by Colin Campbell
HIGHLAND MSP Kate Forbes, suddenly elevated into the role of Scottish Government finance minister three months ago, hasn’t been a prominent figure since the current situation began. One thing she has done, however, has made a considerable impact. In April, she personally signed off a 12 per cent pay rise for Scottish Government bureaucrats, sending their already inflated salaries soaring.
At a time when so many people are either in or are facing acute financial difficulties, did she pause to consider how this would look, or rather more importantly, whether it was justified and right in the current extreme circumstances?
Or did one of her mandarins slip a paper in front of her with reassuring ease and say: “Just sign here, Kate.”
It’s actually giving Kate Forbes the benefit of the doubt to assume it was the latter. Because if she did think through the justification for shelling out that 12 per cent pay rise and conclude it was merited it would not only be a staggering error of judgement, it would be a stunning slap in the face to so many people facing very hard times ahead.
Since news of this emerged, she has not stepped forward to try and defend herself. That speaks volumes.
It’s only being fair and sympathetic to say that someone suddenly shoehorned into her job after her predecessor resigned in disgrace could never have imagined she would have been faced with a crisis on the current scale, and expected to deal with the overwhelming range of problems arising so soon after taking over.
The pressures on someone so inexperienced could take a serious toll on their physical and mental health.
Fortunately, Kate Forbes is not being left alone to try and sift through the wreckage of collapsing businesses and lost jobs. She has solid backing from the UK Government and can rely on still more billions pouring north from the UK Treasury to try and ease at least some of the pain ahead.
If it wasn’t for that backing, and Kate Forbes was out on her own in an independent Scotland, her mandarins would be enjoying their 12 per cent pay rise, while some “ordinary” people would be contemplating a future begging on the streets.
Drew Hendry steps into the maelstrom as America burns
INVERNESS MP Drew Hendry has weighed in on the race riots in America and the indefensible killing by a police officer of George Floyd, a name pretty much everyone knows by now.
Mr Hendry said: “I have received hundreds of emails from constituents urging me to ask the UK government to do more and end their silence on this situation. Folk have also been eager to share their personal support for the protesters putting their lives on the line to highlight the institutional racism that exists in their communities.”
So someone in Inverness wants to protest against the killing of George Floyd in America. And what is the first thing he or she thinks of doing?
Well, it’s obvious, isn’t it. You’d send an email to Drew Hendry. Of course you would. Or so we may believe. Did any of his correspondents also call on him to deploy the National Guard?
Let’s not assume the Inverness MP is grandstanding on this issue – although what he thinks he can bring to the maelstrom is unclear.
People have been urged to watch all of the eight-minute video of Mr Floyd’s death – suffocated by a police officer with his knee on his neck. It is shocking and harrowing and many have found it too difficult to watch. The officer and three of his colleagues have been charged with murder.
Also extremely disturbing are the countless hours of footage of store owners trying to defend their life’s work being beaten to within an inch of their lives by rioting mobs, unable to defend themselves with no assistance in sight.
Mr Hendry’s “hundreds of correspondents” join with him in offering their personal support to the protesters, by which they no doubt mean the vast majority of “peaceful protesters”. Their anger over what happened to George Floyd is indisputably justified. But watching the hideous footage of so many innocent people being brutally attacked while they helplessly tried to defend their property against rampaging mobs gives me an insight, clearly and for the first time, why so many law-abiding people in America, black, white, Korean, Chinese, want to own a gun.
I also thought we were in the middle of a coronavirus epidemic, where “social distancing” is a life-or-death matter. Now we have Drew Hendry and his e-mailers backing people taking to the densely crowded streets to protest about racism, for more than eight nights in a row. Even allowing for the fact that the peaceful protests, at least, are for a formidably worthy cause, what will be the virus-related consequences of that?
Mr Hendry is of course a fly on an elephant in a situation of this magnitude and no-one involved on the streets of America even knows he exists. But what about that life-or-death need for “social distancing”? Or has that somehow become yesterday’s news?
Candour at last on budget ‘shortfall’: they just don’t know
IN recent weeks Highland councillors have released figures of an upcoming budget shortfall ranging from £60million to £80million and this week, to £100million.
These claims mean little or nothing to me, or I suspect, to most anyone else. As of now I just want to know how often they’re going to continue coming round to empty the bins.
Amid what seems to reasonably merit the description of wild – or maybe fevered – speculation, we’re entitled to look for someone who speaks calmly and with clarity.
Step forward Edward Foster, head of corporate finances, who said: “It is simply not possible to say with any certainty what the direct financial impact on the council will be, save that it will be significant.”
He at least cleared up some of the confusion by candidly admitting that the entire council budget scenario is clouded over by confusion, and it’s impossible to view it with any clarity.
Which makes £60million, £80million, £100million “projections” barely worth the paper they’re written on.
The finance chief has laid out “two tentative scenarios” in which the council’s budget shortfall could end up being somewhere between £67milion and £97million.
So that’s a gap of a mere thirty million pounds.
The “worst case scenario” is based on a “second lockdown” being imposed from October to December. That’s based on the nightmarish prospect of “a second wave” of the virus sweeping over the country. If that happens society as we know it really would edge closer to the brink of complete collapse.
Without a vaccine, no-one from Downing Street to Holyrood and everywhere in between would know what to do, as all traces of optimism were snuffed out and all scientific projections were imbued with the certainty of a gambler going into a betting shop.
That kind of catastrophe doesn’t bear thinking about. But Highland Council is thinking about it and they might consider it the responsible thing to do.
But they cannot seriously present any figures which project the consequences of “a second wave” – not £97milion or £197million or anything in between. That would take us into completely uncharted territory beyond the expertise of every financial guru in the country.
As of now, there are going to be many bad, or very, very bad economic consequences as a result of what has already happened and is already happening. That message and warning, I’d say, everyone pretty much gets.
Councillors agonising over a completely unpredictable future are no doubt doing what they think they have to do.
But Edward Foster’s statement that “it is simply not possible to say with any certainty what the direct financial impact on the council will be, save that it will be significant” heavily outweighs anything they have to say.
We just have to hope they’ll be able to keep emptying the bins.
No Mr Blackford, you can’t catch the virus through your trousers
IS there no end to the number of ways in which Ross MP Ian Blackford can find to make a spectacle of himself? Apparently not.
On Wednesday, when MPs returned to Westminster, he demanded to know before sitting down in the House of Commons what efforts had been made to disinfect the benches as the coronavirus could “last for days” on hard surfaces.
When some other MPs found this amusing he bristled: “I have to say that I find the attitude of some members opposite quite deplorable. I’m getting a bit fed up of the remarks which are coming from opposite about this being indulgent.”
Sometimes Blackford is a blustering irritant to many people. At other times he reverts to his probably more agreeable persona of merely being a buffoon. Many nationalists can’t see it but he’s a gift to the Union. It puzzles me why they don’t ask people who moderately disagree with them who’s the no.1 SNP “personality” they dislike and is the most off-putting of all. Blackford would be at the top or close to the top of every list every time.
But shouldn’t even this national embarrassment be aware that there have been no cases anywhere of men contracting the virus through their trousers?