A Depressed Market

It may be a legitimate business practice but, like  rate-fixing at the banks, back-to-back house selling looks pernicious. It may have been an owner’s only hope of selling in a depressed market, they may have been grateful for the money, but the act of offering low in the knowledge of a high sale later looks exploitative. Legitimate companies do this, buying your house for cash in seven days knowing they can make a quick profit from buyers the vendor was unable to locate. It is, to be brutal, a function of a market – you buy at one price and sell on for another.

Setting aside the glee of the partisan, it only becomes a problem because of three factors. First is the obvious point that you can’t play the progressive humanitarian card in public life while behind the scenes, albeit years ago, your actions appear to contradict that. Were Michelle Thomson a Tory MP, nobody would be surprised and there would be no controversy – it’s what we expect. There is for example a member of the Cabinet who ran an online scam which appears to have been fraudulent but, despite a little flurry of media ooh ering…nothing. http://www.theguardian.com/politics/shortcuts/2015/mar/16/grant-shapps-business-mp-conservative-chairman-michael-green

The Labour Party was never free from the taint of real corruption from the moment Bernie Ecclestone walked out the door of Number 10 with a smile. A rogue’s gallery through Michael Meacher and cash-for honours to Alistair Darling’s £10,000 talks to NHS privatisers and Gordon Brown’s million pound office in North Queensferry framed the Labour years.

But the SNP has set a gold standard for moral rectitude and used it to assault the other parties…all part of the ritual dance, no doubt, but mother to a revenge tendency born of humiliation.

Second, this isn’t a used car or a three-piece suite, it’s someone’s home. This makes it a particularly sensitive and deeply human affair whatever the prevarications and retrospective outrage on show. Your home is a fundamental to your existence and wellbeing so, however much we play mind Monopoly with house prices, it isn’t something to be casually abused for someone else’s profit. (Lawyers apart, obviously). The unattractive side is that Thomson or her agent looked the vendor in the eye and offered a bid price in the knowledge that there was a much higher sum available, a sum that would soon be theirs.

Lastly, this case is feeding the media beast. It is dead easy to portray it as crooked and corrupt. Here is one of the media’s favourites – ‘vulnerable people’ – albeit the same ones the journalists pester after murders, hoodwink or pay for photos of the bereaved, or hack their families’ phones when they go missing. The hand-wringing over the type of folk they are otherwise happy to picture in The Scheme is the hypocrisy of the shameless. On STV, the otherwise professional and respected Dave Cowan asked Mrs Wright: ‘Do you feel you’ve been led up the garden path?’ That is what our friends in wigs and gowns like to call a leading question. It showed the zeal for pursuing the narrative – everybody else is doing it, so we have to do it too. Poor, vulnerable wifey (who knowingly signed a contract and seems to have pocketed in the region of £30,000) and dirty, guilty SNP MP.

Heaven knows if there are other issues about conveyancing, valuing, registry, Stamp Duty (at the time) or whatever. The lawyer has sure paid a high price for it all.

But you can tell by the blood lust that this won’t stop until there is a second body. Even the normally sane are losing it in the frenzy. Professor Gerry Hassan, now a tabloid hack for the Labourite Sunday Mail, expands it into a metaphor for the Scottish state and the SNP monopoly of it. Apparently the business dealings of a woman that predate her move into politics – and the obligatory TinthePark confection – are proof of the Fall of the Roman Empire. https://www.opendemocracy.net/ourkingdom/gerry-hassan/nationalism-alone-is-not-enough-snp-finally-shows-it-is-mortal

I expect Nicola to drop Michelle Thomson, based on previous cases. She is focussed on what matters as a real leader must be and part of the job is accepting casualties and setbacks before moving on. Everybody else is expendable. There has been a notable lack of public support for Jennifer Dempsie despite a notable lack of evidence against her either.

A last thought…isn’t it a pity that the same brave journalists pursuing a woman politician over an old business routine had shown the same guts to take on Vitol when its boss, the Tory-donating Ian Taylor, gave £500,000 to Better Together? Now there was a tainted financial deal if ever there was – accepted by Darling and, Henry McLeish apart, not a single Labour voice raised against.

http://nationalcollective.com/2013/04/07/dirty-money-the-tory-millionaire-bankrolling-better-together/

There was barely a ripple outside the Herald from the indignant Thomson-chasers, preferring when the heat came on, to hide under the duvet. Who cared among the journalistic tribe that our democratic process was infected by Vitol which hired the Interpol target Arkan, responsible for multiple murders and bank robberies before being classed a war criminal, in order to settle an account in the Balkans? Who was outraged that Taylor’s company was fined millions for grand larcency in New York? It isn’t of course moral equivalence to Thomson – the BT donation was much, much worse than that. It just didn’t suit the obsequious Scottish Press to do their job.

