Old Susannah opens her heart and her dictionary to define these tricky terms.
Consultation: to ask members of the public what they want, then to tell them what you had already decided they are going to get. Expensive brochures and infallible experts are used to steer people towards the desired conclusion during the consultation process. If the citizenry somehow does not come to the correct conclusion, it can later be told that it did not actually understand the consultation. Consultation literature is used to present facts; facts which are open to interpretation. For instance, a consultation brochure might say that nothing will happen without majority approval. Obviously, there are several ways to interpret this statement. A consultation will present all options fairly, excluding anything to do with art galleries or not spending money in the first place. Professional consultants are deservedly expensive, which, of course, ensures impartiality and prevents problems such as computer voting systems ‘malfunctioning’ and turning ‘no’ votes into ‘yes’ votes.
Note: consultants for public projects are appointed by applying European bidding and tendering procedures.
An example of a good consultation may be found in Aberdeenshire, pertaining to the simple matter of building a £200 million road. Members of the public were given the choice of six possible routes for this brand new road which, of course, everyone wanted. Consultants were hired, roadshows held in shopping centres, money spent, and the consultation concluded. It was only then that the final, brand new seventh route was unveiled. Details such as the road’s actual cost, when it will be built, where exactly it will go, or indeed how much the consultation cost in the first place, are matters for the experts, not members of the public. Finally, a good consultation should end in a money-making opportunity for local construction companies or millionaires who might have had some small say in the said consultation. And with good fortune and a fair wind, some car parking spaces and a shopping centre will be fortunate and popular by-products.
Lobbying is the process whereby a pressure group may seek to influence an arm of government, a political party, or an elected official to act in that pressure group’s interests. Hard-done-by businessmen would be free, for instance, to lobby a local authority by letter. On the other hand, a publicly-funded body, such as ACSEF, would be unable to do any such lobbying as a taxpayer-funded organisation, and would not, therefore, be expected to write to the leaders of the Scottish and UK Labour Parties to put pressure on local Labour Party members to vote or act in a certain manner.
Smart, Successful Scotland is the rallying cry of QUANGOs, such as Scottish Enterprise, and local authorities. This slogan helps convince the public that being smart and successful are good things. In the quest for a Smart Scotland, local schools are closed or merged, and classroom sizes grown to stretch the bounds of legality. To achieve a Successful Scotland, business rates are kept inflated, resulting in the successful closure of most of the small, unique, local high street shops to make way for more shopping malls, chain stores and car parks.
Provost: The figurehead of a Scottish city, embodying all its core values, the Provost and his or her partner must avoid being made the object of fun at all costs. This may be achieved through the Provost voting in favour of the building of car parks and shopping malls, by spending tens of thousands of pounds on clothing to illustrate the city’s prosperity, by closing institutions for the hearing-impaired and by having a budget of over £100,000 for Town House entertaining. The Provost may also be required to visit struggling millionaires at all hours of the day or night. It is a difficult job, and the Provost is often misunderstood and unappreciated. Even the Provost’s salary does not always compensate for such ignominy, but it helps.
Join Old Susannah next time as she shares definitions of heritage, open government, and reasonable expenses.