good to be reminded by last week's events that you don't always lose, Scottish Labour remains in a mindset of not even trying to win.

There was a by-election in Edinburgh on Thursday. In what as recently as the 2012 local government elections was a Labour Stronghold. Not only did we not come second, we very nearly came fourth behind the Greens. 

Now, at a UK level, there seems little doubt that the accession of Starmer has led to a Labour recovery. I actually have some sympathy with the Corbynistas argument that had Corbyn been the only problem for Labour we should actually be doing better still but equally the more sentient of them would concede that, for whatever reason, we have gone from being consistently behind the Tories under their hero to being at least neck and neck.

But there has been no recovery in Scotland. That despite the following undisputed facts.

1. While Johnson's management of the pandemic has been hapless, Sturgeon's, presentation aside, has been at least as bad. Indeed, factoring in population density, arguably significantly worse. Tellingly, even Devi Sridhar, asked on Channel 4 News weeks back whether Scotland had done better than England, pretended to misunderstand the question and talked instead about something else. And nobody would surely have been keener than her to answer with an emphatic "Yes", had that been conceivably possible to justify. 

2. There is something fishy about the Salmond case. Something that is, behind the scenes, causing a very real schism within the SNP. A schism that has led or is leading a significant faction within the Party to contemplate removing Sturgeon from her current position of leadership, personal opinion poll ratings notwithstanding. Even today,  Sturgeon is spending your and my money to try to get a court order to prevent the publication of a paragraph in an email she sent to the Permanent Secretary about this matter. A most unusual thing to have to do if she was truly taking no part in the process, then or now. Jackie Baillie is playing a blinder on this but Leonard is looking on like Zelig. He seems to misunderstand that being "present but not involved" was not one of the greatest merits of our recently departed UK leader. 

3. The Scottish Government is tired. That is not a partisan point. All government's get tired after too long in office. Clement Attlee's revolutionary government of the left got tired, perhaps to soon but after delivering so much. Just as Margaret Thatcher's revolutionary government of the right also got tired. If we were being honest, excepting Brown and Darling's response to the crash, the latter years of New Labour leave little in the memory. But as each failed someone had to be positioned to pick up the baton. The sole purpose of the SNP running the Scottish Government was to have an independence referendum. They did. They lost. No matter how much they might pretend otherwise to emolliate their kilt wearing, flag waving, rank and file, there will not be another such event in the immediate future. Even if there were somehow, the nationalists do not have a coherent argument to make. This is hardly a difficult argument for an opposition to articulate. 

Yet Scottish Labour remains utterly irrelevant to the political process. Obsessed with internal wrangling over who gets the distinction of failing to get elected as a Labour candidate next May. A complete policy free zone. An organisational shambles. 

Now, just as Corbyn was not the only problem for the UK Party almost a year ago, Richard Leonard is not the only problem for us here in Scotland. It wasn't a left wing leadership who lost the last Holyrood elections or indeed presided over our original collapse in 2015. But there is simply no way his continued occupation in office is helping the situation. He has, to be fair, upped his media profile but it is too late. Nobody is listening and, excepting a running commentary on internal matters and a wholly confused narrative as to where we stand on a second referendum, he has, anyway, literally nothing of interest to say. Anybody think that Anas or Jackie would not improve matters somewhat in what should be the only important measure of performance, how well would we do at the polls? Can they win a Scottish General Election, in the sense of gaining a plurality of votes? Almost certainly not. But can they gain enough ground to deny the nationalists an overall majority? That remains to me a real possibility. And perhaps someone should be saying what we might then do with the balance of power. 

But time is short. I've long been of the view that there should not be a Holyrood poll next May. Campaigning would be too difficult in current circumstances. No door knocking; no street stalls or leafleting; no public meetings or hustings; no rallies; no stickers or balloons. The result of the US Presidential Election might have been satisfying but the process leading up to it was not. I suspect with a less controversial incumbent it might have been delayed by cross Party agreement.

But there is no way the SNP will want to waste their current poll advantage brought about by their (or at least Nicola's) impression of being the, pandemic assisted, only show in town. They also will want the election over before any pandemic post mortems have time to be concluded and before they are finally obliged to publish their much delayed report into the state of Scottish education. 

So, it will be May. Less than five months away. For Scottish Labour, less than five months away from disaster. 

The STUC is currently running a campaign to increase the number of women in leadership roles under the slogan "Step aside brother". A proud trade unionist, Richard should take the hint. Otherwise, as a distinguished historian of the Scottish Labour Party, he may well end up writing its obituary.


Saturday, 24 October 2020


 I am not generally a superstitious person but I've always had a thing about the number 17.

Insofar as there is a "logic" to this, when I was aged 17, my grandfather, uncle and father all died and since then it is a number I have tried to avoid. As a much younger man, it held a particular terror when I played cricket. Indeed I was once run out trying for an eighteenth run in an attempt not to be stuck on 17!

Later, I have always tried to avoid seats or rows numbered 17, or planning events for the 17th and, when I merged my legal practice a few years back, I had a certain apprehension about doing this in......2017.

Nonsense! I hear you say.

Except that when I woke up on the 17th of October I was feeling pretty rough. I'd been fine the day before, had run a trial and then had my usual Friday curry and bottle of wine. The wine had tasted a bit odd but beyond that an ordinary day.

But the next morning I woke up all aches and pains and with a bit of a sore head. I thought it was perhaps the wine. I had no temperature or cough or gastrointestinal symptoms. Paracetamol made things a bit better but I was seized with an extreme lethargy which didn't lift all day. Most strangely, I had absolutely no appetite. At about 3pm I realised I hadn't eaten, so I made myself a roll and sausage but, after a few bites, I had no inclination to finish it. Later I had half a fish supper in a similar spirit. I went to bed early thinking I'd probably be fine the next day. As indeed I was a bit, so much so that Andi and I went out shopping for various items needed for our current home improvements. But I remained really tired and, again, up for little of the roast pork dinner one of Andi's boys had cooked.

On Monday, I worked from home. As is quite easy and common at the moment. Had the working world been "normal" I don't think I would have stayed off, particularly as, had things been normal, that would have involved cancelling client appointments.

On Tuesday however I developed a persistent cough and the suspicion what might be wrong became a bit more than that. This is only anecdotal but I can't find any fault with what happened next. First thing Wednesday, I signed up on the website for a test. It was briefly down but for no more than ten minutes. I was directed to Coatbridge that lunchtime, provided the swabs required and was told I'd probably get the result the next day as indeed I did. I had a text when I first picked up the phone the next morning. I was positive for Coronavirus. Within 24 hours so were also confirmed Andi and my stepson Crawford, Sunday's cook. At lunchtime on Thursday I was phoned by the contact tracers and dealt with them in ten minutes. 

We're are all fine, although I remain very tired and lethargic. Yesterday I slept until one in the afternoon and again until noon today. Even when awake I have no inclination to any great physical or mental activity. Normally if I was lying in bed ill I would read something and/or listen to the radio. Not this time. I still have little appetite although its clearer now that's because my taste is affected. Even if I wasn't required to isolate I wouldn't be well enough to go to my work. 

But, insofar as I understand matters, if I was going to get worse then that would be happening by now. And I am not.

No idea how I got it. I've only been in the house or the office for the last week and nobody else in the office is ill. I had one face to face client meeting but they are fine.

So that's my story. 

Except that I'd say that this has brought home to me, much more even than seven months of hugely disrupted living, that this is a real thing. And it is not going away.

Tuesday, 20 October 2020

A fundamental misunderstanding

There have been a lot of polls in recent months about how people would vote in a hypothetical second independence referendum and there is no denying these polls tend to show a majority for separation. 

