Postcards
from Scotland

We asked a selection of SR
contributors for a memory
of an outstanding holiday in
Scotland – good or bad



Marian Pallister in Tobermory
George Chalmers in Ayr
Islay McLeod in Rockcliffe
Judith Jaafar in Carrick Castle
Barney MacFarlane on Arran



Bill Jamieson on Bute
Tessa Ransford in North Berwick
Michael Elcock on Harris
Ronnie Smith in Largs

Katie Grant on Mull
Thom Cross in Kirkcaldy
Morelle Smith in Glencoe
Bob Cant in Carnoustie

Robin Downie on Arran
Bruce Gardner in Glen Livet
Fiona MacDonald on Tiree
Walter Humes at home

Jill Stephenson at Loch Duich
Quintin Jardine in Elie
Iain Macmillan in Gleneagles
Douglas Marr on Skye
Andrew McFadyen in Kilmarnock

R D Kernohan on Arran
David Torrance on Iona
Catherine Czerkawska at Loch Ken
Chris Holligan in Elie

Rose Galt in Girvan
Alex Wood on Arran
Andrew Hook in Glasgow
Alasdair McKillop in St Andrews

Sheila Hetherington on Arran
Anthony Seaton on Ben Nevis
Paul Cockburn at Loch Ness
Jackie Kemp in a taxi
Angus Skinner on Skye

207.10.10
No. 313

The Cafe


D Macdonald

There is an assumption that GIRFEC records will stop age 18. Why? The system will be well in place for data-mining so why not go on collecting it throughout the life of an individual. The Stasi were rank amateurs. We don't even know it is happening.
     Accuracy of the records – who checks? Remember that once something is written in a record it is fact, even when it is demonstrably wrong.But try and change a record, say 10 years after the fact, and you cannot remember it happening, because it never did, and came from someone else's records of the same name, similar area and basic background. (I know of two people this has happened to.)
     Editing of records will happen as the data is being entered and as it is being compiled. And how about the abilities of the reporters, their bias and possible attitude to the person being reported on? Are records being kept on the reporters of this data, on the possibility of incompetence apart from other failures like leaving out information (lying by omission).
     Example, wee Rab, always in fights. But would it necessarily be cross-related to the fact, say that he was always fighting a gang led by the schoolteacher's daughter? You can bet it wouldn't happen.
     So how honest and accurate are these 'records'?
     And what about the children of the 'elite', the 'rulers', will they be treated the same? Aye, right!

 

Heather Wilson

I have just looked at GIRFEC on the Edinburgh council website. It seems to assume that every child is at risk of something dreadful happening to them at the hands of anyone who is not a health worker, social worker, staff in schools, the police, housing staff (huh?) and staff in voluntary organisations.
     Should we be wary of seeking legal help, disabilities help or any other help from voluntary staff? I mean are they happy to be used as spies now? I wouldn't be if I was working for a voluntary organisation who may be working with young people or their parents for whatever reason.


David Grant

I have sent this letter to my MSP and will let you know what, if anything, transpires:
     Dear Mr Swinney
     I refer to yesterday's and today's articles by Kenneth Roy in the Scottish Review.
     Can you give me any assurance at all that this amassing of secret databases will be stopped forthwith?
     If not, you will certainly lose my vote and I fear that of others whom I know – notwithstanding that I firmly desire to see an independent Scotland –  for this is the most appalling business, worthy of the very worst period of Soviet excesses.

