Imagine you stumbled upon a major scandal involving the Scottish Government or one of its agencies? Who would you go to with cpnfidence it would be properly investigated?
To the politicians? Obviously not. To senior civil servants? You’re joking. To the Crown Office? Certainly not on current form. To the national police force, now answerable directly to the same politicians? Not with any great faith.
It is not a happy state of affairs in any society when checks and balances which safeguard the separation of powers, within government and the law, are cast aside. The ease with which this has happened in Scotland is remarkable.
Over the coming weeks, one way or another, the Holyrood Committee on Harassment Complaints will peter out. However, it will long stand as testimonial to the power which now resides within St Andrew’s House to obstruct any inconvenient process demanding transparency and natural justice.
What we are seeing is the tip of a very large iceberg, albeit one that was never meant to be exposed. Below the surface, everything is subject to the same guiding philosophy – one nation, one party, one leader and don’t get in the way of it.
It could and should have been straightforward – how and why did Ministers, notably the First Minister, pursue a case to its ignominious death they were bound to lose, regardless of cost, reputational damage or the interests of anonymous complainers.
The obvious key to that objective was (and remains) the legal advice provided to Ministers at every stage by external Counsel, hired only to tell them the truth. In spite of the Scottish Parliament twice instructing otherwise, that information remains concealed. How in any democracy is that defensible?
Mr Salmond, understandably aggrieved by what he perceived as a concerted attempt to put him behind bars for a prolonged period, saw the inquiry as an opportunity to tell his story about how rules were changed to catch him in their net.
It was that activity which was found in the Court of Session to have been “tainted by apparent bias”. At any other time, this in itself would have been a damning phrase; utterly extraordinary that such a sensitive process should have been corrupted throughout by “bias”.
Yet such is the arrogance and mutual back-covering modus operandi of the New Scotland at its highest levels that nobody has been held accountable for the Court of Session’s findings. When a government is run like this, bias is a qualification, not a sackable offence.
Nicola Sturgeon and her husband Perter Murrell.
In the brass neck stakes, our First Minister will never be outbid. At Holyrood this week, she complained about Peter Murrell being “dragged into a process he had no part in” for political reasons. Like much else that springs from Ms Sturgeon’s lips, that scarcely accords with the facts.
In a message we were never meant to see, Mr Murrell advised another SNP figure it was “a good time to be pressurising the police” to pursue Mr Salmond – i.e. Police Scotland, for which his wife has political responsibility. That is not a man who has been “dragged” anywhere but considers himself, quite rightly, to be at the centre of events.
Mr Murrell’s appearances before the Holyrood Committee have been openly contemptuous of the idea he is obliged to tell them anything that does not take his fancy. When a man feels untouchable, this is how he behaves. And who is empowered to disturb that assumption – the committee, the Crown Office, Police Scotland…? I very much doubt it and so, more importantly, does he?
The past few weeks have been spent arguing about what witnesses will be heard or what parts of their evidence will remain concealed for reasons that remain entirely obscure to the public at large – and also, possibly, to Lady Dorrian, PICTURED RIGHT, in the Court of Session.
But who cares about the public at large? They have more urgent things to worry about, like a pandemic. Natural justice and democratic safeguards are intangibles that you don’t really notice till they are gone. At least, that’s the calculation.
BUYER BEWARE – OF BREXIT TAXES ON YOUR DOORSTEP
Our friendly local parcel service appeared the other day with a mail-ordered item from Italy.- and apologetic request for £43.52 by cash or cheque, on the nail.
Was it another tax on island living…? Not this time. Investigation revealed the culprit as Brexit. Around the UK, goods bought on-line are arriving with similar demands – with most being sent straight back.
The breakdown was £33.52 in UK VAT and a £10 “brokerage charge” imposed by UPS, the principal carrier. I do not recall this being advertised on Boris Johnson’s bus, so I asked the Treasury what was going on.
It replied: “VAT has always been due on goods from the EU. However the way it is accounted for has now changed. Depending on their price and origin, customs duties and tariffs may be due on goods imported from the EU as they would be if they were being imported from non-EU countries”.
Well, whatever was “always the case”, the certainty is that (a) consumers thought they knew the total price when they ordered on-line and (b) delivery firms were not expected to act as cash collectors for HMRC or outfits like UPS.
I suppose true Brexit believers will say it is a jolly good thing if British consumers buy British instead of from pesky Italians. Unfortunately, that is likely to cut both ways.
How many packages from our own small companies which depend on mail order are now being turned away by outraged customers in France, Germany and Italy? And does anyone care?
Unless and until sense prevails, the only advice I can offer is caveat emptor. Buyer beware. Or you’ll end up with a bill on your doorstep.