Saturday, January 26, 2019

Looking for a "mature" way forward? Start with a pragmatic acceptance that a big increase in Yes support is only possible AFTER a referendum is actually called

In the wake of Joyce McMillan's clarion call for inaction and passivity last week, Kevin Williamson of Bella fame posted the following risible tweet -

"Plenty of vitriol directed at @joycemcm and @AndrewWilson for suggesting not rushing into #indyref2.  @NicolaSturgeon will get same - called a Unionist/Britnat/traitor from the Wings/Kelly/Murray/Bell/fundamentalist wing of Yes - if she doesn't call #indyref2 in the next six weeks."

It isn't the main point of this blogpost, but it is just worth pausing for a moment and marvelling at the sheer comical absurdity of Kevin's attempt to lump together as "fundamentalists" four people who hold such wildly different views.  Just for starters, Craig Murray will not be remotely bothered if Nicola Sturgeon doesn't call a referendum within the next six weeks, because as I understand it he doesn't even want a referendum - he favours an alternative method of attaining independence.  Indeed, I'd have thought one of the basic requirements for anyone to qualify as a "fundamentalist" would be support for UDI, and only two of the four names mentioned (Craig and Peter Bell) have gone down that road.  For my part, I don't think Westminster can ever hold a veto on Scottish self-determination, so I suppose it's true that if absolutely every other option was exhausted (ie. if there was a clear mandate for independence that was completely ignored), I might eventually start thinking the unthinkable, but we're a long, long way from that point yet.

At least three of the four of us have an impeccable track record of supporting Nicola Sturgeon when she announced a delay in the indyref timetable in the summer of 2017, whereas Kevin can't even boast a track record of backing Nicola Sturgeon in the 2016 Holyrood list vote.  So it's something of a mystery as to where Kevin is getting the idea that we're going to start behaving totally out of character by branding her a "traitor" if she doesn't take a certain course of action within a six-week timetable that I'm not aware any of us have even mentioned.  And to the best of my knowledge none of us are in the habit of throwing around nasty insults like "traitor" anyway - I'm certainly not, and I know that Stuart Campbell has a setting on the comments section of Wings that automatically intercepts any attempt to use the word "traitor" and changes it to "tractor".

(Not that I'd want to embarrass Kevin, but if you want to know the rather amusing real reason why he's so eager to smear me as a "fundamentalist", just click HERE and HERE.)

Anyway, my initial response to Kevin's tweet was to point out to him that he appears not to have caught up with the growing and impressive ideological diversity of the "fundamentalist wing of Yes", because it seemed that his fellow traveller Robin McAlpine was considerably more impatient for a referendum than the likes of me.  I now realise that I did Robin a disservice, though, because his latest CommonSpace article makes clear that the action he is impatient for is a renewed independence campaign, and that he partly agrees with Joyce McMillan that it would be "immature" to call for a referendum until that campaign has succeeded in growing support for independence to the point where the London government cannot possibly deny a request for a referendum.

I don't doubt Robin's sincerity, but I have to say what he's suggesting is strategically naive, and is frankly a recipe for Scotland never holding a referendum and never becoming independent.  There are two questions to consider - a) would the Tories magically drop their opposition to a Section 30 order if Yes were on 55% rather than 47%, and b) is there any possibility whatsoever that a campaign without the focus of a referendum or election date could gain enough traction to get Yes to that level of support?  The answer to both questions is self-evidently "no".  The reason the Tories don't want to grant a Section 30 order is because they don't want Scotland to become an independent country - an increased Yes vote in the polls would just make them even more intransigent.  (Look at the current situation with Brexit: has majority support for Remain in the polls led to the Tory leadership dropping its opposition to a second EU referendum?  Er, no.  Of course it hasn't.)  And as for the limitations of any non-referendum campaign for independence, you only have to look at the relatively minor effect of the emotional shock of the surprise referendum outcome in June 2016.  There were a couple of polls in the aftermath of the Brexit decision that had Yes in the low 50s, and then normal service was quickly resumed.  If Robin thinks that any random, unfocused independence campaign, one that the mainstream media can easily and happily ignore, can somehow surpass the impact of Scotland being dragged out of the EU against its will, all I can say is that's wildly optimistic.

There is, however, one hard-headed, mature and realistic way of potentially bringing about a big and fast change to public opinion, and that is to actually call a referendum (or an election that doubles as a referendum).  We've seen it time and again now - voters are open to changing their views in the heat of a referendum/election campaign, when their minds are focused on a real and impending choice.  They are considerably less open to changing their views at any other time, when they may rather resent even being asked to think about the subject in any depth.

