Saturday, March 30, 2024

The Hate Crime Act: my verdict

A few people have been asking (perhaps with a touch of mischief in mind) for my views on the Hate Crime Act, which is less than thirty hours from entering into force.  Not for the first time, I find myself somewhere in between the two extremes.  I certainly rolled my eyes to the heavens when I saw that Stuart Campbell had announced that he's temporarily shutting Wings Over Scotland down while he supposedly seeks urgent legal advice (which he's crowdfunded for, naturally) on whether it's safe to put the site back up.  This is a classic exercise in tiresome Campbell theatrics to try to make it look as if SNP-run Scotland has turned into East Germany overnight, and if anyone is gullible enough to think the outcome will be anything other than Wings Over Scotland reappearing next week, possibly as early as Monday lunchtime, then, well, I've got a bridge to sell you.  I dare say he will genuinely spend the crowdfunded cash on legal advice, incidentally, but as with his stunt legal action against Kezia Dugdale, there are plenty of other ways in which independence supporters could be getting far better value for money.  I confidently predict that the outcome of this legal advice will be exactly what Campbell already knows from common sense, ie. that of course he can continue publishing a political website, but if he wants to be on the safe side he could remove certain controversial posts and stay off certain topics in the future.  There you go, I've just saved you £12,000.

On the other extreme, though, there are people talking and writing as if support for the Hate Crime Act is somehow an extension of support for independence, simply because it was passed by the SNP and the Greens.  That's a very dangerous road to go down, because anyone passionately opposed to the law may take the cue and decide there's no place for them anymore in the independence movement.  As has been pointed out in many quarters, the problem is not that the Act does not have adequate safeguards against unjust convictions, it's that there aren't adequate safeguards against unjust arrests.  There's not much comfort in being eventually acquitted if you've already been locked up, had your possessions seized and gone through the unimaginable stress of a prosecution.

I suppose I would sum up my view as this: not only is it wrong in principle to crack down on freedom of speech, it's also incredibly annoying that the SNP government has devoted so much time and energy to a bad law that can only divide the independence movement.  If they hadn't done it, we could at last be moving on from the divisions of the trans issue, but there's not much chance of that now.

Moderation problems, and a bit more on Craig Murray

At time of writing, there are almost 200 comments on the previous thread - in one sense that's a good thing, because it demonstrates how widely-read Scot Goes Pop is.  But yesterday was a nightmare day from a moderation point of view, because there were several dozen more comments that had to be deleted.  An anonymous commenter had falsely accused me on Thursday night of posting anonymously on the thread myself, and I warned him that if he kept making that accusation, he would no longer be welcome to post here.  Needless to say, he did keep making the accusation, so I started blanket-deleting his comments, which is the only way to "ban" someone on the Blogger platform.  He then tried to take advantage of the fact that it is difficult to distinguish between different anonymous commenters, and started posing as an innocent participant who was having comments deleted for no other reason than that they were supportive of Craig Murray - which makes no sense, because if you read through the thread, there are as many comments that are supportive of Craig (indeed perhaps slightly more) than there are critical of him.

I made abundantly clear in the previous blogpost that I was not having a go at Craig, and personally I have no problem whatsoever with him standing as a Workers Party of Britain candidate in England.  The point I was making wasn't really about Craig at all, it was about the fact that Alba are clearly prepared to interpret their rules generously in his case, and my hope that "the little guy" will in future benefit from similar flexibility and tolerance in equivalent situations.  As I said, my fear is that Alba is becoming a bit too authoritarian, and it's not hard to think of instances where lesser-known members have had the book thrown at them for far, far less than what Craig has done.  The solution to that is not to throw the book at Craig, it's to be consistent and chill out a bit when dealing with rank-and-file members.  

Based on what I've seen happen in the past, my strong suspicion is that if anyone who is not a Craig Murray or a similarly prominent figure had announced an intention to stand for the Workers Party, they would have been deemed to have "publicly resigned" from Alba - in other words they would have been to all intents and purposes banned from the party, and wouldn't have been allowed to rejoin without advance permission from the NEC.  The reason for that is the Workers Party registration with the Electoral Commission, which shows it as being active in Scotland and therefore an opponent of Alba.  Interestingly, Craig implied in a couple of comments on the previous thread that he is using his candidacy as leverage with George Galloway to try to get assurances from him that the Workers Party will not stand in Scotland and will no longer campaign against independence.  But, again, I'm not sure Alba would have cut that sort of slack with a less prominent person - there would just have been a knee-jerk ruling that the rules had been broken and that would have been that.

In a nutshell, I think the blind eye that has been turned to Craig's decision is a good thing and should be the template for the treatment of rank-and-file Alba members in future.  Nobody joins a political party, particularly a fledgling small party, to be subject to military-style discipline.  Alba will not thrive as a Leninist sect that keeps its members in constant terror of stepping out of line. It needs to be an open, welcoming party that gives its members room to breathe and that is enjoyable to be part of.

