On the delicate art of minute-taking

The Scottish cabinet secretary for justice, Michael Matheson, has got himself into a spot of bother over a meeting he had with the then chair of the Scottish Police Authority (SPA).

The facts are briefly these. The SPA agreed that the currently-suspended chief constable should return to work. The chief constable was informed of the decision and prepared himself for return. Meantime, the cabinet secretary seems not to have agreed with the SPA and met (summonsed?) the SPA chair to discuss his concerns. As a result, the chief constable received a further instruction, not to return to work.

This post is not about the rights and wrongs of the suspension, whether Mr Matheson exceeded his authority, or whether the SPA chair was right to overturn their previous decision. I am qualified to judge none of these things.

However, it is clear that set in the context of the numerous controversies surrounding Police Scotland and the SPA since they were both set up, there’s something significant and important going on here. Presumably the cabinet secretary thought so, otherwise why seek, whether formally or informally, to have the SPA’s decision overturned?

You might expect that, in the circumstances, those attending the meeting, whether politician/chair or civil servant/SPA official (I’m assuming one attended with the chair: it seems clear that at least one government civil servant attended) would want a record of the decision taken and why.

But yesterday, when challenged on the BBC’s Good Morning Scotland programme, the cabinet secretary seemed unsure whether there was a minute of the meeting. As the BBC recorded it:

… he indicated that he did not know whether any minutes had been taken, and said he would need to check with officials.

A spokesman for the Scottish government later confirmed to BBC Scotland that no minutes had been taken – meaning there was no official record of what was said during the meeting.

On the face of it, this seems remarkable on such a controversial issue. I am unaware of the detailed rules that cover these sorts of meetings. The Scottish Ministerial Code states that:

the basic facts of formal meetings between Ministers and outside interest groups [should] be recorded, setting out the reasons for the meeting, the names of those attending and the interests represented (4.22).

That sounds common sense guidance for most meetings. But the chair of a public authority is hardly the representative of an outside interest group.

As a case-hardened (although now ex-) public servant I wonder if one of a number of things might be going on here.

First, there may not have been a ‘minute’ of the meeting taken. In the public sector a minute is often a formal document – the minute of a meeting of a committee, board or even the cabinet. It will be drafted by an official, perhaps reviewed for accuracy by whoever chaired the meeting, and approved as a formal record at the next meeting of the group concerned.

However, that does not mean that there is no written record in the shape of one or more informal notes of the meeting. If such document(s) exist it may well be that the government spokesman answered the BBC’s question honestly but not entirely comprehensively.

A note of meeting might be of two sorts.

In the first instance, it might have been taken by a civil servant or official attending from one side and subsequently shared with the other to ensure that both have a common understanding of what action was agreed (and clearly, however the cabinet secretary’s concerns were expressed, action was taken as a result of the meeting).

In the second instance, a note of meeting not for sharing might have been taken by either side or both. I have written these sorts of notes innumerable times – to cement the details of a meeting in my mind, to share with colleagues for information and in order that any action agreed is taken, and sometimes as a form of insurance if I had doubts about what was afoot, especially if there were any controversy likely to arise from a meeting. From the two sides of this meeting, I could easily imagine two separate private notes that read in part (hypothetically of course):

FROM THE GOVERNMENT SIDE … The cabinet secretary reminded the chair of the SPA of the wider public issues involved and invited the authority to reconsider their position

FROM THE SPA SIDE … The chair informed the cabinet secretary that he was not happy with what struck him as too detailed an involvement in an operational issue but that in view of the secretary’s insistence he would convey his views to the authority’s members for consideration.

So there may be some sort of written record of the meeting, in which case both cabinet secretary and civil service were asked the wrong question about a ‘minute’. The right question could of course still be asked or a Freedom of Information request to the same effect submitted, although I’d wager the response would come back substantially redacted.

That leaves one final possibility – that there really is no written record of the meeting. Many meetings remain unrecorded in writing, for one of two main reasons:

  1. either because a meeting is informal, routine or uncontroversial between trusted colleagues, or
  2. because there is a sensitivity about the subject matter that one party (the more powerful) wishes to leave unrecorded.

There is no way a meeting between a cabinet secretary and the chair of the SPA to overturn the authority’s decision on the chief constable’s return to work could have been routine or uncontroversial. That leaves only the possibility that someone, presumably the cabinet secretary or civil servants on his behalf, thought this was one meeting best left unrecorded. In which case it is a legitimate question to ask ‘Why?’

Unless of course the whole thing is just a simple mistake and in the rush of events everyone concerned forgot to ensure a minute or note was taken*.

