(Updated) On Saturday 10th November The Herald captured Argyll and Bute’s MSP, Education Secretary, Michael Russell, in a fit of the screaming ab dabs, reporting that he was imperiously demanding – in big bold front page headlines – that Kirk Ramsay, Chair of Stow College in Glasgow, resign.
The Minister had also summoned Mr Ramsay to the Scottish Parliament to account for himself.
What on earth had Mr Ramsay done?
He had clearly been a naughty boy and this was an immediate hanging matter.
Mr Ramsay had, in fact, recorded the discussion at an important meeting between Mr Russell and representatives of the college sector on reforms proposed by the minister which have not been well received.
Mr Ramsay had made the recording for his own benefit – instead of taking verbatim notes – and for the benefit of others who could not attend. Access to the detail of this discussion mattered if the issues were to be properly understood.
But the delinquent Mr Ramsay had not thought to ask Mr Russell’s permission – and this was the the source of the Ministers’ fury, although permission is not asked for the taking of verbatim notes, which can be as comprehensively accurate but do offer a degree of deniability because their accuracy cannot normally be proved.
Mr Ramsay’s integrity in his treatment of the recording is evidenced by the fact that there is no reference in the Herald Article – by Education Correspondent, Andy Denholm – to any matter in the recording or to anything that indicates any awareness of what was said. This indicates that The Herald had had no access to the recording.
There are two obvious issues.
Someone who becomes as furious as Mr Russell became, exploding lividly all over the media, must have a very good reason for being so disturbed at having proceedings recorded – which makes deniability a little difficult.
And someone in Mr Ramsay’s position must have felt a sharp need for fully detailed evidence of what was said.
This is not a healthy picture. It shows a Minister preferring to whisper in the shadows and a senior official feeling that the un-minuted word of a minister was a potential shape-changer.
Anyway, the enraged Minister chuntered on. Mr Ramsay’s conduct was not ‘consistent in any way with the protocol expected at such an event or of the standards I expect [Ed: clearly servile] of any college’.
Mr Ramsay told The Herald: ‘I am extremely disappointed that Mr Russell has used his position to seek to exert such control, influence and power, both privately and also so publicly.
‘I find his comments about me disturbing, given the foregoing. It is regrettable that he has chosen to seek my removal in such a fashion, particularly given the difficult period of change we are experiencing and the work we … are doing voluntarily. driven only by passion for the work of the college sector.’
It was nevertheless made known that Mr Ramsay had apologised.
That was Saturday.
Apologise he may have done, but Mr Ramsay had also refused to resign.
The Minister then did a mega flounce. Angered that his dictat had not carried due weight and that Mr Ramsay was still standing, The Herald [and Mr Denholm] reported today that Mr Russell had consequently written to every single principal and chair of every single college in the country, trying to rouse support for his harrying to resignation of Mr Ramsay.
Enter concern at Holyrood.
Scottish Labour’s Colleges Spokesperson, Neil Findlay has written to the convenor of the Parliament’s Education Committee to investigate the matter.
As his concerns, Mr Findlay first cites the extremely personal attack by the Minister on Mr Ramsay. He has obviously forgotten that Mr Russell has serious form by association in dirty tricks. His former close aide famously penned the smearfest blog, The Universality of Cheese, for which, after a dreadfully irresponsible episode, he had to resign.
Mr Findlay then raised anxieties about ‘the handling and the tone of the regionalisation process in general’.
The big issue is the one Findlay kept for last.
He says ‘It is vitally important… to make sure that this is not one case of of a wider culture of bullying and intimidation within the further education sector’.
Mr Russell’s similar performance earlier this year – also in a bullying public pursuit, this time targeting for resignation Archie Robertson, the former group CEO of David MacBrayne – created such a synthetic but noisy fuss that Mr Robertson threw in the towel.
Perhaps Mr Russell has become emboldened by this ‘success’; and the consequent hubris is carrying him to dangerous levels of exposure?
UPDATE: 21.00, 13th November: Ramsay gone
It has just been announced that Kirk Ramsay has indeed now resigned as a result of the pressure the Minister brought to bear.
We can only hope that the two senior scalps he has now forced – Mr Robertson’s and Mr Ramsay’s – does not encourage the Minister to further choleric excess. What sort of a government is it that has pantomime dames roaring in the press, demanding serial heads on a plate on the slightest pretext.
In our view, Mr Ramsay was very wrong to resign – and those at Stow College or within the colleges sector who may have persuaded him to do so were very wrong.
Bullies become confirmed bullies when no one stands up to them.
The prospect of an independent Scotland governed in a renewed culture of bullying and pulling rank is certainly not what we had in mind.
We citizens and voters have to realise that we are ourselves responsible for bullying behaviours and for rooted bullying cultures where we work and where we are governed. We let it happen. We need to support each other in resisting it. If we don’t, we will get much more of what we have already bought.