Saturday, January 28, 2023

The pain of living in the scunnered middle of the independence movement, part 3

I said to a family member the other day that just about every faction of the independence movement seems to have completely taken leave of its senses, and that it's so mentally exhausting being caught in the middle of it all that perhaps the only answer is to be cryogenically frozen for about four years and hope by the time you wake up that people have finally got a grip of themselves.  The snag is, though, that the position for Yes in the opinion polls is considerably healthier than the state of the Yes movement gives us any real right to expect, and for that reason none of us can responsibly opt out at this point - if we do, we could be sleeping through the moment of maximum opportunity.  For the last couple of years, public opinion on independence has averaged out at roughly 50/50, meaning that we may never have a more favourable context in which to seek an outright indy mandate than we do right now.  So we'll just have to navigate our way through the current mess somehow.

It's not going to be easy.  The SNP is now led by people who care less about independence than they do about an ideology that seems to have been beamed down from Mars.  They dehumanise, ostracise and in many cases try to destroy some of their best colleagues simply for not signing up to a belief system that has never been mainstream at any point in human history, and that is not shared by the vast majority of the population even now.  What was previously the largest pro-independence website has essentially abandoned the cause by saying that its support for indy will only be reactivated if the architecture of Yes politics as we know it is razed to the ground and rebuilt completely from scratch, and gets people to credulously treat that impossible proviso as minor and achievable.  The only daily pro-independence newspaper appears to have very recently decided to openly pick sides on the toxic gender identity debate, which arguably points to a desire to ideologically 'purify' the movement rather than to serve it and encourage it in the diverse form that it actually exists.  And large swathes of the Alba Party seem to be becoming more militant, and are using language on social media that really cannot be defended, such as referring to the SNP as "the Scottish Nonce Party" or suggesting that a vote for the SNP is akin to a vote for Jimmy Savile. Some Alba voices also seem to have convinced themselves that there is a perverse 'unionist path to independence' which involves backing Westminster vetoes of Scottish Parliament decisions and allying with the Tories or other right-wingers in England to destroy a pro-indy government.

So what's the solution?  It's easier to describe than to put into practice.  As far as Wings is concerned, it's got to the point where I think the rational thing to do would be to write the site off as the de facto unionist / Tory site it's now become, and to try to fill whatever void is left behind with something new and genuinely pro-independence.  I know that won't happen, because so many people seem irrationally besotted with Campbell and would follow him to the bottom of the sea or into the core of a nuclear reactor if that's where he led them.  But nevertheless Wings is now a massive part of the problem and is highly likely to remain so, and there's no point sticking our heads in the sand about that.  My guess is Campbell may well urge his readers to either vote Tory or abstain in any election used as a de facto independence referendum.

I'd suggest The National should work its way back to what it used to do very well, which was to function as a welcoming home to all Yessers, regardless of their place on the political spectrum, their party affiliation, or their views on identity politics.  For a pro-indy newspaper to be so openly partisan on the GRR issue isn't just to choose sides between the SNP and Alba - if it was, there might be less of a downside given the respective sizes of those two parties.  No, the much bigger consideration is that the SNP itself is split on the GRR - there's a reason why the rebellion on the GRR Bill was the biggest in SNP history, and yet it was probably just the tip of the iceberg.  A very significant chunk of the independence movement will now feel The National is somewhat hostile towards them - and no, that's not just a problem for The National, it's a problem for all of us and for the independence cause itself.

Both the SNP and Alba should, in my view, make a virtue out of necessity now that it looks as if gender self-ID will be decided on a UK-wide basis at Westminster.  It's a golden opportunity to take the heat out of the debate here in Scotland.  There's no longer very much to be gained for Alba in constantly using the GRR as a wedge issue against the SNP when Starmer will be making the decisions and taking any flak.  Meanwhile the SNP can feel much safer in extending far greater tolerance towards its gender critical wing.

As I'm a member of Alba and not of the SNP, I'll just finish by saying this.  To be electorally successful, to win list seats in 2026, Alba need to become less angry and less militant.  But we're currently doing the complete opposite of that.  We appear to hate the SNP a hundred times more than we love the idea of independence.  That is not the way of giving SNP supporters confidence that an Alba list vote is a natural complement to an SNP constituency vote - which frankly is the only realistic chance Alba have of a breakthrough.  We really need to take a step back and think about what we're doing, and the long-term consequences of it, before it's too late.

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Thursday, January 26, 2023

Has the Philosopher-Tory successfully philosophised his way out of his most cynical lie? (Spoiler: no, he hasn't.)

