Some people need to get out more. Doesn’t matter where, just some place where there are real people who can tell them what is important and what is not.
Housing associations adjusting their operational plans for 2013 to include the establishment of soup kitchens – that’s important. The UK Government about to start monitoring everyone’s emails and web activity – that’s important. Children not being able to count very well at the age of 13 – that’s not just important, it’s a disgrace.
So how come, the politicians (opposition corps, of course) and the meeja (Scotland’s two quality newspapers in particular) decided yesterday that the most important thing happening in Scotland at this particular time was the Scottish Government allowing anonymous submissions to be made to its independence referendum?
An attempt to rig the result of the consultation, cried some – though no one made clear to whom such anonymity might offer an advantage. Not so, cried the Scottish Government, this was normal practice in its consultations. Who cares, cried the rest of us.
And frankly who does.
Particularly now the issue has been resolved. The Scottish Government has changed the settings on its online consultation platform to make the problem go away, which rather suggests that it wasn’t normal practice, especially since this was the first time the government’s new online consultation platform had been put into action. But which also suggests that rather than being a policy decision, it was an HTML coding oversight, fixed by adding a comma or a set of brackets or similar.
Now we can all go away and get on with something much more productive, like responding to the consultation. And we can do so, comforted by the fact that we will all know how many folk responded and who they all are.
Except we won’t. Since the process of consulting the populace began in Scotland, on matters varied and myriad, there has always been an option not to have anyone know who you are, whom you represent and what you said. There is, and continues to be a wee box to tick to say, please don’t make public what I said, nor my name and address – and there are mix and match options of this for those who like to live it large.
So actually, the issue of anonymity is not really resolved at all. And that’s the way it should be.
It is no one’s right to see what anyone else has to say in such consultations. There are many reasons why a respondent might not want others to know what they have said. Someone who suffered sexual abuse as a child and wants to help as an adult make sure that child protection guidelines minimise the risk of it happening to other children. Someone who has been sectioned under previous mental health legislation and wants to have their experience improve new provision but who doesn’t want friends and work colleagues to know about their health issues in the past. A company provides commercially sensitive information as part of a submission that it is happy to share with the government to improve policy and practice but doesn’t necessarily want bandied about to all and sundry.
Or maybe there are just some folk who don’t want to indulge the nosy buggers. I’ve responded – and as a veteran consultation respondent in various guises over the years, I commend the new online platform which is efficient, smooth and effective – and I have ticked the box saying please don’t publish my name and address. I’m happy for my views to be known and what I had to say can be published but not with my name attached.
Why? Well, because I work in a policy-related job, I didn’t necessarily want my views on a personally political matter being confused or somehow attaching to the organisation I work for. What I believe personally should not be allowed to prejudice what people might think of the job I might do on other policy and political matters professionally. Though I’m sure most of you could guess at the gist of what I had to say for myself.
But there’s an even more serious issue than this at work. I nearly did allow my name and address to be published but pausing to think about it changed my mind. For the reason above, but also because I did not want my views – nor indeed anyone else’s – to be used as currency by one side or the other in the battle to win or defeat the referendum. Which is a pretty sad reflection of the state of Scottish politics.
People are reluctant to make their views publicly known because others cannot be trusted to treat those views with respect. And while I acknowlege the irony and perhaps hypocrisy in a political blogger making such an assertion, it really should give everyone who is going to be seeking folk to vote yes or no in the coming referendum something to think about. Especially the ones currently indulging in the latest round of cyber hate wars and tussling over whose members/supporters have the vilest views.
This burd has been called many things in her time but wallflower ain’t one of them. Shy and retiring are not epithets I recognise. So if the likes of me is reluctant to proclaim unto nation what I think about the referendum process and how it should be run, for fear of the response and the reaction, think how the current poisonous atmosphere within which political discourse is being conducted is impacting on the much more reticent, ordinary voter.
Frankly, I’m not sure anyone would want the don’t knows and stay at homes to win in this, the most important debate on our constitutional future, in our history.