On leadership, Gerry Hassan
claims we 'need leaders who can interpret facts and the views of experts (and also recognise that experts do not always agree with each other), who can take critical and important decisions with a degree of clarity and fairness, and then shape them into compelling stories about why they have done this and what it says about us and society'.
Which, on one level, is a persuasive enough argument in itself. But Gerry's point about leaders producing 'compelling stories' brings to mind the contemporary political culture of spin and soundbite, and the associated shadow democracy of special advisers, strategists, lobbyists and 'comms' specialists. These form a continuum with, most obviously, the apparently impartial civil service on the one hand, and journalism supposedly speaking truth to power on the other, not to mention a revolving door and career path for many of the individuals involved in this political netherworld.
A further link might be made between all that and those more normally thought of as independent 'experts'. The impartial nature of expertise has always been a nonsense, as the field of economics in particular has historically demonstrated, even to us laypeople. After all, the term 'economics' derives from 'political economy'.
The COVID-19 crisis has also underlined the disputed nature of ostensibly objective facts and expertise. The efficacy of the lockdown in terms of virus transmission and saving lives has been endlessly debated, as has the reliability of the statistics as regards dying 'of' or 'with' the virus. And even that's assuming deaths associated with COVID-19 are recorded as such at all.
A related and overriding point is perhaps to ask whether many of the deaths paraded daily in the media might have occurred in short order anyway (to be blunt), and to that extent whether the lockdown and cataclysmic economic consequences have been all been worth it. Of course, we'll never know the definitive answer because that's more back to the domain of economics and politics, which will always be disputed. And all the signs are that COVID-19 has merely exacerbated and further divided an increasingly disputatious polity.
But, in crude terms, there is a self-evident trade-off between saving lives in the short-term, and the long-term economic and social costs. The latter will undoubtedly also mean lives lost, but in an even less attributable and quantifiable nature than those related to COVID-19 itself. Also crudely speaking, the more immediate task of saving lives is perhaps more associated with those on the left of politics, while the economic disruption and dislocation is highlighted more by those on the right.
And, in more empirical terms, I suspect the short-term goals are favoured more by those (say) in senior roles in the public sector, with substantial salary and house with a garden, and the least likely to suffer economically in the longer-term. Meanwhile, those working in the 'gig economy' or on zero-hours contracts, perhaps living in a high-rise hellhole, and teetering on the financial and emotional brink at the best of times, might understandably want the lockdown to end and to get back to work.
Gerry attributes the 'scorn and dismissal' of experts solely to the 'populist right'. But surely the wider issue is that supposedly neutral and objective expertise is very often selective, partial and essentially grounded in political philosophy, whether of the left, right or centre ground. Economics has always demonstrated this, while COVID-19 has helped conflate that particular subject with the disputed nature of medical 'facts' and expertise.
Meanwhile, the cynical nature of modern political process has simply helped cement the impression of PR gloss and politics as marketing, celebrity and showbusiness, masking what is essentially crude propaganda.
Public cynicism towards the politics of spin and soundbite has been evident for some years now. Moreover, this arguably provides the link between 'neutral' expertise on the one hand, and more conventional politics and government on the other. The effective politicisation of expertise perhaps explains the public's 'scorn and dismissal', and it's surely not confined to the 'populist right'.
I don't agree with Gerry Hassan
about leadership. When I taught organisational psychology to university students, I had to give lectures on leadership, as it was what the students liked, partly, I suspect, as they conflated it with heroism and tales of 'derring-do' of the Stelios or Richard Branson variety. Amazingly, some still see these egocentric chancers as 'leaders'. The material I was supposed to teach implied that transformational, i.e. charismatic leadership = good, whereas transactional management (i.e. the boring stuff like making sure people were paid) = bad. I completely disagreed with that view then and I disagree even more now.
Gerry implies that we are bereft of leaders in Scotland – if so, that's all to the good in my view. It's been suggested to me by SNP colleagues that Nicola Sturgeon is temperamentally a middle manager, whereas Alex Salmond is a leader. This may or may not be true – I confess not knowing much about the latter's politics as I came to independence later than some. But if it is, I'd prefer to reverse the roles and suggest that the feisty firebrand is always better subordinate to the thoughtful administrator. In my misspent youth, I was a big fan of Tom Baker as Dr Who
(still the best 'Who' in my opinion!), and I remember one of his 'companions' was a lady from the Stone Age who was quite good at seeing off baddies who might cause problems. In the case of one villain she asked, fingering her dagger: 'shall I kill him now, Doctor?'. Who's response was 'not yet, let's develop a strategy that will knock out the villains for good'.
In the world today, the self-professed 'leaders' we see are mainly in the Johnson/Trump mode: as Gerry suggests of the former, they are lazy, arrogant and amateurish, treating their followers as the idiots they are rather than trying to educate them to make better decisions. They are also keen to be seen as the ultimate power holder, whereas it is lazy thinking to suggest that leadership is only a property of individuals – it's not; it can also be a property of groups, like the postwar Labour Government which designed and delivered the welfare state.
There is a book by a Scottish/Australian academic, Alistair Mant, called Leaders we Deserve
, in which Mant points out that we all have a role in deciding who makes decisions on our behalf, rather than projecting our power to do so onto demagogues who care nothing for the common good. Personally, having experienced on many occasions 'the dark side of transformational leadership', I'd far rather entrust my future to a boring, detail-conscious bureaucrat who had no interest in conquering the world but rather in developing strategies with others to make it a fairer place. Surely it's this sort of 'leader' we will need in an independent Scotland.
Dr Mary Brown
Perhaps, unlike Jack Davidson
, I have served on a jury. That experience reinforced my confidence in the Scottish 15-member jury model, as a larger number is likely to be more representative, and thus a majority verdict more robust. Having an odd number of members also makes sense. Mr Davidson fails to point out that a majority verdict simply means it was not unanimous. None, other than the jury members themselves, can ever know of their deliberations as they are sworn to secrecy, therefore no matter how experienced anyone is, we can all only speculate about these.
I could only be a jury member because I was a layman. The presiding judge in the Alex Salmond trial instructed the jury members that they were to judge the charges based only on the evidence placed before them in the court, and not to be swayed by any personal views they might hold. I thought Lady Dorrian's handling of the trial was exemplary, but didn't understand why Craig Murray had been removed from the court during the course of it. He has now been charged with contempt weeks after its conclusion, so no doubt the facts behind this will come to light.
Like many, I followed the trial keenly on a daily basis, but was surprised how little of the detailed defence evidence apparently disclosed seemed to be getting reported in the (online) print media. While I subscribe to a couple of the Scottish dailies, apart from The Times
and The Telegraph
, most newspapers are to some extent accessible online for free. Much of the information on the defence evidence only appeared to be available from tweets or blogs. The live Twitter string from the BBC's Philip Sim was excellent, with more detail provided on Craig Murray's blog, and that on Grouse Beater
was highly informative.
The law, in essence, belongs to the people, and its interpretation can only be enforced with their overwhelming consent. That is why we have juries for serious criminal trials, as their randomly selected members are there as representatives of the people. Despite the 'tactics favoured by a highly capable and experienced' state prosecutor in the Salmond trial, he manifestly failed to convince the jury to convict on any of the 13 charges, so who is viewing the outcome through 'rose-tinted glasses'? Which reminds me, is justice in Scotland not blind?
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