You probably saw yesterday that CommonSpace had some rather uncomfortable questions
for controversial "alt-journo" David Leask, who in recent years has moved to the fringes of media discourse as he peddles increasingly wild and paranoid conspiracy theories about the supposed links between certain Scottish politicians/bloggers and the Putin regime in Russia. (His general rule of thumb is that if someone disagrees with his own basic worldview and they're not a Putin agent, they must instead have been planted by MI5 to make the pro-indy movement look bad.) It's now been confirmed that Leask gave a private briefing to the Integrity Initiative, a "shadowy charity" which is funded by the British state, and which has been accused of seeking to undermine Jeremy Corbyn's leadership of the Labour party.
I'll leave it for others to judge whether Leask's role as informant for a state actor is a breach of journalistic ethics. That's probably not the most important question from his own point of view anyway, because we know that the one thing he absolutely can't bear is not being taken seriously, and the "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier..." mockery on social media last night was pretty relentless. (Probably just as well that he's long since blocked half the planet on Twitter!) From my own perspective, what I find most interesting are the contents of the notes from the meeting, as obtained by CommonSpace, because they reveal as never before the sheer blinkered fanaticism of Leask's Russian-obsessed worldview. I mean, that's fine if the Integrity Initiative were just looking to have their own views reinforced by someone of like mind, but if this stuff is actually being taking seriously as an "information" gathering exercise...well, the mind boggles.
"Dr Paul Monaghan - lost seat due to intemperate comments on social media, including pro-Kremlin views."
There can't be a single other person who truly believes that Paul Monaghan's supposed "pro-Kremlin views" (presumably a reference to the fact that he refused to join in with the knee-jerk demonisation of RT and Sputnik) played a significant role in costing him his seat. The notion that Monaghan's general social media persona played a part is somewhat more commonly heard, but even that is a theory rather than an established fact. The SNP vote in Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross fell by 17.1% last year - not dramatically higher than the 13.1% drop across Scotland. It can only be speculation as to whether the extra 4 point slip was caused by local demographic factors, by personality factors, or by a bit of both. And even if Monaghan had managed to limit the drop to the national average, it looks pretty likely that he would still have lost the seat narrowly. So Leask's claim that the seat was lost "due to intemperate comments" is hyperbole, and it has no basis in hard fact.
"Wings Over Scotland is extreme and soft on Putin, constantly equating Russia and its broadcasting with the UK."
Interesting use of the word "constantly" there, because Wings mentions Russia once in a blue moon, which is scarcely surprising for a Scottish politics website. And what exactly is "extreme" about Wings? He has well-known specific views on the causes of the Hillsborough tragedy, which most people would probably disagree with - but those views rarely come up and they have nothing to do with his general political standpoint anyway. He has strong views about certain aspects of identity politics, which are undoubtedly provocative and controversial, but which probably chime with the centre of gravity in public opinion. Beyond that, he simply reflects the views of the half of the population of this country who support independence. If anything, he's something of a hard-headed pragmatist - he once suggested that an independent Scotland should enter into a sort of grand bargain that would allow Trident to remain in Faslane in return for hefty payments from London which could be used to finance Scottish public services. I suspect that view is somewhat closer to Leask than it is to the SNP mainstream (or indeed to me for that matter).
"Mainstream Scotland more left-wing than England. See Corbyn as positive - overtaking SNP from left."
There is no evidence at all that Corbyn-led Labour is "overtaking" the SNP. Quite the contrary - the current polling average suggests that the SNP have extended their lead over Labour since last year's general election. It's true that Corbyn is doing a little better in Scotland than Ed Miliband did, but that's not remotely the same thing as "overtaking the SNP".
"No credible Corbyn-like figure to take over the SNP at the moment."
I'm not even really sure what that's supposed to mean, because the SNP under Sturgeon is just as radical as Labour under Corbyn, if not more so. Maybe Corbyn's instincts are more radical than Sturgeon's, but he's heavily constrained by Labour internal politics and by what he thinks the voters of Middle England will stomach. Perhaps Leask means that Sturgeon and her likely long-term successor Humza Yousaf are better dressed than Corbyn, or something like that. Heaven only knows.
"Salmond is mainly shunned now but some are still beholden to him - 'alt nat'."
That reminds me of Alan Cochrane saying that something or other was "more commonly known as the Nat Tax", which meant more commonly known to himself, because no-one else actually used that name. The only people I've ever heard use the words "alt nat" are Leask himself and a handful of his most sycophantic followers. Bless his heart, he's doing his level best to paint support for Alex Salmond as some kind of lunatic fringe position, light-years outside the SNP mainstream - but that's a losing battle, for the very obvious reason that Salmond was leader of the SNP for almost one-quarter of its entire existence to date, and only stepped down four years ago. Of course we're in a period of limbo at the moment because Salmond is facing allegations of sexual harassment, but if his name is cleared (and I only say 'if' - I'm not prejudging anything), you'd quickly find that he's not "shunned" by many people in the SNP.
"[Nationalist] fringe sees English (Anglo-American/Anglo-Saxon) as the enemy; they're easily led by Kremlin activities aimed at dividing. They see British media as mouthpieces of the 'occupying state'. Nasty when challenged."
It's fascinating that Leask apparently views anti-Americanism as an extension of ugly anti-Englishness, because his own rhetoric has become unmistakably anti-American over the last few years. Specifically he uses the word "Trumpist" ad nauseam as a synonym for extremism. In other words the President of the United States is just about the worst thing in the world he can think of. I wouldn't necessarily disagree with him about that, of course, but coming from a man who clearly sees slavish loyalty to the Anglo-American alliance as a test that must be passed to avoid being a 'useful idiot for Moscow'...well, it looks a trifle odd, that's all I'm saying.
"Does [Scotland] need to be independent? Doesn't need to be independent. Not laying the groundwork for foreign policy expertise: can't do the equivalent of an A level in Russian. Politicians still talking about student issue politics rather than big issues of now."
Leask loves to publicly paint himself as a "neutral" on the independence issue, perhaps because he wrongly thinks that will give him licence to paternalistically "guide" pro-indy people towards accepting his rather eccentric notions of what constitutes the "real SNP" and what constitutes "alt nats". But let's be honest - what we're looking at here are the words of a man who voted No in 2014 without a second thought. He didn't necessarily do it because he has any problem in thinking of Scotland as a country (he's actually surprisingly progressive on Scottish cultural issues such as the Gaelic language), but it's clear enough that he doesn't think Scotland is even close to being "ready" for independence - a standard Project Fear, "eat your cereal" position.