Monday, March 19, 2018
Incredible though it may seem, that was almost exactly the posture Sweeney adopted towards Salmond yesterday. He literally treated Salmond, a former First Minister of Scotland and a current Privy Counsellor, as the equivalent of a terrorist spokesperson. Sweeney was theoretically in the position of interviewee, but from the moment he opened his mouth, his single-minded objective was to deny the legitimacy of Salmond as an interviewer on the basis that Salmond is a paid Putin stooge, to deny the legitimacy of any questions Salmond asked on the basis that they were coming out of the mouth of a paid Putin stooge, and even to deny the legitimacy of the subject that he had been invited on the programme to speak about because it had been selected by a paid Putin stooge. It was clear that he had decided in advance that he would regard his participation in the interview as a failure unless he effectively pulled off a full-blown coup against the interviewer and managed to spend the whole ten minutes putting Salmond on the ropes about a completely different subject, ie. Salmond supposedly being a paid Putin stooge.
At several points, Sweeney attempted to contrast the different practices of the BBC and Russian-owned RT, on which Salmond's weekly TV show runs. But let me just ask the obvious question: can anyone imagine a BBC interviewer putting up with the behaviour that Sweeney exhibited yesterday? Off the top of my head, I cannot recall a single example of a guest on the BBC being allowed to spend an entire interview ignoring the actual subject of the interview and instead making a prolonged personal attack on the interviewer. The closest I can think of is Jo Swinson asking an awkward question about John Humphrys' views on his female colleagues, but that was much briefer and much more courteous, and she only got away with it because of truly exceptional circumstances. Normally the outside interests of the interviewer are completely off limits. Sweeney also suggested that RT does not allow criticism, whereas people are permitted to criticise the BBC on the BBC, but is it actually true that there's any real distinction there? I've seen limited criticisms of RT expressed on RT, and yes, I've also seen limited criticisms of the BBC expressed on the BBC. In both cases, the broadcaster itself is the gatekeeper of the extent and type of criticism that is aired, by virtue of being able to select which people are or are not invited to speak. Former BBC Scotland presenter Derek Bateman has often noted that he hasn't been invited to take part in any BBC programmes as a pundit or commentator since he started making constructive criticisms of the corporation on his blog. Paul Kavanagh, a fierce critic of the BBC, has similarly observed that he is never invited onto BBC programmes, in spite of the fact that as a regular columnist on The National he is on a list of people recommended to the BBC on an ongoing basis as possible pro-independence guests. By contrast, a small number of 'safer' pro-independence guests such as Angela Haggerty (broadly a defender of the BBC) appear extremely frequently.
What Sweeney did yesterday was eerily reminiscent of Nick Robinson's outburst against Salmond on social media a few months ago, which leaves us with the distinct impression of a BBC that now views itself as being in a state of open warfare with the former leader of the UK's third largest political party, and doesn't see any problem with that. I have to say I'm struggling to imagine the BBC losing the plot quite so comprehensively with the former leader of any of the main London-based parties, which raises some troubling questions about underlying attitudes within the BBC towards the Scottish independence movement. Is the ludicrously contrived link between Salmond and the Russian menace being used as a conveniently deniable outlet for the contempt some senior BBC journalists and presenters have always felt towards the SNP in general? If so, how can the BBC be trusted to cover Scottish politics and the independence issue impartially?
Incidentally, what yesterday's interview was actually supposed to be about was Newsnight's bizarre decision to use a backdrop featuring a doctored image of Jeremy Corbyn in front of the Kremlin as part of a Bolshevik-style poster. Salmond did a heroic job of dragging Sweeney kicking and screaming back to that topic, which produced this remarkable moment about three minutes in -
Alex Salmond: The mainstream press are accusing Jeremy Corbyn of being a Kremlin stooge. So why should you picture him against the Kremlin?
John Sweeney: Because somebody has poisoned two British citizens, or rather one British citizen and his daughter, and you cannot buy this nerve agent in a shop.
What? I mean, what?! How does that reply make any logical sense unless the BBC are insinuating that Corbyn was somehow involved in the poisoning himself? I asked that question on Twitter last night, and Sweeney (who must have been searching for his own name, because I didn't tag him in the tweet) offered this retort -
"James! The exchange was more nuanced than that. I pointed out @AlexSalmond takes money from the Kremlin’s chums and that too many Putin critics get shot. After a bit he cut me off."
Words fail me. If anyone can detect even an ounce of "nuance" in Sweeney's unhinged, paranoid rant about a veteran Scottish politician supposedly being a puppet of the Russian state, you're doing better than me.
Friday, March 16, 2018
For some reason Angela Haggerty seemed to be going out of her way to wind up supporters of the SNP yesterday with a number of goading tweets. Most obviously, there was her jubilation at the repeal of the Offensive Behaviour at Football Act. Now, she's absolutely entitled to her view that the Act was harmful, although I suspect the majority of people feel that the decision to repeal it, especially just days after ugly scenes in Glasgow associated with an Old Firm game, sends out a truly appalling signal that football-related sectarianism isn't really such a big deal. But what was so provocative was Angela's eagerness to stress that a big part of the reason for her excitement was specifically that the repeal constituted a defeat for the SNP government.
"Today is an absolutely stunning victory for @FACKilltheBill, it's huge. I can't really stress it enough. Nobody expected a group of football fans to take on the government and win. And not only that, but this is the Scottish Government's first massive defeat since devolution. Wow."
That's a bogus narrative in at least three ways. Firstly, this is not a story of a bunch of ordinary football fans defying massive odds and defeating the government. This is a story of four ideologically disparate opposition parties zeroing in on pretty much the only issue on which they all agree with each other and disagree with the SNP, and using it to score a morale-boosting victory. Secondly, in no sense was the repeal a surprise. All of the opposition parties voted against the OBFA when it was first passed, so it was obvious to anyone who could count that repeal was firmly on the cards as soon as those parties won a narrow majority between them at the 2016 election. And thirdly, is this really the first "massive defeat" for any Scottish Government since devolution? It's certainly not the first defeat, so how are we defining "massive"? Is it more significant than the defeat the SNP government suffered on the Edinburgh trams soon after taking office, for example?
It's also worth noting that cases where the government backs down minutes or seconds before a vote it knows it's going to lose are functionally identical to defeats, so I would argue that by far the biggest reverse for any government since the start of devolution was when the Labour-led administration was forced to accept free personal care for the elderly in 2001. (Tom McCabe dramatically announced the change in policy to buy off Liberal Democrat MSPs who were just about to vote with the SNP and the Tories on the issue.)
Later in the day, Angela made another extraordinary comment while watching the BBC's Question Time -
"Brian Cox has just demonstrated the inconsistency between nationalists wanting indy but also being pro-EU, and the SNP hasn't clarified this well enough. What does it mean to be in a union? What does it mean to be independent? Where are the lines? Do voters know?"
That's essentially a Farage-esque observation. To the extent that UKIP have ever bothered to campaign in Scotland, their favourite line has always been that "you can't be serious about independence if you want to be ruled from Brussels". (The obvious retort being that it therefore follows that you can't be serious about independence if you want to be ruled from London, as "UKIP Scotland" apparently do.)
Of course, anyone who has followed Scottish politics over the years knows that Angela is just plain wrong about this - the SNP have spent vast amounts of time explaining the difference between the straitjacketed union of the UK, and the much looser, participative union of the EU. They've done that both in terms of specifics, and also by using rhetorical points that tap into people's intuitive understanding of how sovereignty works - eg. "would anyone seriously say that France isn't an independent country?"
But there's another important point here as well. The pro-indy radical left have always been incredibly touchy about the SNP claiming ownership of the independence cause. So why on earth is Angela singling out the SNP and "nationalists" in general as being culpable for the supposed lack of "clarification"? If she sees herself as being part of the pro-independence movement, and I gather she does, shouldn't she regard this as being her own failing as much as anyone else's?
