Thursday, November 16, 2017

A gentle hint: this kind of behaviour doesn't just bring journalism into disrepute, it turns journalism into a laughing-stock

Those of you on Twitter are probably well aware that there's a Herald journalist called David Leask who is notorious for being the least tolerant person you could ever encounter.  It's almost comical - he's literally blocked every single person who's ever interacted with him unless they've unreservedly agreed with his own worldview in each and every microscopic particular.  He has no self-awareness at all about how this behaviour reveals him to have a sinister, mildly fascist mindset (I use the word 'fascist' advisedly - defined in part as 'no tolerance for opposing opinions') and indeed he advertises what he is doing quite openly - after most blockings he 'names and shames' the offending person and states his 'reason' for blocking, which in most cases is silly beyond all belief.  He carries on doing this without any understanding of the immense harm he's doing to his own reputation - and by extension to the reputation of his profession - because, you've guessed it, he's already blocked anyone who is capable of being a candid friend to him and taking him to one side.

Over the years I've been on Twitter, I've watched in genuine astonishment as practically everyone I know, across all shades of pro-independence opinion, has been blocked by Leask, often after interacting with him very respectfully on just one single occasion.  Being aware of his antics, I began to regard it as a game to see if I could end up as just about the only non-sycophant left that he hasn't blocked, simply by permanently ignoring him.  However, over the last few days he has lost the plot even by his own high standards.  Because of his hardline views about Russian-funded media in the UK, he's taken to declaring that anyone who defends Alex Salmond's association with RT cannot by definition be part of the 'real SNP' or share the values of the 'real independence movement' (a jaw-dropping piece of conceit given that Leask is not actually in the indy camp).  This naturally means that Salmond himself, the man who led the Yes campaign in the indyref and has been leader of the SNP for almost one-quarter of its entire existence, is not 'real SNP' or 'real pro-indy'.  I'd humbly submit that is quite possibly the most embarrassing argument ever put forward by any professional journalist who does not work for the Express.

So I finally cracked.  I decided a more interesting game than ignoring Leask would be to see if I could gently challenge him by making a point that is practically irrefutable, and come away without being blocked.  The result, I'm afraid, was all too predictable.

Remember that the above tweet is the only time, in eight years as a Twitter user, that I've ever interacted with the guy.

Try the game yourself.  Go on, it's fun.  Say to him: "It's Thursday, David", and ten seconds later he'll publicly execute you with the words "Blocked for denying it's always Wednesday".

Ladies and gentlemen, I give to you the one and only Mr David Leask.  

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

New ICM poll is hammerblow for Dugdale...sorry, I mean Rowley...sorry, I mean 'Position Vacant'

Confusion reigns today over whether the role of interim Scottish Labour leader is now completely vacant or occupied by Jackie Baillie (and indeed confusion also reigns over whether we'd be able to tell the difference between those two possibilities).  One thing remains constant, though - there's no sign of any joy for Scottish Labour in the opinion polls.  The SNP are back up to 4% of the Britain-wide vote for only the second time in any ICM poll conducted since the general election, and the Scottish subsample shows the following: SNP 40%, Conservatives 27%, Labour 20%, Liberal Democrats 6%, Greens 5%, UKIP 1%.  This is the twentieth subsample in a row across all firms to put the SNP in first place.

Of course no individual subsample should be regarded as reliable given the small sample size, but for what it's worth the ICM poll is the first straw in the wind since we were all royally entertained by the affectations of outrage over Alex Salmond's TV show.  So the very earliest indications are that the SNP's detractors may have to find a line of attack that is more promising than "Salmond is almost as bad as Kim Philby" (which is something that Channel 4 News presenter Jon Snow actually said out loud last night!).

'We need to talk about the monarchy as part of independence'

The latest from Phantom Power's Journey to Yes series, featuring someone who you might remember giving Ruth Davidson a (thoroughly deserved) hard time during the general election campaign.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Nineteenth subsample in a row puts the SNP ahead

A new Britain-wide YouGov poll is out today, so this may be a good moment to round-up the Scottish subsamples that have been published since my last update.  There have only been a couple...

