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Showing posts with label BBC. Show all posts
Showing posts with label BBC. Show all posts

Saturday, 13 September 2014

My response to an email on a Blair Jenkins/Jo Coburn Daily Politics interview

DIRECT EMAIL TO ME TODAY

I recently came across the Bella Caledonia website and have been reading a few articles. 

I was born in Glasgow and lived there until I was 21, when I moved to London. This was in 1978, when the IMF had to bail out the UK under the Labour government. The point of my email is not to discuss party politics or the Referendum, but to take issue with your description of the above interview.

Blair Jenkins is described in almost saintly terms, rising above the endless interruptions of the interviewer. That isn't what I saw from the extract on your website. He certainly remained calm, but refused to answer the question that he was asked regarding how Scotland would deal with the panic that would arise in the markets in the event of a 'Yes' victory. That was the reason for interruption by Jo Coburn.

The other interviewees were given their allocated time to put forward their point of view. I wasn't aware of any 'spluttering' or 'raving' from any of them. They were each interrupted by Jo Coburn while they were speaking. I think Jo Coburn was even handed and each individual made their points well.

Looking through the BC website, I'm left with the impression that all the contributors are preaching to the converted, so they can employ insults to anyone with whom they don't agree. I think the arguments have to be won on their merits and not by insulting and demeaning the opposition.

Regards

Clair (surname witheld by me – happy to publish it if Claire so wishes!)

Claire,

Thanks for your email.

The question "How would Scotland deal with the panic that would arise in the markets in the event of a 'Yes' victory" is a loaded question. No politician or political activist, indeed, no sensible person would answer it, because it is pejoratively loaded with a negative assumption - answering involves accepting  a false premise.

I have spent my life as a professional negotiator - I am an expert at framing, asking -and answering questions. This question type is known to American negotiators as the "Have you stopped stealing apples?" question and to UK negotiators as the "Have you stopped beating you wife?" question.

Competent interviewers don't need to plays such puerile games - they elicit information more successfully by properly framed questions.

The Scottish referendum debate has been characterised by the most disgraceful behaviour of any media group in any democratic country in the world. The BBC - and especially their insulated metropolitan commentators - locked in the Westminster Village bubble, have been particularly egregious in this.

Blair Jenkins is a senior media journalist and manager by profession and background - he is not saintly - he is a calm, courteous man who knows his profession. He has transformed a group of volunteers from an enthusiastic, but uncoordinated group into the greatest political campaign Britain has ever seen in its long, disreputable history. Right now, some 35,000 of them are active across Scotland to secure our country's independence on the 18th of September.

It's a neck and neck race, and on Friday morning we'll know the democratic decision of the Scottish electorate. I hope it is a YES, and if it is, I will give Blair Jenkins my heartfelt thanks and congratulations for his pivotal contribution in making Scotland the world's newest independent country, joining the family of more than 200 independent countries across the globe.

regards,

Saturday, 2 November 2013

Johann Lamont and Gary Robertson interview – Sunday Politics Scotland

LETTERS 30th Oct 2013 "TV interviewers must do better" John Kelly

I took issue with John Kelly on a number of observations and facts, and sent a letter to the Herald setting out my core point. It wasn’t published, probably because the Letters page was full of much more topical and vital material on subsequent days, so I have no complaints about the Herald’s priorities and editorial decision.

However, I thought my more extended analysis of the Lamont/Robertson interview might be worth setting out here.

 

Reading John Kelly's letter I wondered if he watched the same Sunday Politics Scotland broadcast as I did.  The anchorman was not Andrew Kerr, as stated by Mr. Kelly, but Gary Robertson, a highly experienced television and radio journalist and expert political interviewer. In just over eight and a half minutes, while allowing Johann Lamont every opportunity to answer questions and make her case, he managed to reveal the gaping holes and contradictions in her position on welfare and benefits, and a misleading an inaccurate campaign leaflet distributed in the Dunfermline by-election by Labour.

It is not the purpose of daily newspapers to hold our elected representatives to account - that is the job of the electorate and, where appropriate, the law. The role of newspapers and the media in general is to tell the truth to power by informing the electorate of the facts that politicians often do not wish the public to know. One of the most powerful tools for doing that is the televised political interview.

A television interviewer’s job is not to act as a a chat show host, allowing his or her celebrity guest to use the 'interview' as a platform for their unchallenged views or as a party political broadcast - the interviewer's role is to explore with penetrating questions the contradictions inherent in all political policy and to elicit answers to questions that the politicians do not want answered, or at least make it starkly evident that the politician is either unable or unwilling to give such answers.

Reading John Kelly's letter I wondered if he watched the same broadcast I did. The anchorman was not Andrew Kerr but Gary Robertson, a highly experienced television and radio journalist and expert political interviewer.

Robertson, on the Grangemouth crisis, asked: "Had you been in Alex Salmond's position, would you have been compromised by being a member of Unite?"and also Lamont’s position on the central role of Stephen Deans in the dispute and police involvement over emails.

She denied seeing the emails, and tried to move away from the issue, denying that the shambles in Falkirk was over the manipulation of candidate selection. It patently was.

Robertson's question on the Dunfermline by-election victory margin and its significance produced an extended reply, with only one minor query from Robertson, and the observation that by-elections rarely change anything, adding that an IpsosMori poll showed 57% electorate support for the Scottish government, and that they seemed to be doing well. Lamont said it "didn't feel like that" to her. Robertson put all his questions briefly, courteously and concisely and Lamont was given every opportunity to respond, which she did at length.

Robertson went on by saying that Labour had said what it was against - independence and the bedroom tax ("eventually") - but what was it for, what was it pro? He interjected - as any competent interviewer would - to try penetrate vague generalities that came in response, asking "What are the issues you are for, then?" Lamont simply persisted with a recitation of problems - all without offering a single policy or what Labour would do about them.

Robertson then moved to the contradictions inherent in the election leaflet put out in Dunfermline, and Lamont's own position on welfare, the welfare budget and her Cuts Commission, contradictions between Labour’s and their key policy adviser Professor Midwinter's views on welfare, council tax, and his position that it was an inefficient use of public funds.

In just over eight and a half minutes - while allowing Johann Lamont every opportunity to answer questions fully and make her case - he managed to reveal the absence of any coherent Labour policy, and gaping holes and contradictions in her position on welfare and benefits.

Gary Robertson did his job superbly well – perhaps that is what really bothered Mr. Kelly.

Friday, 4 October 2013

Scotland – the Invisible Country (from the perspective of BBC Daily Politics and UK educational Establishment)

There is only one Daily Politics programme on BBC, and it purports to address the whole of the UK.

There is a Sunday Politics and a Sunday Politics Scotland, from the same Andrew Neil stable, and there is a Newsnight and a Newsnight Scotland, to the all-too evident frustration of Jeremy Paxman.

Under normal circumstance, one would therefore expect the Daily Politics to reflect Scottish affairs regularly, in proportion to population at least, and to pick up on Scottish stories of special interest to Scotland and the UK as a whole. After all, the first B in BBC stands for British Broadcasting Corporation!

But we are most certainly not in normal circumstance – we are living in perhaps a uniquely challenging period of history for the integrity of Britain - i.e. UK  - as a political entity. Scotland is 348 days away from a referendum that will determine, not only the future of Scotland but of the United Kingdom, and which will have major implications for the EU, for Scandinavia and for US/UK NATO strategy.

A YES vote will effectively end UK, the British Empire and quite possibly spell the end of the UK nuclear deterrent.

THE DAILY POLITICS 4th October 2013

Today’s Daily Politics addressed the impact of tuition fees on UK universities and students. I repeat - on UK universities and students.

