3 February 2009

The National Calman Conversation?

Public attention, quite reasonably, has been focused on the hydraulic processes of shunting Budget Bill Mk II through Holyrood. With the "who" and the "how" components sewn up, it might behove a thoughtful public to cast a critical eye over the whys and the wherefores of the sudden outbreak of "consensus".

Why precisely should the Liberal Democrats be so keen to get the SNP Government chatting to Kenneth Calman and the other Unionist apparatchiks? What is to be gained? I think we can imagine at least two narratives. In the first place, co-opting the Nats into making a submission can at least be envisaged as a way of blunting their capacity to rubbish it. However, slightly dented noses aside, this Peat Worrier decidedly doubts whether the fairly ritual prospect of a submission need really dry up the SNPs capacity to drool vitriol over the whole project. The point of agreement seems limited to the narrow patch on borrowing powers, leaving the SNP quite free to piddle in the wind beyond that issue.

Rather, I suspect, the reasoning is rather more concerned with the recent internal humphings emanating from the august fifteen composing the arid committee. It is no secret that the Liberals were less than enthused with Calman's first report late last year. Could it be that, unhappy with the prevailing mood of their little Commission, the Libs are squirming in place, looking for room? After all, they can hardly regard a Governmental submission served raw as particularly charismatic, can they? Content, as they are, to squeltch the National Conversation out of hand.

The louse creeping through the seams here, and squinting about - much to potential public embarrassment - is something some of us knew all along: that the Calman Commission is an egregious exercise attempting to depoliticise the essentially political.

Consider the evidence. Dredge through the gallery of insufferable stuffiness constituting this Unionist schill. I imagine their meetings are a joy, jaunty with merry laughter and the robust exchange of views. The whole parade presided over by a doctor, assisted by an intellectual property lawyer, followed by retired judge, attended by a ginger juvenile  from Pilton who really ought to get a real job, represented by a Lord Advocate who resigned his office with a speed which has never been adequately explained to a disinterested public - and attended by other sundry toadies and placemen.

Certainly, expert groups can map the problems and issues which a reforming agenda might face, accumulating the basis for constitutional decisions. Looking at this panel, however, where is the expertise? At least six of the gummy-eyed old villains are lawyers. Quite right, you might think, considering they are reviewing the Scotland Act. But six, out of fifteen? Do you think when they disagree on a point of interpretation, Jim Wallace squeezes ennobled dimensions into his advocate's robes and moots it out against James Douglas Hamilton - Edward, J. presiding? The point here is hardly statutory interpretation, or for that matter, questions of technocratic legal construction.

Certainly, one might say - they'll have researchers, they hear evidence - but then what is the purpose of the Commissioners? And this is the rub. Ultimately, whatever the processes of enquiry yields, decisions will be made based on political and philosophical positions. The impression that their conclusions will be "independent" and thus, dusted over with the magic justifying pixie dust of impartiality - deserves hoots of derision and contempt from a hostile public, Unionist or Nationalist.

Expertise cannot decide Scotland's constitutional future, either inside or outside of the United Kingdom. I don't fancy being subject to the greasy manipulations of old savages and hoodlums installed to feign judicial insouciance, draw long faces, and put in their application for further ennoblement when the tawdry act of replicating their own ideas is finished. The whole process reeks of wholesale philosophical incuriousity, a ghastly incidence of expertise politics.

Initially, it might seem that setting up the Commission was a sly way of avoiding the rectal probe of debate by resorting to easier procedure of a Calman enema. Could it be that now, finding their dragooned squadron of besuited, middle-aged, middle-class establishment figures are replicating - shock horror - sober views in accordance with all the aforesaid - that the Lib Dems' flippers are noting the chill, and they are looking for friends outside of the sagging Unionist marquee? Given the potential combustive properties of all of these issues, one of the three parties was bound to ask for a go of Calman's glove sooner or later.

Could it be that Tavish and cronies are already snapping on their Marigolds and calling for vaseline?

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