Thursday, March 15, 2018
Wednesday, March 14, 2018
Dramatic poll boost for independence campaign as SNP open up comfortable lead - and almost HALF want a new indyref within just THREE YEARS
Should Scotland be an independent country? (Ipsos-Mori, telephone fieldwork, Don't Knows excluded)
Yes 48% (+1)
No 52% (-1)
The reason why the Yes vote has gone up rather than down is that there was also an Ipsos-Mori poll last May that showed a slight dip in Yes support, albeit within the margin of error.
What I find remarkable is that if Ipsos-Mori are typical, it appears that phone polling remains slightly more Yes-friendly than online polling is. No online poll since June has had Yes higher than 47%. I must say that's against my expectations, because there were signs in the run-up to the general election that phone and face-to-face polls were swinging sharply back towards No. There was one particularly awful Survation phone poll in June that had Yes down to 39%, much worse than anything online polls were suggesting at the time. Perhaps, as was also the case in the EU referendum, phone polls are more likely to be volatile and to show exaggerated swings in either direction. Whatever the explanation, we can now for the first time say with confidence that, irrespective of data collection method, the Yes vote recovered from any brief election blip, and is back to roughly where it was in the early spring of 2017.
Unfortunately, as is so often the case, I'm going to have to take the media organisation that commissioned the poll to task for misleading people about the results. STV's online headline, which presumably will be reflected in TV reporting at 6pm, claims that the poll shows that Scots "don't want Indyref 2". That is quite simply untrue. The poll actually shows that 42% support a referendum within the next three years (a crucial caveat), 47% oppose a referendum by 2021, 8% "neither support nor oppose" an early referendum, and 3% don't know. Even if the Don't Knows are stripped out, that means a slender majority of the population do not actively oppose Indyref 2 being held soon. If Don't Knows and neutrals are removed, the result is as follows -
That's extremely close to being a statistical tie, and is strikingly reminiscent of a number of Panelbase polls that have shown a virtual dead heat on similarly-worded questions.
What's even more objectionable about STV's reporting, though, is the unjustified emphasis it's putting on a supplementary question that was asked only to respondents who are in favour of an early indyref. Those people were asked to make a binary choice between saying that they want a referendum because of Brexit, or that they want a referendum anyway. STV have used that to split the referendum supporters roughly in half, and to produce a fantasy figure of "only" 22% who supposedly agree with Nicola Sturgeon's stance that a referendum should be held specifically because of Brexit. Back in the real world, the half of referendum supporters who want an indyref in any circumstances may very well feel that Brexit strengthens the case just the same - but they weren't given any opportunity to say that. It's also quite possible that some of the respondents who on balance oppose an early referendum nevertheless feel that the arguments in favour are stronger because of Brexit, but they weren't given an opportunity to say that either. A much more useful question would have been something like "Has Brexit made you more or less supportive of holding an independence referendum within the next three years?" - and it should have been asked to all respondents, not just some.
Liberal Democrats 6%
There have now been eight full-scale Scottish voting intention polls since the general election. This is the sixth of those to show that the SNP's vote has slightly increased from the 37% recorded on election day. All eight have shown that the SNP's lead over the Tories has increased, and five have shown that the SNP's lead over Labour has either increased or remained static.
No Holyrood figures from the poll have been published yet, although I would guess STV may release them tomorrow or very soon. If so, the pattern of recent polls from other firms would suggest that Labour may be performing slightly less well at Holyrood than at Westminster, which could mean they'll still be languishing in third place.
A technical point that will only be of interest to geeks: you may remember that during the indyref campaign we assumed (but didn't know for sure) that Ipsos-Mori were only contacting telephone respondents by landline, which could have meant they were interviewing a disproportionately small 'c' conservative sample. They now seem to be conceding that point by noting: "Our sample now includes a small proportion of mobile numbers as well as landline." I've no idea when exactly they made that adjustment, or how much difference it's making to headline results.
Tuesday, March 13, 2018
Well, if RT is an instrument of Russian soft power, the same is true a hundred times over of Russia's forthcoming hosting of the World Cup. England's participation in the tournament would in effect be a genuflection towards that soft power before a global audience of billions, and yet we're told that the UK government's belief that the Russian state has just attempted murder on British soil will not be an obstacle to that happening. Only practical concerns about safety would lead to the team's withdrawal. Is that position remotely sustainable? I don't think it is. My guess is that some sort of sophistry about "the need to keep sport and politics separate" will eventually be used as an excuse for England taking part, because self-serving Tory politicians are too scared of disappointing the large football-mad section of the electorate. If that proves to be right, we'd better not hear any more hypocritical and sanctimonious tripe about how a 30-minute weekly TV show on an Ofcom-licensed channel is somehow undermining Western civilisation. Amazing, isn't it, how when there's some sort of political cost, all these fine principles suddenly go flying out of the window?
* * *
I caught the early part of the Continuity Bill debate in the Scottish Parliament this afternoon, and I was tickled by the apparent belief of Adam "IT'S THE LAW!!!!" Tomkins that we should all be reassured that the UK government's amendment to the EU Withdrawal Bill will "allow" - but not require - London to seek agreement with the devolved administrations before establishing common UK frameworks that affect devolved matters. Apparently it's some sort of spectacular breakthrough that the UK government isn't legislating to forbid itself to talk to Nicola Sturgeon.
Even more disingenuous is that Tomkins claims to believe that frameworks should be agreed, not imposed, and yet refuses to acknowledge that such a stance is irreconcilable with his support for Westminster legislation that enables imposition. The bottom line is that Tomkins and his colleagues think that if the Scottish government fail to reach an agreement with London on a framework after negotiating in good faith, London should be entirely free to impose a framework. That is simply not consistent with the devolution settlement as it has existed since 1999.
* * *
Of the many abusive trolls that pollute Scottish political Twitter, Labour's Ian Smart is undoubtedly the one that has enjoyed most exposure as a TV pundit. This was his 'thoughtful contribution to the debate' on the Continuity Bill the other day -
"Because no-one in 1998 anticipated us ever leaving the EU, always and never are both apposite. Question for SNP remains why they are best exercised on a supra national basis or by Holyrood alone but not by any intermediate arrangement? Difficult to see an answer beyond Anglophobia."
Given that Smart should undoubtedly have been long since expelled from Labour for the use of abusive and racist language, it's perhaps a mistake to take anything he says too seriously. Nevertheless, I'll bite, because the answer to his question is actually pretty straightforward.
First, it's obviously not the case that the SNP support the status quo in Scotland's relationship with the EU. They want those powers to remain at a supranational level, but for Scotland to have a vote on them by means of direct representation in EU institutions, which we currently lack. In some areas, of course, that would mean having an outright veto, and in others it would be possible to stop unwanted things happening by forming part of a blocking minority.
Second, it's not even the case that the SNP are opposed to the powers being exercised at a 'supranational' UK level after Brexit. But what Smart doesn't seem to understand is that "UK-wide" and "London-imposed" do not mean the same thing. It is perfectly possible for there to be UK-wide frameworks that have been voluntarily thrashed out between the different governments in the UK. Just as would happen if Scotland was independent within the EU, the SNP wants post-Brexit Scotland to pool sovereignty as an active participant whose agreement for decisions is required. The only difference is that independence is not necessary for that to happen in the post-Brexit scenario - the existing devolved settlement, under which anything not explicitly reserved to Westminster is automatically devolved, should already guarantee it. Alas, it looks as if that settlement isn't worth the paper the Scotland Act was written on.
Saturday, March 10, 2018
Thursday, March 8, 2018
Regular readers of the Herald will be aware that Iain Macwhirter has rarely missed an opportunity in his recent columns to state, supposedly as an established fact, that there isn't going to be another independence referendum any time soon. I believe he's wrong about that, although obviously I would be foolish to completely exclude the possibility that he knows something the rest of us don't, because he's very well-connected. However, I thought it was interesting in his most recent piece that he seemed to be relying mainly on gossip from the Westminster side of the equation - ie. that the UK government have convinced themselves that Nicola Sturgeon doesn't have the "authority" to push for a referendum. Why doesn't she? Perhaps because she "only" leads a minority government. (Just as Theresa May does without fretting for a moment about "authority".) Or perhaps because the SNP lost 19 seats at the general election. (An election the SNP nevertheless won by a 1987 Thatcher-style landslide majority.)
If it's true that the London Tories have got carried away with the bogus narrative of Nicola Sturgeon losing her capacity to act, that could explain the seemingly insane decision today to curtail negotiations with the Scottish government and unilaterally press ahead with plans to reduce the Scottish Parliament's powers, thus driving a coach and horses through the Sewel Convention, which has been faithfully upheld for nineteen years. They must truly believe that they can get away with just about anything without having to worry about triggering an independence referendum.
In that they're mistaken. My own guess (and it is only a guess) is that Nicola Sturgeon has always been genuine about the possibility of a pre-2021 referendum. But even if by any chance it turns out she hasn't been genuine, it would still be the case that she and the wider independence movement have their breaking-point. The idea that Scotland can be dragged out of the EU, the single market and the customs union against its will and the Scottish Parliament's powers can be reduced in defiance of the Sewel Convention and the UK government can go to court to get a law of the Scottish Parliament overturned and all of the above can happen despite the Scottish government making efforts in good faith to reach a negotiated settlement...SNP members will be screaming to themselves "if that isn't the change in circumstances that demands a second indyref, what on earth would be?" The pressure on Nicola Sturgeon to act would be overwhelming, and I doubt if she'd even want to resist it.
We now have a precedent of a Bill being introduced in spite of doubts over the Scottish Parliament's competence to pass it. There's no reason why a Bill to legislate for a consultative independence referendum couldn't be brought forward in similar circumstances, with the SNP content to try their luck in the courts. The current constitutional crisis could well be taking us in that direction - unless, ironically, the Supreme Court or the House of Lords step in over the coming weeks to save the Tories from themselves.
Wednesday, March 7, 2018
And yet...do you remember something? A major strand of the Smith process which followed on from "The Vow" in 2014 was about supposedly putting the Sewel Convention on a statutory footing. The convention, among other things, forbids the UK government from removing powers from Holyrood without consent. If that principle had been meaningfully written into law as promised, it would have been possible for the Scottish Government to go to the Supreme Court to block the power-grab. Instead, the British government are somehow able to go to the Supreme Court in an attempt to effectively enable the power-grab. It's utterly grotesque - and that's what betrayal looks like.
Tuesday, March 6, 2018
1) Wings Over Scotland: 215,900 unique visitors in the last 30 days
2) Craig Murray: 128,000 unique visitors in the last 30 days
3) Bella Caledonia: 112,200 unique visitors in the last 30 days
4) Wee Ginger Dug: 75,500 unique visitors in the last 30 days
5) Scot Goes Pop: 74,200 unique visitors in the last 30 days
6) CommonSpace: 59,800 unique visitors in the last 30 days
7) Indyref2: 30,800 unique visitors in the last 30 days
In all honesty I'm a bit sceptical about those figures. I use Google Analytics, and the figures I get there are significantly less than an average of 74,200 per month. Admittedly there's some traffic that Analytics doesn't pick up, but even so. It's also intuitively difficult to believe that CommonSpace, a multi-author site that is updated far more frequently than Scot Goes Pop, and that gets free advertising on the mainstream media of the sort that the rest of us can only dream of, is only in sixth place. Possibly the above figures are just ballpark estimates with a very wide margin of error. Nevertheless, I can certainly believe that Scot Goes Pop is at least competitive with the likes of CommonSpace and Bella, which is pretty incredible for a one-man operation.
*Self-indulgent post ends*