Saturday, May 9, 2020

Here we go again: now Iain Macwhirter is trying to gaslight us into thinking the WHO have done some sort of U-turn. Spoiler alert: no they haven't.

A recurring feature of this crisis has been anti-lockdown journalists trying to gaslight their readers into believing that experts have said something which they not only didn't say, but is the polar opposite of what they did say. First of all, there was the army of right-wing journalists on both sides of the Atlantic who falsely claimed that Professor Neil Ferguson had "walked back" his projection that the virus would cause hundreds of thousands of avoidable deaths in the UK if suppression measures weren't implemented - in fact Ferguson had stood by that projection in full. Then there was Mark McLaughlin falsely claiming that Scotland's celebrated former Chief Medical Officer Sir Harry Burns "agreed" with Graham Medley that the virus should be allowed to spread widely in order to prioritise other health concerns (a contradiction in terms if ever there was one, because of course allowing the virus to spread would mean the NHS wouldn't have the capacity to deal with much else). In fact, Burns appears to take entirely the opposite view to Medley - he believes in full suppression of the virus. And now, most absurdly of all, we have Iain Macwhirter taking some comments from Mike Ryan out of context to give the false impression that the WHO have done a U-turn and have come to regard Sweden - which has a far worse death toll than all of its Nordic neighbours - as some kind of international gold standard. Iain then added "here's why" and linked to a paper by one of the advisers to the Swedish health authorities, in which it is claimed that practically everyone will inevitably catch the virus and that we therefore should try to manage its spread, not stop it - ie. the 'herd immunity' philosophy, which is the complete opposite of what the WHO believe now and have consistently believed right from the start. Essentially, Iain is trying to give the false impression that the WHO have suddenly and randomly changed their minds and now think that full-on suppression should be abandoned and replaced with a mitigation/herd immunity strategy - which is so far removed from what they're actually saying as to be utterly laughable.

In reality, the WHO in recent days and weeks have been urging governments to be extremely cautious about lifting lockdown and to only do so when certain conditions are met, most obviously very low numbers of new cases and sufficient capacity to keep the numbers persistently low by means of testing and contact tracing. It's been pointed out a number of times that if governments actually heeded the WHO's advice to the letter, very few countries in Europe would be easing restrictions just yet, including the ones that appear to have the virus under far more control than the likes of the UK. But that doesn't mean the WHO think that lockdown is a good thing in itself - as far back as March, Mike Ryan was at pains to point out that lockdowns were a "poor substitute" for breaking the chains of transmission by means of mass testing and contact tracing. Even that left him open to misinterpretation, because some people (including a troll on this blog's comments section) then claimed he was telling countries not to impose lockdowns, but that isn't what he meant at all. He fully accepted that once an epidemic was out of control, lockdowns were needed to take the heat out of the situation, but he also regarded that outcome as a sign of failure. The countries that hadn't failed were the ones that had suppressed the virus from the start and therefore hadn't needed to lock down - most notably South Korea.

The goal of the WHO is to move countries onto the South Korean path - which means once lockdown has calmed things down sufficiently, it should be replaced by a blend of 'test, trace, isolate' and more moderate social distancing. It may seem odd to mention Sweden in that respect, but in fact the Swedes have one part of the equation in place - the problem is that they've neglected the other. As Professor Neil Ferguson pointed out in the Unherd interview I linked to just before his fall from grace, the notion that Sweden have been letting the virus rip is a misconception - he described their strategy as "semi-suppression", with enough social distancing to reduce the reproduction rate of the virus quite radically. So that's all that Mike Ryan meant by his remarks about Sweden - he was pointing out that once it was actually safe to lift lockdowns, the social distancing measures that remained in place would probably look similar to what Sweden is doing now. But he certainly wasn't saying that it was a remotely good idea to jump to the Swedish approach before numbers are sufficiently low, or before 'test, trace, isolate' is ready to go. I haven't the slightest doubt that, if he'd been able to speak freely, he'd have been critical of Sweden for not properly getting on top of the virus in the way that its neighbours did. But the WHO don't make direct criticisms of countries in that way. Instead, they use positive reinforcement when countries are doing something right, even when that something isn't remotely sufficient. If you go back in time, the WHO posted tweets complimenting minor things the UK were getting right even during the herd immunity episode. And at one point Dr Tedros even complimented Donald Trump on his leadership. Limited praise for Swedish social distancing measures has to be seen in that context - it's categorically not a general endorsement of what Sweden have done, or more to the point what they haven't done.

