Nov 112020

Debates on what is and what is not Racism abound on Facebook, recently involving a former Aberdeen councillor. Craig Gorman shares his thoughts.

Warren Ellis once wrote:

“Journalism is just a gun. It’s only got one bullet in it, but if you aim right, that’s all you need. Aim it right, and you can blow a kneecap off the world.”

Many ‘Journalists’ in our city would do well to take heed of these words.

The reaction, or rather, the lack of reaction, to former councillor Willie Young’s racist tweet, depicting a caricature of a Chinese person, wearing a rice hat, with a fortune cookie containing broken English, would suggest that we do not live in a city blessed with quality journalism. 

Rather, we do live in a city served by stenographers, happy to toe the party line and serve up soft balls to the public, neither questioning nor instigative in its approach or execution.

Gone is the robust, detailed and forensic approach of John Pilger. The anger and outrage which bled onto the work of Hunter S Thompson, has been reduced to bland and flaccid copy. White hot fury has been replaced by beige, dejected acceptance.

The Evening Express was extremely reluctant to cover the matter, when informed of the tweet, they reverted:

“With regard to the fortune cookie picture, I would urge you to report it the Standards Commission to see if they consider it worthy of investigation. If they do, that would be a story that we would cover.”

Surely the position currently and formerly held by Mr Young would render this a matter of the public interest and worthy of coverage? Did no journalist at the Evening Express feel any impulse to pen an article which would eviscerate the tweet, but not the man?

Indeed, our national broadcaster, the BBC lead with the headline:

“Labour suspends former Aberdeen councillor Willie Young over cookie tweet.”   

To be blunt:, the tweet was racist. The failure to capture and draw attention to this is a hallmark of how toothless, ineffectual and utterly insipid the standard of journalism has become in this country.

Perhaps I expect too much of our media.

However, the job of a Journalist should not be to provide a layer of faux impartiality, to offer a comfort blanket to those whose disposition they may offend. Or to unsettle those in power. 

Mr Young immediately went on the offensive

One would think that the newspapers actually represented those individuals and their interests over their readership.

Perish the thought that the public should have a critical and articulate voice.

No, the job of a Journalist should be to impartially appraise a situation, present the facts and then call it as they see it. At no stage should racism, intended or otherwise, be presented with a veneer of impartiality. Racism is a binary topic: It is or it isn’t. It is acceptable or it is not. 

Now, not for one second do I believe, or wish others to form the opinion that Willie Young is a racist. I don’t believe for a second that he is. What I do call into question is the judgment of the man. 

Once the offensive nature of his tweet had been pointed out to him, Mr Young immediately went on the offensive, belittling anyone who criticised him and further doubled down by claiming the:

“world we live in has gone mad if people think my tweet was racist in any way”

This is not an accusation of an ‘ism’ without context nor nuance. Mr Young was continuing his year-long streak of baiting and antagonising, trolling if you will, supporters of Scottish Independence on social media.

However, so petty and gleeful was his latest attack, that his already questionable judgement failed to spot the clearly racist element of his attempt at ‘humour’.

Let’s be very clear: there is nothing ‘funny’ about racism. Casual. Explicit. Accidental. It s a cancer which is growing and gnawing away at the heart of our society.

This behaviour has a cumulative impact upon society.

Our nation and our very sense of decency has been decimated by it. Our tolerance of racism has been exposed to the world writ large, and laid bare in the most vulgar and tawdry manner possible.

Individuals like Mr Young, and those who have attempted to gaslight criticism of the racist tweet, fail to appreciate the notion what by continually defending, or perpetuating the myth that those who object to racism are ‘snowflakes’, ‘the offended brigade’ or someway implying that we should casually hand wave away racist language or actions.

This behaviour has a cumulative impact upon society. It sends the message and gives the green light for others to behave in a similar manner.

This tolerance of racism, actively allows it to take a foothold, to become normalised and overtime accepted. 

As we as a people hold the door open to casual acceptance of bigotry, the further down the mire we slip of allowing racism to be the underpinning factor in our society. 

Indeed, is there anyone with an ounce of honesty going to put their head above the parapets and admit that Brexit was driven by an undercurrent of racial and xenophobic hatred?  

That the ugly and utterly repellent ghost of the United Kingdom’s colonial past still haunts the collective conscience of many in our nation, unwilling or unable to grasp the fact that people from all cultures and backgrounds form part of a modern and progressive culture.

Does anyone think that the impoverished working classes in many areas of England voted for the Tory party in such overwhelming numbers because they felt they had something in common with the odious Reece-Mogg? 

Or are we going to be adults about this and state that the racism and prejudice found in many of these areas was the overriding factor in voting for a party which views the poor and vulnerable as nothing more than the fair and justifiable targets of an ongoing class genocide, rather than an infinity for the very policies which have killed tens of thousands of people?

we send the message to all, that it is once again acceptable to be racist

The vile and hate-filed forces which the likes of Boris Johnston and Nigel Farage have unleashed upon our society cannot be underestimated.

Indeed, a brief look at some of the posts on the AV Facebook page demonstrate that racism and intolerance are being acted upon in our country with impunity. 

No longer are baseless, moronic, outbursts against Muslims or ‘foreigners’ considered something to be ashamed of. 

Rather, the dregs of our society, inspired by the likes of Farage or Yaxley-Lennon, are more than happy to post memes featuring such figures as Enoch Powell, invoking his infamous ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech.

Stealth racism, posited in the form of critiques of organisations such as BLM, frequently find fault with one element of protests against racism, or to provide a defence of the maintenance of monuments to former slave owners.

On no, dear reader, in no way are these people in any way racist. Please, don’t think that. 

“We’re not racist – we’ve got black mates, don’t cha know, guv.” 

With this, we arrive at the crescendo, the end point.

In diminishing the impact, of Mr Young’s tweet, by failing utterly to condemn racial nature of the content, we send the message to all, that it is once again acceptable to be racist – that it is acceptable to single out an element in our society to be thought of as less than worthy of our full respect. 

We have lost the most basic empathy to understand that those who are different to us, whether it be culturally, racially or in their sexuality, are an equal and valued part of our culture and society.  

I long for the days when racism, homophobia, Islamophobia are once again through of as bad things in this country. 

Sadly, as long as we have individuals who are incapable of comprehending that such caricature portrayals of our fellow human beings are an outdated and unwelcome relic of a bygone era, I fear that we have a long way to go to fully eradicate racism from our society.

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

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Jul 042018

A coalition of trade unions, political parties, and equality, faith, and campaign groups will hold events in Glasgow and Edinburgh on 13th and 14th of July to coincide with Trump’s planned visit to the UK.  With thanks to Suzanne Kelly.

Scotland United Against Trump is a coalition of organisations and individuals that have come together to protest against the policies and politics of Trump and the corporate interests for whom he governs.

It includes the STUC, SNP, Labour, and the Greens as well as Scotland Against Trump, the group which organised protests following his election in 2016.

The SNP has also spoken out to encourage people to stand up for Scotland’s values during the President’s visit.

Dave Moxham, STUC Deputy General Secretary, said:

“All of the organisations coming together for these protests agree that Donald Trump’s presidency is proving every bit as dangerous and divisive as people feared.

“Trump’s administration represents corrupt corporate interests – cutting taxes for the rich, attacking workers’ rights, undermining democracy, endangering action on climate change, and stoking resentment based on racism, sexism, transphobia and bigotry.

“At the very moment when the world needs more solidarity, more cooperation, and a greater commitment to justice, he proposes to build walls and wants to turn us against each other.”

Leader of the Scottish Labour Party, Richard Leonard said:

“There is understandable anger at the prospect of Donald Trump coming to Scotland and a strong desire across the country to show that he is not welcome here.

“Someone who holds such misogynist, racist and anti-trade union views, and withdraws the US from the Paris Climate Change Agreement, should not be given the ‘red carpet’ treatment.

Scottish Labour wants to see a world that stands up to intolerance, injustice and climate change and that is why we are working with Scotland United Against Trump campaign to ensure there is a mass protest if Trump does visit.”

Co-convenor of the Scottish Green Party, Patrick Harvie said:

“Scotland has seen the bullying, arrogant and delusional side of Donald Trump long before his election. Since becoming President the whole world has seen far worse, as he gives political space to white supremacists, and seeks to wreck international cooperation on climate change.

We should unite to show him he’s unwelcome, and demand that the UK Government stops treating this dangerous man as though his politics are legitimate.”

Ian Blackford, the SNP’s Westminster leader, said:

“Scotland and America have historic ties that go back centuries and that will not be undermined by the policies of one President. We share values with the American people of equality, diversity and support for human rights and must always stand up for those values when they are threatened.

The President’s approach threatens international co-operation on key issues like climate change and it is our job to show that we will not be put off our efforts by his opposition.

If President Trump visits we have an opportunity to show that we will never compromise our values and Trump will go back to America with a clear message that in Scotland we build bridges, not walls.”

Kirsty Haigh of the Campaign organisation, Scotland Unite Against Trump, said:

“Trump likes to talk up his Scottish connections – but we are going to show that his politics are not welcome here.

A growing coalition of organisations and campaigns are coming together to say that Scotland will stand united against Trump. Over the next month, we’re going to be building support for two massive days of actions with a rally in Glasgow and national demonstration and festival in Edinburgh.

We will also send a message to the Tory government that we will not tolerate their pandering to Trump.”

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Mar 022017

With thanks to Guy Ingerson.

This weekend Scotland learned that the Mayor of London Sadiq Khan, and possible future contender for Labour leader, thinks the Scottish Independence movement is on par with the rise of far-right nationalism across Europe and the election of Donald Trump.

While the war of words in both the press and social media raged on, Aberdeen Greens grappled with being lumped in with the likes of the BNP.

Aberdeen Branch Co-Convenor and candidate for George St/Harbour ward Guy Ingerson said:

“Waking up of a morning to see Sadiq Khan compare pro-independence parties like ours with Donald Trump was frankly baffling and enraging. We Greens have been leading the fight against Trump and people like him since our inception. We seek to build bridges between communities, not burn them.

We call for Aberdeen Council and Labour leader Cllr Jenny Laing to clarify if she agrees with Sadiq Khan? Does she really thing pro-independence voters are bigots?”

Branch Co-Convenor and prominent independence campaigner Myshele Haywood said

“The vast majority of the independence movement has been internationalist and opposed to racism. We want an independent Scotland in order to be an example to world of what a sustainable and socially just society can look like. The movements Sadiq Khan is comparing us to are the polar opposite.”

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Jan 272017

With thanks to Kenneth Hutchison, Parliamentary Assistant to Dr. Eilidh Whiteford.

The SNP MP for Banff and Buchan, Eilidh Whiteford, has called for the UK Government to come clean to Parliament following the revelations that the Prime Minister knew of a failed Trident test just weeks before a vote on renewal of the UK’s WMDs last year.
PM Theresa May refused four times on Sunday’s Andrew Marr Show to answer the presenter’s question on whether she knew about the test failure before the vote was taken.

Parliament voted to renew the deterrent, which experts believe could cost more than £200bn.

SNP MPs opposed the renewal, while Labour were divided. Each missile is estimated to cost £17m, and only five tests have been carried out since the year 2000.

During an Urgent Question to the Defence Secretary yesterday, Michael Fallon MP refused to confirm the details of the failed test, whilst a US Official confirmed the information to CNN.

Dr Whiteford said:

“Whilst the Defence Secretary was refusing to confirm any information during today’s Urgent Question, a US official briefed news channel CNN on the details of the failed test mission.

“It is simply not acceptable that the UK Government has not come clean on the facts of this failure, but US press outlets have received an update from officials in the White House.

“The Prime Minister has real questions to answer about why parliament has not learned about this failure until now, despite knowing the about the failure when she came to Parliament to force a vote on the renewal of the deterrent.

“Notwithstanding the immorality and expense of weapons of mass destruction, capable of incinerating cities, the Government’s stonewalling of legitimate questions about whether the system is working properly only fuels concerns about Trident.”

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Oct 012015

Old Susannah makes a silk purse out of a sow’s ear with some timely political definitions. By Suzanne Kelly

Dictionary‘In a Pig’s Ear’, I thought upon hearing a recent piece of political gossip; ‘Someone’s telling porkies’. The story put a look on my face akin to the look worn by Milliband  in this photo from August.

Perhaps the tail in question, no doubt circulated by some squealer or other, was actually about the MP Richard Bacon? Perhaps a politician with their nose in the trough was behind the rumour? Doubtless some sow-and-sow was hamming it up to give us all a good ribbing. Truly, I never sausage a strange series of news headlines as those that were trotted out last week.

But it was true; Jeremy Corbyn is now Labour Leader.

Think of all that hard work that Tony Blair accomplished in modernising and improving Labour. What if it were all for nowt? All that creative writing that got the dodgy dossier ‘sexed up’ (not in the David Cameron sense of course)? What if we hadn’t got rid of Sadaam Hussein? What if Tony hadn’t been the Middle East Peace Envoy and had restored the balance of power we’re seeing the benefits of now?

No, Corbyn and his crazy ideas have to go.

Aside from worrying about someone who wants people earning decent wages, who wants to home these pesky immigrants/refugees, who wants to prevent nuclear war, it was a good week. I had a few lovely drinks down at Café 52 during the warm weather; and a few drinks in BrewDog. The BrewDog Jackhammer margarita remains my favourite beer cocktail, but Krakatoa has the tiki cocktail supremacy in Aberdeen sewn up.

My last cocktail there was a practically fluorescent purple delight, delicately flavoured with violets. As I can’t remember the name of it off hand, I’ll just have to go back and try some more of them. Nicely done Flash.

Under the Hammer has some of my artwork on show with the wonderful paintings of Neale Bothwell and some amazing prints from Graham, legendary contributor to Viz Magazine. His Black Bag, Faithful Borders Binliner’s escapades are on display and available as a limited print. Result!

But I digress. This Corbyn business has to be nipped in the bud. Here are a few timely definitions to show why there’s no room in Left Wing politics for a man who’s clearly Left Wing.

Trident: (Modern English Compound Noun) United States nuclear weaponry deployment system kindly gifted to a grateful UK and its taxpayers, keeping us safe from harm.

It was quite a political party for Labour in Brighton. According to the BBC Corbyn doesn’t like nuclear weapons:

“no way that he [Corbyn] would ever use nuclear weapons because they are “immoral”.”

Clearly someone who is so naive cannot be trusted to blow the bad guys up when it comes down to it. Now that they know that, they’ll be able to destroy the world before the West gets a chance to. Alas! We’ve simply got to win the last war, don’t we?

Some champion of the working man Corbyn proves to be – doesn’t he know lots of people work on Trident? What’s more important, making people retrain into other lines of work, or ensuring we can end the world? Keep those Trident jobs going; I hope the men and women who earn their living by ensuring our tax pounds are diverted from the NHS, welfare and education for this gangbuster guarantee of safety are as proud of what they do as I am proud of them.

Trident is a bargain at twice the price; first, we get to keep that ‘Special Relationship’ going with the USA. Makes me warm just thinking of that time Thatcher danced with Ronald Reagan. Secondly, it’s great at keeping us safe (even if those Russian jets which keep flying over England don’t realise it). Third – just think of the economic benefit.

There are over 500 civilians in Scotland employed because of Trident! Result!  What’s more important, ethics and the world’s ecological health and species survival, or economics? I don’t think I need to spell it out any more than that. Further, our defence budget is around 30 billion or so (at least that we know about), and you’ve got to keep that growing. There may be a time for beating swords into ploughshares in the future. This ain’t it.

Foreign Policy: (English Compound Noun) strategies and values applied to international diplomacy.

You’d think the guy would have learned a thing or two from Brown or Blair, but apparently not. Here’s what Corbyn has to say about foreign policy:

“I argue for a different type of foreign policy based on political and not military solutions; on genuine internationalism that recognises that all human life is precious, no matter what nationality; and solidarity with the oppressed across the globe from the subjugated Palestinians to the displaced Chagos Islanders.”

Again, there is this childish idealism that the left should actually have something to do with left wing, socialist values and human rights. He should have been disabused of this idea at one of Labour’s long ago Brighton conventions. A terrorist named Walter Wolfgang (yes, I did write about him once before) was removed from the room for interrupting proceedings under the newly created Blair-framed terrorism act.

In point of fact, the ever trustworthy Jack Straw was apparently speaking at the time, telling us why we needed to bomb Iraq. For whatever reason, Wolfgang disagreed. Of course this heckler was a life-long Labour supporter, who in his advancing 80 years must have lost the plot and thought criticising Blair was still allowed. The arrest threat was dropped, but at least we taught this dangerous terrorist a good lesson.

What Corbyn needs is a profile and popularity boost, and nothing says popular like invading the Falklands or Iraq. Hope he’s got a good war up his sleeve somewhere. After all, at first we all trusted Tony ‘Things can only get Better’ Blair and his charmingly toothsome wife Cherie with her arresting smile.

Morality: (English from the Latin) relating to what is good or bad behaviour.

If you needed any further reason to distrust Jeremy, did you know he’s been DIVORCED? Just what kind of person would do something so immoral and still think they had a right to be the United Kingdom’s Prime Minister?

No, I for one am happy to stick to Right Wing, Conservative family values.

And there you have the case against Corbyn. Old Susannah is off out now to a pork roast. I hear that some of our best political leaders like pulled pork. Or something like that.

Until the next time I take pen and oink to paper, tally ho, cheerio, etc.

Next week: Definition of the phrase ‘to go the whole hog’

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Oct 012015

At Scottish CND AGM

Christian Allard MSP at an AGM for the Scottish Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament

With thanks to Gavin Mowat, Constituency Assistant to Christian Allard MSP

SNP MSP Christian Allard has written to regional Labour politicians seeking clarity on their position on Trident renewal – after a week in which Labour conference was ‘marred in confusion’ on the issue.

Despite previously giving assurances that Labour conference would have an open debate on Trident – and that Labour MPs would vote with the SNP on the issue – Jeremy Corbyn has since shied away from debating Trident, while his party’s Conference quietly voted to restate their position in favour of a “a minimum, credible, independent nuclear capability, delivered through a continuous at-sea deterrent.”

Labour MSPs in the North East have since come under pressure to clarify their own position – and whether they agree with their newly elected leader or with the decision of the party’s conference this week.

Commenting, Mr Allard said:

“Labour are absolutely all over the place on Trident – with Jeremy Corbyn promising one thing and their party conference voting to back precisely the opposite.

“It’s clear that Labour no longer has a coherent position on anything – and it’s time that Labour gave people the North East the clarity they deserve on their own position. 

“The idea of spending £100bn on useless, immoral and wasteful weapons of mass destruction would be completely indefensible at any time – but at a time of austerity with reliance on foodbanks increasing and more and more people being pushed into poverty by Tory cuts, it’s nothing less than an outrage.

“Labour’s support for Trident renewal is yet more evidence that Labour are changing Corbyn, rather than Corbyn changing Labour. First he signs up to austerity – now the party sign up to Trident.  It’s now time that they finally made clear where they stand on this issue.”

Jonathan Russell, Chair of Aberdeen and District Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) added:

“Aberdeen and District CND strongly support both Jeremy Corbyn’s and the SNP’s stance on Trident. A major reason that Jeremy Corbyn received such massive support in the Labour leadership elections was for his long term support for the CND.

“We are greatly concerned about the stance presently being taken by some leading figures in the Labour Party and also for the misguided support for Trident by some Unions. By renewing Trident Britain would be going against the Nuclear-Non Proliferation treaty of which it is a signed up member.  

“The Labour party at both UK and Scottish levels needs to have a democratic debate concerning Trident – it is not a decision which should be blocked by a few powerful individuals.”

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Mar 202015

11 February, 2015: Former Aberdeen City Chief Executive Valerie Watts, is called as an important witness in a Standards Commission hearing taking place in Aberdeen’s townhouse. Seven elected councillors are accused of using council facilities for political ends concerning a letter sent to residents. Despite a month’s notice of this hearing, despite agreeing to participate (and the ability to join from Northern Ireland via video link), Watts fails to join.

Watts gives the excuse that she has a meeting with the Permanent Secretary in Stormont which clashes with the hearing. The Aberdeen hearing is thus stalled.

Aberdeen Voice researched Watts’ diary conflict claims, and learned there are :  “…no records held in the Department that indicate that Valerie Watts had to attend a meeting on 11 February 2015.” (letter to S Kelly from the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety 19 March 2015). So why didn’t she participate in the hearing when she had previously agreed to do so? Suzanne Kelly reports.



During the independence referendum,  Aberdeen City Council sent a letter to city residents advising them the council had voted to back the ‘No’ Vote.
It was a heated time; many residents were angered, feeling the city should not have mentioned the referendum issue at all.

The Standards Commission decided that a hearing was required into the matter, and on 11 February 2015 it summoned many of those involved to a hearing at the Town House.

The city’s legal advisors, officers and elected councillors (several of whom were the subject of the hearing) all turned out as requested.

One of the Commission’s witnesses was to be Valerie Watts. Watts had been the £148,000 per year Chief Executive of Aberdeen City Council; the hearing expected her to participate via a video link. She had after all indicated her willingness.

Watts did not appear at the hearing. She called off, apparently claiming she  needed ‘to meet with the Permanent Secretary’ on the day instead. Watts is back in Stormont where she earlier worked, now in The Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety. There was apparently very little notice given to the hearing organisers, and no explanation of why a video link was not viable.

With no testimony, the matter is unresolved – no one is cleared, no one is exonerated. The ball has been kicked into touch – until after the elections in May. Considering the hearing was to be into whether or not council materials had been used for political purposes, the hearing’s delay  until after the election seems rather ironic.

The local newspaper the Evening Express reported:

“The hearing was due to run for three days but has now been deferred as former chief executive Valerie Watts, who was to give evidence via video link from Northern Ireland, cancelled at the last minute as she had another meeting.

“Ian Gordon, the hearing chairman, called her late call-off “disrespectful” and “bordering on contempt”.

“Ms Watts could not be reached for comment.”

The Evening Express’ sister  paper The Press & Journal confirmed this excuse involved the Permanent Secretary:

 “After the morning session, Ranald Macpherson, representing the Commissioner for Ethical Standards in Public Life, said Mrs Watts had been called away “to a meeting with the permanent secretary””

When Ms Watts refused to explain this scheduling conundrum, freedom of information requests were launched. When did she know about the hearing?

witnesses were expected to attend by agreement

When did she know about the apparent clash with the Permanent Secretary’s meeting?

Does the Permanent secretary call last minute ad-hoc meetings?

Why wouldn’t Watts simply have explained to the PS that she was expected to join a hearing in Scotland by Skype on the 11th February? Was there in fact a clash at all?

As further information is released shedding light on the matter, it looks as if the excuse given for this disrespect has been somewhat disingenuous, perhaps even misleading.

Invitation to a hearing.

Aberdeen Voice has obtained documents which seem to clearly indicate that Watts had a one month advance notice of this meeting, and she appears to have agreed to give her evidence by video link. The office of the Commissioner for Ethical Standards in Public Life in Scotland advised Aberdeen Voice on 16 March:

“Arrangements for the hearing were made by the Standards Commission. Although the Commission has power to require the attendance of witnesses, the position in this case was that witnesses were expected to attend by agreement. This office was responsible for the arrangements made with Valerie Watts. Any communications with Valerie Watts was both by telephone and by email… 

“Ms Watts was given one month’s notice of our intention to call her as a witness at the hearing on 11 February 2015. Ms Watts agreed in telephone conversations in advance to give evidence by video-link at 4pm on 11 February 2015.

“Ms Watts was informed on 12 January 2015 that she was required to give evidence at this hearing.”
(email to S Kelly from the office of the Commissioner for Ethical Standards in Public Life in Scotland

Meetings with the Permanent Secretary

Of course now that Watts is back in Northern Ireland, she must prioritise her engagements, and meeting the Permanent Secretary would be an important meeting.  Watts could reasonably have been expected to tell the PS’s office she had a long-standing agreement to give evidence at a hearing.  Whether or not the PS knew of the hearing is still unclear.  What is clear is that this is the official list of engagements involving Watts and the PS as supplied following a FOI:

“Permanent Secretary meetings in 2015 that Valerie Watts was invited to attend:

Weekly Thursday morning meetings, 9am – 10am, with other attendees, (exceptions of 15 & 22 January and 5, 19, and 26 February), organised by telephone in advance;

14 January, 10am, without other attendees, organised via telephone;

22 January, 2pm, with other attendees, organised via e-mail;

23 January, 2:30pm, with other attendees, organised via telephone;

23 January, 3:30pm, with other attendees, organised via telephone;

13 February, 12:30pm, with other attendees, organised via telephone; and

3 March, 9:30am, with other attendees, organised via telephone.

“As per your e-mail of 4 March 2015, confirming that you were content that your request for a review of DHSSPS/2015-0017 be treated under the response to DHSSPS/2015-0026, I can confirm there are no records held in the Department that indicate that Valerie Watts had to attend a meeting on 11 February 2015. 

“However, on receipt of the original enquiries from you, Valerie Watts was given the opportunity to comment (see her comments above). Copies of the e-mails are attached for information. Her response in no way had any bearing on the previous response to you.”
(letter to Kelly from DHSSPS 19 March 2015).

This crucial, not to be postponed or missed appointment with the PS comes two days before the scheduled 13 February meeting they would have seen each other at. The mysterious 11 February meeting with the PS for which the hearing was in effect jilted came 18 days after the two had last met on 23 January.

For this meeting to have trumped the Aberdeen hearing and yet not have made it onto any record supplied under Freedom of Information requests is remarkable.

If there is no record of Watts being required by the PS on the date of the Aberdeen hearing, and also having a meeting with the PS on 13 February (these meetings do not seem like rare affairs), either there was no meeting, or whatever business was to have been discussed by Watts and the PS on 11 February was not as important as the Aberdeen hearing, set one month in advance.

Watts the story?

Watts was asked by her own department to help them answer freedom of information questions about her non-appearance;  her suggested response includes:

“1.  The Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety hold no records in relation to this matter.” and “The Chief Executive of the Care Board for Northern Ireland carries the unique responsibility for the prioritisation of commitments in relation to the responsibilities of her current post.” (emails supplied under FOI).

(For the record, it is clear from other correspondence received that information as to meeting schedules is held)

A few questions for the witness.

It would be interesting to know who in Watts’ new role in Stormont knew of her hearing appointment.

If so, when did they know about it? Who was involved in deciding to skip the Aberdeen hearing:  i.e. did the PS tell her to skip the hearing, or did she decide to skip the hearing without consulting anyone? Was this newly-scheduled PS meeting of such urgency that it meant a video link to the hearing was totally impossible? If so, who took that decision?

How much public money was spent on the derailed hearing is unknown – transport, accommodation, civil servant’s time – would be among the costs incurred; perhaps we should be told.

Summing up

Given various previous bumps in Ms Watts’ tenure as Chief Executive in Aberdeen (see ), perhaps the various Standards and Ethics bodies may wish to turn their attention in her direction?

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Jan 232015

Alex-Salmond-cropWith thanks to Ann-Marie Parry, Parliamentary Assistant to Rt Hon Alex Salmond MSP

Former First Minister Alex Salmond has described the news that the Chilcot Inquiry will not be published until after the general election as a “classic establishment stitch-up”.

The Aberdeenshire East MSP said:

“Neither Labour nor Tory leaderships want this report out now. The hand wringing about delay is a mere cover for a classic establishment stitch up.

“We are now in the ridiculous position where Tony Blair has seen key sections of the report but not the rest of us.”

Mr Salmond who, as an MP, led a parliamentary campaign to impeach former Prime Minister Blair over the war said:

“Labour doesn’t want it out because of the inevitable revelations about Blair and other cheerleaders for the war.

“The Tories don’t want it out because David Cameron was pro war and the Tory leadership in 2003 under Iain Duncan Smith were as gung-ho as Labour.

“With a very few honourable exceptions most Westminster politicians would really like Chilcot to stay in the long grass for as long as possible.

“Chilcot has allowed himself to be blocked, tackled and delayed for years.”

Mr Salmond also said the “Maxwellisation” process, which allows individuals due to be criticised in an official report to see the criticism and respond prior to publication, had become a “device for procrastination”.

He added:

“Chilcot’s long wrangle with the Whitehall mandarins over Prime Ministerial correspondence was another stalling tactic.

“How could there be any serious objection to publication of talks between Blair and George W Bush, when Blair’s key wartime henchman Alistair Campbell had already published his own version in his diaries.

“There are a few decent MPs left at Westminster.

“They should make it clear that further delay is not acceptable and demand publication of at least a summary report now.”

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Nov 212014

With thanks to Gavin Mowat, Constituency Assistant to Christian Allard MSP

Christian Allard MSP at Holyroodfeat

SNP MSP Christian Allard has said Scottish Labour must come clean over Trident after Scottish Labour’s Neil Findlay MSP claimed that his party would not toe the Westminster line on the issue under his leadership.

Speaking on the BBC’s Andrew Marr programme, Mr Findlay claimed that there was no issue with different parts of the UK Labour party having different policy positions – and claimed that the Labour Party in Scotland had opposed the renewal of Trident ‘for some time’.

On 6th August 2014, Neil Findlay and Labour voted against a Scottish Parliamentary motion calling for the calling for the ‘speediest safe withdrawal of nuclear weapons’, and failed to propose any amendment.

At SNP Conference this weekend, SNP Leader Nicola Sturgeon said that any Labour Westminster Government that had to depend on SNP votes would have to “think again” about putting a new generation of nuclear weapons in Scottish waters.

Commenting, North East MSP Christian Allard said:

“Neil Findlay’s latest remarks are yet another example of shambolic to-ing and fro-ing from the Labour ‘branch office’ in attempt to redress their continued free-fall in the polls.

“Mr Findlay voted against a Parliamentary motion supporting the ‘speediest safe withdrawal of nuclear weapons’ before the referendum, and is now trying to pull the wool over people’s eyes by saying ‘it’s already Labour Party policy in Scotland to oppose the renewal of Trident.’

“Yet Mr Findlay’s colleagues, including Jim Murphy, have spoken against the party becoming unilateralist and getting rid of Trident – Labour must come clean on their position.

“Both Holyrood and London Labour have toed the Westminster line and voted for renewal time and again.

“By contrast, as Nicola Sturgeon pointed out at SNP conference, a Westminster Labour Government forced to rely on SNP votes would have to think again on Trident renewal.”

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[Aberdeen Voice accepts and welcomes contributions from all sides/angles pertaining to any issue. Views and opinions expressed in any article are entirely those of the writer/contributor, and inclusion in our publication does not constitute support or endorsement of these by Aberdeen Voice as an organisation or any of its team members.]