Thursday, 13 May 2010

Oh Danny Boy ...

Secretary of State for Scotland - Scotland's man in the Cabinet or the Cabinet's man in Scotland? Does the SoS work for Scotland in the Cabinet or for the Cabinet in Scotland? I find myself from time to time wondering, if this United Kingdom is the wonderful and cohesive place we're so often told it is, why does Scotland need a man or woman in the Cabinet and why does the Cabinet need a man or woman in Scotland.

If you take the opportunity to read the piece written by John McTernan that appeared in the Scotsman today, you might be forgiven for thinking that the last Secretary of State was Labour's man in Scotland. John McTernan was Jim Murphy's Special Adviser, he advises that
Your press team will be your Praetorian Guard. Listen to them.
How telling that statement is. The Praetorian Guard was consolidated by Augustus to protect him from the wrath of the people he ruled as he turned Rome from a republic into a monarchy. Politicians viewing press officers as a shield against the wrath of the people could be taken to be an indication that the politicians have lost touch with the people they purport to represent - not that I would draw such an inference, of course, with my innocent and accepting demeanour ... If the press office is the Praetorian Guard, though, we'd be quite entitled to ask quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

Our good friend and guide to the internal workings of the Scotland Office continues with his sage ponderings:
You must make the case for reducing the deficit – it's in the national interest, will deliver economic stability and is what the voters wanted – while passporting the responsibility for unpopular decisions onto the SG.

SG is his abbreviation for SNP Scottish Government. How sad it is that he thinks that it is an appropriate use of a Cabinet Secretary's time to be using his publicly-funded office of state for party political purposes, never mind making it his first priority. Knocking the Scottish Government and trying to blame it for the failings of the UK Government shouldn't be the job of the Scottish Secretary, making the relationship work and serving the people of Scotland should be the number one priority. That attitude, though, might help to explain the strange and sharp rise in marketing spend by the Scotland Office as soon as the SNP won the Holyrood election up from £114,826 in 2006-07 to £161,328 in 2008-09.

He's not finished yet. Talking about implementing the Calman recommendations he says:
it must draw a sharp dividing line with the nationalists. You need a consensus that isolates your opponents.

Strangely, I had thought that the debate was about how to best serve Scotland and her people. It had been whispered to me that the other parties might be involved in some petty political point-scoring but I couldn't believe that of these fine, decent upstanding people who just happen to disagree with me on the best way forward for Scotland. Mr McTernan has destroyed my illusions, though - ah, woe is me!

We're not through yet, though, he advises that a presentational strategy is required and says:
Achievement is 25 per cent perspiration, 75 per cent promotion

This may explain why Labour never managed to do much, the obsession was with what was in the papers rather than with what was being done and it indicates the dearth of analysis and the poverty of ambition which so bedevils Labour. Dare I say that this country may have been better off if it had had a Scottish Secretary who was pulling for us over the last few years instead if trying to knock our Scottish Government?

Our whirlwind tour of Labour's attitude to the Scotland Office ends with Mr McTernan's advice that
You need to put country before party at every stage, and to be seen to do that.

It's ironic that he's just spent the rest of the article saying exactly the opposite, is it not? Ah, Labour, Scotland's Janus, advising Scotland's Novus Homo of the Lib Dems on how to aid their Conservative partners - Scotland's Caligula (whose Praetorian Guard, of course, assassinated him). We can only hope that the SNP will not turn out to be Scotland's Cassandra.

We have a new Secretary of State for Scotland, a man whose career so far is unparalleled, he has been:
  1. A student.
  2. A press officer for the Lib Dems
  3. A press officer for the European Movement
  4. A press officer for the Cairngorms National Park
  5. An MP for five years (this is only his second term).
  6. Erm, that's it.

We could have had a real heavyweight in the shape of Charlie Kennedy. I know the Lib Dems stabbed him in the back, but he'd serve if he was asked. Perhaps he'd overshadow Clegg, but that's a price worth paying! If not Charlie, then what about Alistair Carmichael - not quite in the same league as Kennedy but still streets ahead of Alexander, he's a former solicitor, a former Procurator Fiscal Depute, a former hotel manager and he's a third term MP. Or what about Michael Moore? In his fourth term as an MP, he was a successful chartered accountant before he fell amongst thieves and became a Lib Dem MP. Malcolm Bruce maybe - 27 years an MP, a previous successful career in publishing as well as experience in other businesses?

It may, perhaps, be a little uncharitable of me, but I think that in Danny Alexander we have been given not Scotland's man in the Cabinet, not the Cabinet's man in Scotland, but Nick Clegg's man in the Cabinet. I hope that I will stand corrected at some future time but it appears to me that this is not an appointment based on ability but on that most base of purposes - cronyism - that Danny Alexander has been appointed because he will cause no trouble for Clegg and Clegg will never have to doubt his loyalty. I find it difficult to picture Alexander holding his own against George Osborne in arguing for Scotland's budget, getting points in Scotland's favour made to William Hague before the Foreign Office takes action, making Scotland's case to Ian Duncan Smith, or getting a fair deal on defence for Scotland out of Liam Fox. That's before you come to the picture of him squaring up to Ken Clarke Justice Issues.

I hope I turn out to be wrong but I cannot but suspect that Scotland will pay a heavy price for the appointment to the Scotland Office of a man who aspires to be a featherweight. Scotland faces an uncertain time when we will need a collective will to protect our country from the worst when the legionnaires of Whitehall cry 'Havoc' and let slip the dogs of war, we must gird our loins for the task ahead, civic Scotland will have to defend her again. This time, though, we have a Scottish Government on our side.

Mind how you go!

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