Friday, April 19, 2013

Warning : Jock-bashing buffoon ahead

I've long suspected that the editor of the blogs section of the Telegraph website is running some kind of internal contest to see which writer can demonstrate the greatest lack of knowledge and self-awareness in a single post about Scotland, with bonus points for cramming in the greatest number of cretinously offensive Jock-bashing comments. As of this moment, a chap called Jake Wallis Simons seems assured of the grand prize (five minutes alone with the urn?), but this being the Telegraph we of course can't be completely sure. Sit back and marvel...

"The first rule of referendums is that the question should be neutral."

God, what do they teach kids in Brit Nat fundamentalist schools these days? No, Jake, the first rule of referendums is that you rig the franchise so that a Yes vote is really a No. I know it sounds complicated, but don't worry - I'll send George Cunningham around to explain it to you.

"Somehow, Alex Salmond seems to have managed to circumvent this in the case of the Scottish referendum in 2014. The question is "Should Scotland be an independent country?" rather than something like "Should Scotland leave the United Kingdom?", or "Should Scotland split like a sulky teenager from Great Britain, thereby making itself terminally weaker, even smaller than it is already, and immeasurably more parochial and irrelevant?""

Yes, folks, you read that right - "Should Scotland be an independent country?" is considered 'biased' on Planet Jake (that's in Hampshire, in case you're wondering), whereas "Should Scotland split like a sulky teenager from Great Britain, thereby making itself terminally weaker, even smaller than it is already, and immeasurably more parochial and irrelevant?" is considered immaculately 'neutral'. Now I have a feeling I know what your objection is going to be here. Even though this is about as funny as a below-par episode of My Family, the guy must at least think that he's joking, right?

The news is grim, I'm afraid.

"His initial draft of the question, "Do you agree that Scotland should be an independent country?" was so laughably biased that the electoral watchdog wasted no time in ruling that the "Do you agree that…" was a step too far."

Actually, the electoral watchdog "wasted" quite a bit of time in considering that matter, Jake - they were at it for bloody months. And can I just gently point out to you here that the Electoral Commission didn't "rule" on anything - they had the power only to advise. It was the Scottish Government that freely chose to change the question to the extraordinarily similar one that the Electoral Commission recommended instead.

"Thus, by setting up a straw man to take the flak, Mr Salmond managed to slip a still-dodgy question under the radar, and gave himself an in-built psychological advantage when it comes to capturing floating votes."

Tell me, Jake, do you have the slightest shred of evidence that the Electoral Commission lied through their teeth when they stated that the new referendum question was their own invention, and that Alex Salmond instead secretly suggested it and somehow compelled them to consider it? Or is it not rather more likely that they were telling the truth, and that they simply devised a question that, after extensive testing, was considered superior and more neutral to the Brit Nat-flavoured questions that you would have preferred - even if you had been generously willing to excise the 'sulky teenager' bit?

I fear the answer to that question may not seem as obvious to a recreational unionist from Winchester as it does to the rest of us.

"The wording of the question is also revealing in another way: it demonstrates that the primary motivation for Scots to vote to leave the United Kingdom is a romanticised sense of national pride rather than anything sensible or – heaven forbid – rational."

Best take that up with the UK government-appointed Electoral Commission that devised the question, Jake. But the amusing thing is that we all know that if the wording of the referendum question had been used to set out what we wanted independence for, and what the SNP plan to use the powers of independence to achieve in terms of social policy, our Jake and his ilk would have had a conniption fit. "Salmond tries to confuse voters with labyrinthine question! We demand a simple question that sets out the choice in straightforward terms!" That's what you've got, mate, but if you'd much rather have a question about who should control North Sea Oil revenues and getting Trident off Scottish soil, be sure to let us know. I'm not convinced you'd be entirely happy with the end result, though.

"Because, as the blogosphere has noticed, the fact is that when Salmond talks of independence, what he really means is the satisfaction of nationalist lust and very little else. Will the Queen remain head of state? Yup."

You mean in exactly the same way that she's currently the head of state of the independent nations of Canada, Australia, the Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea, New Zealand, Barbados, Jamaica, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Grenada, Saint Kitts and Nevis, the Bahamas, Antigua and Barbuda, Saint Lucia, Belize and Tuvalu? That's right, Jake. Yup.

"Will sterling remain as the common currency? Yup."

As it did in Ireland and Australia after independence? That's right, Jake. Yup.

"Will dual citizenship be maintained?"

On much the same voluntary basis as it is maintained in Northern Ireland? Which doesn't appear to have led you to the conclusion that the NI unionists' desire to remain in the UK is "the satisfaction of unionist lust and nothing else"? That's right, Jake. Yup.

