In 2008 Jim Gallagher was an anti-Scottish-independence-minded civil servant working as ‘Director of Scottish devolution’ for Prime Minister Gordon Brown. Brown sent him to be secretary to the unionist Calman Commission to ensure the report reached the ‘right’ conclusions. In his spare time, like many folk of good professional standing, Gallagher volunteered as a ‘visiting professor’ at Glasgow University. He retired from the civil service in 2010 and became an anti-Scottish independence campaigner.
What followed was an academic ‘laundering’ of his professional standing as a committed unionist civil servant and the creation of a new persona as an ‘eminent economist’, ‘law professor’ and ‘politics professor’. Gallagher’s long-held anti-independence views were then presented to the Scottish media and public not as simply as those of a retired civil servant and committed unionist, but as the impartial analysis of a distinguished academic. This is how it happened.
Glasgow University took on Jim Gallagher – who was to draft the unionist Calman Commission report – as a visiting professor in 2005. Visiting professors are mainly not academics. They attend a few times each year and give lectures about their professional field. They’re called ‘professor’ when they visit as a courtesy in order to recognise their genuine contribution to the life of the university.
In 2010, upon retirement, Gallagher began to assist an Oxford professor called Iain McLean. Professor McLean, a former Labour Councillor in England, is from Edinburgh and is a committed unionist. He carried out work for Gordon Brown while the latter was chancellor then prime minister. He gives evidence to Scottish parliament committees where he slides from his area of expertise, he’s a professor of politics, into finance and economics. He and Gallagher are close friends.
In late career, McLean wanted to inform his own academic work though a close relationship with civil servants in order to produce practical ‘think-tank’ type papers aimed at influencing UK government policy. He started up a study group containing non-academics. Then, in 2015, upon his own retirement, this group became the Gwilym Gibbon Centre for Public Policy.
Today, McLean is the centre’s part-time director and the only official ‘Nuffield Fellow’ there. He has personally recruited a handful of professionals from the think tank, civil service and unionist politics worlds to help write pamphlets for his own new think tank. Sir Danny Alexander, the former Liberal Democrat MP, is one. Where the centre’s output concerns Scotland, it reflects uniformally a unionist perspective.
Since 2010, as a volunteer and ‘associate member’ of Nuffield College, Oxford, Jim Gallagher has written half a dozen think-pieces for Professor McLean’s think tank, extending both from his experience as a civil servant and his personal commitment as a Scottish unionist. Meanwhile, Glasgow University has kept renewing Gallagher’s ‘visiting professor’ status for an unusually long period after his retirement. These extensive ‘reappointments’ appear to have taken into account the misleading notion that Gallagher is not simply a retired civil servant with a unionist axe to grind, but instead is now a distinguished Oxford academic of high standing.
As has been established in our earlier pieces, in spite of describing himself as; “a professor based at Oxford and Glasgow”, Gallagher is not an Oxford professor at all. Nor is he a Fellow of Nuffield College, although he was once a fixed-term ‘Gwilym Gibbon fellow’ (McLean’s think tank) for 2 years. He does not appear to have ever held a tenured academic appointment at any level at any university, including Glasgow. Nor is he a trained economist or practicing lawyer. Nor has he trained as an academic researcher. Nor published peer-reviewed academic work.
All this being so, why did the media present Gallagher to the public in the way they did? After all, one moment he was a civil servant providing the secretariat function for a unionist ‘commission’, the next he was an eminent, impartial and distinguished academic of high standing. Given that some journalists are themselves visiting professors and know that this does not of itself give them high scholarly standing, why did they attribute such overblown standing to Gallagher?
The simple truth, it seems, is that the media were simply duped by the appearance that Gallagher’s ‘visiting’ role at Glasgow was an adjunct to a substantive appointment and serious academic work at Oxford.
Readers of this piece should consider what the journalists saw. Here was a man who appeared to describe himself as a professor at Oxford and with a visiting professorship at Glasgow. He can be seen described as a professor on the Oxford University politics department website. He continues to be described as a fellow of Nuffield College in many sources (indeed the present Gwilym Gibbon fellow, with whom Gallagher and McLean work, in no sense describes himself in high scholarly terms) and there is no evidence that he corrects journalists on this point. Each time he participates in an occasional Glasgow University event, where he has written one or two more think-tank pieces, it is as a ‘visiting professor’ who consistently stresses that his main base was at Nuffield College, Oxford.