This was evidenced by the presence of Dr. Wendy Piatt of The Russell Group (“Our universities are to be found in all four nations and in every major city of the UK”), Nicola Dandridge of Universities UK (“Universities UK has offices in Edinburgh (Universities Scotland”) and Toni Pearce of the National Union of Students (“We are a confederation of 600 students' unions, amounting to more than 95% of all higher and further education unions in the UK”)

One of the great policy divides, reflecting widely different social values and priorities of two nations growing increasingly further apart – Scotland and England – is tuition fees and education policy.

1. There are no tuition fees in Scotland.

2. There will be no tuition fees in a devolved Scotland while the SNP is in government.

3. It is almost a negligible possibility that there could ever be tuition fees in an independent Scotland, regardless of which party or coalition governed. (The likelihood of a Tory Government regaining power in independent Scotland with a policy of tuition fees is zero.)

4. Free education in Scotland poses major problems for the UK Government and impacts on the EU and the world – the world comes to Scotland to be educated.

Despite this, the Daily Politics managed an entire 14 minutes discussion, (preceded by a report) chaired by Jo Coburn, without once mentioning Scotland (except for a fleeting mention of “their English members” at  1m30s mark) despite the presence of three representatives whose organisations and roles purport to have a UK-wide remit, and who have Scottish universities and students as members.

There are only two credible explanations for this extraordinary omission -

The BBC, the Daily Politics - and the participants and organisations they represent - regard Scotland as a marginal region somewhere north of the Watford gap which merits no real attention whatsoever.

or

To discuss the reality of the situation would have pointed up one important aspect of the widening gulf between Scotland and England and would have assisted the cause of a YES vote.

If this is the contempt in which Scotland is held before the 2014 referendum, one can imagine all to clearly the utter contempt in which it would be held after a  No vote.

Vote Yes for Scotland!

Tuesday, 2 July 2013

Vince Cable, Fergus Ewing and Good Morning Scotland

Good Morning Scotland and Gary Robertson are usually fair but hard-hitting over the independence debate. But this interview fell short, and the failure I suspect was in editorial decision. At every stage this morning at various times, GMS delivered airtime to Vince Cable's claims virtually unchallenged but attacked the SNP rebuttal in a simplistic and inappropriate manner

When Cable was interviewed he was allowed to make his claims without being asked to justify them in any way. In marked contrast, Fergus Ewing – in marked contrast - was repeatedly asked for the exact cost of regulation in an independent Scotland, with Gary Robertson using the interview technique of the 'broken record', repeated question. Now this approach is valid if the interviewee is evading an answer, but consider the timescale and dynamics of this situation -

1. Regulation at every level in UK has failed spectacularly since the millennium - in banking, in the Press, police regulation, child abuse, NHS Trusts, Parliamentary expenses, etc. Major regulatory bodies have either been replaced completely or their heads forced to resign. This was virtually ignored.

2. Vince Cable is a Government Minister with all the current facts and costs of regulation, and a full knowledge of its failure. He was asked about none of these things.

3. Fergus Ewing is a Minister in a devolved government, over 14 months away from a referendum and the commencement of an 18 month complex negotiation on every aspect of government and the break-up of the UK. Scotland will achieve its independence in March of 2016, more than two and a half years from now on the conclusion of these negotiations. The SNP then has to prepare a manifesto for government and fight an election, together with all the other Scottish parties.

To ask Fergus Ewing to predict the exact cost of regulation under these circumstance is asinine and beggars belief, and Good Morning Scotland, Gary Robertson and the BBC should know better.

Thursday, 20 June 2013

Where are we going on independence?

The answer I want to give to the title question is a confident – To  a decisive YES vote on September 18th 2014!

That’s what I and any independence supporter is expected to do – be gung ho, celebrate the polls that bode well, attack the methodology, pollsters and those who commissioned the poll when things don’t go so well. Forward to victory! Don’t be deflected! Find increasingly ingenious ways to interpret poll results that don’t suit us until they yield a positive message.

Well, I’ve done my share of that for six years, in arguments, in blogs, on Twitter, on YouTube, in letters to newspapers. Why? Partly to reassure myself, mainly to bolster the morale of the faithful and to encourage the undecided to look deeper into poll results.  Such things are legitimate in politics because, rather like the stock exchange, it’s part rational but significantly irrational and emotional, and confidence plays a significant part in success in any endeavour. The hard core of independence supporters will never be persuaded to change their allegiance by a poll, but their energies can be blunted, their enthusiasm dulled, and some may retreat into a blame-the-stupidity-of-the-Scots-electorate mode, and reduce the amount of work they do for the cause.

I’ve been tempted myself to say - “I’ve done enough – they can have my vote on September 18th 2014, but that’s it. Hell mend Scotland if it votes NO…”

But so far, that mood has never lasted, because events have triggered my adrenalin flow, and exasperation, astonishment or even mirth at the latest manifestation of ‘Britishness’, unionism, or the ever-idiotic Better Together spokespersons has driven me back to the grindstone.

So what is the proper attitude to the polls? Saying they don’t matter, the only poll that matters is the ballot box, or perhaps what-we’re-hearing-on-the-doorstep-tells-us-different etc. is a counter-productive reaction.

An opinion poll, conducted by a reputable organisation with sound sampling and interpretation methodology, in its raw data at least, is a vital and valuable snapshot of opinion at a point in time. Like any snapshot, it can be crisp in detail and capture the essence of the moment, or it can be blurry and unrepresentative. And, like any snapshot, those viewing it can offer multiple interpretations of what it means; and in this regard, the psephologists are the art critics of polls and, if we have any sense, we will pay attention to what they say and draw our own conclusions as to what action is necessary to move the next poll in the direction of independence.

The focus tends to be, naturally enough, on the polls that are published, but additionally, all parties conduct private polls for their eyes only, to guide their strategists. On the rare occasions the media get wind of this, commentators generate much synthetic shock that a party should take a poll and not publish the results. This is compounded on occasion by the stupidity of politicians who are unable to resist the temptation to make veiled allusions to such polls, with predictable results – demands that they publish immediately, accompanied by accusations of skulduggery. (There has been one such example recently.)

THE POLLS

Here are some of the questions on a straight independence choice asked by pollsters -

YouGov

Do you support or oppose Scotland becoming a country independent from the rest of the United Kingdom?

Do you agree or disagree that Scotland should become a country independent from the rest of the United Kingdom?

Do you agree that Scotland should become a country independent from the rest of the UK?

ICM

Would you approve or disapprove of Scotland becoming an independent country?

TNS System 3

Do you support or oppose Scotland becoming a country independent from the rest of the UK

Survation 

Do you support or oppose Scotland becoming an independent country, separate from the rest of the United Kingdom?

POLL RESULTS ASKING THE INDEPENDENCE STRAIGHT CHOICE  QUESTION

In April 2005, TNS System 3 found 46% said YES, 39% said NO

In April 2006, same result by YouGov/SNP.

By November 2006 ICM/Telegraph got 52% YES and 35% NO. That might have been an indicator of the 2007 SNP win, then again it might not, because …..

January 2007, four months before the election, YouGov/Channel 4 poll gave 40% YES, 44% NO

Because of these poll – and because of the shock 2007 Holyrood result, unionists were jolted out of their complacency, none more than the supine Scottish Labour Party. “This wisnae meant tae happen, Tony!” bleated a shell-shocked Jack McConnell, and great menacing beasts stirred uneasily in the bowels of the British Establishment.

And so the first historic Scottish Nationalist Government was elected – a minority government, yes, but as a party in power, not as a coalition. And what happened at the next poll?

April 2008 YouGov/the Sun 34% YES, 51% NO

Spooky, or what?

14th January 2012 Survation/Mail on Sunday 26% YES 46% NO.

I hear your cynical cries already - “Ha! Mail on Sunday! and Survation? Who the **** are they?” etc. because the day before we had this -

13th January 2012 ICM/Sunday Telegraph 40% YES 43% NO.  Had the electorate flipped overnight – or had the Mail on Sunday just behaved like the Mail on Sunday?

