Wednesday, February 8, 2012

If Alex Salmond is merely one of Sir Peter Housden's "two masters", who is supposed to be the other one?

From the Telegraph -

"The Daily Telegraph has learned that the permanent secretaries from all the Whitehall departments no longer discuss Scotland if Sir Peter Housden, the Scottish Executive’s permanent secretary, is present.

Their strategy for the forthcoming independence referendum would usually be discussed by all the permanent secretaries at their weekly meeting on Wednesday morning in Whitehall...

“Concerns have been expressed at the highest level about this individual. People cannot serve two masters ultimately and he has been put in a very difficult position by Salmond,” said one senior Whitehall source.""

All of which begs a series of questions. Precisely what "strategy" would it be legitimate for the UK civil service to have in relation to the independence referendum? Unless that strategy is inappropriately partisan in nature, it's hard to see what possible harm there could be in Sir Peter Housden overhearing it, regardless of whether the paranoia about him "going native" has any truth to it. Secondly, isn't Alex Salmond supposed to be Sir Peter's "master", in the sense that he sets the policy direction that his permanent secretary is obliged to follow? And last but not least, if Salmond is merely one of Sir Peter's "two" masters at present, who in heaven's name is meant to be the other one? David Cameron?

The irony is that unionists actually have a rare opportunity here to point out that the British state is working the way it should be working under devolution - that technically being a member of the UK civil service, and indeed originating from another part of the UK, hasn't stopped Sir Peter scrupulously and conscientiously helping the elected government he works for to pursue its policy agenda. But, no, the likes of the Telegraph would much rather encourage an absurd situation whereby civil servants working for Alex Salmond operate as a kind of institutionalised "enemy within", and thus make the case for a separate Scottish civil service utterly irresistible.

* * *

At the risk of incurring the wrath of Craig Gallagher, there are some gems from Political Betting that just cry out to be reposted, again and again. Exhibit W : these two irate reactions from 'Hooks Law' when I simply point out to him the irrefutable fact that the Single Transferable Vote system is a form of proportional representation -

"Don't be daft - PR, as in directly proportional number of seats to votes, is not STV which is what was in the LD manifesto. This fact undermines tim's argument.

With STV the LDs said they would reduce the number of seats by 150. Its going to be only 50 but with FPTP.

I don't think there is a massive difference there."

"'proportional system' = PS

PR = 'proportional representation' is a PS

STV and AV = preferential voting

Tim suggested the LDs wanted proportional representation, ie 20% of vote =20% of seats. Their manifesto says different and the difference between their pledge of STV and 150 less seats is not much different to FPTP and 50 less seats.

AND on top of that they got their referendum on AV.

So yet another tim smear holds no water.

I was clear enough in the last post and am clear enough in this one. Grow up."

Crikey. I'll have to brace myself before breaking the news to him that the Earth isn't flat.


  1. In point of fact the UK civil service is perfectly entitled to have a strategy about the independence referendum given that the UK Government opposes independence and has intervened in the process of organising it. Just as the Scottish civil service are perfectly entitled to have a strategy about independencem given that the Scottish Government supports it and is in the process of organising said referendum. That situation does put civil servants on opposite sides of the issue - therefore the arrangements that the Telegraph seem so excited about seem to me to be rather sensible.

  2. Lol James I was just thinking how this Peter Housden story is a perfect metaphor for you and the posters at Political betting.

    They regard you as an upstart from a foreign land who has no right to be involved in their conversations.

    I like when there's a Scottish themed post and after complaining about being forced to talk about ghastly Scotland yet again they happily settle down to an ill informed discussion where they get to air their prejudices without challenge.

    When a Scot has the temerity to come in with an argument they can't answer they're dismissed as a tiresome cybernat and the bullies gang up to see how rude they can be to the impostor.

    The number of likes for some of their posts is quite depressing.

    So you and Peter Housden, persona non grata when English people are discussing what to do about "the Scottish problem".

  3. I'm too pleased to be name-checked to feel much wrath, James!

    I agree with you on Peter Housden's position. It's a storm in a teacup, and an unedifying one at that. The Unionist position on this seems to be that any civil servant who is working to further the SNP's agenda is suspect, neatly forgetting firstly that as human beings, civil servants do have personal political beliefs, and secondly that if they're not furthering the cause of the government of the day, what in the world ARE they doing? The "gone native" language is emblematic of the Unionist parties' inability to realise that not all civil services have to be as nakedly obstructionist and entrenched as the British Civil Service tend to be.

    As to your PB post, I still don't regard reposting an argument on another blog on your own, to demonstrate your own ability to crush unionist arguments, as all that edifying either. But as this is your blog and you are free to do what you like, I'll simply refrain from commenting on such posts in future and stick to responding to the more substantive points when I feel the urge to.

  4. "I still don't regard reposting an argument on another blog on your own, to demonstrate your own ability to crush unionist arguments..."

    That's not the reason I do it, Craig - it's to bring some sunlight into debates that are otherwise conducted in an overwhelmingly Tory arena. And of course to let off a bit of steam now and again - 'playing away from home' and being completely outnumbered is mentally exhausting at times. Oh, and last but not least, to wind up certain PB posters who seem to think there's something morally wrong with me mentioning them on another blog without their written permission!

  5. I can understand that. As a fellow Nationalist, I have spent much of my political life completely outnumbered and even dismissed as ludicrous by my Labour-supporting friends. It isn't so much the intent I quarrel with as much as the way your comments come across as slippery and dismissive as those you denigrate, which isn't really reflective of the other longer posts I have read of yours.

    Of course, I have never done much more than browsed PB, so I could just not be cognizant of the context. But as I say, I'll leave you to it. The truth is I would not be much different in engaging in such activities were it not for the fact that my graduate program swallows almost any of my free time not spent reading, writing or drinking!