"Will British embassies still represent the Scots?"

In an identical way to how Irish embassies represent Northern Ireland-born British citizens who voluntarily choose to take up their right to dual citizenship? That's right, Jake. Yup.

"Will Scotland continue to be a member of the EU on British terms?"

Er...nope. Although I'd be interested to know if even you have a clue what you actually mean by "continue to be a member of the EU on British terms", because I must admit I haven't got a scooby.

"Yup, yup, yup, yup, yup and yup."

Well, before you get too carried away with all this yuppitiness, indulge me for a moment as I ask a few questions of my own. Would independence get inhuman weapons of mass destruction off Scottish soil? Yup. Would independence result in the UK government's disgraceful welfare policies being reversed? Yup. Would independence mean we could opt out of London's illegal wars in future? Yup. Would independence enable Scotland to be represented in the EU for the very first time, rather than being 'represented' by David Cameron and William Hague as we are now? Yup. Would independence give us access to our own natural resources? Yup. Would we, in a nutshell, be ruled by a government we actually chose? Yup, yup, yup.

Nothing much to see there, I must admit. The emergence of this Scottish nationalist nonsense is a bit baffling, isn't it, Jake? But I dare say it can all be explained away by the existence of haggis, or something.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

If any "prominent pollsters" from Ipsos-Mori happen to be passing by, feel free to be amused by this one as well...

Well, it's been far too long since I last offended Craig Gallagher's sensibilities by reposting one of my exchanges from Political Betting. "The Screaming Eagles" is the most prominent of the site's notorious group of Tory moderators who have endlessly harassed left-wing contributors by deleting posts at random, and issuing bannings which they then innocently pretend to have been caused by a "technical fault" - that is if their Plan A of burying all evidence of the bannings has failed. I was also once sent an extraordinary (and credible) piece of information about this individual that profoundly shocked me, but unfortunately it was on condition that I didn't make it public. Frankly, if his claim in the following exchange has any truth in it, then I think "prominent pollsters" at Ipsos-Mori ought to be choosing their chortle-mates with a touch more care.

Me : AlanBrooke -

"it was the same when the Nats bigged up all they were going to do post 2011 elections"

You'd better hope that isn't a precedent, Alan, because as you know the SNP secured a historic triumph in the May 2012 local elections. Their first ever win in the popular vote, and only their second win in terms of seats. A bigger increase in their share of the vote than any other party, and a bigger increase in number of seats than any other party.

But I'm sure you haven't conveniently forgotten about that.

AlanBrooke : Yeah. yeah jimbo

Ein Volk, ein Reich, ein Sterling as wee wifie might say.

Me : You really should tell her to stop singing the 1997 Scottish Tory anthem - if it didn't help Michael Forsyth then it's unlikely to be much use now.

And "Nein zur Tartan Steuern!" has probably had its day as well.

But I salute your wife's political and marital fortitude.

TheScreamingEagles : I'm really disappointed in you Mr Brooke.

You missed a golden opportunity to reference Arthur Donaldson into that.

Me : Alan, you seem to be in pain. Perhaps a trip to a therapist might be in order, so you can construct a comforting new national identity that can flourish without depending on keeping another country captive.

I take some pride in being one of the few posters here who has never voted for a party that once boasted the future leader of the British Union of Fascists as a prominent MP.

TheScreamingEagles : You mean Arthur Donaldson, that former future leader of British Fascism, I thought he'd be associated with the yes side?

Me : No, Oswald Mosley. I've yet to hear from you about how you feel towards the man who was a prominent Conservative MP. And perhaps we should have a chat about Lord Halifax some time...

(NOTE : Posted before you edited your comment to make it even more peculiar.)

TheScreamingEagles : Like Mr Mosley, Mr Donaldson was interned.

To be honest, people who were MPs/Leaders of political parties before my father was born, I really don't think is going to swing the independence vote one way or the other.

And on that note, I'm off to see one of Scotland's finest actors at the cinema, Mr Gerard Butler, in Olympus Has Fallen.

Me : And unlike Mr Donaldson, Mr Mosley was interned on some kind of rational basis - ie. he was, actually, a fascist, rather than a threat to the British state because he supported democratic self-determination for the Scottish nation.

TheScreamingEagles : The report I'm reading says

"Donaldson, who had been thrown out of the SNP in 1940 because of his extreme nationalist views"

Me : What is of considerably more interest is WHERE are you reading that 'report'?

TheScreamingEagles : Here (from November 2005)

Me : "Here." I note you couldn't actually bring yourself to use the words "in the Sunday Times". Moving on...

