There’s been a murder… of open government

‘You have the right to remain silent,’ intones the detective when he finally gets his man.

It’s a familiar scene from US cop shows and, from the end of the month, police in Scotland will mimic the procedure when placing suspects under arrest. If Nicola Sturgeon ever decided to pursue a criminal record — beyond her management of Scottish health and education — a ‘Miranda’ warning would be superfluous. When in trouble, the First Minister elevates remaining silent to an art form.

Grilled at Holyrood yesterday on the Police Scotland crisis, she dodged every line of enquiry with an eye on the clock, knowing her interrogators would soon run out of time to question her. Her justice secretary has been caught holding a secret meeting over the future of suspended chief constable Phil Gormley.

Ruth Davidson wanted to know if the First Minister thought it acceptable that Michael Matheson had leaned on the police watchdog to reverse a decision allowing Mr Gormley to return to work — and whether it was proper that no minutes were taken.

The Tory leader branded this set-up ‘secret Scotland’. New Labour was accused of running government by fiat. The SNP runs government by flat white, getting senior public officials round for a coffee and a wee chat where decisions can be taken without all that pesky public scrutiny.

‘The justice secretary acted appropriately and will continue to do so,’ Miss Sturgeon eventually snipped. It doesn’t take Columbo to work out that this will not end well for ministers.

Next up was Ivan McKee, Nationalist MSP for Glasgow Provan, who showcased the fearless independence of mind that has taken him this far. Drawing himself to his feet and puffing up his chest, he confronted the First Minister with a devastating question: ‘After last year’s general election, we heard great boasts from Ruth Davidson that her troop of Scottish Tory MPs would fight for Scotland’s interests and more powers for Holyrood. Does the First Minister think that we have seen much evidence of that this week?’

Somehow the First Minister managed to recover from that savage line of questioning and told the chamber the Tories smelled and her pals could beat up their pals any day. Then she had to go spoil it by over-reaching.

‘Perhaps with the exception of one measly abstention somewhere along the line,’ Miss Sturgeon announced with practised indignation, ‘there has not been a single occasion on which any of the Scottish Tory MPs has voted in the interests of Scotland and against the Westminster Government.’

Imagine a parliament where backbenchers never vote against the government and follow every edict from the leader’s office unquestioningly. The opposition benches were cackling thunderously and jabbing derisory fingers at the rows behind Miss Sturgeon, who sat in collective bemusement. It wasn’t their fault. The microchips don’t come with irony detection software.

Elsewhere, the Greens’ war on Airbnb continues apace. Patrick Harvie wants a crackdown on the service that allows homeowners to rent out a room for pin money. This brings some measure of joy to peoples’ lives and so Mr Harvie is dead against it, proposing all manner of bossy regulation.

Further declarations that Something Must Be Done came in the form of two — two! — questions on ‘diversity in the early learning and childcare workforce’. Miss Sturgeon decried ‘occupational segregation’, a term sociologists use to explain women’s bewildering reluctance to become bricklayers and lumberjacks.

Not enough men are signing up to wipe noses and sing ‘The Wheels on the Bus’ and suddenly we’re Alabama circa 1964.

When you think the quality of FMQs has bottomed out, it somehow strives for new lows. They should put Holyrood on Airbnb and see if someone can find a good use for it.

Have your say on these issues by emailing

Originally published in the Scottish Daily Mail. Contact Stephen at Feature image © Scottish Government  by Creative Commons 2.0.

One thought on “There’s been a murder… of open government

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: