It’s a difficult judgement to make sometimes between (a) amplifying by repetition a political statement which causes distaste, and (b) just ignoring it. In this case comment seems appropriate because the matter illustrates a political tactic viz. the blatant use of ‘innuendo’, that has the potential – indeed the objective – to undermine trust in public institutions and processes.
The issue arose in a Daily Record article on 21 October: ‘SNP Green Government in ‘political interference’ row over covid public inquiry. EXCLUSIVE: The presence of civil servants on the Inquiry team has led to claims of the Government “marking its own homework”.
There can be no doubt that Scotland’s public inquiry into the national response to the Covid pandemic is important in order to hold government and other public bodies to account, and to learn lessons for the future. Its independence is important: evidence to the contrary would be important too.
So, what is the nature of the ‘row’ referred to by the Daily Record? Who is making the serious charge of political interference? What prima facie evidence is the accuser offering – what evidence, what basic facts are being used to justify the charge? What course of action is the accuser now intending to follow in order to have the charge fully investigated? What does the article tell us of any of this?
The Daily Record states: ’Civil servants have been given top roles on Scotland’s troubled Covid-19 Public Inquiry – despite claims the probe is “independent”.’ (with my emphasis)
The pejorative use of ‘despite’ is prominent here! Does the Daily Record know (or care) about any of the following?
- is it normal for civil servants to be seconded to provide support to independent public inquiries in Scotland and/or elsewhere in the UK?
- if it is normal practice, does that make public inquiries civil servants support no longer independent?
The Daily Record states: ‘Labour MSP Jackie Baillie said: “With senior civil servants seconded to work in the inquiry, some will be worried about the Scottish Government having a direct influence on the outcome”.’ And she adds:“We cannot allow the slightest whiff of political interference to surround this inquiry”.
So there we have it. No evidence presented, just carefully worded innuendo – nothing more – with the aim of undermining public trust in an important inquiry in order to score a political point. There is no indication from Ms Baillie that such secondments are exceptional; there is no justification provided for the implied slur on the professional integrity of the civil servants involved; and therefore there is no evidence as to why ‘some’ (whoever they are) will or should be worried. No, Ms Baillie is relying just on innuendo for political advantage. This is an important inquiry: so for the avoidance of doubt, my view is that if the Labour Party has well-founded concerns it should express them in a full, serious and formal manner in Parliament.
The Daily Record then aggregates more of the same from other opposition parties content to use weasel words in order to gain perceived benefit by associating with Labour’s innuendo:
‘Tory MSP Murdo Fraser said: “The fact that key members of the inquiry team work for the Scottish Government certainly casts doubt on John Swinney’s claims that it is entirely independent. There is, at the very least, the danger of giving the appearance that the Scottish Government is marking its own homework”.’
If secondment is indeed normal, then surely we need additional evidence to justify any casting of doubt. And how’s this for classic contrivance: ‘.. at the very least, the danger of giving the appearance …’?
The article adds: ’Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Alex Cole-Hamilton said: “This is going to be one of the most important public inquiries in our parliament’s history, so we need to get the facts right. It’s absolutely vital that the inquiry remains independent of government and meets the criteria for independent standards”.’
Mr Cole-Hamilton states the obvious. But why does he not make clear whether considers the inquiry to be independent or not? Does he have a view or not? If he considers it does meet the requisite standards then why not say so – or say nothing? And if he considers it not independent then say so, tell us why and tell what he intends to do about it.
It may be in the Tory and Lib Dem’s political interests to undermine public trust in this inquiry and by extension, in the Scottish Government. However, without the backing of evidence, it cannot be in the public interest to seek to undermine trust through Labour’s use of innuendo alone!
I don’t read the Daily Record as a rule. My attention was drawn to this by the newspaper’s Twitter account: candidly, the subsequent thread in response would have ‘graced’ a conspiratorial community of evidence denying Trump supporters. Ms Baillie and the others should reflect on what damage might be inflicted on Scotland’s polity by the tactical use of innuendo as an alternative to the use of testable evidence when holding public bodies and government to account.
At the end of the Daily Record article we learn from the Scottish COVID-19 Inquiry and the Scottish Government that all public inquiries in Scotland and elsewhere in the UK include staff that are civil servants. Do Ms Baillie and the others accept this as factually correct? Did the Daily Record journalist not think to ask?
8 thoughts on “Innuendo as a political tactic – what damage to public trust?”
