Sunday, February 12, 2012

Scotland joins the Holocaust as one of only two banned topics as Political Betting's Smithson completely loses the plot

In the early hours of this morning, the popular former SNP blogger and Political Betting poster Stuart Dickson sent me an email alerting me to a 'behind-the-paywall' article, which revealed that Scotland does not receive a net subsidy from the London exchequer. I decided to post a very brief summary of the article on PB. The thread in question concerned Ron Paul, but there was nothing remotely unusual about posting something off-topic - the overwhelming majority of comments on PB are wildly off-topic, and in particular posts about off-topic newspaper articles of interest are extremely common. And it could hardly be claimed that the article I summarised was not of any interest, given that the CEBR's conclusions about Scotland's fiscal balance go to the very heart of one of the most important political debates of our time.

Predictably, several of PB's resident Nat-bashers (including among others Richard Dodd, Moniker of Monza, Chris g00 and "Devo Max", the latter of whom I strongly suspect to be another poster in disguise) started laying into me for having the temerity to suggest that an independent Scotland would be anything other than a basketcase. As I normally do when I have the time, I replied to all their comments and challenged them on some of their bogus arguments (although to be honest the word 'arguments' dignifies the whole thing a bit too much). But then this familiar pattern was brought to a shuddering halt by an extraordinary intervention from the site's owner, right-leaning Liberal Democrat Mike Smithson -

This is not a thread about Scotland and future thread-hopping comments will be deleted.

There will be plenty of threads on Scotland but this is not one of them.

Just to reiterate, the notion that off-topic comments or 'thread-hopping' (whatever that might mean) are not allowed on PB is a completely alien one, as can be demonstrated by the vast number of off-topic comments not relating to Scotland that continued to pass without censure on that very thread. But this absurd ruling was not entirely a bolt from the blue, as a number of the usual suspects from the Tory Herd (who of course delight in boring the rest of us with the off-topic subjects that fascinate them the most) have for the last few weeks been relentlessly whispering in Smithson's ear : "This can't go on, Mike. All this talk about Scotland is killing the site. Something must be done." Which of course is rather ironic, given that some of us have been pointing out to him for years what is really killing the site - the all-pervasive right-wing group-think, and endless fatuous thread-headers about non-topics such as "Edward" Miliband's "name-change". His decision about which of these concerns was more important to take heed of tells its own story.

However, given that Smithson had tried to give his imposition of censorship the semblance of logical justification by referring to "thread-hopping", I decided to take him at his word, and press him on whether a short list of other "thread-hopping" posts I'd noticed on the same thread would in future be subject to deletion -

"This is not a thread about Scotland and future thread-hopping comments will be deleted"

Does that constitute a ruling that this IS a thread about -

a) YouTube videos

b) YouGov polls on the NHS

c) Andrew Lansley

d) Cameroons and Blairites

e) Rugby

f) Tim Montgomerie

g) Formula 1

h) Aero regulation

...and that 'thread-hopping' posts about those topics are all perfectly acceptable?

It seems so. Yet more consistency from the top.

Unsurprisingly, there was no direct response. However, an apologist for Smithson did try to justify the contradiction with the customary non-logic that "it's Mike's site and he can do what he likes". He also pointed out that this was not the first time a specific topic had been singled out for a ban - discussions of the Holocaust had also long been forbidden.

Well, that pretty much says it all, doesn't it? There are now just two banned topics on PB - Scotland and the Holocaust. And they have demonstrably been banned not because they are off-topic or "thread-hopping", but because Smithson and those whispering in his ear don't want to hear about them, for reasons of taste or prejudice.

But in truth, this is not really about Scotland in general. No, we can rest assured that the traditional excited posts from Aberdeenshire or Easter Ross about the forever imminent renaissance of the Scottish Tory party will remain very much welcome in PB World. This is about Smithson's dislike of SNP posters, and nothing else. We saw it today when his ruling was 'implemented' in the form of comments from the SNP's MalcolmG being deleted, but comments from those goading the Nat posters being left untouched. We saw it two years ago when two of the leading SNP posters, the aforementioned Mr Dickson and our very own Ezio, were banned seemingly for no reason whatsoever. When we tried to pin Smithson down on the reason for Stuart's ban, he just couldn't seem to get his story straight. First it was because Stuart frequently wrote about 'misleading' Scottish subsamples - but unfortunately it was easy enough to point out that Smithson had done exactly the same thing. Then it was because Stuart had repeatedly misunderstood "Smarkets" - really? "Misunderstanding" something is cause for a lifetime ban? No, clearly that didn't make sense either, so the next explanation was that Stuart wasn't contactable by email. Unfortunately, though, I had access to their email correspondence, and was able to demonstrate that Smithson's charge was a piece of nonsense. Last but not least, he fell back on the trusty old option of "the matter is closed".

