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Showing posts with label Gordon Brewer. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Gordon Brewer. Show all posts

Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Ruth Davidson U-turns and pumps out more nonsense on devolution.

Ruth Davidson talking legal, political and constitutional nonsense last night on devolution to Gordon Brewer. An intellectual miasma rises from her. Alex Massie and David Torrance, right-wing contributors to right-wing Think-Scotland.crap scrabble for something intelligent to say on Ruth.

Ruth Davidson says that Tories were "on the wrong side of history". Now all she has to say is they're usually on the wrong side of humanity.

An angler gives the fish more line to tire it out and give an illusion of freedom, then reels it in and gaffs it. This is essentially the Tory/UK strategy on devolution. But Lord Forsyth rather inconveniently blows the gaffe on the real Tory grandees view of devolution - - that it was a mistake, should never have happened and ideally should be reversed, a view shared by a large sector of the English Tory Party.

But there is need from much greater clarity from YES campaign politicians, who far from clearing the confusion in many voters minds about the distinction between devolution and independence, are deepening the fog by sloppy thinking and quotes.

Devolution definition: transfer or delegation of powers to a lower level especially by central government. Indy politicians, MPs and MSPs need to get a grip of terms.

Today, David Cameron, the failing PM of a failing Government, failing economy, at war with its LibDem partners AND his own party, supports Ruth on devolution !!!

Devolution is NOT independence - it is a grace-and-favour concession by the ruling government to a subject province, and can be clawed back piece by piece  - or abandoned outright - at any time under the Scotland Act.

Saturday, 5 May 2012

The Scottish local election results - the inquest and the spin

In business and in consulting and training I was always fascinated by the behaviour of managers when faced with difficulties or failure to achieve objectives, especially when they involved interaction with others. Broadly, the reactions were of two kinds - blaming behaviour and objective analysis. The blamers never learned from their failures - they simply justified them by attributing failure to circumstances beyond their control, or the behaviour of their opponents, or went into denial, claiming that either no failure had occurred or that the outcome didn’t matter. Blamers then repeated their failures ad infinitum.

The analysers rapidly identified factors that were completely beyond their control, and went on to analyse those that were within their control, examining their own context, strategy, tactics and behaviour to pinpoint the weaknesses:  they then modified their approach, and learned the lesson for future events.

This is how true professionals behave. It is how successful people behave, whether they are doctors, surgeons, engineers, pilots, footballers, managers, lawyers, musicians, comedians - or politicians.

The professional approach does not ignore the behaviour of others - it takes it as a given, and considers how to effectively deal with it. In other words, it is “How do I play the hand I have been dealt most effectively?” not “The hand I was dealt was beyond my control therefore I am absolved of blame or responsibility for the way I play it.”

However, politicians  have to deal with the fact that perception is reality, perhaps to a higher degree than in other professions. While being objective and analytical in private, they must consider how their successes and failures are perceived in public, because that perception influences voting behaviour. The danger in this is a bit like the comedian facing a hostile or unreceptive audience - if he or she falls into the trap of seeming to blame the audience - or worse, laugh at own jokes and be self-congratulatory - the failure is fatally compounded.

Grace in defeat, and wry acknowledgement of failure are not qualities one normally associates with politicians. When it comes, it comes as a breath of fresh air, but is not always recognised as such by the majority, and is often exploited as a weakness by opponents. The supposed unofficial motto of Balliol College tends to be invoked - never apologise, never explain


Much of the above behaviour regrettably has been evident in SNP emails, tweets  and some blog responses to the election result in Glasgow, although not, thankfully, from the Party official spokespersons, nor in the main from the real activists who did the hard work of canvassing and leafleting. They welcomed the overall success of the SNP campaign across Scotland and pointed out that Glasgow Labour simply held what they had expected to lose, whereas the SNP had made significant gains in what was always going to be their most challenging fight.

The Great BBC Conspiracy Theorists are out in force of course, obsessed by the presentation of the results and the numbers on television, and apparently oblivious to the aspect of BBC coverage that has something relevant and vital to say, such as the clip I posted of the Scottish section of the Newsnicht panel who offered opinions on this. 

To try and reduce the amount of indignant “Did you know that …” emails and YouTube comments that I will soon have to delete relating to this clip, let me say that I know the backgrounds and previous incarnations and occupations of Lorraine Davidson and David Torrance (not to mention a rash of other information of the McCarthyite genre that I am regularly gratuitously offered) and I have closely followed the articles and commentaries of Iain Macwhirter over many years. My interest was in what they said, not in Machiavellian speculation as to why they said it: what they said was highly pertinent, and something that the SNP must evaluate carefully.

Lorraine Davidson:The SNP have had a good night, but because of the symbolism of Glasgow, and the headline that that is - in the same way that Boris/Ken show is the headline in the UK story, that’s the perception and the illusion that voters are left with.”

