Saturday, November 5, 2016

Freedom to silence

I had a short Twitter exchange with the Spectator's Alex Massie earlier tonight, which was sparked by his observation that "a free press requires accepting the freedom it will write things you find distasteful or even deplorable" - a reference to the pro-Brexit media's appalling reaction to the High Court judgement. I pointed out to him that freedom of speech also requires the press accepting the freedom of others to criticise the press. He innocently denied that anyone had ever disputed that point - and so I reminded him of the furious reaction from journalists to the measured criticisms a couple of SNP politicians made of Stephen Daisley. Suddenly the goalposts shifted - somehow the criticism of Daisley wasn't legitimate after all, because that was 'beyond' criticism. It was a 'silencing'. I'm puzzled by that distinction, because although the sequence of events is hotly disputed, one fact that no-one can reasonably deny is that the Scottish Government and the SNP have no power whatever over broadcasting. Even if it's true (and it doesn't seem to be) that John Nicolson and Angus MacNeil had something to do with STV's decision to change Daisley's role, the only weapon they ever had at their disposal was the strength of their own arguments. If that alone proved sufficient, doesn't it suggest that their arguments were actually rather persuasive, and probably correct? A cynic might conclude that Massie doesn't so much have a problem with the freedom to criticise journalists, but rather with the freedom to do so convincingly and non-impotently.

The other point that occurs to me is this : if Massie thinks that the freedom to criticise journalists is not absolute, but must always fall short of his own arbitrary definition of "silencing", shouldn't exactly the same exception apply to the freedom of the press? Why should the press be allowed to intimidate judges, for example? It doesn't seem terribly outlandish to suggest that the real target of the reporting in the Daily Mail and the Sun was not so much the three High Court judges who were vilified, but rather the Supreme Court judges who will hear the appeal. The message was effectively : "you're next, unless you make a decision we approve of". Does Alex Massie think the freedom of the press extends to the right not merely to 'silence' judges, but to actually subvert the law of the land?

By the way, a little memo for the press : a direct democracy involves the electorate making decisions by referendum, and those decisions being automatically implemented by virtue of the rules laid down by the constitution. Theresa May getting to decide whether and when to invoke Article 50 is not direct democracy, any more than parliament making exactly the same decision would be. If you don't like it, campaign to change our constitution to make it more like Switzerland's. There's no point in moaning because judges refuse to ignore the law.

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As you may already have seen, the Tories scored two local by-election gains in Aberdeenshire on Thursday.  Both were in wards where the SNP topped the popular vote last time around, although thanks to the now-familiar quirk of the STV voting system, the Inverurie result was technically a gain from the Liberal Democrats rather than the SNP.  (And I'm sure we've all noted that Mike "can't be arsed" Smithson is considerably less eager to propagandise about technicalities when it's the Lib Dems on the receiving end.)  Weirdly, the SNP vote more or less held up in Inverurie but dropped steeply in Banff - I don't know if that contrast can be wholly or partly explained by personality factors.  In both elections, though, it looks as if the Tories ultimately have unionist tactical voting to thank for their triumph (along with the traditional tendency of Tory voters to be more inclined to turn out in low-interest contests).

Inverurie and District by-election result :

Conservatives 38.8% (+21.4)
SNP 34.6% (-2.6)
Liberal Democrats 22.5% (+5.2)
Labour 4.1% (-9.1)

Banff and District by-election result :

Conservatives 44.0% (+20.9)
SNP 36.2% (-19.2)
Liberal Democrats 19.8% (+8.7)

There's actually nothing radically new in these results - they follow the same pattern as the Holyrood election in May, with heavily No-voting areas coalescing around the unionist party best-placed to beat the SNP.  To the extent that some ex-SNP voters are switching direct to the Tories, those are highly likely to be people who voted No in 2014 and who have little prospect of changing their minds at the next indyref.  What we're seeing, then, is simply a mirror-image of the phenomenon of Yes voters in working-class Scotland bringing their party allegiance into line with their constitutional preference.  That's not a cause for concern for the Yes campaign in a referendum (we're chasing floating voters, not the unpersuadables), but it might well pose a problem for the SNP in the snap general election that now seems to be a distinct possibility.

