Some advice for beleaguered public officials
The chief constable of Police Scotland, Phil Gormley, was granted 'special leave’ while two allegations of gross misconduct are investigated. He continued in post when the first was reported; the next proved too much, even for the notoriously inept Scottish Police Authority. To paraphrase Wilde: 'To be the subject of one allegation of gross misconduct may be regarded as a misfortune; to be the subject of two looks like carelessness.’
Mr Gormley’s assurance that he would 'resume my full duties when this matter has been resolved’ was received with a scepticism bordering on ridicule. Shorn of position and authority, he soon cut an abject figure on tabloid front pages. If you have just stepped aside from your important position in public life, leaving your organisation in what the press loosely call 'meltdown', it is best not to be seen a couple of days later in T-shirt and jeans carrying a shopping bag. For some reason the appearance of the shopping bag is often a sign that your time is up – even if your bag of choice happens to be from the relatively up-scale White Company.
Pass marks of the week
A third of the Police Scotland workforce want to leave within the next three years. The situation in the teaching profession is rather worse, according to a survey conducted by academics at Bath Spa University (who they? why them?), which found that four out of 10 Scottish teachers plan to quit their jobs within the next 18 months. The 3,000 who took part in the survey criticised their 'extremely poor working conditions,' the bad behaviour of pupils, the abuse they have to endure from parents, and the Scottish government’s imposition of organisational changes without consultation.
The mood in the classroom would not have been improved by a report from OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) which highlighted the poor pay of Scottish teachers compared with many other countries. The Scottish government's response was as fatuous as most of its other media utterances: 'We continue to work to ensure teachers are well rewarded for the excellent work they do.'
Longer-term, salvation may be at hand. 'Leading academic’ Sir Anthony Seldon has predicted that the teacher of the future will be little more than a classroom assistant, setting up the equipment for the intelligent machines which will do the actual teaching, in this way 'sweeping aside old notions of education and changing the world for ever.' Few challenged this nightmarish vision.
Forgetful politician of the week (from the usual strong field)
The first minister, replying to Ruth Davidson’s request that she should rule out any increase in the basic rate of income tax, replied: 'Usually when opening a debate and when you commit to listening to what others have to say, it makes sense to carry on and do that before ruling things out in advance.' Quite apart from the infelicity of the language, the first minister appeared to have forgotten that she had already ruled it out: 'We will freeze the basic rate of income tax throughout the next parliament to protect those on low and middle incomes' (SNP manifesto, 2016).
Spirit of consensus of the week
The one Scotland's first minister intends to build in defending the powers of the Scottish parliament against a Westminster 'power grab' facilitated by the EU repeal bill. A Scotland Office minister responded that the Scottish parliament 'will not lose a single one of its current decision-making powers through this bill, despite what the first minister says.’ See inside for more spirit of consensus.
Something that isn’t going to happen
Chris Smith, outgoing chair of the Advertising Standards Authority, proposed a new regulatory body to provide independent verification of claims made by politicians. As if.
Bores of the week
(1) Tian Tian, the giant panda who prefers bamboo shoots to sex, is not pregnant after all, despite confident predictions that she was about to give birth.
(2) The 177 sad people, British Netflix subscribers, who have spent 536 hours watching all 695 episodes of Star Trek.
(3) The Booker short list, after the judges had weeded out the many potboilers whose publishers proclaimed them 'the best since Tolstoy.' Always assuming that Tolstoy was any great shakes in the first place.
The week that the world went mad – again
When a newspaper disagrees with some mildly daring idea, it tends to cite it as evidence that the world has 'gone mad.’ There are few weeks when the world has not gone mad about something or other. This week, according to the Daily Express, the suggestion that same sex couples should be allowed to compete in the BBC’s low-camp dance show is yet again proof that 'the world has gone mad.’ It will go mad again next week and the week after. We live in an endless cycle of insanity.
