Late last night, a tweet appeared from the Labour Party promising revelations about Alex Salmond in the Sundays today. Responding to a query from another tweeter, I said there couldn’t be much in it - whatever it was - since nobody was trailing a big story.
However, Gail Lythgoe, Convener at SNP Students, got her word in quickly -
GailLythgoe Gail Lythgoe
Scottish Gvt decided in 07 that ministers wouldnt make nominations. It was the indy Honours Committee within the SGovt.cant get much clearer
Gail says it can’t get much clearer, but it isn’t clear enough for me. And so to the Sundays, specifically, the Scotsman and the Sunday Herald.
The Scotsman has a little piece by Eddie Barnes (front page to page 3), and he leads in the first paragraph with a fairly unequivocal statement on the row over Brian Souter’s knighthood with Labour “ … after it emerged that the Scottish Government had nominated him - the SNP’s biggest donor - for his knighthood.”
That’s clear enough, Eddie - but who say so? Cathy Jamieson, Labour MP - who on this and other matters seems to interpret her role as a Scottish MP as one of attacking the SNP rather than fighting for her constituents (e.g. in the phone hacking debate, etc.) - says so, and the Herald (Paul Hutcheon) reports, (in a much larger piece on page 3) that she has a letter from the Westminster Cabinet Office that confirms this.
This is confirmed by a spokesperson for the First Minister (and by Gail Lythgoe, an SNP insider, who presumably knows what she’s talking about) however, they distinguish sharply between ministers of the Scottish Government and ‘the Scottish Government’ as it refers to the mechanics of government and the unelected civil servants who carry out the mundane work of government.
This recommendation came from the Independent Honours committee within the Scottish Government. Ministers are debarred from making nominations for honours to this committee.
(I spent a modest amount of time searching for details of this committee on the Scottish Government site, but drew a blank. Perhaps someone can point me in the right direction?)
So a committee of the Scottish Government, with its independence from ministerial influence protected, came up with Brian Souter’s name, and recommended him to Westminster for an honour. Brian Souter is a prominent member of the Scottish business community whose religious, social and political beliefs are controversial.
So the question arise - who nominated him to the Independent Honours Committee, and for what reasons?
Let’s look at the man, and why he might have been nominated. Educated in Scotland, trained as a Chartered Accountant with Arthur Anderson, he built a huge UK and international transport group, Stagecoach, with his sister, Anne Gloag and her brother Robin, using his father’s redundancy money. He set up the Souter Charitable Trust which has disbursed some £20m in grants to almost 3000 projects worldwide that support Christian principles. Successful businessmen on this scale are often nominated for honours, especially when there is a charitable dimension to their contribution to society, and the commercial achievements of Brian Souter and Anne Gloag are formidable by any standards.
But it is no secret that those who have made large donations to political parties in Britain often appear on the Queen’s Birthday Honours List, and that this is entirely coincidental. (Cries of Aye, right Jimmy from cynical Glaswegians.) The Cash for Honours scandal was scandalous because this appeared not to be coincidental after all.
It may come as a surprise to the cynical that anyone can nominate someone for an honour. Download the forms here - UK Honours system - and get your Uncle Willie an MBE or even a knighthood in time for his birthday in 2012.
But Brian Souter is controversial because of his views on gays and what he calls the promotion of homosexuality. Such views are anathema to me, and I share neither his views nor his religious beliefs.
Should these views have debarred him from receiving a knighthood? I cannot answer that, because I am totally opposed to the honours system itself. There may well be some kind of blackball mechanism within the mysterious working of the honours system: if there is, it would appear not to have been operated in the Souter Case.
To illustrate the ludicrous nature of UK politics, Westminster Government and the whole sordid apparatus of the monarchy and the British Establishment, I only have to ask the question - May we now assume that Her Majesty the Queen is anti-gay, and a fundamentalist Christian because she knighted Sir Brian?
Of course, the real reason for this furore is that Sir Brian is that rarity, a large corporate donor to the Scottish National Party. This is the truly unforgiveable sin in the eyes of the Labour Party - a self-made Scottish working class man, the classic lad 0’pairts, who chose, unlike Bernie Ecclestone and many, many others, to donate to the only party that truly represents the people of Scotland instead of the party of Blair, Mandelson and Brown.
Having said all this, I want more answers than the SNP Government has given so far about this committee and its workings, but especially the answer to this question -
Why is the Scottish National Party getting involved at all in a system that is designed, in everything it does, to protect and embed a non-elected power structure that is totally and utterly hostile to the values and objective of the SNP?
The Mason Motion argument rumbles on. I think it was misconceived, and the views behind it are deeply distasteful to me. I am also disappointed that SNP MSPs Bill Walker, Dave Thomson and Richard Lyle appear to have backed the motion. But they represent only four MSPs less than 6% of the SNP total number of MSPs.
JIMMY REID AND THE LEFT
There is a movement to set up a new left wing think-tank in memory of Jimmy Reid. I am of the Scottish Left, and I am not a doctrinaire SNP supporter : the party is a means to an end for me, the only vehicle I currently see for the achievement of my political objectives. My instinct is to applaud and support this new grouping, but I am trying to fight down another, more dissonant note.
Is this an attempt by the Scottish Labour Party - in the sense that such a thing exists at all - to reclaim Reid, not for the Left, but from the SNP, the party that he joined in the last years of his life, because he too saw it as the only vehicle for the achievement of his political objectives?