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Friday, January 25, 2019

Scotland's shame: the disgraceful behaviour of the Daily Record and David Clegg

I was trying to remember this morning when it was that the scales first fell from my eyes about what a disgusting, disreputable publication the Daily Record is.  It was actually long before the independence referendum and the notorious "Vow".  About ten or fifteen years ago, there was a documentary on Channel 4 that featured fly-on-the-wall footage of a young brother and sister being interviewed by a Record reporter.  They were in an incestuous relationship, and wanted to bring to wider public attention a phenomenon called Genetic Sexual Attraction (GSA), which causes siblings who didn't know each other during childhood to feel a strong attraction to each other when they meet as adults.  The Record reporter gave every indication that he was primarily interested in GSA and that the subject would be treated sympathetically, but he must have known even as he was sitting there that he was about to betray their trust.  The documentary later showed their shock as they opened the newspaper to discover a splash that essentially branded them as perverts, and only mentioned GSA in passing.  The quotes that were included from the interview were all taken out of context and were presented as a feeble 'defence' against accusations that had been ranged against them.  Needless to say, the Record hadn't even bothered to give them the courtesy of a warning about what was about to hit them.

Would the Record attempt a story like that now?  I suspect not, simply because public attitudes about sex have become more liberal and it would rebound on them.  Incest is still regarded as wrong in all circumstances, but there would be a greater willingness to listen sympathetically to a reasonable explanation.  But even if the parameters within which the Record are able to ruin lives have changed, their readiness to ruin lives in pursuit of a sensationalist story has not changed at all.  Their appalling front page today is just the latest in a long line of examples, and David Clegg's eagerness to promote that front page on social media will be a mark of shame until his dying day.

There is a gloating, mocking air to the words "Alexander Elliott Anderson Salmond, you are accused of..." which leaves no room for doubt that the Record's agenda is political revenge.  I suspect that any complainant would be deeply distressed to see their accounts weaponised in that way, and also trivialised by the unmistakeable use of "Cluedo"-type language.  Meanwhile readers are clearly being invited to believe that the only salient point is that Salmond has been charged with the offences that are itemised in huge lettering.  There is only the tiniest of token nods to the fact that the charges have yet to be tested in court.  Essentially Mr Salmond's right to a presumption of innocence has been totally disregarded.

In case you had any remaining sliver of doubt about what game the Record are playing, Salmond is branded at the bottom of the page as "the face of independence", a point expanded on by an article by Clegg that tries to argue that the independence cause has been seriously damaged.  Anyone would think it was the Yes movement that had been charged with sexual offences.  Anyone would think that politicians from other movements and other parties are immune to criminal charges, or to the possibility of personal misdemeanours that are self-evidently unrelated to their politics.  Even very recent history tells us otherwise.

And yes, I know the front page of The Sun is, if anything, even worse.

Thursday, January 24, 2019

A polite request

In the light of today's big news story, I'd like to gently ask readers not to speculate in any way at all about the legal proceedings against Alex Salmond in the comments section of this blog.  As you probably know, now that Mr Salmond has been charged, contempt of court rules apply to comments made online.  I'm not a legal expert, so I'll be erring on the side of caution and deleting anything that might even conceivably be problematical.  I've already had to delete a couple of comments on the previous thread for that reason.  For your own sake and for mine, your restraint will be appreciated.  I won't be making any comment myself until proceedings are over, except to emphasise the basic legal point that Mr Salmond is innocent until and unless proved guilty.  That's a principle we all think we understand, but it's easy to lose sight of the full implications of it.

This might also be a convenient moment to make a couple of other housekeeping points.  I've been wanting to say this for some time: could people please, please, please refrain from using filthy language in the comments section.  I know that using the word 'filthy' makes me sound like a latter-day Mary Whitehouse, but anyone who has dipped into the comments of late will know that I'm not exaggerating. It's not uncommon for me to have delete well over a dozen comments per day now. Obviously there's one culprit above all others, and that individual does not have the best interests of this blog at heart, but nevertheless I would hope I can make an appeal to his own self-interest.  Heaven only knows why he wants to devote his entire life to winding people up on this blog, but he clearly does, and that being the case I presume he would also like his comments to remain visible for more than a few minutes.  There's no way on Earth I can leave up the sort of comments he's been making in recent months.  What I'm asking for would be a win/win situation for all concerned - I wouldn't have to waste half my life deleting comments (and it's really not easy at all when I'm on the move) and others wouldn't be wasting their lives writing comments that aren't going to stay up anyway.

On a happier note, Scot Goes Pop is now doing better than ever in the Traffic Estimate rankings of Scottish alternative media sites - not only is it still in fourth place, it's in a strong fourth place.  The following figures are estimates for the last 30 days...

1) Craig Murray: 246,100 unique readers
2) Wings Over Scotland: 172,600 unique readers
3) CommonSpace: 102,400 unique readers
4) Scot Goes Pop: 86,800 unique readers
5) Talking Up Scotland: 69,700 unique readers
6) Wee Ginger Dug: 58,900 unique readers
7) Bella Caledonia: 58,400 unique readers
8) The Ferret: 29,800 unique readers
9) Random Public Journal: 23,600 unique readers
10) Indyref2: 20,400 unique readers

Traffic Estimate's figures are just ballpark estimates, so who knows how accurate the rankings are.  But if they're favourable I may as well shout about them!

Scot Goes Pop fundraiser: If you'd like to help this blog continue during what could be an epic few months ahead, just a reminder that last year's fundraiser is still very much open for donations, and hasn't reached the target figure yet (although it's been inching closer in recent weeks).  Thanks so much to everyone who has donated so far - it's genuinely made all the difference.