The report that followed addressed what clearly is a vital question - turnout - and the implications of low turnout for the perceived legitimacy of democratic processes, with Ross Martin’s (CSPP) view that we are in the ‘danger zone’ when we begin to fall below, say, 40%, and the results are “a little bit squeaky in democratic legitimacy terms”. (There are ominous portents for me in this statement on local elections for the crucial question of the ‘legitimacy’ of the Referendum outcome in 2014 an engagement in the referendum arguments and processes.) Ross Martin welcomed the local differences in turnout as perhaps a hopeful sign of engagement and localism. As he tellingly observed, when we go below 30%, “the game’s a bogey” and serious questions need to be asked.

Gordon Brewer positioned the discussion around the fact that both Labour and the SNP “seem to have legitimate claims to have done best” and a certain ambiguity in the outcome.

David Torrance:I think the SNP have clearly won this election …

Let me freeze frame on that statement for a moment, for the reason that those conspiracists who are convinced that David Torrance is a dyed-in-the-wool Tory and UK apologist and a planted lackey of the Great Beeb Conspiracy against Scotland’s Independence (instead of the biographer  of Alex Salmond, author of a number of respected political and historical works, and a thoughtful commentator on Scottish and UK politics) will have totally ignored or blanked out this statement - those of them who had not already announced their fear of watching the programme because of expectations of bias (as some did on Twitter)

David Torrance:I think the SNP have clearly won this election. Winning elections is measured by total number of seats and share of the vote, and they appear to have won both. And they have certainly won it. I think it was more of a psychological victory for the Labour Party, because they simply didn’t expect to do this well and indeed the SNP expected to do quite a bit better.

That’s it in a nutshell for me, and anyone who disagrees with that is grinding axes, spinning and not looking objectively at the facts and the numbers. That takes us to another fact that some nationalist supporters would dearly like to ignore - that the SNP had greater numbers of activists on the ground , were better organised and had better data about core support than Labour, yet did not do as well as they hoped and expected. There can only be one reason for that - something in the message, and in the behaviour of the SNP at senior policy level did not - and does not - resonate with a significant number of Glasgow Labour voters. But there were also local issues: every party member knows what they were, and I don’t intend to give them more airtime here.

Lorraine Davidson:I think the SNP have won the election but they have lost the expectations game. The problem that they had was that, with Glasgow - which was going to be a stunning prize for them, and an important part of the journey towards the referendum - they had to first of all put themselves in contention as serious players to win that election. Hence the Spring conference and the predictions that they were going to take Glasgow, a couple of months ago.

“The problem with that is that when you create that kind of expectation around an election, you’re then left trying to explain away why you didn’t pull that off. The reason they didn’t pull that off was that it was totally unrealistic - they were never going to be able to pull that off.”

Although I don’t agree with Lorraine’s last conclusion - that the SNP were never going to pull it off (remember May 2001?) - I think it is a fair and accurate assessment of why Labour were delirious and the media mesmerised by their success in holding off the challenge. The other key factor is of course the fact that the single transferrable vote is designed to reduce radically the likelihood of overall majorities, just as the dHondt method of voting for Holyrood elections was, and when an election leaps that formidable hurdle, it is seen as an achievement and a highly significant one, just as the SNP second term victory was. As Lorraine Davidson then rightly pointed out, the SNP strategists are going to have to look very hard at the implications of the Glasgow and the Edinburgh results for the Referendum.

Iain Macwhirter was next to comment. Of late, Iain Macwhirter has been uncharacteristically strident in his criticisms of the SNP. Normally the most relaxed and urbane of commentators, he suddenly became very forceful and a bit dogmatic, notably in his attacks on Alex Salmond (the Ewan Cameron/Gary Robertson radio exchange on Good Morning, Scotland being a case in point.). But here, he had reverted to the old style, and to my ear was almost anodyne in his analysis.

He started by saying that, given the landslide victory of May 2011, including winning a lot of Glasgow seats, that it was realistic of the SNP to think they could win the city in the local elections, or at least break Labour’s grip on the city. “Clearly they allowed their expectations to run away with them, but I don’t think it was unrealistic for them to make that attempt.”  He went on to make the important point about recovering momentum and enthusiasm.

Iain Macwhirter:The truth is that both Labour and the SNP won this election - they both made advances.”

Anyone who seriously challenges this statement, Labour or SNP, is being blinded by partisanship. As he said, both sides have been “picking over the carcass of the Liberal Democrats …”

David Torrance:You can read too much into these results, but the major effect is psychological …”

He went on to say that Labour had managed this result with, in the words of one Labour person, “a party machine that was broken.”

If the SNP don’t take these comments on board, they are in danger of losing not only momentum, but the referendum narrative. I believe that the Party strategists are clear about this, but in fuelling the “we won - Glasgow was just a disappointment” spin on the results among some of their supporters, they are taking a big risk.

