A major tool to achieve this has been the hindrance of the quangos. Where there were once strong voices ready to speak on behalf of regions or economic sectors in Scotland, there are now faceless hackers moving from one quango to another, or preferably several to the times.
The main qualification for any quango role is that the quangoteer didn’t challenge anything in his precedent. Highlands and Islands Airports is a prime example – a fact that is at the heart of its current mismanagement and thirst for conflict with employees.
Until recently, HIAL was an organization rooted in the Highlands and Islands with strong ties to the communities it serves. Airports existed long before HIAL and are, without exception, valued local assets, rich in history and character. They are respected, especially as providers of high quality local jobs. Locals do essential local jobs.
When Sandy Matheson made his debut as Chairman of HIAL before a Holyrood committee in 2001, he said, “HIAL can not only provide safe, affordable, efficient and cost-effective services, but encourage social and economic development in communities. Highlands and Islands and consider ways to combat remoteness, support fragile economies and reverse depopulation. I firmly believe in it and make it one of my goals as President of HIAL… .. I believe that HIAL is a key player in the development, in the broadest sense, of the Highlands and Islands ”.
It is inconceivable that anyone associated with HIAL would speak in these terms today, or even know what they were talking about. The show is run by a product of the Stagecoach bus company, Inglis Lyon, who brought with it the management style that this unpleasant company was proud of. If there ever was an ambitious middle manager who needed a strong board of directors to control him, it was Mr. Lyon. Instead, he has a transient board that neither knows nor cares about the lofty goals set out by Mr. Matheson.
The chairman is Lorna Jack whose day job is as Managing Director of the Edinburgh-based Law Society of Scotland. There is no suggestion of a connection to the Highlands and Islands other than presiding over one of the most important quangos affecting the region.
However, Ms. Jack is a full member of the quango circuit – any old quango will do. She also manages to fit in with the Scottish Funding Council which distributes money to universities and colleges. Due to leaving the Bar later this year, other quangos are undoubtedly waving. Mrs. Jack won’t rock any boat in the meantime.
The other non-executive directors are a strange collection with one obvious thing in common – they have nothing to do with the Highlands and Islands, personally, culturally, economically. There is no connection claim to any location served by HIAL.
So who are they? Their biographies of the HIAL website inform us that
– Eric Hollander was CEO of a Dutch bank, now enrolled in an executive management program in Paris.
– Christopher Holliday is a non-executive director of an airline in the Channel Islands.
– Jim McLaughlin was the Cumbria-based Human Resources Director for the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority and now lives in Linlithgow.
– Lorraine Young is a South African trained accountant, now a “finance and HR consultant”.
– Isabel Todenhofer worked with Lufthansa “before co-founding a real estate financing platform based in Madrid”.
Even by SNP’s Quango Scotland standards, it’s a bizarre assembly to end up running airports in the Highlands and Islands. Paris… Madrid… Channel Islands… Cumbria… South Africa. No CV suggests a connection or knowledge of the Highlands and Islands.
The critical point is that for the Scottish government, and in particular for the officials who control quango appointments, this is not a handicap but an essential qualification. The last people they almost want to handle these things are the natives – just like with CalMac and CMAL.
So who do air traffic controllers turn to?
Ministers who don’t want to talk to them? A chair looking for your next quango job? Any advice from complete strangers who know nothing about the communities concerned? A CEO with carte blanche to drive what is widely seen as his own vanity project?
Welcome to the new Scottish democracy. Maybe the old one wasn’t that bad.