What do senior civil servants do after they have retired? No doubt some are content to take it easy and spend time following the scenic route round golf courses, ending up in real bunkers instead of the bureaucratic ones they created during their working lives. On other days, regular lunches with old chums could provide an opportunity to catch up on gossip and relive past triumphs, real or imagined.
At Westminster, those who had worked in departments where their expertise would be of interest to the private sector (e.g. the treasury, transport, defence, health) might find themselves headhunted as 'consultants' or 'advisers'. There has been much criticism of what has been called the 'revolving door' between Whitehall and the City, allowing former public servants to supplement their generous pensions with earnings from companies whose activities they may have tried to regulate in their previous roles. Whenever this matter is raised, however, it produces an official shrug of the shoulders, worthy of the television comedy 'Yes, Minister.' Politicians are disinclined to take a stand since many of them hope to follow the same route in due course.
In Scotland, it is more common to find retired mandarins in part-time roles in the public sector, as members of boards and commissions, university courts and charitable organisations, where they may receive expenses but are unlikely to be open to accusations of financial excess. The argument is that their experience of government means they are well-qualified to offer advice about proposed legislation, statutory requirements and policy changes. Moreover, they will have built up influential networks in the course of their careers and know the procedural steps that might have to be taken to achieve desired objectives.
From the retiree's point of view, these opportunities to remain active give them a sense that they still have something to contribute. But there is a counter-argument. This pattern runs the risk of simply reinforcing the cosy assumptive world of those who have exercised power and enjoyed the privileges that accompany it. Where existing practices need to be scrutinised and reformed, it is 'outsiders' rather than 'insiders' who are likely to be prepared to ask the hard questions. A lifetime of playing by the official rules is unlikely to equip senior civil servants to be sufficiently challenging.
There is scope for an enterprising investigative journalist to trace the post-retirement pathways of those who have held senior administrative office supporting successive Scottish governments. Such an enquiry could be justified on the grounds that it would represent a small gesture in the direction of transparency and accountability, principles that all parties claim to endorse.
The train from Dundee to Glasgow was busy and I was lucky to find a seat in the last carriage. It was not ideal, next to a toilet and opposite a very plump young woman surrounded by an assortment of bags. With the weary acceptance of the traveller who does not expect unalloyed joy when using public transport, I settled down to make the best of the situation. The toilet had an 'Out of order' notice stuck to it, which caused a succession of desperate-looking passengers to venture further afield to obtain relief. Meanwhile, the young woman spent time on her mobile phone trying to find someone who would give her a lift when she reached Stirling. Judging by her tone and expression, her contacts were proving uncooperative.
Suddenly, the brakes were applied sharply and the train came to a halt. The conductor rushed forward from his compartment at the back to find out what was happening. After a short time, the journey resumed and the conductor returned, shaking his head. The same sequence of events occurred on two further occasions in the course of the journey. Eventually, there was an announcement: 'Would passengers using the disabled toilet please note that the big red button does not open the door. It triggers the automatic braking system.'
I reflected on possible reasons for what had happened. Perhaps the signage in the disabled toilet was poor. Maybe some of the users had a visual impairment and had difficulty reading notices. Possibly some passengers without a disability had used the facility and were simply careless about which buttons they pressed. Then I wondered why the announcement had not been made sooner. It quickly occurred to me that highlighting the problem might have encouraged others to follow suit. On most train journeys, there are likely to be a few nutters on board who take pleasure in mischief-making.
As the train arrived 10 minutes late at Queen Street in Glasgow, I thought, with uncharacteristic equanimity, that it could have been a lot worse. I might have been travelling on a plane which had to be diverted because of the drunken and aggressive behaviour of members of a stag or hen party.
The option of a 'not proven' verdict in Scottish criminal trials has been a source of controversy for some time. It is now to be subject to investigation as part of a wider research study into how juries deliberate and reach decisions. The market research company Ipsos Mori, in association with three academics, has been commissioned to undertake the study, which will use case simulations, with members of the public sitting on mock juries, to generate findings. The justice secretary, Michael Matheson, has said that the report of the research team 'will help inform any future decisions that may be taken in relation to potential reforms of our criminal justice system.'
It will be interesting to see precisely how the Ipsos Mori study is conducted. People taking part in a simulation, such as a 'mock jury,' cannot be assumed to behave in the same way as those involved in a real-life event. No doubt the participants will take the task seriously but much will depend on how they are briefed and the guidelines they are given.
'Not proven' verdicts are sometimes seen as a cop-out by juries struggling to engage with complex evidence and perhaps unduly influenced by matters of secondary importance. The practical implications are the same as for a 'not guilty' verdict: the accused is acquitted and deemed to be innocent in the eyes of the law, even if some observers conclude that doubt remains and that the outcome is down to the failure of the prosecution to present convincing evidence. For victims and their families, a 'not proven' verdict is bound to seem unsatisfactory.
Already the luminaries of the Scottish legal profession are offering their views on the matter. We can anticipate several years of debate before any decisions are taken. The portrayal of the slow, tortuous processes of the law in the novels of Charles Dickens is not entirely a caricature, though our learned friends north of the border would claim that Scots law is superior to English. Whether that view is shared by the general population is questionable, but it is highly doubtful whether the research project will venture into that sensitive territory.