Liberals and despots (Peter Hamilton)

The antics at Shetland Charitable Trust seem somewhat illiberal. In his book The Liberal Challenge – Democracy Through Participation, Jo Grimond sought for more opportunities for the public to become engaged in the running of their affairs and argued that their increased involvement would be of benefit in itself and would promote further benefits.

As a Liberal, Grimond would certainly have been deeply influenced by the works of J S Mill who wrote in the middle of the 1880s: “There cannot be a combination of circumstances more dangerous to human welfare than that in which intelligence and talent are maintained at a high level within a governing corporation, but starved and discouraged outside the pale. Such a system more completely than any other, embodies the idea of despotism by arming with intellectual superiority as an additional weapon those who have already the legal power.” Mill, we can be quite certain, would have looked with some level of scorn at the notion that sitting councillor trustees should hand pick their preferred experts to sit alongside them.

The councillors’ only argument for entrenching their control of the trust is that the public lacks sufficient folk of comparable wit to run the trust. How well they must value their worth!

How strange it is too that the folk of Stornoway seem to cope well enough with the task of finding individuals capable of serving as trustees on their democratically elected trust. Are these folk so much smarter than the average Shetlander? If they are it is perhaps their level of involvement in running their trust that has made them so.

Mill also observed that “any despotism is preferable to local despotism”. Possibly he realised being treated with contempt by folk within your community was more of an affront than were it by a distant stranger. Shetland’s councillor-trustees are currently treating the public with contempt. Now that these small minded despots have been told to slip their grip of Shetland’s charitable trust it is to be hoped that Shetland’s serving Liberal representatives will speak out in favour of the public being consulted on a range of options for the future of their trust.

Peter Hamilton


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