Thursday, August 16, 2012

SCVO's Alison Elliot proves Willie Rennie's point

Willie Rennie has been questioning the fact that Alex Salmond's Special Adviser seems to have an inappropriately familiar relationship with SCVO Chief Executive Martin Sime over the issue of a second question on Devo Max on the independence referendum ballot paper. 

It's already been stated by numerous constitutional experts that a second question could give an unclear outcome. Much as I and every other Liberal Democrat wants to see more powers for the Scottish Parliament, a second question in this referendum is not the way to deliver it.

The SNP themselves say they only want one question, "Do you agree that Scotland should be an independent country?" Why then, is Alex Bell, Alex Salmond's Special Adviser, sending an email circulating a Unite poll supporting a second question? Out of the goodness of his heart? Or is it that the SNP know that they can't win on independence because most Scots do not want the UK to be split up and they're grappling around for some sort of face saving consolation prize? Even better if they can encourage supposedly independent organisations to do their legwork on this for them.

So, Willie Rennie wrote to Alison Elliot, the Convener of SCVO, asking her to consider the position of Martin Sime. His letter said:
I am sure your members will be dismayed to learn that Mr Sime is allowing the SNP to use the SCVO as a front organisation to make its case for a second question.  As you are more than aware the SVCO exist to represent the views and interests of Scotland’s third sector. Mr Sime has displayed poor judgement by involving himself in a highly polarised debate on matters of process regarding the constitutional referendum.
 SCVO exist to represent the views and interests of Scotland’s third sector.  It provides expert opinion to decision makers on a range of subjects including health, education, justice and regeneration. I value the critical role the organisation plays.  However, Martin Sime is undermining the impartiality of that opinion by backing the SNP in a highly polarised debate on constitutional process matters on which he has neither locus nor expertise. I believe that Mr Sime should consider his position as Chief Executive of SCVO.
Alison Elliot's reply, published by Holyrood magazine in full , is extraordinary in its hostile and unprofessional tone.

There is simply no excuse for the head of any organisation to write to anyone in these terms, no matter how much they have offended you:
 I consider your allegations preposterous, your interpretation of the incidents fanciful and your attempt to interfere in the business of an independent organisation unworthy of a public leader. I have no intention of asking Martin to resign.
Her comments will no doubt play well to the SNP gallery, but ordinary people and, indeed, people working in the voluntary sector, feel disquiet about the way a supposedly independent organisation seems to be working hand in glove with the establishment. I've had it said to me that Sime and Elliot have lost the plot on this, that they have no mandate for what they're saying and that they are making it difficult for SCVO to work with anyone other than the SNP in the future. And that's from people who have nothing to do with the Liberal Democrats.

Every organisation and individual has the right to take part in the debate on Scotland's future. In fact, when it comes to future devolution, I want to see something like another constitutional convention where civic society and people and politicians come together to develop a consensus as to where we should go next. What's wrong, though, is where they're doing so at the direct urging of the SNP Government and not telling us that. Debate on a second question is welcome but when it's being manipulated behind by scenes by SNP SpAds, we need to know.

I get Alison Elliot's desire to protect her member of staff but its angry tone does nothing to reassure those who will be alarmed by the emergence of such links. Had I been in her position, I'd have been opening the door to Willie Rennie, inviting him for a meeting to reassure him, not slamming it in his face. I'd have made it clear that I didn't think there was a case to answer, but I'd have wanted to show that I was engaging with everybody. All she's done with such an emotionally charged outburst is to add weight to Willie's argument.

In response to Alison Elliot's caustic reply, Willie said:

I've clearly touched a raw nerve. These are serious concerns about the impartiality of the Chief Executive of SCVO and clearly deserve a better response. I think people will be concerned that SCVO has taken one side of a highly polarised, political debate. First we had the attempt to undermine the launch of Better Together and now hard evidence of collusion with one of Alex Salmond's close advisers. SCVO are in serious danger of undermining their reputation.

Liberals exist to challenge excesses of the state - and in this case, by so brazenly attempting to manipulate the debate for its own ends and not being transparent about it, the SNP has been shown to be wanting. SCVO damages its position as an independent organisation by being seen to dance to the SNP's tune. Willie is right to ask questions.


Anonymous said...

If I accuse you of being the instument of faginism, stealing to order by a controlling figure, and you deny that, saying that you neither steal nor do you follow anyone's orders, then, according to you, that *proves* IT.

I *must* have touched a raw nerve.

What a shower!

Unknown said...

It's the hot heated, hostile, unprofessional, downright rude manner of denial which makes Willie's point for him.

There's no attempt from her to engage which you would expect from the head o any organisation in any correspondence no matter what has been said to them and how offended they may be.

Fourfolksache said...

Do you think that if you polled the voters that they would find Mr to be the professional of the two? If you do you have lost the plot and your lack of grasp on reality sums up your party's position. And Caron you'll be a granny before that changes!

RevStu said...

Seriously? You're seriously going to try to make out that it's Alison Elliot who's the one behaving outrageously here?

Mr Sime received what as far as we know was an unsolicted email. That's it. That's the entire extent of his "wrongdoing". There is nothing I've seen in any report that suggests Mr Sime took any action whatsoever on account of the email. If I sent you an email saying "All black people are stupid", would YOU be a racist?

