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MY RESIGNATION

Dedications

I must recognise the patience of my dear wife who has often tired of seeing me at my computer when we are supposed to be going out or when the garden needs attention. Also, to my computer competent sons who have each had a spell of sorting out a mess into which I have sunk, or have helped to create DVDs to submit my work. Further I salute those politicians and local Councillors whose funny/crazy ideas are the basis of my thoughts.

James Hall

MY RESIGNATION

Copyright James Hall The right of James Hall to be identified as author of this work has been asserted by him in accordance with section 77 and 78 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without the prior permission of the publishers. Any person who commits any unauthorized act in relation to this publication may be liable to criminal prosecution and civil claims for damages. A CIP catalogue record for this title is available from the British Library.

ISBN 9781849633246

www.austinmacauley.com First Published (2013) Austin Macauley Publishers Ltd. 25 Canada Square Canary Wharf London E14 5LB

Printed and bound in Great Britain

Preface

It is with some, I believe understandable, hesitation that I start my book at this late stage of my life. I regularly pour scorn on myself that I should be so reluctant; after all, it is not unusual for people in the public eye to write memoirs when they can reveal all sorts of secrets that could not be let slip while in office. Indeed, this can be a very lucrative business, especially if a former PA or press person were to be employed as a general factotum, who would happily do most of the research, file-hunting and making things look better than they really had been. On the other hand, it may often have been a process which reopened wounds from which the retiree thought he had recovered Thus it behoves me to think carefully before I commit to paper anything which will be distressing, to me or to others, or which belittles the many efforts that I, and many good people, without whom I could have achieved little of real substance, have made over the years. But I am prepared to reveal events where I got entirely the wrong answer. Nobody knows better than me that it has more than once been rather through luck than good judgement that there have been no catastrophic failures we had plenty of opportunities! So you see, I am breaking new ground in more ways than one written before I demit office, and written personally, not by a shadow writer. Sounds like two good reasons why it wont work. But I have pondered this for some time, often when sitting through a more-than-usually dull debate in the

Commons, and I have now definitely decided to go ahead. So here goes the beginning but with no assistance from a former PA or Press person

Introduction

Although having always been a busy person, I have never before written anything but letters and government papers of all sorts, and it never occurred to me that some day I might think of producing what I always have regarded as an open document, to wit, a book. But I now find myself faced with a health problem and, suddenly, it seems important that I try to get on record some sense of the events of national importance which have occurred to, and around, me since I was unwittingly manipulated into a position far more important than anything I might have contemplated even in my wildest fits of imagination. Fate has dealt me a number of totally unexpected hands throughout my adult life some not too good, but many of them pleasant and exciting in the extreme. As I have just mentioned, I now believe that I am obliged to record in some way those which have had widespread impact, so I guess that a book may be a reasonable means of doing so. Were I to set out events in any sort of detailed format, it would be too long, probably too boring, and the necessary reporting of who did what could well lead me to the Libel Courts. So, a book, indeed a story, it will be, omitting as much of the boring stuff as possible, a lot of the detail purposely left out, and large chunks of fictional treatment covering matters which even I cannot report fully for lots of complex reasons At a quite late stage of my life, things entirely outside my control began to happen, which were the reason you are reading this well, I hope someone is reading it! A rather

different conundrum to that which faced Harold MacMillan when he blamed his problems on events, my Dear Boy, events. In my case, events have been much more favourable.

Chapter 1
How it All Began

Labour swept into power at the end of the century and politics began to become a regular and greater part of our daily lives as the Great God Spin took over. Labour slowly but remorselessly became New Labour. The New came on at a good pace, but the Labour bit began to submerge as the government began, shamelessly, to cosy up to Big Business. As a former civil servant-cum-nationalised industry executive, I found myself being drawn in to the arguments which began to grip the nation at that stage Great Britain and I found myself more and more unhappy at the way many things were unfolding. This interest, and the impatience it fostered in my breast, brought me into contact and conflict with a lot of people, to the extent that eventually I simply had to become actively involved. I was not the only one, as protest groups formed and re-formed in record numbers around the country. Where did that lead me? Actually, to the situation I have reached by the end of the story. And if that surprises you, I certainly find myself even more surprised, as I contemplate it all yet again. This final stage of my generally unplanned journey now has to come to an end and it would seem that, unless anything else untoward should crop up, May of the year 2014 will be an eminently sensible time for me to resign. Happily, my doctor does assure me that I will certainly have a good bit more than that amount of time left, when I can sit back and enjoy the