* Such things happen, as those who remember the minister’s missing diaries will know.

Advertisements
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Are the Scottish government’s baby boxes safe?

SNP Holyrood manifesto 2016

A year ago on 1 January 2017, a pilot distribution of baby boxes to test the SNP’s manifesto promise (above) began in Clackmannanshire and Orkney. Spontaneous joy, of a sort, erupted amongst SNP politicians including these examples, one an MP from Dundee, the other a councillor from Inverclyde:

My thanks to journalist @MrMcEnaney who retweeted those examples along with his own gloss on the subject:

Fast forward to 3 August 2017, when the SNP tweeted this message:

Note the date. It’s critical to what follows.

Bang on cue, the first minister’s special advisor Kate Higgins chipped in with her version of the claim:

Note, as well as the date, the statement, ‘I’ll find out if details have been put on SG website but I’ve seen the details [my emphasis].’ I cannot find that she ever replied but I can assure you the details were not on the government website that day or for some time after, because I checked.

As a result of the earlier, and disputed, ‘Proven to reduce infant mortality’ claim and the new assertion that the baby boxes had ‘British Safety Standard accreditation’, my interest in the subject was piqued. Were the baby boxes safe and what was the nature of the accreditation they had?

The capitalisation of ‘British Safety Standard’ suggested that there was an agreed set of national safety standards. People who knew better assured me that there is no such thing and my own web search found no evidence of their existence. The nearest anyone could come to the concept was the work of the British Standards Institution, of which safety (and then only some aspects) is just a small part. Sure enough, tucked away on their website was a document called British Standard BS EN 1130-1:1997 Furniture. Cribs and cradles for domestic use. Part 1. Safety requirements: Part 2 deals with ‘Test methods’. You won’t find either of these online since the text is only available to buy, or via an organisation like a library that subscribes to BSI publications. It was, however, suggested to me by someone with access to the document that there was no way any cardboard box could meet the BSI standard.

This raised the question of whether this was the standard that the baby boxes supposedly met.

Since the Scottish government continued to refer opaquely to ‘British safety standards’ the only way to find out what standards the boxes met, if any, was the inquisitive citizen’s stand-by, the Freedom of Information (FOI) request. Between 7 August and 1 October, I submitted three FOI requests to the government, receiving replies on 16 August, 15 September, and 27 October. Much of the material I was sent in reply had been redacted on the grounds of the commercial confidentiality of the government’s suppliers, most starkly in an e-mail that began like this:

and continued for two entirely redacted A4 pages. However, I was able to use the information I could see to answer four questions.

Does the box meet the standards of BS EN 1130-1:1997 in whole or in part?

It took some time to squeeze this information out of the civil service. Their answer was ‘yes’, but only in part, which is not really ‘yes’ at all. The first confirmation came in this statement:

the Baby Box meets all aspects of the standard applicable to it [BS EN 1130-1:1997 Furniture. Cribs and cradles for domestic use]

I queried the phrase ‘all aspects … applicable’ and was provided with this list of the parts of the standard that the box (supposedly) meets:

  • 2 Construction
    • 2.1 Exposed Edges and Protruding Parts
    • 2.2 Holes and Assembly Holes
    • 2.8 Small Parts
  • 3 Bed Base
    • 3.1 Apertures
    • 3.2 Sustained Load
  • 4 Sides And Ends
    • 4.1 Internal Height
    • 4.2 Holes and Distance Between Two Structural Members
    • 4.6 Strength Testing
    • 4.7 Static Load Testing
  • 5 Stability Pass
  • Instructions for Use
  • Marking

By reference to BS EN 1130-1:1997 itself I was able to see the parts of the standard the box doesn’t meet (as the FOI response did, I have summarised longer descriptions):

  • 1 Materials
    • 1.1 Wood and wood-based materials
    • 1.2 Materials and surfaces
    • 1.3 Metal [used in construction]
  • 2 Construction
    • 2.3 Connecting screws for direct fastening
    • 2.4 Castors/wheels shall not be fitted except in [a specified] arrangement
    • 2.5 Balancing system on cribs/cradles
    • 2.6 Mechanism used for controlling any dropside
    • 2.7 Adjustable bed bases
    • 2.9 Distance between any frame and the body in a swinging crib/cradle
  • 4 Sides And Ends
    • 4.3 Mesh sides
    • 4.4 Swinging cribs/cradles
    • 4.5 Distance between dropside guide rods and crib/cradle posts

Lots of this is very technical and you really need to read the full document to even get half-way to understanding the details. I can see that some of the requirements may not apply, for example ‘4.4.3 Mesh sides’, since the box has no mesh sides. Others however, for example ‘4.1 Materials’, refer only to wood and metals and nowhere in either Part 1 or Part 2 of the standard is there any reference to ‘cardboard.’ Part 2 specifies which tests should be carried out but assumes that a crib has legs and a cradle a rocking mechanism. A cardboard box has neither and without a test certificate, of which more shortly, it is impossible to know whether the tests specified were carried out, for example bending and impact tests that should be applied to the sides of the crib (described in paras. 5.6 and 5.7 of Part 2), let alone what the results were.