Of course, it should also be pointed out that Smithson's own tendency to lash out angrily about the SNP on threads relating to other topics would firmly fall foul of today's ruling - if it was being implemented consistently. But it won't be. What we've seen today is nothing less than a selective 'constructive ban' on all pro-SNP posts, leaving Smithson's claim that his site is a cross-party forum utterly bereft of credibility. Oh, and in case you're wondering, his suggestion that there'll be plenty of dedicated Scottish threads which we can still comment on is meaningless - in normal times, you'd be lucky to get one Scottish thread every three months.

Which only leaves the question of how best to react to this indefensible near-blanket ban. It's sorely tempting to test the boundaries of it by seeing what would happen if I tried posting off-topic material about, for example, Plaid Cymru or Mebyon Kernow. But perhaps Ezio had it right all along - if PB can't be saved as an ecumenical forum, it's arguably better if the small number of us who don't subscribe to the site's group-think get as far away from it as possible, and stop giving it any unwarranted 'cross-party' credibility.

However, I do have one last post about PB up my sleeve - an eye-opening exchange from yesterday about the Welsh language. Stay tuned...


  1. Has anyone ever seen Mike Smithson and David Dimbleby in the same room?

  2. Ezio Auditore da FirenzeFebruary 12, 2012 at 7:14 PM

    We here in Florence are sure that smithson's ego has him believing that he is first in line to present qt when dimbleby retires (presumably to devote his time to throwing eggs at the deputy first minister full time).

    I maintain my original position James, your presence and the presence of those like you just serves to make it slightly less obvious that PB is simply A more extreme version of Conservative Home. It's so right wing that even Tom Harris would feel out of place! Ok maybe that's an exaggeration...

  3. They hate you, because you are cleverer than they are.

    It's that simple.

  4. Sadly PB is not the place to visit these days.

  5. Ezio : It wouldn't entirely surprise me to learn that Tom Harris pops over to PB occasionally - perhaps he's "Devo Max"!

    I think the decision has been made for me this time - as I said in the post, this new rule amounts to a 'constructive ban' on all SNP posters. It's clearly intolerable to post on a political forum where you're allowed to post about absolutely anything except your own political views. It's the rough equivalent of placing a blanket ban on discussions of conservatism, or something like that - even if we were to talk about specific topics like defence or the NHS from an SNP/Scottish perspective, that would constitute a discussion about 'Scotland', and would be subject to deletion.

    Of course, this rule is probably unsustainable in the long run (and perhaps even the short run), but I'm not going to stick around and risk writing posts that are subject to deletion for no good reason at all.


    How money in some regions subsidises others

    One pound in five earned in London subsidises the rest of the UK – Northern Ireland, Wales and North East receive more than a fifth of their income as subsidies from outside the region. Scotland receives no net subsidy as oil revenues offset impact of Barnett formula.

    Cebr produces an annual calculation that shows public spending in the UK by region as a share of regional GDP. The most recent calculation, which was released last May, shows how different the dependence on public spending is between the different parts of the country.

    Because transfers between different regions are on the European agenda and I had to give evidence to the European Scrutiny Committee of the House of Commons, I have looked at the other side of the equation for the year 2010/11 and examined both the differences in tax generated by region within the UK and the net subsidies between regions.

    In the UK there is considerable variance in tax receipts as a share of GDP between regions – from Northern Ireland where tax is only 27.7% of GDP to London where tax is 45.2% of GDP. These differences are about half the variances in public spending as shares of GDP. But for some taxes the regional differences are huge. The bulk of Stamp Duty Land Tax is paid in London and the South East. The 50p income tax rate is also largely a London and South East tax.

    But the taxes and public spending reinforce each other. So whereas in London tax exceeds spending by 10.3% of its GDP, in Northern Ireland spending exceeds tax by 39.3% of its GDP.

    To standardise this, you need to subtract the total deficit which on this definition (a few small items are excluded so it is not completely comparable with normal PSNB numbers) is 10.0%.