success this book is going to have, but he is adamant that I must, as he says, retire, and soon! So, all going well, I should be able to tie up most of the loose ends by then and can lay down the baton thats the pretentious phrase so often used in circumstances such as this, although in truth, circumstances such as this particular set are of a very rare sort with a reasonably clear conscience. Who ever thought of a politician having a clear conscience? Can this be another first for me? Have I begun to bewilder you, dear reader? I know that feeling. Well, I hope soon to clarify what has happened and have now started to recount the chain of almost magical events which befell me. So, what started it? The saga and this story really began with the elections for the Scottish Assembly in 1999, supposedly the start of a rolling programme of such devolution throughout the United Kingdom. Then, what I had feared, when devolution was agreed only for Scotland and Wales, actually began to happen

Chapter 2
Devolution

For a very long time, I have been a strong supporter of, and believer in, the doctrine of devolution of power in any large organisation, down to the lowest sensible level, whether this be in business, the army or politics in fact in almost every facet of the complicated lifestyle we now have to follow. In my view, it represents the only truly effective means of moving administrative decision-making and sensible law-making as close as possible to the point at which they apply, so that far more sensible account can be taken of local factors and better workable decisions can be made. I practised this in my business days in a company which had brought devolution to a fine art, and have seen at first hand the great benefit it created when people near the work-face were given proper information, and some authority. I KNOW that it works. So, when, after much discussion about the merits of a new government organisation with a number of subsidiary regions, each with widespread powers, as is the case in many other countries the USA, Germany, Switzerland etc the initial Bill became law, authorising devolved governments in Scotland and Wales, with more to follow. I was thrilled and cautiously hopeful that, quite soon, as announced by the legislators, this format would spread into the government of the regions of England perhaps even some of the old Kingdoms, such as Anglia or Mercia, might re-appear as Regions as well as to the two recognisable separate

Nations of Scotland and Wales. Northern Ireland had already been marked for a form of devolution, such as it had enjoyed for entirely different reasons even before the troubles which followed after the shooting began in 1969. However, when this Scottish and Welsh Devolution Act was introduced in 1999, there was no mention of follow-up, and I began to become impatient for the next step not necessarily to be taken, but at least to be talked about. There were some skirmishes and considerable complaining, particularly in the North-East of England as Tynesiders saw their traditional Auld Enemies (thats the Scottish version I cant get my tongue, or even my pen, round the Tyneside equivalent), apparently being granted such huge concessions; but the government made it clear that they did not wish to go further and extend the process until the first two had been tried out. At that stage, I began to fear that the change, covering as it did only those parts of the UK which had their own distinct histories as independent countries, entailed a real risk of reviving the so-called Nationalist aspirations which had been gurgling faintly below the surface for quite a long time in both countries. This was certainly not my idea at all so I began lobbying all sorts of people in London and Newcastle, seeking their support for a similar arrangement to be made soon for the North-East of England, as a starter! In the event, after some public show of spirit throughout the northern counties, partly my doing? I hope so the government actually did get round to offering the people in the North-East a similar arrangement but things went horribly wrong. Perhaps it was offered in a rather slanted manner, or perhaps there was some hidden jiggery pokery of which I am still unaware, or was it because by then the many teething problems of the new Scottish government had been widely reported often magnified beyond the reality? Whatever the reasons, to general surprise and my total dismay, the people of the North-East narrowly voted to turn down the opportunity. With three long, hearty, silent cheers from the main

establishment, the entire devolution bandwagon then ground to a halt and was hastily tucked away in some locked cupboard never more to return, or so they hoped! They seem to have succeeded as the subject has not cropped up again, despite my lobbying a wide selection of influential people. Talk about the worst of both worlds! We were then left with a most untidy, and largely pointless situation where we had devolution only to Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland when agreement of the parties was eventually gained and those major territories of the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands. One might also add London, since considerable but different, power has also been passed to that Council and to His Mayorship. So my aspirations did not come to pass and looked unlikely to resurface, certainly in the short-term! This put me back on standby mode, still hoping someone would find a means of getting my dream into a reality. Well, against every prediction, it would happen eventually with a helping hand from me and some like-minded patriots. More of that later!

