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Spend & Save

Donald MacInnes: Why my conscience is priceless...I'm too scared to take a bribe


Forgive me for being so personal – and you don't have to answer if you'd rather not – but would you say you can be bought? Is there a price on your head (in the retail, rather than Gambino Family sense)?

If so, there must exist somewhere a financial line; a threshold beyond which the prospect of all that money makes your principles start giggling like Japanese schoolgirls. In the land beyond the line, there are no rules; no angels on your right shoulder to provide a moral counterpoint to the Devil whispering on your left. Think of all those goodies you can accrue by just looking the other way when whichever fence you guard is scaled. Or, to put it another way, when whichever major football tournament you govern is allegedly bunged a few quid by a prospective host nation to look favourably on their application. Not that I am suggesting that anyone who works for Fifa has ever done anything morally questionable.

What I am suggesting is that I'm not sure I even have a price. And that's not to say that I am some sort of noble unicorn of goodness, tossing my mane disgustedly when someone offers me an apple if I will just pretend to be a hat stand. No, the reason for my unpurchasability (yes, I know it's not a word) is that I am too much of a worrier to take a bribe.

If history has taught us anything (apart from the fact that there was a depressing number of Scots who fought on the English side at the battle of Culloden), it is that you nearly always get caught. Some rancid hack from The Daily Bugle will always weasel his way into your bank statement and discover that pot of gold from whichever quango paid you off.

But even if I didn't get caught and then hauled through the media feet-first, I doubt I could enjoy my gains, due to their having been quite so ill-gotten. Maybe it's my Church of Scotland upbringing. Although, as religions go, it's not really one which leans too heavily on guilt. It tends to rely more on repression. And coffee mornings. My wife, on the other hand, went to a convent school and is no stranger to the kind of weighty Catholic guilt that can only really be safely transported in a wheelbarrow.

My hat really does go off to people who can live with themselves after they have received their bribe. Although perhaps the willingness to take the cash means you are less likely to regret doing so from a moral standpoint.

I saw a documentary about the hunt for old Nazis who had fled to South America after the Second World War. One in particular is thought to have escaped Europe in a submarine full of looted treasures and stolen gold. Now that's what you call a guilt-free psyche! Say what you like about his career choices, but you have to admire his moral certainty.