For the first time in my life, I must say that I can't muster much enthuasiasm for the prospect of an early election, because I struggle to see how it can possibly leave us in a better position than we're already in.  The likelihood is that the SNP would remain dominant, but would shed a few seats - to the Tories, and possibly to the Lib Dems as well.  The crude projections suggesting Labour could be wiped out are almost certainly wide of the mark - unionist tactical voting would once again save Ian Murray's bacon.  And the seemingly inevitable Conservative landslide at UK-wide level would rob the SNP of the balance of power they currently hold on a small number of key issues where the Tories are divided.

Would there be any advantages?  Well, it would be an opportunity for Nicola Sturgeon to further amplify the mandate she already has to hold a second referendum if she deems it to be in Scotland's interests.  And it's possible that a 1983-style crushing UK-wide defeat for Labour might lead to 'constructive despair' among the progressive unionist vote in Scotland, thus boosting support for independence.

So, yes, there are pros and cons, but on the whole I hope Theresa May continues to bottle it.

*  *  *

"But what will [the Tories] do about the Fixed Term Parliaments Act?" asks Mr Smithson in big bold letters.  Hmmm.  Would "repeal it" be too obvious an answer?  The other options would be to obtain a two-thirds majority for an election by daring Labour to vote in favour, or to deliberately lose a vote of no confidence in the government.  One way or another, though, there isn't really much of an obstacle to an election if May decides to go for it.

39 comments:

  1. Sorry to be Off Topic but this is more important

    https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=wMHIAOJXNDM

    Please share as widely as possible.

    I can see a Royal connection here.

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  2. James, what was the latest Scottish voting opinion polls showing for the SNP?

    ReplyDelete
  3. The Tories always get their vote out.
    They have the most to lose through the democratic process.

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  4. I'd suggest the possibility the SNP have lost traditional support to the Conservatives in rural areas with high or majority leave votes (Like Banff, Moray, Angus and Highland). Since polling pre and post Brexit show similar levels of SNP support nationally, this could suggest there's been an increase SNP support in areas with remain votes above average.

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  5. ..."by daring Labour to vote in favour, or to deliberately lose a vote of no confidence in the government" - are there enough anti-Corbyn Labour MP's who would agree to such a vote in the hope that they lose so badly that he'll have to step down?

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    1. What I was getting at is that it'll be very hard for Labour as a whole to come up with an excuse for voting against an early election. Opposition parties are supposed to want an election as soon as they can get it.

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    2. Aye,but their MPs want to keep their jobs and salaries more,I reckon.

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    3. "Labour as a whole" doesn't exist. It's two warring factions and I think that there are enough headbangers in both sides to push for an early election.

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  6. I am not sure I agree with the assumption that the Tories would trounce Labour in a 1983 style manner, if there is a general election next year for instance. Many people forget that Thatcher owed her victory in 1983 largely to the Falklands war. The difference would be that May would be going into a general election on the back of the resignation of her predecessor, UKIP would be at her heels saying the Tories would sell out Brexit, and the economy is still in deep trouble after Osborne's appalling austerity failures. Sure Labour remain divided and Corbyn is not a leader. But in my opinion neither is May, and the Tories are as equally divided as Labour.

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    1. "I am not sure I agree with the assumption that the Tories would trounce Labour in a 1983 style manner"

      If the polls are even vaguely right, there's a danger it could be a lot worse than 1983.

      Delete
  7. I am also not convinced that there is a genuine Tory revival in Scotland. Yes, they have opportunistically taken support from SLAB's unionist wing since the independence referendum, but essentially Ruth Davidson and company have courted the Loyalist/Orange Order/No surrender, and die hard unionist vote in Scotland. But many of this group are extremely toxic, some are out and out extremists imo. In short, they are a liability, and I just cannot see moderate unionists and soft Yessers being attracted to join this group and the Tories whatsoever, particularly when they seem them up close and how they operate, i.e. during a general election campaign.

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    1. Glasgow Working Class 2November 5, 2016 at 6:26 PM

      You sound like a bigot to me. The OO are Scottish voters and like all organisations are entitled to a view. There was a time when SNP meant sorry nae papes.
      The Nat sis are carrying on with Thatcherite policies and dogma so voting Tory is not surprising. The left in the Nat si party have become obedient servants to the control freaks that run the party. What happened to progressive policies like nationalisation without compensation and serious land reform. Nat sis, Tories and Labour all singing from the same hymn sheet.