I could go on at length with poll results and interpretation of the mind-bending cross-relationships and implication of other questions to each other, on more powers, and support for remaining in UK, but I won’t, because my interpretations would be that of a layman, not a professional psephologist or political strategist, and would have correspondingly little value.

SELF-DELUSION AND MAGICAL EVENTS

What do we know? 

Bluntly, that -

the polls currently show a minority of the Scottish electorate in favour of independence

we have a mountain to climb before September 18th 2014

we must start to see some upward movement in the near future if we are to have any chance of success. 

Despite the fact that these three statements are undeniably true, simply to state them is to enough provoke cries of protest, and a range of ingenious interpretations of poll results, brandishing of poll results that were favourable, denial of the validity of poll results that were less favourable, attacks on the media, the pollsters and their allegedly flawed methodologies, and invocation of magical events in the past (the lead-up to the 2011 Holyrood landslide) and magical events in the future (the White Paper).

Bluntly, some independence supporters are going to have to grow up fast, politically and arithmetically, if we’re going to win.

I take comfort in my belief - which I hope to God is well-founded -that this mindset only exists among some of the support, that the SNP and YES strategists are rooted in hard psephological and political realities and can tell a standard deviation from a bull’s arse.

The 2011 result was astonishing, unpredicted by the politicians, but anticipated by the pollsters, albeit late in the day (because the shift in the electorate occurred late in the day), and nobody knows what caused it, although speculation, informed and otherwise, is rife. There is nothing in that past event – an election to a devolved Parliament – that is a reliable indicator to how voters will decide in a referendum of such historical importance, with such enormous constitutional implication as 2014 – except maybe hope …

It’s in the past, and the past is not a reliable guide to the future in politics.

The White Paper is clearly of enormous significance. It offers a huge opportunity for the independence argument, but also represents a huge threat to it. The formidable forces of the British Establishment, the monarchy (yes, the monarchy – the Queen has already pinned her colours to the mast), the UK Government, the UK Civil Service, the compliant media and press, the military/industrial complex, the nuclear industry - and shadowy overseas interests - are already preparing their attack plans. 

The White Paper will be leaked in part (inevitable, leaving aside the presence of spooks in the Scottish Government!) and will be subject to a dissection and onslaught against it that has rarely, if ever, been seen in British politics.

The Scottish electorate in the main will not read it (how many of you have ever bought or read a white paper?) and will be offered partisan and simplistic headlines, mainly hostile.

The Scottish Government and YES Campaign will be unable to match that in volume and coverage, and won’t want to match it in virulence and misrepresentation.

They will therefore be totally reliant on the brevity, quality and originality of their message, delivered in the main online and through volunteers, and with luck, through the national public service broadcaster - the BBC - if the independence movement can stop trying to alienate and antagonise every last journalist, presenter and programme editor in the entire corporation.

CLOSING – AND HOPE!

There are really only three key questions as a guide to action for the time remaining till the referendum -

1. How many Nos and Don’t knows can be shifted to YES?

2. What are the arguments that will shift them and how can they be focused and targeted on the various demographics and interest groups?

3. How are the frustrated pro-union devo-maxers going to divide, denied their second question  and faced with a polarised choice – YES or NO?

What I know to be true is that the vital and dedicated workers on the pavements, in the car parks and public places, at the letter boxes and on the doorsteps - and the less-important but still relevant backroom contributors such as me - are just getting on with spreading the message of independence as best they can to the widest possible audience they can reach.

Friday, 29 March 2013

A few thoughts on the BBC and the media

THE BBC

Another journalists’ strike at Pacific Quay, with claims about the workload and of bullying. I may add that if such pressures were not enough, hard-pressed journalists have also had to endure a torrent of abuse on alternative media and by email, not least from deeply misguided independence supporters.

I am a supporter of the BBC, albeit a critic of specific instances of superficiality or lack of balance in political coverage. I support them because the BBC has been a central feature of my entire life since the early 1940s and I owe it a debt I can never repay, least of all by the licence fee which, for me, would be cheap at ten times the price. Without BBC news, current affairs, music, comedy, drama, culture and popular entertainment my intellectual life – indeed my life – would have been immeasurably poorer. As deprived child in Glasgow, there were four lifelines to the life of the mind for me – my radio, which meant effectively the BBC, the free public libraries and museums, cheap, quality newspapers and the wonderful soapbox orators of the Glasgow Barras market.  That world - the world of media - has now changed almost out of recognition, yet in spite of the new electronic media and channels of communication (which I have kept up with and utilise) the BBC is still central for me. BBC Four and the Parliament channel alone are superb examples of what a great public service broadcaster can do, what it can be.

However, my respect and gratitude are given to the programme makers, not to the governing body and senior managers of the BBC, who are responsible for much of what is undeniably wrong with it. The BBC produces quality output through its programme makers, its presenters, its journalists, its creatives despite the managers and governing body, not because of them. A generation ago, Dennis Potter, one of the glories of BBC drama, a dying man, supping from a flask of liquid morphine, excoriated the managers of the BBC in the era of Birtism – in his 1993 Croaking Daleks speech in Edinburgh. All that he criticised then is still present today: all that he forecast then is coming to pass now.

So I don’t support the BBC that engages in the gadarene pursuit of ratings, the BBC that pays megabucks to celebrity entertainers and presenters, the BBC that allows its most senior echelons to behave like kings of the universe, with salaries and perks to match, while they drain the life blood of resources from the front end people who keep them in the style to which they have become accustomed. I don’t support the faceless placemen and women who infest the higher governance of the BBC, drawn from the incestuous pool of the ‘great and the good’, remote from the lives and concerns of ordinary mortals. I don’t support the higher management in thrall to the insidious influences of shadowy, powerful interest groups, whether they be governmental, commercial, religious or political.

I also have nothing but contempt for the BBC that allowed Jimmy Savile to survive and prey on the young and vulnerable, and which tolerates behaviour from some of its ‘stars’ that is beneath the contempt of any thinking viewer. I despise the metropolitan laziness that draws its panellists on political programmes from the same rolodex of the usual suspects, complacently networking over London dinner tables.

I question the deeply reverential style adopted by the BBC when covering organised religion or the monarchy – a deferential mode of acceptance and support for institutions that are irrelevant to large swathes of the population, institutions that should be reported on objectively and questioned where appropriate.

Most of all, I question the competence of the present generation of managers to manage – to apply best modern managerial practices and techniques to the management of people in a time of budget cuts and resource pressure. I question the professionalism of my own discipline, Human Resources, as it appears to an outsider to be practised within the BBC, notably BBC Scotland at the moment, but I recognise the possibility – ever-present for HR departments – that they too are the victims of an oppressive management culture, incompetent in the management of change.

I unequivocally support the BBC trades unions on fighting for the security, dignity and respect owed to their members – the people who are the true heart of the BBC.

Friday, 19 October 2012

Alex Salmond on NATO and nuclear submarines – Radio Scotland 18th Oct. 2012

Gary Robertson: On the issue of NATO, which your party is discussing at your conference, is a change in policy crucial to reassure Scotland when it comes to voting in the referendum?

Alex Salmond: No, I think a change of policy is the right thing, because all parties should change their policies to equip them for the modern, and the long-term consistency in SNP policies has been our opposition to nuclear weapons. I mean – the SNP in my lifetime has been pro-NATO, we’ve been anti-NATO, we’ve been in favour, as we are now, of Partnership for Peace, which is a NATO organisation. So that’s been an emphasis in the policy, but the underlying consistency is our opposition to nuclear weapons and the best way to remove Trident from Scotland.

Gary Robertson: So would an independent Scotland allow nuclear-armed vessels from allied countries to enter Scottish waters or ports?

