Saturday, December 2, 2017

Never make predictions, especially about the future

Just a quick note to let you know I have a new article in the December issue of iScot, pondering whether it's even worth the bother of making political predictions for 2018, given how difficult it's proved recently to forecast election results and other major developments even a few hours in advance.  If you're not a subscriber to the print edition of iScot, you can see a preview of the article on Twitter HERE, and a digital copy of the magazine can be purchased HERE.

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Still no sign of the full-scale Scottish poll from Survation that we were told would arrive this week - so unless the timing has slipped, it's probably for one of the Sunday papers, which means we ought to hear about it tonight.  It'll be the first full Scottish poll for almost two months, so it's best to be braced for the possibility that there may have been a significant change since the huge SNP leads of September and October.  That said, the Scottish subsamples from GB-wide polls are still mostly telling a good news story.  The latest is from Ipsos-Mori and shows the following: SNP 45%, Labour 24%, Conservatives 17%, UKIP 6%, BNP 3%, Liberal Democrats 2%, Greens 1%.  Bear in mind the sample size was extremely small, even by the normal standard of subsamples.  Across all firms, twenty-four of the last twenty-six subsamples have put the SNP in first place.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

"So you don't think minor roadworks are a news story? Are you nuts, or just a member of the SNP?"

Earlier this evening, STV News asked an engineering expert about the repairs on the Queensferry Crossing, and his firm verdict was that they just weren't a major issue.  That was rather inconvenient, given the almighty song and dance the media have been making about the subject, and the STV reporter's follow-up question was nothing short of astonishing -

"You're not a member of the SNP or anything like that?"

That sort of question is just not asked.  When you have some economic expert from the "independent and respected" Institute for Fiscal Studies on TV to cast a critical eye over Labour's tax plans, you don't demand to know whether they're privately a Tory sympathiser (even though in most cases they probably are).  I'd suggest that STV either have to apologise for this episode, or regard it as a precedent that must be followed for all future interviews of experts, including experts who are making points that are favourable to unionist parties. 

Somebody suggested on Twitter that the reporter might have been trying to be helpful - ie. he knew the expert was non-partisan and was just trying to emphasise that fact for anyone who might be sceptical.  But by asking the question and broadcasting it, the clear implication was that incredulity is the natural reaction, and that it's somehow amazing that an expert with no political agenda would dare to disagree with unionist parties' claims that minor roadworks on a bridge are the end of civilisation as we know it.  It also implies that if the expert had been a member of the SNP, his insight would have been rendered worthless.

The next time an SNP politician is given a hostile grilling on STV, it's hard to see how there can be any complaint if they choose the optimal moment to ask the interviewer: "You don't have any links with the Labour party, do you?"

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We were told to expect a full-scale Scottish poll from Survation at some point this week, but there's no sign of it yet as far as I can see.  There was a GB-wide ICM poll a few days ago, though, and the Scottish subsample showed the following: SNP 38%, Conservatives 32%, Labour 25%, Greens 3%, UKIP 2%, Liberal Democrats 1%.  Across all polling firms, twenty-three of the last twenty-five subsamples have shown the SNP in the lead.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Yeah, about that "double-standard" thing...

You may not be aware of this unless you're active on political Twitter, but there's been a heated spat over the last few days about a Yes East Kilbride event that took place last Thursday.  David Hooks (aka PoliticsScot) was on the panel, and had spoken in advance about what a big step it was for him to give a presentation in front of an audience, something he had never done before.  As you'd expect, there was enormous support and appreciation for him putting himself out there and conquering his fears in aid of the Yes movement...or at least there was until a bunch of radical left zealots came along and told him he was a disgrace for having been part of a "manel" (a thoroughly dehumanising word for all-male panel), and that he should have refused to participate unless there had been female speakers.  The organisers pointed out they had approached seventeen women, but every single one had declined to take part in the event.  The response from the radical left?  The event should have been cancelled.

Not surprisingly, David was extremely upset, and I can't say I blame him.  In his shoes, I'd have felt hurt and betrayed.  You do something way outside your comfort zone, you do it for no reward, you travel at your own expense...and then you're told that you should have just stayed at home because your presence on that panel was offensive.  Nothing to do with the content of what you said - just who you are, your anatomy, made you offensive, and everyone would have been much better off if you hadn't been there.  Do the people who come out with this sort of stuff have even an ounce of human empathy?  Are they not aware of how directing cruel comments of that sort to someone at a moment of vulnerability can reinforce phobias or a general lack of confidence, and thus cause a lifetime of harm?  Or do they know exactly what they're doing and just don't care, because the individual in question happens to be a man?

As for the notion that the event should have been completely called off, or that financial inducements should have been offered to potential female speakers until at least one agreed, it's difficult to know whether to laugh or cry.  Local Yes groups are not the BBC - if they can't organise events on a shoestring budget, they can't organise events at all.  They can do their level best to achieve diversity, but they've got a right to expect that their level best should be considered good enough.  In any case, just how many boxes are they expected to tick before the zealots say it's OK for an event to go ahead?  On a panel of five, should at least one person always be gay or bisexual?  Should at least one person always be transgender?  Should at least one person always be a citizen of another EU country?  Should at least one person always be non-white?  Should at least one person always be a wheelchair user?  Should there always be at least one person with autism?  If it's not possible to achieve all of these things all of the time, should no events ever take place?  Should Yes campaigning cease completely?  This is absolute lunacy.

The controversy reached the pages of the Herald today with an article by Shona Craven suggesting that the real issue is that male Yes activists somehow have an inbuilt funding advantage and are subject to less nastiness than their female counterparts, and that women therefore shouldn't really be asked to put themselves forward for panels without monetary compensation.  Here's the key paragraph, which has since been quoted approvingly by the radical left's self-appointed "enforcer" James McEnaney -

"Women in the movement who are prominent in the media – especially if they refuse to toe a pro-SNP line – are regularly accused of using the 2014 referendum to carve out nice little careers for themselves. There's a suggestion this is at best grubby and unseemly, and at worst a cynical ploy by scheming, opportunistic women who refuse to wheesht for indy like good girls. Meanwhile, prominent Yes men rake in thousands via crowdfunding campaigns and are defended to the hilt, even when their behaviour causes embarrassment to the movement as a whole. There is a glaring double standard here, and women notice it."

You don't need me to point out that most of that is based on a false premise.  I would guess that "women are regularly accused of using the 2014 referendum to carve out nice little careers for themselves" is at least partly a reference to GA Ponsonby, who has indeed regularly made that criticism of women like Angela Haggerty - but the snag is that he's also regularly made an identical criticism of men like Loki.  It's never been an attack based on gender, but rather on his personal belief that for certain individuals of both genders, career advancement within the mainstream media comes before the best interests of the Yes movement.  If gender equality means anything, it surely means that women are individuals with the capacity to make free choices and that criticising a specific woman's actions is not synonymous with hating women.

By the same token, it's deeply disingenuous for Shona to imply that only "Yes men" have raked in thousands via crowdfunders for alternative media websites.  CommonSpace is edited by a woman, has many female columnists and reporters, and is generously funded by donations from Yes supporters.  Bella is edited by a man, but its fundraisers have benefitted both male and female writers.  NewsShaft had a mixed gender team when it ran its very successful fundraisers.

What interests me most, though, is this bit:  "There is a glaring double standard here, and women notice it."

Well, I'm a bloke, and I've noticed a glaring double-standard in all this.  Here it is in pictorial form -

That was posted only a few weeks ago by one of the people who argued that the Yes East Kilbride event should have been cancelled if no female panellist could be found to take part, and that it was the responsibility of the male panellists to pull out if the organisers refused to cancel.  So what does she do when faced with an all-female panel?  Does she demand cancellation?  Does she pressurise the panellists to withdraw?  Does she argue that financial inducements should have been offered until at least one man agreed to attend?

Nope, she punches the air in delight.