I leave the last word with David Torrance, which will of course be interpreted by some as supporting Labour and attacking the SNP, which is ludicrous, given Torrance’s background. It is absolutely accurate, and should be a clarion call to the SNP to think hard about Glasgow and the West, and the psychology of the West of Scotland voter. Commenting on Labour’s management of this result with few resources, and against the formidable SNP machine, he said -

David Torrance:Just imagine what Labour can do with more money, when they have a greater confidence in what they are doing - and a better developed message.  It’s a slight, modest halt on the SNP advance - no more than that - but it gives Labour something to build on.”

Thursday, 3 November 2011

I’m finding it hard to defend BBC Scotland today …

I grew up with the BBC. My earliest memories are of the BBC in 1939 in the lead-up to war. I didn’t understand the significance of what the announcers were saying, but I saw the tension and sensed the apprehension among my older male relatives. The BBC was my ear on the world and in the 1950s it became my window on the world.  I am one of a declining minority of the population who heard William Joyce – Lord Haw Haw – live, and felt the chill at that braying voice saying “Germany calling, Germany calling”. My instinct is to defend the BBC, because it was the voice of freedom in a world infected by fascism.

Since becoming a nationalist, then a blogger and a YouTube clip poster, radio and television news broadcasts have become very important to me, and with this has come a highly-developed sensitivity to balance and bias in the media. In this period, I have to say that had I, or any Scottish voter, never mind any nationalist, relied on the Scottish or the UK press to get an idea of what was going on in Scottish politics, then the SNP governments would never have been elected, no matter how hard they campaigned on the doorsteps – their voice, and vitally, the image of their people and politicians would have been either completely absent or presented pejoratively.

It was television news and current affairs programmes that made the SNP what it is today, and the BBC, with all its failings, was in my view the major contributor to that, albeit sometimes in spite of themselves. Its nationalists critics – and by God, have they bent my ear – would never have been aware of most of the issues they were addressing without the BBC, their target. (Of course this was not true of party activists and insiders.)

Without the Politics Show Scotland, Newsnight Scotland, the weekly broadcast of FMQs, Channel 81 coverage, and, yes, the UK-level programmes like The Daily Politics, Newsnight, and Question Time, the Scottish National Party would not have had many of its best moments, its peak exposure, Alex Salmond would not have become the national and international figure he has become, nor in my view, I repeat, would the SNP have been elected to government.

Had the nationalist movement been reliant on NewsnetScotland and the army of bloggers like me, it would not remotely have been enough. The online community, vital though they are to our democracy and freedom of expression, would have had only marginal impact of they had not had the televised media to react to, to clip, to deride, to criticise, to comment on. And capable though many online commentators are, few, if any, can match the professionalism and the resources that professional journalists and commentators can bring to the debate.

But I have not been an uncritical defender of the BBC, or any media outlet, and anyone who thinks this should really take the trouble to trawl through my output over the last few years. I can say that I would have had no existence as a blogger, commentator or YouTube poster without the mainstream media. The relationship, whether I or anyone else likes it or not, is a symbiotic one.

But it has got harder and harder to ignore the blatant bias in the print media, the insidious practice of unionist propaganda by partisan headline in factual news items while a pretence at objectivity is maintained – one might say buried – in the main body of text. The Scotsman has become notorious in this regard. The Herald, often guilty of it, seems to be emerging into a period of relative objectivity, with periodic lapses.


The focus of much of the inchoate rage of some nationalists has been Newsnight Scotland, and I have to say they have sometimes deserved it. Their position is unenviable in the schedules, with 20 minutes after the big budget Newsnight. I’ll say no more on that, because it has been covered comprehensively and effectively by Pete Martin, creative director of the Gate Worldwide in the Scotsman today in his article STV’s new contender has BBC on the ropes. Pete Martin article – Scotsman

He is referring to Scotland Tonight, with John Mackay as frontman, scheduled at 10.30 p.m. Last night, the juxtaposition and content of these two programmes pointed up, as nothing has previously done, what has gone wrong with Newsnight Scotland recently.

Leaving aside the fact that the global finance system appears to be approaching meltdown, the EU is in crisis, and the spectacularly incompetent UK Coalition government has no idea where to position itself in this maelstrom, the big story for Scotland yesterday was the ‘confidential’ advice given by Cititgroup, an international banking giant, to its investment clients which found its way at remarkable speed on to the media and into PMQs in Westminster, to avoid investment in renewable technology in Scotland while “the uncertainty created by the referendum” – a line that could not have been bettered by an uber-unionist – continued.

