“Nomenklatura” referred to the Communist party’s authority to make appointments to key positions throughout the governmental system. —Wikipedia
You have to hand it to Burdzeyeview. While often disagreeing with the line she takes, it is always cogently argued and this time I think she’s put her finger on what keeps us Scots, to paraphrase Omar Sharif in Lawrence of Arabia, “A little people, a silly people, greedy, barbarous and cruel”. This week she shines a spotlight on a dingy corner “The Public Sector Carousel”, highlighting Scottish Government economic adviser Andrew Gouldie’s smooth transition to a professorship in Government & Public Policy at Strathclyde.
Let me say—as she does—that this has nothing to do with envy, still less with objecting to careers and the ambition that drives them. But names shift around top posts in Scotland in such a way as to give nepotism a good name by comparison. Time was—fifty years ago—that this was also true. But, under Supermac, Scotland was a loosely controlled, very small political village dominated by Edinburgh private school old boys who still practiced noblesse oblige; where power was available, they generally wielded it impartially.
Then came the politicisation of Scottish local politics, given a huge boost by the creation of regions in 1976. Over the next two decades, resistance to Tory domination in London flowed from Strathclyde and its ilk, so that the growing number of public posts became a measure of political control, depending of who filled them. Because of local dominance, Labour won that fight. This was underscored post 1997 when first Westminster, then Holyrood fell under Labour control. As a result, our quangocracy, be it SPT, police boards, HIE, CoSLA, SEPA, NHS Trusts, MacBraynes, Scottish Water, SNH, Historic Scotland, etc.—even the Ombudsman and the Accounts Commission—grew a political presence, however passive, in much of the machinery of state. The ‘hands-off’ principle of noblesse oblige looked increasingly threadbare.
By the time the political pendulum swung against Labour, as it did over 2007, 2010 and 2011, their presence throughout the clachan-scale Scottish establishment was substantial. This is not to say it was egregiously unfair—if you hold most of the elected posts (MPs, MSPs, councillors) why wouldn’t you dominate the appointments? But, after the political tide turned against Labour, they stayed blessed: the Tory party was a shell of its former self, Lib-Dems were decimated to 5 MSPs and 7% of the vote and the SNP, frankly, has yet to care about, let alone understand, the scale and importance of nomenklatura.
So, under the noses of new political regimes, this carousel revolves largely undisturbed. Senior appointments can be widely advertised—and often are. But, by the time SOLACE or whatever advisory body is involved, the gulf between Scottish and other practice laid on the table, inevitable personal connections within the clachan acknowledged, it takes little selective myopia on the part of the selection panel to come to the ‘right’ choice. Over 90% of Council Chief Executives were appointed from within Scottish local government. Can the English/Welsh/Irish really be that unlucky/incompetent?
To pick on Andrew Gouldie’s appointment is unfair. The entire Senior Management Team of Scottish Enterprise was selected from internal appointments: yet no nomenklatura can explain what good the £600m in public money SE hose around each year does for the economy, let alone the punters. Our quangocracy is like any other self-interested body: they lay low, avoid attention but keep close to whoever holds the purse strings in the hope that the gravy train will rumble steadily on through boom and bust.
So far, it has.