Did the government prove the box met the applicable aspects of the standard?

No, it has only asserted that it meets those aspects. Proof would only come with the provision of more documentation. In order for any organisation to claim it meets a British Standard it has to have an independent accreditation agency test a sample of its product (the baby box in this case) against the criteria (described above) of that standard. That agency will then provide a certificate confirming that the product complies with the standard as well as a detailed report of the tests carried out.

I know in principle that such an agency was involved in the government’s baby box scheme because their supplier, the APS Group, confirmed this in an e-mail dated 15 August 2017 and supplied to me in the response received on 27 October to my final FOI request:

Five pages of text each headed with the SGS logo follow this e-mail, almost entirely redacted. Not even their address is visible although it is widely-available and they are a reputable company. My assumption was that the redacted text comprised the test certificate for the baby box and the associated test results, an assumption supported by the only relevant part of the surviving text that reads:

 

However, in their response to my first FOI request, received on 16 August, the Scottish government wrote:

With regard to your request for copies of certificates relating to compliance with the relevant British safety standards … [t]his information is held by APS Group (Scotland) Limited who has been contracted by Scottish Government to supply the Baby Box. This is a formal notice under section 17(1) of FOISA that the Scottish Government does not have the information you have requested.

This suggests to me:

  1. either the response of 16 August was incorrect, because the government did have the relevant information attached to APS’ e-mail of 15 August
  2. or the accreditation agency SGS had sent APS a five page document that despite the text I cite above did not deal with accreditation or its associated tests.

In an e-mail of 13 September, APS Group explained their reticence to someone un-named within the Scottish government:

[I assume ‘cannot not’ is a typo that should just read ‘cannot’]

Four aspects of this statement are of interest.

  1. I assume IP means ‘intellectual property’ as in intellectual property rights; in this case, the intellectual property rights residing in the construction of a cardboard box.
  2. As an example of an entirely transparent approach to the (I believe spurious) problem that APS set out, you may wish to see how another commercial organisation, The Baby Box Co., deals with safety standards, a page on their web site linking to both an accreditation certificate and a full test report. If they can do it, why not APS?
  3. Note APS’s slightly disingenuous statement that ‘individual safety standards and accreditations are widely available on-line’. But not for their box.
  4. The response illustrates a wider problem related to public sector transparency. Although the scheme is the government’s and funded from our taxes, a contractor provides the box and its contents, which in turn may be sourced from suppliers unknown to the public. So FOI is sometimes of only limited use in answering legitimate enquiries.

Was safety uppermost in the government’s mind throughout the process of commissioning and acquiring the boxes?

As you can see above, the baby box scheme was in the SNP’s manifesto for the (May) 2016 Holyrood election. Once returned to government, they must have treated it as a matter of priority because a three-month pilot ran from January to March 2017. When I put in my final FOI request on the subject, I was careful to ask for:

A copy of all communications between the Scottish Government and its contractor that refer to BS EN 1130-1:1997 explicitly or safety generally (of the box itself, not the contents), to include references in any contract, letters, e-mails, minutes or notes of meetings, and notes of conversations.

I have no reason to doubt the thoroughness and honesty of the response I received to that request so was surprised that all the material I received in return was only in the form of e-mails and attachments, the earliest dated 17 May 2017 from someone in government headed ‘Subject: The Baby Wrap [sic] – the questions. Importance: High’. Most of it has been redacted (fair enough, it probably did not relate to questions I had asked about the box itself). But it includes this paragraph:

So, two and a half months after the pilot ended and only a month before registration for the main scheme began (16 June) reassurances were still being sought about ‘what the box is made of, is it “safe”, flammable etc etc.’

None of this suggests that safety loomed large in the government’s mind throughout the process of commissioning and acquiring the boxes. The answer to my final question confirmed this.

Were the SNP and the first minister’s special advisor being honest in the statements they made on 3 August?

This is where you need to remember the date of 3 August, when the first minister’s special advisor and the SNP (but not as far as I can see the government) tweeted so confidently about the baby box having ‘British Safety Standard accreditation’.

As far as my FOIs are concerned, the day began with an urgent e-mail from the government to APS Group, timed at 09:01:

[‘Mr McD’ was Mark McDonald, the then minister charged with progressing the baby box scheme. He resigned his ministerial post almost three months to the day after this e-mail but because of another matter]

Presumably spotting the urgency in this request, APS replied promptly at 09:19:

A further A4 page and a half of this e-mail has been redacted and no further e-mails on the subject passed between the two parties that day. I have not traced the ministerial interview referred to but there are five specific implications of this last-minute exchange before that interview:

  1. with baby boxes due to be despatched in twelve days’ time, from 15 August (source here), at least part of government was not sure of the full facts about the safety of the box
  2. that ‘part of government’ was not a political special advisor or member of the government’s communication team but someone within the precise part of the civil service responsible for implementing the scheme
  3. notwithstanding the rushed nature of their response, APS were fairly precise (at least in that part of their e-mail that was not redacted) about the nature of the accreditation
  4. within a matter of hours that day, both the SNP as a political party and the first minister’s special advisor (but not the government itself) were tweeting the misleading generalisation that the box had ‘British Safety Standard accreditation’
  5. also that day the first minister’s special advisor, Kate Higgins, tweeted in response to an online query that she had ‘seen the details’ of the accreditation. Apart from the redacted text in the APS e-mail, her information can only have come from the material released to me under FOI. One might ask what information she had access to that the professionals didn’t. Or, to put it delicately, was she gilding the lily deliberately?

Two final thoughts about BS EN 1130-1:1997.

First, the box itself comes with this printed on the side:

There is no explanation anywhere of what ‘BSEN1130-1:1997’ means. It is a requirement of accreditation that it be printed on the product but without some explanation it might as well not be there. It also fails to tell the whole story. The standard quoted by the government’s (eventual) admission is met only in part, and not in full as a reasonable reader might assume. The knowledge of which parts are met, and which parts are not, was only obtained through three separate FOI requests. The proof – the test certificates, including the reasoning for dispensing with some of the standard – is entirely obfuscated. This is not good enough. These things are called ‘standards’ because they are precisely that, standards. Any deviation from the standard should be made crystal clear if faith in the certification is to be maintained.

Second, the government have also set up a website called Parent Club that includes a lot of information about the baby box and its contents. When I checked today, it still includes this statement:

There’s still that misleading use of the phrase ‘British Safety Standards’, now ambiguously suggesting an organisation and including an unqualified and untestable (see ‘Did the government prove …’ above) statement that it ‘meets all safety requirements’.

In mitigation it has to be said that the box includes this safety information, also printed on the inside of the lid:

In the course of preparing this article I received information from a number of people, some of whom had just taken delivery of a baby box. Two in particular responded in a way that I suspect many new parents will:

Baby box now received (not that baby will sleep in it!)

and

Got to say, the baby box is ok. [Partner] thinks it’s a nice gesture, but noted that – on balance – she’d rather have the extra free nursery time she’d get in England. That would be worth many, many times more.

In other words, we’ll not use the box itself for the purpose it was intended, and we’d find extra nursery care much more useful.

The central issue is this. The government say the box is safe. They choose to prove this by asserting it’s accredited to a ‘safety standard’. Only when pressed do they say (in response to my FOI) that means BS EN 1130-1:1997. Only when pressed further do they qualify that statement by saying the accreditation is ‘in part’. Even then, it takes a further FOI request to establish which parts of the standard that means. And they still haven’t, and say they won’t or can’t, produce the documentation that proves their claim.

My own layman’s guess is that the box is probably safe to use for a sleeping baby provided you follow the safety advice and don’t do daft things with it. But to use a legal analogy, the case is pending, the evidence not yet all available. The ball is really in the government’s court: publish the accreditation certificate and test report or remain subject to the doubts that many have expressed.

There are many other aspects of the baby box scheme worthy of examination – some of the claims originally made for the box (see Messrs Law and McEnaney at the beginning of this article); whether it’s enough in tough times to spend that money on a ‘nice gesture’; whether yet another universal benefit is the best way to improve the health of babies or whether it would be better to spend the same money on fewer people who really need help; whether the success of the scheme will be honestly and objectively monitored; and much more. Others have already written effectively about some of these aspects. I may return to others.

My thanks to a number of contacts who helped me with information and suggestions for this article.

As I finalised this article I became aware of a forensic examination of the cost of the baby box scheme, The price of meeting political timetables: baby boxes as a case study. Well worth a read for its conclusion that ‘the baby box policy continues to be a fascinating case study in the operation and scrutiny of government policy-making in contemporary Scotland.’

