Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Throw Scotland out! Take your blasted oil away! And give us our nukes back so we can stick them on the Thames - where they belong!

Just a quick note to let you know that I have a new article on the TalkRadio website, about the epic pleasures of the #ThrowScotlandOut hashtag, and the petition that inspired it.  You can read the article HERE.

Monday, October 24, 2016

A question for Theresa May

"The UK must speak with one voice on Brexit."

"In all of its public statements, the Scottish Government must loyally support the single UK negotiating position.  If they do not, they will be undermining us."

"The Scottish Government does not have a veto on the UK negotiating position. We will tell them what it is, and then they must support it to the hilt."

Isn't that called colonialism, Theresa? It sure as hell isn't called the respect agenda.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Siobhan McFadyen and "hitting the nail on the head" : how do you actually argue with stupidity like this?

As shockingly documented by Wings Over Scotland today, Siobhan McFadyen of the Express is one of the most cynical, disreputable and dishonourable "journalists" currently working for the British press - and that's quite an accolade. But give her her due, she's occasionally good for unintentional light relief as well. What you're about to see is so breathtakingly spectacular that I had to double-check it a few times just to make sure it wasn't the work of a brilliant parody account.

* * *

UPDATE : Ms McFadyen has now blocked me on Twitter, but not before sending yet another mind-boggling tweet -

Answers on a postcard, folks. I did a Google search for "Nicola Sturgeon says kill with hammers", but it drew a blank.

Friday, October 21, 2016

No, the Westminster government cannot prevent Holyrood from voting on whether there should be an independence referendum

In case you're wondering, the story that appeared on the Courier website last night about the draft indyref bill is a monumental red herring.  Basically the claim was that the Scottish Government wouldn't even be able to table the bill at Holyrood without London's "permission", because the Presiding Officer might not certify it as being within the parliament's powers.  But it doesn't actually matter whether that's true or not, because the introduction to the draft bill states this -

"If the Scottish Government decided to formally introduce this Bill to Parliament, it would be expected that a section 30 order would be sought and agreed, as in 2014."

The most reasonable interpretation of those words is that a section 30 order would be sought and agreed before the bill is formally introduced.  No parliamentary vote is required for the Scottish Government to simply pick up the phone to London, but as there have been speculative (and utterly hopeless) mutterings about a "lack of mandate", the likelihood is that a symbolic vote would be held to put beyond any dispute that a referendum is the will of the directly-elected Scottish Parliament.  In contrast to the rules on legislation, it is possible for Holyrood to debate and vote on motions relating to absolutely any subject, even one that has nothing whatever to do with the parliament's current powers.  Previous examples include the Iraq War, unilateral nuclear disarmament, and the principle of independence.

It's also not the case, as our resident troll Aldo tried to claim yesterday, that the draft bill "reveals" that Westminster's permission is "required" for any independence referendum to take place.  Quite the reverse, in fact.  The bill notes that the purpose of the section 30 order last time around was simply to "put it beyond doubt" that the parliament had the right to legislate. The clear implication is that even if the London government were stupid enough to try to stand in the way, it might well still be possible to hold a consultative referendum without a section 30 order - albeit the question would probably have to be very carefully framed. The legal expert Professor Robert Black has stated that this would be a viable option.

If all else fails, of course, there's still the nuclear option that we've discussed a few times on this blog - the Scottish Government could resign and trigger an early Scottish Parliament election. That election would have one of two functions - either a) to gain a "double mandate" for a referendum just to ram it down Theresa May's throat that the mandate exists whether she likes it or not, or b) to gain an outright mandate for independence itself. The latter would be achieved by the SNP (and probably also the Greens) putting the necessary wording in their manifesto.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Are we closer to discovering the boundary between "small" and "decisive" in BBC arithmetic?

As we all recall, the BBC seemed to have a strategy in the immediate aftermath of the independence referendum for preventing a narrative from taking hold that the vote had in any sense been a close run thing that could have gone either way.  Basically the strategy consisted of using the word "decisive" as much as humanly possible.  Almost every BBC report slipped in the word, often rather gratuitously.  We had not merely "rejected independence", we had done so "decisively".  The result of the referendum was, of course, No 55.3%, Yes 44.7%.

In view of which, I was somewhat bemused to read an article on the BBC website today explaining how a second indyref might come about, and in particular the role of the Scottish Parliament, where we're told "the SNP and Scottish Greens form a small pro-independence majority".