He's Ready for Rishi.  Potty for Penny.  Batty for Badenoch.  Rabid for Raab.  Yup, the Scottish political world is still reeling from the former pro-independence blogger Stuart Campbell's shock announcement that he is backing the Tories at the next general election, although the man himself and one or two of his fans seem to be mostly furious with me for bringing the news to slightly wider public attention.  Which is odd, in a way - if he's concluded that voting Tory is morally justifiable and strategically wise from the point of view of whatever the hell his current objectives are, you'd think he'd be keen for as many people to know as possible.  

As per usual, the main outlet for the anger against me is an attempt at amateur psychoanalysis, with the burning question of the day being *why* I started my much-requested Wings-Watch fact-checking service.  They haven't as of yet considered the most obvious and straightforward possibility, namely that Campbell writes a very prominent blog which has a notoriously strained relationship with the truth, and that a fact-checking service will thus remain necessary until he stops regularly lying to his readers.  (Of course all bloggers and journalists make the occasional inadvertent factual blunder, but that's not the sort of thing we're talking about here.)

Instead, they ascribe Wings-Watch to two main factors.  Firstly, the old favourite that I or anyone else who disagrees with the great man must somehow be "deranged".  (If Campbell still owns a paperback thesaurus, you can be sure that the one page that has long since fallen out due to extreme overuse is the one containing synonyms for "mentally ill".)  But their second explanation is much more interesting, because although it's hopelessly misconceived, it's unwittingly quite revealing.

Since I started Wings-Watch, the lie I've had to correct by far the most often is Campbell's dodgy graph purporting to show that support for independence has remained absolutely static at 47% every year since either 2015 or 2016 (depending on which version of the graph is being used on any given day).  By this stage, Campbell knows the graph is a lie, I know it's a lie, you know it's a lie, even the dogs on the street know it's a lie, and the only people who don't know it's a lie are the unfortunate souls who never step outside the Wings bubble and are naive enough to believe that everything Campbell tells them is honest.  However, I think we may now have stumbled on how he philosophically justifies that lie to himself.  Although he knows the graph itself is fraudulent, it may be that he genuinely thinks it's a lie that contains a 'poetic truth' because he's labouring under the misapprehension that the standard 3% margin of error in polling renders the increase in independence support we've seen over the last few years statistically meaningless.

To be clear, though, he has no excuse for that erroneous belief.  As long ago as 2016, when I was still on good terms with him, I and a number of others (including Dr Morag Kerr, who is normally one of his stoutest defenders) pointed out to him where he was going wrong about the margin of error in polls.  He had been repeatedly insisting that there was no systemic error in the polling for the Trump v Clinton presidential election, which on average showed a 4-point lead for Clinton.  If that had been the actual result on the popular vote, it almost certainly would have translated into a Clinton win in the electoral college, and Trump would never have become president.  Instead, Clinton's real lead was only two points, and we all know what the consequences of that proved to be.  But Campbell was adamant that the polls had not been wrong, because a 4-point Clinton lead was "within the margin of error" of a 2-point Clinton lead.

The problem is that the margin of error only applies to each individual poll.  If individual polls are only slightly inaccurate due to normal sampling variation and not because of methodological failings, you'd expect the errors to be randomly distributed - in other words you'd expect roughly as many polls to underestimate the Clinton lead as to overestimate it, and for the average error in all of the polls to be far less than 3%.  That simply didn't happen - the vast majority of polls in fact overestimated the Clinton lead.

Similarly, if Campbell is correct in his belief that Scottish independence support has remained static at around 48% for several years and only the margin of error has been masking that, we should see in any calendar year with a large number of polls that roughly as many polls have Yes above 48% as have Yes below that figure, and that the annual average should always work out at pretty close to bang on 48%.  Is that what's happened?  Let's remind ourselves yet again of the real numbers.

Yearly support for Scottish independence in the Scottish Social Attitudes Survey:

2014:  33%

2016 (a):  39%

2016 (b):  46%

2018:  45%

2020:  51%

2021:  52%

Average yearly support for independence in conventional opinion polling:

2016:  47.7%

2017:  45.3%

2018:  45.5%
2019:  47.6%

2020:  53.0%

2021:  49.6%

2022:  49.8%

Presumably even Campbell would have to acknowledge that if the Scottish Social Attitudes Survey is right, there has been a massive increase in support for independence since 2014 - so presumably we must infer that he thinks those figures are not valid for some unspecified reason.  (Which again is distinctly odd, because another of his dodgy graphs blatantly depends on the use of a cherrypicked figure for independence support from the 2007 Social Attitudes Survey.)

