Monday 22 October 2012

Right to know?

Scotland and the EU?
Writing in The Independent today (Poll puts pressure on Salmond over joining euro), Hamish MacDonell continues to peddle the unionist propaganda line on the supposedly problematic issue of Scotland's membership of the European Union using a recent poll as a device. But he does not tell the whole story.

The poll showing a majority of people in favour of the Scottish Government revealing whether it has obtained any legal advice on EU membership reflects the abject failure of the media to properly inform people on this issue. Totally committed to supporting any strategy of the anti-independence campaign, no matter how devious or dishonest, the media have been no more than a platform for Catherine Stihler's petty political mischief-making.

Not one so-called journalist or self-styled political analyst in the mainstream media has so much as questioned Stihler's case or her motives. Instead, they have compliantly taken up the childishly simplistic "right to know" mantra as a convenient stick with which to beat the hated SNP.

No-one in the mainstream media is bothering to explain the importance of the confidentiality of advice given to ministers. Nobody is pointing out that all governments support and adhere to the principle that ministers should be able to pursue every avenue in the process of policy formulation. Nobody is telling the public how important it is that those giving advice to ministers should be able to do so free from the concern that the advice they give will be selectively seized upon by politicians and misrepresented in the press for the purpose of providing a sensational headline.

No political commentator in the mainstream media is pointing out that Stihler knew full well the Scottish Government would have to refuse her FoI request. She knew this because she knows that if she was in government she too would be obliged to do likewise.

No political analyst is highlighting the fact that the FoI request was self-evidently vexatious and malicious. Done, not for the perfectly worthy purpose of serving the public interest, but for the sole purpose of trying to embarrass the administration.

None of the mainstream media will explain that the FoI request is, other than as a petty political ploy, totally pointless. They won't refer to the fact that whatever advice the Scottish Government might have it cannot tell us anything new about the issue because there is nothing new to tell. We already know what options will be available to the EU in dealing with the matter. There are no new options.

No political journalist in the mainstream media will tell you the fuss about "legal advice" is a nonsense because, ultimately, the decision on the post-independence status of Scotland and rUK within the EU is a matter for politicians and not lawyers.

No political commentator will challenge the anti-independence narrative - lately peddled by failed Tory leader, Annabel Goldie on Brian Taylor's Big Debate - that the advice supposedly held by the Scottish Government must be "embarrassing" because that's the only motive for refusing to talk about it. A narrative which is totally dishonest because Goldie knows, just as her British labour ally, Stihler, knows, both that there is a perfectly legitimate alternative explanation and that the advice cannot possibly be "embarrassing" in any case - because it can't be any different from the advice contained in the readily available Commons Library Standard Note SN06110.

There is certainly an unjustifiable withholding of information from the public here. But it is not on the part of the Scottish Government. It is the mainstream media which is failing to tell people what they need to know in order to arrive at an informed opinion.Enhanced by Zemanta


  1. Isn't it hypocritical for the SNP to oppose this FoI request because confidentiality of advice to Ministers must be defended, when they campaigned for the publication of confidential advice on Iraq WMDs?

  2. One might just as well argue that is is hypocritical of the SNP's critics to condemn them for not releasing information which is protected by a convention to which all parties and all governments in the UK subscribe.

    The overarching consideration is public interest. In the case of Iraq the public interest argument is clear. Not so in the matter of any advice that the Scottish government may hold in respect of an independent Scotland's status in relation to the EU. There simply is no such clear public interest imperative. Which is why the administration MUST defend confidentiality with every means at its disposal.

    This is all academic now as Nicola Sturgeon has revealed that no specific legal advice was sought. But it is important to understand what is going on here. Do not be deceived into thinking that it has anything to do with acquiring on your behalf information that is useful to you. It is not. There never was any such information. There never could have been any such information. And Stihler knew that all along.

    This was petty political mischief-making at its worst. Nothing more.