Ipsos-Mori: SNP 43%, Labour 24%, Conservatives 23%, Liberal Democrats 9%

YouGov: SNP 36%, Labour 28%, Conservatives 25%, Liberal Democrats 5%, UKIP 4%, Greens 1%

That means nineteen subsamples in a row have put the SNP in an outright lead.  Just the usual reminder - any individual subsample should not be regarded as reliable, but an aggregate/average of a large number of subsamples can give you a rough indication of what is happening.  The sheer consistency of the SNP lead in subsamples since early September is probably indicative of quite a healthy SNP advantage on the ground, and is very much in line with the message from full-scale Scottish polls (although admittedly we haven't had any of those for a few weeks).

Are there any clouds on the horizon?  Obviously the hysteria over Alex Salmond's new TV show has only just happened, so we'll have to wait and see how that plays out.  It goes without saying that the criticisms of Salmond are hypocritical bilge given that leading politicians from all major parties have been willingly interviewed on the same channel, but on the other hand it is unusual (probably unprecedented) for Nicola Sturgeon to put out a personal statement distancing herself from something Salmond has done.  She and her advisers may have thought that was a safety-first approach, but I suspect the truly dangerous thing is for parties to allow themselves to look divided.  However, it's a very polite division on a relatively minor issue, so in spite of the mainstream media's valiant demands that their readers and viewers should care about this, I expect the likelihood is that we'll look back on it as a 72-hour wonder. 

If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear

Earlier today, I had a brief exchange with Nick Robinson (former Political Editor of both the BBC and ITV News, and now presenter of BBC Radio 4's Today programme) on the subject of Alex Salmond's new TV show - which is made with complete editorial control by Salmond's own production company, and will be broadcast on RT.





This is my cue to use the immortal words "He didn't answer" (albeit with rather more accuracy than they were originally used).

I realised as I was writing those tweets that I am - somewhat to my surprise - a fan of Twitter's new 280-character limit.  Until a couple of days ago, if I had tried to make points like those I would have given up in despair after realising that it's impossible to condense them into 140 characters.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

No, Nicola Sturgeon does not need to apologise for someone else's personal opinions

Good Morning Scotland presenter Gary Robertson raised a few eyebrows last night by taking a clear stance on an issue of party political controversy -

Now, first things first - there's nothing wrong in principle with a BBC journalist expressing a political opinion on Twitter.  That's what the standard disclaimer "my views, not my employer's" is there to cover - he wasn't tweeting with his BBC hat on.  Nevertheless, there presumably is a line that has to be drawn somewhere - it would, for example, be a problem if Brian Taylor was constantly telling us which party he votes for in general elections, because we would inevitably view all of his political reporting through that prism.  What troubles me is not so much that we now know Gary Robertson thinks the SNP should have declined large game-changing donations in 2007 and 2011, but rather that he believes he's merely stating the obvious and is evidently offended by the idea that any right-thinking person would not dutifully fall in behind him.

Let's be absolutely clear what it would have meant for the SNP to turn down Souter's donations.  In 2007, the odds were - as since the dawn of time - stacked against them.  They were up against much wealthier opponents who could tap into UK-wide funds, and the media were relentlessly hostile.  The Souter donation helped level a hopelessly skewed playing-field, and there was simply no other way that was going to happen.  In a nutshell, Gary Robertson thinks the SNP should have opted out of the chance to properly compete for power on something approaching a fair basis, just so they could look as pure as the driven snow.  That would have been a betrayal of anyone who had pounded the streets for the SNP since 1934 on the assumption that the party was not playing a futile game of cricket, but was instead engaged in a serious attempt to overcome the dirty war fought against them by the media and London establishment, to attain power, and ultimately to win maximum self-government for Scotland.  The 2007 election was so desperately close that it's entirely plausible to say that without the Souter donation there would have been no independence referendum (because the 2011 overall majority was only possible due to the success of the 2007-11 government), meaning that we wouldn't now have a more powerful Scottish Parliament and an enormous contingent of pro-independence MPs at Westminster.  And what noble point of principle would the SNP have been sacrificing their raison d'être for?  None at all.  The donation came without strings.