We are however in very peculiar circumstance. The Country is in the middle of a pandemic and virtually the only voice heard is that of the First Minister. The new leader of the Scottish Tories remains a largely unknown quantity while although their best known politician is back on stage it is only for a farewell tour. The leadership of the Scottish. Labour Party, is execrable. We also have an exceptionally unpopular UK Government not only pursuing, it appears, the exceptionally unpopular (in Scotland) goal of a no deal Brexit but also led by a man who epitomises all that can be worst in the traditional English ruling classes. Despite that, hobbled by the legacy of Corbynism, we seem a very long way from being likely to elect an alternative Labour Administration at Westminster. On any view, the perception (if not the reality) is that the Coronavirus crisis is being handled more competently by the Scottish than the UK Government. Few would argue that Sturgeon is a more accomplished media performer than Johnson in at least giving the impression she knows what she is doing. Finally, Independence is for the moment being allowed to be whatever you want it to be with no regard to the massive contradictions within that whatever is, let alone any serious consideration of how all this might be paid for. 

So, in some ways it is no surprise that in the midst of this perfect storm, support for the union has drifted away. Indeed if the separatists couldn't secure a temporary poll lead in these circumstances, it is difficult to see when they ever might.  

But, in common with much of the self interested commentary we see in the press that I have referred to here before, people are being invited to draw precisely the wrong conclusion from these polls. The fact that the separatists might win a referendum is not a reason for the UK Government to allow one. It is precisely the reason they would not. That is the fundamental misunderstanding on the nationalist side

So let's move forward not to the 2021 Holyrood election (if there even is such an event) but to the 2024 Westminster one. Let's assume, not least thanks to Johnson's performance today, the red wall has been rebuilt and fresh parts of England won over. The Nats still dominate Scotland however, so despite our best efforts, at close of poll the Tories retain a plurality but not a majority of seats. Their support would give a Labour Government a commons majority. What happens then? The SNP MPs would become government lobby fodder. Their current social democratic positioning would force them to say they would never support a Tory Government. So they would have no leverage at all. They could certainly "say" they wouldn't vote for a Labour Queen's speech but in truth, not doing so has only one logical outcome. Supporting a successful Tory defeat of a potential Labour Government. Leading to a second election where the only way to get a Labour Government would be to vote Labour. Good luck to the Nats in going back to the polls on that basis.. And, anyway, why would a Labour Government destabilise itself, while discrediting  it with the very "British" voters it lost to the Tories over Brexit and could easily lose again, all to permit an event the outcome of which could be the loss of its Commons majority?

The logic of this seems to me incontestable.

There is no way any UK Government allows a second referendum. At least for a true lifetime.  

Over to you Nicola.

Sunday, 11 October 2020

Unintended Consequence

I remain far from convinced that there was a conspiracy to get Alex Salmond prosecuted but I am increasingly of the view that there was, for whatever reason, a conspiracy to get him into bother.

The reason I do not believe there was a conspiracy to get him prosecuted is that, had there been, that conspiracy would have had to involve not just the SNP and the Scottish Government but both the Police and the Crown Office and that would start to get you into territory more commonly encountered in paper back thrillers than in real life. Anyway, when he was prosecuted, never forget that all of the charges, excepting one where the complainer was unavailable to come to court, got to the jury. Despite Salmond having the very cream of defence representation, there was no submission of "no case to answer" on even one charge and, beyond that, on all charges, a minority of the jury thought him guilty. Were they part of the conspiracy as well? And the fact that Mr Salmond himself has never claimed malicious, as opposed to misconceived, prosecution (as opposed to evidence given, some of which he certainly says was maliciously given) is also a factor.

No, the conspiracy to prosecute won't wash but the conspiracy to get Salmond into bother? 

You see, when in October 2017, the Scottish Government decided that their process for making and potentially upholding complaints of sexual harassment by Ministers would be retrospective, knowing what we know now but the SNP knew then about Salmond's general albeit not criminal conduct, it beggars belief that it did not occur to anybody in the SNP Leadership at that time that Salmond might get caught up in that process. After all, as Sturgeon says in her written evidence (referring to the 2008 Edinburgh Airport allegations) :-

"However, even though he assured me to the contrary, all of the circumstances surrounding this episode left me with a lingering concern that allegations about Mr Salmond could materialise at some stage"

The SNP Government had no need to make the complaints process retrospective. Such a decision would have passed without much comment at the time and, even if challenged, could have been justified on natural justice grounds, at least in relation to former members of the Government. At the start of the Holyrood Inquiry there was a half hearted attempt to suggest retrospectivity was a civil service initiative/suggestion but that has not stood the test of further evidence. It was a political decision. The exact process was left to the Civil Service to design. But that was all.

But that there were political machinations going on is also borne out by something I think has been largely missed in Nicola Sturgeon's written evidence this week. I myself am not too wound up about exactly when Sturgeon learned that Salmond was under investigation, assuming the only issue is whether it was at a meeting with Salmond on 2nd April 2018 or at a meeting with Geoff Aberdein a few days before. And to date that is the limit of the controversy on this point. Why Sturgeon didn't just say at the start "I first knew something was going on when I met Geoff Aberdein in late March but I only got the detail when I saw Alex Salmond personally on 2nd April" is a complete mystery? It might even have the advantage of being true. 

But here is where things get interesting. It is not entirely clear exactly what Mr Salmond wanted at that first meeting. To be fair, he had only just heard of the making of allegations against him, so perhaps at that point he didn't entirely know himself. I don't think it has ever been suggested, by anyone, that he just wanted the whole thing called off because of "who he was". Having been First Minister himself, he probably knew that this was almost impossible even if desired. Even if possible legally or administratively, the political risk would have been too great. Suppose the press had got hold of a story saying that, having trumpeted their intention to do something about historical sexual harassment, Sturgeon  had acted either to change the rules or to allow for one special exemption once Salmond had become the focus for complaints?   Not only would Salmond have been finished, so would have been Sturgeon. So possibly would have been the SNP as a Party of Government.

But by June, Salmond had a more specific proposal, revealed in Sturgeon's evidence to the Holyrood Inquiry published last week and one which was in no way improper. He suggested that fairness of the process be referred to secret but binding arbitration on both sides. Now, I simply cannot see the downside to this. Salmond was threatening Judicial Review. He was armed with senior counsel's opinion that this would succeed. If (as indeed it proved to be) he succeeded in that Judicial Review then there would be considerable embarrassment to the Scottish Government at both a political and institutional level. On the other hand, it is difficult to see how a Judicial Review could have been brought without the existence of such an action becoming common, if not technically public, knowledge. So both sides had an interest in opting for arbitration. On the one hand, the Scottish Government could have got binding reassurance that their process was sound or, on the other, Mr Salmond could have got a binding decision that he was being subject to a unfair process without his name being dragged through the mud. Indeed, on the Scottish Government side that might not even have been the end of the road. For, if it was only the process that was overruled (as opposed to the whole principle of allowing retrospective complaints, particularly on matters previously raised and supposedly resolved at the time) then there was technically no reason they could not have started again with a "fair" process. That latter outcome was what actually happened in the Judicial Review albeit it was conceded not on retrospectivity but on apparent bias. Whether to try starting again was simply removed as a consideration by the commencement of the criminal investigation. At its conclusion, the question of whether a different, fair, process might also have led to a referral to the Police was, legally, an academic one. The important thing to note however is that Mr Salmond was not suggesting the factual basis of the complaints would or could be disposed of behind closed doors. He was only concerned about the fairness of  the process, albeit, if the process was fundamentally flawed, the truth or otherwise of the allegations became academic.

But of course, the Scottish Government declined the offer of arbitration. And, so far at least, their reasons for that have been unconvincing. It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that somebody or some people wanted the complaints at best to be upheld and at worst at least to become public. And these people were at the heart of the Scottish Government's decision making.

And then you have to consider what happened next. The process continued as did Mr Salmond's threats of Judicial Review. Possibly his legal advice was to the effect that he could not judicially review a process, only the (unfair) outcome of such a process once reached, or possibly he retained some hope that, unfair though the process in his opinion was, it might yet come to the "right" conclusion without anything ever being publicly known about it. He might usefully be asked that when he comes to give evidence. 

