Sunday, 20 January 2013

My Way Code

THE First Minister's use of the Ministerial Code has been much in the news since the New Year.
But overlooked - until now - has been a 630-page document dump by the Scottish Government on the topic just before Christmas.
Containing background memos on the Code's composition, it was released after a request under Freedom of Information.
Rather than subjecting the FM to rigorous examination, the material shows the Code has in fact been crafted to help him pick and choose when he is investigated - or whether he is investigated at all.
Here's the story

Tom Gordon
Paul Hutcheon

ALEX Salmond is facing demands for a judge to oversee his behaviour in office, after it emerged the Ministerial Code of Conduct had been kept deliberately vague to help the First Minister choose whether to investigate himself.

A previously secret government memo reveals that details of the investigative process, including the types of alleged misconduct to be checked, were “intentionally not included on the face of the code” to ensure the First Minister could “exercise his own judgement” in each case.

Keeping the process opaque was “also intended to limit the number of spurious complains from third parties,” according to the document.

Opposition parties said the memo exposed the code as a sham which allowed Salmond act as “judge and jury” in his own investigations.

At present, Salmond alone decides whether or not to refer himself to one or more handpicked “independent advisers” on the code if there is an allegation of misconduct against him.
He has referred himself six times since March 2009, and been cleared in every case, the most recent of which was published on January 10.
In the latest instance, Sir David Bell cleared Salmond of breaching the code after he appeared to say on TV last year that the SNP government had specific advice from its law officers on the position of an independent Scotland in the EU.
It later turned out that no such advice existed.
Salmond’s comments were “muddled and potentially confusing”, but did not amount to a breach of the Miinsterial Code, Sir David concluded.
He also recommended that the section of the code covering legal advice should be made clearer.
Now there is evidence that, rather then imposing oversight on the First Minister, the Code has in fact been tailored to help him avoid scrutiny if he chooses. 
Buried among 630 pages of background information on the code released by the Scottish Government just before Christmas is a memo to the First Minister making the point explicitly.
Marked “restricted”, it was written by Robin Benn of the Cabinet and Corporate Business Secretariat on 11 June 2011, and addressed to Salmond and his then Parliamentary Business Manager Bruce Crawford. 
At the time, the code was being updated for the start of the new parliament.
That's handy... how the Ministerial Code intentionally leaves bits out

Referring to the independent advisers, Benn wrote: “You will also recall that details of the process whereby the First Minister will refer matters to the independent advisers (and the types of issues that he may consider it appropriate to pass to them for consideration) were intentionally not included on the face of the Code itself.”
The word “not” was emphasised in bold type.
Benn went on: “We have retained this principle, which should ensure that the First Minister has the appropriate opportunity to exercise his own judgement [sic] on a case-by-case basis, and is also intended to limit the numer of suprious complaints from third parties.”

The full memo is available here (press the 100% icon top left). 

Scottish LibDem leader Willie Rennie said: “These documents prove that accountability of the First Minister within government has become a sham.
“The First Minister has been personally involved in drawing up the code by which is he is judged, and then deciding which cases he’ll refer himself to his hand picked jury. This kind of sinister scheming turns people off politics.”
First Minister: Not guilty again

Labour MSP Paul Martin said: “This makes further mockery of the Ministerial Code. Not only does the First Minister decide the judges, he also gets to decide if he gets charged and what with. It is now in everyone’s interests to overhaul this system and have it policed by an independent judge that we can all have faith in.”

A spokesman for the First Minister said: “This First Minister is the first person holding the office to establish an independent panel to investigate complaints – when Labour and LibDem members held the post they thought it was right to investigate themselves. It is absolutely right that the ministerial code should not give carte blanche to endless, spurious and politically-motivated complaints against the First Minister or any other minister.”

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

Lucrative modelling contract

There's another 'SNP assertions' row brewing, this time on the big basic stuff of whether the economy would be better or not after independence.
The Scottish Government naturally say it would be better, given all those famous levers they could pull.
But economies don't go up or down at the flick of a switch.
They're way more complex than that, and so you need a pretty sophisticated computer model to see what the effect of any lever-pulling would be.
And it turns out the Scottish Government doesn't have a computer model that's up to the task, raising questions about the credibility of its forecasts.
Here's a longer version of the story in today's Herald

Tom Gordon
ALEX Salmond’s predictions of a healthy economy after independence have been called into doubt, after it emerged the SNP government lacks the software for forecasting how Scotland’s finances would behave outside the UK.

The Herald can reveal that ministers are only now purchasing a £200,000 “macroeconomic forecast model” to cover a range of scenarios after a Yes vote, including the impact of “economic shocks”.

It will analyse a complex web of interacting forces, including household income, government spending, taxes, labour markets, and north sea oil and gas production to “assist in the development of economic policy”.

The deadline for firms bidding for the job closes this week, however the model is not expected to be fully operational until 2014, the same year as the independence referendum, and after publication of the government’s white paper on independence in November.

Opposition parties last night claimed the SNP, whose central case for independence is a healthier economy, had again been making assertions without the facts to back them up.

The First Minister says an independent Scotland would have the sixth highest per capita Gross Domestic Product in the developed world.

Finance Secretary John Swinney also said recently that a 3% corporation tax cut would support 27,000 jobs, that VAT changes could help tourism, that tax credits could see “a step change” in Research & Development, while “targeted interventions” could attract international investment.

But the current Government software is simply unable to predict how such changes would ripple through the wider, or macro, economy.

The software even appears unable to model the impact of the limited changes to income tax arising from the 2012 Scotland Act.

In August, the First Minister’s Fiscal Commission Working Group, which includes Nobel prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz, raised the need for a better model and better input data as part of its work on a “fiscal framework” for independence.

Three months later, ministers issued a tender notice for a new computer model to cover the “Scottish macro economy, its linkages with the rest of the UK and the rest of the world”.

Recent thinktank reports have suggested the Scottish economy could be less robust than previously thought after independence, largely due to declining income from north sea oil.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies has warned that in the medium term an independent Scotland would face a “bigger fiscal adjustment” than the rest of the UK, if oil incomes fell.

Last month, the Centre for Public Policy for Regions at Glasgow University said lower north sea revenue implied Scotland would be in a worse fiscal position than the UK from 2015 onwards.

Labour finance spokesman Ken Macintosh said: “I’m not surprised the SNP have been making sweeping generalisations about the economy based on nothing other than Alex Salmond’s convictions.

“But that’s no basis for anything, let alone a country taking a decision about independence.”

Tory finance spokesman Gavin Brown said: “Like many of the independence arguments, it seems the SNP’s predictions on the economy could unravel.

“It also appears this complex work will not be complete until after the white paper, raising questions about
what that will be based on.”

... After
A spokesman for the pro-Union Better Together campaign joked that the SNP seemed to have made its rosy economic predictions using “a ZX Spectrum gathering dust in St Andrew’s House”.

He said: “Unfortunately for the nationalists, this new, undoubtedly expensive, system will not be up and running until after the publication of the white paper, which means that everything that it says about an separate Scotland’s economy will be nothing more than wishful thinking.”
A government spokesman said: “As we move to implement the taxation responsibilities in the Scotland Act, future Scottish budgets will depend to a much greater extent on tax revenues raised in Scotland.
"This contract will support the development of the in-house analytical capacity needed to meet these new responsibilities, and fulfils regular requests from stakeholders for a formal forecasting model to provide a view on the future outlook for the Scottish economy and to better inform policy.”