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | 4 Comments

‘Hunt the yoon’

Last minute Hogmanay preparations are underway all across the country.

Steak pies and whisky have (mostly) been purchased and stowed in drinks cupboards or fridges as appropriate. Late lunches have been had, the shops are closed or closing, the pubs gearing up for an evening’s drinking before the bells and general bonhomie. First footing isn’t what it used to be and more fireworks will probably be watched than lumps of coal carried across thresholds. There’s a general sense of winding down, of reflection on the past and looking forward to the future. In short a sense of calm.

If there’s a temporary silence from some nationalist quarters it’s not because of any seasonal goodwill.

They’re hunched over their keyboards in sweaty anticipation playing the latest version of ‘Hunt the yoon.’

It started like this. The potty-mouthed Stuart Campbell who runs the ‘Wings’ blog came across, indeed may have illegally obtained, some information about people (a dozen or so of them) who broadly speaking support the UK and write letters to the Scottish press related to the subject. He followed up with extracts from a list purporting to show donors to an organisation that also supports the union. Some of these people – shock, horror – had titles and seemed to actually be quite well-off. None, by the way, were believed to be Sir Brian Souter, Sir Sean Connery, Eddi Reader OBE or any of the other wealthy or well-known nationalist hypocrites who have also accepted honours from the British state.

The ‘news’, such as it is, was enough to send all the amateur separatist-supporting Holmeses and Clouseaus staggering towards their keyboards in that twilight between the excesses of Christmas and New Year. Soon the traffic between them – much of it in private Facebook groups they may not realise are as private as they think – began to flow and is in full albeit rather sad spate:

‘This one had twelve (!) letters published in the yoon media between March and April’

‘I’ve scrolled through her Facebook page and in 2014 she put up a link to Better Together!’

‘Most of them are each others friends on Facebook’

‘x is sh***ing himself over his name being on the list’

‘The sooner they all f*** off to Englandshire the better’

‘Stu redacted the addresses but H*** must be [name follows]. He was all over indyref. Definite yoon.’

And so on, ad tedious infinitum.

All about nothing more than a dozen people who write letters to the press or others who have made donations to a properly constituted limited company that regularly submits its records as required to Companies House. Contrast on the other hand the one-man band that is Wings who’s raised nearly £600,000 from a trusting public since 2013 and produces no accounts. Oh, and who, joy of joys, was in communication with an SNP ‘staffer’ in 2014 about, er, an orchestrated letter-writing campaign:

If excess consumption of alcohol doesn’t make you boak at New Year maybe his rank hypocrisy will.

Meantime, ‘hunt the yoon’ continues as it will until the nasty side of Scottish nationalism brings down the whole sordid enterprise. But what do you expect from the same squalid keyboard warriors who dub the majority of their fellow citizens ‘traitors’ or ‘quislings’?

Have a good New Year when it comes. I will.

Declaration of interests. 1. I last had a letter published in the press in the early 1980s, countering a lie perpetrated by Enoch Powell. 2. I am proud to say I have made a single modest donation to the organisation that has Stuart Campbell and his ‘Wingnuts’ frothing at the mouth. Now away and do your worst to hunt me down, fools.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 5 Comments

‘No Thanks!’ blog Top Ten posts 2017

Well, another year in a Scotland increasingly weary of nationalism draws to a fractious close and I take my annual look at the No Thanks! Top Ten most-read posts.

As usual, the list is dominated by articles that touch on the SNP. The occasional nationalist who dips into this blog with a wary toe sometimes accosts me after the experience with a tweet along the lines of ‘You must hate Scotland/the SNP’, the two terms often being interchangeable in their minds. I usually respond, if at all, that I hate very little in this life, and certainly not a country or this particular political party.

The SNP features here so frequently for three reasons:

  1. I am opposed both in principle and on pragmatic grounds to their one fundamental aim – the independence (I prefer the word separation) of Scotland from Britain
  2. no other political party or grouping stands a snowball’s chance in hell of achieving that aim
  3. when all is said and done they’re not very good at government and much of what they’re poor at can be related directly to their one over-riding aim.

So here are the ten most read posts on the No Thanks! blog in 2017, beginning in traditional pop chart fashion with No. 10 and working up to this year’s No. 1.

No. 10

A subject that has increasingly wound up many Scottish nationalists to a fever pitch of solidarity and anticipation – Spain, Catalonia and Scottish nationalism – with no doubt more excitement to come in 2018. Historically, there is little to link Scotland and Catalonia but, hell, they want to be separate too and they might succeed so let’s pile in. A search for ‘Catalonia’ on this blog will reveal a number of occasions when that region of Spain has featured. It remains a tricky subject for the high heid yins of the SNP, so keen to stress all that civic and inclusive stuff, and still wedded to the idea of Scottish membership of the EU. But it’s not, as they say, my problem.

