It’s all in the game

by | 10 Sep 2021

Baltimore drug gangs? Senior public officials with second jobs? It's all in the game, right? And the game stinks

Omar would have recognised the mindset of some of Scotland’s top public officials in a second.

For those who don’t know Omar, he is one of the greatest television characters of all time, the shotgun-wielding antihero of The Wire who has a code and only robs the drug dealers. Omar is on my mind because Michael K Williams, the actor who brought him so vividly to life, sadly died this week.

There are so many famous scenes with Omar but fans would probably chose his courtroom scene as a favourite. Omar is giving evidence against a dominant drug gang. The gang’s slimy white lawyer is going after Omar’s criminal past to try and discredit him.

Trying to persuade the jury Omar isn’t a good guy he challenges him; “you’re feeding of the despair and the violence of the drug trade”. He calls Omar a parasite. Omar is never phased though. “Just like you man”. He replies. Then, his classic quote:

“I got the shotgun. You got the briefcase. It’s all in the game tho, right?”

“The game” is universally used throughout the series to represent the horrible, unwritten rules and expectations of Baltimore’s drug trade. The murder, the bribery, the coercion, the destruction of lives. No-one pretends this horror is right, or just, or desirable. It just – is.

It’s the game. It was never proposed, it was never discussed, it’s not something anyone agreed to. It’s nothing more than the reality of what happens when authority and justice turns a blind eye and those who are there do what they believe they can get away with, what they feel they need to do to be the winner in the never-ending, god-awful game.

I got the shotgun. You got the non-executive board position. It’s all in the game tho, right?

Such is the mindset of a certain level of public official in Scotland. They know this isn’t public service, and you know they know because if you ask them to own up to it they turn backflips trying to obstruct you.

I got the shotgun. You got the non-executive board position. It’s all in the game tho, right?

If cornered they try to pull out lines like ‘it’s good for public servants to have real world experience’ (but never of soup kitchens or drug rehabilitation centres it seems) or ‘bringing private sector knowledge to government improves performance’ (though not the knowledge of life on zero-hours contracts, or piss-in-the-bottle-because-you’re-on-the-clock knowledge).

Which begs the question – if this is all so damned good for our democracy and our public life, why all the effort to cover it up? They know why, you know why, you know they know why. It’s that damned game.

Because it really is universal in ‘the game’. Senior SNP advisers routinely end up lobbying for airports or something. Senior civil servants get paid twice, once for doing their job, once for sitting on some board, a place they secured through their contacts.

And that doesn’t touch the sides of what they can get away with the second they are out the door. Are you a former head of fisheries strategy and environment at the Scottish Government? Why not move to becoming the Chair of the White Fish Producers Association? No way that could be conflict of interest, right?

Or how about being the Director of Governance at Glasgow City Council and then sliding straight into a role with a big company to which you just gave a major contract? Nothing to see there, right?

It is simply people using their power to leverage greater wealth not because it’s right but because they can

This two-jobbing and revolving door nonsense is so universal in public life now that it barely goes remarked upon, at least among those involved. They are only ever policed by themselves and a dreadfully under-powered Scottish media. They know they have bulletproof political cover because the politicians are all at it themselves.

If there is a better comparator to this whole charade than the cynical brutality of the Baltimore drug trade and the corrupt or worn-down cops, politicians and city officials who facilitate them it doesn’t immediately spring to mind.

It is simply people using their power to leverage greater wealth not because it’s right but because they can. And it has done irreparable harm to public life right across the democratic world.

So when people say ‘I agree that we need a second chamber of the Scottish Parliament but I want to see it elected rather than chosen from among the public at random like Common Weal suggests‘, my response is simply ‘why do you think we can make any of this better simply by making the game bigger, by increasing the number of people looking for lucrative second jobs?’.

I have long since lost confidence that the solution to the abuse of political power is more politicians (even though we do need more politicians). We need oversight from someone who is not inextricably wrapped up in this whole awful system, like ordinary citizens.

Right now it really is all in the game. That’s why we need to change the game.

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