Jargonista of the year The panel of judges (chaired by Sheriff Muir) began its seasonal deliberations in a spirit of goodwill by considering the short list for the annual award in recognition of an exceptional contribution to management speak. Sheriff Muir decided to go round the table for general impressions of the year in this important category.
Mary Culter had been particularly impressed by 'the helicopter view,' and 'the thought shower,' but felt that 'going forward' was now so entrenched in the vocabulary of the public sector that it no longer qualified. She admitted, however, that the phrase had lost none of its power: 'going forward' still made her want to scream. Ms Culter furthermore wanted to know why everybody these days seemed to be on a journey. 'Because everybody's going forward,' suggested Sheriff Muir.
Kitty Brewster was disappointed by the apparent disappearance of 'low-hanging fruit,' but observed that 'running it up the flagpole' had had another strong year. Stifling a giggle, Ms Brewster made a robust case for her personal favourite: 'We need a holistic, cradle-to-grave approach.'
Kirk Oswald acknowledged that, for him, it had been a choice between 'I've got you in my radar,' and 'Let's touch base offline.' But since his recent regrettable delays on the world's greatest bridge, he had a fellow feeling for all those memo-writing managers who were 'looking under the bonnet.'
Sheriff Muir, while welcoming these excellent nominations, reminded his colleagues that they were expected to acknowledge the extraordinary achievement of a single individual – someone truly worthy of the title Jargonista of the Year. He put in a word for the new chair of the Scottish Police Authority, Susan Deacon, who personified in her first utterance the growing tendency of public servants to substitute the meaningless word 'challenges' for the honest one 'problems'. It was agreed that Ms Deacon should be given a special award for outstanding promise.
In the end, after a prolonged debate and several bottles of serviceable prosecco, the usual putrid smoke went up from the editorial eyrie at Liberator House and Baroness Noakes – no relation to the recently departed John – was proclaimed Jargonista of the Year 2017: a rare victory for the private sector in a category long dominated by public appointees of one distressing kind or another.
As chair of the Royal Bank of Scotland’s risk commitee, her ladyship claimed proud ownership of the following statements:
'The committee reviewed and provided insight of the risk profile of the bank relative to the bank’s strategy and risk appetite.'
'We focused on the impact of transformation plans on the bank’s control environment and on the control transformation workstream which is a key part of the overall programme.'
'As the year progressed, increasing agenda time was devoted to the implementation of the bank’s ring-fencing programme as the programme moved from the design phase into the execution phase.'
'We have extended our detailed examination beyond the suite of strategic risks.'
'We will continue to supervise closely the maturing risk appetite framework.'
'RBS as a whole is on a journey towards a robust, well-managed control environment.'
In conferring upon Baroness Noakes the title Jargonista of the Year, the awards panel noted with satisfaction that she is paid £192,000 a year for bamboozling all who join her on the bank's momentous journey. Sheriff Muir described her chairman's report as 'a triumph of obfuscation in an opaque world' and proposed this form of words as a suitable testimonial. There was unanimous agreement that, not for the first time, Sheriff Muir had demonstrated his gift for the pithy compliment.
Books of the year Sheriff Muir, introducing this eagerly anticipated category, chose 'Five Red Herrings' by Dorothy L Sayers in the new Hodder edition, but admitted that he threw it across the room in disgust when he read in the foreword that the novel was set in the Highlands. 'Where is it set?,' asked Kirk Oswald in all innocence. 'In Galloway, of course,' came the reply, 'a place the author knew well from her holidays at the Anwoth Hotel in Gatehouse. There has possibly been no greater work of fiction about train times.'
Our political correspondent Kitty Brewster – for it was now her turn – said that she should have read Hillary Clinton’s book of excuses, but was unable to face it. Instead she re-visited a volume of Alan Clark's diaries and found much of interest and amusement in the old lech's account of the Thatcher years. 'Such as?,' enquired Sheriff Muir. Ms Brewster gave as an example the widely held belief that it was Clark who once referred to Michael Heseltine as a man who had had to buy his own furniture. In fact, Clark was merely quoting a remark of Michael Jopling. It was strange, said Ms Brewster, how such myths acquired a bogus veracity if repeated often enough.
