Saturday, November 10, 2012

The Confidence Of Michael Russell

'Was Cinema Sgire all that worthwhile? Why give people expensive electronic video equipment when you could more practically present them with a notebook and a pencil? If they saw themselves on a TV monitor would that really make their existence more, what was the word, 'valid'? Did the locals fail Mike Russell, or were his schemes inappropriate to their needs?'


I bought my copy of Mr. Cooper's rather wonderful wee book for a pound. There it was, just waiting to be picked up. Funny, that.

I couldn't but help recall that quote when I read of how the erstwhile Mike Russell, the Anglophone sometime J. Arthur Rank of publicly funded Gaelic language cinema, has demanded the resignation of Kirk Ramsay, the chairman of Stow College, for having taped a meeting they both attended. Mr. Ramsay is quite correct to describe Russell's comments as being 'disturbing'. Russell has no power to subject him to industrial discipline; he's not his boss. It would be open to Russell to formally complain to Mr. Ramsay's board about his behaviour, but he doesn't seem to have done that. Instead, he's demanded that he resign because he, Russell, no longer has confidence in Mr. Ramsay, a person who doesn't work for him and whose behaviour seems to have been completely legal.

Russell's spokeshuman has indicated that "(m)aking and distributing a secret and surreptitious recording of a confidential meeting is inconsistent with the behaviour expected of the chair of a publicly-funded college." The tautology represented by its fifth and seventh words notwithstanding, so breathtaking is the presumption behind this statement that you have to wonder whether its maker was wearing a tartan tammy or a Chairman Mao bunnet. It is not a statement of opinion. It is instead an attempt to excommunicate Kirk Ramsay from the further education sector; to declare him anathema. If the Education Minister has no power to discipline Mr. Ramsay, then it the business of nobody but the board of Stow College to determine whether his behaviour was appropriate. Provided that Stow College properly accounts for the funds it receives from the public purse and complies with all relevant employment and equality legislation, it is hard to see just what business it is of the soi-disant, ersatz 'Scottish Government' to even have an opinion about who might be in charge of Stow College and how they discharge their duties, never mind going ahead and expressing one. It is not difficult to detect an air of threat in the spokeshuman's words, as if the Executive considers itself competent to determine how people unconnected to it are expected to behave. If that is the case, then it suggests an authoritarian mentality verging on the totalitarian. Does Russell object to his behaviour being subjected to scrutiny and comment? That's the impression this episode has given me.

Rather more facetiously, for all we know there might even be an issue of mic envy at work here - at least Kirk Ramsay caught something on tape that was worth recording.

It would be very interesting to know just what motivated Mr. Ramsay to tape that meeting. It could be that case that he and his colleagues had lost confidence in Russell before he lost confidence in one of them. The comments of Russell's spokeshuman regarding the confidentiality of the original meeting notwithstanding, the amount of money which is spent on further education means that its competent administration is a matter of public interest. The recorded discussions do not seem to allude to any issues which might suggest a presumption in favour of confidentiality, such as the personal or medical status of individuals or the welfare of children. That being the case, if the public interest demands that legally made recordings of meetings be legally released into the public sphere then I cannot see why Russell could possibly demand that their maker resign because he no longer has confidence in them. Such a demand could give an impartial reader the impression that Russell's judgement is unsound, and his political skills underdeveloped.

On the other hand, there does seem to be a substantial school of thought which believes the SNP to be a troupe of arrogant authoritarians who do not easily suffer being crossed, do not like being challenged and who just cannot handle being thwarted. With such people in charge of us, the future of our beloved wee land looks very grim indeed.

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6 Comments:

Blogger Keviano said...

Let's be clear, if the claim is that Mike Russell over-reacted, then it is equally certain that claims he has "demanded" the head of Stow College, or that "soi-disant, ersatz 'Scottish Government'" is comparable to to a regime "verging on the totalitarian" is, to put it mildly, hysterical.