In Scotland's new world of electronic child surveillance, debased language conceals what is going on

Kenneth Roy sums up the SR investigation



 

In our time it is broadly true that political writing is bad writing. Where it is not true, it will generally be found that the writer is some kind of rebel, expressing his private opinions and not a 'party line'. Orthodoxy, of whatever colour, seems to demand a lifeless, imitative style. The political dialects to be found in pamphlets, leading articles, manifestos, White Papers, and the speeches of Under-Secretaries do, of course, vary from party to party, but they are all alike in that one almost never finds in them a fresh, vivid, home-made turn of speech.
George Orwell, Politics and the English Language,1946

For confirmation that Orwell's low opinion of political language still holds true 64 years later, you need look no further back than the windy rhetoric of the party political conferences in England, including the fatuous patriotism of yesterday's speech by the prime minister.
     But there is a new class of political bad writing, unforeseen by Orwell, which is to be found in the reports of what are loosely known as the caring professions. The document on which the mass observation of children in Scotland has been based is the worst imaginable example of bad writing, yet it is the bible of our new electronic surveillance society. There may be some connection – it may be that most sinister ideas can only be communicated in debased language.

 

The child is someone who is 'on a journey', who needs to be helped to 'understand the past, and the here and now of the journey'.


    At the end of a week in which we have attempted to explain what is going on in the lives of Scottish children, unknown to most of their parents, it is worth taking a closer look at this document, 'Getting it right for every child: Electronic Information Sharing Model and Process' (August, 2008), published by the 'Transformational Technologies Division, Standards Branch, Scottish Government' which has been signed off by a named civil servant, presumably a fairly senior one. It is worth taking this closer look because the document offers a disturbing insight into the closed world of official thinking about children.
     It is a world of practice models, resilience matrixes, triads and triangles, a world of increasing interoperability and inter-agency involvements, of pathfinder developments and universal systems, a world in which the child becomes 'the service user' and the person reporting on the child becomes 'the practitioner'. The child is someone who is 'on a journey', who needs to be helped to 'understand the past, and the here and now of the journey'.
     In this pretentious, sub-mystical, almost impenetrable world, there is very little precision. Do the authors of such prose know what they are trying to say, but are prevented from doing so by sentences as choked as the gutters of a country cottage in autumn? Or is the vagueness, the absence of what Orwell called 'outcrops of simplicity', simply a convenient way of concealing what is happening? It is probably a bit of both.
     There is an almost evangelical certainty about the introduction:
     This document is not just about Systems change but brings the 'Getting it right for every child' triad of change mechanisms, Systems, Practice and Culture (in the context of information sharing and the eCare framework) together in one place. The three change mechanisms are interdependent on each other and therefore this document is just as much about practice and culture as it is about systems. Systems cannot live in a business vacuum and the models and processes described here reflect these shifts in a 'Getting it right for every child' world.
     That paragraph, for all its banality and ugliness, just about hangs together: with a bit of effort we can discern its meaning. But as the process of mass observation starts to be explained, the language more or less disintegrates. Orwell argued that the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts. What foolish thoughts are these, shaping the lives of our children?
     Under the heading 'Plan', we read that 'the circular process within the model ensures that help is specifically targeted on a child's ever changing circumstances and becomes a dynamic interaction'.
     Helpfully, the document provides an illustration of 'dynamic interaction'. It is the one concrete example, so we should treasure it:
     A child is about to place their [sic] hand in an open fireplace.
     Concern – Safety.
     Assessment Question – Will the child be at risk?
     Plan – Remove hand from fire.
     Action – Remove hand now.

     As the late Eric Morecambe used to say: there's no answer to that.

 

Within weeks of the coalition government coming to power, Contact Point was scrapped on two grounds – its intrusion into private lives and its escalating cost.

     

     A Scottish Review reader has emailed to ask whether 'this wretched project' is being 'rolled out' in England and Wales or whether it is entirely a Scottish initiative 'to make the population utterly dependent on the public services and then get public service employees to inform on the population'. The 'wretched project' in England and Wales was called Contact Point: its purposes and methods were broadly similar to GIRFEC in Scotland. Within weeks of the coalition government coming to power, Contact Point was scrapped on two grounds – its intrusion into private lives and its escalating cost.
     It remains to be seen whether the administration at Holyrood will follow this admirable precedent or whether the mass observation of children being piloted by five Scottish local authorities will be allowed to continue at a cost to the public purse, and the greater cause of civil liberties, which is yet to be counted.

 

If you would like to contribute to the SR discussion on this issue, please email islay@scottishreview.net