Alex Salmond: Well, an independent Scotland would not have possession of, or allow nuclear weapons on Scottish territory …

Gary Robertson: So you’re saying no to to NATO members with nuclear armed vessels ..

Alex Salmond: As you well know ..

Gary Robertson: .. to enter Scottish waters?

Alex Salmond: As you well know - that – the presence of nuclear weapons on a vessel is never confirmed by any power. There’s many examples of this, but 26 out of the 29 countries in NATO are non-nuclear countries. It’s perfectly feasible for Scotland to be one of these, but still engage in collective defence with our friends and allies.

Gary Robertson: But it is a nuclear – broadly, it’s a nuclear umbrella as it were – so it’s all very well saying on one hand you’ll get rid of Trident – but you are suggesting here that, if nuclear weapons arrive on Scottish shores from NATO members, they would be welcome.

Alex Salmond: I didn’t say that, Gary, as you’re well aware. I’m just pointing out that no country ever confirms the presence of nuclear weapons on its ships. But what you’re trying to tell me is that the policy, for example, pursued by the Canadian Government is somehow inconsistent, or the policy pursued by 26 out of the 29 NATO countries is inconsistent. I mean, I can’t wish away nuclear weapons of the United States of America: what I can do is remove the nuclear weapons and weapons of mass destruction from Scotland called Trident – and I can do that if Scotland votes for independence in two years time. and we can devote the enormous resources that are wasted on these nuclear weapons just now to things like employment for young people and further investment in Scotland’s colleges.

Gary Robertson: But when we go back to Kosovo – when you called that an act of unpardonable folly, you also talked about it being “an act of dubious legality”.  Why would you want to be part of an alliance that acts in a dubious legal way?

Alex Salmond: Because we are under no requirement to follow any provision of international policy which is not sanctioned by the United Nations. If you look at my attack on the Kosovo policy, it was specifically because it wasn’t sanctioned by the United Nations – and if I can take you to a more recent example ..

Gary Robertson: But Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty says an attack on a member is seen as an attack on all NATO members, so you could well find yourself being involved in conflicts that you don’t agree with

Alex Salmond: An attack on a member state – it’s a  - it’s a collective security alliance. Kosovo was not an attack on a member state – and I if was going to point out to you a much more recent example, of course … If you remember back to the famous debate between two nuclear – two NATO countries, that is France and America over the illegal war in Iraq, with the American Government along with Tony Blair and the UK Labour Government and Conservative parties arguing to get into that illegal war – and the French Government and other NATO countries arguing against that illegal war ..  Membership of NATO doesn’t commit you to taking part in international engagement which are not sanctioned by the United Nations and of course, the motion before the party conference explicitly makes it clear that we’d only be in NATO on condition that we were a non-nuclear country, like the vast majority of members, and that we had the right to follow United Nations precepts on international engagements. That doesn’t tie our hands at all in engaging in collective security with our friends and allies.

COMMENT

The essence of this vital short exchange is in the following questions, posed by Gary Robertson, and the First Minister’s responses. I won’t say answers, because he didn’t answer them. But in failing to answer directly, his responses, despite the evasion, gave a vital and, for me decisive insight into just what is in the SNP leadership’s mind.

EXCHANGE ONE

Gary Robertson: So would an independent Scotland allow nuclear-armed vessels from allied countries to enter Scottish waters or ports?

Alex Salmond: Well, an independent Scotland would not have possession of, or allow nuclear weapons on Scottish territory …

Gary Robertson: So you’re saying no to to NATO members with nuclear armed vessels ..

Alex Salmond: As you well know ..

Gary Robertson: .. to enter Scottish waters?

Alex Salmond: As you well know - that – the presence of nuclear weapons on a vessel is never confirmed by any power. There’s many examples of this, but 26 out of the 29 countries in NATO are non-nuclear countries. It’s perfectly feasible for Scotland to be one of these, but still engage in collective defence with our friends and allies.

Gary Robertson: But it is a nuclear – broadly, it’s a nuclear umbrella as it were – so it’s all very well saying on one hand you’ll get rid of Trident – but you are suggesting here that, if nuclear weapons arrive on Scottish shores from NATO members, they would be welcome.

Alex Salmond: I didn’t say that, Gary, as you’re well aware. I’m just pointing out that no country ever confirms the presence of nuclear weapons on its ships.

No, you didn’t say that, First Minister – you didn’t say very much at all …

The question is avoided completely in its initial. straightforward, crystal clear formulation , by a simple repetition of SNP nuclear policy by the FM. When Robertson persists. the FM retreats behind the eyes closed, don’t know, don’t want to know position, followed by yet another repetition of the mantra of what the non-nuclear NATO member countries do.

But in not answering, the First Minister has answered, by default.

An independent Scotland in NATO will offer, without question, safe havens to any nuclear submarine of any NATO nation without insisting on an inspection – perfectly feasible – to determine whether they are carrying nuclear weapons.

In other words, we will become a passive, notionally non-nuclear dock for nuclear armed vessels of a nuclear alliance committed to first strike, NATO.

SECOND EXCHANGE

Gary Robertson: But when we go back to Kosovo – when you called that an act of unpardonable folly, you also talked about it being “an act of dubious legality”. Why would you want to be part of an alliance that acts in a dubious legal way?

Alex Salmond: Because we are under no requirement to follow any provision of international policy which is not sanctioned by the United Nations. If you look at my attack on the Kosovo policy, it was specifically because it wasn’t sanctioned by the United Nations – and if I can take you to a more recent example ..

Gary Robertson: But Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty says an attack on a member is seen as an attack on all NATO members, so you could well find yourself being involved in conflicts that you don’t agree with

Alex Salmond: An attack on a member state – it’s a - it’s a collective security alliance. Kosovo was not an attack on a member state – and I if was going to point out to you a much more recent example, of course … If you remember back to the famous debate between two nuclear – two NATO countries, that is France and America over the illegal war in Iraq, with the American Government along with Tony Blair and the UK Labour Government and Conservative parties arguing to get into that illegal war – and the French Government and other NATO countries arguing against that illegal war .. Membership of NATO doesn’t commit you to taking part in international engagement which are not sanctioned by the United Nations and of course, the motion before the party conference explicitly makes it clear that we’d only be in NATO on condition that we were a non-nuclear country, like the vast majority of members, and that we had the right to follow United Nations precepts on international engagements. That doesn’t tie our hands at all in engaging in collective security with our friends and allies.

The First Minister’s response to Gary Robertson’s simple question - Why would you want to be part of an alliance that acts in a dubious legal way? – is distorted to make it sound as if he said that the Kosovo was an attack on a member state, thus allowing the FM to mount a defence based on his strawman. Robertson did not say that. If I may offer my understanding of his question, it was -

The Kosovo attack was an illegal, unilateral attack on another nation by NATO. Why would anyone, least of all Alex Salmond who had rightly condemned that attack, want to be part of an alliance that had so recently been capable of such a crime?

What follows in the FM’s closing statement offers a fairy tale world, in which moral, non-nuclear Scotland is partners with this international nuclear gangster, NATO, permitting it to come and go as it please with it WMD-armed submarines in Scottish waters, using non-nuclear Scotland as a key base to launch attacks at any time that would carry unimaginable destructive power to the four corners of our planet, but somehow escapes any responsibility for what it does because the Scottish Government prefers not to ask what the subs are carrying, and can draw its skirts back in mock horror, disassociating itself from anything morally dubious.

This is the morality of someone who rents his property to a whoremonger, but claims no knowledge of what is done on his premises.

Has your pragmatism and flexibility come to this Blairite position, First Minister? Do you expect the Scottish electorate to endorse such a contemptible course of action on their way to – independence?

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

NATO, NATS and the Cui bono? question

All political parties are good at finding proxies to reflect their opinions on sensitive matters where ministers want to slide quietly away from the firing line until the barrage settles down. The SNP has been no exception.