Having said that, it falls neatly into a narrative that has come more to the fore in the "NO/Better Together Campaign" in recent weeks.

To present the SNP (and indeed any supporters of independence) as dangerously extreme and dictatorial. We've had glimpses of it in the past, the Tom Harris "Hitler Downfall" youtube spoof, the constant references to "Dear Leader" to invoke a slavish following of the SNP leader by independence supporters and a constant endeavour to portray those supporters themselves as an unthinking, belligerent and Anglophobic army of "cybernats". A term coined by a Labour peer solely to engender distrust of those citizens who might question the continuation of the UK.

With that out of the way, lets look at the reality. It is clear that the issue of FE funding is a political hot potato in the current climate of funding cuts.

In that context, those meeting to discuss what actions can or should be done need to have total confidence that they can engage with each other in free, open and honest discourse.

It was therefore foolhardy, to say the least, for Mr Ramsay (for whatever reason) to record such a meeting, surreptitiously and then to disseminate those recordings to those of his choosing without consent.

Any business person will tell you that what is said at meetings and what is finally agreed through discussion and consensus can be two radically different things.

The agreement requires consent and trust of all those involved. In this case, by recording and distributing in the way he did, Mr Ramsay broke the trust of those with whom he was engaged to do business. Furthermore, once disseminated, he had no control over where that information may go.

As correctly stated by Martin Kelly in his blog, Mike Russell had no powers to dismiss Mr Ramsay from his post, but that did not mean he must sit passively by once a breach of confidence had been exposed.

In the circumstances, how could Mr Russell, or for that many anyone else engage effectively with Mr Ramsay if they now knew their conversations could be recorded as they may have been at least once in the past.

This should not be a party political game. Those who scream "bully" should pause for thought why they seek to label the Education Secretary in that way. Are they guilty of exactly the "crime" they try to pin on him.

Ultimately Mr Ramsay did the only thing he could possibly have done. As an "ordinary" man on civvy street he would have been sacked with no recourse to a grasping media studio or newspaper journalist with their own agenda to peddle.

14 November, 2012 11:32  
Blogger Martin said...

"Let's be clear, if the claim is that Mike Russell over-reacted, then it is equally certain that claims he has "demanded" the head of Stow College, or that "soi-disant, ersatz 'Scottish Government'" is comparable to to a regime "verging on the totalitarian" is, to put it mildly, hysterical."

Not really, when you consider that a politician in a regime - your word, not mine - which has already abolished double jeopardy and which seeks to abolish the requirement for corroboration in criminal casesmhas demanded the resignation of a public servant he doesn't have the power to fire. Now, in my book that's authoritarian bullying and I will describe it as such whether the soi-disant, ersatz 'Scottish Government' and its supporters like it or not.

"... the constant references to "Dear Leader" to invoke a slavish following of the SNP leader by independence supporters and a constant endeavour to portray those supporters themselves as an unthinking, belligerent and Anglophobic army of "cybernats"

My own preferred term for describing Alex Salmond is 'The Tartanissimo', if only because I coined it. If the cyberbats do not like being portrayed as being unthinking and belligerent, they should not behave in that manner, as indeed you are doing here.

"With that out of the way, lets look at the reality."

That patronising assumption that an ineterlocutor who might disagree with you is somehow not facing reality is so Scotch I can almost hear the lilt of bagpipes in the air, as Hamish and Morag go stravaigin doon the glen...

"It is clear that the issue of FE funding is a political hot potato in the current climate of funding cuts."

Sorry, that one had escaped me. Then again, I do try to read rather more than just SNP press releases.

"In that context, those meeting to discuss what actions can or should be done need to have total confidence that they can engage with each other in free, open and honest discourse.

It was therefore foolhardy, to say the least, for Mr Ramsay (for whatever reason) to record such a meeting, surreptitiously and then to disseminate those recordings to those of his choosing without consent."