"Small"?  Hmmm.  Excluding the Presiding Officer, who is politically neutral and only votes when there is a tie (and even then is expected to do so in line with convention rather than his own views), there are 128 seats in the Scottish Parliament.  69 of them are held by pro-independence parties and 59 by anti-independence parties.  In percentage terms, that works out as 53.9% for pro-independence parties, and 46.1% for anti-independence parties.

Now, admittedly, 53.9% is a smaller number than 55.3%, so this use of language doesn't directly contradict the notion that the No vote in 2014 was "decisive".  Nevertheless, if there is any grey area at all between "small" and "decisive" in BBC arithmetic, it appears to be very narrow - the boundary between the two terms seems to fall somewhere between 54.0% and 55.2%.

Useful to know for future reference.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

With just a single touch, JK Rowling can cure any journalist of his misogyny

You've probably heard by now about Nick Cohen's batty piece which depicts STV's Fox News-style columnist Stephen Daisley as a modern-day Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, who has been "silenced" by the totalitarian SNP "state".  Actually, Cohen tries terribly, terribly hard to avoid tripping off the familiar "one-party state" klaxon, probably because he's finally noticed how easy it is for people to respond with the simple but rather important observation that Scotland has lots of parties and isn't a state.  Instead, he carefully brands our country a "one-party democracy" at the start of the article - but he just can't help himself.  By the end, he's back to raging about the NUJ in Scotland taking the side of the "state" rather than Daisley - apparently oblivious to the fact that he's accusing them of taking the side of the Tories rather than the SNP.  Yes, Nick, the state in Scotland is known as "the United Kingdom", and it's run by someone called Theresa May.  None of us have ever had a chance to vote for or against her, but paradoxically yer man Daisley is a big, big fan of hers.  He told us so in those fearsome, state-challenging STV articles of his.

I'm sure, by the way, that it's a total coincidence that the journalist we're invited to regard as a martyr just happens to share Cohen's own establishment worldview about absolutely everything - pro-Blairism, anti-Corbyn, pathologising every criticism of the Israeli government, etc, etc.  It's also inspiring to see Cohen defend journalism from outside interference by denouncing STV's editors (who alone were responsible for the decision to change Daisley's role) as "unworthy of their senior position" - a pretty unambiguous call for them to be sacked.  Self-awareness really isn't Nick's thing, is it?

There's just one other main point I want to make about the article, and it becomes fairly self-evident when you consider the following four indisputable facts -

1) The Twitter troll account "Brian Spanner" (championed by Daisley and strongly suspected by many to be the alter ego of one or more well-known unionist journalists) has been guilty of some of the most appalling misogynistic abuse directed against female politicians that you're ever likely to see.  Arguably the worst example of all was when he said this of Labour's Margaret Curran : "Is she the victim of FGM? She is a torn faced C***".

2) The notoriously litigious Labour-supporting billionaire JK Rowling befriended "Spanner" and spoke of him in glowing terms.

3) Even when Spanner's track-record was pointed out to Rowling, she failed to disassociate herself from him.  Instead, she doubled down by mocking his detractors and threatening one of them with her team of lawyers (much to the delight of Stephen Daisley).

4) This sequence of events reflects extremely badly on Rowling.

But not on Planet Cohen - oh no.  Instead, Nick explains that Spanner cannot possibly be misogynistic or abusive in spite of the overwhelming evidence of our own eyes, simply because Rowling likes him, and she would never take a liking to anyone who is misogynistic or abusive.  If Cohen's piece had been a scientific paper, someone would currently be taking him aside and gently reminding him of the concept of 'falsifiability'.  It seems that it is literally impossible for JK Rowling to keep bad company, because her friendship is in itself sufficient to redeem anyone of their wrongdoing.

For example, if JK Rowling were to write a positive review of Mein Kampf on Amazon, would Nick Cohen say that was -

a) Unwise


b) Away and don't be so daft.  Of course Adolf wasn't a genocidal dictator.  JK Rowling likes his book, for pity's sake.

Yup, you're getting the idea.

Monday, October 17, 2016

So what was it about Brexit that finally won Kezia Dugdale over?