TheScreamingEagles : It's from the national archives.

Me : TSE, a word of advice for future reference - if you want to reach a consensus with SNP supporters (or anyone with an ounce of common sense) on what constitutes historical fact, it's probably best not to pray in aid an article in a Brit Nat rag that carries the headline "SNP boss planned Nazi Scotland".

TheScreamingEagles : James I would have thought you'd have learnt your lesson the last time you wrongly automatically dismissed something published in the Times/Sunday Times.

Clearly not.

Me : Not only have I not learned a lesson from it, I don't even recall it. It wouldn't be a figment of your imagination, by any chance?

So tell me, TSE, what was the nature of the "extreme nationalist views" that led to Donaldson being thrown out of the SNP in 1940? (That golden year when Britain was the junior partner to the US in World War II...)

TheScreamingEagles : Please don't take this as proof that I read your blog, but at the time, a prominent pollster emailed me this, because they thought I'd be amused at it.

"UPDATE : Ipsos-Mori have been in touch, and have asked me to correct this post, which originally stated -

'There is also a question on voting intention for the independence referendum. Caution should be exercised here, because from the little I've seen of the report in the Times, it looks very much like this is yet another example of a unionist newspaper commissioning a pollster to ask a question that bears little resemblance to the actual proposed referendum question. However, for what it's worth, here are the figures...'"

Me : I ought to tell you what a prominent PB poster once emailed to me, because he knew I'd be shocked by it, but alas I'm sworn to secrecy.

I was contacted by Ipsos-Mori and asked to make a correction, and I did so immediately. You may be "amused" by such professionalism, as may your prominent pollster chum, but if I may say so I'm content for my actions to stand comparison to your antics as moderator of this blog.

Let's see if you've got the guts to leave this post up.

(For what it's worth, the guy who contacted me at the time was called Christopher McLean, and billed himself as a "Senior Research Executive" of something called "Ipsos MORI Scotland".)

* * *

Talking of pollsters, Angus Reid have published their latest UK-wide opinion poll of voting intentions for Westminster. As ever, the figures from the Scottish subsample are of more interest than those from other companies, because they seem to be properly weighted -

Labour 38% (+3)
SNP 37% (-2)
Conservatives 14% (-4)
Liberal Democrats 6% (+1)

Although that represents a small boost for Labour, it nevertheless leaves the SNP - in Angus Reid's own words - "practically tied" with Labour for Westmister voting intention, which would represent a massive 10.5% swing from Labour to SNP since the last general election.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Did the Bishop of London feel something on his shoulder?

Compare and contrast (well, perhaps not the latter)...

Tony Blair at the negotiations that resulted in the Good Friday Agreement -

"A day like today is not a day for soundbites, really - we can leave those at home - but I feel the hand of history upon our shoulders..."

The Bishop of London's address at the funeral of his friend Margaret Thatcher -

"There is an important place for debating policies and legacy; for assessing the impact of political decisions on the everyday lives of individuals and communities. Parliament held a frank debate last week – but here and today is neither the time nor the place. This, at Lady Thatcher's personal request, is a funeral service, not a memorial service with the customary eulogies...She was very aware that there are prior dispositions which are needed to make market economics and democratic institutions function well: the habits of truth-telling, mutual sympathy, and the capacity to co-operate. These decisions and dispositions are incubated and given power by our relationships. In her words: "The basic ties of the family are at the heart of our society and are the nursery of civic virtue"...Life is a struggle to make the right choices and to achieve liberation from dependence, whether material or psychological. This genuine independence is the essential pre-condition for living in an other-centred way, beyond ourselves. The word Margaret Thatcher used at St Lawrence Jewry was 'interdependence'...Her remark about there being no such thing as 'society' has been misunderstood..."

Words fail me.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Ding-a-dong listen to it, maybe it's a big hit, even when your lover is gone gone gone, sing ding-dang-dong

I couldn't quite make up my mind how I felt about the controversy over whether Radio 1 should broadcast Ding Dong! The Witch Is Dead on its official charts show yesterday. On the one hand, we're forever being told that Thatcherism was all about "freedom" (except for Chileans, Cambodians and non-white South Africans, naturally), and therefore the logic that good Thatcherites should simply accept that people have the freedom to offend seemed inescapable. And of course that was exactly the line we heard from many conservative commentators during the debate over the offensive Danish cartoons a few years ago, so it would have been nice to see a little consistency of principle from them. On the other hand, the idea that the song could be played in full by the state broadcaster when everyone would know exactly what it represented in this context (direct celebration of an individual's recent death) seemed just a bit too in-your-face. So, on the whole, I came round to feeling that an acknowledgement of the song's chart position, an explanation of what it was doing there, plus a clip of the song, was probably a fair enough compromise.