I don’t believe that Andrew Wilson is such a proxy, mainly because I hear the ring of truth in his personal antipathy to nuclear weapons, and I therefore treat his views as expressed in the Scotland on Sunday article on NATO as entirely his own. Since they very closely match the core arguments of Angus Robertson and Angus MacNeil on NATO membership – and that of the bulk of my correspondents who support the U-turn – I will address them in that context.  Having done that, however, I will sound a cautionary note to politicians and commentators at the end.

Andrew Wilson is at pains early in his opinion piece to establish his anti-nuclear, CND pedigree, as indeed are most (not all) of those who support the U-turn. I don’t doubt for a moment his total commitment to a nuclear-free Scotland. I do believe, however, that some other senior figures in the SNP are, at best, disingenuous when they say the same, that the party contains some who are closet nuclear deterrent protagonists, and that their closet is not very deep. I hope I am wrong, but it would be surprising in a large, broad-based independence party if this were not so. Membership of NATO would, sooner or later, make it respectable to emerge from that closet.

ANDREW’S ARGUMENTS

The inherited treaty obligations argument. There is no hard evidence that such obligations exist under NATO for an independent Scotland.

AW: “..its 22 member states see it as critical to their defence ..” There are 28 member states, Andrew. If we excludes the three dominant nuclear states (US, UK and France) there are 25. Perhaps you are confusing NATO with Partnership for Peace, which has 22?

The 25 have clearly opted to be members. None of them are in the unique situation of Scotland – not a member in its own right, resolutely opposed to nuclear weapons, yet hosting the UK’s nuclear deterrent and vitally important to the NATO strategy – “NATO’s aircraft carrier” as astonishingly characterised by Jim Sillars whilst still arguing that Scotland should remain a member.

The Angus Robertson argument - we should remain in, subject to an agreement that Scotland can become free of nuclear weapons in the same way as Nato members Canada and Greece.

Andrew Wilson characterises this as “a no-brainer”. It clearly is not a no-brainer (a contemptuous way to dismiss counter arguments) for a significant number of SNP members, for a helluva lot of Scots of other parties, and for the European nations including the Republic of Ireland who have chosen to stay out of the clammy and potentially lethal embrace of NATO. Perhaps he could look at my many blogs on the subject, e.g. 18th July 2012, and review his no-brainer assessment, or the  briefing and fact papers put out by CND, including their recent response to AR’s latest missive, CORRECTING THE NATO BRIEFING. You say you “admire, respect and love many of the people who will be arguing against from a principled position”, Don’t then patronise them with phrases such as no-brainer.

AW:if the SNP votes to keep a position on withdrawal this month, its chances of ever actually leading the country out will have diminished because the chances of a Yes vote will have, too.”

A number of the people you “admire, respect and love” don’t agree with that assessment, Andrew, and think, as I do, that exactly the reverse may be true. The firm commitment of the SNP leadership to ‘Britishness’ and to a NATO U-turn has been followed by a decline in support for independence in the last poll. I will draw a veil over who supported what – or not – on the devo-max fiasco, now hopefully stone dead.

I don’t want to fall into the post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy – there are many complex reasons for poll shifts – by claiming that these twin policies plus the devo-max confusion and fog of obfuscation, all once favoured by you, have contributed to that decline, but equally I think that both you and the SNP should be more than a little cautious about drawing simplistic conclusions from polls claiming the a majority of the Scottish electorate fear withdrawal from NATO.

THE Cui bono? QUESTION

Before offering this analysis and general cautionary note, I repeat what I said about Andrew Wilson at the start of this blog -

“I don’t believe that Andrew Wilson is such a proxy, mainly because I hear the ring of truth in his personal antipathy to nuclear weapons, and I therefore treat his views as expressed in the Scotland on Sunday article on NATO as entirely his own.”

Andrew has also a long, honourable record of service to the SNP and to the cause of independence.

American lawyers, and for all I know, British lawyers, when challenged on introducing a topic in court by opposing counsel, reply “You opened the door …” Andrew Wilson has offered his personal background in support of his case, so I will feel free to explore it further. (My door is similarly wide open after five years of blogging!).

Drawing – with caution – from Wikipedia, it can be seen that Andrew has a considerable political pedigree in the SNP. An economics and politics graduate, he was viewed by the media as “a rising star of the SNP, an iconoclast and pro-market economist”. He was an early proponent of the full fiscal autonomy idea (devo-max). He lectured the party on ‘Britishness’ after independence as early as 1999. He wrote a column for the Sunday Mail asking Scots to support the English football team. After his active political career, he joined the Royal Bank of Scotland as a business economist in 1997 and became Deputy Chief Economist, then after the 2008 crisis became Head of Group Communications. He joined WPP in 2012, a company which describes itself as “a world leader in advertising and marketing services” in what such companies in quaint management-speak call “a client-facing role”.  (Presumably the rest face away from the client?)

By any standards, WPP is big (its billing for the six months ending June 2011 were over £21 billion) and significant, with over 153,00 full-time employees in 2400 offices over 107 countries, with a large, diverse client base across the world.

Given its formidable client base (over 300 of Fortune Global 500 companies, 29 of Dow Jones 30, 60 of  NASDAQ 100, 32 of Fortune e-50, etc.) it would be impossible for it not to have major clients in the defence and/or closely related industries (see Dow Jones 30, for example).

Such an analysis could be offered for any multi-national or transnational company, and similar conclusions could be reached for many of them, and such companies are vital to Scotland now and will be even more so in an independent Scotland. I offer the analysis to demonstrate the formidable difficulties faced by politicians - and their key supporters employed by such companies - when faced by the complex questions raised by the interface between politicians and the military'/industrial complex especially when it touches on nuclear matters.

For example, when I lasted worked full-time in industry, I was an HR director in a drinks company. What if I currently held that post in the present minimum pricing context? When I was running my own consulting business, I had a number of major clients in the alcohol industry and early on, worked through a sub-contract for Vickers  in their Leeds and Newcastle factories. Other clients had links to the nuclear industry. I had no easy answers then to moral and political dilemmas posed by such situations and I have none now.

What I can say is that I would have been fair game for scrutiny if I had been as politically vocal as I am now, and could not have quarrelled with cui bono? questions when I sounded off.

At this time of potential constitutional change for Scotland and the UK, of a magnitude that cannot be understated, with complex ramifications for European and indeed global defence strategies, an increasingly polarised debate, with Scotland’s nuclear and NATO position central to that debate, all politicians and all commentators may expect scrutiny about how they link into the fiendishly complex network of profit, patronage and politics of international defence, and Eisenhower’s nightmare of the military/industrial complex and its insidious influence on democratic processes. Worse still, this inevitably can create a poisonous McCarthyite atmosphere, contributed to by both sides of the debate, as manifested particularly in the ill-advised comment on the impartiality of BBC presenters, one that extended in many cases to their partners, spouses and relatives.

But it is not simply an ad hominem argument to say that it is entirely reasonable for voters to look at the business and commercial affiliations of those who are not politicians but choose to offer political arguments. They have a perfect right to do so, and the voters have a perfect right to ask Cui bono?

I think that for many commentator working for major companies in the private sector, especially international ones, that it would be prudent to consider the likelihood of that question being asked before offering political views, however objective and altruistic their viewpoint.

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Questions time for Question Time

In the almost certainly vain hope that some objective thinking may prevail on the issues raised by this week’s Question Time at Inverness, let me set out my understanding.

On Monday, a number of tweets complained about the Question Time panel that had been announced online by the BBC – and various television schedules programmes – for the Inverness Question Time this Thursday. The first announcement on the BBC programmes website showed this -

David Dimbleby chairs Question Time from Inverness. On the panel, Liberal Democrat Danny Alexander MP, Labour's leader in Scotland Johann Lamont MSP, Conservative former Secretary of State for Scotland Lord Forsyth, Daily Mail columnist Melanie Phillips and the actor Alan Cumming.