But of course what did happen was not that. On 22nd August 2018, Leslie Evans informed Mr Salmond that the process was concluded and the intention was to refer matters to the Police. The following day the Daily Record published the reaching of that private conclusion. Now, it is inconceivable that this leak came from Mr Salmond's side and it is equally inconceivable that it did not come from someone, within a very small group in the know, who, for whatever reason, wished Mr Salmond harm. There was no reason that any police investigation needed to be public, indeed many police investigations patently are not. Salmond then raises Judicial Review proceedings but, of course, any hope of these being kept confidential is now academic. We all knew the outcome of the (as it turns out flawed) investigation. It had been in the Daily Record.

Pretty much everything I say above has been in the public domain but here is where I move slightly in to the field of speculation. 

It appears, until August, that the Lord Advocate, James Wolfe, knew nothing about any of this. And I suspect that it was only when he was consulted that anybody was sure what they were supposedly finding out through the investigation could engage the criminal law. The Lord Advocate was indeed possibly consulted because it finally occurred to somebody that this was a possibility. His reaction would have been instant. At least the  most serious allegation arising out of the Scottish Government investigation (Assault with intent to Rape) was potentially a very serious charge indeed, certainly bringing, on conviction, a period of imprisonment, albeit not, as some of the more hysterical Salmondistas are suggesting, for life. 

So it was right for the Police to be brought in and what happened thereafter happened in good faith. But I doubt that was the original intention when this all started out. Then, somebody or some people, for whatever reason, simply wanted to get Salmond into a bit of bother. It just then all got a bit out of hand. Nonetheless, the use of Government resources in the hope they might ensnare a specific individual for political purpose is still a pretty serious matter and if the balance of probabilities says that this was within the knowledge or expectation of Nicola Sturgeon, then I suspect it won't just be the opposition Parties she will need to worry about.


Saturday, 19 September 2020

Shortest blog ever

 I'm on holiday, so this will be short and to the point.

The current Westminster Government has a majority of 80 on an express manifesto commitment to not having a sanctioned second independence referendum. 

So there is not going to be a sanctioned second independence referendum.

Consequence will undoubtedly follow from that but that consequence won't be a sanctioned second independence referendum.

So, any chance the commentariat might start writing about that? Rather than what the outcome of such an entirely illusory event might be?

It might be armed insurrection. Or it might be the collapse of what has always anyway been an intellectually bankrupt proposition.

I know where my money would be. And I'm not the one already depending on a monthly public service stipend in Sterling.

Sunday, 23 August 2020

Dead Parrots.

I've kind of lost interest in "the blogging". This is partly because of the very argument that I made in my last blog. There isn't going to be a second independence referendum and yet even talking about it, to explain why not, only feeds the narrative that there might be.

But Scottish politics goes on and there are a few small lights at the end of the tunnel to indicate that others get that.

The estimable Dani Garavelli  made a radio programme for the BBC this week, "Scotland's Uncivil War" which started to look at what there not being a referendum might ultimately mean. I would strongly commend it. The civil war she refers to was not the larger contest between Unionism and Separatism but rather the internal war within the SNP, which is already in its early stages in the aftermath of the conclusion of the Alex Salmond trial. 

Her contributors, many themselves in the nationalist camp, largely endorsed the theory that the SNP is, or at least has become, two Parties. There is the fundamentalist wing for whom Independence is, and always will be, the Party's only real purpose. If there was the prospect of a second referendum tomorrow or even the prospect of a unilateral declaration of independence, they would be up for it in a moment.  Despite the self same group being most likely to endorse the "secret oil fields" or "whisky export tax" nonsense which features in the nationalist blogosphere, they are also those given to admitting that if the price of "Freeedum!" was living in a cave and subsisting on dried bread (and whisky), it would all still be worth it to throw off "the English yoke". Even if a second referendum was lost, once they had exhausted conspiracy theories about why, or even whether, they had failed, they'd soon move on to demanding a further contest. That's what happened in 2014.

But there is second significant grouping. The current "apparatus" of not just central but local government, including a large part of the third sector. They have a significant interest in the status quo of well paid elected and/or supportive roles. They are not against independence per se but they are aware, not least at the level of their own personal wellbeing, of the cost of trying and failing again. They are also much less certain they would win a second vote,not least as they get their information from sources beyond The National and Wings over Scotland. They therefor wish to proceed more cautiously.

The two groups view the current (don't forget of less than six months duration) polling quite differently. The first group see it as a moment to be seized (even though, logically, during a pandemic, it can't actually be seized). The second group however see these polls as the first steps to securing what Gramsci would have defined as ideological hegemony for  the idea of Scotland becoming independent. In the meantime they are content to wait. That this serves their personal interest of not losing what they have, in pursuit of what they want, is of course a mere incidental.

There are all sorts of divides here, not least age. It is easier to contemplate a long game if you are thirty five rather than sixty five. But there is also geographical place of employment. It is a much more palatable existence to be in power, at Holyrood or local government in Scotland, than to be in permanent opposition in "a foreign parliament" in London. And the former group have much more to lose. 

There is also, frankly, rationality. The idea that there was a conspiracy to bring down Alex Salmond (from what position?) is risible, given that it would have had to involve not just the Police and Prosecution service but the SNP themselves. A conspiracy conducted under the radar of people within all three organisations who are, presumably on current polling, themselves supporters of Independence. Even within the SNP.  But undoubtedly a lot of Nationalist activists are prepared to sign up to this. Because, basically, conspiracy theories are the lifeblood of all nationalisms. Similarly, the idea that ending the union would be a simple and painless process requiring only a fractional expression of common will to be seamlessly achieved is not a view truthfully held by many of the second group. If you believe some of the contributor's to Ms Garavelli's programme, a view not even held by Nicola Sturgeon herself.

But the outcome of the real battle coming will depend on neither of these groups, although they will clearly provide most of the generals. It will be decided by the SNP rank and file members.

And here the parallels here are not good.

All Party memberships lie on the extreme flank of their leaderships. The leadership hold a number of important cards to control events: in dictating the composition of internal committees; by appointing full time staff and by controlling conference agendas. But, as the (then) broadly pro European leadership of the Tories learned in their dealings with their eurosceptic ground troops, just as surely as the (then) broadly centrist leadership of the Labour Party learned in their failure to stop Corbyn's election, these advantages only buy you time. Even with the complete dominance Hillary Clinton had of the (then) Democratic machine, she was nearly undone by Bernie Sanders. The (then) Republican leadership couldn't even achieve that scrape through when faced with the phenomenon of Trump. And in each and every case a good number of people supported the insurgency even if they thought it had no chance of prevailing with the wider electorate. Because they "believed" in it. 

So, at some point, there will be a reckoning between the SNP leadership and their rank and file. And why does anyone (careerists aside) join the SNP? To achieve independence. 

I don't think (even) the SNP ground troops would be daft enough to voluntarily get rid of the asset that is Nicola Sturgeon. Even her bitterest opponents would concede she is a politician of the first rank. There is as much prospect of Fidesz getting rid of Orban Viktor, the politician she most resembles.  Even if a videotape was found of her discussing with her closest staff, the Chief Constable and the Lord Advocate how to "fit up" Alex Salmond (ROFL),  I still doubt that would finish her.

But I equally don't think that the SNP Leadership will be able to get away with "waiting for a s.30" forever. 

And so at some point Nicola will have to face this down. Not, by constitutional jiggery pokery to prevent any farcical "plan B" from being debated by her Conference, but to face that "Plan B" down as being..... farcical.

Problem is that this would involve admitting Independence itself is a dead parrot for the forseeable future. So she might well not win. For, even if (a big if) the interminable competent management of a devolved administration was the alternative to Independence on offer, nobody (or at least no true believer) ever joined the SNP to pursue the goal of the interminable competent management of a devolved administration. 

The additional problem then for the SNP is that (perceived) competent management of a devolved administration was a significant reason they were ever elected at all. Certainly a big reason for their current polling. Bolted on, for some voters, of no more than a toleration of their other selling point. But take away that other selling point and voters will start to focus on whether they were actually that competent at all.