Maybe once we have public funding of political parties, and once the media has put its own house in order, the SNP will have the luxury of turning down unconditional donations of £500,000.  But not until then.

I'm also slightly baffled as to why Robertson thinks Brian Souter has "policies".  Politicians have policies, but private citizens - no matter how wealthy - merely have opinions.  Perhaps Robertson thought it was only by indulging in the pretence that Souter is the equivalent of an SNP government minister that he could justify the otherwise incredibly silly notion that Nicola Sturgeon should be "apologising" for someone else's personal views.

As for Robertson's question about whether Souter's donations took place within the historical period Sturgeon apologised for in her statement, he should have known the answer to that, because she gave a pretty strong hint that she regarded 2001 as the watershed - that being the year in which the age of consent was equalised at 16.  The vast bulk of what she was apologising for took place on Westminster's watch - most notably, it was UK-wide Labour and Tory governments that eccentrically kept sex between men a criminal offence in Scotland for well over a decade after it had been legalised in England and Wales.  The short post-devolution period covered by the apology was during the Labour-Lib Dem coalition government at Holyrood, and ended six years before Souter's first donation to the SNP.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Penny for the Guy

A few years ago I stumbled across a BBC drama series from the 1970s, confusingly called 1990 because it was set in a dystopian Britain of the near-future.  It starred Edward Woodward at the peak of his powers, but it doesn't seem to be as well-remembered as his other series like Callan and The Equalizer.  I think probably the reason is that it's a bit of a mixed bag - some aspects of it work very well, while other things occasionally snap you out of the fake reality you're presented with.  For example, in Britain of 1990 the crown jewels have been literally sold off, the House of Lords has been turned into a politicians' drinking club (how would you tell the difference?), and the pound sterling has been replaced by the "Anglo-Dollar", which just doesn't ring true as a name.  (Unless it was imposed by the Americans themselves, of course, but that's not the storyline.)  There's an unintentionally hilarious bit in the final episode of Series 1, where an old man recounts the sorry tale of Britain's descent into totalitarianism, and he says something like "it all began when they brought in that Value Added Tax in the early 70s..."  That must have sounded a bit daft even at the time of broadcast.  

And then there's the whole issue of Europe.  Weirdly, Britain is supposed to have remained in the European Community and the Council of Europe, and therefore is still fully subject to the European Convention on Human Rights - which it circumvents by means of various technicalties, even though citizens are routinely denied all sorts of basic rights such as the right to travel, the right to free expression, and the right to a private life.  When I first saw the series, I thought it was wildly implausible that European leaders would ever allow any country to get away with such a thing, or at least not without facing expulsion...which means I now need to urgently introduce my naive former self to a certain Mr Guy Verhofstadt, who seems hellbent on ensuring that 1990 proves to be an uncannily accurate prophecy - albeit in real life the rogue state is Spain rather than the UK.

Verhofstadt's latest Facebook post about the Catalan crisis is typically grotesque.  It's thinly disguised as a rare criticism of Spanish actions, but in truth his only quibble seems to be that the taking of political prisoners is a tactical blunder that might allow the filthy law-breaking "separatists" to paint themselves as martyrs, thus helping them to do well in the December election.  He suggests that there should be "other ways" to ensure that the jailed politicians "receive a fair trial", by which he seems to mean a delay of legal proceedings until the election is over.  At no point does it even occur to him to question why elected politicians in an EU member state should be facing trial at all for the supposed "crime" of implementing the manifesto on which they were elected.  He fatuously signs off with an image of demonstrators holding up a banner reading "all we need is talk" - well, exactly what interest has Verhofstadt ever shown in genuine dialogue that puts the two sides of this dispute on an equal footing, rather than putting one side in the dock of a Spanish court?  I think we know the type of dialogue he has in mind - it'll be a cosy chat between the Spanish government and a puppet Catalan regime, in which they furiously agree with each other about how the Spanish constitution must be respected and how independence is a complete non-starter.

