YOU don’t hear much about the Scottish Establishment because the elites who tilt this country’s business in their favour work hard to convince you it doesn’t exist.
Why, Scotland is an enlightened and progressive land, they tell you because well … there is openness and accountability. Not like that wretched cabinet at Westminster and all those Bullingdon types with their hands in the public till.
The revelations in today’s paper, in partnership with The Ferret, the investigative journalism cooperative, tell us that the Scottish Establishment not only exists but is thriving. It also doesn’t want you to know how it conducts its business.
The report uncovers hundreds of meetings between Scottish ministers and multinationals, wealthy individuals and other influential organisations which were omitted from the lobbying register due to legislative loopholes. This matters greatly in our perception of how we think democracy is supposed to work in Scotland. The Ferret’s work exposes the secret realms of influence in Scottish politics and public affairs.
There are many reasons why money can never be enough for exceedingly rich people. After a while and bored by the metronomic accumulation of it they become mesmerised by the other things that it might buy.
You and I may fondly imagine we live in a democracy where being rich only entitles you to one vote. Today’s investigation shows being a multi-millionaire entitles you to an entire realm of influence where you have round-the-clock access to elected officials, right up to and including the office of the First Minister.
This wouldn’t be so bad if it were only about jobs and inward investment. But the sheer number of these off-books meetings, involving very rich people indicate there’s something else going on here. What price does a government have to pay to be the recipient of this largesse? Will those jobs come with Trade Union recognition? Will they be protected by long-term contracts and full holiday and sickness benefits, these being the simple hallmarks of decency in an employer’s relationship with workers?
What short-cuts will be sought by the benefactor? How much do they get to chisel at planning regulations for their vanity construction projects? Can you give us some public cash to grease the deal?
Politicians are only human and thus beset by the caprices and fancies we all have about our abilities. Soon, they are insinuated into the power circles of these individuals. It starts with invitations to the opera or an executive box at Murrayfield; perhaps a weekend at the country house: “bring the family, why don’t you”.
Politics is a faithless partner. You might be happy entrusting your own career and income to the whims of the people but you can’t simply expect your family’s futures to be subject to such uncertainty. Best to use your term in office wisely. Maybe one of these rich and powerful people who pitch up at your office seeking a nod and a wink can help fit you out for a nice ‘ambassadorship’; maybe a ‘consultancy’.
These people convince themselves that they are entitled to their secret meetings with the government because they are ‘jobs providers’ and, as such, ‘drive the economy’. What delusional, narcissistic and entitled drivel. There is only one essential driver of the economy: workers. Do you really imagine that the super-rich would continue to employ people if they could make their products without them? They are often the beneficiaries of great, good fortune. This is carried on many tributaries: a private education; inheritance; membership of those secret societies that offer preferment to the mediocre.
They benefit from living in a country that permits them to accumulate their money by adhering to a loose set of obligations: a minimum wage which wouldn’t leave enough for a week’s shopping at the co-op and a contract that falls apart at the first sign of financial trouble.
What value do we attach to the human endeavour of producing goods for sale? The training; the physical effort of extracting minerals and fibres from the natural world and of re-purposing them for a reasonable return? What is a fair return? Does it calculate what an appropriate percentage might be for those whose labour made it happen?
What does ‘Good for Business’ actually mean anyway? We just accept it meekly when every party includes it in their manifesto. Here’s what you are supposed to think: all business is good because it employs people and gives them money to buy things and this ‘drives the economy’. That’s all you need to know. Never ask us about where we invest; how much tax we pay or what bonuses we pay our senior executives. And never ask us why we don’t recognise a Trade Union and offer zero-hours contracts and pay as little as we can get away with.
The incestuous nexus of power in Scotland, revealed today, reminds you of Soap, the subversive 1970s US comedy. “This is the story of two partners: Charlotte and Nicola. Charlotte’s son Andrew used to work for Nicola. His colleague is close to Benny, a banker who advises Nicola. Benny works for the richest duke in Europe. Andrew and Benny sit on boards who get lots of public money from Nicola’s company. Nicola once asked him to produce an economic plan. She also invited Benny to advise her so he wouldn’t feel left out.
“Nicola once agreed to speak to Andrew’s other clients at a secret gathering in the Balmoral Hotel. The Balmoral is owned by Rocco who supported Brexit. Rocco knows Steve, a friend of the US President. Angus, Andrew’s uncle once hosted Steve at another secret reception. However, Nicola and her friends never liked Steve. Or his boss.
“Charlotte’s other son is Kevin who also used to work for Nicola. He and some of his siblings write regularly for a big, friendly newspaper group. Andrew also helps run a political foundation, headed by Kezia, who was ousted by Nicola and fled to the jungle. Ruth is there too, but doesn’t like Andrew’s politics. And look: there’s Ed, who once worked for Tony. He sort of likes Ruth but officially disapproves of Andrew because of Tony. Andrew likes everyone.”
Confused? You’re meant to be.