It really is bitterly ironic when Iain peddles his fiction of a WHO U-turn with words to the effect of "it's hard to keep up with what they believe". In truth, the WHO have been a beacon of consistency and clarity since the start of the year. Countries like the UK that thought they knew better have fumbled around in the dark before concluding that "the science has changed" and that just by complete coincidence the science now says exactly what the WHO have been saying for months.

* * *

I said in my iScot column a few months ago that the narrow defeats for the self-ID rebels in the elections for the SNP Women's Convener and Equalities Convener were actually moral victories that would make it very difficult for the leadership to press ahead with its plans - as long as the rebels didn't conveniently get out of the way by leaving the SNP. So I was disappointed to discover that Colette Walker, who lost to Rhiannon Spear in the Women's Convener vote by the slimmest of margins, is now the leader of a small breakaway pro-indy party called Independence for Scotland (IFS). I do think that's a major tactical misjudgement.

Friday, May 8, 2020

Panelbase poll suggests more than one-third of Labour voters are pro-independence - which leaves Keir Starmer with a big problem

Panelbase have released the datasets for a couple of questions from the Wings poll, and a few interesting points leap out. First of all, respondents who didn't vote in the 2014 referendum are split virtually down the middle on independence. That may not seem particularly surprising or significant, but if you cast your mind back, there have been quite a few polls in recent years that showed Yes above the 45% recorded in September 2014, but in which there was no net swing to Yes among people who actually voted in that referendum - the increase was totally driven by a Yes majority among 2014 non-voters, which raised the possibility that the new Yes recruits might be relatively flaky or might not even turn out to vote next time. There are no such worries in this poll - the 50/50 split in the headline result can be explained mostly by the fact that there is a greater proportion of 2014 No voters who have switched to Yes (18%) than of 2014 Yes voters who have switched to No (12%).

It's always slightly taboo to point something like this out, but among people who were actually born in Scotland there is a clear 53% to 47% majority in favour of independence. Of course every vote is equal and it doesn't matter where people have come from as long as they have made Scotland their home. But I do think it's worthy of some note that people who have been here all or most of their lives appear to want to become an independent country, albeit by a narrow margin. It's probably fair to say that a substantial proportion of residents from south of the border have only been here for a short time and are opposed to independence in quite a reflexive way - they may not even take the idea particularly seriously. But strangely enough, even if the poll had been confined to people who were born in the UK, there would have been a slim Yes majority - because respondents from beyond these shores break for No by 57% to 43%.

Once again, a significant minority (36%) of the rump Labour vote from last year's general election say they would vote Yes. That leaves Keir Starmer with a big problem. By appointing the militant British nationalist Ian Murray as his Shadow Scottish Secretary, he appears to have calculated that Labour have no further to fall and that they can claw back support from the Tories with a hardline anti-independence stance. But the arithmetic is clear - if Labour alienate the one-third of their remaining voters who support independence, they could actually fall a lot further than the 19% of the vote they recorded in December. And that's before you even consider the fact that Labour lost far more votes to the SNP in 2015 and 2019 than they did to the Tories in 2017. To truly get back in the game, it's pro-independence votes they would need.

Thursday, May 7, 2020

Crunch time for Nicola Sturgeon: she must hold firm and maintain the Scottish lockdown in full. Saving thousands of lives is far more important than staying in lockstep with Westminster as it loses its mind on 'Magic Monday'.

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

Crisis for crestfallen Carlaw as extraordinary Panelbase poll gives the SNP a thirty-point lead over the Tories on the Holyrood constituency ballot

Many thanks to the Twitter user 'Flood the Mainstream' for pointing me in the direction of the Holyrood and Westminster numbers from the new Wings/Panelbase poll.  It looks like they were released with less fanfare than almost any voting intention poll I can remember - there's no post on Wings itself, and no mention on Twitter either as far as I can see.  A cynic might wonder if Stuart was actually disappointed that the poll turned out so well for the SNP, and decided to draw as little attention as possible to the results.

Scottish voting intentions for Westminster (Panelbase, 1st-5th May 2020):

SNP 50% (+2)
Conservatives 26% (-1)
Labour 17% (+1)
Liberal Democrats 5% (n/c)
Greens 2% (-1)

Scottish Parliament constituency ballot:

SNP 53% (+2)
Conservatives 23% (-3)
Labour 15% (+1)
Liberal Democrats 5% (-1)
Greens 3% (n/c)

Scottish Parliament regional list ballot:

SNP 48% (n/c)
Conservatives 22% (-4)
Labour 15% (+2)
Liberal Democrats 7% (+1)
Greens 5% (-1)

These numbers are obviously strikingly similar to the YouGov poll of a few days ago, albeit they're fractionally less catastrophic for Labour (emphasis on the word 'fractionally').  And in contrast to YouGov, this is not Panelbase's first Scottish voting intention poll since the general election, which is useful because it brings to light a fascinating trend we might not otherwise have been aware of - there appears to have been a drop in Tory support, particularly at Holyrood level, since as recently as late March.  Is the disastrous handling of the pandemic by the Tory government in London, and indeed Jackson Carlaw's misjudged politicking at Holyrood, coming home to roost?

As with all Holyrood polls this year, the seats projection suggests that the SNP are comfortably on course for an overall majority: SNP 74, Conservatives 27, Labour 18, Liberal Democrats 7, Greens 3.  That would give the pro-independence parties in combination an astonishing 60% of the seats in the Scottish Parliament.  We know from what happened in 2016 that there's far from any guarantee that these numbers will hold up as polling day approaches, but nevertheless there does appear to be a golden opportunity here to win a crystal-clear independence mandate if the SNP leadership can get their ducks in a row and define in advance exactly what it would be a mandate for.  Would it be for independence itself, or would it be yet another mandate for a referendum?  If the latter, how can we be sure this time that the mandate will be honoured and that no Westminster veto will be tolerated?

Facts aren't decided by opinion poll

I've been trying to work out all day what I make of the results on the Wings/Panelbase poll question about whether people believe there was a conspiracy against Alex Salmond.  (A plurality of SNP voters think there was, but a plurality of all voters think there wasn't.)  The conclusion I've reached is that the numbers don't actually tell us anything much at all, and I'm not even entirely sure there was much point in asking the question at this stage when the facts have yet to reach the public domain.  There are a great many topics on which public opinion matters tremendously, but a dispute over a point of fact is not one of them.  It's either true or untrue that there was a conspiracy - what matters is truth, not opinions or hunches or guesswork.  Any evidence of a conspiracy should be thoroughly investigated, and if wrongdoing is discovered, the people involved should be disciplined accordingly.

I was at an event in Edinburgh a few months ago, in which a well-known comedian made a highly provocative comment that implied Alex Salmond was guilty on a "no smoke without fire" or "he just comes across that way" basis.  The audience roared with laughter, and I was left feeling deeply uncomfortable.  Doubtless if there had been a Panelbase poll of that audience, it wouldn't have been very favourable for Mr Salmond - and that wouldn't have mattered a damn, because when a jury actually listened to the evidence, they acquitted him on every single charge.  Exactly the same principle applies to the allegations of a conspiracy - it really isn't important what members of the public think if they don't have the facts in front of them.

