Friday 26 October 2012

Let's be clear!

Dumb and dumber? Or just dishonest?
"Let's be clear!" How often do we hear that phrase, or some variation upon it, from British politicians. It's a familiar part of the language of politics which, as is the way with these things, invariably signals a significant lack of clarity or presages the intention to obfuscate.

There is much talk of clarity in the debate on Scotland's constitutional status as we work towards the referendum in 2014. Among the myriad inconsistencies, contradictions and assorted untruths which pervade the British nationalist campaign to preserve the union, demands for clarity and/or claims to be seeking clarity stand out as some of the more blatant hypocrisies and/or mendacities.

Instances abound. But recent days have provided a couple of excellent examples which will serve to illustrate the point. Take, for example, this business about the ministerial code - the rules which govern the conduct of ministers in the Scottish government up to and including the First Minister. It is something we've been hearing a lot of lately. Particularly the provisions of paragraph 2.35, which deals with the matter the confidentiality of legal advice provided to ministers by the government's Law Officers.

Unionist politicians and their friends in the media have been at pains to portray this regulation as some arcane and impenetrable piece of civil service legalese. To hear them talk of it, the entire ministerial code is quite incomprehensible. No effort is made to explain it in simple terms. Every effort is expended in trying to cloud its content and import in a fog of confusion. So much for those claims of wanting "clarity".

Of course, it may be that the likes of Johann Lamont and Ruth Davidson are just stupid. It may be that their ignorance of paragraph 2.35 is not feigned. It may be that the utter bafflement they evince whenever they speak of the ministerial code is actually quite genuine. That is a very real possibility. In which case we have to wonder what the hell they are doing in our parliament and, in the case of Lamont, how on Earth they can have the effrontery to put themselves forward as a potential leader of our nation.

The alternative, of course, is that Lamont and Davidson and all the others who plead dumb incomprehension in the face of paragraph 2.35, are being disingenuous. That they are playing the public false. That, in reality, they understand the matter perfectly well - or as well as they are able - and that their purpose is to generate the entirely false impression that the First Minister is resorting to some obscure technicality rather than merely following commonly accepted practice.

In short, they are lying.

But what of this provision that is supposed to be too complex for us plebs to get our uneducated minds around? Here it is,
2.35 The fact that legal advice has or has not been given to the Scottish Government by the Law Officers and the content of any legal advice given by them or anyone else must not be revealed outwith the Scottish Government without the Law Officers' prior consent. The only exception to this rule is that it is acknowledged publicly that the Law Officers have advised on the legislative competence of Government Bills introduced in the Parliament (see paragraph 3.4 below). Views given by the Law Officers in their Ministerial capacity are not subject to this restriction. [Emphasis added]
Confused? Or just wondering what all the flap and fuss is about? The highlighted section is the part that is relevant. It seems perfectly plain to me that this represents a blanket prohibition on revealing anything at all about legal advice given to ministers. Including the matter of whether or not there was any such advice.

We won't get into the reason for having such a provision as that really doesn't have a bearing on the issue at hand. It is sufficient to know that the prohibition is there, that it has been there since the first ministerial codes were drafted for both Holyrood and Westminster, that it is accepted by all parties and all administrations in the UK, and that it is perfectly easily understood.

So why are British nationalist politicians and propagandists putting so much effort into persuading the public that paragraph 2,35 is some kind of get-out clause devised by Alex Salmond? Why are they persistently insinuating that the First Minister is "up to no good" by resorting to the confidentiality rule when they know that this rule would be just as binding on any First Minister of any party?

If these unionist politicians genuinely want clarity as they claim, why are they trying so hard to generate a fog of prevarication and disinformation where no lack of clarity exists?

Doesn't the public have a right to know?
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  1. Replies
    1. I do like a bit of positive feedback. Many thanks!

    2. Brilliant again as per, Peter;-)))

  2. Peter,

    It is clear to see why they are pushing this in the way they are, to the general public who either have no time or inclination to get into the nuts and bolts of this it makes AS and the SNP look bad.

    It is just like using sensationalist headlines in a newspaper (as we see all to often) to give the impression that there is no need to read the entire article.

    1. The sensationalist headline. The pejorative in 'single quotes'. The response buried at the bottom of the page. They use every trick in the book, Martyn.

      But we too have our weapons. The advantage of online publishing is that we can take the time and space to dissect the lies and distortions. The benefit of social media is that we can get the truth out to lots of people, very quickly, and in a form that is easily accessible.

    2. There is, of course, another weapon: satire

    3. A weapon you wield very effectively.

  3. My response to this unionist attack was - Is that really all they've got?.

    Has anyone asked Michael Moore (with an FOI) what legal advice he has received on the EU issue?

    1. The UK government has been asked. And they have refused to reveal anything on precisely the same grounds as cited by the First Minister. Double standards? Hypocrisy? British nationalism?

      The Courier - UK Government accused of 'hypocrisy' for refusing to release legal advice on independence and the EU

  4. I think your putting up an extraordinary resourceful defence of Mr Salmond. Indeed it is about as good a defence as could be made under the circumstances. Under circumstances, however, where innocence was obvious to everyone, there would be no need to make any defence.

    1. You choose to disregard the fact that those making the false allegations have the unstinting support of almost the entire mainstream media in promulgating their lies. Not least, a certain Tom Peterkin -

    2. @Effie Deans
      You haven't read this thread very carefully; if you had you would have noticed the post immediately before yours has a link to The Courier article which states:

      ''Whilst there is a strong public interest in seeing what legal advice has been provided to the UK Government on the implications of EU membership if Scotland were to achieve independence, we have concluded that this is outweighed by a strong public interest in the Government being able to seek free and frank legal advice.''

