Gina Davidson: Seeing the way to transparency

Edward Snowden shares front pages with Obama. Picture: Reuters
Edward Snowden shares front pages with Obama. Picture: Reuters
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ANYONE who watched the shouty performance of US shock-jock Alex Jones on BBC’s Sunday Politics at the weekend, is likely to have had one of two reactions: laughter or, if you are a wearer of turquoise shellsuits, a feeling of complete ­affirmation.

Jones ranted about the influence of those attending the shadowy Bilderberg meeting earlier in the week in, of all the shady places in all the world, Watford.

While it might be true that more light should be shed on just what these bankers, industrialists and politicians chat about during these meetings, the idea that they are propagating a Nazi idea through the furthering of the euro was more than a little far-fetched.

But conspiracy theories are all the rage, and is it any wonder when it transpires that the US government – and maybe the UK government too by default – has apparently been listening in to every tweet, e-mail, phone call being made in the world? The whistleblowing by Edward Snowden about the covert surveillance operation of the National Security Agency through Google and Facebook gives apparent credence to every conspiracy theorist out there (you know, out there, where the truth is).

Closer to home, conspiracies are more about who’s wining and dining politicians and special advisers and to what renewable energy end or who’s being awarded Edinburgh City Council contracts and is it because the girl in the right department happens to be the niece of the tendering company’s boss? Brown envelopes are another favourite.

What Snowden’s actions have done, though, is demonstrate that whistleblowers are increasingly important in a world which is spinning along ever faster, where talk of transparency is increasingly loud while information is ever more obscured by rules and regulations, where people feel that too many decisions are being taken behind closed doors.

At one end of the scale, whistleblowers lift the lid on possible criminal activities which affect the lives of millions, at the other they could just be people who see alternative myriad – and false – reasons for the most mundane of decisions.

Wheedling out the real whistleblower from the timewaster with a grudge is therefore vitally important for all organisations, especially those in the public sector. So proper policies have to be in place – both to protect real whistleblowers so they feel safe in their jobs when flagging up potential problems and know their worries will be addressed seriously and also to ensure that malicious gossip is dealt with quickly without unsubstantiated allegations affecting reputations.

Edinburgh council is currently looking at it’s whistleblowing policy. A new one was expected to be approved this week at the policy and strategy committee but has, oddly, been delayed for two months and pushed to the finance committee to decide instead – though council leader Andrew Burns has said this is nothing to do with the criticism being thrown at the policy.

But it’s the criticisms which should make the council look again at its proposed policy. The idea that council staff can phone a hotline which will then pass on their worries to senior managers, rather than to politicians who don’t necessarily have a close relationship with the staff involved, is no guarantee of security from bullying for any employee. Why not ensure that the scandals like the trams, property conservation and the Mortonhall ashes horror, cannot happen again by allowing staff to raise their concerns directly with councillors without fear of dismissal?

Do the councillors not want the responsibility of investigating malpractice? Is the idea of taking possibly corrupt staff to task too much for them to get their heads round?

If so then they have forgotten that they are the masters and the officials the servants. Furthermore, they’ve forgotten that it’s such controversies which affect them at the ballot box. Why not take control of that situation?

After all, without real transparency all the councillors will do by passing by the buck to unelected officials is give the conspiracy theorists more to shout about.

The name game

AS a bit of a pedant I’m delighted that there have been demands for Princes Street’s apostrophe to be restored to the city’s street signs. Anything to stop it being referred to as “Princess Street”.

Faeces your eyes on this

OUR new campaign, along with Edinburgh council, to get people to “dish the dirt” on dog owners who refuse to clean up their pets’ poos is being fronted by a pretty cute cartoon pooch.

So think yourselves lucky that you’re not in Clackmannanshire where a similar campaign aims to “stamp out” dog mess, alongside a tasteful image of the sole of a shoe caked with the resultant mess. Or indeed in Falkirk where anti-dog mess posters include a tot sitting on the grass about to grab a handful of turd.

We are never knowingly less than tasteful in Edinburgh.

Sexism still needs fighting

IN a previous column I talked about the campaign Everyday Sexism which was aiming to rid Facebook of pages glorifying in violence against women. The campaign worked – and tomorrow speakers from that important project will be at the Scottish Parliament for the “Next Generation Feminists” event. If you can attend you should. Sexism is a battle that still needs fighting.