Friday, 5 August 2011

Scotland the banana milkshake republic?

Wednesday's quote-heavy post cited Joyce McMillan's article about the banana republic-esque aspects of UK governance unearthed - but to a large extent merely underlined - by the phone hacking scandal, in which she described "elite capture" by a "group of wealthy and privileged people - across government, business, the media - who collude with one another to run public policy in their own interest".

In turn she posited that: "In Scotland, some will see independence as the obvious answer; and it might indeed provide us, north of the Border, with a kind of fresh start".

However, in this regard she was taken to task by the Scottish Review's redoubtable Kenneth Roy who, despite wholeheartedly endorsing the essential thrust of her argument, claimed Professor McMillan was at "the highest end of the Scottish elite" herself. More generally Mr Roy said:
There is not the slightest evidence that Scotland is, or will be, less dominated by elite captures and clique styles than the body politic as a whole. The elite exists in any society and it is likely to be more pronounced in a small society than in a large one. SR has devoted a lot of space in the last two years to pointing out the overlapping interests of the elite in Scottish public life, the scandalously small pool from which that elite is drawn, and the often unfortunate results.
However, in another excellent article in this morning's Scotsman, Joyce McMillan seems to cast doubt on her own suggestion that Scottish independence - and, presumably, devolution to a lesser extent - is the "obvious answer", and indeed much of what she says is remarkably similar to Kenneth Roy's critique. Thus:
The problem is, though, that now the perspective at Westminster has shifted, and the bubble of News Corp's power has been pricked, the SNP can be seen more clearly for the party it is; a nationalist grouping that certainly stands at a little distance from the big power-play of Westminster politics, but that has still been shaped by an age when all parties in the UK have struggled to fund themselves without resort to wealthy donors, and have lived in fear of negative coverage in the popular press. [...]

There is no guarantee, in other words, that political independence brought to us by Alex Salmond and his party would necessarily provide the kind of fresh start for which many Scots now yearn; and no evidence at all that the other main Scottish political parties - the demoralised Liberals, the marginalised Tories, a shattered and desperately confused Scottish Labour - could even begin to provide the kind of radical, vigorous and forward-looking scrutiny on which the success of any independence process would depend. [...]

Twelve years into the age of devolution, our Scottish Parliament clearly needs to begin a rigorous cycle of self-updating and reform, getting abreast of recent radical changes at Westminster, improving its systems of accountability, and creating formats for debate which put government ministers under serious scrutiny, rather than simply allowing them to display their skills at stand-up comedy.
Thus while there's clearly a difference in emphasis between the two, their essential point is substantively similar (apart, obviously, from Mr Roy's characterisation of Professor McMillan as a member of Scotland's elite, which she certainly doesn't address, but presumably because she considers herself part of a group attempting to hold a higher elite to account, thus perhaps in the same way as I as a humble and obscure blogger regard the editor of the Scottish Review as being a member of yet another elite, whether or not it's a more benign elite than some!) - that there are grave deficiencies in the conduct of government and democracy in Scotland, and there's no prima facie evidence that either devolution or independence seem likely to fundamentally change this.

Of course, the big story in today's press is yesterday's revelations regarding the SNP Government's relationship with the Murdochs and their News International titles.

Which on one level is all a bit yawn-inducing, but on another merely underlines Holyrood as a watered down version of Westminster, with the gap between the two in terms of egregiousness likely to narrow as the former institution matures (if that's the right word!) and accrues more powers.

Thus while Alex and Moira haven't romped in pyjama parties(!) with News International executives, the self-evident mutual schmoozing between the First Minister, Rupert Murdoch and others in the latter's newspaper titles is laid bare in the correspondence made public yesterday.

So instead of the sleepovers and "downing champagne and oysters", Mr Salmond attempts to curry(!) favour with Mr Murdoch by way of more tartan-oriented hospitality such as a visit to the Ryder Cup and theatre tickets for the Black Watch production in New York. Then there's the mutual admiration and suggestions of commercial benefit for NI in return for coverage of the Gathering, which in itself was arguably a vehicle for promoting the SNP and independence.

And, of course, that's not to forget the 'gift' of SNP endorsement from Scottish NI titles during May's Holyrood election campaign - with the concomitant virtual character assassination of Mr Salmond's main opposition opponent - not to mention that the SNP effectively paid for what was more or less an 'advertorial' in The Sun regarding Sir Sean Connery's simpering endorsement of Alex Salmond.

Hence on the one hand nothing that we shouldn't be familiar with as regards Westminster politics, but on the other clearly underlining the dangers of replicating the so-called mother of parliaments in Edinburgh.

(The blog headline represents a rather lame attempt to suggest that Scotland's democracy amounts to something of a watered down banana republic!)


Anonymous said...

A Banana republic where dogma rules and the truth is swept under the carpet.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps we should asking why Salmond has an obsession with foreign tycoons - namely Trump and Murdoch. If they get control of the government then Scotland will become a banana republic!

Stuart Winton said...

Well cosying up to the Scotsman, Herald, Courier and P&J isn't really the road to international statesmanship!