Help ma Boab!

Readers of a certain vintage may recall my old chum Bob Wylie stomping across their screens. “This is Bob Wylie, for BBC Scotland,” still resonates in my memory, his pugnacious jaw thrust to the camera challenging anyone to doubt what had gone before.

Boab has moved on and up since, skipping over that unfortunate episode of an awayday involving Rangers Football Club. And he’s written one of the financial books of the year, called Bandit Capitalism, which I hollered about in this newspaper a few weeks ago.

It’s not just my ranking of the book which details, like a mini-series in print, the collapse of the giant construction and outsourcing company Carillion. It’s rated as number seven in the top 20 economics books of the year by the Financial Times. There are villains aplenty in this tale of the company which was systematically looted by its management, although few heroes.

I appreciate these appear small sums in the current pandemic – the company collapsing with £7 billion in debts and holes in the pension fund, all of which cost the British taxpayer £2.6bn to fix. But on we spend. Mind you the executives managed to ride off with millions and they didn’t even have to put on masks.

The FT’s Martin Wolf says of Big Boab’s epic: “An excoriating book on the corruption that can lurk within contemporary capitalism … When management is expected to run companies for the purpose of enriching themselves trouble is sure to ensue. And it does.”

The old saw that it’s a real page-turner is true. There’s a film in it too, surely, possibly featuring David Tennant, with as walk-on part for Bob, playing himself, because nobody else could.

We’re a hateful bunch

An organisation called The Woolf Institute, an offshoot of Cambridge University, has just published a report about what we think of our neighbours. It’s based on an 11,000-adult survey by Survation, although only in England and Wales, although it surely has lessons here.

The conclusions? That religious intolerance is the biggest driver of prejudice. Data, say the boffins, suggests that religion is perhaps one of the last prejudices people are comfortable expressing openly.

This report deals with Islamophobia and anti-Semitism, whereas up here that would, without downplaying the seriousness of those, be between two branches of the same religion, the green and the blue.

Are we ever going to see the end of the vile sectarian abuse, the songs and slogans, even the violence? Not in my lifetime.

The historian Tom Nairn put it that Scotland won’t be free until the last minister is strangled with the last copy of the Sunday Post. It won’t be a mature democracy until the last bigot is strangled with an Old Firm scarf.

Waiting for answers

I SEEM to remember that there was a fire, for the second time, at the Glasgow School of Art. When was it now? Oh, June 2018, I remember, because I broke a story that the same flammable materials which went up in the Grenfell Tower conflagration were used in the Mack.

It’s more than two-and-a-half years since the fire and we still don’t have a report from the fire and rescue service as to what caused it. Waiting for Godot has nothing on this performance.

Serious money

The Scottish Government may have paid out more than £500,000 to Alex Salmond to settle his case against them but that’s chicken feed to what the taxpayer is going to have to pay out over a malicious prosecution of two of the Rangers administrators after the club went bust in 2012.

It’s extraordinary and unprecedented that the present Lord Advocate, James Wolffe, should admit that the prosecution of David Whitehouse and Paul Clark by the previous one, Frank Mulholland, was malicious.

The men were initially suing the Crown, in the shape of Wolffe, and Police Scotland, for more than £20 million for having been arrested, locked up and charged with fraud, a case that spectacularly collapsed, and no doubt has had a damaging, or even fatal, hit to their careers.

Both their targets have now collapsed, or are in the process of doing so and the only matter to decide is how much it will cost. And it will be millions.

The Crown has made an interim settlement of £600,000 to them and last week Police Scotland admitted liability, caved and made an undisclosed payment to the two. So, conservatively, the settlement bill must be at least a million by now and the meter is still running. There are three other parties who also fancy having a go and who are hard enough.

Frank (Lord) Mulholland is now a senator of the College of Justice. You can take your own view as to why the Crown and the cops should settle. By doing so, of course, it keeps senior Crown Office witnesses present or past out of court to be examined over this ill-considered decision to prosecute.

There’s also a fundamental issue about democracy here. In any grown-up one the prosecution service is independent of the administration, so that the former can lay cases without influence from the latter. But under the Scotland Act, the Lord Advocate sits in Cabinet alongside ministers, so at the very least there’s a potential conflict of interest – or the appearance of one.

Last week, we entered “you couldn’t make it up” terrain. Wolffe, a member of the Government, now with his Lord Advocate’s hat on, refused to say whether his Government had requested from him, as top law officer, disclosure of legal advice in the Salmond case. Did he ask himself, perchance?

The Salmond inquiry is battling reluctance, obfuscation, contradictory evidence – four civil servants have so far changed theirs – but there are much more serious, and expensive, matters involved in the Rangers cases. There needs to be a heavyweight inquiry. And it can’t be done by the Scottish Parliament.