A correspondent yesterday, Joe Boyle, offered me this analysis of David Cameron’s delight, as he seized  upon this, an analysis that I cannot better -

Joe Boyle (by email)

It may also interest you to know that David Cameron is possibly the only head of state of the UK parliament to ever suggest ( in or out of the Parliament) that it is a bad idea for investors to invest in a part of the British Isles. Not even at the height of the troubles in Northern Ireland was such a suggestion ever proposed. In fact this may well be a world first for Mr Cameron..... so potentially Guinness Book of records stuff

This statement was instantly picked up by all the news media, and uncritically reported in news bulletins from lunchtime onwards. The SNP’s response was frankly, underwhelming. In fairness, they were flat-footed initially by this bolt from the blue, and simply pointed out that the knowledge of the referendum had not deterred investment up to this point. But there could be little doubt that it was damaging – the unionist pack clearly thought so, and I for one felt that the recent SNP stance on negative stories, of lofty disdain and “we don’t do negative – keep your eyes uplifted to the shining future ..” might be a bit inadequate to cope with this.

So I dug a bit on Citigroup, relying on memory and significantly on Wikipedia – always  a risky course – and banged up a hasty blog early in the evening in the slight hope of influencing the late night media programmes Scotland Tonight and Newsnight Scotland. I realised that this was almost certainly futile, since the programmes were probably being recorded at that moment, but I retained a touching faith in powerful, albeit regional broadcasters, well-resourced, to shift gear rapidly in the face of breaking stories.

This faith was partly vindicated by Scotland Tonight and utterly betrayed by Newsnight Scotland.

Scotland Tonight led with the Citigroup story and had a former Scottish power supremo pitted against Fergus Ewing, the relevant SNP minister. Fergus Ewing was as unimpressive as the earlier SNP responses, seemed unprepared factually, and both he and Scotland Tonight did not see fit to address the elephant in the room – the facts about Citigroup, its monumental failures, losses, bailouts by the US government, strange relationships with powerful regulatory officials in the US government, etc.  Something of an open goal for Fergus Ewing, the SNP and a great story hook for any journalist worthy of the name, one would have thought. But no – not a whisper.

But at least Scotland Tonight covered the story. Newsnight Scotland seemed to have suffered an attack of amnesia about that second word in its programme title – Scotland. Instead, it chose to do its own little derivative coverage of the big European crisis, a story already covered in depth and highly professionally across the entire UK and international media all day, and by Newsnight just before Gordon Brewer launched in to his Ladybird Book of the European financial crisis.

He had chosen to aid him in this little copycat venture three arch unionists – Bill Jamieson, John McFall and Alf Young. Of the Scottish Government, a government recently elected with a massive majority and a firm mandate, not a sign, nor of anyone that could put the European story in the crucial context of Scotland at this pivotal point in its history. Of the Citigroup/renewable investment story – not a dicky bird.

This programme, by omission and by cack-handed selection of topic and panel members was, last night, an embarrassment to the BBC as a public service broadcaster, to Scottish democracy, and frankly to journalistic values.

I’m finding it hard to defend BBC Scotland today …

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Independence – Newsnight Scotland

The UK Supreme Court will make a ruling at 10 0’clock this morning. The outcome will be significant, and it will say a lot about the UK’s relationship to Scotland and the ultimate fate of the Union.

Cadder – UK Supreme Court overrules Scots Law and Scottish judges

Fraser – UK Supreme Court overrules Scots Law and Scottish judges

Pleural Plaques – ?

If the UK Supreme Court does overrule Scots Law again – we hope it won’t - it will be a victory for cynical commercial interest over human values and the rights of vulnerable Scots whose lives have been threatened by forces beyond their control.

After the ruling is known, the Scottish Government will speak for Scots, either welcoming the decision of Scottish Judges being upheld, or against a decision that upholds the interests of big companies and profit against common humanity. In the latter case, the pseudo-Scots who call themselves the Unionist Opposition, with dreary predictability, will call this principled stance ‘Alex Salmond making mischief against the Union’.


The programme was one of those occasions when Newsnight Scotland rose to the issue and to the moment. This, however, was true only of the programme makers, and of Gordon Brewer, Eddie Barnes and Stewart Hosie. I never expect Scottish Labour, least of all Willie Bain, to rise to any occasion, but I had expected more of George Kerevan.

The programme was in three parts – a piece by Catriona Renton on the history of Labour’s negative campaigning against the aspirations of Scots to secure the independence of their nation, which was well-constructed, highly professional and crucially,  informative, in the way these scene-setting Newsnight Scotland pieces almost invariably are.

The second part was a debate between Willie Bain, one of the new Team Scotland group of Labour MPs set up to prevent their countrymen and women from gaining their freedom (I am entirely free of bias on the matter) and Stewart Hosie MP, one of the most economical and effective SNP spokespersons, with the ability to reduce a discussion to its essentials while remaining in command of the detail, a quality that is not universally displayed by SNP spokespersons, as George Kerevan later made evident.

Willie Bain was weak in argument – what little he had – and obscure on just what was new in the new Team Scotland, managing to sound like a bad Iain Gray tribute act.