I would just make a couple of technical points about the poll, though.  One of the problems with polling that relies on volunteer online panels is that there will always be a disproportionate number of politically engaged people in the sample.  In practice, that doesn't seem to distort voting intention results too much, but I do wonder if this is the sort of question where there may be an issue.  The SNP voters who were polled may, for instance, be significantly more likely to have read Craig Murray's account of the trial than SNP voters in general.  Of course that probably means they're much better informed than most voters, but the flipside of the coin is that we should be cautious about assuming their views are fully representative.  So I'm a bit dubious about Stuart's crude extrapolations that "one million" people must think this or that.  He's also guilty of a sleight of hand by lumping together Don't Knows with people who think there was a conspiracy, and saying "more than 70% of SNP voters either definitely believe that the party tried to fit up Alex Salmond or consider it a real possibility".  Don't Know means Don't Know.  It's not a synonym for "yes, I consider that a real possibility".  Many people who said Don't Know may have literally known nothing about the subject, and were in no position to offer any sort of opinion at all.

For what it's worth, I'm deeply concerned by what I've heard about the sequence of events that led to Mr Salmond being put on trial, and I hope the truth does come out.  But truth isn't determined by public vote or by opinion poll.

Did the Telegraph deliberately target Neil Ferguson in a sinister attempt to weaken government policy on suppressing the epidemic?

Piers Morgan, for all his faults (and they are legion), has been excellent throughout this crisis, but I'm not going to follow him down the road of suggesting that Neil Ferguson's breach of the lockdown means that he was never really an expert and that the government shouldn't have been listening to him so much.  The reality is that we should all thank God that the government were at least paying some heed to Ferguson, because he played a pivotal role in bringing them back from the 'herd immunity' brink in mid-March.  He was clear-sighted about how drastic social distancing measures could save hundreds of thousands of lives, and more recently he was a strong advocate of a South Korean-style test-and-trace strategy to keep the virus suppressed even after the lockdown is eased.  Heaven only knows how much worse the current catastrophe would be if the government had only had the likes of Chris Whitty, Patrick Vallance and Graham Medley to advise them.

SAGE is such a secretive body that it's hard to guess whether the balance of power will be materially changed by Ferguson's departure, but if there's any backsliding towards tolerating a higher rate of infection, the suspicion will be that the Telegraph's scalp played a part.  We can only hope that the adoption of a South Korean approach is now sufficiently 'locked in', and that a change of personnel won't make too much difference at this stage.

Because of Ferguson's association with the lockdown policies in both the UK and the US, he became a hate figure for rabid right-wingers on both sides of the Atlantic.  (Do a Twitter search of his name and you'll see what I mean.)  Given that the Telegraph is a right-wing rag and has published anti-lockdown commentary, it's reasonable to wonder whether they deliberately targeted Ferguson - either out of sheer revenge, or perhaps in the hope of shifting government policy in a more pro-epidemic direction.  A few questions spring to mind...

* If Ferguson was under some form of surveillance in the hope of catching him out, were other government scientists being watched in the same way?  For example, were herd immunity enthusiasts like Graham Medley subjected to the same monitoring?  If not, why was Ferguson singled out?

* Did the surveillance of Ferguson in itself involve breaches of the lockdown?  Journalists may be regarded as essential workers, but that doesn't mean that anything goes and that absolutely any sort of indulgence can be automatically justified.

* Do minor examples of personal hypocrisy on the part of government officials and advisers really warrant this scale of journalistic investment, when there are far more important things that need to be investigated - such as PPE shortages, the painfully slow progress on testing and contact tracing, and the shameful failure to protect care home residents?

*  *  *

Patrick Vallance directly apologised yesterday for comments he made about "herd immunity" in March, and his failure to make clear that there was considerable uncertainty over whether people become immune after having the virus and how long any such immunity will last.  I'd suggest that means we're now entitled to a similar apology from our very own Jason Leitch, who ludicrously told Channel 4 News on 16th March that "we know that if you get it, you don't appear to get it appears very, very rare, if ever, that you get it twice".  There was no hindsight required to know that was utter tripe when he said it - it was literally impossible to judge if immunity might wear off after six months or a year or three years when the virus had only been circulating in humans for a few short weeks.

