Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Tales from a small country - Yes, First Minister (Guest Post)

A guest post by Sheila.

There has been much fuss and bluster in the press recently regarding  civil servants, past and present, “going native”. The spin seems to be that the mandarins are “parroting” the SNP agenda. Well I’m starting to wonder just who is parroting whom.  

Sir John Elvidge was Permanent Secretary to the Scottish Government from July 2003 - June 2010. In June of this this year he delivered the Michael Shea Memorial Lecture at an event hosted by the International Futures Forum and the Royal Society of Edinburgh. In his speech he jokes about how the majority of the Scottish population have never heard of the Scotland Performs website.. What, you too?  He continues to explain that the site is part of what he has recently learned from his contacts in Australia to call the Scottish Model of Government.

What we should be focusing on is just how this brave new Scottish Model of Government came about. It was reported quite widely, by the Guardian amongst others - with a link to Sir John’s report: Northern Exposure - Lessons from the first twelve years of devolved government in Scotland.

Maybe it is a bit dry compared with civil servants “going native” or maybe it is too much to ask that our MSPs think for themselves and dig just a wee bit deeper?

In the article,“ Lessons from Scotland on streamlining government”,  Sir John says that “radical changes he made under the minority SNP party in 2007 – which involved abolishing departments, redefining top civil service roles and aligning the entire Scottish public sector around a single framework of national purpose that would be tracked and measured – were a world first.”

Suddenly - apparently - everyone is learning lessons from Scotland - Wales has been since June. Our current elected members are probably glowing with pride and self-congratulation....  Quite why, I’m not sure, because they don’t seem to have had a lot to do with any of this..

"A key theme throughout this report is our recognition of
the progress made over the last four years by the Scottish
Government in developing the National Performance
Framework (NPF). As one of our members put it: “The most
important fact about the NPF is that it exists”. The innovative
work and thinking in developing it should not be overlooked,
and those involved in its inception deserve praise.

However, we are very concerned that through the ebb
and flow of politics – and with regular elections – there is
a significant risk of all this experience being lost and the
framework itself being abandoned either now or in the

The quote is from a recent Carnegie Foundation report: More than GDP:Measuring what matters (taking dry to new level!) by the Round Table on Measuring Economic Performance and Social Progress in Scotland of which Sir John is also a member. 

The  Round Table took the findings of the 2009 Stiglitz Report (positively dessicated!), which emerged from a Commission established by President Sarkozy and recommended that Scotland should shift its emphasis from measuring economic performance to measuring wellbeing; all within the National Performance Framework that Sir John is so proud to have brought into being and is keen to export to the rest of the UK and beyond. 

In late 2010, Professor Stiglitz became a member of the Council of Economic Advisers which was set up in 2007 to advise the First Minister on the best way to improve Scotland’s sustainable economic growth rate and last month a stampede of NGOs signed up to a briefing paper urging the Government to revise the National Performance Framework along the lines recommended by the “Carnegie Round Table” which, as previously stated above, puts a kilt on the Stiglitz report. 

So quite how this process is at any risk whatsoever from the "ebb and flow of politics" and "regular elections" is a bit of a mystery to me.

Whether Sir John's system of governance  is for good or bad, it seems to be happening  and going places... 

Meanwhile the “over-arching purpose” of  this system seems to be changing to bring us in line with a report commissioned by a French president, written by an American economist, rubber stamped by the EU and  currently being implemented across the globe. Interesting times, as they say... 

So where exactly do our elected members fit into this process? And would the process have been any different with another variety of politician "in power"?  Sir John seems to have a pretty cosy relationship with the last lot too. 


subrosa said...

Ah Sheila, I eventually found it. What you'll be thinking. The words 'common purpose' but without capitals of course.

It's in this link: http://www.defencemanagement.com/article.asp?id=342&content_name=Overview&article=10785

Elvidge does mention purpose too often for comfort.

Sheila said...

I find the whole tone of that article very disturbing ...

Common purpose absolutely screams out though doesn't it?

And published in a Defence Management journal?


JRB said...

Throughout the article Sir John Elvidge frequently uses the pleural “we” or “our”.
This is a clear indication that this piece is in actuality not just the vocalisation of a single individual but rather belongs to that of a group of like minded individuals.

A group who have a specific strategic purpose to effect control over the Scottish government, Scotland’s public sector and by default the people of Scotland.

A group who find it appropriate to publish their ‘strategic approach’ in ‘Defence Management’

This is not the methodology of a benign Civil Service, but of something much more sinister.

We should all be concerned – No! – much more than that – we should all be afraid.

subrosa said...

Indeed Sheila and I do wish people were more interested in how we're being governed these days.

JRB makes some excellent points. I've scanned the links once again and can find no names to the 'we' references. Strange.

Sheila said...

Thanks JRB and Subrosa.