Stewart Hosie was a model of clarity, as he patiently answered the questions that Gordon Brewer was obliged to ask about the exact meaning of independence, but clearly already knew the answers to.

The third part was Eddie Barnes of the Scotsman and Scotland on Sunday, who also displayed great clarity and insight into what was meant by independence and exactly where we were at, and where we might be at, come the referendum.

And then we had George Kerevan, journalist, commentator, former SNP candidate, and SNP supporter. I shot from the hip on Twitter exchanges last night on this, and thought the cold light of today might dispel my reservations about his input. They haven’t, but here are the clips – judge for yourself.

I will be back gnawing at the bone either later today or tomorrow …

I close with a reprise of Stewart Hosie’s definition of what the independence of a nation means, which is exactly what I hope the independence of my nation, Scotland, will mean.

Thursday, 7 July 2011

A great Scot speaks bluntly – Ian Hamilton QC, the man who stole the Stone of Destiny

What a wonderful, hard-headed, and inspirational Scot! Tommy and Gail Sheridan are lucky to count him as a friend, and certainly deserve to do so. He supports them, not from political sympathy, but from a deep and fundamental concern for justice, humanity, the law and for Scotland.

I don't agree with his evaluation of Kenny MacAskill, nor do I agree that Alex Salmond should have pursued independence earlier. I believe that the SNP might still have been out of government if he had.

But what is my view against such a distinguished lawyer and great nationalist's perceptions? I salute him, and he won't give damn for my plaudits or endorsement, nor should he …

Thursday, 21 April 2011

Alex Salmond and Gordon Brewer – Independence, Wins, Minority, Coalition?

From The Scottish Sun - Poll 20th April 2011



With a politician as confident and straightforward as this, comment is superfluous. What could I add, except my unqualified admiration for one of the greatest statesmen Scotland has ever produced.

Vote SNP! Alex Salmond for First Minister.

Saor Alba!

Thursday, 14 April 2011

Annabel Goldie – evasive and confused on Newsnight. Gordon Brewer wields the scalpel

Annabel Goldie - self-proclaimed straight talker, and claims to tell it like it is. But not much evidence of that in this evasive and confused performance. Another fine dissection by Gordon Brewer on Newsnight Scotland. There is some very muddy thinking at the heart of Tory policy, rivalling Labour for incoherence – and that’s saying something …

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Tavish the Doublethink–a train wreck interview with Gordon Brewer

Tavish Scott is a pathetic spectacle these days, reflecting all the pressures that are destroying his boss Nick Clegg’s credibility and morale, but with the certain knowledge that he and his Scottish ‘party’ will face the wrath of the electorate just over three week, while the architect of his misfortunes and his fellow jerry builders may be able to defer the consequences of their folly for year or so.

Tavish and the Scottish LibDems quite simply are expendable in the Cleggite game plan, and Danny Alexander and Michael Moore, having tasted the heady delights of the illusion of power, are focused firmly on their Westminster fortunes, and the next general election. Poor Tavish, a nice guy in the LibDem feeble and ineffectual LibDem mould of niceness, knows this all too well, and could be forgiven for looking enviously at his predecessor Nicol Stephen, now Baron Stephen of Lower Deeside in the City of Aberdeen, sitting comfortably in the Lords. Retreat to the farm must be a seductive prospect for Tavish the Panicking.

But he puts a brave, if logically incoherent face on things, because what he ‘hears on the doorstep’ – the politician’s last defence when all around him is crumbling – is different from what the polls say, from what the media says, from what the pundits say.

I don’t doubt it – faced with this shy boyish grin and self-deprecating style, exuding vulnerability and lack of confidence, it would take a heart of stone not to try to say something reassuring lest he burst into tears. And last night’s Twitter comments towards the end and just after the interview tended to the Poor Tavish, nasty Gordon Brewer type, including from those who did not share his politics.

I have a heart of stone (in political, if not in cardiac terms) when it comes to ineffectual politicians. I don’t want nice guys crying in their beers – I want robust, decisive, analytical politicians with sound values, pragmatism and a belief in Scots and Scotland.

Go back to the farm gracefully, Tavish, and live happily ever after – the political kitchen has got too hot for you, and you just can’t stand the heat. Otherwise, you may find that the American phrase he bought the farm, meaning a sudden end, may acquire a certain resonance.

And my thanks to Gordon Brewer for this political dissection.

It is the job of political interviewers to reveal the inconsistencies, evasions, factual inaccuracies and policy contradictions in politicians, a job that democratic accountability demands they do well. Like all dissections, it is not always a pretty sight, but nonetheless vital to a healthy democracy and a free press. Last night Gordon Brewer did it clinically and professionally, without giving way to either disgust or pity.