      Delete
    2. The poster above is a far-right racist tory sockpuppetNovember 5, 2016 at 8:47 PM

      The troll calls scottish people "jocks", advocates arming Leave campaigners, claimed Jo Cox's husband was a fascist, uses racial and ethnic slurs, pretends to be Labour (badly) while espousing far-right racist hate-speech, praises Theresa May and the tories and displays a perverted poisonous obsession with Scotland's First Minister & her predecessor

      Delete
  8. Glasgow Working Class 2November 5, 2016 at 6:38 PM

    He's old but ugly
    His colours they are crap
    Hes posted here a lot of times
    And then some more again
    He posted it in his youth
    In bygone days of indy yore
    So on the 18th he proudly posts
    The racist bile some more

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    Replies
    1. Glasgow Working Class 2November 5, 2016 at 8:20 PM

      Use yer ain name knob and yer poetry is crap.

      Delete
    2. Never been to Mass

      His neck of polished brass

      Glasgow Working Class

      Delete
    3. Glasgow Working Class 2November 5, 2016 at 9:26 PM

      I have been to a few funeral masses, does that count?

      Delete
    4. Glasgow Working Class 2November 5, 2016 at 10:11 PM

      I thought it was called the Ludge!

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    5. Not familiar with that pronunciation. Norn Irish?

      Delete
    6. Glasgow Working Class 2November 6, 2016 at 9:18 PM

      Nah, I think paddie wid say the Laawuddge! Or sumpthin

      Delete
    7. The Britnat si considers Scotland a colony and calls scottish people "jocks", advocates arming Leave campaigners, armed militias in every workplace and armed insurrection, claimed Jo Cox's husband was a fascist, uses racial and ethnic slurs while claiming they're not derogatory, pretends to be Labour (badly) while espousing far-right racist hate-speech, praises Theresa May and the tories and displays a perverted poisonous obsession with Scotland's First Minister & her predecessor.

      The ultra-right-wing authoritarian colonial mouthpiece can trot off snivelling back to its chums at the Daily Suppress whenever it's ready.

      Delete
  9. Theresa Major and her revolting kipper toriesNovember 5, 2016 at 8:51 PM

    MomentumVerified account ‏@PeoplesMomentum Nov 4

    "This setback will not derail our #Brexit strategy because we don’t have one.” Close to the bone on Tory chaos.

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  10. On the issue of Swiss "direct" democracy, in a country where the electorate votes on a plethora of issues every three months, there are two ways to get a national referendum:

    1. You wish to repeal a law just passed by parliament: You collect 50,000 certified signatures and take it to the people.
    2. You wish to have a new constitutional article enacted: You have the proposed article legally certified, collect 100,000 certified signatures and to it to the people.

    Either way, you are always voting on a law, and not some vague notion about being independent or leaving. The text is also made available to every voter. So the electorate, constitutionally recognised as the sovereign, overrides parliament and effectively becomes the lawmaker. In fact, the proposed law may instruct government and parliament to undertake certain things within specific time periods. The proposed law may also give the government freedom of design, but even then the responsibilities are (usually) clear.

    Of course, many Swiss may vote without reading the law text, they often have too many things to vote on and cannot consider everything clearly, and their country is also beset by the same political parochialism you find everywhere. But faced with the kind of dog's dinner the House of Westminster now is, they are not. They do after all have a written constitution and have voted on a written law. At least in the case of Brexit, the UK has neither.

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    1. Switzerland has also been a union state for quite a lot longer then the precious UK and without any civil wars. Just another one of the yoon lies blown to smithereens there. "Most successful union ever." Bollocks it is!

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    2. Glasgow Working Class 2November 6, 2016 at 10:02 AM

      Is the term yoon just being used to cover your anti English hatred.

      Delete
    3. The Britnat si considers Scotland a colony and calls scottish people "jocks", advocates arming Leave campaigners, armed militias in every workplace and armed insurrection, claimed Jo Cox's husband was a fascist, uses racial and ethnic slurs while claiming they're not derogatory, pretends to be Labour (badly) while espousing far-right racist hate-speech, praises Theresa May and the tories and displays a perverted poisonous obsession with Scotland's First Minister & her predecessor.

      The ultra-right-wing authoritarian colonial mouthpiece can trot off snivelling back to its chums at the Daily Suppress whenever it's ready.

      Delete
    4. Glasgow Working Class 2November 6, 2016 at 7:11 PM

      SAD Nat si slappin the back of the heid tool jerker pastes and posts but cannae pull a burd. Repetitive posting for own personal satisfaction and never ever engages in Nat si policy.