Just a quick note to let you know that I have a new article at the TalkRadio website, about Scottish Labour's curious journey from being officially undecided on whether to support a second independence referendum on 24th June, to being dead set against it now that all the reassuring facts about Brexit have come to light.  You can read the article HERE.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

A suggestion for Labour on Trident

Owen Smith's failed pitch to the Labour selectorate was basically "Corbynism with bonus weapons of mass destruction", so the people who voted for Jeremy Corbyn may now want to ask for a refund, because it looks like Corbynism plus Trident is exactly what they're going to get anyway.  A few months ago, I defended Corbyn when he was met with affected bewilderment over his statement (which was really an affirmation of the bleedin' obvious) that he would never authorise the use of nuclear weapons as Prime Minister.  "This buffoon doesn't understand that a nuclear deterrent is already defunct without the credible threat of its use!" was the cry.  The reality, of course, is that -

a) undermining the nuclear "deterrent" is kind of the object of the exercise for any lifelong opponent of nuclear weapons,


b) Trident is not, unfortunately, rendered useless simply by one Prime Minister at one particular moment at time saying that he would not fire the missiles.  Unless he actually disarms, the weapons are still there in working order for his successor to use after he departs the stage.

So Corbyn's position was perfectly logical and consistent, but I suspect it's going to be much harder to justify now that Labour's collective stance is apparently that "we must get behind" a weapons system that their leader considers to be abhorrent and unusable.  In view of which, let me make a modest suggestion.

We all know that the 'deterrent' theory is utter garbage anyway - does anyone seriously think that Switzerland is more at risk than we are of nuclear annihilation over the next twenty years because it doesn't have a 'deterrent' and we do?  If anything, the reverse is true.  But just for the sake of argument, let's look at the issue from the perspective of someone who truly believes that we are somehow being kept safe by a deterrent effect.  That person would surely have to acknowledge that, like it or not, the deterrent would indeed temporarily cease to exist for the duration of a hypothetical Corbyn premiership.  Corbyn would never authorise the use of nuclear weapons.  He would ensure that his named 'second person' is someone who would never authorise the use of nuclear weapons.  His handwritten 'letters of last resort', to be opened by Trident submarine commanders in the event of the government being wiped out, will order that nuclear weapons should never be used.  What's more, any theoretical enemy of the UK will know all of these facts to be true.  That ensures there will be no deterrent whatsoever from the moment Corbyn takes office until the moment he resigns, and yet Labour are currently proposing to waste huge amounts of money by having the non-deterrent redundantly at sea during the whole of that period, for every hour of every day of every week.

So why not simply pledge to take Trident out of operation (apart maybe from the odd training exercise) for the duration of Corbyn's tenure as PM, and save the fabled "hardworking families" of this country a lot of cash?  What exactly would we be losing?  Perhaps Owen Smith can explain.

*  *  *

Fanciful notion though it may seem, I genuinely went to a "separatist dinner" earlier tonight in Glasgow.  I think the common factor linking the people who were invited is that they are all active on Twitter, so I was kind of an odd one out, because I'm not really a heavy Twitter user (leaving aside the odd epic slanging-match with Duncan Hothersall and Neil "Alligators" Lovatt, naturally).  But I did know a few of the people there.  Not a huge amount to report from the evening, although my jaw dropped a tad when I learned that a prolific nationalist Twitter user who I had always assumed (with a certain amount of justification) to be a man is actually a female of the species.  And for the first half of dinner I was sitting next to Katie McGarvey, who brandished a flick-knife and then flung a large quantity of alcohol onto my trousers.  I'm sure you get the picture.  (Actually, the weapon came with dinner, and she apologised profusely for accidentally knocking over her drink.)

Friday, October 14, 2016

Sensational BMG poll reveals that 45% of Scots insist on "leaving the UK" even when a polling company abandons all pretence at objectivity and asks the most risibly biased question in years

I'm almost embarrassed for BMG Research.  For extremely good reasons, it's become the industry standard to ask the actual 2014 referendum question when polling on independence.  Although we don't know what the exact question will be in a future indyref, it's highly unlikely that the SNP government would ever sign off on a question that frames the issue in a radically different way, and there's absolutely no reason why they should - because the 2014 question was not only approved by the Electoral Commission, it was chosen by them! 

The other crucial point, of course, is that it's not possible to meaningfully measure whether support for independence has increased or decreased since 2014 if you depart too radically (or indeed depart at all) from the actual referendum question.  So answers on a postcard, folks, as to why BMG have asked this unspeakably moronic question and then attempted to innocently portray it as a routine poll on independence from which meaningful conclusions can be drawn -

If a referendum were held tomorrow, on whether Scotland should leave or remain a member of the United Kingdom, how would you vote?

To leave the United Kingdom : 45.3%
To remain in the United Kingdom : 54.7%

For the avoidance of doubt, this isn't strictly speaking even a poll on independence.  Even in the bad old days when YouGov were pushing their own agenda and trying to pejoratively reframe the independence question as being about "leaving the United Kingdom", they did at least get around at the end of the question to mentioning that it was also about Scotland becoming an independent country.  The BMG question doesn't even do that.  Leave the UK to do what?  Join a federation with Norway?  Become a province of Canada?  We're not told. 