Today it shows this -

David Dimbleby chairs Question Time from Inverness. On the panel, Deputy First Minister of Scotland Nicola Sturgeon MSP, former leader of the Liberal Democrats Charles Kennedy MP, Labour's leader in Scotland Johann Lamont MSP, Conservative former Secretary of State for Scotland Lord Forsyth, Daily Mail columnist Melanie Phillips and the actor Alan Cumming.

Quite how this came about is still unclear. Today the Herald carries this report Nationalists accuse BBC of imbalance

It includes this quote from Kenneth Gibson, SNP MSP -

SNP senior backbencher Kenneth Gibson said: "It is inevitable that independence will be discussed on this week's Question Time, and it would be in the best interests of a fair and measured debate if the BBC invited equal numbers of panellists from both the Yes and No campaigns.

Monday morning’s tweeting included two tweets from SNP Westminster MPs Pete Wishart and Angus MacNeill complaining about the alleged imbalance.

Responding to a blog comment, I gave this off the cuff response -

Question Time is produced by an independent production company, and David Dimbleby is not an employee of the BBC. The programmes remit is to reflect the political spectrum of the UK and UK-wide issues, even when it comes from a regional centre. The questions submitted by the audience are selected on this basis.
The panel is meant to reflect that UK diversity of political views, not single issues, which is what Scotland's independence is, albeit a fundamental one. I am surprised that no member of the Scottish Government is on the programme, but since I am unaware of any protest from the Scottish Government or the SNP at the moment about the constitution of the panel, I assume that they were either invited and declined, or that they are happy for Alan Cumming to reflect the nationalist viewpoint.
Having said all that, I do find it a surprising omission. Maybe the SNP would like to comment, but I'm not holding my breath, since I can't remember the last time the SNP ever made a comment on my blogs.

I pursued this seem in various Twitter exchanges, trying to make the point that one of the following things must have happened -

1. The SNP/ScottishGovernment was not consulted about the composition of the panel.

2. The SNP/ScottishGovernment was consulted, and found it acceptable, with the possibility that they had nominated Alan Cumming (unlikely).

3. The SNP/ScottishGovernment was consulted, and did not find it acceptable, and had registered a protest.

4. The SNP/ScottishGovernment was invited to nominate a panel member from the Scottish Government, but were either unable of offer anyone or could not reach agreement on a nominee with the BBC.

Note my uneasy bracketing of the SNP with the Scottish Government. This reflects the fact that while the SNP, a political party,  is unequivocally committed to independence, The Scottish Government, elected on a platform of independence and the commitment to hold a referendum, is now the government of all the Scottish people (including a proportion of the electorate who voted for them but not for independence) and is therefore committed to the voice of all the Scottish people being heard in the debate on independence.

I made the further point on Twitter that Pete Wishart and Angus MacNeill’s tweets could not be seen as revealing the SNP or the Scottish Government’s exact position on the issue, but that an official statement could rapidly clear things up.

To my knowledge, no such official statement appeared yesterday (I may be wrong in that) but later in the day, a tweet appeared from Alan Cumming saying he looked forward to joining Nicola Sturgeon on the panel, a tweet to which Nicola promptly responded confirming this. (The Twitterati were presumably meant to take this as an official SNP or even Scottish Government announcement.)

QUESTION TIME

Question Time is produced by an independent production company, Mentorn, for the BBC.

David Dimbleby is not an employee of the BBC. The programme is commissioned by the BBC and all their rules and guidelines over political balance apply.

The programme is not a political programme – it is a topical debate programme, the questions are chosen exclusively from questions submitted by the invited studio audience, and can cover any topic, including but not confined to political topics. The questions chosen usually reflect the main political, social and sometimes trivial issues of the moment.

The usual programme panel is three representatives of the three largest parties, Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrats plus (my words and view) one left-wing artist, entertainer or journalist and one right-wing equivalent, making a panel of five. However, this format is not inflexible – other parties can be represented, e.g. UKIP, SNP and on one notable occasion, the BNP. Thursday night’s programme from Inverness has belatedly recognised this by a panel of six in addition to the chairman.

The show addresses UK-wide issues in various locations throughout the UK. When it is in a region of England, in Wales, in Northern Ireland and in Scotland, the questions understandably often relate to issues in that country or region and the panel representation usually reflects that in the political party members invited. However, that does not make the programme Welsh Question Time, or Northern Ireland Question Time or Scottish Question Time or, say, North East of England Question Time – it remains just Question Time, a programme with a UK-wide remit.

There is no doubt that the impending independence referendum has placed a new complexion on the programme format, especially when it is located in Scotland, and to some degree neither the production company, Mentorn, nor David Dimbleby, nor the BBC have quite got their heads round the magnitude of this for the UK, and the implications for the programme format. (Kenneth Gibson’s comment reflects this.)

One thing should be borne in mind – a Question Time located in Scotland is not a single issue programme, devoted to the single topic of Scottish independence. There is a place for such programmes and they have been mounted, both at UK level and in Scotland in the past by the BBC, and will continue to be. Panels cannot therefore reflect that alignment alone.

The stark facts that the SNP and the BBC have to deal with are these -

Independence is a Scottish issue, but one that affects the entire UK.

A substantial minority of Scots voters support independence. A substantial minority of Scots voters oppose independence. A minority of Scots voters are undecided and a minority of Scots voters support more devolution within the UK.

Of the five political parties represented in the Scottish Parliament, three support the Union and two support independence.

At Westminster, i.e. UK level, the Coalition Government is opposed to independence, Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition are opposed to independence and the SNP supports independence.

It is probably too much to ask that sector of SNP support who believe the BBC is institutionally biased to sympathise with the BBC and Question Time in their difficulties in dealing equitably with this situation.

It would however, display the political maturity we expect of those who support an independent Scotland to at least understand  those difficulties.

Monday, 30 April 2012

The BBC

My views on the BBC are well-know by now, and it is clear that a number of nationalists don’t like my defence of the BBC. Since I have an aversion to repeating myself endlessly, here are a few links which say more or less all I have to say about the BBC and its relationship to the independence movement and the SNP.

BBC – Role and future
BBC - political coverage
BBC - hard to defend
BBC- Marr and Purcell
BBC - Call Kaye
BBC - Unionist bias

As can be seen, I have been critical of specific instances that I perceived as bias, inadvertent or conscious, and I will continue to highlight these. Occasionally I have been exasperated by the BBC and sometimes furious at it. So has every other political party, which is evidence to me that it is doing its job as a public service broadcaster.

Over the last five years I have watched thousands of hours of political coverage of news and Scottish affairs, and I have clipped, YouTube posted and commented on over 740 videos. (Most of these I have taken down – but still have on file – because of the workload in managing comments.)

A summary of my position on the BBC -

1. The BBC performs a vital role as a public service broadcaster and has done so since early in the last century. It is widely regarded internationally as the best public service broadcaster in the world.

2. Without BBC coverage of the SNP and the independence movement on news bulletins, political programmes such as Newsnight, Newsnight Scotland, the Daily Politics, the Sunday Politics, the Sunday Politics Scotland, the regular broadcasting of FMQs at Holyrood, The Parliament channel, Good Morning Scotland and radio news broadcasts and discussion programmes, its online sites and by specials devoted to elections and other matters of interest, the SNP would have not achieved the high profile and electoral success it has and Alex Salmond would not have become the towering figure he now rightly is in Scottish, UK, European and international politics.

3. Without all of the above BBC programmes, services, and the dedicated work of its highly professional producers, researchers, technical staff, presenters and commentators, I would have had no blog and no YouTube channel, and other bloggers and online nationalist newspapers would have had a gaping hole in their content. A vital platform for the nationalist case and the nationalist voice would have been absent, and an actively hostile press and indifferent commercial channels would have compounded that.

