Brian Wilson’s Column

What was devolution meant to achieve?  I suppose most would say that it was about making government more accountable?  Or taking responsibility for our own decisions…?

It is occasionally worth taking stock of the reality when set against such objectives. What we find is not so much the new Scottish Enlightenment as a centralised power clique, hiding behind secrecy and feeding off grievance.

There were a couple of striking examples last week, each the subject of debates at Holyrood in which, unusually, the SNP administration lost the votes. But what difference will that make?

 At Westminster, there are always MPs with sufficient independence of mind, principle, call it what you will, to vote against their own government on specific issues.  For example, last week, 34 Tory MPs did their career prospects no good  by voting against the lockdown measures.

It never, ever happens at Holyrood.  The SNP’s nodding donkeys might as well be replaced by programmed voting machines.  Some praise it as “discipline” while others see only the uniformity of mediocrity. The net result is the same.

First up on Wednesday was a debate arising out of the Committee considering how the allegations against Alex Salmond were handled by the ruling cabal of politicians and civil servants.

The key question was whether legal advice to Ministers on whether they had a case to defend should be published.

Self-evidently it should be, if there is any interest in getting to the truth of this otherwise impenetrable matter. Most of last week’s evidence to the Committee was taken up with questioning a Scottish Government lawyer around what Ministers were told about the flawed nature of their case and when they were told it. Nobody was any the wiser.

Releasing the legal advice would answer these questions in five minutes.  It would also be consistent with the utterly meaningless promises by Ms Sturgeon that she would do everything possible to assist the work of the Committee. The opposite has proven to be the reality.

In defence of not publishing the opinion, she claimed  legal privilege for advice to Ministers.  But that, of course, is only half the story.  The Ministerial code goes on to say that advice can be released “If, in exceptional circumstances, Ministers feel that the balance of public interest lies in disclosing (it) on a particular matter”.

Everyone else in Holyrood agreed that the Salmond case met that description. Indeed, it is quite a confession by Ms Sturgeon if she regards continuing to go through the motions of defending a case you have been told is unwinnable, regardless of cost to public funds, as “unexceptional”.

It now remains to be seen if Ms Sturgeon will do as instructed by MSPs and release the legal advice.  Or will it be another case of brassing it out on the assumption that most of Scotland is not that interested in the truth?

The next debate was about the care home scandal which has been accompanied by  more than 2000 deaths of elderly Scots from coronavirus – a hideously high rate of attrition. Unsurprisingly, all MSPs except Ms Sturgeon’s own troops thought there should be a full inquiry – and the sooner the better. They voted accordingly.

So what is the response of the Scottish Government?  To deflect, of course.  The same people whose only real political interest is in breaking up the United Kingdom now want a “four nation” approach to investigating what happened in care homes. The idea of accepting their own responsibilities is, as always, anathema.

There may well be common traits throughout the UK and beyond but the NHS in Scotland is fully devolved. All the relevant decisions on care homes in Scotland were taken by the devolved Government of Scotland – and that is the only basis for the inquiry our Parliament requisitioned.  How disrespectful to evade it.

Devolution of powers was meant to be matched by strengthened accountability through MSPs.  The Scottish Government – which effectively means Ms Sturgeon – has plenty powers and there is no shortage of MSPs.  Only the accountability is missing.


Defeated and now, thankfully, departed Donald Trump – “There must have been a riot of vodka consumption in the Kremlin.”

If the objective of Russian interference in elections is to bring western democracy into chaos and disrepute, there must have been a riot of vodka consumption in the Kremlin over the past few days.

Thanks to the behaviour of President Trump and his equally unattractive side-kick, Giuliani, the cornerstone of any democratic system – the integrity of its electoral system – has been trashed with a sledgehammer.

Decent Joe Biden may have won, but the man who wanted to Make America Great Again still stops at nothing to make America appear rotten and ridiculous in the eyes of the world, so long as there is a vestige of hope he can steal the election.

Those of us who have been repelled over decades by Washington’s corruption of other people’s democracies, particularly in Latin America, find irony in Trump’s willingness to replace America’s cloak of moral superiority with the trappings of a banana republic.

However, it is now a mistake to speak of “Trump” as if he was a freak who inadvertently gained entry to the White House abetted by deluded folk who worshipped at the feet of his celebrity.

Over 70 million voted for him in full knowledge of what he is – the narcissist who exploits racial tensions, spreads hate, builds walls, mocks science and lives by crude mendacity. That is the package they endorsed or were prepared to overlook.

Without the pandemic, he would probably have won. Even in defeat, he continues to exacerbate divisions in American society to ensure the Trump legacy will be long-lasting and malign.

How sad that the nearest there has been to a “Scottish” US President had to be Donald John Trump.

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