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Showing posts with label Honours system - UK. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Honours system - UK. Show all posts

Monday, 8 August 2011

Honours - key questions answered by the SNP - but none by Labour! Put up or shut up, Cathy Jamieson and Johann Lamont!

Monday 8th August 2011

HONOURS - LABOUR SHOULD PUT UP OR SHUT UP

LABOUR KNEW SNP MINISTERS DO NOT NOMINATE

The SNP today said Labour should put up or shut up over their smears regarding the award of honours.

SNP Ministers put an end to the process of ministers making nominations when elected in 2007 and the First Minister even rescinded his right to approve the decisions of the permanent secretary.  This was confirmed to Labour in a Parliamentary answer in 2009 to a Labour MSP which also sets out where nominations can come from.

Following the latest desperate Labour attack SNP MP Angus MacNeil said:

“Labour should put up or shut up.

“Labour ministers admit they made nominations for honours so they should tell us who they nominated before it’s revealed under Freedom of Information.

“Second, instead of sending out ridiculous smears, if Labour has evidence that Scottish Government Ministers sought a nomination for anyone since 2007 then they should put that evidence in the public domain.  SNP Ministers do not and have not made nominations as Labour well know.

“Just as Labour try to throw stones over News International without offering full disclosure themselves they are playing hypocritical games instead of making positive contributions the future of Scotland.

“It’s time to get beyond childish and baseless allegations.  The SNP is focussed on a bright and better future for Scotland and our Ministers are getting on with doing their jobs including a public question and answer session today engaging with real people and a cabinet meeting focussed on Scotland’s economic growth not playing silly political games.”

END

Notes

The Parliamentary Answer showing that SNP Ministers had chosen not to exercise the right to approve the recommendations by the Permanent Secretary is as follows:

Question S3W-21587 - George Foulkes ( Lothians ) (Scottish Labour ) (Date Lodged 04/03/2009 ) : 

To ask the Scottish Executive what the arrangements are in Scotland for consideration of nominations for honours and what changes there have been since May 2007.

Answered by John Swinney ( 25/03/2009 ):

Nominations are received from a variety of sources, including members of the public, outside organisations and Lord-Lieutenants. Prior to May 2007, Scottish ministers added their own nominations to those from other sources. Nominations from all sources are initially assessed by Scottish Government officials who assist the Permanent Secretary in preparing recommendations for the UK-wide selection committees to consider. Since May 2007, the First Minister has chosen not to exercise the right to approve the recommendations by the Permanent Secretary. The UK-wide selection committees submit their recommendations to HM The Queen through the Prime Minister.

Honours, Salmond and Souter - get the questions right.

The UK Government has a number of honours committees - UK Honours Committees - to consider nominations for honours. Remember it is the United Kingdom Honours Committee and the Head of State of that kingdom is the Her Majesty the Queen, and it is she who confers the honour. Whether she can veto a nomination from the Committees, and whether she has ever done so is unknown. My guess is that she theoretically has a veto, has never exercised it formally, but that her views are known to the Committees well before the formal recommendation is made.

Since I do not stalk the corridors of power and am never to be seen in the inner sanctums, my speculation is worth precisely nothing. But I can say one thing with absolute confidence - since the Queen approves the honour and confers it, she has, de facto, given her approval and endorsement to the person receiving it. If I may choose a completely uncontroversial example, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II laid her sword on the shoulder of commoner Brian Souter  and made him a Knight of the Realm, Sir Brian Souter, and in doing so gave her Royal approval to the man and to the reasons advanced for his nomination.

Does Cathy Jamieson MP, or the Labour Party in Scotland wish to challenge that?

Brian Souter is controversial because of his views on gays and what he calls the promotion of homosexuality.

Does Cathy Jamieson MP, or the Labour Party, suggest that Her Majesty the Queen is anti-gay, and a fundamentalist Christian because she knighted Brain Souter, successful businessman and a major contributor to the Scottish and UK economies?

The civil servant who wrote to Cathy Jamieson said that the Scottish Government nominated Brian Souter. The Scottish Government says that it was the Independent Honours Committee of the Scottish Government who nominated him, presumably to the relevant UK Honours Committee.

Who nominated Brian Souter to the Independent Honours Committee of the Scottish Government? Or did they just come up with his name on their own initiative, go online and nominate him to the UK Committee, just as any citizen or group may apparently do?

The UK Honours Committee online site - Nominations to UK Honours Committees - offers helpful advice to those considering a nomination -

Before you make your nomination, ask yourself the following questions. Has your nominee:

  • made a difference to their community or field of work?
  • brought distinction to British life and enhanced its reputation?
  • exemplified the best sustained and selfless voluntary service?
  • demonstrated innovation and entrepreneurship?
  • carried the respect of their peers?
  • changed things, with an emphasis on achievement?
  • improved the lot of those less able to help themselves?
  • displayed moral courage and vision in making and delivering tough choices?

