A failure of scrutiny

There is always a price to pay. Forget that, and the price can get very steep indeed. The SNP leadership and senior management came to consider themselves immune from scrutiny because for several years they were not subject to any meaningful scrutiny. Anyone who suggested more rigorous scrutiny was shouted down as a traitor not only to the party, but to the cause of restoring Scotland’s independence. That, in a nutshell, is the explanation for the party’s current difficulties. It is also an almost complete explanation for the global decline of democracy and the troubling rise of various anti-democratic ‘Trumpian’ factions. When established power becomes immune from scrutiny it very quickly makes itself impervious to criticism. Being impervious to criticism, it loses the capacity to adjust to changing circumstances because nobody is willing to point out the need for change lest they be condemned for disloyalty. What can’t adapt, dies.

One among the many deleterious effects of our immersion in mass media all vying for the attention on which they thrive is the personalisation of politics. Rather than thinking in terms of abstracts such as historical forces or relationships of power, we are encouraged to associate incidents and developments with persons or groups of persons. Achievements always must be attributed to an achiever. Misdeeds always must be blamed on a perpetrator. The media puts a face and name to everything because it is more titillating than talking about the dynamics involved. As seems consistently to be the case, this personalisation-effect was captured nicely by George Orwell in 1984 with the omnipresent face of Big Brother associated with order and beneficence and Emmanuel Goldstein as the face of evil. Today, those faces would be plastered on the sides of buses and projected onto buildings.

The most obvious consequence of this personalisation of politics is that analysis tends to be woefully shallow. Something good happens and we are invited to put a single individual on a pedestal ─ for a time. Something bad happens and we are invited to a protracted ‘Two Minutes’ Hate’ directed at the person portrayed as being responsible. For most people, this is sufficient explanation. She did something good, give her more power and good will result. He did something bad, cast him out and bad things will stop happening. This political party is incompetent and corrupt in government, replace them with that political party and the problem is solved.

A less shallow analysis tells us that the incompetence and corruption is systemic. It’s not that we have given political power to incompetent and corrupt people, but that the people we put into power tend to become (or be portrayed/perceived as) incompetent and corrupt because the nature of the political system militates for incompetence and corruption. A more thoughtful analysis suggests that the good and bad things that happen are situational. It’s not that the individuals associated with the good and bad things are particularly good or bad, but that a situation that is good or bad has developed with which they can be associated. The media correctly calculate that they will better grab our attention by putting faces and names to the good and bad and the incompetence and corruption than would be the case if they referred to the system and the situation. People respond to stories with faces and names more readily than to stories dealing with the deeper and wider context. Because they are people.

Of course, this shallow analysis and personalisation suits established power very well. Established power is what it is because the system works for them. The last thing they want is for people to start scrutinising the system. Much better that they be given a person or party to celebrate or castigate. Neither do they want people asking questions about the forces that give rise to situations. Much better that they be given a hero or a villain to focus on. While the people are celebrating heroes and castigating villains, established power perpetuates itself unhindered by scrutiny.

What is true of politics as we generally think of it is also true of all organisations. All organisations are inherently unstable. They will tend to disintegrate if not held together. Organisations must be appropriately managed, or they collapse. Scrutiny is required to ensure that organisations serve the purpose for which they were created rather than their own continuity or the agendas of particular individuals and groups within the organisation. The dynamic within organisations as in human society as a whole, is an incessant churn of shifting relationships of power. Politics is the management of these relationships of power just as much within any organisation as in the context of public policy and government. Manage the relationships of power effectively and the organisation will function well. This is true no matter what type of organisation it is ─ a social club or a manufacturing business or a government. They are all organisations and all characterised by the same dynamic and all subject to the same tendency to disintegrate if that dynamic of constantly shifting power relationships is not well managed.

The Scottish National Party has not been well managed. It has come to be badly managed because of a failure of scrutiny. The membership of the party put too much trust in the leaders and management. The members neglected their duty to maintain scrutiny of those appointed to lead and manage their party. Power unused does not evaporate. It is claimed and utilised by those who seek power. Those who work their way into positions at the upper levels of an organisation’s hierarchy. The membership of the SNP let their power be usurped by people they trusted more than is healthy. That trust led to a failure of scrutiny and ultimately the troubles which beset the party now.

Established power left to its own devices becomes defensive. The failure of scrutiny allows mistakes and misdeeds which then must be concealed. Scrutiny is therefore actively discouraged and the management of power relationships for the purpose of ensuring the organisation (party) abides by its constitution and pursues its aims becomes the exercise of control to defend and perpetuate established power.

The situation will not be rectified by blaming specific individuals and groups within the party. Which is not to say that these individuals and groups are not culpable. Only that the solution is not to be found in simply assigning blame to these individuals and groups. Of course, they must be held accountable for their mistakes and misdeeds. But this accountability should just arise from a particular situation and relate to particular individuals and groups. Accountability must be systemic. It must be fundamental to the organisation. There can be no accountability without scrutiny. The reform the SNP requires will be superficial and ineffective if it is no more than a change of personnel. The most important reform without which the organisation will simply succumb to disintegration again is the restoration of proper scrutiny That is the challenge facing whoever wins the leadership election.

