John Cawley asks : who runs Scotland? How do we fight the corporate capture of Scottish politics by lobbyists, journalists who are also lobbyists and think tanks? How does Scotland defend its polity against those who seek to influence policy while keeping those who fund them in the shadows? How can we shape a democracy fit for the challenges of the future?
It’s been a long hard slog since the referendum. The light at the end of the tunnel may well be an express train thundering towards us that will send us crashing out of the EU, hard border and all. Still the phoney war over the future of these islands continues.
As I sat the other day, mulling over the pros and cons of applying for Irish passports for my children in order that they might still have freedom of movement should they ever wish to leave these islands, I just felt a weariness. The same old scoundrels are still selling the same old snake oil.
I’ve contacted the Electoral Commission about Vote Leave’s alleged breaches of electoral law and the mystery donation of £400k to the DUP. I’ve ponied up to help crowdfund an appeal against the same Electoral Commission’s failure to take action against the same Vote Leave after finding prima facie evidence of illegal cooperation between the various Brexit campaigns.
I’ve used the BBC complaints process to raise my concerns about the privileged access given to various lobbyists on the flagship national political programme, Good Morning Scotland and its weekend edition – no luck.
I’ve tweeted BBC Scotland’s Gary Robertson, Mark Daly and the Radio Scotland Twitter feed to ask questions about the appropriateness of giving lobbyists like Kevin Pringle or Andy Maciver airtime and have not even received the dismissive ‘Righto’ reserved by Gary for anonymous Nats complaining about the size of Scotland in the weather map. I didn’t even get a response when I asked about the lack of coverage given to the visit of Steve Bannon to Gleneagles at the invitation of Charlotte St Partners chairman, Sir Angus Grossart.
I’ve contacted the Presiding Officer, Ken Macintosh about the inclusion of Geoff Mawdsley, former lobbyist, current big noise at Reform Scotland and consummate political insider on the Commission for Parliamentary Reform. The Presiding Officer is obviously not on nodding terms with the irony of appointing a lobbyist to help reform parliament.
I’ve contacted the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator to complain about the lack of clarity on who funds Reform Scotland and the preponderance of former and active lobbyists on its board or in its employ. Nothing to see here, move along.
I’ve put in a FOI request about the chumminess between the current Minister for Transport and the Islands, Humza Yousaf and former Labour Transport guy Tom Harris [lobbyist, Telegraph scribe, Reform Scotland, Vote Leave etc] as they rub shoulders at dinners or Mr Yousaf speaks at a Message Matters event, while Tom tweets approvingly of Humza’s performance. I was told by Transport Scotland that as the information was accessible, I should find it myself. Okay, so the information is on a site under construction, not in chronological order and may not even be there, but hey, that is my problem.
I’ve even applied to be in the Question Time audience, but apart from that glorious moment in 2003 when I got on, I’ve had no luck, despite the fact I meet the male middle-aged gammon demographic the programme thrives on.
Scottish politics continues to be a spectator sport. We look to an uncertain future politically and economically. There is one certainty though: the insiders will still be in. The Pacific Quay pals act will continue co-opting, closing ranks and closing doors to questions that go to the heart of Scottish democracy – who runs Scotland? How do we fight the corporate capture of Scottish politics by lobbyists, journalists who are also lobbyists and think tanks? How does Scotland defend its polity against those who seek to influence policy while keeping those who fund them in the shadows? How can we shape a democracy fit for the challenges of the future when we have a democratic process that has accumulated all of the worst excesses of Westminster in the merest fraction of the time that Holyrood has been the seat of our democracy?
How can we ensure the health of our Scottish democracy when we watch the goings on at Pacific Quay and we look from the old media to the new and from the new media to the old and we find it hard to discern the difference between the two. From paraphrasing Orwell to quoting The Who: ‘Meet the new boss; same as the old boss.’
The one thing I am certain of is that I don’t count in the new politics. I’m too old, maybe don’t have enough Twitter followers, maybe I’m too pessimistic or should try not to expect better than that which is on offer. From the imposition of standardised assessments on our children to the presence of Andrew Wilson on the Growth Commission; from the shambles at Police Scotland to the baffling ubiquity and respectability of Scotland’s top greaser Tom Harris on the national broadcaster, I’m giving up on worrying about how we keep those who run Scotland on the straight and narrow.
Maybe, I’ll apply for an Irish passport too. Maybe it is always darkest before the dawn. Maybe our future will be brighter than our recent past. Christ, I hope so.