Friday, 11 February 2011

Alex Salmond on minority government, Megrahi and the calibre of Scottish Labour politicians


ALEX SALMOND: Obviously my overall preference would be to win an absolute majority, but short of that, I think that minority government has shown itself to be good for Scotland over the last four years. I’d like to have more than a plurality of one - I’d like a majority of more than one over our leading opponents, but I think minority government has been good for Scotland.


ALEX SALMOND: You asked me what my preference was, and my preference is that minority government is bestows a number of advantages. Am I ruling out a coalition? No, I’m not ruling out a coalition, but as a preference, we want to win the election, and if we don’t get a majority, then I think a minority government …

For example, if we win re-election, Gordon, (Gordon Brewer - Newsnight Scotland) then on some of the issues which the other parties combined to stop, you would have certainly a moral authority and a mandate to progress. For example, minimum pricing on alcohol … The rest of the parties combined to stop it. My judgement would be - if we win re-election - that is a policy we’ll be able to pursue in the next Parliament, with the support of the people behind us. A referendum on independence for Scotland would be another policy - with our fresh mandate, we’d have the ability to get it through the Parliament.


Gordon Brewer: “Some things you’ve been saying recently, I guess boil down to saying - me and my pals are better than Iain Gray and his pals”

ALEX SALMOND: I’m not - I’d like to fight the election on the basis that we’ve got a cracking record as a government over the last four years, we’ve got a great team to put the next record into operation, and we’ve got a vision for the future of this country as an independent Scotland as an energy powerhouse of the European continent - and that’s how I want to fight the election.

We’re fighting on out record, the team and a vision - I think our team, yes, has more calibre than their team, and I think that most fair-minded people in Scotland would accept that.

Gordon Brewer: “Are you suggesting that Labour, somehow, isn’t competent to run the country?”

ALEX SALMOND:  Oh,  I think there  is a number of people in the Labour Party who don’t seem to me the sort of people I would trust to run the Country. The Health Service - who would you rather have running the health service in Scotland? Would you rather have Nicola Sturgeon or Jackie Baillie? I think most people in Scotland would say they would rather have Nicola Sturgeon.

Gordon Brewer: “I can understand that you would rather not have Jackie Baillie running the Health Service because you don’t agree with her policies - are you saying the Jackie Baillie and others on the Labour front bench are somehow not competent to do what your ministers would do?”

ALEX SALMOND:  “Well, if we take health - and I’ll try not to personalise this - I think the protection of the Health Service and the Scottish budget over the next few years is going to be extremely important. We know that the Labour Party has been, at best, equivocal as to whether the Health Service would have protection, as to whether it would be ring-fenced. I think it was on this very programme that Iain Gray failed to commit to that.

Therefore, a party which can’t protect the Health Service in my view, … shouldn’t be trusted to run the country, and the  health spokesperson of that party shouldn’t be trusted to run the Health Service.

Gordon Brewer: “From the nationalist point of view, the biggest problem  with your period in government, surely, is that the whole point of the SNP is to get independence, and you’re no nearer to getting it than when you became First Minister. That’s pretty shocking stuff, isn’t it?”

ALEX SALMOND:  Actually, the last opinion poll on Scottish independence was the highest for four years -

Gordon Brewer: “These things go up and down - there’s no substantial progress …”

ALEX SALMOND:  The substantial progress that we look for, in terms of achieving independence is twofold -

One, as a gradualist party, we seek to acquire powers and responsibilities for the Scottish Parliament to take us nearer the goal of national independence.

And secondly, as a democratic party, we wish to have a referendum to allow the people of Scotland the right to decide.

You say we are no nearer - I think, to have an SNP administration in a Scottish Parliament is dramatically nearer independence than we’ve been ever before in Scotland,  for  two reasons - one, there is a Scottish Parliament, which we didn’t have for about 300 years, and secondly, as an SNP administration, the party of independence, which we never had.

Ergo, we’re closer to independence than we ever were.


Gordon Brewer: “Do you have any regret about that? Are you really happy that the main thing, actually, probably that any Scottish Administration has done since devolution is let a mass murderer go free?”

ALEX SALMOND:  I don’t agree that it is the main thing that any Scottish administration has done since devolution, but I am satisfied that we took a decision based on good faith and due process. And when you get difficult decisions to take, that is what is the most most important thing to be able to say. Now, if you say to me, Gordon …

Gordon Brewer: “The most important thing is to get them right.”

ALEX SALMOND: Well, I believe we did make the right decision - that Kenny MacAskill did make the right decision according to the due process of Scots law. I believe that absolutely. But I think it’s even more important, incidentally,  for people to know that we made that decision in good faith, and I would suggest to you that everything that’s been published in this last week vindicate the position that the Scottish Government took - that we were taking a decision in due process, in good faith and for no other reason.

I think the revelation this week is that we now know, beyond peradventure, that the Labour Party in Scotland were guilty of the most outstanding hypocrisy I can remember in my period in public life.