End of the world as we know it: a few scenarios of the week
(1) Kim attacks us. Defence secretary Michael Fallon, asked whether North Korea could strike the UK, replied: 'Not yet, but they are clearly accelerating their missile programme – the range is getting longer and longer.'
(2) ISIS attacks us. We are reliably informed that it is 'only a matter of time’ before an airborne assault using drones.
(3) Flu attacks us. If the predicted winter epidemic materialises, the public health scaremongers will be able to claim that we were warned. If it doesn't, no one will remember that we were warned.
(4) A worldwide caffeine shortage. It is estimated that production of the coffee bean in Latin America will slump by as much as 88% by 2050 because of climate change.
(5) Worst prospect of the lot: no more French cheeses. A Labour shadow minister suggested that, after Brexit, we may be reduced to eating spam and tinned peaches.
The strange little town of Troon (part II)
Following the extraordinary leniency extended to Mr and Mrs Fergus, the terrors of the Macdonald Loch Rannoch Hotel, another resident of the deceptively sedate Ayrshire town walked free from a criminal court. Ian Gordon, 67, went on trial for murder at the High Court in Glasgow after smothering his wife to death with a pillow. The 'moving’
testimony of the couple’s daughter that Mr Gordon was devoted to Mrs Gordon and that Mrs Gordon was suffering pain and distress persuaded the prosecution mid-trial to reduce the charge to one of culpable homicide, and the accused was freed on bail. It seems that Mrs Gordon had a fear of hospitals, suffered long-standing ailments,
and was convinced that she had cancer, although it had never been diagnosed. If she was not terminally ill, should a jury not have been left to determine the accused’s degree of culpability, lest the outcome send the wrong message to husbands with access to pillows? Just as mystifying was why the Crown waited until the trial to discover what the daughter had to say. Perhaps the precognition of witnesses is a thing of the past, like French cheeses.
Hurricanes of our time
Flora (1963) killed 7,000 in the Caribbean. Fifi-Orlene (1974) killed 8,000 in Central America. Mitch (1998) killed 11,000 in Central America. Irma (2017) – 'the deadliest storm in history’ as our media hailed it – is believed to have killed 38 in the Caribbean and 31 in Florida and adjacent states. As the governor of Florida, Rick Scott, put it in anticipation: 'You cannot survive this.’ Yet, somehow, 18 million people in his state did.
Odious spectacle of the week
The standing ovation for Nigel Farage – self-proclaimed saviour of Britain – when he addressed the German far-right party AfD. The ability of Farage during the referendum campaign to fool most of the British people almost all of the time is indeed proof that the world has gone mad. But then we knew that already, courtesy of Farage's friend, the Daily Express.
One evening this week, I casually picked the diaries of Kenneth Tynan from the shelf. The book fell open at the description of Peter Hall as a man without friends and without enemies – Tynan didn't know which was worse – and as someone with a 'voluptuous' ambition. The next morning I was still marvelling at the use of 'voluptuous' when the news came through of Hall's death. Only a little creepy, perhaps.
Not for the first time in recent years, I am dismayed by the hostile reports of long delays on the greatest bridge in the world. Some motorists appear to believe that the greatest bridge in the world should somehow facilitate their journey to work – what is called these days 'the commute’ – when, as we all know, it is there to be admired and celebrated rather than used. With only the Radio 2 travel news for company, these jobsworths resort to social media to complain that the masterpiece should have three lanes in each direction rather than two.
I have two things to say to these serial malcontents.
First, it is too late to build a third lane. If there was a slight defect in the original design, it could be easily rectified by reintroducing a ferry across the Forth to take the overflow. There is little doubt that it would be the greatest ferry in the world. A longer-term solution – if objections persist – might usefully be the appointment of a state guardian for every bridge.
Second, the complainers should get a life. Those who find themselves detained for hours on end on the approach roads are advised to take up an improving hobby such as memorising the makar’s moving poem at the opening ceremony, to say nothing of the moderator’s peerless blessing.