And, yes, we all know what the excuse is - all-female panels are good because they're a blow against the patriarchy, and all-male panels are bad because they reinforce the patriarchy.  But that's Orwellian doublethink, pure and simple.  It uses ideological blind faith to deligitimise discussion of a blatant contradiction that everyone knows can't be justified in any rational way.

Put it this way - even if you think that positive discrimination is still needed to advance gender equality, there will surely come a point when the goal has been broadly achieved and these double standards can no longer be defended.  At that point, either the celebration of all-female panels will have to be accompanied by the celebration of "manels" - or both all-male and all-female panels will have to be shunned.  Which is it to be?

Monday, November 27, 2017

Nick Robinson: you don't even have to set traps for him

The myriad of ways in which BBC Today presenter Nick Robinson has just mutilated his own credibility by writing an article for the Mail on Sunday are so obvious that they barely need to be stated, but let's just run through some of them anyway.

* Two weeks ago, Robinson argued that the problem with The Alex Salmond Show was not that the programme itself would contain "Kremlin propaganda", but rather that it would lend credibility to the propaganda found elsewhere on the RT channel.  It's therefore reasonable to conclude that Robinson always pauses to think deeply about the credibility he might be lending to the output of any media organisation he associates with, and that he's decided he's more than happy to give his personal stamp of approval to the Mail's demonisation of immigrants, relentless body-shaming of women, and sexualisation of girls under the age of consent (among the many other delightful things we know and love about that publication).  At the very least, it's clear that he simply doesn't think these things are important enough to compel him to withhold credibility from them.

* It's a statement of the obvious that the Mail has a political agenda, and tries to shape the news as much as report it.  If Robinson thinks a politician should have nothing to do with a propaganda media outlet, what does it say about him as a public service broadcaster with a duty of complete impartiality that he has freely chosen to associate with the right-wing, British nationalist political platform of the Mail?

* In contrast to Alex Salmond, who has total editorial control over his RT programme, it's clear that Robinson was content to cede a degree of editorial control over the presentation of his article to the Mail.  Indeed, it's pretty much impossible to write a newspaper article without doing that.   The Mail have taken advantage of that with, for example, a strategically-placed and carefully captioned photo of Alex Salmond that emphasises the ways in which Robinson's piece is in tune with the newspaper's own familiar anti-SNP (and indeed anti-Scottish) propaganda.  It's tantamount to saying "You see?  It's not just us.  The neutral BBC think it as well."  Robinson has given them full licence to use his status for their own ends.

* Much of Robinson's article relies on innuendo rather than fact, which is something he would never tolerate in respect of criticisms of either himself or the BBC.  For instance, he thinks it's enough to simply pose the question: why did Radio Sputnik set up a base in Edinburgh of all places?  Well, there could be many possible answers to that question, only one of which is "because breaking up the United Kingdom is a clearly-defined and overriding objective of Russian-funded broadcasting".  An alternative explanation is that Radio Sputnik and RT are both seeking niche ways of expanding their reach in a crowded market, and have identified the energy of the pro-independence alternative media in Scotland as an obvious gap in that market.  (Ironically, they wouldn't even have had the opportunity if it hadn't been for the failure of the BBC and the rest of the mainstream media to give the pro-independence side a fair crack of the whip.)  By the same token, there are many possible answers to the question: "what can we read into an extraordinarily misleading report by Nick Robinson on prime-time BBC News just before the indyref claiming that Alex Salmond didn't answer a question that he clearly did answer, and at great length?"  It's not compulsory to jump to the conspiracy theory conclusion, and Robinson clearly finds it offensive when people do.  If he wants them to stop, I'd suggest he should practice what he preaches.

* Two months ago, Robinson used his Reith Lecture to argue that the BBC needed to combat a loss of trust on social media by advertising its own impartiality proudly.  So does he really think a BBC presenter siding with a right-wing British nationalist newspaper against Alex Salmond, and doing so in the most brazenly hypocritical way imaginable, will help to win back that trust on social media?  Or will it, just conceivably, cause people to fall about laughing?  Or, indeed, to become extremely angry, because it confirms all of their worst fears?  Answers on a postcard, folks...