And the question doesn't even make sense on its own terms.  It's presumably an attempt to mimic the EU referendum question, but the difference is that the EU is an organisation that actually has members.  The UK isn't like that - it's an incorporating political union in which Westminster claims total sovereignty.  We even have legal experts who argue that Scotland was technically "extinguished" when it became part of the UK.  When is the last time you can remember Nicola Sturgeon wielding her veto at the Council of Britain?  Yeah, exactly.

So the question is not only shockingly biased, it's also complete gibberish.  I'm struggling to remember the last time a question as bad as this was asked as a headline 'voting intention' question - I certainly can't think of one in the last five years. When YouGov finally made their own question more neutral in the run-up to the referendum, the Yes vote immediately shot up, which gave us an indication of just how sensitive respondents can be to the exact wording.  I'm afraid, therefore, that the BMG poll is hopelessly tainted and the results must be regarded as practically worthless.  Perhaps the only thing that can be taken from them is that it's pretty damn impressive that as much as 45% of the population insist on their wish to "leave the UK" even when confronted with such a stupid question.

What the hell is going on here?  The poll was commissioned by The Herald, so in theory it's possible that they requested a non-standard question to make some sort of point or other, but the fact that they haven't made more of an issue of it in their own reporting of the poll leads me to conclude that probably isn't what happened.  There's clearly some sort of agenda at play, and I think it may be at BMG.  One important clue is what we witnessed yesterday with the reporting of another result from the same poll.  As RevStu has already pointed out, the Herald bizarrely claimed that the poll found that a Hard Brexit would not be a "game-changer" for attitudes to a second indyref, when it fact it showed the complete polar opposite of that - a majority against holding a second referendum was transformed into a majority in favour of a referendum as soon as a Hard Brexit was assumed.  While it's easy (and to some extent fair) to bash the Herald for making a black-is-white propaganda claim of that sort, it looks to me as if they may actually have been taking their lead directly from BMG - because the 'expert analysis' on the BMG website contained almost identical spin.

Let's take a step back for a moment.  If a poll shows that Hard Brexit turns the answer to a question on its head, on what basis can BMG even pretend with a straight face that it doesn't constitute a "game-changer"?  What they seem to be arguing is that because only a relatively small percentage of the overall sample (5.4% by my rough calculation) change their minds and embrace a referendum when Hard Brexit is mentioned, it doesn't actually matter that this is sufficient to swing the balance of the overall result.  But just think about the implications of that logic.  There was a widely-publicised Britain-wide ICM poll the other day that gave the Conservatives a mammoth 17% lead over Labour.  If "only" 5.4% of the overall sample were to move directly from the Tories to Labour, that would slash the lead to around 6%.  Would BMG seriously claim that such a change is not significant?  If they did make that claim, people would laugh at them, and rightly so.

What we have, then, is a situation where a polling company puts an indefensible partisan spin on their own results on Thursday, and then on Friday publishes a poll which uses a leading question to produce a desired result.  It's depressingly clear that we can no longer regard BMG as a politically neutral actor, at least in respect of Scottish polling.  Precisely what their objective is, though, is harder to say.  By breaking ranks on the consensus in favour of using the question "Should Scotland be an independent country?", and by doing so in a casual way without feeling any apparent need to justify or even explain such an extraordinary step, they may be trying to 'normalise' the use of leading questions in the future.  Perhaps there's nothing more to it than a simple attempt to artificially suppress the reported support for independence, or perhaps they're also trying to influence people's thinking on what the actual referendum question 'should' be next time around.  Either way, it's a nakedly political and partisan act, and one that brings shame upon a firm that - remarkably - is a member of the British Polling Council.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

A 'Hard Brexit' means a second independence referendum. In other news, the Pope is still a Catholic.

Just a quick note to let you know that I have a new article at the International Business Times about what we learned from Nicola Sturgeon's speech today : that SNP MPs will vote against Brexit, that the draft bill on a second indyref will be launched for consultation shortly, and that in the event of a Hard Brexit, the SNP will seek a special status for Scotland within the UK that will allow us to remain inside the Single Market.  The BBC's Brian Taylor seemed to interpret the latter point as Sturgeon floating an alternative to a referendum (and the audience failing to pick up on the significance of it), but I must say I think he's wrong.  Sturgeon is asking for something that May has already completely set her face against, and the inevitable formal refusal will simply bolster the casus belli for Indyref 2.

You can read the article HERE.