But that was before the decision to play I'm In Love With Margaret Thatcher in full earlier in the same show. Above all else, Radio 1 needed to demonstrate that it was being politically even-handed, so either both songs should have been played in full, or neither should have been. It's not good enough to say that the pro-Thatcher song was not intended to offend - it had only reached its lowly chart spot as a direct result of a campaign designed to counter the one that had got Ding Dong! to number two. If one song required a news report to put it in its correct political context, then they both did.

In purely practical terms, without making any moral judgements, it has to be said that the success of a Facebook campaign in getting an intensely annoying song from a 1930s musical to very near the top of the charts is an incredible achievement. There was a time when campaigns like the "it'll be hilarious if this works" one for Rik Waller to win Pop Idol fell flat on their face as a matter of routine, so the mobilising power of social media really seems to have come of age.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

The "international socialist movement" and its curious obsession with boundaries

Duncan Hothersall, leading Twitter propagandist for what he fondly describes as "the international labour movement" (better known to us as the UK Labour Party, an esteemed former member party of the Socialist International), seems unhappy that one or two people have pointed out that there are growing doubts over whether the leading anti-independence donor was actually born in Scotland -

"SNP comms officer @erikgeddes just RTd @WingsScotland querying where a #BetterTogether supporter was BORN. Civic nationalism, gotta love it."

Now I must say I'm confused by this. We know for a fact that anti-independence campaigners think that two things are vitally important in determining whether or not people should have a voice in this referendum -

1) Where people live. We know this because they have criticised Alan Cumming and Brian Cox for speaking out in support of independence in spite of not currently being Scottish residents (apparently not spotting the irony that they defend to the death the right of David Cameron and Ed Miliband to speak out against independence).

2) Whether people come from Scotland originally. We know this because Labour commentators like Alastair Campbell have moaned endlessly about the SNP's supposed marginalisation of Scots living in England.

It's an established fact that Ian Taylor, the No campaign's leading benefactor, is not a resident of Scotland and will consequently not have a vote in the referendum. By a process of elimination, therefore, the justification for the donation must lie with point 2 - Mr Taylor's Scottish connections. If we've been misled about the extent of those connections, then according to the No campaign's own stated principles that must be a matter of some significance.

At this stage, let me also present to you Exhibit Y. Without question the all-time highlight of the blogging career of Ms Kezia Dugdale MSP (one of Duncan's colleagues in the "global socialist crusade") was her triumphant announcement in 2009 that there had been two maternity hospitals in the Glasgow North-east constituency in 1973, meaning that the mother of SNP by-election candidate David Kerr could have given birth within the constituency boundaries if she'd damn well had a mind to do so. In spite of the fact that the Kerr family home was in the constituency, Kezia regarded Labour's Willie Bain as the only authentically local candidate because his mother had patriotically given birth to him in Stobhill. Disgracefully, Mr. Kerr had been born in Govan, before being driven back to the constituency a few days later to commence his sham life as a local baby.

"International socialists", eh? You gotta love 'em.

* * *

Duncan's other little obsession over the last 24 hours has been with the idea that the SNP's anti-Trident stance amounts merely to 'washing their hands' of nuclear disarmament, because only by staying in the UK can we actually vote to abolish - rather than move - Trident. The first point to make here is that the fact that the UK is one of only nine countries where it's theoretically possible to vote to scrap existing nuclear weapons (actually, make that seven - it would be a touch hard to 'vote against' anything in China or North Korea!) is surely a terrible indictment of the country that Duncan wants to remain part of, rather than a badge of honour. We regard it as a good thing that we can no longer vote to scrap capital punishment, don't we?

The second point is that, of course, there's considerable doubt over whether the UK could maintain a nuclear weapons system in its current form without access to the Faslane base. So whether Duncan likes it or not, it could well be that a vote for Scottish independence is the only truly effective way in which any UK citizens can vote for nuclear disarmament.

The third point is that the logic of Duncan's position is that anti-nuclear activists in Switzerland should presumably be seeking political union with France as a matter of some urgency. That would be a distinctly peculiar way to demonstrate their disapproval of France's status as a nuclear weapons power, but it takes all sorts I suppose.

And the fourth and final point is this - if one of the virtues of being part of the UK is that anti-nuclear campaigners like Duncan can vote for the scrapping of Trident, why has he consistently passed up the opportunity to do so? Why did he repeatedly vote for a pro-nuclear government between 1997 and 2010, rather than supporting a party that actually votes against Trident at Westminister - like, for example, the SNP?