*  *  *

If you were particularly 'lucky', you might have heard me on the radio this morning.  The Bauer network (ie. Clyde 2, Forth 2, etc.) invited me on because of something I tweeted the other day about what appeared to be an enormous Comic Relief-style red nose on the front of a car - but actually proved on closer inspection to be a 'poppy'.  I suppose, in fairness, the whole problem with "poppy fascism" is the denial of freedom of choice, so it would be hypocritical of me to suggest that people shouldn't be free to be as ostentatious as they like with their own poppy-wearing.  But I do feel that there's an inverse correlation between how large or tacky a poppy is, and how close the sentiment behind it is to the original intention of the poppy symbol.

You can hear the radio show on catch-up HERE.

Friday, November 3, 2017

That ever-shrinking Tory minority government

After the SNP suspended Michelle Thomson and Natalie McGarry a couple of years ago, there were various articles in the unionist media gloating about 'the mystery of the vanishing SNP MPs'.  It might be worth noting, then, that other parties seem to have recently mastered the art of shrinking their own parliamentary representation.  This is the direction of travel since the general election in June...

Composition of the House of Commons:

Conservatives 314 (-2)
Labour 258 (-2)
SNP 35 (n/c)
Liberal Democrats 12 (n/c)
DUP 10 (n/c)
Sinn Féin 7 (n/c)
Independents 5 (+4)
Plaid Cymru 4 (n/c)
Greens 1 (n/c)

Conservatives 10 seats short of a majority

(The Speaker and Deputy Speakers are excluded from the above figures. Note also that Sinn Féin have not taken up their seats. Theoretically they can do so at any time, but in practice are highly unlikely to.)

Of course in one sense the Tory and Labour losses might be viewed as a mere technicality, because Jared O'Mara can still be expected to vote in line with the Labour whip and Charlie Elphicke can still be expected to vote in line with the Tory whip.  But I do wonder if there may eventually prove to be a distinction between an MP who still harbours realistic hopes of being readmitted to the party fold (such as Anne Marie Morris), and an MP who is accused of something of sufficient seriousness that it becomes hard to imagine any way back.  In the latter case, such a person may feel they have nothing left to lose, and the whips would have nothing left to bribe or threaten them with.

Those of you with a long memory may recall that nine Eurosceptic rebel Tory MPs had the whip withdrawn in late 1994, which technically and temporarily meant that John Major's majority was wiped out.  Robin Oakley, then the BBC's Political Editor, assured viewers that this was a masterstroke by the Tory whips, because suspended MPs typically show obsessional loyalty in an effort to be readmitted as soon as possible.  But the MP Rupert Allason, who'd had the whip withdrawn a year earlier, predicted that precisely the opposite would happen, and he was proved correct.  The whipless MPs became an informal grouping, and with safety in numbers became emboldened to vote against the Major government even more often.  They were eventually readmitted without providing any guarantees about their future conduct.   That was merely embarrassing for the Tories, but it won't even be regarded as a credible option now if the reason for an MP's suspension is suspected wrongdoing of a serious nature (unless the individual is completely cleared).

Take a bow, Anne McElvoy: the competition is stiff, but you may have just said the most ridiculous thing in the history of Question Time

OK, so let's just briefly recap.

* In 2015, the Catalan people freely elected a parliament in which the absolute majority of members were pro-independence.

* In the popular vote in the 2015 election, pro-independence parties comfortably outpolled anti-independence parties by 48% to 39%.

* The elected pro-independence government held a referendum last month to definitively determine whether the population wanted independence or not.

* The pro-independence campaign won the referendum by an overwhelming margin of 92% to 8%.