But so convinced was our anonymous troll chum that I was waging some sort of anti-Murray campaign that he re-posted exactly the same comment fifteen or twenty times last night.  He seemed to be refreshing the page every two minutes to see if I had deleted it, and as soon as I did, he re-posted it yet again.  To give myself a break, I temporarily changed the settings to only allow comments from people signed in to a Google account.  Needless to say the troll was not brave enough to put a name to his comment, and he stopped for a while.  But as soon as I changed the settings back this morning, he started all over again.

Believe it or not, I do have better things to do with my Easter weekend than to moderate blog comments every few minutes.  I very much want to keep pre-moderation switched off, but that's going to require a bit of responsibility from the people leaving comments.

Thursday, March 28, 2024

On Craig Murray and pluralism of party allegiance

A Scot Goes Pop reader contacted me last night to ask what I thought about Craig Murray's decision to join the Workers Party of Britain and stand as one of its general election candidates in England, even though it is an avowedly British unionist party led by George Galloway, who famously voted Tory in 2021 in an attempt to stop independence.

To be perfectly honest, this was the first I'd heard of Craig's decision, so I had to read up on it.  I suppose it's the sort of thing you can look at either way - on the one hand it compromises Craig's support for independence, but on the other hand having a prominent independence supporter as a leading candidate also compromises the Workers Party's unionist credentials.  

Craig of course has one of the most complicated and unusual histories of party allegiance of anyone I can think of.  When I first read his blog around fifteen years ago, he was a member of the Liberal Democrats, and when the Tory-Lib Dem coalition government was formed in 2010, he wrote a blogpost flatly titled "I support this government".  But he quickly became disillusioned with the Cameron-Clegg administration (unsurprising given his radical views) and defected to the SNP.  He later left the SNP and joined the Tommy Sheridan-linked Action for Independence umbrella party, which unveiled him as one of its list candidates for the 2021 Holyrood election, before withdrawing all of its candidates in Alba's favour.  Craig has subsequently been a high-profile member of Alba, and was one of my fellow candidates in the highly controversial Alba NEC elections last year.  (Indeed he was elected to the NEC but declined to take up the position.)

As regular readers will know, I was elected in January to a special working group that is reviewing the Alba constitution.  And as you can probably imagine, that's meant I've spent more time over the last few weeks reading through obscure clauses of a party constitution than is really healthy for anyone.  Craig's decision to join a new party brought to mind this section - 

"6.1 A member who is a member of another party registered as a political party with the Electoral Commission in the Great Britain register and intending to contest elections in Scotland is regarded as being a member of a political party expected to contest elections in opposition to the Party. A member in this situation ceases to be a member."

That's fairly unambiguous, so I checked the Electoral Commission website.  The Workers Party of Britain is registered in the Great Britain register, and has declared an intention to stand candidates in Scotland.  I assumed, therefore, that Craig must have reluctantly left Alba to become a Workers Party candidate, but I checked his Twitter account and in fact he said this - 

"I haven't left Alba. I checked with Alex who said what I do in a foreign country is up to me!"

Now I want to make crystal-clear that I'm not in any way having a go at Craig here, because I think Alba were extremely foolish to introduce the rule barring membership of other parties.  As what Alex Salmond initially billed as a "list-only party", there was a golden opportunity for Alba to break new ground with more relaxed rules that encouraged ties between different pro-independence parties.  OK, in practice it would still have been impossible for Alba members to also be members of the SNP and/or the Greens, because those parties would still have had the more draconian rules.  But it would have sent a really powerful signal.  I thought it was incredibly disappointing that Alba after only a few months became just like any other party, demanding exclusive loyalty to itself and sometimes taking punitive action against members who fell short of that.

(To be clear, though, this is not one of the areas of the constitution I'm actively seeking to change, because I know I'd be banging my head against a brick wall.)

So in a way it's a good thing that what I regard as a bad rule is being disregarded in Craig's case.  But there's not much doubt that it *is* being disregarded, and what I would say is that I hope such flexibility and tolerance will also be shown with the "little guy" and not just with big-hitters like Craig who Alba particularly wouldn't want to lose.  I've expressed my worry recently that Alba is becoming a touch too authoritarian, and what mustn't happen is a two-tier system whereby a select few members benefit from minimalist interpretations of the rule-book, while others are subjected to military-style discipline based on maximalist interpretations.

Wednesday, March 27, 2024

It's Wednesday, so the Express must be lying about Scottish opinion polling again

A query on the previous thread - 

"Rob here, seen on another site best not named, 'New poll suggests the SNP will only win 18 seats and lose 30.'

Actual "new poll"?"

