During the great majority of my business career, spanning some 40years in the private, public and voluntary sectors, I was not tempted to become engaged politically.
I felt variously that I was too busy, did not have anything original to say, or might appear foolish. The last of these is a sentiment perhaps shared by many in the ‘silent majority’. I am far from comfortable with the confrontational approach that often dominates politics.
Nevertheless, there are times when remaining silent is no longer an option. For me that was in 2013, with the publication of the Scottish Government’s ‘Scotland’s Future’ White paper.
I was struck by how sections of this official document were very misleading. At the time I was a board member of Scotland’s skills agency, and so had a modest role in public sector governance. I was surprised that those who employed me to ensure public resources were properly utilised, were themselves misusing their power.
They had, in my view, politicised the Scottish civil service, involving them in an exercise that breached the civil service code requirement for them to be honest and above reproach.
I stepped down from my position to speak out against what I considered to be attempts by the Scottish government to mislead its own people.
Three years on, little has changed. The SNP government still does not properly differentiate the responsibilities of good government and promoting its own political agenda. The response to the June Brexit result is a case in point. Are the Scottish government’s tactics in trying to engineer a second independence referendum really in Scotland’s interests, or what is best for the SNP?
Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP regularly misrepresent their view as that of all of Scotland. In the context of Brexit they imply they speak for Scotland’s Remain voters, even though many will consider being part of the UK as far more important than EU membership.
Under the SNP, the Scottish civil service continues to tread a fine line between advancing Scottish government policy and outright SNP propaganda.
The recent consultation on the draft referendum bill was prepared by civil servants but suffered from the heavy hand of SNP political advisors. The questions posed in this public consultation avoided the three big issues, namely, whether it is right to call a second referendum; the wording of the referendum question; and what majority is required for change. The resulting exercise was an ill-judged attempt to steer respondents away from what the SNP do not want to hear.
Since the June EU result, the SNP government have strongly promoted Scotland’s place in Europe, which is ironic given that the ever closer political union beloved of Brussels is the very opposite of the SNP’s self-determination rationale. Sadly, the identity politics of the SNP trumps such concerns, driving an ambition to break away from the rest of the UK at any cost.
Keith Howell is a consultant. He lives in West Linton, Peebleshire, and blogs at www.nupateer.com