The question arises - who nominated Brian Souter to the Independent Honours Committee, and for what reasons?

Did Brian Souter, now Sir Brian Souter, meet any or all of these criteria?

Clearly, the person or persons making the original nomination to the Scottish Independent Honours Committee (who was not a minister of the Scottish Government since they are debarred from doing so) thought so.

Clearly, the Scottish Independent Honours Committee (whoever they are, because I’m buggered if I can find out!) thought so, because they submitted the nomination to the UK Committee.

Clearly, the UK Honours Committee thought so, because they submitted their recommendation to Her Majesty.

Clearly, Her Majesty the Queen thought so, because she didn’t veto the nomination, and duly dubbed commoner Brian Souter knight - making him Sir Brian.

But Cathy Jamieson MP doesn’t think he deserves his knighthood, and questions the process and its integrity, and so does the Scottish Labour Party, and for all we know, Ed Miliband.

I applaud Cathy Jamieson’s courage - some may say her foolhardiness - in questioning the judgement of the UK Honours System, and implicitly of  the Queen herself, and therefore the Union that the Labour Party is pledged to uphold. This is indeed political bravery of a kind rarely in evidence, least of all in the Labour Party.

This ancient system, the bedrock of the imposing edifice of unelected power, birth and privilege that protects the UK from the worst excesses of democracy and the electorate, has been fooled all the way along the line, and only the perspicacity of Cathy Jamieson MP can save it.

Surely this is worth a Damehood and a seat in the Lords? 

But a last question, one that I asked yesterday -

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?

SUMMARY OF QUESTIONS

Does Cathy Jamieson MP, or the Labour Party in Scotland wish to challenge the Queen’s decision to knight Brian Souter?

Does Cathy Jamieson MP, or the Labour Party, suggest that Her Majesty the Queen is anti-gay, and a fundamentalist Christian because she knighted Brian Souter, successful businessman and a major contributor to the Scottish and UK economies?

Who nominated Brian Souter to the Scottish Independent Honours Committee, and for what reasons?

Did Brian Souter, now Sir Brian Souter, meet any or all of the UK Honours Committee’s criteria for nomination?

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?

Sunday, 7 August 2011

Is there much honour about today?

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 -

 

Gail Lythgoe

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

 

COMMENT

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?

RELATED MATTERS

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?

Saturday, 6 August 2011

The future of journalism and the impact of new media - Scotland and UK

(A cautionary note - I am not a journalist, I have never worked for any media organisation in any capacity, and I have no insider knowledge of the operation of newspapers, print or television media. All of what I have to say represents the perceptions of a consumer of media channels, as viewer and reader and occasional contributor to letters pages and online comment. My views also reflect some limited experience of dealing directly with them in industry.)

Figures recently released by ABC reveal what must be alarming statistics for the owners and employers of our national newspapers - Every national loses print sales in March - and doubtless there will be much agonising over the factors that have contributed to this decline.

I have been reading UK national and Scottish newspapers for almost 70 years now - I came from a generation that regarded newspapers as an indispensable part of life, and lest anyone think this was a middle class or income related value, let me say that I was brought up in grinding poverty in an east end Glasgow tenement by a widowed mother on a tiny income (when she had one at all) who was dependent on state benefit in the pre-welfare state era. Despite this, we had one daily and one evening paper every day for six days, and at least three Sunday newspapers. We would almost have rather not eaten than be deprived of newspapers, and we had radio, which meant the BBC, and equally vital part of our life - free libraries and the cheap, fleapit cinemas.

Were we exceptional? No - we were typical, in our reading, radio and cinema-going habits, of at least a large minority of the working class, and perhaps even a majority.

By and large, I have maintained most of this media consumption: I am a cineaste, but the cinema going went to the wall a long time ago - after my courting days - to be replaced by television and much later by the video cassette, then the DVD and the computer.

Newspapers matter fundamentally to me, and television matters too, as a window on the world, in the way that cinema newsreels and documentaries mattered in the past.

But I have also become a creature of the electronic age that I have lived to see. I was going to say that it is something that was unimaginable to someone of my generation, but as a science fiction buff from the age of six or thereabouts, I did imagine it, and couldn’t wait for it to materialise. It has fulfilled my wildest dreams, but it also has delivered the potential to fulfil my worst nightmares.

One of those nightmares is the destruction of print journalism - of newspapers and magazines and periodicals devoted to current affairs and the exploration of ideas.

I have already written a fair amount about newspapers and journalism in my blog, but it was mainly in a political context - Journalism and standards - Moridura blog -but I want to revisit some of my core concerns, so bear with me if I am repeating themes and ideas …

CIRCULATION DECLINE

The concern of over circulation decline must have resulted in much analysis and soul-searching among newspaper proprietors and journalists over the causes of the decline, ranging from the hard bottom-line, commercial analysis to more high-minded introspection. The News International/News Corp earthquake has left many reeling at the scale and speed of the destruction of reputations and livelihoods, but may also have caused much self-delusion and denial about the causes, and where the future may lie.

