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Ask not...

17 August 09

President's message: much of this month's theme is Government – and what solicitors can do for it, as well as what it can do for solicitors

by Ian Smart

What a man is Peter Nicholson, the editor of our Journal! Every month he endures endless legal conferences, sifts through innumerable forensic articles and wades through the almost limitless words that a profession, based on a mastery of language, is capable of producing in pursuit of that mastery... or otherwise. All of this to produce the Journal you read each month.

Anyway, you may be wondering, what is the purpose to this obsequiousness?

Well, for the last two months, Peter’s herculean efforts have been further burdened by the task of sub-editing my random remarks to the 600 words (and under no circumstances more than 750!) which space allows.

Even as he reads this (sometime before the rest of you), he will therefore be horrified that, this month, I intend to cover three separate topics. Here’s hoping that the, entirely genuine, eulogy above will gain me some latitude in the application of the blue pen.

So what have I done in the month past? Well, first of all, I’ve had a great holiday. But I will come back to that.

On my return, Lorna Jack, Michael Clancy and I met with Kenny MacAskill, the Justice Minister. We covered a number of issues of importance to you: the impact of the recession; the continuing issue of legal aid rates; the forthcoming bill on alternative business structures.

On all three, you will know our agenda, and we got a more than fair hearing. But it is only right that I convey to you the matter that the Minister wished to raise with us.

The Scottish Government is anxious to widen the pool from which members of public bodies are drawn. Every month, the Government advertises for applicants for such positions. Too often, the respondents come from the traditional white, male, middle aged, quasi-political ranks from which the posts are “expected” to be filled. Today, I’m pleased to say, our profession has a much more diverse membership than that. While lawyers are not exclusively qualified to apply for these posts, our professional skill set – inter alia, the ability to weigh up conflicting evidence, absorb its significance and thereafter reach an objective conclusion – is clearly relevant to the tasks at hand. The Government, in turn, wants to emphasise that, in making appointments, its first priority is not seniority or status but, above all, talent. So, think about the opportunities to contribute to the wider progress of our country and, if you see an advert to serve on a public body and it engages your interest, then apply.

My second topic is devolution.

This year sees the 10th anniversary of the creation of the Scottish Parliament. Lawyers have played a key role in the establishment of this institution before and after the 1997 referendum: Winnie Ewing and Neil McCormick; Jim Wallace and Nicol Stephen; Annabel Goldie and David McLetchie; above all (and I acknowledge a degree of partisan bias here) John Smith and Donald Dewar.


Unfortunately, our Society hasn’t always engaged as comprehensively as we might have with the new constitutional settlement in Scotland. The irony is that our members were not only pivotal to this settlement but are also uniquely aware of its value.

So, on 18 September the Society is hosting a conference at Edinburgh University on 10 years of Home Rule. We will address the issue of how the Parliament has performed to date with the assistance not only of a number of the key political players but also the contributions of working lawyers and participants from wider civic Scotland. In addition we will consider what the next 10 years might bring. Watch the press and your email for the detail but, above all, if you can be there, come along. It promises to be a memorable day.

By now, I’m conscious that, even with Peter’s good favour, I’m already well past my word limit here, but I did promise to return to say something about my holiday. Suffice to say that, if ever asked to explain why Renaissance Italy did not sign up for the Reformation, it is easy to explain that its inhabitants legitimately believed that, in their everyday lives, they were, already, living in an earthly paradise.

Viva Italia.

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