Tuesday, 28 July 2020

Much ado about nothing.

There has been a bit of a kerfuffle over the last month or so about there being another independence referendum, despite there not going to be another independence referendum. 

I wrote back at the turn of the year about this. There is no route to a legal and binding referendum without a s.30. And, eh, that's it. There has been a bit of newspaper speculation about there being an "advisory" referendum but this has the capacity to be the most spectacular own goal for the nats. Even if they negotiated the legal obstacles, no small issue in itself, what would its purpose be? If the nats won by a landslide on a derisory turnout, how would that advance their cause one iota? And if they only just scraped home or, worse still, suffered a defeat at the hands of a pissed of electorate? The problem is that in a legally binding referendum in 2014, 2,100,000 Scots voted to remain in the UK. Any victory that didn't deliver a similar figure now otherwise minded for some other proposition would simply be ignored by the UK Government and, as I repeat, there would be nothing the SNP could do about it.

But there is now another factor and that is the position of the leader of the SNP herself. In a little noticed development the weekend before last Nicola herself said that her immediate priorities were the pandemic and then dealing with its economic aftermath. This seems fair enough but nobody thinks the economic aftermath is going to be over any time soon. Let's take the very most optimistic of scenarios. There is a vaccine in the Autumn; mass production by the Winter; actual mass vaccination by the Spring and a return to something approaching medical normality by next Summer. Will the economic aftermath disappear as quickly? If only.

How we work, where we work and, in many cases, who we work for is going to be changed forever by the pandemic and, for a lot of people, they are not going to be working at all for a good period of time.

Now, let us consider the most optimistic political scenario for the SNP. They manage to win a landslide in an election which is still able to take place in May 2021. They are back for five years. The Tories have a Damascene conversion to allowing a fresh vote. Nonetheless, we are in the midst of  a world recession. Why attempt a vote any time soon when you have five years at your disposal? Seizing the moment would only lead to the counter question: "Why do you need to seize this particular moment? If history is truly on your side what's the harm in waiting a bit? I mean, I might not be opposed to a wee row in a lifeboat but in the midst of this Force 9 gale, might we not be better on the ocean liner for the moment?"

So you see, even if everything goes the nats way (a very big if) there would still not be a referendum before 2023 at the earliest. Given the technical issues about agreeing the actual terms of this exceptionally improbable s.30 and the fact of a UK General Election in (probably) May 2024, probably not until the Autumn of 2024. And that's on the SNP's own most optimistic timetable!

So why is all this current froth going on? Why all the reporting as if a second vote was imminent and (panic!panic!) the union might be equally imminently dissolved. Well, I regret to say, that is because  such a narrative is in the self interest of political journalists and commentators.

Like all people I am opposed to murder. Well, obviously not all people, some murderers aren't. But, I confess, when there is a local murder there is always a little frisson of hope that I might get the case. Murders are out of the common. More interesting and challenging than the day to day round. And there is usually a pretty decent cheque from the Legal Aid Board at the end of them.

Much of what goes on in Scottish politics is grindingly boring. There is good reason so many able talents have left Holyrood voluntarily. Duncan Hamilton and Jim Mather; Ruth Davidson and Adam Tomkins; Wendy Alexander and Susan Deacon; Nicol Stephen and Tavish Scott. And that's just the headliners. And if it is boring to participate in, it is even more boring to report.

But referendums are exciting. There are marches and rallies and inflamatory speeches. There is waiting by the phone for the latest opinion poll. There are balloons (not just of the human kind) and stickers and flags. Lots of flags. There are surprise interventions by celebrities or outside actors and denunciations of surprise interventions by celebrities and outside actors.. There is a real prize for the winners and a real downside for the losers (or at least that's meant to be the case). And, in our own heads at least, the eyes of the world are briefly on Old Scotia. 

So who wouldn't prefer reporting this to reporting on Stage Two of The Heat Networks (Scotland) Bill 2020? Indeed who wouldn't prefer speculating (no matter how ill foundedly) that such an event was imminent, rather than reporting on The Heat Networks (Scotland) Bill? I have no doubt a worthy, piece of proposed legislation.  Despite the fact that we can be certain we will have a heat network, indeed looking at the Bill's title potentially more than one, before we are ever going to have a referendum. 

But there is also something else. Journalism, as a trade,is under severe pressure from the internet age. Barely a day goes by without a local or specialist publication closing. Equally a day without announcements of redundancies in the national press. Or individual announcements on twitter, that some respected journalist or another is joining a PLC or trade body as public relations officer. Or has decided to take "time off" to write a book. And, like so much else, this trend has been turbo charged by the pandemic. And it isn't just happening in print media, it is happening in television and radio as well. 

But Scottish journalists and commentators think they hold an ace in their hand, particularly those working for UK publications or organisations. "You can't downsize in Scotland! There is about to be a second referendum! Here, it says so in [a rival publication]."

And, if you wanted to keep your job? "Hi boss, here's my weekly column. It's about the Heat Networks (Scotland) Bill............Only joking! It's about how there is about to be a second independence referendum."

Wednesday, 15 July 2020

A whole new world.


When I moved to Kilsyth in 1992 I realised the nearest railway station was at Croy and indeed made occasional use of it. 

But it was a complete backwater. Two trains an hour to Glasgow and two to Stirling. And that was it.

Then, in 2000, all of that changed in the space of a few days. 

Those of you old enough to remember will recall that in the relatively early years of the Blair Government there was a tanker drivers dispute which tested the mettle of that administration in facing down trade union demands. At a more micro level it caused huge problems for people used to driving to their work each day. They feared they would run out of petrol going there or be unable to obtain petrol to return home.

A significant proportion of the population of Cumbernauld work elsewhere and thus were left looking for alternative travel arrangements. Croy station was their solution.

And although the strike itself lasted only a few weeks, during these few weeks, these commuters discovered that train travel was quicker, less stressful and, if you were paying for your parking, cheaper than the private car. When the strike was over, Croy Station did not go back to normal. Far from it. Today there a four trains an hour to Glasgow; two to Edinburgh and one (via Stirling) to Alloa or Perth. 

Short term that caused immense parking problems, as people generally still drove to the station, but in time a huge new car park was built. A car park which, at the beginning of March this year, was already struggling to satisfy demand, leading to plans for further expansion being considered. 

I drove past Croy station yesterday. The picture I start with is of that big new car park. Taken at twenty past five. Before any commuter got home from their work.  Shops are reopened, offices are reopened, things are supposedly getting back to normal. Only the new normal is not the old normal. If any extension to this car park is ever now built I will be astonished. We are in a whole new world.

Few would argue that the changes brought about by the 2000 dispute were not changes for the better. Changes that benefited the life experience of the commuters. Changes that benefited the environment. But this time, I suspect it is a mixed bag. 

There was a time, long before March 23rd,  that I used to go into "the town" (Glasgow) to browse in a bookshop at least every couple of months. I usually went for a particular purchase but I never left with just that. And in the process I produced a profit, or if you prefer a surplus value, that paid the staff who served me, the rent of the premises they operated from and, and I say this quite happily, a return on the investment to those who had facilitated this personally pleasant experience. In the end they were being paid in turn by payment made to me by, or on behalf of, of those who had suffered the less pleasant experience of divorce, or industrial accident, or criminal prosecution.  As were also being  paid those whose remuneration derived from the coffee or the pint or the lunch I went for after book shopping. That's how a market system works. In this case from each of these according to their miserability to each of these desiring of a feed. 

I stopped this practice perhaps five years ago. If I now see a book I'd like to read, I don't wait to go to buy it, hoping it's in stock, that coming weekend, or whatever. I buy it there and then on my kindle. And, slowly but steadily, I know I am killing the very bookshops that I love. But, on the other hand, I have read the book long before I might have forgotten about it and perhaps found my attention seized by something else. Good news for the author, sort of good news for me, utterly disastrous news for the bookshop, landlord and tenant. And also for the bookshop's staff and also, marginally in the specific but disastrously in the trend for those who might once have sold me a train ticket, driven the train, poured me a pint and/or cooked or served me lunch along the way. 