As the BBC motto (nearly) says: Nation Shall Speak Pish Unto Nation.

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London Calling

Knowing your own business is a pre-requisite in any organisation, wouldn’t you say? Understanding what it does, how it works, what works and what doesn’t, who’s who and all that…you have to get it or you really shouldn’t be there at all. Without the basic knowledge, you’re just another waste of space. Worse – you’re probably a block to getting things done.

So you may wonder what a current internal job ad circulating at Pacific Quay says about BBC Scotland management. This is it.

Editor Radio (News and Current Affairs Scotland). BBC Grade 10. Responsible for Researchers, Broadcast Journalists, Senior Broadcast Journalists working on all radio output. This includes editorial responsibility for Radio bulletins, Morning Briefing, Good Morning Scotland, the John Beattie programme, Newsdrive, Brian’s Big Debate, Newsweek Scotland, the Shereen programme and Radio Special Events programming.

Seems innocuous enough. Until you look more closely. BBC managers want someone to take charge of 1) Morning Briefing – a programme that was taken off air seven months ago 2) Shereen – a programme no longer made by the news department at all but produced by general programming 3) Brian’s Big Debate – a show that is no longer presented by Brian Taylor (now the Big Debate with Gordon Brewer) and 4) Newsweek Scotland – a programme that last existed over two years ago when it was presented by…Derek Bateman.

Whoever wrote this hasn’t a clue about the station’s output. Neither has the staff member who posted it and it seems the senior management neither check the content of job ads nor could care less about their own programmes that this could be allowed to go out.

How much faith would you have in a management with such casual ignorance of its own output? The answer of course is very little as evidenced by the BBC’s own staff surveys (publication much delayed). Senior news staff seem not to know the nuts and bolts of their own department. This won’t come as a surprise to radio journalists who for far too long now have had to watch television treated as the senior service, given the lion’s share of dwindling resources and radio treated as an irritating side show. A succession of news heads of department with zero radio experience has shifted the emphasis to TV news. A Head of Radio with no understanding of news has meant consistently underrating its value.

(I also found it revealing that in the last annual report for 2014-15 there is no specific section dealing with Radio News, just some generic statements about number of programmes and network collaborations. A radio highlights section doesn’t mention news at all. In a year that gave us the Referendum and the Games, never mind the Ryder Cup golf etc, it looked like a bad miss that the news department wasn’t even asked to produce a few paragraphs on its busiest-ever year.)

The sickening irony for those of us who love radio is the reason for the ill-informed job ad in the first place. It is for a nine-month attachment or secondment as the existing Editor is devoting all his time to a scheme named Project Spark to find ‘new ways of working’ – BBC code for getting more out of the staff for less money and pretending the quality won’t suffer. It would have been nice if the salami slicers had at least managed to get the ad correct.

New ways of working will be one of the priorities of about-to-be-revealed Head of News to replace the disgraced (presumably in a Michelle Thomson sense) John Boothman. My understanding is that a talented field applied this time and there is no excuse for getting it wrong. I know of 10 applicants – male and female – some with high level experience in broadcast news inside and out of the BBC, some with newspaper or academic backgrounds, at least one with a Labour background (oops) and for the first time in years of senior BBC news recruitment, there are any number of people who look right for this job. So, not easy. It would be a shame though if the crucial role of James Harding, the Director of News and Current Affairs in London, was to dominate selection. When BBC Scotland finally found the balls to propose a truly devolved broadcast network making full use of the budget raised in Scotland, a last ditch campaign by London executives killed off a plan that had already been nodded through by BBC bosses. Only powerful figures could overturn such a decision – people like Harding who wants to retain control of his British empire. He was involved in selecting the short list and was the key person on the interview board so he will have taken a keen interest in Gary Smith,  UK news editor, a London-based Scot who is emerging as favourite. What would be unfortunate would be the impression that Harding was placing his own man in Scotland in order better to manipulate events from Broadcasting House.

He may of course feel that is necessary if it’s true that a Scottish Six O’ Clock news is back on the agenda a mere 15 years after it was first suggested. (Another example of the BBC getting ahead of the curve).

Meantime, this being the soap opera of Pacific Quay, trouble is brewing on the industrial relations front as the date nears for the compulsory redundancy of journalists who have been on Death Row for years in a case that appears to breach their human rights. This incident would the subject of an investigative documentary by the BBC – were it not about the BBC. If the sackings go ahead, the journalists will strike, I hear. In the period of Charter Renewal, that really would send Director General Tony Hall ballistic – another PR disaster in Scotland. You won’t hear about it on the radio though.

The Head of Radio Scotland is Jeff Zycinski.

