On a Duke, duty and Inquiries

On a Duke, duty and Inquiries

Boris Johnson stood outside 10 Downing Street and praised Prince Philip’s life of duty.   He paid tribute to the late Duke’s “ethic of service” and his contribution to the “balance and happiness of our national life.”  

It made me wonder how progressive our country might be if our politicians occasionally lived up to the ideals they can so often be so quick to extol?  

In the same week, we have learned of three egregious examples of the Johnson government proactively disrupting the balance, happiness and good governance of the country.  

Excellent journalism by the Sunday Times investigation team has revealed that David Cameron influenced the Chancellor to “push” officials into looking at how he and his boss Lex Greensill could profit from government business.  Asking a non-executive director of a government department to investigate, privately, and calling it an independent inquiry is an affront to democracy.  And Johnson does not have a good track record of taking action in response to independent reports.

Today, Boris Johnson told the House of Commons he could “not honestly remember” when he last spoke to David Cameron.  

Like everything else that happens in the world, it is impossible to not view this through the comparative ‘Holyrood V Westminster’ lens.  Memories of Scottish Tories finding it inconceivable that Nicola Sturgeon could not remember fleeting conversations from a few years ago are very, very fresh.  Her forgetting a meeting with Geoff Aberdein, a few days before Alex Salmond visited her home, was crucial in the Scottish Conservatives’ premature call for a vote of no confidence in the First Minister.  So premature, it might yet prove to be a source of damage for them in the election on 6th May. 

One can’t help but wonder whether Murdo Fraser, Douglas Ross and their chums will express the same incredulity over Boris’s failed powers of memory. 

All this talk – of private drinks, direct texts and late-night emails – it stinks. With further questions raised this week around Tory donors and covid contracts, and about officials working for private companies, nothing short of an independent inquiry will suffice.  

The Holyrood committee inquiry into the Scottish Government’s handling of the allegations against Alex Salmond was not a pretty moment in Scottish politics.  Scottish Ministers were slow to release relevant documents.  Several committee members wrote partisan articles, tweeted and gave interviews on the progress of the process throughout it.  The Crown Office tried to dictate to parliament and, ultimately, women were failed.   But the process did come closer to the democratic ideal – closer to ethics and ‘national balance’ – than anything we have seen from Westminster in recent years. 

Pritti Patel’s bullying cost the taxpayer over £300,000.  She remains Home Secretary.  Matt Hancock and Boris Johnson have been alleged to have broken the ministerial code.  No 8-hour evidence session for either of them.  They continue to hold high offices of state.  

However the murky Cameron-Greensill business is examined, it will be compared by voters to the bar set by Holyrood’s imperfect yet still somewhat democratic processes.  

Although there were problems and challenges with the Holyrood process, ultimately, the issues and evidence were aired in public for the electorate to hear. Today’s vote in the Commons against a full parliamentary inquiry could be argued as another example of a broken Westminster system, where First Past The Post allows huge majorities that mean the powerful can behave as they like. 

But we mustn’t pretend that Independence in itself would rid us of bad political behaviour.  SNP ministers also met with Greensill.  Arguably, a Holyrood Inquiry should look at these matters too.  

This issue is not the only concern of the week, however.  Night after night, communities in Northern Ireland have suffered violence sparked, in part, by the consequences of a Northern Ireland protocol that the UK Government was warned would not work.  A greater commitment to service – to keeping the whole nation and all its peoples in balance and happiness – would have lessened the threat of this.  

The UK Government is taking the Scottish Government to court after the latter passed legislation enshrining the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child into Scots Law.  Read that again.  Rights of the child.  

On this, Nicola Sturgeon has accused Westminster of undermining the Scottish parliament since the act was passed unanimously – Conservative MSPs voted for this legislation, highlighting the impossible position of Douglass Ross.  How can he simultaneously support his MSPs – who voted who for a thing, and at the same time follow the party line from Westminster – who is taking that thing to the Supreme Court.  In Ross’s own words, “you just can’t”. (“Colin”).

Boris Johnson has accused the SNP of stirring up an unnecessary constitutional issue.  Officially, the line is that this Scottish legislation might place duties on UK ministers.  Presumably duties as burdensome as protecting children.  Or not deporting them. 

Archie’s website is all about helping Archie decide what he thinks about Independence.  He has a wee djinn on each shoulder, each trying to convince Archie of the merits of Independence or of remaining in the UK respectively.  With fortress Britain, jobs for the boys, and an attempt to undo the unanimous will of Scotland’s elected parliamentarians, the unionist one has had his work cut out this week.   

Yes, Boris. Ethics of service, duty to our people, and a bit more balance and happiness would all be very fine indeed.  

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