An open letter in defence of perestroika

BERLIN, May, 1989.

Dear Secretary of State,

Last week you rattled your sabres in the House of Commons, and again at Perth. You reaffirmed the highly dubious principle of nuclear deterrence: states must be prepared to use their weapons even if in so doing they destroy the earth. A couple of weeks ago your boss came to West Germany to insist that the Federal Republic continues to support the modernisation of Nato's short-range nuclear missiles.

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On a resignation by Wendy and critics of Holyrood

The Observer, Sunday 12 May 2002

    I once asked a leading herbalist if he had a cure for a hangover. His reply was brief and crushing: 'Don't get one.' We have to fall back, therefore, on some foul Italian concoction or Jeeves's recipe for Bertie Wooster - two raw eggs and a dash of Tabasco. In politics, the equivalent is a spell in the wilderness. It has been the fate of many, some of whom, like Churchill and de Gaulle, have gone on to greatness.

    In Scotland, Wendy Alexander has exchanged a portfolio in the Scottish Executive for a seat on the backbenches while Alex Salmond, conclusively confounding my suspicion that he has become addicted to Westminster, has announced his intention of returning to Holyrood in 2007. By then, he appears to acknowledge, he will have been on the fringes of the main action for too long, and the expectation is that he will attempt to resume the SNP leadership.

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On consultants and chief executives

The Observer, Sunday 30 June 2002

    I have always entertained an especial detestation for the Irish saint Ursicinus of Saint-Ursanne, a pal of St Columba, who loathed wine and those who served it. Down the years, only management consultants have aroused my deeper dislike. The growing scandal surrounding corporations is thus an ill wind. It has wiped millions off the stock markets but it has brought an end to the myth of the visionary chief executive and punctured the arrogance of the consultant.

    In my not always happy experience, there could often be an unhealthy degree of connivance between them. The executive called in consultants to help him force through changes on which he had already decided. The consultants, with an eye on their fee, were always happy to oblige even if the scheme were rash, dangerous and ill-advised or, as often seemed to happen, a false economy.

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Cronyism and Jack McConnell

  • The Observer, Sunday 18 November 2001
  • The word crony has become the standard terms of abuse for the Scottish Labour Party, but it acquired its pejorative overtones only relatively recently. Souter Johnie was Tam O'Shanter's 'ancient, trusty, drouthy crony': they had been 'fou for weeks thegither'. In his diary Samuel Pepys spoke warmly of a 'chrony' and some think the word sprang from seventeenth-century student slang at Cambridge University.

    In the political sense it now means something just short of corruption. Cronyism is to friendship as cunning is to wisdom - 'Nothing doth more hurt in a state than that cunning men pass for wise', wrote Francis Bacon. Cronyism in the political meaning appears to have been used for the first time by a journalist on the New York Times in 1952. He was describing the Truman administration's practice of appointing friends to government posts irrespective of their fitness for them.

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ON the rise and fall of the SDA

WE had hardly sat down for our ''power breakfast'' when we got into an argument. A lecture in elementary economics is pretty hard to take at that time in the morning but that is what my old sparring partner Professor Donald MacKay was giving me.

Donald, I happen to know, was not brought up in the Glasgow bar-room school of argument but he has acquired some of its mannerisms. He hunches his shoulders to prosecute his argument with greater intensity and he wags his finger to underline his points.

Read more: ON the rise and fall of the SDA