    So London provides a net subsidy of 20.3% of GDP. Northern Ireland receives a net subsidy of 29.4%, while Wales receives a subsidy of 26.0% and the North East 22.2%.

    Interestingly in the light of the independence debate, Scotland receives no net subsidy. Using the Aberdeen University split of the oil and gas revenues (which gives Scotland 83%) the oil and gas revenues exactly cancel out the fiscal transfers from the non oil sector.


  7. You have a massively successful blog here, Mike Smithson must be really jealous with your traffic numbers and influence.
    Perhaps its just jealousy, or perhaps it's because you are a massive monomaniacal bore.

  8. James

    This is your ninth comment. If you are a lucky boy then you might get ten.

    Mike Smithson's site gets about 1000-1500 in a day.....

    .... but then again you are cleverer than he is.

  9. Welcome Anon, it's a rare treat to have a right-wing visitor from PB itself, and may I just compliment you on your moral courage in posting anonymously. Now all we have to do is work out which member of the PB Tory Herd you are - from your prose style, I've already narrowed it down to 548 possibilities.

  10. The anon posters have been outing themselves over on PB.

  11. "I've already narrowed it down to 548 possibilities"

    Which would appear to be approx 540 more readers than this beacon of political light in a desolate world.

    You really don't understand that it's your deathly serious, intensively tedious, repetitious droning that puts people off do you?

    You may have the occasional good point, however, it is surrounded by so much earnest tedious stodge, that it isn't worth wading through to find.

  12. Anon (congrats again), it's not repetitiveness that puts you off - all PB regulars are repetitive about their political interests. It's more the temerity of some of us not to look at politics through a 'Westminster is God' prism. Perfect illustration today - I took Smithson at his word and posted about a non-Scottish subject, but you guys couldn't seem to tell the difference. Welsh education was merely a continuation of my 'crazy obsession' with non-Westminster topics. But I'm afraid that's the territory which most of the world inhabits.

  13. Congrats again, for proving my point you tedious blinkered, monomaniacal bore. I can forgive most things but the fact you are such a bore, is beyond the pale. You. are. a. bore.

  14. "I can forgive most things"

    But, alas, one of those things isn't my inability to comprehend that "Ed Miliband is crap" is the most riveting subject in the known universe, deserving of at least 800 of those 1000 daily posts on PB.

  15. Your ability or lack thereof is in question for a great deal more than any Ed Milliband meme. You bore.
    Care to provide some sort of evidence to prove your 80% Milliband post claim. It's something you are very keen of demanding of others. You bore.

  16. "as a number of the usual suspects from the Tory Herd... have for the last few weeks been relentlessly whispering in Smithson's ear : 'This can't go on, Mike. All this talk about Scotland is killing the site. Something must be done.'"

    Come off it Kelly, I am sure you are as well as I am that the "herd" love nothing more than to poke you Nats with a stick, stand back and enjoy the venting of spleen. Your main problem is a complete inability to sustain an argument. Eg

    Nat: When we're independent, we'll still use the pound.

    Me: You can if you want, but you won't have a lender of last resort, why would it be in the interests of the English to allow that?


  17. Bloody pointy brackets! That should be:

    Nat: [vents spleen]

  18. Anon : I didn't claim it was 80 per cent. I just get the distinct impression that's the target figure, given Smithson's determination to eradicate non-Westminster posts, egged on by you and the rest of the Tory Herd.

    Go on, Anon - tell us which one you are. Let sunshine win the day, or whatever it was Dave urged you all to do when he was still a 'liberal Conservative'.

    John : Not a very realistic piece of PB dialogue. These days it's just...

    Nat : [CENSORED]

  19. " I just get the distinct impression that's the target figure"

    Care to give some evidence? Bore.

  20. Absolutely, Oh Interesting One. The evidence is censorship of non-Westminster posts.

    Incidentally, Anon (congrats), what would your own estimate be for the prevalence of 'Ed Miliband is crap' related posts on PB? 20 per cent? 30 per cent?

  21. So you have no evidence and are attempting to divert attention from that fact by changing the subject. It is one of your more boring tactics.
    Provide some evidence of a desire by Smithson to drive Ed is crap posts. Bore.

  22. Off to bed, my work here is done, you are such a transparent tool, that it was obvious you couldn't resist attempting to have the last word. You never did realise it was a transparent ploy to keep you occupied on here and give the pb site a rest from your crashingly boring presence. Night bore.

