Friday, December 21, 2018

The controversial journalist David Leask, and the notes from THAT shady meeting : a factcheck

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.


  1. Is it just me, or does his use of 'Anglo-Saxon' as a qualifier of 'English' take him into the territory of racial superiority?

  2. Re Dr Monaghan I suspect the local papers constant attacks on Paul along with their promotion Jamie "Stone of Density" had a significant effect. During the last General election the Northern Times should have been registered with the electoral commission as a publishing wing of the Libdems

  3. I agree with much of the article and lost patience with Mr Leask some considerable time ago after a decent period of cordial conversations.
    His professional arrogance came too often to the fore.
    One part I disagree with is the 'No voter' comment.
    We can all only speculate on that for anyone who has not openly said one way or the other. But I have it on what I consider to be very reliable authourity that he is, in fact, a strong supporter of independence.

    1. I'm fairly sure he's a supporter of Indy. But as James says, he "paternalistically" wants to control all aspects of it, including even what we think, let alone what we say and post.

  4. I'd wager 99.997% of Scots don't know who Leask is. Even most Herald readers, which isn't a big number these days.

    Herald was the paper of choice for my folks. They stopped buying it many years ago now. For a while I still popped in to have a look what guff it was publishing online, but I even stopped that a year or so ago. I mean who really gives a crap when nobody's reading it any more. Advertising revenue must be down to a trickle.

    Is it still there? Can't be long for it left, as per the UK.

    Anyway, Nats don't need 'pro-indy' papers to provide support to the argument for indy. Just link to pro-UK papers. They're all saying the UK is a corrupt shithole that's going off a cliff, and anyone who can get out should.

  5. I don't know whether to label Leask as nebulous, or the personification of the Scottish Cringe, or both, or not at all since TBH I don't really care what he is.

  6. And so the great 'British Economic & Constitutional Suicide' ('Becs' for short) begins.

    Firms told to prepare for no-deal Brexit

    and we enter the final days of Rome.

    #59%Yes #57%Reunification

  7. Souns lik, ah wee submariner tae me.

  8. David Leask? Never heard of him.

    What's this about not being able to do Russian A-levels? Do we do A-levels in Scotland? I have only an O-Grade in Russian, but I went on to study it at University anyway.

    As a follower of things Russian, I can say that the threat of interference through social media in our political affairs is real, and we should be on the lookout for it.

    The notion of Trump Turnberry as a nest of Russian spies rather tickles my fancy - but events in America show what can happen when Putin decides to take a hand.

    I hope and pray that Scotland and its affairs remain beneath his notice

    1. I think some private schools do A levels.

    2. It's very important to separate out the current hysteria in the US about Russia from the facts. Russia may well have attempted to interfere in the US election, but it appears that those attempts had very limited effect, and it seems highly unlikely that the outcome of the election was affected.

    3. The evil Russians are just the scapegoat for mad mental Hillary and her failed campaign. 2 years after the event and not a shred of evidence of a single vote being changed by this malign interference.
      Unlike the foreign interference in the 2014 vote which broke every law going but never gets discussed in polite company.

      The Good Rev Stu is obsessive about facts. And it is a fact beyond any and all dispute that 96 Liverpool fans were crushed to death by other Liverpool fans. Not West Yorkshire Police, Sheffield Wednesday or Mrs Thatcher. Liverpool fans slaughtered their own and have never admitted even one atom of responsibility. That's his problem with the official narrative. mine too when I think of how close I came to being crushed on Hogmanay 1996. People in crowds have to be held responsible for their actions.

    4. Uh...thanks for sharing.

  9. This is what you call 'preparing for brexit'.

    Business investment in worst run since 2009

    Business investment has now declined for three quarters in a row, figures show, its worst run since the economic downturn of 2008 to 2009.

    1. Sum times its hard being a wummin givin all ye hav tae wan man, dum de dum de dum. A hard brexit means uz wummin wull hiv tae stock up in necessities while oor jock men booze up as usual.

    2. Cordelia's on the sherry again.

  10. Richard "Bouncer" LeonardDecember 22, 2018 at 11:49 AM

    I don't know if this is true, but I heard that this guy has a second job and has list interest in writing for the herald. Seemingly he is employed at Westminster to smear Germoline on Andrea Leadsome's labia before she appears on TV or in the House of Commons. This helps her to achieve that annoyed seaside B&B landlady look that we all cherish.

    1. I heard that on holiday in Basra last October.