Let's turn instead, then, to the averages from conventional polling.  Even leaving aside what Campbell dismisses as merely a "Covid blip" in 2020 (something that lasted for almost a year is quite some "blip" by any standards), you can see for yourself that the Yes average was as low as 45% (after rounding) in 2017, which is three points lower than what Campbell claims to have been the constant underlying Yes figure.  It was as high as 50% after rounding in both 2021 and 2022, which is two points higher than Campbell's claimed steady figure.  Given the sheer number of polls that were conducted in all of those years, the changes simply can't be explained by random sampling variation.  Unless there is some reason to believe that there was some systemic error in the polls in 2017 that does not apply now, or vice versa, the only conclusion it is possible to draw is that Yes support was substantially higher in 2021 and 2022 than it was in 2017.  And no, a four or five point increase cannot be dismissed as trivial or underwhelming, given that the Yes vote recorded in the 2014 referendum was only five-and-a-bit points shy of victory.

Incidentally, it might amuse you to discover that Campbell did not exactly make an effort to listen and learn when we tried to politely explain where he was going wrong about Clinton v Trump in 2016.  His reaction instead was to angrily insta-block me, thus automatically placing me on the block-list he exported to hundreds of his fans.  Some things never change....

Wednesday, January 25, 2023

Stuart Campbell blows his top as he confirms he is now a Tory voter: "I don't give a s**** and you are all unf***able nutjobs"

At least one Wings Over Scotland reader was deeply concerned about the screenshot published on this blog last night showing that Stuart Campbell plans to vote Tory at the next general election.  Several comments have appeared on Wings today suggesting that Campbell has just ensured he will never, ever get a hearing again from independence supporters because his blog will forevermore be dismissed as "Wings Over Toryland", "Tory Over Scotland", "Stu The Tory", etc, etc.

Now, in fairness, Campbell posted about his plan to vote Tory in the heat of anger just after the GRR Bill cleared the Scottish Parliament in the run-up to Christmas, so it was theoretically possible he had calmed down since then and thought better of it.  However, at 12.50pm today, Campbell posted a characteristically angry and abusive reply to the critical comments, and made abundantly clear that he still fully intends to vote Tory.  If a full month of reflection hasn't led him to change his mind, it's reasonable to conclude that the plan is now set in stone and we can henceforth regard him as a Tory voter.

(Swear words have been partly blanked out in the above screenshot.)

So a couple of points to pick up on here.  Firstly, even Campbell's beloved SimilarWeb claimed that Scot Goes Pop received 17,700 visits in December - the last month for what might very loosely be described as their "estimates" are available. So Campbell may possibly be getting carried away with his own propaganda just a tad.  Secondly, the excuse that he somehow has no option but to vote Tory because he lives in a constituency which is a two-horse Tory-Lib Dem race isn't going to wash.  I think most reasonable people on the Left of politics would conclude that if you're forced to make a straight choice between the Tories and the Lib Dems, you choose the Lib Dems to stop the Tories, not the other way around.  There are any number of things wrong with the Lib Dems, but they are unmistakeably less bad than the Tories on social justice, which is what ought to matter most.  In any case, that supposed forced choice is a false choice, and it's easily one that can be opted out of.  As Campbell admitted himself, he spoiled his ballot in the last two elections and there's nothing to stop him doing so again.  That way he would avoid voting for the Tories while not endorsing the Lib Dems either.  The fact is that he's freely making a positive choice to vote Tory.

The other way he could opt out of the bogus forced choice is by giving a principled vote to one of the also-ran parties.  As I pointed out last night, the Green Party of England and Wales (and their predecessor parties) have stood in the Bath constituency in no fewer than ten of the last eleven general elections, going all the way back to 1979.  They are sympathetic to Scottish independence due to their traditional relationship with the pro-indy Scottish Greens - and, no, the little tiff in that relationship doesn't change the basic point.  So by voting for the anti-indy Tories, Campbell will in all likelihood be rejecting an essentially pro-indy party - which in fairness is perfectly logical in view of his recent public announcement that he no longer supports independence.

It also shouldn't pass without comment that Campbell made the barking mad and deeply offensive suggestion in December that he wants Nicola Sturgeon to "b**n in H**l" for somehow 'making him vote Tory'.  As someone pointed out on the previous thread, it's a bit hard to work out how the leader of the Scottish National Party in any way has the power to make a voter in southern England hate the English Lib Dems so much that he's ended up voting for the English Tories to stop the English Lib Dems.