4. The vast majority of the criticisms I hear of the BBC result from an apparent ignorance of the processes of television journalism, television production and editing, news values, and the role of presenters, commentators and interviewers. They are also characterised by gross stereotyping, highly selective analysis and frankly, naivety.

5. There is also an ugly thread of what I can only describe as McCarthyism among some critics, in their constant references to the backgrounds, partners, spouses and general contacts of BBC presenters and commentators.

I do not think the background of commentators is entirely irrelevant, and I comment when I feel it is appropriate, but I do not expect BBC staff to have had no existence, life, political involvement or career prior to entering the Corporation, nor do I expect them to have taken monastic vows to have no personal views or political allegiances. I also think there should be a statute of limitations on how long they have to have their past roles and affiliations raked up every time they appear on television.

As far as the reference to spouse, partners, etc. is concerned, I think it is offensive and contemptible. BBC staff are not politicians, they are not legislators – they are not bound to make disclosures of interest as MPs or legal professionals are.

SUMMARY

I will continue to comment on aspect of BBC coverage and editorial policy that I feel relevant, and to be trenchant in criticism when I think it is warranted. I don’t need any help with this.

I think the present pattern of criticism of the BBC by some nationalists is profoundly damaging to the independence cause in the crucial lead-up period to the referendum.

I have said all I have say on the BBC in general terms. Please do not offer me an endless stream of comments and emails on what you imagine to be examples of bias. Go to someone who will give you a sympathetic hearing, because I won’t.

Better still, start your own blog and YouTube channel and have your say in that way. Or write to the BBC, or do whatever you feel necessary. Leave me out of it – please ..

Monday, 30 January 2012

The BBC – its role and its future. The SBC?

The title of this blog is too grand, and appears to signal a major analysis, when in fact it is just a brief comment. But perhaps I’ll get around to more …

One of the many classic Isabel Fraser interviews with Alex Salmond. The Nationalist BBC bashers tend to ignore the vital contribution of the BBC to democracy by giving regular exposure to the FM and the nationalist viewpoint.

So interviewers sometimes press politicians on points that they think are relevant, and act as devil's advocates? That's their job - searching for the truth, however elusive. Even Paxman - perhaps especially Paxman - in his blundering, hectoring, hostile, patronising style has made his contribution. That's democracy - that's what a free media should aspire to.

The BBC is not perfect, and can never satisfy the needs of any political party - nor should it. It is still the finest public service broadcaster in the world, and it now faces the greatest challenge in its history - the independence of Scotland and the constitutional changes it will bring to what is left of the UK, of the Britain as described in its name.

Can it still be The BRITISH Broadcasting Corporation? In point of fact, it could, in the sense of, say, a Scandinavian Broadcasting Corporation, or a Mediterranean Broadcasting Corporation. But I don't think it will be - the new independent Scotland will demand its SBC, the Scottish Broadcasting Corporation.

After all, if we're going to be "a beacon to the world", we need to be on the air!


Thursday, 11 November 2010

A Holyrood day that will live in infamy

Or as Kenneth Williams once said “Infamy, infamy! – they’ve got it in for me!”

Not quite Pearl Harbour, but the rejection of minimum pricing for alcohol by the Holyrood opposition parties is truly shameful. Holyrood's health committee backed a Tory amendment to strike from the Alcohol Bill plans for a minimum price per unit of alcohol of 45p.

Brian Taylor, the BBC’s highly respected political correspondent expressed the view that the decision would probably not influence voting at the Holyrood elections in May 2011. I’m not so sure …

Every time a health professional finds themselves deflected from vital professional care duties by violent drunks, abusive and shouting in A&E, they will remember who opposed the measure, in spite of the support of the BMA and the almost universal support of health professionals and doctors.

I say almost universal support - I exclude, of course, Doctor Richard Simpson, Labour’s health spokesperson in the Scottish Parliament, a medical doctor and former GP, who knows better than his professional body, the BMA, knows better than his church, the Church of Scotland, knows better than the police, better than most health professionals and addiction counsellors – in fact, knows better than almost every professional voice in the Scottish Nation.

Every time a police officer deals with rioting, drunk teenagers in a town centre, they will remember who opposed this measure – Labour, the Tories and the LibDems.

Every time a minister of religion finds that his or her church has had its environs vandalised, and picks up a litter of empty cans of cheap lager and bottle of cider in the churchyard, they will remember who opposed this eminently sensible provision – Labour, the Tories and the LibDems.

Every time a couple of retired, law-abiding citizens look outside their window late on a Friday or Saturday night because a violent disturbance is taking place in the normally quiet street, they will remember who opposed a measure that might have reduced such incidents – Labour, the Tories and the LibDems.

Every time a drunk teenager or young adult crashes a car while under the influence of cheap supermarket alcohol, killing their passenger and the occupants of the vehicle they collided with, the families of the victims will remember who opposed provisions to limit the consumption of cheap booze – Labour, the Tories and the LibDems.

As young mothers with young children pick their way in disgust through the broken bottle, empty beer cans, cider bottles and vomit in their local park, they will remember who opposed the sensible, moderate measure that would have limited this revolting pollution of our public places – Labour, the Tories and the LibDems.

And perhaps they will then remember Nicola Sturgeon, the health minister who championed minimum pricing for alcohol, the justice minister who supported it and the First Minister and the party – the SNP – that tried to do something real, for the first time, about the plague that afflicts our Scottish Nation.

Monday, 8 November 2010

Letter from America – the prescience of Alistair Cooke

I grew up with radio in pre-television days, and one of my favourite programmes was Alistair Cooke’s Letter form America, the longest-running series in broadcasting history, from 1946 to 2004, the year of his death.

Alistair Cooke could fairly be described as a liberal conservative commentator, and in his later years he moved further to the right, although some might dispute this. But he understood America in a way that few Europeans and even fewer Englishmen have done, before or since.

Consider this excerpt -

“Americans are not particularly good at sensing the real elements of another people’s culture. It helps them to approach foreigners with carefree warmth and an animated lack of misgiving. It also makes them, on the whole, poor administrators on foreign soil. They find it almost impossible to believe that poorer peoples, far from the Statue of Liberty, should not want in their heart of hearts to become Americans.

“If it should happen that America, in its new period of world power, comes to do what every other world power has done: if Americans should have to govern large numbers of foreigners, you must expect that Americans will be well hated before they are admired for themselves.”

This was written in the spring of 1946, just after the Second World War, when America was just beginning to understand itself as a world power. When we consider what America brought to the world in the sixty four years since that was written, the analysis was prescient indeed.

Sunday, 1 August 2010

Sunday Morning Live, Douglas Murray and Israel

Sunday Morning Live on BBC1 replaced The Big Question as the religious and moral debate programme for Sunday mornings. Although heavily loaded to religious and establishment values in its selection of panel members and control of agenda, The Big Question did make room for real alternative arguments, and had some stimulating and interesting debates, especially under Nicky Campbell's chairmanship.

Sunday Morning Live is a pale shadow of its predecessor and has emasculated real debate, both in its choice of panel members and in its format, which seeks to create an illusion of open debate by allowing pre-selected members of the public to contribute on webcam, and by live telephone phone-in.

Today's (Sunday 1st August 2010) programme exemplified this approach, especially on answering the loaded question "Are we too critical of Israel?".

The panel for the Israel debate included Edwina Currie, not exactly a heavyweight political commentator, who because of family and religious ties is at least partly sympathetic to Israel (although she did make some good, objective points against the pro-Israel spokesman), Deborah Hollamby, a former nun, now married and a religious broadcaster. Whatever Deborah's merits as a broadcaster, what little she had to say in this debate was flattened by the other panel member, Douglas Murray, writer and Director of the Centre for Social Cohesion, which describes itself on its website as "a non-partisan think-tank that studies issues related to community cohesion in the UK".