SCOTTISH DEVOLUTION
When the big day came in 1999, the rejoicing in Edinburgh, the Scottish capital, was overwhelming as it was also in Cardiff. Everyone seemed to be in a party mood and the attendance of Her Majesty at the opening ceremony was the cream on the cake. The Church of Scotland Assembly Rooms, a noble structure occupying a prominent position in the centre of Edinburgh, was used for the ceremony and was packed to overflowing; there were loud cheers as Her Majesty graciously presented a ceremonial sceptre to be used in this new parliament, matching that used in Westminster. For his part, the new First Minister made clear the loyalty of the people of

Scotland to Her Gracious Majesty. Then there was a splendid parade as the Queen returned to Her Palace at Holyrood we did not know then that it was just across the street from the possible new parliament building!. There was a new sense of hope around, optimism was in the air, kilts were everywhere some of these in the air too! and many of us went off to bed that night with a feeling of great content. It seemed that a truly new day had begun. That was exciting. My hopes had been given a real boost! But, instead, from then on, things went downhill fast!

HOLYROOD
The immediate enthusiasm with which the first elected body set about their business carried them all along at far too great a pace and in too many directions at once, just like children with a new toy and, sadly, all sort of daft ideas were brought to the fore, wasting a lot of valuable administration time and money! But, by far and away the worst excess was when it came to deciding where the new body should gather in order to rule the country. This was clearly felt by the then leading lights of the new government to be the most important and urgent matter they had to tackle. Perhaps there was a feeling that, when a physical monument to their detachment from the Westminster apron strings had been built, it would be less likely our devolution would be withdrawn? Or is it overly uncharitable to even think that there might be an element of selfaggrandisement in this? indeed, there might have been that too! The possibility of using the old (i.e. pre-1707) Parliament building, now used extensively for Law Courts and accommodating senior levels of the Scottish Law System, may have been considered and would have been seen by the public at large to be an appropriate and popular choice, but it was

very quickly cast aside. As were several existing, suitable buildings, and it soon became patently clear that there must be a new building. Whatever their reasoning, a specially designed building was the unanimous choice of those empowered to take this decision and all their attention became focused on that project, to the exclusion of many other worthy needs What a dreadful mistake that turned out to be! Despite, and contrary to, all the high hopes they had expressed about the advantages and joys of this wonderful building housing its brand new parliament, a series of terrible decisions quickly followed, each piling on even further disasters.

HOLYROOD
Remarkably, and almost unbelievably, there seemed to be noone involved who had any real knowledge of best practice for building construction, not even, apparently, among the Scottish civil service. As a result, they succeeded in more or less mimicking these poor unfortunates on TV programmes who want to build their own home, and without the necessary expertise get into a terrible mess, but are fortunate enough to be rescued when the TV company feeds in a saviour to avoid disaster at the final moment. How popular these programmes are! Sadly, the necessary last-minute expert did not materialise to save the Scottish Parliament. The people concerned got almost every key decision wrong, despite a vast, vociferous and continuous body of opinion against the proposals as they were slowly unreeled. Consideration of the most basic necessity where to put it resulted in an entirely unsuitable site being chosen, immediately adjacent to the Queens Scottish Palace at Holyrood in Edinburgh. Although it certainly had the best of neighbours for a few weeks each year, it was extremely badly placed in the road network of the city and was, therefore,

lacking good public transport links, particularly to the west and north, while there was virtually no aspect from which any fine building could be properly admired on this site. To complete its total unsuitability, it was also very restricted in size. All this, although there were several better placed and cheaper alternatives. And so, the rumour mill started There was certainly something odd about the means whereby the site came to be considered. Apparently, so the story went, a senior civil servant was travelling by train from Edinburgh to Glasgow. As he rose to get off, he found himself standing beside a senior executive of Scottish & Newcastle, the world-famous brewer whose HQ was in Edinburgh. Some versions do say he was actually a property agent! In their necessarily short conversation, they somehow managed to mention the Holyrood site of a now defunct brewery, which the S&N chap said they were about to vacate. There is no official record of their further talk, but it was, apparently sufficient for the civil servant to refer it back to the top men who immediately decided to include it as a possibility. Then, surprise, surprise, it very quickly became the chosen location. It all seems a bit far-fetched, but it was presented with a straight face to the press. However, the rumour was even more pointed. This said that S&N had made it clear that they wanted this site off their hands immediately, and would be glad to have it used by the Scottish government otherwise, they would, reluctantly, have to move their headquarters from Edinburgh. If this actually was the case, it can readily be understood why the site was favoured so quickly the new government simply could not afford to lose such a prestigious commercial headquarters. However, shortly after the site was purchased, the S&N HQ was moved to Newcastle anyway within a matter of months so the rumours MUST have been rubbish, mustnt they? But while any hopes of retaining S&N disappeared, the unsuitability of the site remained to haunt those who picked it.