Perhaps I should be flattered. When I appeared before the Commons Scottish Affairs Committee on Wednesday, the chairman (Ian Davidson MP) preferred to ask me detailed questions about a post on this blog (specifically, THIS ONE), rather than what I’d said in the memorandum of evidence I’d submitted to them (available HERE). Since I’d taken care to check what the committee wanted to discuss this and it didn’t include this, I was a bit put out – as may come across from the TV recording, or the transcript, or perhaps Thursday’s Scottish papers. Indeed, no member of the Committee mentioned what I’d said in my memorandum at all, and it was only from my own references to it that one might know I’d submitted it.
Truth be told, this was a similar sort of ambush to that which Drew Scott and Andy Hughes-Hallett had faced from the Scotland Bill Committee at Holyrood a few weeks ago, if on a less drastic scale and with better manners. Thankfully I had a printed copy of my post with me and could work out what the Committee chairman was talking about. But this is neither a suitable way to treat an expert witness, nor the best way of getting such witnesses to help you.
Part of the cause of this is the stoushie at Holyrood, but there’s more to it than that. Davidson and his colleagues were quoted in the Scotsman a week or so back (see here) promising Scott and Hughes-Hallett ‘robust questioning’ and ‘an even tougher time here’ (than at Holyrood). I know one eminent witness who chose not to appear when he saw those comments, and perhaps that has had a wider effect. Davidson was keen to say something to the effect of ‘we’re so much better behaved than those folk in Edinburgh’ at the start of the session. But bad behaviour is bad behaviour, whatever the perpetrator says about it.
As well as the knock-about, there’s a serious point. If blogs are to be taken more seriously than formal memoranda – which have to be written in a different way, and take a lot of time – why bother with submitting them? Parliament says it wants evidence written expressly for it, and that it won’t publish other material. (Indeed, my experience advising Lords Committees is that published material of any sort is at best a second recourse.) Parliament also claims some unspecified form of ‘property’ in evidence submitted to it, and declines to let one publish one’s evidence until the Committee to which it’s submitted authorises one to do so. But if it’s so eager to use blog posts instead, what’s the point of going through all that? One member of the Committee said outside that it was evidence of how thoroughly they’d done their research, but as they’d evidently not seen other posts on here (notably THIS ONE, which I mentioned but no-one there knew about), it’s clear their research is pretty selective. As I have to strike a balance between time spent and perceptible effect, I shan’t bother communicating with this committee other than by blog post in future.