Politicians should be straight-talkers like Joe Biden, not dodge questions like Dominic Raab – Robert Aldridge

(With apologies to Charles Dickens). It has been the best of weeks, the worst of weeks.

Monday, 6th September 2021, 4:55 am
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab refused to say when he went on holiday as members of the Foreign Affairs Committee questioned him about the Afghanistan crisis (Picture: PRU/AFP via Getty Images)

“Just answer the question!” I’m sure we have all shouted at our televisions when a minister avoids, distracts or describes something different rather than answer a direct question.

Politicians are at their best when they are upfront, decisive and take responsibility for their actions, especially when they make mistakes. They are at their worst when they hide, try to blame others or simply avoid taking the responsibility of their office.

The past weeks have shown examples of both. Whatever we think of his decision, Joe Biden took full responsibility for the decision he took on Afghanistan and its horrible consequences.

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Our Foreign Secretary, at the other extreme, gave a toe-curling performance in Parliament, refusing even to answer when or why he went on holiday while Afghanistan fell. Our Prime Minister, as usual, has been nowhere to be seen when there is bad news about.

Closer to home, within hours of becoming a minister, the Green co-leader avoided saying whether he would continue to oppose vaccine passports for young people which he had strongly opposed only weeks before.

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Afghanistan refugees will be housed in Edinburgh hotels and MoD houses

But we have also seen politicians at their best. On the council, all councillors united to offer a warm welcome to Afghan refugees to the city knowing that Edinburgh citizens will offer warmth, security, kindness and real opportunities for any who do resettle here.

However at the same meeting yet again, we saw SNP and Labour councillors ignore the clear message from a consultation. This time it was parking, where a clear majority of people who responded had rejected the council’s proposals, but the ruling group refused to accept that view, decided to ask again and put off a decision till after the council elections! As Lib Dems, we said we should listen to the consultation and do what the clear majority want.

There is no point in asking a question if you are going to ignore the answer or keep asking until you get the answer you want. That is a sure way of undermining participation in consultations and further eroding trust in politicians.

In the Scottish Parliament, all parties have united to condemn the disgraceful sectarian singing surrounding the latest Old Firm football match and there is a sincere determination to root out tribal hatred on the basis of race, faith, colour, sexual preference, gender, ability or disability or any other attribute. Politics at its best.

I really don’t like the tribal approach to politics. I’ve always been suspicious of people who wrap themselves in a flag or feel they have to wear a badge as a means to confront others. But I’m also a great supporter of robust but respectful debate and scrutiny. That is how we iron out problems and reach the best decisions.

But for that to work those in charge need to answer questions directly and honestly and be open to persuasion. A good start would be if they just answered the questions!

Robert Aldridge is councillor for Drum Brae/Gyle and Scottish Liberal Democrat group leader

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