Sunday, October 16, 2011

White heat, but not a lot of light

Is getting extremely riled up your favourite Sunday pastime? Then you're in for a treat if you head over to the Guardian's 'Disunited Kingdom' podcast, which attempts to get to grips with the options for Scotland's constitutional future with the assistance of expert analysis from Joan McAlpine MSP, Alan Trench of Devolution Matters,, Michael White. Quite what White's expertise on this subject is supposed to be, beyond his fondness for the sound of his own voice when talking about it, is something of a mystery. And those of you lucky enough to have read his columns since May as he struggled manfully to try to identify the underlying meaning of the SNP's triumph will not be surprised to learn that there's a fair amount of waffle in the podcast about Vikings. Yes, Michael, as it happens I've known since I was ten years old that Sutherland got its name from having once been the southernmost part of the Viking territories, but how can I put this...SO WHAT?

Actually, there comes a moment in any Michael White ramble where you start to question your own sanity and wonder if it does all make a kind of weird sense, and you're just not intelligent enough to see it. Well, if you find yourself feeling that way, I can set your mind at rest. At one point in the podcast, he informs us that he grew up in Cornwall, and that the Cornish flag is identical to the saltire apart from the colours. Well, here is the Cornish flag, and here is the saltire - make up your own mind. Oh, and for good measure, White apparently believes the word 'saltire' is pronounced 'saltair'. This is the kind of encyclopedic knowledge of the Celtic fringe we're dealing with here - doubtless he acquired it from reading Scottish newspapers, as he indignantly assures Joan McAlpine in the podcast that he does on a regular basis.

At another point, he is bemused and not a little incensed at Joan's suggestion that the Secretary of State for Scotland does not wake up every morning thinking about what he can do for Scotland, in exactly the same way that Alex Salmond does. Yes, Michael, that'll be why Mr Moore's daily routine is dominated by dreaming up ever-more contrived excuses for denying Scotland powers of self-government that his party is supposed to be passionately in favour of. And that's why he's more comfortable serving in a Tory-dominated cabinet at Westminster than in the Scottish Parliament. Yup, that true son of Caledonia thinks exclusively of Scotland's best interests morning, noon and night.

Later, White interrupts Joan's explanation that the SNP's primary purpose is to build a fairer society by asking "fairer for who?", in a tone of voice that suggests a firm belief that he is posing some sort of killer question. It takes quite a while before we learn what he is getting at - that he thinks 'fairness' is code for Scots doing better off the back of the fabled hard-pressed English taxpayer. Dear God. If a supposedly left-of-centre journalist can somehow contrive to misunderstand the simple meaning of a social democratic contract that makes Scottish society fairer and more equal, I think he may have chosen the wrong vocation. And even if we were to accept his definition of fairness, in exactly what sense is the onus on the First Minister of Scotland to even things up? Is Alex Salmond really supposed to say "you know what, I won't spend this part of our fixed block grant on making Scotland a more equal society, I'll spend it on paper clips instead so that people in Leeds don't have to feel a sense of injustice because their own government has got its priorities all wrong"? It's just bizarre.

White is also caught out for claiming that support for independence in the polls doesn't really rise above 30%. After Joan points out that a recent poll in a Scottish newspaper had the figure at 39%, he brazenly tries to cover up his embarrassment with the instant fatuous retort "you're still 11% shy, then". Er, no, Michael. The standard practice in referendum polling is to look at whether one side has more support than the other - unless, of course, you're planning to rig the ballot à la 1979 by treating abstentions as No votes.

However, there is one moment of immense satisfaction in the podcast - eventually the provocation becomes so severe that Joan drops her customary path of diplomatic charm and informs White that he is being "patronising". Amen to that.

1 comment: