So two things happened yesterday as a result of Kevin Williamson's extraordinary rant about so-called 'tactical voting' on Sunday. Firstly, a few people on Twitter commented that there needed to be some sort of 'truce' on the issue with a second indyref potentially on the horizon, and secondly, Williamson just carried on ranting at people, including myself. Having reflected on this quite a bit, what I've decided to do is respond to his latest diatribe (because unsurprisingly he tried to shift the goalposts yet again), and then I'm going to 'mute' both him and another individual on Twitter, and do my utmost never to engage with them on social media again, or at least not this side of Indyref 2. I'm going to do that for my own sanity as much as anything else, because it's basically quite a nasty trolling effort that a number of us have found ourselves on the wrong end of, and the fact that the people responsible for it are leading lights within the pro-indy new media doesn't alter our need to take the basic steps to protect ourselves and to make sure that our quality of life isn't adversely affected by what they're doing. (And, yes, from my own perspective it really is getting to that stage.)
If we strip away all the content-free scorn and mockery from Kevin (his main tactic yesterday was to brush off each and every reasonable point with the bizarre catch-all retort "Dream on, chum, this is Scotland"), the only substantive point he seemed to be making was that it didn't matter that John Curtice has concluded that tactical voting cost the SNP their overall majority, because even if the SNP had reached the magic figure of 65, they would somehow have been magically forced by the unionist parties into putting up one of their own number as Presiding Officer, and would thus have lost the majority straight away and been left in a 64-64 deadlock with the opposition parties. Moreover, he argued that unless we could definitively prove that he was wrong about that, it meant that he wasn't wrong. This in turn meant that he was justified in saying on Sunday that tactical voting did not harm the SNP or cost them their overall majority, and that he was therefore owed an apology for the characterisation of that claim as a Trump-style "alternative fact".
There's just one little tiny snag here - none of this bears any resemblance whatever to the claim Kevin actually made on Sunday, or to what I characterised as an "alternative fact". What he actually claimed was that tactical voting had rescued the pro-independence majority, and that without it we would not currently have the parliamentary arithmetic to call a second independence referendum. Here's a reminder of his exact words -
"Vindication! If it wasn't for us lot who called #2ndVoteGreen wouldn't be a maj for #indyref2. Thanks + apologies due to Greens, Bella, et al."
"if it wasn't for us indy supporters who split our votes there'd be NO majority for Indyref2"
"Luckily enough people ignored you otherwise there'd be NO majority for indyref2"
There was no room for ambiguity in those statements. He was not making a restrained and limited argument that tactical voting did not technically cost the SNP their overall majority. He was very specifically asserting that tactical voting was responsible for securing a pro-independence majority. That was a downright lie. I called it out as a lie, and I make no apology whatever for calling it out as a lie. If John Curtice was quoted/paraphrased accurately by the Sunday Herald, his conclusion was that there would have been a 67-62 pro-independence majority if tactical voting had not occurred. Self-evidently, the choice of Presiding Officer would have made no difference to that arithmetic - even if the PO had come from either the SNP or the Greens, there would still have been a 66-62 pro-indy majority.
It's supremely ironic that having been so outraged by the entirely justified "alternative fact" characterisation, Kevin's next step was straight out of the Trump playbook. Instead of admitting that his claim was inaccurate (or coming up with new evidence to establish that it was correct after all), he pretended that he hadn't made the claim in the first place, and that he had actually said something entirely different. Apparently he hopes that no-one is going to notice or double-check. Yes, folks, we are well and truly into "alternative facts" territory here, and we might as well call a spade a spade.
However, let's humour Kevin just for a moment and play along with the charade that he only made the more modest claim that he is now pretending to have made. Is it true that 65 seats wouldn't 'really' have been an SNP majority, and that the SNP would have been forced to put someone forward as Presiding Officer? In a word, no. In that circumstance, the party leadership would have been absolutely determined to ensure that the PO came from the opposition benches, thus preserving their slim majority. Although they wouldn't have been able to literally prevent an SNP MSP from being nominated for the position, it's highly unlikely that would have happened (any ambitious MSP with a credible chance would likely have been offered a government job anyway), but even if it had happened, there would have been no difficulty at all in preventing that person from being elected.
That means Kevin's entire case hinges on the assumption that every single one of the 64 opposition MSPs would have declined to put themselves forward for the job. Frankly, that beggars belief. The opposition benches are full to bursting with ambitious people whose party leaderships wouldn't have been able to buy them off with government positions, or even with the realistic hope of government positions in the medium-to-long term. Of course someone would have come forward. If they hadn't, the result would have been a re-run of the election, and there's no question at all as to who would have received the blame for that. Having held the position of Presiding Officer for two of the previous four parliaments, the onus was scarcely on the SNP to step up to the plate again (and especially not after the open discontent on the Labour benches about not being given their "turn" in 2011 when Tricia Marwick was elected).
It's also worth making the point that even if Kevin is right that the SNP would have acted irrationally by electing one of their own number as Presiding Officer, it would still be categorically untrue for him to claim that the SNP were "not harmed" by tactical voting. Without it, they would not have been reduced to a minority government (64-64 is deadlock rather than a minority), and there would have been a pro-independence Presiding Officer. In two very concrete ways, then, Kevin's wildly implausible scenario would still have left the SNP in a better position than they currently find themselves as a result of the tactical voting debacle.
* * *
OK. What you've just read was my very last response to Kevin or to anyone else from Bella on this subject. If they try to rewrite history yet again (and on past form it seems highly likely they will), I'll just refer people back to this blogpost or to my previous one. I'm now going to mute Kevin on Twitter, and as an extra precaution I'm also going to mute CommonSpace editor Angela Haggerty, who randomly piled in on Kevin's behalf with a taunting tweet yesterday. Given the thuggish nature of Kevin's language on Sunday (which I can only presume she saw), it's pretty extraordinary that she would nail her colours so firmly to the mast in that way, and it once again undermines her innocent claims that CommonSpace always takes a position of studied neutrality on these disputes. This of course follows on from an unpleasant incident a few weeks ago when Angela spontaneously intervened in another dispute to brand myself and Andrew Morton "weird auld guys". Enough is enough as far as I'm concerned. I'd have been more than happy to debate with her seriously and constructively on tactical voting, radical feminism, or any other subject she wants. But she clearly considers it beneath her dignity to respectfully discuss anything with the likes of me, and has instead put Scot Goes Pop in the "Wings box" which is the equivalent of dirt to be crushed beneath her shoe.
That's fine. Kevin and Angela evidently feel there is no pro-indy alternative media worth a damn beyond the "important" and "vital" confines of Bella and CommonSpace, but a good number of us beg to differ. We've got our own path to follow, and if others have decided not to show basic respect towards us or solidarity with us, that's regrettable, but it's not something we can control. Hopefully muting them will at least allow for a degree of peaceful co-existence, which seems to be the most that can be hoped for at this stage.