* In spite of violence, intimidation and vote theft by the Spanish authorities, 38.5% of the entire registered electorate successfully cast a vote in favour of independence, meaning that even had there been a very high overall turnout of as much as 76%, a victory for the pro-independence campaign would have been statistically certain.

* Braving a very real threat to their own personal liberty, government ministers acted to respect the will of the electorate by declaring an independent republic.

* An opinion poll published this week shows that there continues to be a majority in favour of independence (roughly 53% to 47%).

* Two very recent voting intention polls suggest that the pro-independence parties are on course to retain their overall majority in parliament in the December elections, and to win the popular vote once again.

Presumably aware of most or all of the above, Anne McElvoy of The Economist somehow felt able to indulge in the following musings on the BBC's Question Time tonight: "The facts are that there is not an overall appetite in Catalonia for independence, and sometimes the debate is conducted as if there were.  And sometimes some of the framing of news reporting seems to suggest that there is.  AND THERE IS NOT.  If you want a LEGITIMATE pro-independence movement, then go out there, campaign for it, and get people on your side. The push for independence is, I think, over for the moment."

There comes a point where it's actually quite difficult to know how to argue with stupidity like that.  What's truly inexplicable is that the host David Dimbleby didn't step in to correct (or at least challenge) such an obvious factual inaccuracy, and instead simply allowed viewers to be grossly misled.

*  *  *

I touch on the subject of Catalonia in my article for this month's iScot magazine, which is now available.  A preview of the article has been posted HERE, and you can purchase a digital copy of the magazine HERE.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Opinion poll confirms what we already knew: Catalonia wants to be an independent state

I don't often wade through polling datasets in the Catalan language for this blog, but it may be worth doing it in this particular case.  As I've noted a couple of times over the last few weeks, the result of the Catalan referendum makes it phenomenally improbable that the anti-independence side would have won if they hadn't boycotted the vote.  You'd have to believe in an ultra-high turnout and that practically all of the extra voters would have voted No - which stretches credibility beyond breaking-point, given that we know large numbers of Yes supporters were prevented from voting by the police.  The only other possibility to cling to is that there was widespread falsification of results - essentially the mirror image of the wild conspiracy theories about the Scottish indyref result that unionists here love to scoff at.  Judging from the reports of observers, there in fact seems to be compelling evidence that the vote was extremely well and fairly conducted under the circumstances.  And yet, in spite of the compelling mandate for independence staring them in the face, the BBC website has taken to innocently finishing articles about Catalonia with a variant on the following: "Catalans are split on independence.  An opinion poll earlier this year showed 41% in favour, 49% against."  The pretty obvious subtext being that outdated opinion polls are more authoritative than actual referendum results.

Even if you believe that the BBC's favourite poll was bang-on accurate at the moment it was conducted, is it really so implausible that public opinion has changed since then, allowing us to reconcile the poll result with the referendum result?  Of course it's not.  Scottish public opinion proved extremely volatile over the final few weeks of indyref campaigning, and we didn't have the provocation of state authorities telling us it was illegal to vote and attacking us with truncheons and rubber bullets if we attempted to reach a polling station.  The new Catalan poll today confirms that there has been a significant swing in favour of independence since the pre-referendum period, sufficient to give Yes a majority.

I, més concretament, vol que Catalunya esdevingui un Estat independent? (And, more specifically, do you want Catalonia to become an independent State?)

Yes 48.7% (+7.6)
No 43.6% (-5.8)

The fieldwork dates were 16th-29th October, and with Don't Knows excluded the results are roughly: Yes 53%, No 47%.  Percentage changes are from the same polling organisation's figures in June.

The 'less specific' question asked by the poll is a multi-option question on various constitutional options - a bit like Scottish polls that chuck in a 'Devo Max' option.  Outright independence is the most popular single option with 40.2% support.  It's true that if you combine support for all of the options that involve Catalonia remaining within the Spanish state, you reach an overall majority - but, crucially, one of those options is Catalonia becoming a state in its own right within a federal Spain, which is clearly not on offer in the real world.  That explains why there is a pro-independence majority on the binary Yes/No question.