Monday 16 August 2004

Statism and whisky.

I'm slightly surprised to see David Farrer writing in favour of Alex Salmond's proposal that all the SNP's parliamentary staff be forced to join the party.

First off, this is little better than extortion. "You want to keep your job? Pay my organisation." When the Mafia do it, it's bad. When a political party does it, it's still bad. No libertarian should support this sort of crap.

Secondly, it'll lead to — sorry; I mean, increase corruption. The SNP aren't all that big, but imagine if Labour and the Lib Dems were to go down this route. The political party with the most seats would also have the most members working for the parliamentary civil service, which would quickly become a self-reinforcing situation. Every time a sitting MSP lost an election, the incoming victor would be faced with an entire staff hostile to their ideas and batting for the other team. A politicised civil service is something we're supposed to avoid, not aspire to.

David makes the classic mistake of the business manager:

It's perfectly natural for managers to want employees to support an organisation's product, especially when that "product" is ideological.

It's natural, yes, but it's not all that useful. The world needs people like David: they really care about what their company does, so are the ideal people to run businesses. But what they always fail to realise is that the world is also full of people who are very, very good at doing things they don't give a damn about. People who can take pride in a job well done merely for its own sake, regardless of what the job is. Companies are full of people like this, and their managers always fail to empathise with them. We don't need "motivational" pep talks about the share price; we don't need company mousemats, covered in mission statement, to take home with us; we don't need press releases from head office emailed to us every day. We are perfectly capable of being good — brilliant, even — at our jobs without being passionate about the industry. And it's exasperating for us that our managers are so rarely capable of grasping this concept.

employers should have the right to lay down whatever conditions of employment that they see fit.

This is absolutely correct, but I'm amazed to see it in this context. I never thought anyone would have to spell this out to David Farrer, of all people, but here we go. The SNP MSPs are not civil servants' employers. Civil servants and MSPs both work for the same employer: the taxpayer. Yes, taxpayers should be able to lay down conditions of employment for their employees — MSP's salaries could be decided by referendum, for a start. But Alex Salmond's suggestion is akin to my demanding the right to decide how my company's cleaning lady spends her money simply because I happen to be further up the org chart than she is.


David Farrer said...

Hi there, S2. Welcome to the land of blog.

I culled about a dozen inactive sites from my blogroll yesterday and am pleased to add yours as the first replacement.

On the matter at hand, I agree with you if we’re talking about tax-funded civil servants. The original article is not too clear about what is being proposed. Of course, the taxpayer shouldn’t be paying for any political advisers anyway.

I do think that it’s different with staff at party HQ who are funded by the voluntary contributions of ordinary members (and Sean Connery!)

On company “pep talks”, I’m with you entirely. The recent proposal to make staff at B&Q’s East Kilbride store sing some sort of Muppet song has been rightly ridiculed in the Scottish press.

Squander Two said...

Hi, David.

Thanks for the link.

B&Q is an excellent shop, but I have noticed lately that their staff appear to be less helpful and enthusiastic than they used to be. I didn't know about the song. That would explain it.

Anonymous said...

The SNP proposal is not for civil servants, but for party political assistants.

Squander Two said...

Ah, well, then. Oops.

In my defense, the first letter in The Scotsman says "all their MSPs’ parliamentary staff" and implies that their wages are paid out of taxpayers' money. That's what I was reacting to. Wrongly. But hey.

[Note to self: Must get more than two hours' sleep prior to political blogging.]

Squander Two said...

It has been brought to my attention that the parliamentary staff Alex Salmond is talking about are indeed paid with taxpayers' money. So, then, I stand by all I wrote.