A REGRETTABLE consequence of this intense and distended period of political engagement has been the infantilising of language. Thus vapid and meaningless phrases are deployed to convey a message that is so loose and inexact that it can be shaped and bent into meaning anything. These phrases leave no trace of anything substantial and thus can never be used against their creators. The most dismal of these is, “Standing up for Scotland”; a locution so shallow and insipid that it engenders feelings of dread rather than inspiration. Has anyone ever “sat down for Scotland”?

In recent months the curious case of Glasgow City Council, a Canadian global IT conglomerate and a contract worth £800 million has tested the outer limits of what it means to fail to stand up for Scotland. Just before the council broke for the local authority elections virtually the last act of the leader of Glasgow City Council, Frank McAveety, occurred. This was to award this massive contract – to deliver all of Glasgow’s digital and ICT services over the next seven years – to CGI, an outfit with a patchy trading history of delivering big-ticket projects on time and to budget.

CGI was at the centre of the massive IT catastrophe which left around 20,000 farmers without their farm subsidy payments, driving many to the edge of ruin. Audit Scotland, which produced a report into the shambles, warned that the incomplete £178m system, designed to process common agricultural policy payments of £688m a year, was at risk of running out of money before it had met the European Commission deadline.

The report condemned the mismanagement of the project and highlighted “a significant conflict of interest held by a contractor on the programme”. Audit Scotland said that 97 staff employed by CGI had actually been hired by a senior CGI director through his recruitment company.

Over the seven-year tenure of this deal it may be instructional to observe the future career choices of several ex-Labour councillors. CGI was also at the centre of the train wreck that occurred in the US with the online delivery of Obamacare as many people simply couldn’t access the site.

The timing of the meeting of the council’s executive committee was well-chosen: the following day electioneering Purdah would set in thus restricting any opposition attempts immediately to highlight the grand act of economic and industrial betrayal being played out by Mr McAveety and the council’s officers.

Reports have begun to emerge from within the City Chambers of some relegated Labour councillors moving valuable works of art from their office walls, including an LS Lowry. These have then been put up on the walls of their new reduced premises elsewhere in the City Chambers. This shower is obviously aware of its real priorities.

The Canadian firm seems likely to take over the seven-year contract from Serco, another private multi-national whose tenure had been characterised by issues with missing laptops in schools, damaging network crashes and missing data. Mr McAveety and his fellow Labour councillors were able to push through the CGI deal without having recourse to a public tender operation that might have opened up the business to Scotland’s vibrant IT sector. They were able to avoid this by piggy-backing on CGI’s deal with City of Edinburgh Council, which had already gone through the public procurement process. That was pushed through by both Labour and SNP councillors.

The reason why Labour is in retreat is epitomised by the CGI deal. It betrays an absence of anything resembling an original thought. There is also contempt for Scotland’s SME community which provides the backbone of the economy. The sleight of hand deployed by the council to ensure the Canadian super-company was taken by the hand and walked into the contract unopposed undermines the SNP Government’s policy on public sector procurement, which has several principles designed to obtain results that are good for the economy.

There is an encouragement to ensure firms pay the Living Wage and that they engage with communities by seeking partnerships with third sector and charitable organisations. Firms expecting to win these contracts are expected to have modern apprenticeship schemes. CGI may have these in place but we don’t know because the entire deal escaped the scrutiny and examination of a proper tendering process.

Imagination and intellect are commodities not found in large quantities among Glasgow City Council’s group of nodding dogs. A little of each would have kept this vitally important and lucrative contract in-house and protected thousands of council jobs along with their levels of pay and conditions of service.

With a little effort and expertise the IT job could have been broken up into smaller job lots and disbursed to a flotilla of Scottish SMEs. There are hundreds of software development firms; software management firms; infrastructure change companies; digital transformation companies and project management firms.

This is a nimble and flexible fleet with high levels of innovation that eclipse anything existing in the hulking multinationals which routinely deploy a matrix that is designed to drive up profit for the least possible outlay. Jobs stability, sustainable incomes, embedding roots in a community; all are sacrificed to the market.

The deal that Edinburgh struck to allow CGI virtually to annexe Scotland’s IT sector was designed to allow other councils to privatise their own services. Borders Council has already done it and, after Glasgow, others will follow suit. Thus, potentially more than £1bn worth of Scottish contracts will increase the market value and share price of a Canadian multinational with no notion of the warp and weft of Scottish communities and their needs. More importantly, a chance has been missed to stimulate long-term growth by means of galvanising Scotland’s SME community. Instead they will be forced to scrap for the 20% of least profitable parts of the CGI deal; reducing their profit margins accordingly just to get the work. The SNP and Labour have criticised the UK Government of hurting the Scottish economy, but they also do a good job of it themselves.

The CGI deal is virtually sewn up subject to the satisfactory conclusion of the business case. This allows a small window for new SNP council leader Susan Aitken, who had sought to delay it pending further scrutiny. If she and her party really want to “Stand up for Scotland” they must do everything in they can to stop this deal. Council sources aver that this might be legally untenable but is CGI, which stands to take tens of millions out of the Scottish economy, going to jeopardise future dripping roasts by suing over this?

In the meantime; welcome to Scotland: the world’s greatest wee branch economy.