Sunday, January 20, 2019

On the subject of blogging etiquette...

Disappointingly, Mhairi Hunter reacted to the polite criticism in the previous post by blocking me on Twitter.  It's never pleasant being blocked by someone 'on your own side', especially an elected councillor.  But I have to say in this particular case it's almost a relief, because she does seem to have a major problem with dissenting views, no matter how courteously expressed.  (She once tried to shut down a point I was making by telling me to go on diversity training.)  I think it's worth just making a general comment about "blogging etiquette" here, because Mhairi is not the first person to react to having her name mentioned in a blogpost as if that is in itself a form of abuse. You might remember I was once accused of persecuting a pro-independence columnist because I mentioned her name in two different blogposts (!).  Perhaps some people just object to the whole concept of political blogging, but if it's going to continue to exist, it will unavoidably involve commentary about named individuals.  That's a feature, not a bug. We've all heard of the snowflake generation, but we're getting into the realms of the ridiculous if we now have a generation of journalists and elected politicians who have thrust themselves into the public sphere but don't want their names to actually be mentioned in public.

In her parting shot about me after the blocking, Mhairi made two complaints - firstly that it was a "poor show" for me to mention her without advance warning, and secondly that the namecheck had led to her being harassed by others, including by one who called her a "Britnat plant".  Call me cynical, but I have to say I am extremely doubtful as to whether Mhairi would have been any happier if I had sent her an email in advance - I think she just doesn't want to be mentioned without permission, knows that there's no particular reason why she shouldn't be, and is therefore scrabbling around for some plausible-sounding technical objection to the way it was done.  I haven't asked other bloggers whether they usually give advance warning to elected politicians about forthcoming criticisms, but I will openly admit that it isn't my own personal practice to send a telegram to Downing Street or the White House every time I make a comment about Theresa May or Donald Trump.  I'll keep that policy under review, but I do think it would get a bit tedious for all concerned.

If for the sake of argument there is a valid point of etiquette here, by definition that would mean personal criticisms in a blogpost must somehow be qualitatively different from personal criticisms on social media, because Mhairi and others who have objected to being named on this blog have no qualms whatsoever about criticising others on Twitter without prior notification.  (And I can say that with confidence, because over the years I've been on the receiving end of occasional snide comments from Mhairi on Twitter that I only found out about by chance later on - indeed that happened most recently just a few hours ago.)  So is the implication that a blogpost is "properly published" in a way that a tweet isn't?  I have to say I can't see it.  Twitter now provides viewing stats, and I've learned that my most popular tweets regularly generate more impressions than my blogposts.  Tweets may feel casual and disposable, but a personal criticism in a tweet is just as likely to be read by a large number of people, and just as likely to remain visible indefinitely, as a personal criticism in a blogpost.

As for me supposedly being indirectly responsible for a Twitter pile-on, for that to be a credible point you'd have to believe that it was somehow disproportionate for me to draw attention to Mhairi's approving words about Joyce McMillan's article.  But I'm afraid that it's impossible to sustain the idea that it wasn't newsworthy or noteworthy that an elected SNP politician endorsed an article that suggested an independence referendum should be put on the backburner for up to two decades, thus ripping up a flagship manifesto pledge.  I could have mentioned Mhairi, I could have mentioned Andrew Wilson, I could have mentioned one or two other politicians who endorsed the article.  But it self-evidently wouldn't have been disproportionate whichever name I had cited.  As a blogger I don't see why I have some sort of duty to hush up 'sensitive' tweets posted by elected representatives.  And yes, if those tweets reach a wider audience, people will react to them, and some people will react in a highly inappropriate way - but ultimately other individuals are responsible for their own words and actions.  I have no intention of tying myself up in knots trying to predict what the knock-on effect might be every time I make a perfectly reasonable point in a blogpost.

To return to the substance of the dispute, I saw Mhairi being challenged yesterday about the dubious claim that a consultative referendum would be "illegal".  Oddly, her reply was that it didn't really matter whether it would be technically legal or not.  She said that what people were really getting at was that any referendum that the UK government didn't agree to would be functionally illegal, because Scotland can only become independent if London recognises a referendum result as valid.  I can't make head nor tail of that point.  The whole purpose of a consultative referendum would be to pressurise London into coming to the negotiating table by demonstrating that there is a mandate for independence.  If it's possible to apply that pressure legally rather than illegally, of course that's not a technical or meaningless distinction.

And I've been thinking some more about Joyce McMillan's claim that independence has to wait until "consensus" and "harmony" have been established, in much the same way that devolution had to wait two decades after 1979.  It's worth remembering that SNP, Labour and Liberal/SDP politicians of the 1980s did not recognise any need to wait - they were all trying to establish a Scottish Parliament as soon as possible.  It would be interesting to know whether Joyce McMillan and Mhairi Hunter, if they could time-travel and go back to the 1983 or 1987 election campaigns, would advise opposition politicians to "cool your jets, let Thatcher do her worst, don't try to take any action for another 15 years".

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