Friday, March 6, 2020

Alex Salmond profile

Just a quick note to let you know I'm quoted in a profile of Alex Salmond for the Al Jazeera website, written by Alasdair Soussi.  I was asked to comment on a comparison between Mr Salmond and Nigel Farage.  You can read the piece HERE.

Wednesday, March 4, 2020

How the American TV networks are stitching it up for Biden

I'll make no secret of the fact that I'm a Bernie Sanders supporter, so I hope this isn't going to come across as sour grapes, but I've been watching in bemusement over the last few hours as CNN (and I presume the other US networks) have put on a Hollywood production intended to propel Joe Biden to the Democratic nomination. I have little doubt Biden will now be the nominee, unless he self-destructs as he has in the past. He'll owe his eventual victory to sheer momentum, but that momentum has been generated more by the networks than by the actual results overnight, which on any objective reading have been pretty close. So how are the likes of CNN stitching it up for Biden? There have been a few tricks -

1) Downplaying the proportional element of the delegate allocation and acting as if the states are winner-takes-all. It shouldn't really matter a damn whether Biden wins a small state like Maine by a couple of points or whether Sanders wins it by a couple of points, because either way the delegate count for each candidate would be virtually the same. Even in a much bigger state like Texas, it only makes a modest difference. But by treating the overall "winner" in each state as all-important, the networks make it seem hugely important for viewers and thus generate momentum for Biden after every coin toss "victory".

2) Pretending Biden's probable win in Texas is a monumental shock and repeating over and over again that nobody saw it coming, and using that as an excuse to make Texas "the story of the night". In the real world, plenty of people saw Biden's victory in Texas coming - he was actually the slight favourite in that state on the Betfair exchange at the start of the night. The reason was straightforward arithmetic - Sanders' lead over Biden in the polls didn't exceed the combined vote for Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar, who left the race over the last 48 hours and urged their supporters to vote for Biden.

3) Comparing apples with oranges to make it look as if Bernie Sanders is doing worse than in 2016. For example, it was pointed out repeatedly that Sanders won Minnesota in 2016 and lost it this time, but what was barely mentioned is that Minnesota has in the interim switched from a caucus system to a primary system and the two results are therefore not remotely comparable.

4) Using all of the above to distract from what should be the truly salient fact - ie. that Sanders and Biden are probably going to end up with a fairly similar overall number of delegates from the night. Yes, Biden has done better than expected and it's reasonable to reflect that in the reporting, but a network doing its job properly would also be pointing out that the race is now relatively even-stevens and there's all to play for in the coming weeks. Instead viewers are being fed a fairy-tale about an invincible Biden sweeping all before him, which is seemingly based mostly on a couple of percentage points here or there in Texas (the equivalent of only a handful of delegates).

Tuesday, March 3, 2020

The Wings party remains a dead end

It got to the point where I had started to talk about the proposed Wings party in the past tense, because Stuart Campbell had announced a few weeks ago that he was thoroughly scunnered and that he no longer thought the idea would serve any purpose.  I should have realised that was just another tactic to prepare the ground for the launch of the party.  Even to contemplate putting up candidates against the SNP in the first place, Stuart had to do an Orwellian pivot from "trying to hack the voting system is a mug's game" (2016) to "hacking the voting system has always been possible and is a really great idea" (2019).  I suspect we're now about to see yet another retcon of that type - it'll no longer be said that the Wings party is there to "help" the SNP retain a pro-indy majority in Holyrood, and instead the stance will be one of outright hostility to the SNP.  The function of the little hiatus was to coax Wings supporters into a chorus of "but we need the Wings party, the SNP have betrayed us!", which neatly justifies the new pre-planned narrative.  

I suspect Stuart will still only put up candidates on the list, but that won't primarily be to avoid harm to the SNP or to the independence movement - it'll simply be because he knows that standing constituency candidates would be an even greater waste of time and money than standing on the list.  There'll be some tokenistic complaints about the SNP not being genuinely pro-independence anymore, but the main line of attack on the SNP will be related to the trans issue, which is now Stuart's first passion and preoccupation.  The vast majority of his tweets these days are about the trans debate, and independence very much plays second fiddle.  Probably Stuart will pretend that the Wings party is absolutely essential to ensure that people angry about self-ID aren't "forced to vote for a unionist party", and we've already seen him carefully preparing the ground for that argument in a couple of blogposts.

It's a nonsense, of course.  People overestimate the extent of the anger that's out there due to the Twitter bubble.  I agree that the SNP are going down a foolish road on self-ID, but the number of votes they stand to lose as a result is pretty modest.  A largely single-issue anti-self-ID party is unlikely to have enough support to be viable - and the same, incidentally, would be true of a single-issue pro-self-ID party.  The vast bulk of the population don't care enough about the issue to allow it to change their votes - and, no, polls showing big majorities against self-ID don't disprove that point.  Those polls don't measure depth of feeling.  And even if there was a sufficient reservoir of support for an anti-self-ID party, a female leadership that could plausibly paint itself as feminist would be needed to take advantage of it.  In other words, the right sort of party would look absolutely nothing like a Wings party led by the Reverend Stuart Campbell.

If you want the SNP to take a more moderate and balanced position on the trans issue, there's something you can do that is far, far more constructive than voting against the SNP next year and potentially making a unionist majority at Holyrood more likely.  You can respond to the Scottish government's consultation on GRA reform HERE.  The deadline is 17th March, and if you need a template response, one possibility can be found HERE.