Well, the only mention I could find of it on a news site was at the Express, so that probably answers the question.  The Express have such an extreme track record of inaccuracies and distortions in their reporting of Scottish opinion polling that I actually achieved the impossible last year by getting a complaint upheld against them by the sham "press regulator" IPSO.  On that occasion, they had been trawling Twitter in the desperate hope of finding anything they could use for an anti-independence article, and it looks like the same thing has happened again this time.  When I searched for some of the details of the supposed "poll" on Twitter, I traced it back to a single tweet from some random bloke who had taken the numbers of a GB-wide YouGov poll and on his own initiative punched them into the Electoral Calculus model.  In other words, the entire Express article appears to have been based on a small Scottish subsample with an enormous margin of error, not on a full poll. But needless to say that is never really made clear.

That's probably misleading enough to warrant a complaint to IPSO, as is the fact that the subsample is wrongly described by the Express as an "Electoral Calculus poll".  Having been royally mucked around by IPSO on multiple occasions, though, I'll need to have a think about whether I can face yet another round.  If anyone else fancies taking it on, let me know.

The Express piece is weirdly meandering - for no apparent reason it suddenly jumps halfway through to the subject of a completely unrelated poll from four months ago, and dredges up an ancient quote from Professor Robert Ford about that other poll.  I doubt if 99.9% of people who read the piece will have had a scooby what it was all about.

Tuesday, March 26, 2024

Alba and the road-map to independence

On Saturday night, I started replying to a commenter on the previous thread who was on the wind-up about the Alba Party.  He said he was "just trying to introduce some realism" about Alba by calling it a "role-playing" outfit.  My reply began with "oh get over yourself", but it kind of sprouted wings from there, and it went on for so long that I fell asleep and lost the whole thing.  So I thought if I was going to have a second go, I'd probably better turn it into a full-blown blogpost.

So yeah, let's introduce some realism.  The SNP leadership in its current form is not interested in delivering independence, they want to get on with enjoying their careers as masters of a devolved country (although paradoxically by shelving independence they may be putting their own power at risk).  This creates a dilemma for genuine independence supporters who want to get the cause back on track.  Do they work to change the SNP from within, or do they try to pressurise the SNP into changing direction by applying electoral pressure from outside?

The problem with trying to change the SNP from inside is that the party's internal democratic structures have been hollowed out.  The most vivid example of that was the ultimate failure of what initially appeared to be a quiet revolution in the SNP in the autumn of 2020, when the old guard like Fiona Robertson were swept away by modernisers who wanted to increase transparency and accountability, and to protect women's rights.  But almost immediately, many of the people who had been voted off the NEC were back on it by unelected means.  Fiona Robertson no longer had the title of Equalities Convener, but effectively carried on with the actual role of Equalities Convener while her successor looked on bemused.  An election defeat barely proved to be even a minor inconvenience for her.

No, it's the leadership faction that controls the SNP, not the other way around.  But the one exception to that is during leadership elections, where members do still just about have the power to depose the ruling faction altogether - and of course they almost did that exactly one year ago.  The dice will always be loaded in favour of the handpicked continuity candidate, but nevertheless as far as we know the actual election results are not falsified, so there's an argument that if independence supporters just bide their time as members of the SNP, they'll be eligible to vote in the next leadership election whenever it comes up.  At that point they can pounce and reclaim their party.  In the meantime, though, there's a hell of a lot of powerless thumb-twiddling going on, so it's a bit daft to pretend not to understand the motivations of those of us who have chosen the alternative path of trying to bring about change from outside the SNP.

The troll suggested that I must agree with him that the SNP is the only possible vehicle for independence, given the number of articles I've written about the need for a change of SNP leadership, and the supposed lack of articles I've written about a road-map to independence that actually involves Alba.  I'll have to gently point out that our troll seems to be guilty of a selective memory, because I've written plenty of blogposts about the two possible routes by which I think Alba can play a key role.

The first is indirect.  It involves taking just enough pro-independence votes away from the SNP that the SNP leadership start to panic and become more like Alba (in other words more serious about independence) to get their winning coalition of support back.  That would be analogous to how Labour reacted to losing masses of votes to the SDP in the early 1980s.  It moved sharply to the centre ground that the SDP already occupied, and eventually took power in 1997 as a party Shirley Williams described as "very like the SDP, but a bit further to the right".  So although the SDP never won, it still achieved a lot of its objectives by forcing Labour to become the SDP.

The second route is direct.  It involves winning perhaps 5-8 list seats in 2026, holding the balance of power, and offering informal support for an SNP-led government in return for a credible strategy on independence.

So Alba could well have a decisive role to play, but I'll reiterate again that Alba will need to put its own house in order first.  I'm in a vantage point where I can see as clearly as anyone that Alba is increasingly replicating the SNP as a top-down party, and that is not the way it's going to win new recruits.