Thursday, June 28, 2012

More incisive reporting of Scotland from the London media

This is surely the London media's problem with reporting the independence referendum in a nutshell - the Spectator organises a debate in London on whether "it is time to let Scotland go", gets two Tory MPs and one Tory journalist to speak against the motion, gets Kelvin MacKenzie (seriously!) to speak in favour, and then declares on the basis of the result that "the union is safe".

Memo to Fraser Nelson : Scotland's constitutional future is not going to be decided by how impressed London-based Spectator readers are by Kelvin MacKenzie's latest rant about the tiresomeness of the Jocks.

(And before anyone prays in aid the fact that Fraser Nelson himself is Scottish, I'd invite you to recall that he earnestly penned an approving introduction to Laurance Reed's barking mad piece about Shetland and the Hebrides a few months ago.)

On a similar theme, Chris Moncrieff in the Mail seems convinced in an even more literal sense that the independence referendum is going to be decided by London voters, among others. Yes, folks, he still thinks there's going to be a UK-wide referendum, and that the arguments for this happening are 'irresistible'. He's going to be a very baffled man before long.

But this is the kind of nonsensical analysis we're stuck with for as long as London editors remain locked in the mindset that if you want political analysis, you go to someone who knows the Westminster village inside out. It doesn't matter that the political issue at hand will be settled hundreds of miles away from London - a Westminster insider will still understand it far better than the locals. So poor old Moncrieff is left to look a bit of a fool as he gamely makes a wild guess on a subject he plainly knows virtually nothing about - and unsurprisingly gets it totally wrong. The good news is that he does finally concede that there are some gaps in his knowledge about Scottish politics. The bad news is that he then turns to Bernard Ingham to fill in the gaps for him.

" question remains unanswered. Why did Tony Blair, an opponent of separation, take the Nationalists halfway to their goal by giving Scotland its own Parliament? I put this question to Sir Bernard Ingham, who was Margaret Thatcher's press secretary at 10, Downing Street. His answer: "Stupidity"."

Hmmm. So nothing to do with the fact that there would have been civil war in the Scottish Labour Party if Blair had betrayed them on devolution, and that Scotland might already be independent by now if he had. No, it can't possibly be that. Bernard Ingham would have noticed.

* * *

John Rentoul has spotted the latest Ipsos-Mori Scottish poll, but only because he saw the post about it on PB (and you can probably guess the slant he's taken from that) -

"SNP down, Scottish Labour up. Ipsos-MORI could have captured a turning point"

I must say I'm fairly unconcerned by the warped analysis this time. Anyone who follows Rentoul's link to PB will be confronted by the hard figures. While there is such a thing as conflicting cognitions, it's going to be hard for most people (even in the Westminster village) to square a narrative of "SNP setback" with the reality of a double-digit poll lead for the SNP - especially as the fieldwork took place several weeks after the fictional outcome of the local elections was reported.

I'm reminded of what Tony Blair himself said when the Tories tried to crow about their 'progress' in the 1999 Scottish Parliament elections - "the better you think these results are, the better it is for us". If a 45%-32% deficit is now considered good for Scottish Labour, expectations must have sunk very, very low.


  1. Insightful reporting.

    You unfortunately fail to mention that the SNP refused to attend the debate as the Spectator would not accede to their demands to have two Members on the panel.


  2. Yes, it's utterly baffling that they refused to accept a situation where just one SNP representative would be up against two Tory MPs, and where that representative would have to share the putting of the "pro-independence case" with Kelvin MacKenzie. What were they thinking of?

    Thanks for popping by from PB, by the way. It's always great fun trying to guess which one you are.

  3. Yes the MSM haven't come to terms that this isn't a political election so they think that 2 or 3 to one is fair in an argument that only has 2 sides, they will still be puzzling it after we vote yes in 2014.

  4. Thanks James, yet again you point me in a direction where much fun was had.

  5. GrassyKnollingtonJune 29, 2012 at 9:09 AM

    Ah Fraser Nelson. Who could resist that charming idiosyncratic accent?

    An enchanting hybrid of Lloyd Grossman, Malcolm Riffraff and my neighbours 4 year old daughter.

    I mean is he really from Kelty? I'm not buying it.

    The metropolitan crew are pretty entertaining James but you have to admit that the number of Scottish political commentators who have failed to even procress the basics about Devo max and a second question doesn't make our lot that much better.

    Watching Lorraine Davidsons "take" on Devo Max on Newsnight or hearing senior political editor Brian Taylor insisting that the fabled second question is Salmond's fallback position makes Michael White's meanderings in the Grauniad more understandable.

    If the BBC in Scotland's senior man can't get something so fundamental as Salmond's position right there's not much hope for the London based media.

    Of course with Brian it may be Labour friendly spin. He may know the situation perfectly well but his efforts so far have certainly muddied the waters.

    I especially liked the way Gordon Brewer introduced a piece on Newsnight about how boring and complicated the referendum question was and then let Prof Curtice ramble on incoherently for about 10 minutes to prove his point with Lorraine nodding off beside him and Kate Higgins cross eyed with boredom on the screen.

  6. They didn't look pleased on Newsnicht when Higgins said the unsayable by pointing out just how little trusted westminster was compared to the SNP scottish government and then making the obvious point that two more years of westminster coaliton government was going to make them even more unpopular.

  7. Poor Fraser Nelson. He has a fairly broad educated Glasgow accent from having attended Dollar Academy and he has attached the English yehowww sound for ohh to it. Come to think of it he's not the only Scot who is doing it. Why? They just come across as being stupid. All the good Scota journalists and politicians don't do it those like Andrew Neil, Gordon Brown, Alex Salmond, and Kirstie Wark.