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Her Majesty’s Media

Michelle Thomson’s solicitor may have been struck off but she won’t be short of legal volunteers to represent her should she end up in court. Amer Anwar has taken up the case but any criminal lawyer seeking a dripping roast of fees and publicity would be carefully snipping out each and every newspaper cutting that paints her in a derogatory light even before she is the direct subject of a police inquiry, let alone the accused.

Ultimately, she may indeed find herself behind bars for some appalling malfeasance, it’s just that to date, she is neither legally accused nor facing questioning. These are circumstances in which the media might want to tread warily given that if she pleads not guilty, the destruction of her character across the Scottish media could still prejudice the case.

It’s true that legally she remains fair game until she is actually charged, when media references have to be suitably curtailed, but her lawyer can already make a strong case that a jury might be biased because of hysterical coverage. Even if she is tried and admonished or even not proceeded against, she will have grounds for mounting an action against the Press for character assassination.

Cases are never replicated precisely but there are some precedents to consider. Robert Murat, for example, the Englishman who lived near place from where Madeleine McCann vanished. Desperate to construct a case against him because of the demands from their newsdesks for copy, the British reporters clearly suggested he was involved in the McCann case. Murat sued for destroying his reputation. Then the newspapers made public apologies to Christopher Jefferies for the allegations made against him following the murder of Joanna Yeates. The Sun, Daily Mirror, Sunday Mirror, Daily Record, Daily Mail, Daily Star, The Scotsman and Daily Express – paid out substantial reparations. Jeffries had his past and his lifestyle raked over by a Press pack that decided he was guilty. His lawyer said: Christopher Jefferies is the latest victim of the regular witch hunts and character assassination conducted by the worst elements of the British tabloid media. Many of the stories published in these newspapers are designed to monster the individual, in flagrant disregard for his reputation, privacy and rights to a fair trial. These newspapers have now apologised to him and paid substantial damages.

Is an MP any different? There’s little doubt that we ascribe different standards of behavior to our representatives, but this is a legal matter, not the same thing as a moral judgement on her business dealings. Even if she is either innocent or not charged at all, her political career may well be over affecting her livelihood as well as her reputation by widespread innuendo and allegation.

The desperate scramble to muckrake indiscriminately reminds me of the difference between John Smith and Neil Kinnock. On becoming leader Smith binned Kinnock’s verbose style and introduced a clinical legal format of short, direct questions at PMQ’s which demanded answers – pinpoint accuracy against scattergun firing. One was precise and effective. The other was noise and counter-productive. There is both scope for reporting on behalf of a public right to know in this case and a wider responsibility to the serve the public with accuracy and, even, fairness. But again, the media just can’t help itself in the rush to condemn. If she is proved guilty of mortgage fraud, then to Hell with her. But so far the media is doing her a favour by monstering her in advance and making the job of the judicial process all the harder.

The introduction of insinuations against the Law Society is another jump-to-conclusions affair. That the secretary of a sub committee – Sheila Kirkwoood – was a member of Lawyers for Yes is immediately translated as a bias against doing her job professionally. To the mob, a declared supporter of independence can’t be trusted in a responsible position. Therefore it is assumed she withheld the case from the authorities to shield Thomson. And I thought it was cybernats who were prejudiced, judgmental and running conspiracy theories up the flagpole?

Here’s what the chief executive of the Law Society, Lorna Jack said: ‘I think the media are looking to pursue a line of political compromise which is absolutely categorically not the case. I want to stress that Law Society employee Sheila Kirkwood has not acted unprofessionally or inappropriately at any time. Shelia is a hard-working, dedicated colleague. She had no involvement in taking papers on the Christopher Hales case to the Law Society Guarantee Fund sub-committee and in no way delayed these papers being taken to the committee. Shelia’s role as secretary to the committee is to write the minute. The names of Christopher Hales’s clients were not included in any Law Society papers that Sheila handled.  The first time Sheila realised Michelle Thomson was involved in the Christopher Hales case was from recent media reports. Sheila is entitled to her personal political views. The Law Society is a non-partisan organisation. However, we do not stop our staff from holding or expressing their own views in their personal lives.  People in Scotland are legally entitled to express their personal opinions. I am confident there was no conflict of interest in relation to Shelia’s role at the Law Society.’

It’s a plaintive appeal for sanity that will go unheeded. The red mist has descended over the media’s eyes and the hunt is in full cry.

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Holy Jackie’s Prayer

Guilty! Thrice guilty! To the Tolbooth with them…let them dance to the hangman’s tune. How the mob love a lynching. There is part of us all which exults in punishment when it applies to someone else, as if their fate exonerates us. Holy Willie calls down the wrath of God on the Presbytery of Ayr but pleads remember me and mine wi’ mercies temporal and divine…

Burns came to mind when the sanctimonious Jackie Baillie hove into view on television to demand action against the evils of the SNP…pass not in Thy mercy by them, nor hear their pray’r, but for thy people’s sake destroy them, an’ dinna spare.