This was all nonetheless long term trend before March 23rd. As I suspect had been people getting the train to work from Croy, as opposed to driving, before the tanker drivers strike 2000. But it is a trend prescribed steroids by the lockdown over the last four months. Just as it happened in 2000.

There will be no going back to the big city centre white collar workplaces. Once it has been worked out that, thanks to modern technology,  they are not needed, as people can work from home, then they will die away. More concerningly still, once it has been worked out that there has been no particular need at all to call on the services of some of  those (prepared to be) working from home...? The private sector will get this pretty quickly. The public sector eventually. 

But the wider knock on from this? For sandwich bars at lunchtime to other bars at tea time. For the  trains and planes and, if not automobiles, then certainly petrol stations? For jannies and cleaners and receptionists and commissionaires. For railway and bus station shops and early morning train and bus drivers? We are in a whole new world. 

Some of this is limited good news. If I worry that an electric car wouldn't take me very far? What does it matter if I won't need to go very far anyway?

But in other respects.

So here are my modest suggestions,

1. All planning permission in towns and cities, conservation status aside, should be deemed agreed residential in addition to any existing permitted use. If town and city centres are to survive it can only be by encouraging people to live there. That requires urgent action.  Bureaucratic obstacles to that are madness.

2.Since in the modern economy a driving licence is a better route to a job than many college degrees, driving lessons, 21 to 24, should be free, As should be the driving test.

3. Non domestic rates liability should be calculated by virtue of revenue derived on and from the site. With transparency a legal obligation. I get this is a big task but it is an essential one. City centre stores paying higher rates bills than distribution sites operating online are simply city centre stores who will eventually close. 

4. "Job creation" can't just be "employment creating". If there are to be public, or,  publicly funded, private sector, job creation schemes, they must have defined objectives and, in the private sector at least, be able to show some sort of business (or time limited project) plan. This will inevitably involve government picking potential winners but should also involve inviting those winners to get filthy rich if they create real long term jobs.

I started this blog yesterday. I wish I had taken a further photo tonight. Next to my office there is a Wetherspoon's pub. We've been conscious over the last few days that their staff have been back in planning to reopen. Today they did and, as I left my work tonight, I stuck my head in the door. There were a number of customers sitting socially distanced and looking hardly enthusiastic about their experience. Most looked more likely to be about to go home than to order a meal or another round. If this was a remotely profitable enterprise I'd be astonished. 

What is to come is going to be grim, really grim.


Sunday, 28 June 2020

Scotland: My part in it's Governance.

A prologue

Last Monday, I wrote what I thought was a draft blog as the third part of my ongoing "J'Accuse" rant about Scotland's schools in the pandemic. I went to bed thinking I had saved it for the morning and certainly without drawing any attention to it.  A morning which heralded a change of policy which made it redundant. 

It was only a couple of days later that I realised I had inadvertently published it. I've left it up as I stand by it but I have also incorporated some of it in what's below. Since the vast majority of my readers come from twitter, I apologise to the 110 poor souls who might find themselves reading some of the same things again..

Scotland: My part in its Governance

For four and a half years in the mid 2000s, I was the legal equivalent of Larry Flanagan.

As Convener of the Legal Aid Committee of the Law Society of Scotland it was my job to negotiate with the Scottish Government over our terms and conditions. I dealt with two different Ministers. Cathy Jamieson for my own Party and Kenny MacAskill for "them". He was by light years the better Minister. 

Cathy, as a Minister, was the political equivalent of the former Sheriff Marcus Stone. Sheriff Stone was just about the most appropriately named member of the Judiciary ever.  Most Sheriffs acknowledge your presence in their court in some way. A nod, to say you should start, a raised eyebrow to imply you had better stop. Some indication, physical or verbal that they have (or haven't) appreciated the point you are making. Sheriff Stone did none of that. He simply sat there as if he was made of.........stone. Once both sides had finished he would occasionally prove himself capable of movement by rising to consider his decision. On his return however you had no idea, even as he started speaking whether it was going to be "A complex argument, eruditely conveyed, with which I find myself entirely in agreement" or "I have rarely had my time so wasted. I trust you will not be expecting your client to pay for your part in the advancement of this hopeless cause."  Cathy was like that. At our quarterly meetings she would listen respectfully but give nothing away except that, in due time, {her} officials would write. When they did you had no idea if it would be "A sensible idea which I have asked the Scottish Legal Aid Board to take forward" or "A ludicrous proposal which I trust will not be raised again." 

I should just say that just as Cathy, who I obviously knew well in a different context, was great company in a social setting, so was......Sheriff Stone!  He could play the piano extempore and sing comedic songs in the manner of Jimmy Durante or Les Dawson. I'm not suggesting that he should have done that on the bench but there was surely a happy medium. 

Anyway, as I say, Kenny was a much better interlocutor. If he thought you were talking rubbish he would just tell you there and then. If he thought you had a good point, likewise. Sometimes expressing one or other view at the outset, having read the advance papers, to save wasting either of our times. And where there was to be argument, or the testing an argument, he was also up for that as well. "Aye, but....." was a well worn phrase in his lexicon.

The point however was that, with both Ministers, there was an understanding that while we might propose, and civil servants advise,  it was the Minister who would decide. 

And a similar experience was observed in my only other (more or less) direct encounter with Government. In 2001, Jack and Bridget McConnell moved house to be in Jack's Motherwell and Wishaw Constituency and Mo and I were invited to see their new home and then for lunch. Logically, it must have been the weekend but in the background (elsewhere obviously) the negotiation of what became the McCrone agreement on Teacher's pay and conditions was taking place. Jack was then the Education Minister. Several times during the day Jack was phoned by a member of the Scottish Government negotiating team and asked to decide on one or other point. As he did, sometimes with a ready "yes", at others a "no but", at others still  a firm "no". The point was though that the Government were calling the shots. Certainly, and quite appropriately, in the forum of negotiation but with no misconceptions of the power balance on either side.

I say all this because of what happened over the decision to re-open the schools in full on 11th August which was announced by John Swinney on Tuesday past. The right decision. 

I have some sympathy with the complaint of both the education authorities and the teaching unions that they were not advised of this in advance. The whole process might, I think even many Nats would admit privately,  have been handled somewhat better. Indeed the statement on this matter from COSLA was issued with the support of SNP Councils.

But that was the decision. And while the Councils made legitimate points about practicalities in the timescale given earlier dithering by the Minister, they accepted that decision.  

Yet the day after Swinney spoke,  Larry Flanagan, the General Secretary of the EIS put out a statement suggesting that it was not a decision at all. Because it had not been "agreed" by the Education Recovery Group on which the EIS sits. 

Now here I just have to be blunt. This is not a decision to be taken by the EIS. 

I'm now going to say something controversial. It is a huge error to think that all unions are forces for progress at all times. Topically , the Minneapolis Police Union in the USA patently is not but in Britain we have any number of other examples. 

Unions represent the interests of their current members. And their current members being in the privileged position of being current members are commonly engaged in battle with those who are not in their ranks.

The role of the Seamans' union in the Glasgow Race riot of 1919, when would be black sailors were attacked and physically driven from the docks, is nobody's idea of progressive politics. Even at the time.

The role of the Clyde shipyard unions in keeping Catholics out for many year is not one that  bears much scrutiny either. 

Similarly the role of the engineering unions when it came to equal pay for women, some of whom were actually (a minority of) their members!  

Even as recently as the last Labour Government, the minimum wage had far from unanimous trade union support in the belief that, while it might help the poor, it would also erode differentials.

But there is a wider issue as well. Those who are employed in the public services are, by very definition, ultimately employed by the public. So if industrial action is taken it is being taken against the public. Sometimes that is justified. Most obviously, if the public, as their employer, is not rewarding them properly for their efforts. But where the interests of the union and the interest of the public obviously conflict, then ultimately it is for politicians, as representatives of the public, to decide. 

