I wrote an article for a Scottish newspaper many years ago under the heading 'Long Odds and Unlikely Events'.
Here are a few extracts to illustrate the central point I was making - about impossibly high concentrations of 'politically connected' people dominating key areas of public life.
Long Odds and Unlikely Events
Long odds and unlikely events are not as common as people think.
Bookies will lay odds of 1,000 to 1 against Scotland winning the next world cup; a tad generous perhaps, even to misty-eyed members of the Tartan Army.
But give punters the real odds of an impossible event and they’ll hold on to their money, which is why bookies will quote odds of 250 to 1 for concrete evidence proving the Loch Ness Monster really exists.
In politics, probability theory also has some equally fascinating applications. For example, at best, there are 22,000 Labour party members in Scotland, which was the official figure used in connection with Labour’s leadership ballot that turned into a one horse race.
But take 22,000 at face value and weigh this against the number of Scots aged between 16 and 65. According to Scotland’s national census office there were 3,375,884 Scots in this age group in June 2000.
The next step is to divide 22,000 into 3,375,884 million which equals 0.65% of the total adult population of Scotland. The final answer is that the odds of a random person being a member of the Labour party are 153 to 1.
All things being equal, that is how often you should bump into a Labour party member at work, rest or play, at least within organisations that claim to be independent and non-party political. If one particular group dominates parts of public life, out of all proportion to its numbers, some hard questions need to be answered. But this does not change the odds: 153 to 1 remains the acid test, and any peaks and troughs should average out over time.
Discrimination is not a branch of rocket science. It’s as easy to spot as the proverbial elephant on your doorstep; the hard part is having the courage to tackle the vested interests that benefit from pork-barrel politics, which all parties are guilty of from time to time.
Is party membership a passport to success? Do supporters get a hand up that’s not on offer to followers a different political faith?
Equal opportunity policies without effective monitoring and scrutiny are a sham; processes should operate to the highest standards, highlighting areas of under or over representation without fear or favour.
Putting information about party membership into the public domain means allows people to decide for themselves whether hidden forces are at play.
So if you had 5 people out of 8 in the same organisation (very much on the low side for trade unions, in my experience) who are all members of the Scottish Labour Party - then the odds of that happening by sheer chance are 35 trillion to 1.
The calculation being - 3,375,884/8 x 153 to 1 x 153 to 1 x 153 to 1 x 153 to 1 x 153 to1 - or, to put it another way, the odds of winning the national lottery are hugely better - in fact a complete snip at only 14 million to 1.
So is it this just an amazing coincidence Scotland's trade unions are stuffed to the rafters with Labour Party members at senior levels - or is there a hidden force at work to help explain such an unlikely outcome?
Now ordinarily this would matter too much - but on this occasion it does because trade unions claim to be representative organisations - and that can only be true if they reflect the make-up and diverse views of their grassroots, rank-and-file members.
If they don't - then it's a complete sham of union democracy and makes a mockery of a modern approach to equal opportunities.