Gordon Brewer: “From the point of view of families of victims, both here and in the United States - I mean, the politics of this are neither here nor there. what they want to say to you is, look, you let this man who was convicted of killing family members, out of jail, and he’s now alive - if not well - in Libya a year later. This is just wrong - it’s outrageous.”

ALEX SALMOND:  Gordon, I’ve got nothing but respect for the Lockerbie families, whether they’re in the UK or America, and 19 other countries which were affected by the atrocity. But you are wrong to suggest that all families have the same opinion. I’m not disputing that a lot of families, particularly in America, would have that opinion. I’m merely pointing out to you that many families, particularly in the UK, have a different opinion - who’ve supported the decision on compassionate release.

But I’ve got nothing but respect for the families, and I would always listen and pay attention to their point of view, and you’ll never hear a word of criticism from me of any of the views of any of the families, who are entitled to make their views known.

My criticism is solely designed and aimed at those politicians who attacked Kenny MacAskill and the SNP in Scotland, I believe in the full knowledge that their own colleagues in London were supporting release, not for due process, not for compassionate reasons, but for economic and political considerations.


Gordon Brewer: “Given the whole silly history of this, why not do something positive with this. I know there are problems with jurisdiction, getting witnesses and all the rest, but why not say now - because the families in Britain who support what you have just said on the decision - have also been asking you to set up a public enquiry, so that we can at least try to get to the bottom of what actually happened. Why not say now that you will do that, despite all the problems it might have, it might at least have a chance of getting somewhere?”

ALEX SALMOND:  There would be manifest problems - but can I say to you I think more important than a public enquiry, in my view - which would be necessarily (?)in the full settlement(?) in Scotland be  hugely limited in what it could do - is the full publication of the statement of reasons of the Scottish Criminal Case Review Commission made to the courts in Scotland. We’ve already made one attempt to have that published in full.

What I can say to you tonight  is that we’ll be introducing primary legislation to enable that report to be published in full. It was an investigation that took several years, and I believe the full statement of reasons - not answering every question about this affair  - nonetheless will shed substantial light and give information  that the families and indeed the general public are entitled to have.

Gordon Brewer: “So you will legislate in the Scottish Parliament so that those documents will be published?”


Gordon Brewer: “Will you follow on the publication of those documents … logically would be then to have an enquiry, dependent on what they come up with?”

ALEX SALMOND: I think, Gordon, they should see what the full statement of reasons of  the Scottish Criminal Case Review Commission is. I still think there are difficulties with a public enquiry because it would be hugely limited in terms of the documents it could obtain, in terms of the witnesses, in terms  of the  nature and in terms of the international politics. We’ve already seen …

Gordon Brewer: “It’s something you could do, limited as it is. no one else is going to do it …”

ALEX SALMOND:  Can I just point out to you that, say as far as the interchange between the United Kingdom and the United States governments is concerned, then I think that Wikileaks, over the last few weeks, has shed more light on these exchanges, than for example and enquiry would be able  to do, since it wouldn’t be able to summon any of the witnesses, since now we know from Wikileaks what their true opinion was.

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Alex Salmond on Calman–and Mundell has trouble with the numbers–again …

Alex Salmond offers a careful, considered critique of the Calman tax proposals, their weaknesses and speaks of his wish to find a way to improve them. This is a statesman – and an economist – speaking, with the interests of Scotland and the Scottish people at heart.

David Mundell, under Gordon Brewer's questioning, waffles frantically about Calman, and displays an almost total inability to come to grips with the numbers and hard facts. Instead, he relies on political generalities and attacks on the SNP.

This is Moore's man in the Scottish Office. He had high hopes of being Scottish Secretary under a Cameron Government (as the Scottish Tories' sole MP, there was little choice!) but the coalition, plus perhaps a little local difficulty with his election expenses (those pesky numbers again, David!) put paid to that.

He had to watch two young LibDems fill the post he had coveted - first Danny Alexander and now Michael Moore.

Not that numeracy - or anything much else - is required of a Scottish Secretary - only blind loyalty to the Union and the willingness to be Westminster's man in Scotland instead of Scotland's man in Westminster.

Colonial governors never did require much between their ears, only the ability to salute the Union Jack.

The last three incumbents of this ignoble role - Murphy, Alexander and now Moore - have filled the role in the way required by their UK bosses. Scots expects nothing from the office of Scottish Secretary, and nothing is what they get, except regular protestations of loyalty to the Union.


Thursday, 18 November 2010

The Budget – and sterile interview exchanges on the Scottish media

I watched Newsnight Scotland last night, with John Swinney facing Gordon Brewer, and listened to Radio Scotland this morning, with the Finance Minister and Gary Robertson.

In both instances I was struck by how stereotyped and unproductive media interviewing techniques have become – a sterile, entirely predictable exchange, certainly not a dialogue, that is rarely illuminating and contributes little to the process of holding politicians to account and informing the nation.

Much of it originates with Jeremy Paxman’s alleged statement that he approaches a politician in interview with the mindset “Why is this bastard lying to me”? Perhaps he never said it, but he behaves as if he believes it. The rictus expression of scepticism is fixed on the face, and the body language signals suspicion, the politician braces himself and the ritual dance begins. (Gordon Brewer can slip into this mode, something to regret, because I believe he can be very effective on other occasions.)

Occasionally it works – usually with either a pompous, self-important politician or an inexperienced one. In the latter category, a recent example is the hapless Danny Alexander, only just emerging from his rabbit-caught-in-the-headlights phase.

The sterile model that is now almost universally adopted is this -

The interviewer comes with a targeted set of factual admissions that he wants to get from the politician, admissions usually structured around the most simplistic attack points of the political opposition, instead of what the electorate might want to know, and has a right to know.

The politicians comes expecting this, in the full knowledge of what points will be raised, and with the determination to avoid them. Neither party expects a dialogue or a real exchange of views – the inter-view, which literally means a sharing of views between people, gets totally lost in the process.

The interviewer asks virtually only closed questions, aggressively demanding yes/no answers, and is terrified of asking open questions, which can lead to real dialogue. The closed questions are of the “Have you stopped stealing apples– answer Yes or No!” type. If the politician answers yes, he used to steal apples but has now given up the practice – if he answers no, he is still at it. The model adopted is therefore that of adversarial questioning of a witness in a criminal trial. Its manifest weakness is that a prosecutor in court adopts the principle of never ask a question  that you don’t already know the answer to – he is seeking confirmation of something he already knows, and wants the witness to incriminate himself. The political interviewer is supposed to be seeking the truth – to illuminate, not convict

The witness, of course, if he is guilty, will attempt to avoid the question or “take the 5th” by refusing to answer on the grounds that he might incriminate himself. In a court of law, the judge may demand that he answer. In a political interview, there is no judge to compel an answer.

If the witness is innocent, he may wish to be truthful, but in the knowledge that responding to closed questions may falsely incriminate him, becomes either confused or defensive.

The politician is untroubled by either of these concerns – he comes expecting to be attacked by the interviewer with the simplistic arguments of his political opponents. He blocks by resolutely rejecting all closed questions, responding to them by either ignoring them completely and answering the question he wished he had been asked, rather than the one he was asked, or by simply re-stating his version of events. He does this by always opening his response with the words “What I am saying is …” and if challenged on not responding to the closed question, says “I am trying to answer you in my own way …” or “I am coming to that …” – but never does.

The interviewer, under constraints of time, repeats simple – and often simplistic questions – at machine gun speed – the interviewee goes into long re-statements of policy, secure in the knowledge that he has all the time in the world but the interviewer and the programme schedulers do not.

The interview becomes a point-scoring, adversarial contest, and rarely shed any light on anything of value.

Some years ago when I was with Scottish Brewers, my boss, Tony Belfield, the MD, sent me and my board colleagues off to be trained in media technique at Glasgow University – the personnel director (me), the sales director, the finance director, the operations director and the commercial director. (The marketing director fell out of the pack – I can’t remember why.)

Our tutor was the formidable Fiona Ross, STV’s chief political reporter, the daughter of the former Scottish Labour Party Chief and one-time Scottish Secretary, Willie Ross. Fiona has politics and media in her blood, and is a consummate professional. (She was awarded the OBE in 2005.) The interviews were videoed in two contexts – a studio interview, with a full studio set-up of lights, camera and camera crew and make-up, and a more intimate session, in a simulated office environment.

These simulations in themselves were invaluable, because most interviewees have no idea from their experience of viewing television interviews what the intimidating reality is like, because of the framing of shots for transmission. For men, being subjected to the attentions of a make-up artist for the studio interview is bad enough in itself: the office interview was conducted in the late afternoon, when the manager was more than a little rumpled, and sporting a five-o-clock shadow, looking like Richard Nixon in his notorious TV duel with Kennedy.

Fiona was a wonderful tutor, and in her critique of the interview performances on playback she didn’t mince her words – she described one interviewee as “coming across like a suburban undertaker”. (Other descriptions were even less flattering!)

Fiona conducted the interviews herself, in her own inimitable and effective style. She never bullied, never tried to intimidate. She had considerable gravitas, and radiated authority and competence – fully briefed and totally professional. Perhaps most importantly of all, you knew she really wanted to hear what you had to say. Fiona understood the nature of questions types and their framing, and the tactical responses open to the interviewee to evade the key questions. She used a rapier, not a bludgeon, and if she skewered you, you died happy in the knowledge that you had lost to a master of the art.

Our current crop of Scottish journalists could learn a great deal from her technique, but they probably won’t. A great pity