Now it is clearly the view of the leadership of the teaching unions that if the choice facing teachers is, on the one hand, going to their work at marginal risk to their health and, on the other, staying in the house and being paid in full, then that leads to an obvious conclusion. But any suggestion that this is not a simple clash between producer interest and the public interest should be dismissed instantly. Any suggestion that the interests of children feature on the teachers side at all here should be given equal short shrift. In my first blog on this I suggested that only three children had died in Scotland as a result of Coronavirus. I got that wrong. It was only three children in the whole of the UK.

Now what's the point to all this you say?

Well, John Swinney spoke on Tuesday and Larry Flanagan on Wednesday.  Since when Swinney has not responded, caught in the headlights between listening to parents and offending (as he sees it) teachers, whose large scale conversion to independence was a significant feature of the 2014 referendum. 

Well I'd give him three pieces of advice.

Firstly, don't assume the teaching unions speak for a majority of their members but rather instead for those with the loudest voices. My own, albeit anecdotal, experience, is not not just that a majority of teachers are prepared to go back to work but that they wish to do so. 

Secondly, make an unconditional statement now that, unless the medical advice changes, the schools are re-opening on 11th August. With or without the agreement of the EIS.

Thirdly, that if the EIS disagree with that, then they had better call a strike ballot.  Because, if they don't, any physically fit teacher not at their work on 11th August isn't just not going to get paid, they are going to lose their job. 

And, by the way, the Education Recovery Group is hereby disbanded. 

Monday, 22 June 2020

J'Accuse (Part 3)

For four and a half years in the mid 2000s, I was the legal equivalent of Larry Flanagan.

As Convener of the legal aid committee of the Law Society of Scotland it was my job to negotiate with the Scottish Government over our terms and conditions. I dealt with two different Ministers. Cathy Jamieson for my own Party and Kenny MacAskill for "them". He was by light years the better Minister. 

But my job was to get the best deal for the "members" and that required me to consider who exactly these members were. For there were three different groups of members here.

The first were those who objected to my very existence. They did no legal aid work and saw no reason why I should be given office and resources to negotiate on "their" behalf. I wasn't myself being paid for this position but the research and support staff undoubtedly were. Which these objectors were paying for. I fought that battle every day, A profession should be a profession.

The second were those who, like myself, thought that Legal Aid  was an essential public service but that reform might see it delivered more effectively. Those who saw (micro politics here) that moving to a block fee system which rewarded those who did the job efficiently at the expense of those who did not, benefited not only the better lawyers but the clients themselves. They were the people who saw me through.

The third however were the lump. And it was a big lump. Those who insisted that nothing should change, ever, except that they should be paid the same, and a bit more, for an otherwise never changing system.That the purpose of Legal Aid was not to provide a service to the public but to provide a living to them. 

I went round the country on this round for four and a half years and invariably encountered the latter in significant number. I would like to think my own "but what about?" argument usually prevailed but, to be honest, that depended on the balance of those present. I certainly departed more than once with the message that "Drumsheugh Gardens" should "listen to the membership" and that I personally should resign, ringing in my ears. Except that on the train home I worked out that there were 200 members in the town of..... and that there had been 12 at the meeting. 

And that is where the EIS is, I think, tonight.

The vast majority of teachers want to get back to work. They care for the children they teach and, when parents themselves, also realise the damage being done to their own kids lives by a lack of ongoing education. They get that there is a marginal risk to their own health, but that it is, now, clearly marginal and a risk worth undertaking for the greater good.

But the EIS is not listening to them. They are listening instead to those who go to meetings to insist that malingerers should be indulged. Malingers who declaim that their going to work would endanger the life of their elderly maiden aunt without ever being asked when they last actually saw the lady in question. And, by the way, could the Union just confirm they'd still be paid in full?

Scotland is a small country. I have known Larry Flanagan since he was a Trot in my Constituency Labour Party back in the early 1980s. I still felt him a sufficient acquaintance to call in a favour on a suggested expert witness in a personal injury case a couple of years back. A call he was good enough to assist with.

But he needs to listen to the vast majority of teachers who want to go back to work, To certainly sort out the personal protection they need and insist on it, But not to let policy be dictated by the minority who would find an excuse to never go back. Until their pension can kick in. And in the meantime be prepared to go to (virtual) meetings to protest as much.  

For they are not the majority,

Call off the "holidays" and spend the next fortnight preparing to get back to work on 11th August, Then perhaps we could all stand on our doorsteps on a Thursday night and applaud the teachers. Dare I say to Larry, who I suspect knows his Lenin as well as me, and his Trotsky somewhat better, that would be the strategic move,


Thursday, 11 June 2020

J'Accuse (part 2).

Now, obviously the schools had to close. We had no idea of the virulence of Coronavirus back in March and it is not just with the benefit of hindsight that the schools should in truth have closed sooner. 

But why were there no national or even education authority guidelines/instructions as to the level of home support that children were to receive? The average primary school class in Scotland has 23.5 pupils. For them to be contacted individually by videolink for 30 minutes each week by their teacher is only twelve hours work? So why is that, in many cases, not happening? Not only not weekly but in many cases not at all. And, anyway, why should it only be individually anyway? There are any number of free video apps that could have been used to create virtual classrooms. There seems to be some suggestion that this might be a safeguarding issue but the logic to that would be that all schools should have high walls in case "undesirables" look in. There is also the rather pathetic "not all children have computers or tablets" argument. That's an argument for getting them computers or tablets. That's the end of the argument. 93% of all homes have internet access and I bet that includes pretty much all of them with children. My client base includes a lot of poor younger people, parents or not. When we take new client details we ask for an email address. I do not recall a recent case where the client did not have one.

And then we have the "teachers are overworked" argument. Really? Doing what? And if they are, here's an idea. Not my own but suggested to me as I worked on this. Medical and nursing students have been recruited to great utility to assist the NHS at this time. Why couldn't not just teacher training students but undergraduates intending teaching as a career have been brought in on the same basis? I bet you a pound to a penny most are more tech savvy than most teachers and even if it was only to assist with that they would have provided a valuable service. Now it is inconceivable this didn't occur to anybody else, so the logical conclusion is that some objection was found to it. That's the problem. Throughout this whole thing, it has been clear that there has been a mindset based on finding reasons things "can't" be done rather than finding ways to do them.

Which brings me to my penultimate point. Holidays.

I get that working from home is not the same as being on holiday. I've been working from home myself and while it is far from a normal workload there is still noticeably less to do at weekends.  But there has been a given throughout that the schools would be on holiday from the end of June until the middle of August. Why? Because they always are. Schools in England partially returned on 1st June for key sectors: Senior Secondary school and the very youngest and oldest of Primary pupils. Now Scotland has been about a fortnight behind England on just about everything. That's a matter for another day. Here however the argument was that there was no point in our schools going back on 15th June as the holidays were to start on 29th June.

Now, one of a variety of things could have happened with holidays. They could have been brought forward so that they ran from 1st June to mid July. Nobody was going anywhere anyway. Or they could have been pushed back so that there was a decent window after lockdown and before the holidays. That indeed might have increased the chances of children and teachers getting some sort of actual holiday. Finally, they could have been shortened either at the start or finish. Perhaps with an extended October break so that people might actually get away. There are any number of places in Southern Europe and beyond which still enjoy "holiday" weather at that time. None of this is going to happen. None of it appears even to have been contemplated. Again I ask why? Does nobody care about kids being out of school for a continuous five months? It genuinely appears not. That is a scandal.

And then finally, there is the question of the schools returning. On 1st June, the First Minister announced that there had been no new Coronavirus deaths in Scotland. That obviously has slipped back a bit but we are clearly on the right track. Later in the week Chris Musson reported that excess weekly deaths in Scotland from all causes were now only 37 more than the seasonal average. Yet, on the same day as the FM gave her welcome news, my own local authority, North Lanarkshire, in common, I understand, with others, advised that it had been decided already that on returning in August, children were only to receive ten hours a week schooling, two days a week. Beyond that their child care was their parents' problem.

