Activism and its effects

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By Nick Joy

So here I am trying to concentrate whilst looking after my extremely active granddaughter. My thoughts are punctuated with “Granddad, granddad can you come and…”

To a flagging grandparent, this endless energy is like the wearing nature of a long gale on a high tide.

Anyway, in between bouts of questioning, being asked to help or just being given a big hug, the question of the future she will face comes into my head more and more.

What is very clear is that our democracy is not threatened as much by the incredible incompetence of our politicians but by the corruption of our civil service. I am not nostalgic enough to think that the people within the civil service were neutral in the olden days. Of course they weren’t, but they understood that they were the bastions of democracy and that they had to ensure balance. Their role was to deliver the will of the people delivered to them through politicians, however much they disagreed with it.

Then along came organisations like Common Purpose and the like who thought that they had a higher purpose. They know better than the general public, so they have the right to influence at a core level in order to get the government to do the right thing as they see it.

The fundamental problem with this type of thinking is that passion for a view is not necessarily linked to the correctness of that view. Once you start down this route, however, it is impossible to stop; primarily, because the whole concept is based on not admitting to influencing or having a bias. In other words, lying.

As a fish farmer, you may work out quite quickly where I am heading because we have been the targets of such activism for a very long time. I remember well when a certain head of SEPA, the Scottish Environment Protection Agency, supposedly unbiased and reasonable, acted against the industry. Speaking with colleagues, I questioned whether the person was an angler and was told emphatically that he wasn’t.

Surprisingly, when he retired, he became chair of a notorious angling group. This isn’t against the law, but it is highly unethical.

It is not unknown for an individual from a campaigning organisation to be seconded to a public sector post. I can hardly think of a better way to ensure undue influence for an extremely long time. Is this regularly discussed and would someone in that position recuse himself or herself from meetings because of their connections? I doubt that is the case.

As an industry, and we are not the only one, we need to start to think much more strategically if we want to be able to deal with extremely stupid regulations like the new SEPA sea lice rules (and I could mention a whole load more).

The face we see is politicians and so we blame them for the policies they promote or enact. The problem is much more insidious, however. To test the theory just try debating with the advisers involved. If they refuse to debate you in public, then they fear the data and the truth.

It is not easy to counter this sort of scheming. We could follow the American model and use lobbying to counter activism. This carries the risk of becoming a matter of who can pay most to achieve their policy.

The other option is to start calling out individual civil servants. This risks creating implacable enemies (and court cases). Whatever answer is chosen, industries are going to have to become much more strategic about how they deal with the civil service and expect it to act against their best interests in all circumstances. It is never likely that the civil service will virtue signal its support for an industry against an activist.

If you feel that I am too cynical, just try debating with one of these people and you may find yourself converted remarkably quickly.

Meanwhile, I shall return to a small smiling face who would rather have a hug and play with the dogs than think about the problems of the world. If you ask me which is more important… no contest!

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