The reason he gave on 'Newsnight Scotland' last night was that he's disabled with tinnitus and usually tapes things in order to make sure he's got an accurate record of what was discussed. This seems merely prudent, and if he had recorded something which revealed a discrepancy in the minutes which had been in Russell's favour, I am inclined to believe that his actions in having recorded the meeting and then bringing that to the Education Minister's attention would have earned him nothing but praise from the soi-disant, ersatz 'Scottish Government'. But then again, maybe I'm more cynical about them than you are.

"Any business person will tell you that what is said at meetings and what is finally agreed through discussion and consensus can be two radically different things.

The agreement requires consent and trust of all those involved. In this case, by recording and distributing in the way he did, Mr Ramsay broke the trust of those with whom he was engaged to do business. "

So, he broke faith with Stow College, the only body he was there to represent, by taping the meeting to ensure he had as full a record of it as possible, on account of having a problem with his hearing? Did you really mean to say this? Is that what you really mean? If it is, your logic is so twisted it's got striations. You may have meant 'broke the faith of those he had been engaged to do business with'. However, in this instance those he had been engaged to do business with are publicly accountable, and examination of the processes by which their decisions are reached is often in the public interest.

14 November, 2012 22:35  
Blogger Martin said...

If nothing else, Mr. Ramsay appears to have performed a signal public service by recording this meeting, and has certainly been required to pay the price for having done so. The idea that the Scottish Executive must have faith in those it deals was one that was popular in East Germany in the early 1950's - I would suggest you Google Bertolt Brecht's poem 'The Solution' for an example of whre ethat sort of thinking can lead. I'll save you the trouble - here it is -

"After the uprising of the 17th June
The Secretary of the Writers Union
Had leaflets distributed in the Stalinallee
Stating that the people
Had forfeited the confidence of the government
And could win it back only
By redoubled efforts. Would it not be easier
In that case for the government
To dissolve the people
And elect another? "

14 November, 2012 22:36  
Blogger Martin said...

"Furthermore, once disseminated, he had no control over where that information may go."

That's funny, one of the reasons I was led to believe that a free press and a free Internet are good things was that government didn't control them. Do the SNP and its supporters not believe in the free flow of information and the free exchange of ideas?

"As correctly stated by Martin Kelly in his blog, Mike Russell had no powers to dismiss Mr Ramsay from his post, but that did not mean he must sit passively by once a breach of confidence had been exposed.

In the circumstances, how could Mr Russell, or for that many anyone else engage effectively with Mr Ramsay if they now knew their conversations could be recorded as they may have been at least once in the past."

The unusual experience of being addressed as I were a public meeting on my own blog notwithstanding, there is a world of difference between a breach of confidence and disclosure in the public interest. Now, to the best of my knowledge and belief Mr. Ramsay circulated his notes to other college principals. It was always open to Mike Russell to acknowledge that there might have been an issue with the minutes, and to have taken that on board. That just might have enhanced his standing amongst the people who have no option but to deal with him at a time of great upheaval in the FE sector, et cetera, et cetera, But that's just what he didn't do. Instead, his very first reaction was to demand the resignation of a man he couldn't sack. Do you understand now why people think the soi-disant, ersatz 'Scottish Government' are a troupe of authoritarian bullies? Do you get it now? Can you finally see through the mist and past the heather?

"Those who scream "bully" should pause for thought why they seek to label the Education Secretary in that way"

Maybe because he sometimes gives the appearance of being one.

"Are they guilty of exactly the "crime" they try to pin on him."

Oh, just go away and listen to your Fran & Anna records. I've had enough of your blether for one lifetime.

14 November, 2012 22:36  
Blogger Keviano said...

Firstly I should say that from Greater Manchester, I rarely hear the lilt or otherwise of bagpipes.

As someone interested in the future of the United Kingdom and the post Scottish independence settlement (should that be the will of the Scots people), I do hold to the view that this debate should revolve around real issues and not deteriorate into personal mud-slinging.