The ABC March 2011 figures tell a bleak story, ranging from -27.51% to -0.71%. The average circulation decline percentage change, year on year are as follow.

(N.B. Check ABC source figures for any reuse, and for additional notes and qualifications: these are my abstracts, and may contain errors.)

15 National dailies - decline league table

Daily Star                     699,216  -15.45%

The Times                   446,109  -11.21%

Racing Post                    61,588   -9.87%

The Herald                    50,621   -8.92%

The Daily Telegraph   626,416  -8.78%

The Scotsman                41,806  -8.16%

The Guardian              261,116   -7.75%

Daily Mirror             1,155,895   -7.31%

Daily Express             620,616   -7.13%

The Sun                   2,817,857   -6.24%

Daily Record              312,655   -6.21%

Financial Times         381,658   -4.89%

Daily Mail               2,039,731    -2.05%

The Independent     181,934     -1.20%

The i                          171,415  n/a - new newspaper

14 National Sundays - decline league table

Sunday Herald                    31,123  -27.51%

Daily Star Sunday            293,489  -14.14%

The Observer                   296,023  -10.70%

The People                        477,815   -10.21%

News of the World        2,664,363    -8.27%

Sunday Mail                      365,923    -8.29%

Sunday Mirror               1,063,096   -7.3%

The Sunday Times        1,031,727    -7.19%

Sunday Express                533,192   -6.46%

Sunday Post                       312,188   -7.38%

The Sunday Telegraph     481,941   -5.46%

Scotland on Sunday            56,466   -3.57%

The Mail on Sunday      1,888,040   -3.31%

Independent on Sunday   153,183   -0.71%

These figures shock and surprise me to some degree. The population of Scotland is around 5.2m, of which I reckon about a quarter are under 16, leaving an adult population somewhere over 4.1m. The population per household has dropped in recent year, so taking as a very rough guess two adults per household reading the same paper, and leaving out the number of readers under 16, this gives a potential readership of around 2m.

(My figures are crude: doubtless the newspapers themselves have detailed demographic analyses to fuel their well-founded panic.)

This means that on the last circulation figures, the two ‘quality’ Scottish dailies between them are reaching (i.e. each edition read by two people) 50,621 + 41,806 = 92,427 x 2 = 184,854 readers. That represents just over 1 in 22 of the adult population, with the Herald reaching about 1 in 40 and the Scotsman about 1 in 49.

This does rather lead me to the question - Why the **** do I bother about what these two newspapers say about Scottish politics?

Of course, one can argue that they are reaching the top 2.0/2.5% of the population - the movers and shakers - but what evidence is there for this? And if they are, what does it matter, since it’s the opinions and perceptions of the majority of the voters that determine elections, and will determine the referendum outcome?

The statistics for the Sunday Herald (31,123) and Scotland on Sunday (56,466) give no comfort either. In fact, rather than just courting Rupert Murdoch, Alex Salmond should have been offering Oor Wullie a new bucket, and trying to get an invite from the Broons to Glebe Street and the but-and-ben, since the Sunday Post has a circulation of 312,188, although it has a very much wider reach than just Scotland.

THE CAUSES OF CIRCULATION DECLINE

The reasons for this catastrophic decline in newspaper circulation has some obvious contributory causes - television, new media, social media, the computer, the smartphone - but why then does The Independent buck the trend by a single figure decline?

The Independent 181,934 -1.20%

The i 171,415 - a completely new newspaper and format

Independent on Sunday 153,183 -0.71%

Well, the answer may have some relevance for Scotland,  (it certainly has relevance for all national newspapers)but since both The Independent and The i behave as if Scotland doesn’t exist most of the time (although they are occasionally catalysed by negative or trivial stories) they don’t appear to matter too much to Scottish politics.

But I think that for The Herald and The Scotsman, there is another significant contributory reason - lazy, derivative, cut-and-paste, CTRL-C journalism.

When did either of these newspapers last break a significant story that was not already in the public domain and had legs because of the work of better journalists?

Why has there been no coverage worth a light of what Glasgow City Council has done to the people and small businesses of Dalmarnock in the name of urban regeneration and the Commonwealth Games?

Why do the journalists of both papers think that hanging around the law courts, reading press releases and spin documents from political parties and municipal councils constitutes real journalism?

The way both papers treated the Souter knighthood story is utterly typical. They reacted to Cathy Jamieson’s story - and presumably a Scottish Labour press release - and regurgitated the blindingly obvious. but failed to ask any of the real questions that should be asked.

I have asked some of the relevant questions, and I have more, which the SNP - my party - may or may not welcome. Why can’t journalists ask them - or perhaps why won’t they ask them?

Would they call the whole rotten honours system and the very nature of our United Kingdom’s power structure and patronage into question?

As Private Eye might say - I think we should be told