Are you now, or have you ever been, a supporter of real economic power for Scotland?
Wendy Alexander, when she was Labour's leader in the Scottish Parliament, was often accused of intransigence and arrogance. It characterised her behaviour in the financial scandal that forced her resignation over an illegal donation and its cover-up. Now she is back in the spotlight and we see examples of those charateristics all over again in the approach of the Holyrood commitee, which Alexander chairs, charged with examining the Scotland Bill. When the bill was unveiled, Wendy put out a call for as many people as possible to contribute to its scrutiny, which one could interpret as a generous, inclusive gesture. No evidence of generosity has been found. Alexander has run the Scotland Bill committee in much the same way as Senator Joe McCarthy conducted the House Committee for Un-American Activies. He outed alleged Communist sympathisers. Wendy outs anyone who suggests she might be wrong. Question Wendy's nonsensical Bill and you risk public humiliation. The respected academic Alan Trench has filed a devastating post today on why he will no longer give evidence to the committee. Trench, of the Constitution Unit at University College London and Edinburgh University, is unhappy at the way the committee monstered two other academics, Professor Andrew Hughes Hallett and Professor Drew Scott.
Trench says the professors were "ambushed" by the committee. He writes: "In its zeal to build a case for the bill’s proposals by attacking the Scottish Government’s position, it has bludgeoned one of the few sets of critical witnesses willing to appear before it." This undermines the reputation of parliament and could dissuade expert witnesses from coming before other Holyrood committees in future, says Trench.
To avoid the same thing happening to him, he asked in advance about what they wished to discuss. They were unable to give him a clear answer. This is embarrassing for the parliament as well as Alexander because Trench regularly gives evidence to Westminster Committees and is the adviser to the House of Commons Welsh Affairs Committee.
In his post, which is very strongly worded for an academic, Trench suggests the committee's make-up us is contentious. Alexander, who as Labour leader in the Scottish parliament came up with the idea of the Calman Commission on which the Scotland Bill's findings are based, cannot be a remotely impartial chair. Its two expert advisers worked on the Calman Commission. One of them, Jim Gallagher, was appointed by Gordon Brown when in government and is considered by some to be the real author of the Calman Report. The committee's line of questioning to anyone not supportive of the bill has been hostile. Two nationalist inclined adademics, Jim and Margaret Cuthbertson, have already refused to give evidence for this reason. Trench is no supporter of the SNP. He just considers The Scotland Bill deeply flawed and hoped to suggest improvements. What a shame he had no confidence he would get a fair hearing.
Alan's excellent blog is here http://devolutionmatters.wordpress.com