Mary Culter explained that she had intended to dip into Tina Brown's 'Vanity Fair Diaries,' mainly to enhance her understanding of why Scotland's first minister thought highly enough of its author to interview her at that book fest in the Borders last summer. But when she read in the New Statesman that Ms Brown 'tended to be cruel about the ugly, stupid or fat' and that the only lowly people she mentioned were staff, our arts and media correspondent was so alienated that the book continued to lurk unopened on her bedside table.
Kirk Oswald, who has had an unusually busy year covering his wide-ranging brief of sexual indiscretions, weather events, fishing news and traffic jams, boasted that he was so long delayed on the approaches to the Queen Nicola Crossing that he had time to complete his study of the entire canon of Inspector Rebus novels, all 21 of them, in chronological sequence. It was noteworthy, said young Kirk, that the books got longer the more famous its author became. One was so long that the traffic on the Queen Nicola Crossing was in danger of moving by the time he reached the denouement. Young Kirk had also been struck by the number of Scottish politicians who came to sticky ends. 'Still not enough,' joked Sheriff Muir, ringing his bell to signify the end of another memorable round-up of Books of the Year.
Scrooges of the year This final award of the session went, for the third year in succession, to the unsmiling Guardian. Mary Culter had helpfully produced a number of yellowing cuttings from that earnest organ of liberal England:
'No, I will not wrap all the presents. Why are women still responsible for the holiday joy?' (Jessica Valenti)
'Why I've gone cold turkey on Christmas consumerism' (Chitra Ramaswamy)
'Sobriety at Christmas is a challenge. But it’s better than the alternative’ (Pem Charnley)
'Christmas is ruined by children’ (Trevor Mitchell)
'Christmas is isolating when you can’t play happy families' (Becca Bland)
'The incredibly annoying psychology of Christmas regression...when thousands of adults spontaneously turn back into adolescents' (Oliver Burkeman)
'It's time for a real war on Christmas' (Dave Bry)
'The real war on Christmas is our corporate-driven material culture' (J P Sottile)
'Warning: your festive meal could be more damaging than a long-haul flight' (George Monbiot)
'The Christmas shutdown just makes us drunker, fatter, lazier and lonelier' (Ian Jack)
The editor of the Scottish Review, a Mr Roy, happened to enter the room as the name Ian Jack was mentioned. He suggested that Mr Jack should be excluded on the grounds that (a) Mr Jack was a friend of his; (b) Mr Jack wrote very well; and (c) what Mr Jack said was invariably correct. The move to exclude Mr Jack was unanimously rejected.
Any other business
(1) Kitty Brewster reflected that it might be worth recording in the minutes that the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body – which she emphasised was not a euphemism for some unfortunate victim of sexual harassment – had voted MSPs an increase in salary. She had nodded sympathetically at the statement of Jackson Carlaw, a Tory member of the Corporate Body, who said that MSPs deserved to be paid more because they are ‘busier than ever.’ Ms Brewster pointed out these industrious tribunes sit for as many as 36 weeks a year.
(2) Mary Culter reported that she was still attempting to stand up a press rumour that the Scottish government had incurred legal costs of £500,000 in defending its named person scheme – reason enough to increase the basic rate of income tax (she added with a touch of the sardonic).
(3) Kitty Brewster, producing a copy of Thursday's Daily Mail, asked why the 11 Tory rebels on the Brexit vote were being branded enemies of the people when they were merely upholding what was left of parliamentary democracy. At this point, Sheriff Muir, reaching for the port, brought the business to a close, and the meeting broke up in an
especially genial mood – what is called these days an 'atmosphere'.
Double Take is edited by The Midgie with the assistance of staff writers Kitty Brewster (politics), Sheriff Muir (legal and constitutional affairs), Mary Culter (arts, media and gender issues) and Kirk Oswald (sexual indiscretions, weather events, traffic jams and fishing news). Maggie Knockater (Banffshire correspondent) wishes her many readers a peaceful Christmas from Macduff. Further awards will be announced in our final edition of the year on Wednesday, which will take the form of a special pull-out-and-keep supplement illustrated by a photograph of Angela Merkel or Meghan Markle. It will be for Sheriff Muir to decide which of them is likely to sell more papers.