LEADING ARTICLE : And still they can't come clean

Share
That the Government scraped through in last night's vote on the Scott report was further testimony to John Major's ability to fight his way out of a Westminster corner. Mr Major's skills in doing just enough to win a narrow vote are considerable. They will need to be well honed because this is what political life will be like for the next few months. The Scott affair has inflicted long term damage on his government that last night's victory does little to repair. More importantly the Scott report's detailed account of the arrogance and secrecy at the heart of British governance, still goes largely unaddressed. Mr Robin Cook, Labour's foreign affairs spokesman was right when he warned the House of Commons that the quality of British democracy was under scrutiny in the debate. At the end of the debate most of the public will be no more satisfied than they were at the start that the shortcomings uncovered by Scott are going to be dealt with.

The real triumph last night for Mr Major - and it is not to be underestimated - was not just that he won the vote. It is that he won the vote and yet kept alive, just, the Northern Ireland peace process. Mr Major remember is proposing elections in Northern Ireland as a way into all-party talks. Had he offered the Ulster Unionists a form of elections to their liking - votes in the provinces' 18 separate constituencies - he may have won their support. However to have done that would have been to jeopardise any chance of winning the support of the nationalist SDLP. That in turn would have thrown indoubt this week's summit with the Irish premier John Bruton which may be the last chance of keeping the peace process going.

Mr Major could have traded-in the peace process for a safer parliamentary majority. That Mr Major chose a way to win the vote while keeping alive even a glimmer of hope for peace (by offering a deal to suit the Reverend Ian Paisley's DUP as well as the SDLP) is to his credit.

The second main ingredient of the victory was a list of detailed concessions on the Scott report's recommendations. Sadly these hardly amount to the response that was required, to allay public conerns, although they were enough to buy off some back bench opposition.

Mr Rupert Allason, the maverick back bencher was won over by a vague sounding promise on reforms to the infamous public immunity certificates. Measures such as the review of the way parliamentary questions on arms sales are answered are sensible.

But on the central questions raised by the report, the government was unyielding. The Scott report found that ministers systematically misled parliament. Yet all Mr Ian Lang, the President of the Board of Trade could offer was that the government would look positively at some of Scott's ideas of the issue. It is very generous of the government to think positively about ministers telling the public what is going on in their name.

As for Sir Nicholas Lyell, the Attorney General whose judgement was found to be so wanting, he is to be rewarded by having his responsibiltiies expanded to include examining the way that Customs and Excise pursues its prosecutions. We will all rest happier that justice will be efficiently and fairly administered. No sign still that the two ministers most discredited by the report - Sir Nicholas and William Waldegrave - might take responsiblity for their failings by resigning. No sign that Sir Robin Butler, the cabinet secretary who is at the heart of the corrupting concentration of power in Whitehall might be held to account. It is still a culture of government which likes unfettered power but doesn't believe in taking the blame for anything.

The Scott report has left an indelible stain on this government's reputation. It's initial reaction to the report was cynical. Last night it was calculating. It has never been honest or open enough to inspire trust in a public it appears to disdain. And for that it deserves to pay a heavy price indeed when the real vote comes.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Graduate / Junior C# Developer

£18000 - £25000 Per Annum + bonus and benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Lt...

IT Project manager - Web E-commerce

£65000 Per Annum Benefits + bonus: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: If you are...

Teaching Assistants needed in Chester

Negotiable: Randstad Education Chester: Teaching Assistants needed in Cheshire...

Male PE Teacher

£85 - £125 per day: Randstad Education Chester: Job Opportunity for Secondary ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

i Editor's Letter: Take a moment to imagine you're Ed Miliband...

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
The longer David Sedaris had his Fitbit, the further afield his walks took him through the West Sussex countryside  

Autumn’s subtle charm is greatly enhanced by this Indian summer

Michael McCarthy
Secret politics of the weekly shop

The politics of the weekly shop

New app reveals political leanings of food companies
Beam me up, Scottie!

Beam me up, Scottie!

Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

Beware Wet Paint

The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
Sanctuary for the suicidal

Sanctuary for the suicidal

One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits