Disingenuity has become the order of the day


Disingenuity has become the order of the day

Those of you who know Lord Smith of Kelvin will know that he is of strong mind and character. So it was no surprise that he strayed marginally beyond the terms of the Commission that bears his name and made a small number of personal recommendations in a foreword to his report, published in November 2014.

One of those struck me as being more fundamental than the others. It was a call for greater respect between the Scottish Government and its UK counterpart, backed by “solutions, which will carry the confidence of the public and our civic institutions”.

So, how is that working out?

Since May, a political magnifying glass has hovered over Westminster, bringing the machinations of that old institution into sharp focus. A large group of SNP MPs has on the one hand galvanised the place; those third party benches are heaving with a group of often talented and always noisy advocates for Scotland.

Yet, on the other hand, the two Houses of Parliament are having their internal workings misrepresented like never before, all for the cause of narrow, short-term and ludicrously tribal politics. Real leadership seems to have been replaced with the leadership of expediency; just do or say whatever it takes to steal the advantage today. Tomorrow can wait.

Consider the fuss surrounding Police Scotland and VAT. In its haste to centralise the Scottish police service (I don’t really care if it’s one police force or eight, as long as the bad guys get caught), the Scottish Government ignored advice on its tax treatment. Fair enough. They’re elected to make that kind of decision.

However, rather than take responsibility for a problem it knew would arise, the Scottish Government blames Westminster.

The nadir of this tedious nonsense was surely reached this week (unlikely, Ed.). The House of Lords, more often than not derided as undemocratic, unelected, indefensible (take your pick of glib jibes), voted to frustrate Conservative plans to reduce tax credits for working people. It did so following a measured and informed debate and some clever deployment of old-fashioned and ultimately effective parliamentary tactics.

A number of motions were put down for consideration. One was a so-called ‘fatal motion’ that would have allowed George Osborne to immediately return to Parliament with his plans in a Money Bill and have them approved without much fuss. The other was arguably a smarter proposal that requires the Government to delay, and mitigate the impact of, its proposals.

A handful of Labour Peers (in the interests of transparency, my father was one of them) voted for the latter motion, but against the ‘fatal’ ones. Might it be the case that they did so not to support George Osborne’s proposals to reduce tax credits, but — crucially — to protect the primacy of the House of Commons over the unelected House of Lords? It was most likely an important point of principle that was either not understood by Labour’s adversaries, or deliberately ignored.

After all, there was confusion to sow and people to mislead. At Westminster these days, disingenuity is the order of the day; nobody retweets the boring truth so invent you own and the howling mad echo chamber of Twitter will make you feel good.

But to what end? If we really believe that there is a crisis of trust between the people and the institutions that are there to serve their interests, why mislead people so systematically? Surely that only compounds the problem, and undermines the relationship between voters and politicians of all colours.

It certainly does nothing to engender respect between north and south. It’s thoughtless, infantile politics that serves the interests of nobody. Above all, it’s boring. Please make it stop.

Malcolm Robertson
Founding Partner