Scotland is such a wee country that it would be strange if there wasn't a high degree of interconnectedness at the "top" but in is really quite incestuous...

I've been slowly coming to the conclusion that Scotland has been used as a test-bed. This seemed more and more likely as I investigated the Scottish surveillance scandal as recently exposed by Kenneth Roy:


The evidence for this is now pretty overwhelming. Take a look at these articles from 2001:



The Michael Shea (ex spin doctor to the queen) memorial lecture link is as good a place as any to start with connections - eg Shea used to host meetings of the IFF and previous incarnation the Scottish Council Foundation (before that Scottish Council for Development and Industry)at his Edinburgh home. The same names crop up all the time and all these organisations have had or do have very close ties with our government as a quick google shows.

I found the IFF site funny until I dug a bit further:


Crinkly & Ragged Arsed Philosophers said...

Well Sheila - you messed up my day -wading through the links. That aside, an excellent and educational post.

The concern, as always, is the purpose behind these 'inner temples' of the great,the good and the self proclaimed righteous. No Jimmy Reid's or Mary Stewart's (housewife and grandmother)-commonality limited to credit rating and status.

That said -with the exception of the child database, which may have legitimacy when concern of abuse is a genuine factor - much of what's suggested, if you can ignore the hum-bug of the royal we and I am's, the measure of sustainability and its relation to well-being has, if their intentions are genuine, a legitimate purpose.

That said, inner temples are by definition establishments; and establishments are by definition elites who believe their 'whispers' in the ears of governments has more value than the votes or aspirations of the common herd.(within this context I found the round table link particularly obnoxious. Especially as it practically plagiarised the French report - one that I consider made rational and much needed points)

Is there a conspiracy? Probably. There always is where position, ego or power are concerned. The clever response is to listen, digest, choose and implement in the right manner and be courteous in thanking them for their contributions; while reminding them the well-being of Scotland rest on the sovereignty of its people, and would they like to give due thought to how that could be established within its governance.

Other than the above, much of the fine words were merely an attempt to give a fancy name to porridge.

Observer said...

Sorry but I fail to see the problem with this, it seems eminently sensible to me, indeed in my own work we are seeing the effects of this drip down as we work far more closely with partner agencies & share goals, which is the pattern pretty much everywhere that I am aware of. It's taking away the departmentalism & walls between people who contribute to the public good. Everybody singing from the same hymn sheet. It's good practise, it works, & that is why people are writing about it.

Is there something sinister about it? Have I had a chip implanted in my brain that I know exactly what he is talking about & can identify with it & agree? Scottish Ministers will be quite aware of this, as indeed will public sector & third sector leaders because they know their organisations have to contribute to the overall objectives of the Scottish government. I am afraid you are being quite paranoid unless you think Alex Salmond is the evil villain in a Bond movie.

I do admit I don't know why the article was in a defence magazine, but I don't know that much about defence. I presume they have objectives too.

Sheila said...

Thanks Crinkly - only scratching the surface here...

I haven't read the French report in full and am very impressed if you have:) I do think the content it is VERY important, complicated and convoluted...another day maybe... one thing I'm pretty sure of is that nobody will be bothering much about plagiarism...

That is why I concentrated on the process - or at least part of it.

Sheila said...

Thanks Observer,

Would love to here more about your personal experiences.

Quite sure it would contribute to my understanding of these issues...

Observer said...

If you strip away all the gobbledygook, which civil servants & the public sector excel at, then what I read is that the Scottish government expect all sections of the public sector, & the third sector (which receives public funding) to work to their objectives. They also expect them to work together, & they will be measured by that. Now I don't want to write an autobiogrophy here, but I have been working in the field of housing for decades now. When I first started it was absolutely horrendous, all I saw were Housing Departments running themselves for the benefit of the people who worked for them, & huge divisions between public sector departments that spent time fighting with each other & passing the poor punter from pillar to post. That was a complete waste of time & public money & produced a really crap service for people.

That has changed completely, at least where I work. There is still a lot more to do, but now I am working for a Housing Association, we work hand in glove with people like the Police, Social Work, the Housing Benefit section, the Glasgow Community Safety Services, & we all have the same objectives, which in our case is to tackle anti-social behaviour, improve environments, support vulnerable tenants in the community, & ensure that people get paid the benefits they are entitled to.

It's like night & day. Now I am certainly not saying that improvements can't be made. But I am saying that they have been & it's what you are calling common purpose thinking that has led to it.

I think if it has worked in my sector it probably works elsewhere too.

OK what we have to admit is that the government are running the show. They set the priorities. So I suppose there is a danger if you get a really bad government & I might not be so enthusiastic then.

Observer said...

All this hasn't happened since 2007, Labour were into the same thinking too, only they weren't as good at making it happen.

Anonymous said...

