LibLink: Tavish Scott says college row marks a turning point for the SNP

Tavish Scott has written a column for the Scotsman criticising the SNP Government for abuse of power and neutering the Holyrood Parliament. His comments come in the wake of a row about the Education Secretary Mike Russell effectively engineered the resignation of the Chairman of Stow College in Glasgow. Kirk Ramsay had been a vociferous critic of Russell’s cuts in the sector.

The story so far:

Ramsay records Russell’s on-the-record remarks at a meeting with about 80 people present at which the Cabinet Secretary was discussing his plans for the Further Education sector. He did so because he suffers from Tinnitus and wanted an accurate record to pass on to members of his staff who weren’t present.

Russell got wind of this and, according to the Herald,  wrote to everyone else who went to that meeting not only to inform them of the recording, but to add that he had no confidence in Ramsay and demand his resignation.

When a Government minister publicly calls for the removal of one of his biggest critics in the sector he’s responsible for, some may see that as a serious, outrageous even, abuse of power. Ramsay felt hat his position was untenable and fell on his sword.  He felt that to stay on when the Minister had said that he couldn’t work with him would harm the college.

Not surprisingly, the opposition parties wanted the Parliament’s Education Committee to investigate Russell’s behaviour. This Committee has an SNP convener and an inbuilt SNP majority. Its convener flatly refused to have any sort of enquiry, saying that the facts were known.  So much for scrutiny.

Tavish Scott, recently returned to the Holyrood frontline, said that the SNP government looked “out of touch and arrogant”:

Parliament should question Mr Russell on his role in this shoddy affair. Did he speak directly to Mr Ramsay? Did he have his civil servants contact others to support his campaign of vilification of Mr Ramsay? Is this part of a pattern where Scotland’s colleges are told by Mr Russell to take their funding deal or else? Why was a meeting of 80 college representatives secret? Yet, in refusing to hold an inquiry, a Nationalist convener has put his party before the committee and parliament.

This goes to the heart of how this government behaves. Parliament is neutered by the SNP’s absolute majority. The government stopped the European committee investigating the EU and an independent Scotland. Opposition MSPs cite numerous cases of the Nationalist majority on committees being used to mitigate any criticism of the government. In the 2007-11 parliament, when the SNP was in a minority government, the finance secretary paid considerable heed to committee recommendations on spending. Now the government uses its committee majority to block any opposition proposal.

You can read the article in full here.

* Caron Lindsay is Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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7 Comments

  • Tom Robinson 15th Nov '12 - 3:01pm

    Mr Ramsay compared the behaviour of the Scottish Government to that of Syria.

    To be fair that is more reasonable than the usual comparison to North Korea, a non-democracy desperate to keep nuclear weapons, both features unlike Scotland.

    However, the comparison with Syria evidences a man of poor judgement, the sort of man it appears who records a private meeting without pre-agreement.

  • @Tom Robison,

    Whether Mr Ramsay has good or poor judgement, for a minister to demand the resignation of a private college chairman, shows a not inconsiderable amount of arrogance and entitlement.

    This wasn’t some sort of secret briefing. The whole purpose of the meeting was to let the minister tell the colleges about his ideas and approach. The college chairs would have been expected to convey these ideas to their respective colleges. Others were taking notes. If the minister objects to the medium, any reasonable person would arrange a meeting to and put their views across. Any employer who tried to do what the minister did, would almost certainly end up in an employment tribunal. Poor judgement indeed.

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 15th Nov '12 - 6:11pm

    If he’d gone straight to the press with the private recording, I might have some sympathy with what you are saying. There’s an argument that he should have asked, but he certainly didn’t deserve the disproportionate response he got from Mike Russell, and he certainly didn’t deserve to lose his job.

    I certainly wouldn’t agree that Syria is better than North Korea. Did you see any of the footage from Homs?

    Mike Russell abused his power over this, of that there is no question as far as I’m concerned.

  • Oh dear, what would be rightly condemned by any right thinking person as totally unacceptable behaviour is somehow ok when it gives someone like Tavish Scott a chance to attack the SNP.

    “Theres an argument he should have asked” too right there is, any meeting that is being recorded is covered at the start of the meeting with a simple ” I would like to record this meeting for the record has anyone any objections?” Why was this not asked? Who would have refused?

    We are now led to believe the gentleman in question has a hearing complaint. People with hearing complaints wear hearing aids they do not use hidden recording devises.

    Turn this on its head, Mike Russell used a hidden recording devise at meeting with collage lecturers. Would Tavish Scott said theres an argument he should have asked? No the bold Tavish would be shouting about underhand tactics used against the lecturers, and everyone knows it.

    A turning point for the SNP, will that be the same as Megrahi or gay marriage? Dream on Tavish, the major turning point in UK politics was signing pledges not to introduce tuition fees, how did that go again.

  • Tom Robinson 15th Nov '12 - 7:12pm

    Caron says “I certainly wouldn’t agree that Syria is better than North Korea. Did you see any of the footage from Homs?”

    OK. I am prepared to accept that in comparing Scotland toSyria Mr Ramsay was even more adrift from reality than I suggested-so where does that take you as a defence of Ramsay and an attack on Russell?

  • Tom Robinson

    Good question, that will not get a reply.

    No action that can raise a SNP accused headline will be ignored here, even when it is, what would be described as unreasonable behaviour.

    Imagine the outrage if any Lib Dem minister was secretly recorded, would they say there is an argument that he should have asked but thats ok?

    And they wonder why they will break all records for lost deposits at the next GE.

  • Robin Bennett 16th Nov '12 - 12:27pm

    If we believe that there shoud be as much freedom of Information as possible, then the taping of a meeting which was attended, as this was, by no less than EIGHTY people should be unexceptionable. Where there is a conflict between the pubic interest and privacy principles, we should support the former unless there are special reasons for not doing so.

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