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

This is truly remarkable: in the middle of the biggest international crisis since World War II, support for independence has just INCREASED to 50%

I was reasonably encouraged in late March when a Panelbase poll for the Sunday Times suggested that support for independence had only slipped from 52% to 49%.  I would have expected a bigger drop in a time of crisis when voters are concentrating on managing from day to day, and when big constitutional projects might seem like a luxury.  However, late March was fairly early in the epidemic, and I still thought the Yes vote would drift further downwards - and actually I wasn't overly concerned by that prospect, because past experience suggests that shifts in public opinion during a crisis are not a reliable guide to what will happen when things get back to normal.  But, as it turns out, I was wrong anyway.  A new Panelbase poll suggests Yes support has nudged back up.

Should Scotland be an independent country?  (Panelbase, 1st-5th May 2020):

Yes 50% (+1)
No 50% (-1)

This is the Panelbase poll that I heard was in the field a few days ago.  I initially suspected it had once again been commissioned by the Sunday Times, because Panelbase's other frequent Scottish client is Wings Over Scotland, and the questions that I'd been told about didn't sound very 'Wings-like'.  But then someone mentioned that there were also lots of oddly-worded questions about the trans issue, and at that point it became clear it had to be a Wings poll!  Stuart seems to be underwhelmed by the independence results, but I think he's losing his sense of perspective somewhat due to his disillusionment with the SNP leadership and his "something needs to change" narrative.  In truth, this is one of the best ever Panelbase polls for Yes.  There have only been a tiny handful of occasions when Panelbase have reported Yes in the lead or level-pegging.  In recent times, they had become one of the more No-friendly firms and repeatedly showed Yes stuck in the 43-45% range.  To now be at 50%, and particularly in these unpromising circumstances, should be regarded as an exceptionally good result in my opinion.

That said, virtually all polling firms have changed their methodology recently to bring in weighting by recalled 2019 vote, and given that the SNP did well in the general election, that may be boosting the reported Yes vote.  So post-election and pre-election polls are not directly comparable, and it may well be that 50% in a Panelbase poll now is the rough equivalent of 48% or 49% before the election.  But in a sense that doesn't really matter, because the new weightings are likely to produce more accurate results anyway.  It's entirely possible that we were slightly underestimating support for independence during 2018 and 2019.

Why would the popularity of independence be so resilient during the worst pandemic since the Spanish flu of 1918-20?  I can only guess, but the perception that the Scottish government is handling the crisis more competently than the UK government may be a significant factor.

Anti-lockdown right-wingers seem to believe in libertarianism for pathogens, not people. It's Thatcherism for microbes.

Because I've been posting over the last few weeks in favour of social distancing, lockdown, testing, contact tracing, quarantining, etc, etc, I've been attracting a fair bit of hatred (and that's not an overstatement) in the comments section of this blog.  Much of the bile comes from a pseudo-libertarian angle, ie. I'm supporting restrictions on people's personal freedoms and I'm therefore a "neo-authoritarian" and a "curtain-twitcher".  As long-term readers of the blog can testify, the reality is that I'm a strong civil libertarian, but I'm puzzled by the notion that exactly the same principles must apply regardless of whether or not a deadly virus is going around, and that people can reasonably expect to have precisely the same freedoms irrespective of whether exercising them carries a non-trivial risk of killing others.

There's also a weird overlap between people who think liberties are non-negotiable in an epidemic, and those who wrongly believe that coronavirus is no more dangerous than the seasonal flu.  Those two beliefs ought to be completely unrelated to each other - if you really think you've got the right to go where you want and do what you want and to hell with the consequences, there's no need to try to convince yourself and others that the harm being caused isn't that great.  And yet one of this blog's resident trolls is forever selectively quoting an outlier expert (Dr John Ioannidis) who is almost alone in thinking the fatality rate may be 0.2% or lower.  Even if that were true, why would it matter?  Coupling such an argument with an attack on "authoritarianism" implies that restrictions are only inappropriate because the virus isn't as deadly as it could be, so does that mean our normal freedoms aren't actually quite so absolute after all?  If, for example, this was an epidemic with a mortality rate akin to SARS (10%), would lockdowns, social distancing, contact tracing and quarantining suddenly be justified?  If so, I think I'm entitled to ask why the high mortality rate we're currently seeing (some serological studies suggest it may be close to 1%) is acceptable when an even higher one wouldn't be.  Civil liberties are, after all, a fairly meaningless concept for individuals who die or end up seriously ill in hospital - and they could make up something in the region of 15% of the entire population if the virus is allowed to spread freely.  What the trolls are really arguing for is not so much libertarianism for people, but libertarianism for microbes.  Thatcherism for pathogens.  There must be complete freedom of movement for the virus to do its worst.  Let's get rid of all that ghastly red tape that is hindering the epidemic.

