Another year over and a new one begun. Still, the problems and challenges remain.
But, this year, we can change the UK Government. We desperately need fresh leadership, with a move towards honesty and integrity in public life.
Both our governments have been guilty of accepting lies, bullying and predatory behaviour. If you allow your leaders to act in this way, your country is being destroyed piece by piece. It’s all about values and acceptable behaviour.
One of the things which has shaken us all is the appalling treatment of subpostmasters. It’s still hard to believe that managers lied, sent “heavies” to threaten people and, finally, even when they knew there had been a computer fault, covered it up.
Our legal system in both Scotland and the rest of the UK advised subpostmasters that if they agreed to admitting they had embezzled money, they would not get a custodial sentence – despite the fact they had done nothing wrong. Such is the current state of our public services, our elected politicians and our legal system, that this has dragged on for over 24 years.
The Post Office scandal highlights exactly what is wrong in the UK today. Senior, highly paid executives covering their own backs rather than the needs of the individual. Elected politicians accepting the easiest answer and not fully investigating. And no one listening to the frontline staff who were actually doing the job.
I salute Lord James Arbuthnot for his persistence and belief in Post Office staff. Did no one stop to think that 3,000 Post Office counter workers fraudulently stealing money seemed rather odd and, frankly, unbelievable?
It speaks volumes for our legal system that so many innocent people went to prison for crimes they didn’t commit. Of course, legal aid is no longer available to just anyone who needs it, since the system was downgraded and the money for aid cut.
Too many examples of leadership failure
The scandal is a great example of ordinary people trying to deal with officialdom in UK. Remember the bully-boy tactics of energy companies forcing their way into private homes in order to install pay-as-you-go meters? Astounding. But that’s happening, and the government and ombudsman are aware of it.
There are more examples. The 1989 Hillsborough disaster, where 97 people died, hundreds were injured, and police lied and changed records to place the blame on drunken football supporters – a huge affront to justice. The fans were not listened to.
Who will be held to account? Will any heads roll?
Similarly, the recent report into child sexual exploitation in Rochdale, which began in 2004, claims victims were left at the mercy of grooming gangs because of failures by senior police and local council bosses. Although these events happened over 20 years ago, the case has still not been resolved and the children involved are now adults with issues. A massive systemic failure.
We have seen in recent coverage of the inquiry into the handling of the Covid crisis, senior officials, time after time, being questioned in their role, giving scant evidence, skirting round the substance, and being found wanting. No real answers where they were necessary. Vital WhatsApp messages conveniently disappeared, and an unfortunate loss of memory where there is a challenging question. It’s little short of disgraceful.
But, who will be held to account? Will any heads roll?
We need a radical overhaul of our institutions
If we have standards, we cannot accept a lack of action. Guilty people need to be brought to justice and punished for their lack of concern, not rewarded with lucrative book deals and TV appearances.
There must be consequences for incompetence and deliberate cover-ups in senior leadership roles. We need a radical overhaul of our institutions and the way they operate.
Perhaps in this electoral year, a change of government could also result in a review and renewal of standards. But it’s also important that people selected to stand for UK or Scottish parliament, are not just party hacks. They should be leaders of their communities, where they have a proven track record and some life experience.
The rest is up to you, the public.
Len Ironside CBE is a former champion wrestler who served as an Aberdeen councillor for 35 years, with four years as council leader