To that end I chose deliberately not to be offensive to you (Martin Kelly), but merely to bring a sober thought or two about this latest "scandal" and what I see as a rather pernicious campaign of smears against individual SNP Government Ministers.

To my mind (and I accept others may not agree), the circumstances surrounding Mr Ramsay's resignation are fairly straight-cut.

Had he been attending a corporate Board meeting, where the expectation was that individuals could speak openly without fear of their views (which may be contrary to any finally agreed position)being placed in the public arena, and had, without knowledge or consent, recorded then disseminated those discussions, he would have been sacked on the spot.

There is no doubt about that and any normally inclined mind would see that to be true.

Mr Ramsay's action (wittingly or otherwise)could severely damage the willingness of others engage with and challenge the executive line of thinking (in this case Mr Russell and the Scottish Government).

Mr Kelly prefers to read it differently and he's entitled to that, but lacks any substance or evidence to support his position.

If, as you say, it is common practise for Mr Ramsay to record meetings - why did he fail to make that known? Why did he choose to distribute a recording, rather than a written summary or minutes?

In distributing he had no control over where it would end up and no consent from the speakers at the meeting.

It is not, as you suggest, a question of whether anyone had something to hide,but what extent individuals could engage openly at such meetings and in the personal interactions with Mr Ramsay on the most contentious issues they face.

Leaping from that fundamental error(of courtesy, ethics and practice), wholly of Mr Ramsay's own doing, to tagging an Education Minister as "totalitarian", "authoritarian" or a "Tartanissimo" (your word, not anyone else's) strikes me as being absurd to the point of complete irrationality.

Was Mr Russell (following concerns raised with him by others attending)then expected, as I say, to sit passively by given concerns had been brought to him?

Between the lines I expect Mr Russell was actually being rather kind to the Stow College Chairman. He could have faced a barrage of College Chairs & Principles publicly condemning his actions.

In context, Mr Russels actions are what would be expected in order to retain the confidence of other participants, but given what appears to be an utter hatred for the SNP from some quarters in Scotland, I am not surprised at the level of personal vitriol, innuendo and smears directed at him.

Unfortunately, Martin Kelly, who disagrees with me, chooses to treat me to the same level of personal insult. I seems to be standard practise in a bitterly formatted campaign, by those supporting the "Union" in Scotland.

It is a great pity. From England at least, it simply turns people off listening to anything the No and Bettertogether campaigns have to say.

Mr Kelly should remember that the debate about Scotland is followed closely by many outwith Scotland and at present we hear nothing from the Union supporting side other than a great sense of fear and insult bordering on frenzy.

The challenge is for Mr Kelly and his like. The challenge I fear, is theirs to lose.

15 November, 2012 09:42  
Blogger Keviano said...

On one further point. Martin Kelly makes great play that Mr Ramsay was somehow engaged in performing a public duty of disclosure in recording and then distributing that recording.

No such thing has been suggested by Mr Ramsay or anyone other than Martin Kelly - to my knowledge.

The concerns raised with the Education Secretary, by those who were actually at the meeting, was merely one of confidence.

Mr Martin is either unfamiliar with the concept of mutual trust and confidence, that is essential to business discussions, or he is aware but merely agitating against the SNP Government.

I suspect the latter to be true, but in the poetical spirit I would urge to read and contemplate the words of Nobel Prize winner Rabindranath Tagore:

Let's work hard to make India a country of dream
And for that we all need to work as a team.
Don't let anything to bring any disunity among us
Whether the issue is political, ethnical, lingual or religious.
Let there be no victim of any social or legal injustice
Let there be no room for any corruption and malpractice.
Let there be no poverty, which compels a mother to sell her baby
Let there be no hunger, that forces people into beggary.
Let there be no unemployment, that sinks the youths into frustration
Let's ensure that no Indian child is denied the basic school education.
All these may sound to be utopian, but we must not feel shy
If we are honest in our endeavour, we may achieve that high.

15 November, 2012 10:14  

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