But would Campbell be a Tory voter even if he lived in Scotland?  Based on his statement today, it seems overwhelmingly likely that he would.  His rationale for rejecting the Lib Dems by voting Tory in England would apply equally strongly to rejecting the SNP by voting Tory in Scotland - because the SNP's position on the trans issue is basically identical to that of the Lib Dems.  The only way Campbell might not vote Tory in Scotland would be if there's an Alba candidate, but a) whatever the outcome of the internal debate within Alba about the wisdom of directly challenging the SNP in a first-past-the-post election, it's highly likely that many constituencies will not have an Alba candidate, and b) even if Campbell lived in a Scottish constituency where Alba is standing, he might conclude - just as he has in Bath - that he needs to vote for a candidate that can win, which might lead him to reject Alba and vote Tory depending on the constituency.  Conclusion: it's probable that Campbell would vote unionist in a de facto independence referendum, which leads me to suspect that he may urge his readers to do the same, very much in the way that he used Holyrood polling day in 2021 to tell his readers not to vote for pro-independence candidates on the constituency ballot.

There may be a silver lining to all this, though.  In many ways Campbell's political defection is a remarkable breakthrough for the Scottish New Media, which until now has lacked a reasonably popular pro-Tory site.  That deficiency has now been well and truly rectified.

Tuesday, January 24, 2023

WINGS-WATCH: Having already publicly abandoned his support for Scottish independence, Stuart "UKOK" Campbell has announced he will vote Tory at the next general election

I did wonder if the screenshot doing the rounds today on Twitter of Stuart Campbell announcing he will vote Tory at the next general election was a fake or doctored, because it's a month old and I hadn't previously heard anything about it.  But a couple of minutes on Facebook was all it took to verify that it's genuine, and you can see it above with some of the offensive language blanked out (and by God it's offensive).  So hot on the heels of his announcement that he no longer supports Scottish independence (or, to use his euphemism, that he is "the least Yes he has ever been" and that his "conscience" would now prevent him from campaigning for independence and presumably from voting for it too), we now discover he will actively be voting in favour of continued colonial Tory rule in Scotland next year.

Let's just briefly work through the logic of this, such as it is.  Campbell is explicitly tying his Tory vote to Alister Jack's veto of the GRR Bill - but the snag is that the veto has already happened, so even if you support it, there's no need to vote Tory to bring it about.  (And he knew when he wrote his Facebook post a month ago that the decision about the veto would be made one way or the other long before the general election.)  Effectively, then, what he's saying is that he plans to retrospectively reward the Tories for overruling a decision made by Scotland's elected parliament.  Not only that, but because he claims to find pretty much everything else the Tories do utterly abhorrent, he's by definition suggesting that giving them a little reward for a veto that has already happened is far more important than all of those utterly abhorrent things put together.  That suggests a really quite considerable enthusiasm on Campbell's part for London Tories trampling all over Scottish parliamentary democracy.  What a truly perverse and grotesque position for someone who was still a pro-independence blogger as recently as a few years ago to find themselves taking.

I know some of Campbell's apologists will, as always, point out at this juncture that he lives in Bath.  ("£100,000 a year?  In Bath?!  That disnae go far in Bath, pal.")  Even if someone still supports independence, they'd point out that voting in an English constituency is always a choice of the lesser evil.  Well, that may or may not be true - the Green Party of England and Wales are supportive of their Scottish sister party's pro-indy stance, and have stood in the Bath constituency in ten of the last eleven general elections.  If they do so again in 2024, Campbell will be choosing the anti-indy Tories over a basically pro-indy party, which is natural enough given he has publicly abandoned his previous support for independence.  But in any case, the broader issue is Campbell's stated reason for the fact that he still lives in England and thus votes there - namely that Scotland is the most "gutless" country in the world, because it voted against independence, which awkwardly he would now "gutlessly" do himself.

So let's just recap. Campbell no longer supports independence for Scotland, he supports London overruling the elected Scottish Parliament, he intends to vote in favour of continued colonial Tory rule in Scotland, and he dislikes Scotland so much that he can't bear to live here.  I'd say we've pretty much reached the full house now.