There seems to have been no consultation with parents or pupils about this. It has been decided by producer interests alone. 

Now there might be a second wave and that would potentially change everything but if there isn't, here is what we now know. Coronavirus is of little risk to children. Most who get it don't even know they have. Across Scotland there have only been three deaths under 15 and our children's hospitals have had negligible admissions for Coronavirus alone. It is also not much of a risk to anybody under 60. Sure it can be a nasty illness, sometimes involving hospital admission but the chances of you dying remain slim and are getting slimmer still as treatment evolves. The argument for part time return seems to that some children might be carriers and some teachers might catch it from them and then get seriously ill or pass it on to vulnerable relatives.  

Well, I have news for you. Life during a pandemic has some risk. Indeed life has some risk at any time. If you drive on a busy road you increase the chance of having an accident. If you climb a hill you increase the chance of having a fall. If you go on an exotic holiday you increase the chance of being bitten by a snake. People apply a cost/benefit analysis to these and countless other things on a daily basis. 

Where is the cost/benefit analysis here? When was it decided that shop workers must take that risk, and binmen, and bus drivers but teachers need not? Who has considered the continuing and potentially permanent damage to children's lives from ongoing part time schooling? Who has factored in the potential employment consequences, at best financial, at worst terminal, if their parents can't work full time?

This decision needs reversed now. The assumption should be that the schools will open normally in August. The damage done to children can't be undone but future damage can still be prevented. 

Rant over.

Wednesday, 10 June 2020

J'accuse (part 1)


I want to start by saying that in what follows I am talking about the Scottish Education because that is where I live but nothing that I say should be interpreted to imply that the English authorities have covered themselves in glory here. I choose England specifically because I am led to believe things are a bit better in N. Ireland (where the school holidays are to end early) and I simply have no idea what's happening in Wales. 

Education, Education, Education.

Education has always had a particular place in the Scottish psyche. We take rightful pride in the fact that the Act of Union guaranteed the continuation of our, already by 1707, tradition of a basic education at least for almost all. That was far from the case south of the border at that time.

And our national bard, arguably our most world famous citizen ever, derives at least some of his reputation from being an educated common man at a time where that was a rare thing elsewhere. 

You didn't need to be a Scottish nationalist to celebrate the fact that, until recently, it was accepted that the Scottish Education system was overall superior to the English one. Indeed, given the extent to which that distinction has been lost on their watch, you wonder if nationalists were the only group who didn't value it.

Nonetheless, the fact that our schools are to be completely closed for five months, the longest period anywhere in the world, is not a distinction you would have expected here. Yet that is exactly what's to happen.

And the urgency to reach that outcome, with it basically being hinted at the very day the schools closed and it being confirmed more than two months before they are now due to reopen? And the urgency to declare that, even then, they won't reopen fully? That's very strange indeed. Something to which I will return.

Schools obviously have as their basic function the education of children. But they have other important  functions too. They contribute to the physical and mental welfare of  children. All that time you spent  running about the playground as a kid wasn't just fun in itself, it was keeping you fit. And that having a daily routine of getting up on time, getting washed, getting dressed and knowing exactly where you'd be from 9am and 3.30 or 4pm?  That was doing you good as well. 

Schools also unwittingly contribute to the socialisation of children. To getting used to dealing with other children and adults outwith their own immediate family. To realising what is, and is not, acceptable behaviour in public. They are also the first environment where children have to be significantly responsible for their own welfare.

And then there are the children who need that extra help. Because of disabilities or other special needs of their own or because of difficulties in their home environment. In my work I do a fair bit of child protection work and very commonly children in this latter category are first flagged up by the school. Because their attendance, or hygiene, or nutrition, or behaviour has caused their teachers concern. Sometimes because the teacher has been the only person the child themself has felt confident to confide in.  

It's for all of the above reasons, in normal times, the system places so much importance on school attendance.

And then finally, although they are reluctant to admit it, schools also play an essential free child care role for working single parents; parents who are both in employment or parents who simply need a daily break for reasons of their own welfare. 

A diversion (of sorts)

Today, in my own job, I received a communication from my Sheriff Principal, Sheriff Principal Anwar, who has herself been fighting a different battle against a different public sector lump in her attempts to get our courts back to some kind of functioning. In it she commends written submissions in place of oral hearings wherever possible but cautions toward brevity.  I'm afraid here I cannot entirely take her advice. For to make my full point I need first to deal with how the education system has dealt with the first and undisputed objective of an education system. Education.

And my conclusion is wholly inadequately. 

The schools closed, like everything else, in a climate approaching panic. My own business got that it was coming at about a week's notice. In that week, my partners and I were a bit like rabbits in the headlights. But our trainee, Amrit, was not. He organised for us all to have remote and secure access to our office servers. He installed an app on all our phones that enabled calls to be answered remotely and reconnected remotely. Insofar as not already in place he arranged for our emails to come to our laptops. And he guided us through how to consult by clients and colleagues by Zoom.

And yet, when we left the office for the last time on 24th March, we did not appreciate that a lot of this would be, for the moment, of no use. For, instantly, there was no business. The courts were closed. The Land Registry was closed. Pretty much all of white collar public service in Scotland was closed. 

But we weren't closed. So when we realised that business would not come to us we realised that we needed to go to them.

It's not perfect but the UK Government support has been immense and, if it involves a bit of extra tax down the line, it is not just the like of lefties like me who will happily pay it.

But we didn't just say "That's us more or less paid and the furloughed staff just about paid and thanks to a grant, the rent just about paid. Let's just wait this out". No, we said, let's see what we can do to help the clients in the meantime and let's work on getting things back to, if not normal, then certainly functioning as best we can. I spoke to a client who runs a substantial painting and decorating business, still "on the tools", about 14 days in. He advised that he'd spent his time submitting quotes for business still open in the hope of securing it when circumstance allowed. Doing it himself because the guy who usually did it had been furloughed.  

But in much of education?

Nothing happened then. Nothing much has even happened now. 

I put on twitter an appeal for parents to contact me with their personal experience but then Libby Brooks of The Guardian cut in to point out that The Scottish Parent Association had already been on the job.So, I commend their work to you. This is the link  https://t.co/Oo2aGZYJKh?amp=1(Sorry but I can't workout how to create a hyperlink in "new" blogger so you'll need to cut and paste)  Anything I had written might anyway have been dismissed as atypical based on the views of my own twitter followers alone.And I accept that my twitter followers might have a particular political bent.

But I have also spoken to people. Not twitter people,  just ordinary people who I have bumped into. Or who, knowing me and knowing my intentions to write, have contacted me directly.

And in truth it has been a lottery.

I spoke to one friend. One kid in Primary, one in Secondary and one at the very end of Secondary 6. In respect of the last, he expressed frustration about the lack of information about how her four (four!) advanced Highers would be assessed but also simple regret that her school years would, for her. end this way. Forever. In respect of his boy in mid secondary, amidst reserve about how much could ever be achieved through home schooling, a recognition that the school, with daily timetables and teacher contact, was doing its very best. But in respect of his Primary kid, in one of the best Education Authorities in Scotland? Virtually nothing.  A daily email with tasks for the day but no follow up on whether they'd been done or any assessment as to whether they'd been done correctly. Now my pal and his wife, a lawyer and a doctor, can mark this themselves. Not without humour on the way."If you can't work this out for yourself, use a slide-rule" "What's a slide-rule?" As for his dad compensating for the lack of batting practice on the playing field by playing the role of Imran Khan himself in the garden and  then ending up needing medical treatment himself?  But few kids are as fortunate. 

And then another pal with a bright kid? Five highers to be attempted next year. Contacted regularly by some subject teachers. By others? Not at all. Since 23rd March, not at all.. During which time, a point I make not for the first or last time, all of these teachers have been paid in full.