      Delete
    5. The Britnat si considers Scotland a colony and calls scottish people "jocks", advocates arming Leave campaigners, armed militias in every workplace and armed insurrection, claimed Jo Cox's husband was a fascist, uses racial and ethnic slurs while claiming they're not derogatory, pretends to be Labour (badly) while espousing far-right racist hate-speech, praises Theresa May and the tories and displays a perverted poisonous obsession with Scotland's First Minister & her predecessor.

      The ultra-right-wing authoritarian colonial mouthpiece can trot off snivelling back to its chums at the Daily Suppress whenever it's ready.

      Delete
  11. The DM regularly vilifies, demonises, insults and stokes up hatred but only when the Establishment itself is the target do we start to hear complaints. The rest of us are just legitimate targets. Of course, "enemy of the people" is a step up even for the Mail and points the way to totalitarianism where the courts are simply the stooges of the dictatorship.

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    1. Indeed. Given their own way,vthe Dreary Heil would see the dismissal of "difficult" members of the judiciary and the installation of People's Courts...

      Delete
    2. Glasgow Working Class 2November 6, 2016 at 10:42 PM

      Sharia Law could be helpful or a 2nd police force with unlimited extra judicial powers answerable to themselves. Sounds like the Scottish Nat si party!

      Delete
    3. The Britnat si considers Scotland a colony and calls scottish people "jocks", advocates arming Leave campaigners, armed militias in every workplace and armed insurrection, claimed Jo Cox's husband was a fascist, uses racial and ethnic slurs while claiming they're not derogatory, pretends to be Labour (badly) while espousing far-right racist hate-speech, praises Theresa May and the tories and displays a perverted poisonous obsession with Scotland's First Minister & her predecessor.

      The ultra-right-wing authoritarian colonial mouthpiece can trot off snivelling back to its chums at the Daily Suppress whenever it's ready.

      Delete
  12. Bumblefuck tories for racial unityNovember 5, 2016 at 11:42 PM

    Stephen WilliamsVerified account ‏@swilliamsmp Nov 3

    Friday Daily Mail front page attacking judiciary in a way that would be approved by Putin or Mugabe. What horror Brexit has unleashed.


    NRichardson-Little ‏@HistoryNed Nov 3

    Compare and contrast Nazi Illustrierter Beobachter 1933 and the Daily Mail 2016. #brexit

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  13. Another reason why May will not want to trigger another GE soon: the jerrymandering of the constituencies has not happened yet. Why go to the country BEFORE a structural pro Tory change to the constituencies has happened?

    Also if they lose the election that change won't happen or not in the same way.

    The Tories have a lot to gain by hanging on by their fingernails as long as they absolutely can.

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  14. By taking on a prominent public role, these judges opened themselves to the court of public opinion. Just as a midwife has to deal with highly agitated women screaming at them, just as a teacher has to deal with pupil indiscipline, so must a high court judge put up with the press. Don't like it? Resign. But then that would involve giving up quite a lot of money and a sumptuous lifestyle. With great rewards usually come great sacrifices. It is only just. The judges have no right to complain.

    What has been quite interesting in all of this is that we are watching how an indyref yes vote would play out - court challenges, forced re-votes in parliament, talk of extraordinary general elections and second referenda. And every time Sturgeon gets involved in this current crisis, she sets up precedents that may one day return to haunt her.

    Of course, if the UK parliament blocks brexit - or waters it down - then the SNP lose their pretext for holding another referendum.

    Aldo

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    1. Yes,it will be an interesting legal contest to see who is sovereign in Scotland,the Westminster establishment or the people of Scotland.
      Fortunately,it will be conducted under Scots law and not England's.

      Delete
  15. Glasgow Working Class 2November 7, 2016 at 4:04 PM

    It was a UK referendum therefore the British government will decide the future agreements. Sturgeon and fellow Nat sis cannot be trusted with confidentially as they would bubble to Herman and the Frogs. Who would have thought a Scotswoman would crawl up the erses of the Juncker and Co. But the Nat sis do have a historical record of Hitler admiration.

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    1. The Britnat si considers Scotland a colony and calls scottish people "jocks", advocates arming Leave campaigners, armed militias in every workplace and armed insurrection, claimed Jo Cox's husband was a fascist, uses racial and ethnic slurs while claiming they're not derogatory, pretends to be Labour (badly) while espousing far-right racist hate-speech, praises Theresa May and the tories and displays a perverted poisonous obsession with Scotland's First Minister & her predecessor.

      The ultra-right-wing authoritarian colonial mouthpiece can trot off snivelling back to its chums at the Daily Suppress whenever it's ready.

      Delete