Scotland the cowed

April 1, 2010

"The silenced saltire", Tom Gallagher's analysis of Scotland's political culture, is spot on (25 March). Devolution promised a more open, democratic and accountable society, but despite some encouraging early signs, this has not happened. Power remains firmly in the hands of the traditional players: senior civil servants; quango heads appointed through the patronage system; legal and financial networks with easy access to the government. Local authorities continue to be paternalistic and authoritarian. The mainstream press seems unable or unwilling to provide the kind of tough, investigative journalism that is needed to expose cronyism, cover-ups and inefficiency.

As for higher education, there are too many tame academics, house-trained in the politics of compliance, who seem more concerned with recognition in the honours list than fulfilling a public role as independent, critical thinkers. Scottish university leaders have allowed themselves to be drawn into a cosy relationship with the government, evident in the 2008 report of the Joint Future Thinking Taskforce on Universities.

Post-devolution Scotland is, in many respects, profoundly anti-intellectual, and its failure to address the important issues raised by Gallagher is one symptom of this. Few people would argue for a return to pre-devolutionary governance, but to imagine that Scotland has achieved the necessary conditions for a healthy democracy is a sad delusion.

Walter Humes, Research professor in education, University of the West of Scotland.

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