Saturday 20 March 2010

A fair and level playing field?

When a Government Minister fights an election, he or she does not do so on Government time, with paid civil servants producing campaign materials. Likewise, if the Scottish Government were to hold a referendum on independence, they would campaign not as Ministers, but as members of their political party. They would not be permitted to use civil servants to produce campaign materials or use their Office to run a campaign. Such referenda are subject to campaign rules.

For example, in 'Scotland's Future' the Scottish Government explain why their proposed referendum would need to be subject to campaign rules: "it is essential that rules are in place to ensure that the campaigns are run in a demonstrably fair and open manner ... The aim is to create a level playing field for those involved in campaigning; no organisation should have an unfair advantage over another. In particular, a single wealthy organisation should not be able to influence the campaign disproportionately".

But incredibly there are no such campaign rules for Law Society of Scotland referenda. Which explains why the President, Council members, and the Chief Executive Officer can help themselves to resources - paid for by the members - such as staff time, organisational facilities, confidential databases, and Law Society financial resources to run their own campaign in favour of 'Tesco Law', and the Legal Services (Scotland) Bill.

Does that give them 'an unfair advantage'? You betcha. Have they been prepared to offer the same resources to Scottish solicitors who have concerns over aspects of the Legal Services (Scotland) Bill? No, because they want to win at all costs. It's their game, their rules, and if you don't like it, it's their ball too. This is a very sad indictment on Law Society President, Ian Smart, who is ultimately responsible for this undemocratic process.

GLC's Principal Solicitor's call for Mr Smart to resign is reported in today's The Scotsman here, and concerns over the lack of fairness in next week's SGM is reported in today's The Herald here.

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