On St Andrew's Day 2010, I (along with a number of other bloggers) received a mysterious email "announcing an independence referendum", and directing me to Bella Caledonia. It turned out that Bella had decided to ask people to abstain in the AV referendum in May 2011 by scrawling the word "INDEPENDENCE" across their ballot papers. I wasn't even remotely tempted to go down that road, partly because I knew it would have zero impact and couldn't possibly further the cause of independence, and partly because I've been a supporter of electoral reform for even longer than I've been a supporter of independence. There was no way I was about to stand on the sidelines while a decision was being made on whether to finally consign first-past-the-post to the scrapheap. But Bella seemed very excited about their plan (I seem to recall they modestly described it as a "masterstroke"!), and I didn't want to rain on anyone's parade, so I initially kept quiet about my disagreement.
A day or two later, though, I noticed that Mike Small had been rather rude on Twitter about bloggers who hadn't instantly and enthusiastically endorsed his spoilt ballot campaign. I knew his comment was mainly directed at the likes of Jeff Breslin and James Mackenzie, who were the leading pro-independence bloggers at the time. But I was still a tad miffed, because the criticism effectively extended to me and a few others. So when Mike started banging the drum at Bella again in April 2011 with just a few days to go until the referendum, I decided to leave a number of forthright comments. In particular, I noted the glorious irony that Mike was charging people who didn't want to abstain in an important referendum with the crime of "sitting on the fence". I was stunned to quickly receive the following condescending email from "Bella Baxter" -
I don't know why your getting so exercised.
You don't like the campaign. Fine. Don't take part.
Why does it feel so important?"
In other words, and as Jacques Chirac might put it, I had missed a great opportunity to shut up. To be fair, Mike became much more conciliatory after I replied and stood my ground, but nevertheless I felt - and still feel - that it was an extraordinary episode. As pro-independence bloggers, we were clearly expected to just fall into line with the scheme, or at the very least to have the good manners not to disagree with it in public. Don't be in any doubt - comments were warmly welcomed, but only if they came from cheerleaders, not dissenters.
If this all sounds startlingly familiar, it's probably because Mike is currently taking exactly the same passive-aggressive approach with anyone who dares to disagree with his latest "tactical voting" wheeze. Perhaps you've pointed out why the claim that all SNP list votes are wasted is a statistical nonsense? Oh, that makes you really boring. And narrow. You've got no imagination, son. The grown-ups are disappointed in you.
Again, it seems our function as independence supporters is simply to buy into Mike's narrative (disseminated by means of RISE press releases on Bella) about the necessity of tactical voting (sic) on the list. Or failing that, to keep quiet about it. The idea that anyone might actually challenge it is absolutely bloody outrageous. You can tell how furious Mike is, because he simply refuses to engage when it's pointed out to him that genuine tactical voting on the list isn't feasible, and can backfire horribly. He doesn't have any sort of response or rebuttal at all - he just regards it as an illegitimate point of discussion. The people who raise the objections are pathologised as purveyors of the old politics, who probably want to go back to having all-male panels or something like that. In other news, two plus two makes twenty-two.
The biggest irony on this occasion is that Mike has titled his latest diatribe "Shsh for Indy", as if it's the tactical voting brigade who are being told to shut up. Actually, Mike, the expression of dissent isn't censorship. The mentioning of inconvenient facts may be infuriating if you're unable to rebut them, but that isn't censorship either. The freedom to express dissent is a fundamental part of free speech. Nothing narrows the range of debate so dramatically as an attempt to pathologise dissent. If you really believe in the broadest possible debate with the widest number of voices, stop telling people their analysis is out of bounds.
Having said all that, Mike is still an amateur at this stuff in comparison to excitable Common Space columnist David Carr, who apparently thinks that failing to vote for RISE or the Greens on the list amounts to "terrifying zealotry". Hmmm. I gather that voting for any party other than Zanu-PF is also considered unwelcome in some quarters. Who knows, though, democratic principles may one day catch on in both Zimbabwe and RISE HQ. And Bella Caledonia might even eventually realise that giving extensive coverage to a small party like RISE is a perfectly healthy thing, but is not actually the same thing as simply publishing their press releases.
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SCOT GOES POP POLL OF POLLS
I didn't get round to updating the Holyrood Poll of Polls after the Survation poll the other night, so here it is now...
Constituency ballot :
SNP 52.8% (-0.2)
Labour 20.8% (+0.1)
Conservatives 16.3% (n/c)
Liberal Democrats 5.8% (+0.5)
Regional list ballot :
SNP 46.8% (-1.5)
Labour 19.8% (+0.1)
Conservatives 15.8% (+0.1)
Greens 7.8% (+0.5)
Liberal Democrats 6.3% (+0.6)
(The Poll of Polls is based on a rolling average of the most recent poll from each of the firms that have reported Scottish Parliament voting intention numbers over the previous three months, and that adhere to British Polling Council rules. At present, there are four - YouGov, Survation, TNS and Ipsos-Mori. Whenever a new poll is published, it replaces the last poll from the same company in the sample.)