To call for his resignation on those pathetically flimsy grounds is beyond laughable, and so far out of line it beggars belief. Willie Rennie is extremely lucky he didn't get a smack in the mouth, never mind an angry letter.

SCVO's impartiality is beyond any rational questioning. The purpose of the email, from Alex Bell's perspective, was blindingly obvious - to help highlight the Unionist parties' increasingly-desperate attempts to frustrate the wishes of the Scottish people in general, and "civic Scotland" in particular, of which SCVO is a significant part.

SCVO has stated its desire for a wider range of options on the ballot paper. It has NOT stated a preference among those options. Even if Mr Sime had used the information supplied by Mr Bell, he'd have been perfectly within his rights to do so in order to further his organisation's goals. But in any event, he didn't.

Willie Rennie's behaviour - in particular his petulant, playground response to Ms Elliot's letter - has been utterly juvenile and disgraceful, and ill-befitting a senior politician of any party. For you to attempt to defend it, and to try to smear such an honourable organisation along the way in such a despicable manner, is embarrassing. You ought to hang your head in shame.

Unknown said...

Rev Stu, you, who tried to make political capital out of hearses being driven through Wootton Bassett, have the nerve to instruct me to hang my head in shame. It's a funny old world.

RevStu said...

Happily, and I'd do it again tomorrow, because my point was made in the aim of saving soldiers' lives, not sending human beings off to foreign lands to die for nothing. I take no lessons in morality from hypocritical warmongers.

Nice dodge of the issue with an ad-hominem attack, though.

Unknown said...


Hate to break it to you, but Lib Dems opposed the Iraq War. That makes us warmongers how exactly?

Anonymous said...


I think you did indeed try to dodge RevStu's argument above; and I too think that you and Willie Rennie are simply trying to smear Alison Elliot and the SVCO.

In any case this issue has been authoritatively fisked by Natalie McGarry -

oldhat said...

"SCVO's impartiality is beyond any rational questioning"? Really? The problem is that it is being questioned by many in the voluntary sector, as well as by unionist politicians.

If SCVO has stated its desire for a wider range of options on the ballot paper, then it hasn't asked it's members if this is what they want to see. Some might say they do, some might say they don't, but i think that most would say that SCVO should not be focussing its energy on constitutional questions at all.

For most us in the voluntary sector this is a time of profound change and challenge. there are lots of things SCVO should be doing around funding, procurement and the growing competition from the private sector. But instead they are focussing on what looks like Martin Sime's attempt at a legacy project.

Even if this was an appropriate issue for SCVO to spend so much time on they needed to do two things to proect themselves. Firstly, they needed to engage members (which they haven't done) and secondly they needed to be seen as politically neutral. Stunts like releasing your opinion poll on the second question the day before the no campaign launches undermine that.

cynicalHighlander said...

George W. Potter said...


Hate to break it to you, but Lib Dems opposed the Iraq War. That makes us warmongers how exactly?

Like no tuition fees eh, words come very cheap with the present LibDems. Or the party that suddenly re-believes in federalism yet there is no word in your manifesto on this, chancers.

Anonymous said...


I believe you mean well and interpret Willie Rennie's remarks as justified and somehow find issue with the response from Alison Elliot.

The test of an issue being justified is the balanced acceptance of the issue by a social group.

I have no political axe to grind but from the comments of friends and family, which align with my own assessment. I am genuinely surprised at your interpretation of the incident.

I have admired the leaders of your party from Thorpe to Kennedy (I regret our views parted post Kennedy).

With regret I think loyal LibDem activists are now trying to shore up a leaders which are mere shadows of the previous leaders of quality (I apply my comments to the UK and Scotland)

I admire your loyalty and recognise that it is difficult to step back and measure what is said and what is done when measured against deeply held values.

A 25% decline in membership cannot be ignored.

I hope your party re-discovers it's original values. We need as wide a set of options as possible.

RevStu said...

I'm still keen to hear what Mr Sime actually did to merit Willie Rennie's ire other than RECEIVE an UNSOLICITED email. Perhaps there's a vital aspect of the story I've missed, because it's staggeringly, blindingly obvious even to a total idiot that calling for someone to lose their job because SOMEONE ELSE sent them an email is a twisted, moronic absurdity.

So, anyone want to fill me in?

sm753 said...

Was it really "unsolicited"?

In my experience, when government bodies send out "unsolicited" communications there's a lot of salutation and preamble.

You know, "Dear Mr X, as you may know we have a policy of this and that and as a result we are writing to you to ask blah blah".

If they send something like "Read this" it is clear that:

1) there is a very close pre-existing relationship between sender and recipient

2) the email is part of an ongoing conversation - no explanations are needed because both parties know all about.

This stinks.

Anonymous said...


I'm sorry but I think you are merely trying to perpetuate Caron's attempt at a smear.

Your assertion of what is clear is very speculative, and far from evident.

In my experience - I work at upper management level in a state bureaucracy that deals with a variety of bodies - the by-line 'Read this' is not uncommon.

RevStu said...

"Was it really "unsolicited"?"

Have you evidence to the contrary? Please share it with us. I'm not aware that even Mr Rennie made such an allegation.

An Duine Gruamach said...

Oldhat - the SCVO isn't part of the British Nationalist campaign. Why should they be obliged to schedule their poll/ press releases to suit that campaign?


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