There's still a deafening silence from Dennis Noel Kavanagh in response to the above question.  I remember when devolution started in 1999, there was a degree of incredulity from certain sections of the English public, with letters to newspapers asking in all seriousness whether English taxpayers would have to "foot the bill" when it all went wrong - the implication being that Scots, uniquely among the peoples of this planet, were incapable of governing themselves and were bound to make a catastrophic mess of it.  You'd think twenty-four successful years of Scottish Governments of different political persuasions governing responsibly (far more responsibly than Westminster, incidentally) would have put paid to that fatuous and deeply insulting narrative, but Tory voters / sympathisers like Kavanagh and Campbell are now using the GRR issue as a wedge to resurrect it.  If you follow their lead by endorsing Jack's imperial veto, you are - whether you realise it or not - lending support to a narrative which leads inexorably to the conclusion that it is irresponsible to let the hapless Jocks continue to run their own affairs, especially as the long-suffering English always have to "sort out their mess" by overruling them, and that therefore something approximating to direct rule from London must be reimposed.

And no matter how strongly you feel about the GRR, remember that there is nothing inherently 'gender critical' about London rule.  In all likelihood we are just over a year away from a Starmer-led government at Westminster that will introduce gender self-ID across the UK.  The only major differences from getting the homegrown Scottish version is that it will be imposed from London, any specifically Scottish concerns will barely be heard, and Nicola Sturgeon will be waxing lyrical about how infinitely preferable it is to do these things on a "Four Nations" basis.  Backing the imperial veto is fool's gold - you're not defeating self-ID, you're just abdicating Scotland's right to make choices on the big issues for ourselves, and you can rest assured the Brit Nats will be duly grateful.

UKOK if you want to, Stu.  The Popper's not for Kokking.

Sunday, January 22, 2023

It's good that the SNP leadership have stated that they don't think "TERFs" should be put to death - but now we need to hear that they shouldn't be subjected to a civil death either

I said yesterday that it was puzzling that no matter how outrageous the actions of pro-GRR campaigners at rallies that SNP politicians attend, the SNP leadership never seem to feel shamed into explicitly condemning it or properly distancing themselves from it - because, after all, if there were anti-English placards at a pro-indy rally, seventeen days of collective national shame would probably be automatically announced.  In fairness I was proved wrong on this occasion - the SNP leadership did condemn yesterday's incident in Glasgow, although the suspicion must be that the change in tack only happened because of how politically damaging it all was.  The ultra-close proximity of SNP politicians to placards calling for women to be murdered, mutilated and cannibalised was what made the episode so unusual and dangerous.  If you crop the photos in a certain way, the hate-speech placards almost look like a "twibbon" that Kaukab Stewart or Kirsten Oswald have deliberately added to a beaming profile pic, ie. "I'm Kaukab Stewart and I think TERFs should be..."

And the fact that condemnation has occurred this time means that it's reasonable to pose a question of the SNP and Green leaderships: if you don't think "TERFs" should be put to death, why not?  That may seem a strange thing to ask, but we know that you think "TERFs" are bigots who are not fit for human company, and who should be ostracised and who nobody should ever share a political platform with.  We know that you think they shouldn't, in many cases, be allowed to have a career, because pressure is often put on employers to take draconian action against them.  We know from the sacking of Joanna Cherry two years ago that you don't think they're fit to serve on the SNP front bench.  We know from the incendiary words of Maggie Chapman and John Nicolson that you don't think they have any place in our parliament and should leave politics altogether - even though they represent the views of the vast majority of the general public.  You believe, in short, that they should suffer a 'civil death', and it's therefore perhaps unsurprising that some of your fellow travellers would expect you to have no problem with the idea that they should suffer an actual death.  If you genuinely do have a problem with calls for them to be murdered, it's high time you explained to some of the people who attended that rally yesterday why "TERFs" are in fact worthy of life and of personal safety.  And if you find those words don't come out easily, perhaps you should ask yourself why, because for anyone who truly believes in liberal democracy it should be the easiest thing in the world.  It needs to happen, because when the language of violence is normalised against a certain group, actual violence tends to follow sooner or later.

The reality is that there is an obvious tension in thinking a class of people are worthy of a civil death but not of an actual death.  Either you dehumanise people and regard them as vermin, or you don't - and if you don't, there's no good reason for subjecting them to a civil death either.  We can but hope that yesterday was a psychological watershed that will lead the SNP leadership to start acknowledging that "TERFs" hold views that can be strongly disagreed with but that are nevertheless legitimate to express in a democracy, and that they therefore have a place in parliament, on the SNP front bench, on political platforms, in the workplace, and indeed in absolutely every other walk of life.  Only then will some of the heat be taken out of this toxic debate, and the risk of violence will dissipate.

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