Monday, November 22, 2010

How to misread silence : a textbook case

From somewhere in the murky recesses of my memory, I seem to recall that in the early days of devolution, the Labour/Liberal Democrat coalition rather casually announced that - for the time being at least - it wasn't going to bother making provision for the collection of the Scottish Variable Rate, thus meaning the parliament's tax-varying power would to all intents and purposes lapse.  It was a responsible way to save public money, we were told.  I think for about thirty seconds I was fairly outraged - it had been less than two years since Scotland had specifically voted for that power in a referendum, and nobody had bothered to make clear at the time that it was merely intended to be a 'potential' power that the Scottish Executive would be allowed to 'purchase' if it so wished.  Although that point of irritation lingered (and is plainly highly pertinent to this day) I couldn't really stay angry with the coalition for their own decision - even I could see that if there was no possibility of the power being used within the relevant timescale, it was a fairly academic point.  The main thing was that the power remained on the statute book, and would be available to future administrations.

I strongly suspect that those who are now expressing synthetic anger in similar circumstances know perfectly well that the same logic applies here.  If anything, the logic is considerably stronger, given that we've now learnt that the powers wouldn't have been available for some time even if the Scottish government had shelled out for them - not to mention the fact that the current system is about to be replaced (without a referendum) with a tax-raising power that the Westminster government apparently intend to force us to pay to upkeep on an ongoing basis.  Bearing all that in mind, I think most people must know in their heart of hearts that (cheap Nat-bashing opportunities aside) to throw away £7 million on the symbolic maintenance of a soon-to-be-defunct power that none of the major parties intend to use in the interim period wouldn't just have been unnecessary - it would have been idiotic.

But it seems that James of Better Nation is one of the few to be genuinely spitting fury over this rather esoteric issue, and is interpreting the silence of many SNP-friendly bloggers as a sign of deep shame or embarrassment.  Well, that's one possibility, but as I pointed out in a comment on his post, there is another one - that nationalist bloggers don't, on the whole, actually give a monkey's about it.  I'd also suggest James was rather foolish to list a number of bloggers that he apparently regards as guilty of supine loyalty, given that in many cases it's not at all difficult to find instances where those people have departed markedly from the party line.  For example, it's only a few weeks since Lallands Peat Worrier went out of his way to publish a guest post that was scathing about the Scottish government's emergency legislation following the Cadder ruling, while Subrosa has always been several billion light-years away from SNP policy on Europe, climate change, and a whole host of other topics.  And many, many nationalists haven't exactly been shy about calling for a homegrown inquiry on Lockerbie, despite the SNP leadership specifically ruling that out.  Given such a track record, the idea that nationalist bloggers would hold back on an issue that touches on their most fundamental political priority of all - the powers of the Scottish Parliament - seems risible.

I suspect James is making the classic 'Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells' mistake of assuming that his own anger about a particular topic must be universal, and that if others are keeping quiet about it they must - as rational people - be secretly fuming.


  1. I did read his post yesteday and thought - maybe he has had one sherberts too many. James, I am fuming - but fuming that the Scottish Govenment should be billed £7,000,000 towards the replacement computer system. If HMRC wanted to change their computer system that is their right but to charge someone else for the priviledge? If my Bank or Credit Card provider update their computer system I do not expect to be billed for their new system. HMRC are such a choatic Govt department these days and sending out incorrect bills to all and sundry is all too common these days. Treasury rules make it that the cost is for HMRC to foot, not the SG.

    Also fuming at the actions of Mr Moore. No respect agenda there.


  2. Agreed, Marcia - the idea that HMRC can unilaterally make up the rules as they go on is utterly outrageous.

  3. Ezio Auditore da FirenzeNovember 22, 2010 at 11:22 PM

    Sorry to go wildly off topic here, James my dear comrade. I'm not sure if you still post on but I had the misfortune to have a glance over there the other day and found to my HORROR that the Yellow Tory in Chief has BANNED our beloeved Stubo Dickson from discussing Scottish sub samples.

    Outraged of Florence

  4. You're joking!!!! Stuart's been doing that for years without Mike complaining - it can only be pettiness to ban it now. I trust Stuart has walked away from the site with dignity?

  5. I have no idea, James. I don't make a habit of going over there as I have no desire to read the crazed rantings of a bunch of right-wing xenephobic bigots, but I certainly didn't see Stuart post on the thread after Mike The Tory gave him a very public dressing down.

    Apparently, discussion, or even mention, of Scottish sub-samples sends threads off-topic and is 'boring'. I hope he keeps that in mind the next time Sean Thomas treats PB to one of his mad rants or the other crazy fella posts about wanting to kill immigrants(again).

    Shame what happened to that site, it really is.

  6. Very true. Actually, I burst out laughing when I had a look at it a couple of hours ago. When tonight's ICM poll came out, the poster Chilon reminded Mike that he had said a few days ago that things would only be truly serious for the Lib Dems when they slipped to 14% or lower with the 'gold standard' ICM.

    Mike's response now that's actually happened? A thread entitled "Are we now seeing the phenomenon of the Shy Yellows?". He's not even bothering to be subtle about it anymore...

  7. That news doesn't surprise me, James! I'd put money on Mike still drafting articles telling us about the impossibility of a hung parliament!

    In other news, ChristinaD is no less infuriating when she posts in the comments on BetterNation than on PB...I know she is infuriating because I have a whole host of non-political family members, friends and neighbours who came across her posts and told me so!

  8. Now, don't be sarcastic about Christina, Ezio - she's just very, very sociable. And she also lives among a unique subset of the non-political Aberdeenshire population who are approximately 10,000 times more susceptible to David Cameron's charms than the non-political Scottish public as a whole. That's all - nothing to be suspicious about.

  9. AH!!!

    That explains it. I thought she was boasting about being attractive, but it's DORIC!