  23. James,

    Apologies for the anonymous post, the 7.58 p.m post was me, TubOfLard. I have not posted since if that helps you try to distinguish from the others.

    I did post another comment on the pb site later defending the Nationalists' right to be heard on undesignated threads, so long as minimum standards were adhered to, but unfortunately it fell on deaf ears. There seems to be quite a lot of support for Mike Smithson's stance.

    I don't believe in 'Ed is Crap' posts which in my opinion devalues the pb site in the same way as some of the left-wing comments insult Cameron.

    I understand you were annoyed but Mike's action was provoked by quite a lot of unreasonable behaviour by some of your number in the past few weeks...and your subsequent reaction was way over the top.

    Actually, I am quite impressed with your site (no sarcasm intended )and am actually quite surprised by how little support, by way of comments, it receives,considering that you must put quite an effort in to maintain it.

    I am pleased that we, the herd, could add a few more this evening

    ..... and you seem to know your Rugby which is more than can be said for Mr Smithson.

    Until next time (unless you ban me)


  24. testing...... my previous comment seems to have been 'eaten up'

  25. 7.38 p.m comment was mine. No other anonymous ones were though.

  26. Hi James.

    I have formally given up posting on PB-they can get their insights into Scotland from Fitalass which should cost them a fortune :-)

  27. JPJ2,

    No this site is perfect. I will suggest to the herd tomorrow that if pbers want to discuss Scottish matters they can do it here.

    It would be an ideal win/win situation.

    Mike Smithson will be happy as it would keep his site free of the scourge of Nats.

    James will be happy as the average number of comments to each post would be greatly increased from the one man and his dog, as is the case now, and maybe even reach double figures.

    You might also have some debate for once as the comments might not always be too complimentary to the Nationalists' cause.

  28. Ezio Auditore da Firenze.February 14, 2012 at 1:21 AM

    It seems our illustrious host has suceeded in really riling up the right wing extremists!

    The deranged rantings of these vile cyberbrits serves only to undermine their ignoble cause...long may it continue!

  29. "Off to bed, my work here is done"

    Sweet dreams, Oh Interesting One. As to your handiwork last night, you certainly helped to make a mockery of your own prediction that this thread would be lucky to end up with 10 comments. Just goes to prove what we already knew - any site can rack up dozens of comments, all it takes is a couple of Tory Herd members going off on one.

  30. Wow. Political Betting sounds like it's full of very mature people.

  31. Clearly the various aspects of the Scottish relationship with the remainder of the UK are a hugely important topic right now - but there are others: the US elections, how the heck the Tories are staying as high as they are in the polls (aka "Ed is crap), etc.

    The problem was that Scotland was tending to overwhelm the other threads there were a few days a week or so ago when every thread ended up about Scotland. I think the real issue is that most people have fairly entrenched views on the topic, so there was lots of heat, but little light and, frankly, it was becoming a bit boring (I certainly have been going to PB less)

    Not having spoken to Mike about it, I suspect what he was trying to do was to say that "we are retreading the same ground endlessly so please don't unless there is meaningful new information in which case there can be a specific thread."

    Perhaps he could have explained it better, but PB is only interesting when there is a variety of topics under discussion

    (Charles from PB)

  32. Charles, thankyou for expressing yourself so constructively, but I do profoundly disagree with you. There was no "please don't" about this - it was "all future posts will be deleted", and that was after Mike had been pestered for weeks by the usual suspects saying "something must be done".

    As I've pointed out, "Scotland" (which is what the thankfully short-lived ban related to) is a subject infinitely wider than the independence referendum. Such a blanket ban would have made it near-impossible for us to express political views from a pro-SNP perspective, while other posters would have been free to express their own views. That such an idea should even have been toyed with is symptomatic of the 'Dimblebyesque' worldview that all Westminster village stories are by definition of universal fascination, whereas non-Westminster stories have a very limited time and place, and become "boring" really quickly. How many times have we seen that word on this thread?

    The way forward is more mutual tolerance, not less. I have to wade through acres of extremely repetitive PB posts about Westminster village stories that don't remotely interest me (I'm only dimly aware of the details of the English NHS reform bill, which has no relevance to me or to 'my part of the United Kingdom'), but I don't ask for those posts to be censored, or even for people to "stop retreading the same ground". The idea that Scotland has been discussed more often than the English NHS, Lansley, 'Ed is crap', the US elections, etc, etc, just doesn't stack up, I'm afraid.