Tricky thing, trust. Absolutely vital in government – but, by definition, a two way process.
So, where lies trust in the row between the Scottish Government and the Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs over financial assistance for farmers?
As a journalist, my starting point is total disclosure at all times. I am in favour of finding things out.
However, I appreciate that – on the inside – government cannot operate that way.
Within Cabinet, Ministers must feel able to float half-formed ideas with colleagues, in confidence.
Equally, between Whitehall and the devolved territories, there must be a substantial degree of trust.
For example, London and Edinburgh must be able to kick ideas around, privately, in advance of formulating the common UK line on European negotiations.
Without trust, government does not operate.
So, have SNP Ministers, has Alex Salmond, breached that trust by disclosing the details of a draft DEFRA statement to the Commons in re rural aid? Quite simply, yes.
However, is it possible that there was also a breach of trust – and, arguably, a greater breach – in the other direction?
Mr Salmond’s claim is that, on Friday, DEFRA was ready to fund support for Scottish farmers – as well as those in England. The leaked draft, he says, makes that clear.
By Monday, however, the statement actually delivered to the Commons made no mention of this aid, confining support to farmers in England. (DEFRA is primarily responsible for English agriculture. Alex Salmond’s case is that they also have powers, including financial responsibility, in relation to wider animal welfare.)
DEFRA says it will not comment on a leak – other than to say that there is “not a word of truth” in the First Minister’s further allegation that the apparent switch owes much to the cancellation of the election over the same weekend.
Back, though, to the general issue of government trust.
I have argued before on this site that it is near impossible for officials in London and Edinburgh to share information as freely as in the past.
That is because they are serving different political masters: two parties who are not just rivals but enemies.
However, it is in the interests of both administrations to continue to share information: in daily communication, in European negotiations as outlined above and in regard to tackling the emergent, common crises which beset all governments.
There will never be full confidence.
To repeat, they serve different masters, different ends. But here’s the deal – for both sides. Treat us fairly – and we won’t leak your confidential material.