I could carry on but I'll just finish with one further example. Somebody who works beside me. A daughter in Primary 3. Virtually no contact from the school at at all since 23rd March except to say that they won't be back to normal (even) on 11th August. So child care remains with her beyond that date. Now, the woman involved, in her particular role, can work from home. Albeit, with childcare responsibilities during the day, that will involve working in the evening. So she'll be fine (of sorts). But suppose she was a receptionist? That if we were harder employers? That, if anything other than nine till five employment  meant no employment at all?. While those responsible for this sat in the house doing nothing while being paid in full? That would be a scandal.

It is 10 O'Clock and I am in court at 9am so enough for tonight.

Saturday, 6 June 2020

Institutional Failure

I want to start by saying something that might surprise you. The number of deaths in Scottish care homes is a scandal and Nicola Sturgeon's attempts to excuse it by inventing her own facts about English care homes is a disgrace but.............I have considerable sympathy for Jeane Freeman.

Both the UK and Scottish Government's were too slow to react to the Coronavirus. By early March however it was clear a crisis was coming. Quite what its scale would be was the great unknown. How many would catch it? How many would become seriously ill? How many would need hospitalisation? How many would die? 

What was known, even then, was that at the European epicentre of the outbreak at that time, in Lombardy, the hospitals were being overrun. There were more patients than beds. And the fear was that his might happen here.

So it made perfect sense to try and free up hospital beds. And perfect sense to try and free up beds by relocating those who were in hospital but did not require to be there for the purpose of treatment but simply because they were unfit to go directly home.

Suppose that hadn't been done? Suppose the disease had proved even more life threatening than it has? Suppose that people, who might have survived, started dying as they could not get a hospital bed? Because beds were occupied by those who didn't need to be there? 

That would have been a scandal even beyond that which has actually happened. 

So clearing beds was an absolutely justified priority. Deciding that where their occupants should best go (the practice in normal times) needed to take second place to their simply going somewhere.

So when Ms Freeman signed off on buying care home places in bulk? Absolutely right.

And while I do not have sight of the executive advice that followed, I am reasonably certain that it was to the effect that "Any patient who can be safely discharged should be discharged". 

But it wasn't for the health minister to take a crash course on the medical qualification that would have qualified her to define the word "safely". That was then delegated to officials. It was surely for them to decide if discharging patients without them having first had a coronavirus test still met the requirements of that word? 

Now, perhaps, but I very much doubt it, officials advised the Minister that, to comply with her imperative, patients would need discharged without tests,whatever the consequence, and she replied "go ahead anyway".If that happened, Hell mend her. But I suspect that's not what happened. She was never asked that question, at least until much of the damage was done. The policy was correct. Its execution was not. That's not a failure of Government at a political level. It is institutional failure.

And that is going to be my theme here. That, in this crisis, the Scottish Government might well mainly have performed quite well at a political level but it has fundamentally failed at an institutional level.

And before I move on to other examples, I want to defend (up to a point) Ms Freeman once again. On tracing. 

If I had been the Scottish Health Minister,I'd have happily signed up to tracing being a UK responsibility. But Ms Freeman (at least in current incarnation) is a Nationalist. So she wanted a Scottish scheme. And, indeed, when the UK Government announced they were recruiting 15,000 tracers, we announced we'd be recruiting 2,000 of our own. Petty, but fair enough in their own terms. 
Except that when it was announced the UK had 13,500 tracers in post, the press then revealed that we had none at all!

Now again, do I think Ms Freeman did not want tracers recruited? That she made a public statement on the subject and then forgot to do anything else about it? I don't think that for the moment. She told her officials to get on with it and, not unreasonably, assumed that they were getting on with it. Nobody expected her to conduct individual job interviews. I suspect that she was surprised as the rest of us to learn from the newspapers that actual recruitment hadn't even started. Again, that wasn't political failure, it was institutional failure.  

But enough of health. Let's look at some other areas. Let's start with volunteering.

Shortly after the lockdown, the UK Government set up a volunteering scheme to help the NHS and other public services. Within 24 hours, hundreds of thousands of people had signed up.Including tens of thousands in Scotland. Except that the UK Government hadn't made it clear that they could only operate this scheme in England. Now, yet again, a non nationalist administration here would just have said, "Pass their names on". They were, after all,  people volunteering to help during a national emergency. You'd have thought even the SNP wouldn't prioritise making a xenophobic point over endangering people's lives. But if you did, you'd be misunderstanding the nationalist mindset. 

Nonetheless, I have no doubt the nationalists wanted there to be a Scottish scheme. Indeed they eventually had one. The key word is "eventually". 

When they knocked back the "English" scheme, the instructions to officials wasn't difficult. "This is "their" scheme. Revisit it. Insert "Scottish" and "Scotland" as appropriate wherever possible.. Set up a website. Get on the phone to NHS Scotland and tell them to get back to you by 5pm tomorrow as to how these people might best be utilised".

If had set that task to my trainee, I would have been disappointed if he had not accomplished it within 36 hours. 

In fact,it took the best part of three weeks. I'm not going to waste time checking the exact chronology but my feeling is that from lockdown to the UK scheme being announced took less time than from the UK scheme being announced until the Scottish one followed. During which time a huge amount of momentum was lost. I had a journalist pal trying to get figures on comparative numbers of volunteers but, such was the obfuscation of the Scottish Government on comparable numbers, he eventually gave up.

Now, the decision not simply to go with the UK scheme? That was a political decision with which I disagree. But the delay on there being a Scottish scheme? That, again, was institutional failure.

I need to speed up. 

Schools. At an early stage it was just accepted that our schools would be closed for five months. That is not happening anywhere else in the UK. Or indeed the world. Closing schools ruin lives. But whatever. Teachers need their holidays. If there were still to be six weeks Summer holiday, why haven't they started now and be planned to end in mid July? Sure,a lack of political will, but was any other option except continuous closure ever put to Ministers? I sense, again, institutional failure. 

Justice. (Declaring an interest, don't even get me started). I could choose any number of examples but, I ask non lawyers doing this daily, is there anywhere, except our sheriff courts, where you still can't do video conferencing? Or, I ask lawyers, is there anywhere else in the mainland UK where there are still no jury trials? And the time it took to devise an early release scheme for low risk prisoners? Again the, particularly useless, Minister doesn't help, but still, even he wasn't even given options! Institutional failure.

Local Government support. I get, I really do, that precise figures need properly calculated but no payments to account? And, anyway, how long does it take to work out precise figures? Institutional failure.

Business support. Again, we could have gone with the UK Scheme, but didn't. Because,in truth, our current administration hates UK schemes. However, even in their stated reservations, it was because the English scheme missed out fish farms. So how long did it take to sort this out? And then after it was announced, so inadequate that it required to be substantially revised  via a press statement issued in the middle of the night. Demonstrating a level of incompetence which I am sure was not the intended objective of the political administration. In this case you certainly can't say the Minister is either stupid or lazy or insouciant. But it would be unrealistic to expect her alone to produce the details of the scheme. Again this was an institutional failure..

Our democracy. The absurdities of Rees-Mogg insisting on personal attendance at Westminster to vote? A given. So obviously MSPs can vote remotely? Well, actually, no. Because that's not quite yet been organised. Since March 23rd (March 23rd!), it has not been organised, Despite us having the initial advantage over Westminster in terms of electronic voting in the chamber. Do I think even the SNP want that? No I don't. Institutional failure in spades.  Just as was the fact that, within two months of passing the Coronavirus (Scotland) Act, we required a Coronavirus No.2 (Scotland) Act to do lots of things that had been overlooked the first time.

Before closing I'd also make the point that not all levels of government in Scotland have failed.  With a few minor hiccups, local government has performed competently and on occasions heroically throughout. HMRC have also played a blinder in delivering the furlough and self employed support schemes.

When this is over, all of this needs to be calmly analysed. Not least to advance their own principal project, the SNP would benefit from a better functioning permanent administration. The last thing they need is for "Scottish" to become synonymous with "worse".  Politicians can't do this themselves. But they can ensure that people and structures are in place which can. Let that be one of the lasting lessons of this crisis.