      Innocence in this case is not obvious to everyone because the mainstream media is completely one sided. The facts speak loudly but not enough to be heard over the hysterical propaganda being peddled.

      Peter, did my second contribution yesterday get caught in the spam trap again?

    3. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    4. Apologies for the delay in publishing you comments. I really must remember to check the spam folder more frequently.

  5. Excellent article Peter. I think the last sentence of 2.35 needs to be emphasised too. It explains what AS was talking about clearly.

    "Views given by the Law Officers in their Ministerial capacity are not subject to this restriction."

  6. Peter, I accept that your interpretation of the Salmond/Neil interview as depicted by you here and elsewhere is genuinely held. I also acknowledge the inherent and widespread Unionist media bias that you refer to.

    However, my interpretation differs. I take no pleasure from it but the First Minister intentionally misled during the interview - an uncharacteristic error of judgement. The resignations were seized as an opportunity to lance the boil. Most of the politically interested among us will be sufficiently inured to lies to understand that the worst offence is not the commission of the act itself, it's the getting caught. In this instance the obscurity of the topic, the sheer incompetence of the Opposition and the unfolding of the circumstances appear to have afforded the FM a decent recovery in the end. But it could have turned out different.

    1. That interview was more than six months ago. Do you seriously believe that if Salmond had said what is claimed neither Andrew Neil nor any other British nationalist would have latched onto it in all that time?

    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  7. This was very informative, thank you. Can you explain what the difference is between the nod the Scottish government got for their various publications, and the advice Nicola Sturgeon is now seeking?

    1. The "nod" was for statements on the matter of Scotland's EU status from various authorities which not actually sought by the Scottish government. What Nicola Sturgeon was referring to is the fact that the government's lawyers have now been instructed to look specifically at the whole issue. This will be the legal advice which informs the prospectus for n independent Scotland that the administration will publish next year.

  8. This comment has been removed by the author.

  9. I've viewed the interview several times and I'm satisfied with my understanding of what was said. The SNP has been repeatedly questioned, before and after the interview, on the matter of Scotland's EU membership status, not least because it is a legitimate matter of significant public interest, entirely relevant to Scotland's constitutional future. The DFM revealed on Tuesday that, contrary to what the FM had said and implied during the interview, no advice had previously been sought from law officers, it was now being sought and the legal action against the information commissioner was being abandoned.

    The media lapped it up, it became the big story and the resignations immediately dropped down and then off the agenda. However, had there been just one more resignation, the big story would have been that the SG lost it's parliamentary majority, the potential repercussions of which, particularly because self-inflicted, are interesting.

    Can I ask if you honestly believe that the timing of DFM's announcement and that of the resignations is a mere coincidence?

  10. In the interview, the First Minister was clearly referring to already published statements from various parties relating to Scotland's post-independence status vis-à-vis the EU. He could not have been referring to anything else for the simple reason that nothing else existed.

    I say again, if Salmond had been referring to unpublished legal advice from the government's Law Officers then the confirmation that such advice existed would have constituted a breach of the ministerial code. To claim that he could have committed such a breach without Andrew Neil noticing at the time, and nobody else noticing for more than six months, is simply not credible.

    The Deputy First Minister's statement on the referendum consultation had been planned for some considerable time. So that's another inane conspiracy theory shot down in flames.

  11. Neither of us are going to covert the other to the merits of his cause. Nevertheless, for the benefit of others, here's the verbatim transcript:

    AN: Have you sought advice from your own Scottish law officers on this matter?

    AS: We have, yes, in terms of the debate.

    AN: And what do they say?

    AS: Well you can read that in the documents that we’ve put forward which argue the position that we’d be successor states.

    AN: And what do they say?

    AS: Well you know I can’t give you the legal advice or reveal the legal advice of law officers, you know that Andrew, but what you can say is that everything that we publish is consistent with the legal advice that we receive.

    And the film:

    The charge against Salmond is that he lied, not that he breached the ministerial code. It is no defence to the charge of perjury that theft was not committed.

    Any intelligent person will know that it is possible for the DFM to make a statement on the referendum consultation without simultaneously revealing the fact that the legal advice had not previously been sought. It is preposterous for you to suggest that those two separate and distinct matters are in fact coterminous and it is a howling insult to the intellgence of your readers.

    1. The verbal exchange as whole clearly indicates that Salmond was referring to already published documents. Only the most prejudiced minds can maintain differently in the face of the evidence.

      The suggestion that a politician of Salmond's unquestioned ability would tell such a stupid lie stretches credulity beyond breaking point. Unless, of course, you are so blinded by prejudice as to have lost the use of your critical faculties.

      Further evidence of this loss of critical faculties is the fact that you are quite unable to see the glaringly obvious fact that Salmond could not have lied without also breaching the ministerial code.

      If you insist that he lied then you are also asking us to believe -

      (a) That, despite all evidence to the contrary, Salmond so is incredibly stupid as to tell a flimsy, pointless untruth on TV.
      (b) That, despite months of adhering strictly to the ministerial code, Salmond casually breached it in the course of an interview with an arch-unionist like Andrew Neil.
      (c) That, Salmond having thus breached the ministerial code, Andrew Neil didn't even notice the gaffe. And neither did anybody else for more than six months.

      I would have thought nobody was credulous enough to swallow so much far-fetched fiction. Seems I was wrong.

      Announcing that legal advice was now being sought was an integral part of the statement on the consultation. It had to be included because the statement was not only about the consultation but also the process of drafting the prospectus for independence. And legal advice on various issue will necessarily be a significant part of that process. It would have been strange indeed if Nicola Sturgeon had failed to mention the request for legal advice in that context.

      Many thanks for providing us with a working example of the shallow, biased thinking that is so typical of those who will endure all manner of logical and intellectual contortions in order to pursue their blind hatred of Salmond and the SNP.