For hard-pressed journalists who knew of his background, Gallagher appeared to be one of many senior civil servants who had moved into academia via high-grade research work followed by a tenured professorship at Oxford. Of course, as we now know, Gallagher had done nothing of the sort. No heavyweight academic research; no Oxford appointment. Just a few anti-independence think-tank pamphlets in conjunction with fellow unionists.
Both Nuffield and Glasgow seem to have failed to spot the risk that ‘think tanks’ set up within each university, competing with outside ‘think-tanks’ for contracts, could compromise their academic standards in search of news inches and ‘practical relevance’. The risk, too, that unionists would seek to use the cover of academia to hide their political intent.
For example, Professor McLean has participated alongside Gallagher in numerous evidence sessions at committees of the Scottish Parliament. They have published a number of articles and a book whose unifying theme is the undesirability of an independent state of Scotland. The content, tone and timing of their interventions bear a striking similarity to those of Gordon Brown himself. In fact, it seems that it is McLean and Gallagher who provide Brown with much of the detail and structure of his statements in favour of devo-max as a means of defeating the campaign for independence. Has Gallagher benefited from tacit, or overt, endorsement or references from Gordon Brown, for whom in return he appears now to provide academic cover? Perhaps the media would like to ask.
Meanwhile, Glasgow University’s ‘Policy Scotland’ think-tank, which includes amongst its number a former unionist Scottish government minister a current Conservative MSP, seems to have been happy with the extensive coverage of its events and the media’s descriptions of Gallagher as an eminent academic authority in all sorts of disciplines. The reader here can simply Google “professor jim Gallagher snp attack” to get an idea of the scale and extent of Gallagher’s preparedness to be repeatedly presented as a ‘distinguished academic’ in many disciplines. It is quite impossible that Policy Scotland did not know of the preposterously overblown claims made in the media in respect of Gallagher’s eminence in a range of areas of scholarly research.
Glasgow University, in what looks somewhat like a holding position, has told this website that ‘honorary’ and ‘visiting’ professors hold the same professorial status as tenured professors within the university, and that visiting professors are always annotated as such. But is this true? Certainly, tenured academics do not seem to agree, otherwise what is the point of university scholarship and a lifetime’s research experience? And what would that mean for how the public understands the idea of a professor, or what credibility the public should attach to the words of professors? In any case, Gallagher routinely describes himself as simply: “Professor of Law, Glasgow University”.
The Gallagher case flags a problem just under the surface of each famous institution. This is where ‘think-tanks’, often with a pre-formed set of ideological assumptions, are set up inside the university. They utilise non-academics to assure said think-tank acquires contracts, news coverage and ‘relevance’. They obscure the distinction between academic research and reverse-engineered arguments designed for political or ‘newsworthy’ purpose. Then the university returns the favour by appearing to grant a title which conveys academic respectability while conveying to real professors the fact that the title is essentially a matter of playing the PR game.
It is for the academic community to decide whether the think-tankers who regularly appear on Newsnight billed as ‘professor’ (Glasgow grants unpaid ‘honorary’ professor status to some) represent a debasing of professional scholarly standards. But if it gets it wrong, as it has with Jim Gallagher, then when genuine professors discover no-one trusts their ‘expertise’ then they will have only themselves to blame.
It is laudable for Gallagher, McLean and indeed Gordon Brown himself to argue for what they believe in. Transparency is essential, however. Otherwise establishment unionist figures will naturally use their own establishment capital to serve their, and the establishment’s, own ends.
Still, at least Gallagher’s Wikipedia page had all the academic references removed at midnight when we first wrote about his case. And here’s his now unavailable academic CV on the Glasgow University website. So that’s a start.
In the coming year or two, Scots should keep a weather eye out for other unionist, establishment ‘laundry’ operations. There are plenty of them around. And if they want to look for new ideas for how good a place Scotland could be, we may do well not to look to old-hands from the UK civil service establishment whose careers are steeped in the assumptions of yesteryear.