One of the SNP Presbytery was accused of grave misdeeds and at such times it is the moral duty of those with superior standards to judge them. Yet I am here a chosen sample, to show thy grace is great and ample; I’m here a pillar o’ Thy temple, strong as a rock, a guide, a buckler, and example, unto a’ Thy flock.

Ms Baillie, as Labour’s longtime Queen of Cant, has a blameless past. She couldn’t have been the one of Wendy Alexander’s shoulder when the election expenses scandal broke or the same woman on the board of Better Together which did such sterling work in reviving Labour fortunes…and she could never be accused of being soapy or sleekit. http://newsnet.scot/?p=109173

This of course is the case of Michelle Thomson who may become the first casualty of the SNP surge, guilty or not. In politics, it isn’t the facts that count but the perception which is why David Cameron’s youthful encounter with tete de cochon continues to resonate without a single open voice of confirmation or any graphic evidence. It isn’t even clear to me what precisely she may legally have done wrong but no matter – she has had the whip removed leaving her politically unprotected and therefore, by popular acclaim, guilty by implication. She has been the target of a group in the constituency which has waged a campaign to vilify her asking what her true business credentials are. A dirty business.

We can’t know where a police investigation will lead but the questions will surely include what knowledge she had, if any, of the activities of the solicitor now struck off. You can go to jail for mortgage fraud.

Even if no charge results, the voodoo of partisan politics means a toxic potion of guilt by association with dodgy lawyers and making a quick profit from other people’s wasting assets will be left bubbling on her MP’s desk. It happened before she was a politician! She wasn’t elected! So what? These games are played by different rules. In the housing business if you are desperate to offload and then undersell a property which subsequently resells for more, the answer is caveat emptor. Do the same thing in a party rosette and it is mens rea – you had guilty intent. It means there may already be no way of saving a nascent career. You can promise to press the nuclear button or do a dirty deal to get Saudi Arabia on to the UN human rights council as Britain did, but if it looks like you’re exploiting the voters for profit, you’re doomed. If she’s guilty, so be it. We look forward to Ms Baillie’s master class in hand-wringing.

This looks to me like a matter on a different scale completely to the ‘crimes’ of TinthePark. And yet here too the Holy Willie prosecution continues through sly implication. First it is cronyism which allows a former adviser ‘special access’ to ministers – no evidence. Then it’s the arrangement of a meeting – which she didn’t attend. Next she secures a grant – negotiated by the company boss in her absence. Lastly, the award was unjustified as the company made a profit – a new criterion for the award of public funds. The Reality – a dirty wee game to smear people by implication.

If there is some wrong-doing buried in here, it has yet to be unearthed, rather like Salmond’s dirty dealings with Donald Trump which revealed precisely nothing (apart from Annabel Goldie’s lightbulb expose that he travelled to a meeting in his ministerial car). But the Labour chairman of the inquiry still intoned gravely how the First Minster had to be more careful, watch his step etc, etc…imply, suggest, wink, wink.

Of course Jennifer Dempsie, the ex adviser, has now stepped down as a candidate and must therefore be silently conceding her guilt, according to the witchfinders. Or maybe she’s just sick of being attacked through innuendo and hung out to dry. Maybe another young female is now lost to public life through a low-level witchhunt. Who knows?

I wonder too how the TinthePark people feel about the clear suggestion behind this episode that they were complicit in corruption. After all, if she was their agent acting on their behalf and if she helped secure money to which they weren’t entitled, given as a favour to a political pal, well then, they’re guilty too, aren’t they? If it were me, I’d be tempted to pull out and take the event elsewhere. Why should a company allow itself to be the brunt of someone’s oafish campaign of denigration?

I’d be asking too when making a profit was a bar to securing public funding…organisations with money in the bank and companies in the black all qualify for support if they meet the criteria. They don’t have to show an empty account to get cash. Follow that logic and there would be no inward investment. Why would you back a business that was failing by inviting it to set up in Scotland? Look, we’re so unsuccessful, we’ve no money in the bank. Help us out, minister. The whole point is that it is successful companies making a profit and looking to expand whom you encourage to locate here with free factories, land, rates holidays and tax breaks.

But why bother with logic when you can chase someone out of public life, run down the reputation of a successful and revenue-creating project and smear your opponents?

Once guilt is confirmed, the culprits must suffer. That is part, not just of the judicial process but the democratic one. It’s what happened to Wendy Alexander, Mike Watson, Chris Huhne, Jim Devine, Jeffrey Archer, Jonathan Aitken, Denis McShane and Bill Walker.

But, please, spare us the sanctimony and hypocrisy.

I bless and praise Thy matchless might,

When thousands Thou hast left in night,

That I am here afore Thy sight,

For gifts an’ grace

A burning and a shining light

To a’ this place.

 

 

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