The first order of business for the new leader must be to address the failure of scrutiny. Frankly, I have little confidence that any of the candidates has stomach and spine for this task. But the opportunity is there. An opportunity created by the scrutiny now happening ─ albeit in entirely the wrong way and very much as a transient phenomenon. It is, nonetheless, something for the new leader to build on. It will not be easy. Established power within the party is working hard to shut down this burst of scrutiny ─ see here and here and here for examples. Ash Regan is the only one of the candidates who is talking seriously about the kind of internal reforms which are required. Her intentions are good. Whether she possesses the strength to have these reforms implemented against inevitable opposition from the ‘old guard’ is far from certain.

I watch with interest.

If you find these articles interesting please consider a small donation to help support this site and my other activities on behalf of Scotland’s cause.

Buy me a Birra

25 thoughts on “A failure of scrutiny

  1. Why not just cut to the chase and just give the planned date for the coronation of Ms Cherry and stakeholders?


      1. AYE,”Huh” an’ “Huh” AGAIN fae me!! Cherry has been anonymous in respect of any serious campaigning for Independence North OR Sooth o’ Gretna, eneuch said!!


          1. We’ve gotten too used to charismatic leaders coached in sound bites and PR glad handing. Perhaps the electorate might appreciate some honesty and competence.

            Liked by 1 person

            1. The problems started when the sound bites and glad-handing took over. It helps to have a charismatic leader but you really need a strong time behind them – if only to keep them grounded. Cherry is superb for that role.


  2. Here’s a couple of new tags for you (though I don’t do tweeter):



  3. This time had to come. Let’s embrace it. Mucking out the byre is long overdue. The glee of unthinking Unionists with nothing to offer Scotland as they shuffle a step closer to the break up of their “Precious” is a bonus. Handled with vision the energy generated by turmoil in SNP has the potential to unify the independence movement, grow support and take us on a dash for the prize before it’s too late.

    Liked by 6 people

    1. What really gets my goat is that there are still people saying “There is no problem, look at Tories, Labour, LibDems, they just as bad”.

      Hello, wake up these people, HQ lied and just as bad, didn’t make any effort to correct the lie. A sin of commission followed by one of omission. And the SNP is our only real hope of Independence – shake it up, get rid of the jobbies, scoosh down with bleach and flush and rinse.

      And by the end of March THIS year.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Well the pigsty is being cleaned out … and it’s not a pretty sight. It is a painful one for the SNP and for the wider YES community. Necessary all the same.

    But you are absolutely correct. There is no point in simply changing the faces if the same ‘system’ is in place. There needs to be sound checks and balances including (among many other things I imagine):

    Fixed term Chief Executive Officers
    Return of National Council
    Elected National Executive Committee (i.e. no appointed affiliates)
    Conference agendas to reflect members motions (not just leadership preferences)
    Candidate selection to be decided by member choice (i.e. merit based only)

    There must be safeguards against nepotism and cronyism with transparency in decision-making and finances.

    Much more besides, I’m sure.

    Most important of all members should consider themselves to be custodians of the party and not simply rely on ‘the leader’ for the entire direction.

    Liked by 6 people

    1. There’s still one to go, who has a regular column in the National, and who even if unwittingly like Foote, perpetrated the lie about membership numbers not having dropped by 30,000. And who also, by directed criticisms even if not naming the two candidates, showed partiality rather than the total neutrality demanded by his position.

      It needs a complete clearout.


  5. Apres Sturgeon, le deluge , that’s Morrell flushed out . Will the nouvelle regime open up to scrutiny or buckle down on security ? The NEC placeholders must be squirming in their seats .


  6. The big rats flee the ship. The smaller rats look to replace them and grow into big rats. Change always brings opportunities for the self-interested. More of the same seems likely on SS SNP, unless a captain emerges who can steer it away from the rocks.

    Who could control such a mutinous crew and steer the boat to calmer waters? Forbes, Regan ,Yousaf? Hardly junior officer material, never mind Commander potential. Mutiny rather than scrutiny will rule the day as the crew defies the captain’s orders.

    So the boat will plough on until it finally shatters on the rocks. And the voters of Scotland will still buy tickets for it’s next voyage.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. There are a few “big rats” still to go. What’s the delay with Sue Ruddick’s resignation? She’s obviously going. Otherwise she’d be Murrell’s natural successor. The fact they’ve brought Mike Russell in as a stopgap tells us two things ─ there are still people in the party trying to stop the dirty secrets coming out. Or at least, to postpone the inevitable. And Sue Ruddick is still negotiating terms for her silence.

      Liked by 2 people

  7. Our main problem, aside from the SNP, is the several thousand unionist elites who aye run ‘institutional scotland’. A ‘nationalist’ government should have sorted that oot!

    Liked by 2 people

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.