RECENTLY I got involved in a Twitter debate, one of the joys of social media.
Kevin Williamson, doyen of Leith socialists, asked, not unreasonably in my view: “What do SNP loyalists have to say about ScotGovt decision to allow foreign tax dodgers & shadowy offshore corporations to own Scottish land?”
I tweeted agreement with his sentiments and then mountain man Cameron McNeish offered a counter-view, saying: “It’s a lost opportunity but don’t necessarily blame #ScotGov Blame the lawyers and civil servants?”
At which point I weighed in: “That’s a wee bit of a cop-out. Ministers heading for a 3rd term ought to have learned to stand up to them.”
All good natured stuff, but as the debate continued, with some saying it was wrong to blame the Sir Humphreys and others indicating hope that a long game was being played by Ministers, I got a private message.
This led to a chat over coffee which I admit gave me pause for thought. How did any of us know, across the whole field of Scottish Government activity, the level of interaction between Ministers and civil servants?
If, for example, a Minister decided to reject legal advice and proceed with a course of action, we might never know. If Government lawyers were sent away and told to come up with alternative advice, we might never hear of it.
In short there will be be all manner of negotiation going on in the corridors of power between civil servants and politicians, of which we remain unaware. Sure, at times the former may be more cautious than the latter, but it certainly isn’t as simplistic as wily Sir Humphreys pulling the wool over the eyes of naive Jim Hackers.
Of course if this is true, the buck really does stop with the Ministers.