But as far as human beings are concerned, lockdowns are actually preserving freedoms in the long run by making it more likely that people will stay well.  Test, trace, isolate goes a step further and enhances freedom in the here and now by making it possible to lift lockdown safely - because by isolating the minority of people who really need to be isolated, the vast majority of the population can get back to something approaching normality.

On the other extreme, I also have a critic who has no problem with the suppression measures, but who thinks I'm being far too beastly to the UK government in suggesting that they were ever following a herd immunity policy.  He reckons that it was merely an idea that was considered but never implemented - or if it was implemented it was only for a couple of days, because the first social distancing measures were supposedly announced very shortly after contact tracing was abandoned in mid-March.  In truth, the government let the virus rip for at least ten days, which is why we'll shortly have the second highest death toll in the whole world.  Large public gatherings weren't even banned in England until the day of the lockdown - the ban was announced earlier but it took that long for it to come into force.

There's ample evidence that herd immunity had been firmly decided upon before the U-turn occurred.  A number of government scientists spoke about the plan absolutely explicitly.  Graham Medley's Dr Strangelove-style comments would almost seem comical if they hadn't been so outrageous - he essentially said "we'd ideally like to make people immune from the virus by vaccinating them, but as we can't do that we're going to make them immune by infecting them with the actual virus instead". 

As for the length of time that the herd immunity plan had been in place, Boris Johnson dropped a fairly heavy hint in a speech way back in early February that the die was already cast -

"And when there is a risk that new diseases such as coronavirus would trigger a panic, and a desire for market segregation that go beyond what is medically rational, to the point of doing real and unnecessary economic damage, then at that moment humanity needs some government somewhere that is willing at least to make the case powerfully for freedom of exchange, some country ready to take off its Clark Kent spectacles and leap into the phone booth and emerge with its cloak flowing as the supercharged champion, of the right of the populations of the earth to buy and sell freely among each other."

In other words, this is a mild infection and the Chinese attempt to suppress it is irrational.  If other countries follow suit, there is a golden opportunity for Britain to gain an economic advantage by letting the virus rip.  The Chancellor reiterated that point several weeks later on Budget day (by which time Nadine Dorries had already tested positive) by saying that Britain's approach would prove to be the right one - by implication a suggestion that other countries would be proved wrong.

On the day that the World Health Organization started using the word "pandemic", Matt Hancock took full advantage by falsely claiming this meant they were saying that nothing could stop the virus reaching every corner of the world.  In fact, the WHO had been at pains to point out that the virus was still containable and controllable.  The government were clearly scrabbling around for any justification, however dishonest, for sitting back and allowing the virus to spread.  At around the same time, Boris Johnson cynically made a comment along the lines of "countries all over the world are giving up on their efforts to contain the virus".  I recall that made someone I follow on Twitter burst into tears, because she knew it was a lie, and she also knew what the consequences of the lie would be for the people of this country.

Sunday, May 3, 2020

A short reply to Dani Garavelli: perhaps the independence movement should be reclaimed from those who think independence is less important than purity tests?

Is Dani Garavelli a Yes supporter? I asked that question on Twitter because I genuinely don't know the answer.  If she isn't, the billing of her column today as being about "reclaiming the Yes movement from the conspiracy theorists" would seem a bit odd.  In much the same way that it's a bit odd for David Leask to be forever posing as the defender of the "real SNP" against an interloper "alt Nat" faction that is supposedly led - with glorious irony - by the man who was the leader of the SNP for almost one-quarter of its entire existence to date.  In general, the people who get to decide whether there's any need to "reclaim" a movement are those who actually adhere to its original values and objectives.  If others attempt to do it, it's reasonable to wonder whether there's an agenda at play, one that might well not be in the best interests of the movement.