I must go to bed.
I do not know if my following comment has already been aired, but here goes:

If the system is so wonderful, what is the reason for the existence of MSPs? It sounds much like the EU, does it not? A powerless Parliament and an all-powerful New Aristocracy.
And another question arises: can an elected Parliament overthrown and unelected New Aristocracy?

I thought that we had removed the Aristocracy, but they have come back in force, haven't they? They have certainly taken over the Health Dept.

Sheila said...

Thanks Observer - very interesting. Funny how we are making similar points in a lot of ways...

Sheila said...

Thanks Junican. Suppose what we are seeing is leadership beyond authority.


subrosa said...

Leadership beyond authority indeed Sheila. What concerns me is that the chosen few may not be chosen for their intellect or quality of skill but for other reasons.

Sheila said...

Agreed Subrosa...

Sheila said...

Just for completeness, I thought I'd put Sir John's LSE blogpost up:

The experiences of Scotland’s devolved authority can provide lessons in governance for Westminster and beyond.


"There are obvious differences of scale between the Scottish and UK Governments but the fact that I have begun discussion with government representatives within China about the scope for applying elements of the model there indicates that such differences need not necessarily be seen as an insurmountable obstacle."

subrosa said...

Mmm Sheila. That makes me even more uneasy. China's style of government isn't what I wish to see inflicted upon my family.

Sheila said...

Re-visiting in the light of recent "news" coverage:




I see the link to that briefing paper has gone but I've found another one:


Sheila said...

Sir John has been rather busy since his "retirement" ...


"Sir John Elvidge Becomes IFF Trustee
Former senior civil servant Sir John Elvidge, who retired as Permanent Secretary to the Scottish Government in summer 2010, has become a Trustee of International Futures Forum His wide experience, shrewd judgement and internationalist outlook will be great assets for IFF. Sir John gave our Michael Shea memorial lecture last year on the timely subject of 'Seeing Scotland Afresh: How We Look To A Changing World' . His counsel will be particularly valuable to IFF as we seek to play a useful role in Scotland during the coming period of profound self-examination."


"Enabling State: A New Relationship between Government and People?


Former top Scottish civil servant appointed Carnegie Fellow to examine how governments across Britain and Ireland can deliver public services that work for people

The former head of Scotland’s civil service, Sir John Elvidge, has been appointed as a Carnegie Fellow to lead a study into the changing relationship between governments and the people they govern.

The “Enabling State” inquiry will examine what needs to be done to bring together the parallel strands across the five nations of the UK and Ireland of what is variously called localism, Big Society, community empowerment and mutualism, to deliver more responsive public services for individuals and communities.

Sir John says the aim is to challenge existing models of public service delivery and promote an alternative vision of ‘the enabling state’ that recognises the importance of individuals and communities:

“Governments across the UK and Ireland may use different words for it, but each is now committed to the concept that people should be encouraged to play a more active role in improving the wellbeing of those in their communities. However, while they may have accepted the shift in power, governments are various distances short of making the necessary move from provider and manager to facilitator and enabler.

“Over the coming months, my task is going to be to work with governments, national organisations and community groups to rethink the role of the state and its relationship with taxpayers and examine how we can deliver a step change in the delivery of public services in a way that is right for each of the different nations involved.”

Carnegie UK Trust Chief Executive, Martyn Evans, says nobody is underestimating the challenge of the task set for the new Carnegie Fellow:

“In Sir John, the Trust has again found a leader in his field with stature and experience who can bring the insight to his work as a Carnegie Fellow necessary to tackle an issue that has become the difficult missing piece in the jigsaw of empowering communities.

“As an organisation that works across the UK and Ireland we are pleased to be able to encourage more sharing of innovative policy ideas between governments. Through a series of events and publications we hope that the work Sir John is leading will help stimulate debate on the future of public services.”

The project involves the publication of discussion papers, a series of roundtable events and interviews with senior government staff undertaken by Sir John. The final report and recommendations of the inquiry are due to be published in March 2013.

For more information, contact Jennifer Wallace (Policy Manager) on 01383 721445 or jennifer@carnegieuk.org."

Less relevant to the above post but interesting all the same:

Sir John Elvidge announced as new chairman of Edinburgh Airport:


Sheila said...

Revisiting (19/02/13)to post this article :


Prof Stiglitz said: “I am delighted to advise, for the first time, a committee of the Scottish Parliament.

“My work with the international Commission on the Measurement of Economic Performance and Social Progress has underlined the concerns over the adequacy of gross domestic product as a measure of well-being, and I hope that my knowledge and expertise in this area will convince the committee to consider this issue in more detail.”

So they're finally presenting the rest of the politicians with a fait accompli which will be dressed up in such a way that the numpties will believe they're actually having a say in it.

Remember, you read it here first...a year and a half ago.

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