Another main reason for them deploying the truly Independently run civil servants that they know all too well that none of them shall ever hold power
Thereby never shall the accuser have to confront the accused along with that tis that the burden of proof rests with the accuser
This is the action of Cowards
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First of all I am so not surprised that the leader of this claque is my own MSP, Jackie Baillie. The woman is an amoral ambulance chaser, interested in only one thing – the furtherance of Jackie’s career.
But there are two other points Stewart.
1. Is there not some duty on Jackie (and the others) to advice who, if not civil servants , are going to undertake the work that they do? I am sure there are lawyers all over Scotland who would happily do this, as well as charging the public purse a good screw for it.
2. This raises the issue (my head at least) just what is it that the Civil Servants do for the inquiry to which they have been seconded. If their role is judgemental – to influence what the conclusion of the inquiry report is, then I could see their point. But an inquiry of the scale of what is being done on Covid – or misconduct in children’s’ homes, fee paying schools etc – means that a secretariat is necessary. This is covered here https://www.childabuseinquiry.scot/about-us/the-inquiry/who-we-are/
As you will see there is a requirement for a secretariat “the administrative team which supports the Inquiry Chair and assists them to conduct the work of the Inquiry.” There is also a legal team (and the solicitor to the inquiry is from the Scottish Government, though it was also her who raised ministerial interference in 2016 – shortly after the inquiry was set up in 2015 – YES THAT long ago), but also legal counsel, both KCs.
There is a good deal of work to be done – gathering evidence, analysing evidence, drawing conclusions from evidence, as well as making sure that administratively everything goes smoothly – and to expect the other members of the inquiry to do this is just ridiculous. Many of the people who they are complaining about – impliedly if not explicitly – have worked on other similar inquiries, gathering appropriate experience.
In short the mere presence of civil servants should surprise no one. If they get anywhere near influencing judgements then there is a problem. That said, there is a history – in the UK, not just SCotland, of inquiries being “warned off” areas government would rather were not disturbed due to causing problems later on.
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The Welsh government will not be holding its own Covid inquiry. Instead it will participate in the UK government Covid inquiry.
“The Covid inquiry is being chaired by retired judge Baroness Heather Hallett, who said: “I will be taking evidence next year to build a full picture of the challenges faced by the UK and devolved governments and how each chose to confront them”.
The first part of the inquiry will examine the “resilience and preparedness” of the UK for an event like the coronavirus pandemic.
The second section of the inquiry will consider the decisions made by the Welsh government alongside the other governments of the UK, with evidence heard in summer 2023.
It is expected that after each of the stages on specific topics, an interim report will be produced.”
Why did Scotland not do the same as the Welsh government?
Is it because Scotland is more devolved powers than Wales?
What would happen should the Scottish and UK Covid inquiries come to different conclusions?
Sorry for the typos, but It’s after midnight and I’m in bed. 👍
Nicely analysed – It more reflects the poverty of journalistic integrity in Scotland than it does the state of it’s politics – Without the Daily Record’s willingness to publish a nonsense story, the 3 wise flunkies would have been speaking to the void.
The Civil Service is the perfect backdrop for conspiracy theories since public understanding of the robust mechanisms in place to ensure apolitical function in the CS is at best limited – The 3 conspiracy-mongers quoted however are not only fully cognisant of it but equally know the CS have no mechanism to publicly challenge the absurd because it’s political.
The Covid Inquiry joins Ferry Stories and a hundred other conspiracies in Scotland’s politically hostile media…
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So the fact that public enquiries usually include civil servants, would surely cancel out the narrative and malintent of the article. Wasting people’s time and hoping they don’t read to the end of the article. Great distraction from the absolute disastrous cabal down in London taking a wrecking ball to the economy and ruining the lives of the majority of the people. Baillie and her pals are a disgrace to politics and to the people of Scotland, they should hang their heads in shame.
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It’s Jackie Baillie, recently seen on TV demanding an election because the Tories are led by millionaires, conveniently forgetting about Starmer and Sarwar. Maybe they are on the breadline and we just don’t know it.
They play a dangerous game continually trying to undermine public enquiries, they’ve done this with every enquiry I can remember. I believe they even leaked opinion when on an enquiry, even willing to undermine themselves if it serves the higher purpose. If remaining in the union requires the destruction of Holyrood’s reputation then, to them, it is a price worth paying.
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OT but a hilarious contrast between the logic of Lesley Riddoch versus the bullshitting of Pamela Nash, “7% support”, “people-led campaign”, etc..