AS elections go, it threatens to be a dull one, especially now Nicola Sturgeon has decided the risk of spreading coronavirus is too high to allow the normal fun-and-games of canvassing or public meetings.

Still, here as elsewhere, the Covid crisis is, for all its vexation, at least forcing human beings to become more inventive as they find substitutes for objects or activities that are no longer available. Maybe this will tempt some of us to stay at home and not bother with it all, in which case decisive results may be harder to achieve than leaders would like. And then their parties may well turn to more unconventional methods of garnering support.

The SNP’s MP for Midlothian, Owen Thompson, has already picked up on this in an anti-cronyism crusade he has been conducting. He accuses the UK Government of blatant corruption. This is because the awarding of public contracts worth billions to Tory party donors and contacts has brought the country to a pivotal moment that could shape politics for years to come.

At Westminster, Thompson has introduced a Ministerial Interest (Emergency Powers) Bill. It would force members of the Government to answer questions about any personal, political or financial connections they may have with firms that are awarded official contracts under emergency regulations brought in at the start of the pandemic. Last week, as the Sunday National reported, he urged the Labour leader, Sir Keir Starmer, to back the move. He believes he can rattle Boris Johnson’s administration in its cronyism.

Thompson commented: “Government is handing out hundreds of millions of taxpayers’ money in contracts to companies that are run by party donors and people who are personally close to that government. If you were to describe the situation about another country, you would say that is corrupt. In any other country on the planet, you would say that. It’s the old boys’ club.

“If they get away with this just now, it’ll change the way the governments of the UK behave forever. It’s a benchmark. What is to stop any government of the UK doing it?” Well, indeed. I think all UK governments have done it, do do it and will do it.

The comments come after a ruling in the High Court last Friday when the judge, Martin Chamberlain, said the Government unlawfully failed to publish details of billions of pounds’ worth of coronavirus-related contracts. It is required by law to do so within 30 days of any award worth more than £120,000, but Matt Hancock, Secretary of State for Health, breached this “in a substantial number of cases”.

I agree wholeheartedly with what Thompson says, and would only point out that the misdemeanours he complains of are by no means confined to the Tory party. As a matter of fact, they have historically been more common in the Labour party. There is a simple reason for this. The sort of grandees who have been the historical backbone of Conservatism do not usually need money on the relatively trivial scale aspired to by these self-styled socialists. They will look for bigger favours in less vulgar ways.

Glasgow, to take one great industrial city, offers many examples. A century ago, it was ruled by an extended clique of manufacturers and merchants who had been in charge of it for another century before that. Lord Dunlop, former Scottish adviser to Boris Johnson, is descended from one of them. They were distinguished by their fortunes but also by their probity. Glasgow boasted the richest, most honest and most efficient council in the country. People came from all over the world to admire the achievements and learn from them.

But then, in the mid-1930s, these models of municipal morality lost power in the City Chambers to Labour. At once, within a year or two, the council was being corrupted. Especially the housing market was subverted by such distortions in the allocations of flats and in their rents that it became too risky for private landlords. Even if they could get permission for a development – something that became more and more impossible as time went on – they could not rely on a reasonable return for their investment.

As private landlords were driven out of the city, which was the eventual intention, so building standards for the municipal stock were steadily reduced. The earliest council housing dated from the 1920s, and at that time there was not much difference between private and public standards. But soon public standards fell behind because there was no competition to keep them up. The city was in effect replacing old slums with new ones.

The only man who tried to put a stop to all this monkey business was a member of an older and more idealistic generation, the wartime secretary of state for Scotland, Tom Johnston. He threatened to close Glasgow’s city government down and have the whole place run by commissioners. But, once the war was over and Labour was in power nationally, these matters no longer appeared so urgent.

Then Glasgow had a housing system almost entirely controlled by the council, which actively disapproved of any intervention by the private sector. Yet much of the stock provided during that period did not survive into the 21st century.

It is still being replaced today, and the city’s housing problems are far from solved. At least, in the most recent developments, structural changes have been made which give tenants some influence over the quality of their dwellings. Meanwhile, many Victorian tenements have continued to offer their tenants well–built accommodation easily brought up to modern standards in hygiene and heating. Yet not so long ago it was fashionable to condemn these buildings.

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In the end, then, the private sector has emerged as a means of quality control on the public sector, reversing the relationship that was originally envisaged. The public sector did not set standards, but through all sorts of minor crookery depressed standards.

This is a useful lesson for Scotland’s future, especially if we are handing it over to a nationalist establishment that in certain respects seems intent on continuing the outlook and methods of its Labour and Unionist forerunners. Those in charge no more like

private landlords or private commercial investors than those predecessors did.

Though the SNP has so far exercised the same sort of power only for a much shorter period, there have already been the first instances of corruption in the control of money that has been allocated for apparently worthy public purposes, and one notable trial is about to begin. Corruptible people do this sort of thing regardless of their actual political convictions. The best way to stop them is not to give them so much public power in the first place.