No. 9

Coincidentally, my September post Lost – SNP group photo also featured Catalonia, or more accurately a group of SNP ‘staffers’ (one also appears later in this chart) who posed with some separatist Catalan flags in the Holyrood parliament building. Presumably because they shouldn’t have taken a photo of a ‘party political nature or for party political purposes’ (parliamentary house rules) the image disappeared soon after it was posted on social media. As you’ll see, the poor wee creatures hadn’t read the first rule of the web – nothing disappears in cyberspace.

No. 8

Although it dated from 2016, Is someone telling porkies? The SNP ‘National Survey’ response seemed to find continuing favour this year. If you don’t remember, the survey was part of the continuing SNP pretence that they want to have a ‘national conversation’, find out what unionists think and why, woo us in a summer of love etc. etc. The unfortunate Stewart Hosie was to have led the exercise until he was caught sharing something at Westminster with Angus MacNeil that he shouldn’t have. The ‘porkies’ post nailed the SNP lie that two million people had responded to their egregious survey (aka marketing exercise).

No. 7

On the etymology of the word ‘yoon’ was another oldie that continued to find favour, presumably as additional innocent Scots found themselves dubbed a ‘yoon’ and googled the word to found out what it meant.

No. 6

Back in April I asked Are these SNP MPs on a shoogly peg? after Theresa May made her flawed decision to call a general election. I identified fifteen who looked as if they might be and got eight of them right. Whether that puts me up with the Brahan Seer I’ll leave you to decide. But I guessed the demise of (ex-)big hitters Salmond and Angus Robertson correctly. Losers also included one or two other vexatious individuals, not to mention the many not on my list who bit the dust to make the party’s Westminster contingent a much reduced force. Hanging on to the almost-shoogliest remaining peg is Perth MP Pete Wishart, with a parliamentary majority of twenty-one: Pete also features in No. 7 above and No. 4 below (the shoogliest peg is occupied by Stephen Gethins, majority two).

No. 5

Another general election-related post, Has Scotland gone mad politically? told the story of a nurse who asked Nicola Sturgeon an awkward question on a TV panel discussion. In what could only be described as a witch hunt, leading SNP politicians sought to discredit her with all sorts of baseless accusations and insinuations. If you’re new hereabouts, welcome to nationalist Scotland and the sport of ‘Hunt a Yoon’.

No. 4

In the latest of his series of bizarre and erratic tweets, Pete Wishart SNP MP linked the Scottish council elections to the ‘rape clause’ and invited electors to ‘vote till you boke’ and ‘Make sure the rape clause candidate is absolutley [sic] last’. In an accompanying meme he managed to dub candidates of the three main unionist parties as ‘Wank’, ‘Wankier’, and ‘Absolute Total Wank’. Low life? You decide.

No. 3

In a rare Brexit-related post I wrote An open letter to Gina Miller about the SNP urging her campaign group ‘Best for Britain’ not to fund SNP candidates in the then forthcoming general election. Whatever your view on the EU, the irony of a group called ‘Best for Britain’ funding the SNP cannot be lost on you. As it turned out, they decided not to fund SNP candidates. Correct decision.

No. 2

The curious story of the thirteen No-voting GPs who all became Yes voters was a cracker, an SNP ‘staffer’ (yes, one of them again) who claimed precisely that. It seemed to have been a Damascene conversion almost overnight because of ‘TM’ (Theresa May) although I guess some may now be seeking employment South of the border due to Scotland’s forthcoming higher income tax rates. The alleged source was his mother-in-law. But his erroneous claim proved as long-lasting as snow on a dyke and he put his Twitter account, where his claim appeared, on lock down with all his tweets protected. Still, you could put in a request to follow him and then ask if he still stands by his allegation.

No. 1

This was the most-read post on the blog in 2017.

Back in April Council elections 2017 Part 1: Your handy guide to some SNP candidates (and non-candidates) I looked at some of the stranger and less salubrious individuals who threatened to stand for the party. Most did although some fell by the wayside before the election. Some were elected, some weren’t. I never checked after the election to see who made the cut. Reading the whole thing again now is probably a task too tedious to endure. But if you do, see if you can spot the candidate who:

  • called unionists ‘quislings’ (more than one)
  • seemed to be friends with the BNP’s Nick Griffin
  • changed their surname to appear further up the ballot paper
  • believed Scotland has suffered ‘300 years of pillaging’
  • advocated UDI for Scotland
  • posted a picture of a noose along with the names of several Labour MSPs
  • forgot he owned a hotel when he declared his interests as a councillor
  • seemed to support the Provisional IRA (also more than one)
  • compared David Cameron and Boris Johnson to Ian Brady and Myra Hindley
  • were members of the so-called ‘Monklands Mafia’.

