Let’s be clear!”
How often do we hear that phrase, or some variation upon it, from British politicians. It’s a familiar part of the language of politics which, as is the way with these things, invariably signals a significant lack of clarity or presages the intention to obfuscate.
There is much talk of clarity in the debate on Scotland’s constitutional status as we work towards the referendum in 2014. Among the myriad inconsistencies, contradictions and assorted untruths which pervade the British nationalist campaign to preserve the union, demands for clarity and/or claims to be seeking clarity stand out as some of the more blatant hypocrisies and/or mendacities.
Instances abound. But recent days have provided a couple of excellent examples which will serve to illustrate the point. Take, for example, this business about the ministerial code – the rules which govern the conduct of ministers in the Scottish government up to and including the First Minister. It is something we’ve been hearing a lot of lately. Particularly the provisions of paragraph 2.35, which deals with the matter the confidentiality of legal advice provided to ministers by the government’s Law Officers.
Unionist politicians and their friends in the media have been at pains to portray this regulation as some arcane and impenetrable piece of civil service legalese. To hear them talk of it, the entire ministerial code is quite incomprehensible. No effort is made to explain it in simple terms. Every effort is expended in trying to cloud its content and import in a fog of confusion. So much for those claims of wanting “clarity”.
Of course, it may be that the likes of Johann Lamont and Ruth Davidson are just stupid. It may be that their ignorance of paragraph 2.35 is not feigned. It may be that the utter bafflement they evince whenever they speak of the ministerial code is actually quite genuine. That is a very real possibility. In which case we have to wonder what the hell they are doing in our parliament and, in the case of Lamont, how on Earth they can have the effrontery to put themselves forward as a potential leader of our nation.
The alternative, of course, is that Lamont and Davidson and all the others who plead dumb incomprehension in the face of paragraph 2.35, are being disingenuous. That they are playing the public false. That, in reality, they understand the matter perfectly well – or as well as they are able – and that their purpose is to generate the entirely false impression that the First Minister is resorting to some obscure technicality rather than merely following commonly accepted practice.
In short, they are lying.
But what of this provision that is supposed to be too complex for us plebs to get our uneducated minds around? Here it is:
2.35 The fact that legal advice has or has not been given to the Scottish Government by the Law Officers and the content of any legal advice given by them or anyone else must not be revealed outwith the Scottish Government without the Law Officers’ prior consent. The only exception to this rule is that it is acknowledged publicly that the Law Officers have advised on the legislative competence of Government Bills introduced in the Parliament (see paragraph 3.4 below). Views given by the Law Officers in their Ministerial capacity are not subject to this restriction. [Emphasis added]
Confused? Or just wondering what all the flap and fuss is about? The highlighted section is the part that is relevant. It seems perfectly plain to me that this represents a blanket prohibition on revealing anything at all about legal advice given to ministers. Including the matter of whether or not there was any such advice.
We won’t get into the reason for having such a provision as that really doesn’t have a bearing on the issue at hand. It is sufficient to know that the prohibition is there, that it has been there since the first ministerial codes were drafted for both Holyrood and Westminster, that it is accepted by all parties and all administration in the UK, and that it is perfectly easily understood.
So why are British nationalist politicians and propagandists putting so much effort into persuading the public that paragraph 2,35 is some kind of get-out clause devised by Alex Salmond? Why are they persistently insinuating that the First Minister is “up to no good” by resorting to the confidentiality rule when they know that this rule would be just as binding on any First Minister of any party?
If these unionist politicians genuinely want clarity as they claim, why are they trying so hard to generate a fog of prevarication and disinformation where none exists?
Doesn’t the public have a right to know?
Peter A. Bell