Letter from Edinburgh - Friday 14th October 2016

This week, Tavish writes about Russia, Trump and the importance of accountability. 

Remember the cold war? When the presidents of the USSR and the USA used to square up to each other? When peace summits were about how many nuclear weapons both superpowers had? When it was Reagan and Gorbachev?

Are we now going back to the future? Putin’s Russia is bombing hospitals and killing children in Aleppo and backs a Syrian tyrant with his air force. Dutch investigators have proved beyond any reasonable doubt that a Russian missile shot down a civilian aircraft over Ukraine, killing 283 people. The Kremlin has declared their interest in reopening military bases in Vietnam and Cuba.

What has been the response of the world? Not much. The Americans are in a political vacuum with the presidential elections a month away. Trump proved again this week that he is utterly unsuited to office. Yet he could win. Trump praises Putin. That in itself shows how politics has changed. A Republican praising a Russian leaver would have Ronnie Reagan turning in his grave.

In the cold war, the soviet propaganda machine was Pravda. Started by Lenin in 1912, it was the soviet mouthpiece on the world. Today it claims to be independent. But not a word of Kremlin criticism appears on its pages. On the downing of Malaysian Airlines’ flight, Pravda repeated Putin’s line. His claim that the aircraft was shot down by Ukraine has no evidence whatsoever to support it.

Pravda has now established a news office in Edinburgh. Not London, but Edinburgh. Why? Could it be that the Scottish capital is a good place to throw mud at any London government supporting a tougher line with Moscow? Possibly.

But the UK government does not have a foreign policy. It has created the utter mess that is Brexit. Nothing more demonstrates the lack of any policy than Amber Rudd’s proposal that employers across the UK should have to publish a list of any employees who are “foreign”. Down that road lies the end.

Rudd cannot have read much European history. My children learned about the persecution and extermination of the Jews, gypsies and others who did not conform to the Aryan ideal in the 1930s. What possessed Theresa May’s government to contemplate an approach that would stigmatise foreign workers? After a hail of objection, they have dropped the idea. But to have it in the first place says a lot.

At least we can vote out our governments. American voters will decide their president. Should the same apply to Shetland Charitable Trust? There is no direct parallel. But accountability matters. A trust that is all appointed and yet is responsible for Shetland’s long-term financial fund fails to pass the accountability test.

There needs to be a link between the electorate and the trust. Councillor trustees looked okay to me. A proper and appropriate link between the elected SIC and the trust. But that is not currently an option. The charitable trust cannot have all its trustees appointed. That would fail the test of accountability.

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