It’s not a pretty picture and it’s far removed from the smooth-speaking party leaders who’ve had the media training. But it reveals some deeper truths about the SNP and many of its members.

I naively thought in 2014 that I’d be able to discontinue the No Thanks! blog after our ‘once in a generation’ referendum. Now I suspect I’ll be back next year with another Top Ten. See you then.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The bridge, the bridge …

Here’s a strange thing about the bridge that’ll get me pelters from all sides. [Note for non-Scottish readers: the Queensferry Crossing is a new road bridge across the Firth of Forth]

I welcome the work that’s being done on it and will have to be done on it probably over the next year – not the five days that transport Humza Yousaf claimed erroneously in his tweet (above).

It was a massive engineering project and a spectacular design to add to its two equally impressive neighbours. There may have been political pressure to get it opened as soon as possible and like many I regret that its design, construction and the materials it was built of were almost entirely sourced abroad. I don’t even like the fact that as soon as it’s built it has to be lit up in the colours of the saltire to prove its oor bridge built by oor SNP. And there may yet be unpalatable facts to emerge about some of the issues around the present and future lane restrictions (even temporary closures?).

But it is a darned great complex civil engineering project and there are bound to be teething troubles that need to be sorted out.

No, the issue that well and truly gets my goat is the SNP’s obfuscation on the subject, exemplified by Mr Yousaf’s tweet. It’s a classic of its kind.

  • It uses the phrase ‘planned milestone’ to hide the fact that what has happened just now was not planned (if it had been it would have been announced well in advance).
  • It tries to convert what is clearly a problem into a positive – the raising of the speed limit on the bridge (a limit it was supposed to have been designed to in the first place).
  • It mentions only the five days closure but not any longer term works (see the ‘next year’ link above).
  • And of course it gets ‘weather permitting’ in as an excuse, just in case.

The Transport Scotland tweet he appends is not much better, either in itself or in the information on their web site it links to. But I imagine they were under some political pressure to present this as a positive improvement, not a problem.

There is a fundamental dishonesty in this that the SNP get themselves trapped into time and again. Things aren’t just done, they have to be shown as triumphs for the party and the nation, achieved in spite of Westminster and something that none of the unionist parties would have bothered with (in the case of the bridge a nationalist told me precisely that online). The problem is that triumphs don’t always emerge from political decisions and then an excuse has to found, blame assigned (you can guess where) or, in this case, an obfuscation perpetrated.

The minister concerned could be seen as having a track record in this sort of thing. Readers with a long memory may recall his missing diaries from a Middle East trip when he held the egregious ‘external affairs’ portfolio. And of course he had a senior moment when he forgot to ensure that he was insured to drive someone’s car. You’ll observe incidentally that the errant diaries were only found/released following a Freedom of Information (FOI) request. That itself is all of a pattern, with a group of journalists recently expressing concern about how the Scottish government handle FOI requests. Obfuscation yet again.

How much better it would be if our government felt they could be honest about the risk inherent in large projects and spell those out in advance. Who knows, they might even save themselves some turmoil and blunt some of the criticism that comes their way. But after eleven years in government, it’s clearly too late to teach the old nationalist dog new tricks.

A brooding Queensferry Crossing on its opening weekend

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 8 Comments

Not another ****** strategy! How many does a nation need?

 

The tail end of a few days away meant I missed last week’s fun and games (?) at the SNP government’s Arctic Circle Forum in Edinburgh, somewhat South of the Arctic Circle, but who cares.

Like the international wandering albatross that she is (I know, wrong hemisphere and I’ve used the metaphor before) Nicola Sturgeon returned from wherever she’d last been to put on a show that elicited this encomium from the Arctic Circle chairman and former president of Iceland Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson:

The new Arctic neighbourhood needs Scotland.

Aye that’s right Ólafur.  Here’s tae ye! I’m sure they speak of little else in the neighbourhoods of Moscow and Ottawa.

I’ve written before of the SNP’s fascination with things Nordic and especially the Arctic Circle talk shop.

As you’ll realise if you put tveir and tveir together, what interested me in this particular bash was not its happening but the fact that Fiona Hyslop, cabinet secretary i/c external affairs (that’s right, we both know it’s not a devolved function) used the Edinburgh forum to announce that our SNP government is going to develop ‘an Arctic Strategy for Scotland.’ Just what we need, along with a Mediterranean Strategy and strategies for other places we haven’t got a lot in common with.

If you had the will to search the manifesto that brought a diminished minority of  SNP MSPs back into government at Holyrood in 2016, you’d find on page 41 reference to a ‘Nordic/Baltic Strategy.’ Personally, I was never aware of such a thing, as I assume MSPs were unaware of the Arctic Strategy until they read about it in the government press release. It’s not clear if these are to be two separate strategies or overlapping or just ‘Oh God, did we say that?’

You see the SNP are particularly prone to strategies.

You’ll find no fewer than twenty-nine in that 2016 manifesto, ranging from a Scottish STEM Strategy to a National Strategy to Tackle Social Isolation. So now we have thirty. Or thirty-one if you include the renewable energy strategy they’re going to help Malawi to develop (lucky old Malawi, all that expertise being brought to bear). Excluding their African side excursion, that’s one strategy to be produced or updated every two months over the five-year life of the current parliament (a few are older efforts being, as they say, ‘refreshed’). And that’s without allowing for parliamentary recesses.

Life’s too short to check how they’ve done so far with all this. But do you think that rate of strategy production is sustainable? I doubt it. And I doubt even if it’s needed. High-level usually glossy documents are a great temptation for governments. I wouldn’t be so cynical as to suggest that the inevitable colour photo and foreword by the relevant minister is the incentive. But you do have to ask how many of these productions generate anything more than marginal change.

It would be good if the SNP concentrated on the day-to-day services they’re responsible for rather than fritter away their time and resources on so many strategies, some of which are as much use as their Arctic Strategy is likely to be.

It would be good but not likely.

The full list of strategies in the SNP 2016 Holyrood manifesto:

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Beyond foolishness – George Kerevan and Catalonia

In my last post on this blog (The SNP lifeboat disaster) I had some mild fun at the expense of the SNP’s Pete Wishart MP, albeit MP by only 21 votes. George Kerevan is one of Pete’s ex-MP colleagues who didn’t make the cut at the last general election. This doesn’t seem to have dimmed his enthusiasm for all sorts of things, from announcing an intention to apply for the job of chair of the UK Financial Conduct Authority to supporting the recent illegal Catalan ‘referendum,’ where I clocked him ‘observing’ events recently.

His misguided tweet at the head of this article continues his interest in Catalonia and demonstrates a number of things.

The first, perhaps trivial in itself, is that he thinks there is something called ‘marshal’ law. It is of course ‘martial,’ that is military, law. Perhaps like ‘parly’ for ‘parlt’ (parliament) it’s just a typo although he’s obviously spent some time on the message, sourcing an image of the Polish and, ironically, legitimate Catalan flags (the separatist flag is the one with a blue triangle and white star down the side).

The second issue is that his tweet illustrates perfectly the hazard of drawing historical analogies from a standpoint of ignorance. Kerevan’s statement that martial law was imposed in Poland ‘to crush democracy’ is at best ambiguous, at worst misleading. It could be taken to mean that, like Catalonia, there had been a democratic state to crush. In fact ever since the second world war Poland had been a communist satellite of the Soviet Union. What the military were seeking to crush was the unrest that by 1981 was articulated mainly through the Solidarity trade union and which had many causes, not just a lack of democracy. During the period of martial law from 1981-1983 and for some time afterwards, Solidarity attempted to continue covertly. But its leaders were arrested and there is no way it could be characterised, as per Mr Kerevan, as an ‘underground state.’

The third issue is the conclusion Kerevan draws from his faulty analogy. If the Catalan parliament were suspended, he says, Catalans should also set up an underground state. But unlike Poland in the 1980s Spain is a democracy and any suspension would be done in accordance with the democratic constitution (Article 155 if you must know). That would not be a declaration of martial law. The Spanish government may not have been wise in every aspect of how it has dealt with Catalan separatists recently. But there is no doubt that the fundamental actions it has taken and that it might now take are in accordance with the constitution. To suggest in that context that Catalonia’s politicians should set up an underground state is hugely irresponsible, much more so than supporting the recent illegal referendum. I wonder if Kerevan has thought through the implications of how that might play out. It certainly advocates more illegality and, knowingly or not, could be tantamount to encouraging civil war.

George has featured previously in this blog, for example last year when he articulated a belief that Scotland had a ‘new oil boom’ and then got more than a bit lost in Berlin. That was mere foolishness. To encourage Catalan separatists to set up an underground state is dangerous.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment