Alex Salmond may consider himself well satisfied with the report by Sir David Bell. This was the independent adviser he appointed to investigate whether he had breached the Scottish ministerial code in statements regarding legal advice over the future relations of an independent Scotland with the European Union.
Sir David has concluded that no breach of the code took place. But this has not ended the matter as far as opposition parties are concerned and they have a point.
For a lengthy period it was the SNP’s case that an idependent Scotland would be automatically accepted as an EU member. In a television interview the First Minister appeared to confirm that legal advice on this matter had been sought. The clear implication being that the legal advice backed the view.
No attempt was made to correct this impression until the Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon admitted to the Scottish Parliament in October that no such advice existed and that the administration had only recently commissioned specific advice. In the subsequent furore, the First Minister referred himself to an independent inquiry on whether he had breached the code.
Sir David’s conclusion is that no such breach had occurred. Without doubting the probity and rigour of Sir David, the circumstances of this report highlight a number of issues. Two are particularly salient. The first, is the obligation that falls on ministers to ensure that no false impression, however inadvertently created, is allowed to stand long.
Where it is in the power of ministers to correct such a misunderstanding, it should be done so speedily and with the minimum of ambiguity. Had this been done, confusion would have been averted and ministers spared criticism and embarrassment.
The second, relates to the make up of any independent investigation into breaches of the minsterial code. Someone has to be appointed, but should the person who is being investigated be given that power? And then the power to set the remit of the investigation? The fact is this approach has failed.
It has failed because there is little confidence in parliament, and no doubt other places, in the findings of this inquiry. A verdict in which there is no confidence is no verdict at all.
If there is not broad consensus to trust an inquiry to come to a genuinely independent verdict, then having such an inquiry is a waste of time and money. If an inquiry is assure people that politicians are accountable to parliament and the electorate then it has to be set up to allow that outcome. This one wasn’t. Whoever leads such an investigation must have broad cross-party support if appointed by the First Minster, or be appointed by a cross party committee.
Brave new dawn for tourism
After the sodden summer and the counter attraction of the London Olympics, any increase in Scottish tourism numbers last year should be hailed. Overseas visits rose 1.6 per cent in 2012, while international tourism spending rose by 10 per cent – possibly on heating, woolly clothes and prolonged confinement in hostelries.
But it is this year, with memories of near constant rain and hundreds of outdoor events being cancelled, that could bear the scars. A notable feature of the figures for 2012 was a 3 per cent decline in domestic tourist visits, due in some part to the lure of the Olympics and a desperate flight abroad as we searched for sunshine.
However, there is every reason to hope that 2013 will prove a successful year. International blockbusters such as Brave and Skyfall should work to raise Scotland’s profile and appeal as a tourist destination.
It is not necessary, and in any event would be foolhardy, to wish for a prolonged heat wave in 2013. But given any reasonable summer weather, Scotland is a hugely attractive visitor destination. It has spectacular scenery, a host of both indoor and outdoor sporting and cultural pursuits, a food and drink offer that is up with the best in the world and a reputation for winning hospitality.
There are, of course, areas where we can improve – a capital unencumbered with tramworks would be a help. And we could do more to smarten up our town and city centres. But Scotland has so much to offer, and every effort must be made to ensure that we capitalise on the positive exposure that Hollywood has provided.