What's in a name?
In the early days of Holyrood, we members of the wicked media mostly divided our time between two tasks - highlighting the savage cost of the building and trying to gain access to the Parliamentary boozer.
Said hostelry was originally open to MSPs only. But wisdom prevailed and, after a lengthy campaign, the media were admitted.
(By “wisdom”, I mean the realisation that the bar’s takings would be enhanced substantially by letting in the hacks.)
Anyway, the bar is now unofficially called The White Heather Club. Not, sadly, in tribute to the magnificent TV series of that name. Rather, the billing commemorates a previous occasion when political nomenclature was salient.
You’ll recall that Henry McLeish’s administration floated the notion of being described as “the Scottish Government" - rather than “the Scottish Executive”.
Asked to comment, one unnamed MP told a newspaper: “They can call themselves the White Heather Club if they want but they will never be the Scottish Government.”
Rather good, isn’t it? Neatly insulting, containing the implicit suggestion that Holyrood is somehow parochial. (Of course, the speaker could be a huge fan of the WHC and the remark could be the highest praise. No, I don’t think so either.)
Which brings us to today. Alex Salmond, apparently, now heads the “Scottish Government”, not the executive. The name is to be changed on headed notepaper and public buildings.
And for why? According to research, conducted for the executive/government/White Heather Club, folk were generally unable to “differentiate the work of the Scottish Executive from other UK and Scottish governmental bodies (including Scottish Parliament, Whitehall, Westminster and local government”.
Was that perhaps because they saw all these bodies as an amorphous, lumpen “them”, ruining their lives and pinching their money in taxation?
Only a thought - but not one that commended itself to A.Salmond. He concluded that the term "executive" must be replaced.
Mr Salmond also cites Henry McLeish’s autobiography in which HM disclosed that Tony Blair was “not in the least bothered” by the phrase “Scottish Government”.
Again, that might have simply meant that Mr Blair was at his sunniest when he wasn’t bothered by Scotland in the least. But no matter.
So what’s this all about? Well, partly it’s grandstanding by Mr Salmond, upping the status of his administration. Partly, it’s a bone thrown to his own party. We can’t give you independence, for now, but we can call ourselves a government.
Mostly, though, it’s common sense. Alex Salmond heads a government. For most purposes, Scotland’s devolved, domestic government.
People grasp the concept. You can moan about a government, you can kick it out of power. “Executive” doesn’t do it, doesn’t stir the blood.
Legally, under the Scotland Act, the title is still “Scottish Executive”. That phrase won’t vanish at the stroke of the first minister’s pen.
What matters is not what they are called, but what they do. They can call themselves the . . . no, let’s not go there.