The Centre for Social Cohesion

Anyone wants to evaluate its non-partisan claim may judge for themselves by inspecting the composition of its board, the causes it espouses and the publications it recommends, but especially by listening to the ubiquitous Douglas Murray on his many media outings, including Question Time.

Wikipaedia describes the Centre for Social Cohesion as 'centre-right' - I would put it a helluva a lot further right than that.

Douglas Murray's debating style may be described simmering with pent-up opinions, which after a brief period of smiling calmness, explode into passionate, polarised views which are the very reverse of non-partisan, coupled with a low tolerance for any counter opinion expressed in his presence.

While tolerating no interruption to his incandescent flow when he has the floor, he displays a fine repertoire of contempt for any opposing views expressed by others, which he often describes as "ill-informed" - only Douglas is well-informed - and he does not shrink from repeatedly interrupting others when they have the floor, and is not easily restrained by chairpersons when in this hectoring mode.

David Cameron's description of Gaza as "a prison camp" has roused his ire - in Douglas's view, Gaza is a prosperous, happy community, full of shopping malls and expensive consumer goods, the shoppers only taking time out to launch tens of thousands of rockets against an unprotected and vulnerable Israel.

It would probably be a fruitless exercise to invite the Director of the Centre for Social Cohesion to consider that while Israel is a popular tourist destination, Gaza is not.

Sunday Morning Live, like its predecessor The Big Question tries to address political issues in a moral and religious context. Given its loaded agenda, and its obliviousness to the fact that the conflicts it addresses are usually fuelled by rampant religious bigotry and fundamentalism, it fails.

Dump this programme, BBC, or radically revise its agenda and format.

Friday, 30 July 2010

Political coverage, the BBC and Channel 81

Political broadcasts are unlikely to ever achieve large viewing figures,especially those delivered on the dedicated channel, Channel 81, on the day-to-day routine business of the four Parliaments of the UK, anymore than large numbers of people will ever read Hansard or buy Parliamentary bills and legislation from the Stationery Office.

That in no way detracts from the vital significance of these broadcasts to our democracy, because those that do will transfer their analysis comment and opinions through the complex web of media available in our modern world - the internet, YouTube, online newspaper postings,Twitter, letters to the newspapers, and into debate and comment with their friends, colleagues and acquaintances.

Democracies have never worked on the basis of large numbers of the people following the minutiae of government, but on the absolute right to have access to that process when they choose, their active participation in the vital electoral process of selecting those they wish to govern them, and their access to them in constituency surgeries, public meetings etc.

Until the advent of radio and television access to the chambers of debate, that total access has been a theoretical one, limited in practice by the capacity of the public galleries. Now it is potentially unlimited, but in practice the numbers availing themselves of it are determined by the nature of the issues and public and media interest in them at any given time.

At a time when the media are increasingly controlled by narrow proprietorial interest groups, the state broadcaster is a vital component of those essential democratic freedoms, and in the United Kingdom this means the BBC, which, with all its faults, discharges that responsibility admirably. The alternative is a surrender to the likes of Fox News and the worst of tabloid journalism. I don't want my knowledge of how our elected - and unelected - representatives are behaving to come through the columns of The Daily Mail and The Sun.

I won't go to the barricades for many things these days, but I will turn out to protect the BBC's political broadcasts, because I will recognise the slippery slope to totalitarianism and fascism in any attempt to eliminate them, with whatever spurious justification of cost and minority interest in them.

(The above is the text of an online posting of mine to The Guardian on 26th July 2010)

Sunday, 14 March 2010

Andrew Marr, Steven Purcell, The Politics Show Scotland and the BBC

I have tried to give Steven Purcell the benefit of the doubt over recent weeks because I have always felt that he was an essentially honest politician, committed to his native city, Glasgow, and a victim of the pressures of the corruption, venality and sleaze that have been present in the city’s politics for the last half century or more.

But as the facts emerge, and the more negative critics of Purcell and the City Council look as if they may be right, I realise that I may have to eat crow, as I promised the online Scotsman readership, if I am proved wrong.

What is certain is that events in Glasgow constitute a big story – the big story in Scottish politics, but one that has ramifications far beyond Scottish affairs as the general election looms. So I looked to the papers today, and Scotland on Sunday did not disappoint, giving it pole position on the front page and very full coverage inside.

I followed this up by watching the Andrew Marr Show, with some hopes – but not high ones – that this former chief BBC political editor and reporter would give it some coverage and analysis.

What I was not prepared for was his casually ignoring the story in his review of the Sunday papers.

Andrew Marr goes through a selection of papers, and in every case quotes the headline and lead story, but with one notable exception. When he gets to Scotland on Sunday, he smoothly ignores the headline and the main story - INQUIRY CALL OVER 'SECRETS' OF PURCELL and goes on to quote two minor stories.

Such is the treatment of Scotland by this BBC star, their former chief political editor and reporter, now a celebrity presenter for the Beeb.

He manages to ignore the story that is convulsing Scottish politics, that of the spectacular fall of Labour's star, Steven Purcell and the emerging questions over just what the hell is going on in Glasgow City Council - Glasgow, the heart of Labour's heartland, Scotland.

Such are the priorities of the BRITISH Broadcasting Corporation as we approach a critical general election for the future of the country and the Union, one where Scotland is the key. Is it any wonder that the BBC wants to deny the people of Scotland the right to hear their First Minister in the forthcoming Leaders' debate?

THE POLITICS SHOW SCOTLAND – ???

I wait eagerly for The Politics Show, also on the BBC, and for its second half, The Politics Show Scotland.

The first part, with Jon Sopel, is even more boring than usual, because this week it is a special, featuring “the main party leaders” appearing before a constituency audience. Gordon Brown leads off – if leads is the word – and he is utterly leaden, boring, and comes across as an already beaten man. My impatience grows, and I endure forty minutes of this, sustained by the thought that the Scottish second half will follow soon, with Glenn Campbell.

At last, the glad words - “and now to the Politics Show where you are …”. But I am confronted with London, which ain’t where I am. Initially, there is no apology or explanation. A southern presenter drones on about London matters, then eventually, a red strapline appears saying The Politics Show Scotland will follow as soon as possible.

After another twenty minutes or so of this, during which I come close to spontaneous combustion, The Politics Show Scotland finally appears, and a rather embarrassed Glenn Campbell makes an apology for a “technical hitch”, and we get about ten to fifteen minutes of two worthy, but peripheral pieces, with a general election imminent - one about Anne Moffat, MP for East Lothian and her ongoing war with the Labour Party, and a piece on the Tory Party’s proposals for independent but state funded schools.

Nothing about the general election, nothing about the Scottish Parliament, nothing about the SNP’s dispute with the BBC over the “main party leaders” debates, and nothing about Glasgow’s political meltdown.

Scottish viewers were therefore denied more than half their allotted time from The Politics Show Scotland, and we can be sure that it will never be compensated for.

Faced with this kind of thing, and a choice between a conspiracy or a cock-up as the explanation, I almost always prefer the cock-up.  But whatever the explanation it reflects one thing – the innate bias and complacency of the BBC, and of British establishment figures when it comes to Scotland, Scottish viewers, the Scottish electorate and Scottish affairs in general.

They just don’t give a shit about us, indeed, they are largely oblivious to our existence until events force them to confront the reality – that one of the two “main” parties, the one that is in government for the moment, exists and survives only because of its Scottish power base.

When that goes, Great Britain goes, the Union goes, and the rump of this faded old empire will find it harder to strut its stuff as a global player in international politics, and may have to stop sending its young people to the killing fields.

And Scotland will stand proud and free – free at last, as Martin Luther King once said, and as the genie in The Thief of Baghdad (played by the wonderful Rex Ingram) said as he flew blissfully away from his long captivity in the bottle.

(Did you know that Cleo Laine played a street urchin in that film, with Sabu?)