First and foremost, the Yes movement is about the belief that Scotland would be better off as an independent country.  Whatever anyone might think about Craig Murray and his views and any controversial claims he has made, no-one can realistically doubt that his belief in independence is genuine and total.  There is no need for people who may not even believe in independence to "reclaim" the movement from those who do.

It would certainly be absurd to try to reclaim it from Alex Salmond, who literally led the Yes campaign in the 2014 referendum.  And yet that is what some people are attempting.  Ms Garavelli talks about the vitriol directed at her and other critics of Mr Salmond after the trial, and yet there was a fair bit of vitriol flying in the other direction as well.  In particular, there was a none-too-subtle orchestrated attempt (involving a small number of senior SNP parliamentarians who used conveniently indirect language) to reframe Mr Salmond's acquittal as being the outcome of an 'illegitimate defence' that was somehow generically harmful to women and that should preclude his involvement in the SNP in the future.

Ms Garavelli returns to that theme today, suggesting that the threshold for Mr Salmond's political "rehabilitation" (is there a need to "rehabilitate" someone who was acquitted?) ought to be higher than the avoidance of a criminal conviction, and she points to a couple of incidents that he did admit to in court as disqualifying behaviour.  Different people will have different views on this, but I must say I'm not convinced.  Ms Garavelli herself describes one of the incidents as "consensual", but nevertheless tries to use it to demonise Mr Salmond on the basis of the large age gap.  But as I understand it, we're talking about women who were well into their twenties at the time.  This is not a Derek Mackay or Mark McDonald scenario.  If we're going to exclude from the SNP anyone who at any point in their lives behaved less than impeccably during consensual encounters with individuals who were well over the age of consent, there aren't going to be many people left in the party.

And yet that prospect won't deter Mr Salmond's most fanatical critics, because they do want the SNP and the Yes movement to be much more narrowly based.  They want it to exclude heterosexual men whose private lives fall short of a radical feminist ideal.  They want it to exclude anyone who isn't on one particular side of a debate over trans rights that is by no means settled as far as the general public is concerned.  And most bizarrely and troublingly of all, they want it to exclude anyone who doesn't adhere to certain hardline orthodoxies on the subject of Russia.  If the independence movement needs to be reclaimed from anyone at all, it's from people who seem to regard purity on the above topics as more important than independence itself.

I remain firmly of the view that setting up a new independence party would be a mistake.  Even if it's led by someone high profile enough to have a chance of winning list seats, the prospect of two pro-indy parties who regard each other with disdain due to a 'cultural' divide does not strike me as a recipe for furthering the cause of independence in the longer term.  But the SNP leadership have as much of a responsibility as anyone for avoiding that outcome - they need to ensure that the party is not a cold house for opponents of self-ID, for supporters of Palestinian rights, for those who happen to think RT or Sputnik aren't worse than the BBC or Sky, and above all for people who actually believe passionately in independence.  If such people feel they no longer have a place within the SNP, they'll find somewhere else to go, and that'll be a lose/lose for all concerned.

Ms Garavelli accuses Mr Salmond of planning to "set fire to the house he built just to watch his enemies burn".  But arguably he's simply doing the same thing as his accusers would say they did - putting justice ahead of political considerations.  It's easy to sneer at suggestions of Mr Salmond being "set up" by citing the full range of conspiratorial actors that Craig Murray has accused, but you don't have to believe the "Deep State" was involved to think there may be an issue here.  From what I can gather, the central allegation is that a number of people within the SNP coordinated with each other, due to a misplaced fear that Nicola Sturgeon's leadership of the party might be seriously threatened if Mr Salmond's credibility wasn't totally destroyed.  If there's any evidence to support that allegation, it should be investigated with an open mind rather than dismissed as a crank conspiracy theory - just as the allegations against Mr Salmond were thoroughly investigated and tested.