This was a recent post by Walter Humes for the Scottish Review. I read this as a personal view about the civil service in Scotland (and not just about the governance of the NHS) so I (presume) that I am safe to share Professor Hume's view without worrying about any potential consequences for me as an NHS employee working in Scotland
Wednesday 14th October
I wonder how many SR readers would recognise one or more of the following names: Leslie Evans; Paul Johnston; Alyson Stafford; Graeme Dickson; Paul Gray; Sarah Davidson; Ken Thomson. They all hold important positions which enable them to influence decisions about the future direction of Scottish society. Leslie Evans is the most senior civil servant in Scotland, with the title of permanent secretary. The others head different directorates within the Scottish Government (Learning and Justice; Finance; Enterprise, Environment and Innovation; Health and Social Care; Communities; Strategy and External Affairs). They are called directors-general, a title that manages to carry both bureaucratic and military associations. Brief biographies of each can be found on the Scottish Government website.
Notwithstanding all the talk about openness in public administration, civil servants continue to prefer to remain in the background. They play down the power that they exercise, colluding with politicians in maintaining the fiction that it is always the latter who determine policy, the former merely advising and supporting. One of the most important ways in which senior civil servants can shape events is through their capacity to influence public discourse. They draft minutes, reports, consultation documents and policy statements. The skilful use of language can serve as a form of intellectual control.
The shadowy work of the mandarin class deserves to be subject to greater scrutiny than it normally receives. I offer this as a topic which the recently formed group of investigative journalists in Scotland – called The Ferret – might wish to pursue. They see their role as ‘sniffing up the trouser leg of power’. Sounds good to me.