PATERNALISM AND COERCION ARE NO WAY TO GAIN PUBLIC TRUST

BILL HEANEY’S NOTEBOOK COLUMN

BILL HEANEYLooking at a way to ease the coronavirus lockdown, Jennifer O’Connell, of The Irish Times, wonders if New Zealand’s bubble strategy would work in Ireland — or even here in Scotland.

“It would offer the 400,000 people who live alone, without family close by, the chance to create a bubble with a friend or neighbour.”

In her column yesterday, she said “trust can be a far more effective means of reaching people than paternalism and coercion.”.

Maybe Nicola Sturgeon should remember that before she ever again mentions treating us all like grown-ups or telling us endlessly that she wants to be “very, very clear” before ever again trotting out an indecipherable list of figures.

Government and public health experts need to trust us, and they need us to trust them too.

For that, we need transparency on not just about the ongoing way coronavirus is being tackled, but the government strategy to move into the next phase of lockdown. We can’t invest in the plan if we don’t know what it is.

Sturgeon’s decision though to give the public a glimpse of when and what she would like to see happen in relation to lockdown, which has pleased the establishment no end, is pure politics, something she appealed should not be allowed to raise its head during this crisis.

Just as boys will be boys, politicians will be politicians. And Sturgeon is one down to her very fingertips.

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The organisation Index on Censorship is asking UK journalists to participate in a survey into the use of ‘Slapps.’

The term – otherwise known as ‘strategic lawsuits against public participation’ – refers to the phenomenon of vexatious legal threats or similar actions against journalists, such as the censorship of The Dumbarton Democrat by West Dunbartonshire Council and the SNP.

The research project seeks to identify the scale and nature of the phenomenon against journalists in Europe including the UK.

If we allow our free speech rights to be weakened, we lose our greatest tool in advocating for change. But today discussions surrounding “free speech” have unfortunately been dominated by a small number of people who seek to use it primarily to curtail the rights of others and spread hate, leading many to question it as a value.

They have a free training programme which is designed to show how freedom of expression improves democracy and can benefit everyone.

“Vexatious actions, which may include letters threatening libel and defamation, come from private parties (often corporations or wealthy individuals) with the intent to silence journalists and media outlets and prevent them from investigating or publishing their work,” commented Index.

“In order to conduct this research, we are asking journalists and media outlets who might be able to provide insight into how common this phenomenon is, to fill out our questionnaire.  Some interviews will also be conducted as part of the research.”

Unfortunately, some newspapers keel over and give in to these people, but not The Democrat.

We treat these letters as a badge of honour. They let us know we are going our job as journalists, which is very often to upset politicians, people with vested interests and other members of the establishment.

The fact that we have been banned and boycotted by the SNP and West Dunbartonshire Council is evidence that we have been doing it well.

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Connolly BillyThe First Minister’s daily briefing on the impact of coronavirus in Scotland is the dreariest, saddest, dullest piece of TV on the planet right now.

It even puts Ricky Fulton’s take off of Late Call in the shade.

I suppose we should expect this since the “public information programme” contains so much bad news, but the Scottish Government really needs a spin doctor with a sense of humour to brighten the show up a bit and persuade more people to watch it.

It’s all very well having Jason Leitch there, but the reaction to his contributions is much the same as having teeth pulled, which is appropriate since he is a dentist after all.

Health Minister Jeane Freeman fits in well with the present set-up since some would say she has the appropriate face and the sepulchral voice to fit in perfectly for a funeral.

Maybe it’s time to invite Billy Connolly along to add a touch of humour, but The Big Yin has not been top of the popularity polls with our MSPs, since he once described Holyrood as “a pretendy wee parliament”.

Our MSPs have a rare conceit of themselves mostly. So much so that too many of them appear to have been infected by that other virus – hubris.

There’s nothing wrong with a laugh in the face of adversity. It is often said that comedy and tragedy are close bedfollows.

That’s why I think the best advert for the lockdown guidelines is done by those children whose very clear message is this: Dae as yet telt. Stey in the hoose.

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