Murphy’s Law and the attack on the SCVO

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By Alex Robertson 

There is a strange and rather unpleasant squabble going on, fomented by the Scottish Lib Dem leader Willie Rennie, and supported now by the Scottish Labour party.

The squabble is in itself pretty small beer; Mr Rennie has attacked the chief executive of SCVO, Martin Sime, for signalling support for a second question on the referendum ballot paper.

The Scottish Lib Dem leader alleges the support was induced by a special adviser to the First Minister Alex Salmond by way of an email from the adviser, and has demanded that Mr Sime resign.

That demand has been rejected forcefully by Alison Elliot, Convener of the SCVO and former Moderator of the Church of Scotland, and generally reckoned to be among the Great and the Good of Scotland.  In her response to the Rennie demand for Mr Sime’s resignation, Dr Elliot points out that the SCVO, in the nature of its work, receives messages from all political groups, including the LibDems, and that nothing untoward or inappropriate occurred.

The email from the advisor, one Alex Bell, was unsolicited.  It all seems like a childish outburst of the student Union type, and not worthy of much note.  All this was reported by Newsnet Scotland’s Bob Duncan here on August 14, and the incident has aroused surprise and condemnation of Mr Rennie from several quarters.

Now the Labour party has joined in the attack on the SCVO.

The SCVO, for the uninitiated, is the umbrella group representing 1300 voluntary sector organisations with as huge a range of activities as you could imagine, from cancer care suppliers to job creation.  Sometimes called The Third Sector, or Civic Scotland, it represents an immense swathe of people engaged in making Scotland a better, more compassionate and caring place, now and in the future.

People within it work for little monetary reward and at the coalface of Society and its problems.  It plays a major role in the Future of Scotland organisation, whose main intention is to stimulate debate and interest in the way Scotland evolves.  It is independent of government and is widely respected.

So the fact that its leader made a comment on whether or not there should be a second question on the referendum voting paper is entirely to be commended and it is fitting and proper for him to do so.

But what of the LibDem and Labour parties?  They clearly don’t want a second question.  Neither does the SNP, as Mr Salmond has made repeatedly clear in countless interviews and statements.  The difference is that Mr Salmond recognises that the vast majority of Scots would like to have the chance to vote on a second question on Devo Max.

Just to be clear: The SNP wants a single question but is prepared to consider the inclusion of a second in response to public demand, the Unionist parties want a single question and are fighting tooth and nail to prevent a second question under any circumstances.

And that is the key message coming out of this storm in a teacup.  The SNP will listen to the Scots, the Unionists listen to Downing Street.

Nothing new there then.  But the attack on the SCVO is a bit below the belt.  It is especially distasteful when one considers the attacks are aimed at a body whose sole aim is to represent the Third Sector.  It is nothing less than an attempt to silence a massive and influential organisation with huge experience and opinion forged in the heat of trying to improve life for countless Scots.

In effect, it is a blatant contempt for the rights of a worthy organisation to express a democratic opinion – a new low for the Unionists.

Instead of quiet reason, listening and debate, we get squalid little tantrums and brickbats thrown at people trying to help society in its worst aspects.  It’s the principle of ‘Politics is for the few, not the many’, for the political classes and not the people.  It is profoundly undemocratic.

It is the same old principle of “don’t get above your station and be quiet and listen to your betters”.  It is nothing less than an attempt at censorship.

And to add insult to injury, Jim Murphy has messaged on a Scottish Labour blog, the following:

“But this weekend I’m certain I’ll be subjected to another round of insults by SNP supporters on the internet (known as “CyberNats”) who want to silence their opponents. But those tactics won’t work. This debate about independence is too important to be silenced by those who shout the loudest.”

And who, pray, is doing the shouting in this case, Mr Murphy?  I suppose it is one of the laws of Labour campaigning to apply the Goebbels principle, or should that be Murphy’s Law, of accusing those who disagree with you of the very sin of which you yourself are guilty.  The trouble is that the Scots are canny and can spot this kind of shenanigan at long range on a foggy night.  It is a trickery which blows back in your face.

Salmond’s first law of politics states that “a positive campaign will always defeat a negative campaign.”

So it is.  So it will be.

Will the Unionists never learn?