I was surprised to hear the comments by Tavish Scott MSP on local radio last night (Thursday 19th), about the proposed changes to the Shetland Charitable Trust. He said, if I heard correctly, that there would still be an element of democratic representation on the trust if the proposed changes went ahead.
By this he presumably meant the seven councillors who would remain. But control would pass to eight unelected trustees, selected by management headhunters and thereafter appointing their own successors for ever and a day. This is not democracy. It is self-perpetuating bureaucracy.
I agree that councillors should not be in a majority on the trust. That’s why I suggested having eight directly-elected trustees, to guarantee both its independence and its accountability to the electorate. My compromise, rejected by a minority of the 22 trustees on 15th December, would also have allowed for up to five trustees co-opted for their expertise. The former head of the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator (OSCR) and Scotland’s foremost charity lawyers, Turcan Connell have both confirmed that my compromise was legal and workable.
The problem seems to be that some important people do not trust the voters to nominate or elect suitable trustees. This attitude I find odd, as there would be outrage if anyone were to suggest we hire management consultants to select, rather than elect, our MSPs, MP and councillors.
The Shetland Charitable Trust came into being as a result of a cross-party campaign in 1972-74, led by the late Jo Grimond when he was Liberal MP for the Northern Isles. I played a minor part in that campaign and can imagine how Jo would have reacted if it had ever crossed his mind that, one day, his successors would acquiesce in the loss of democratic control over the trust.
I hope Tavish will think again and support the growing campaign to keep the people’s trust under democratic control.