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Showing posts with label Lorraine Davidson. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Lorraine Davidson. Show all posts

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.”

Sunday, 1 April 2012

“Events, dear boy, events …” A long, turbulent week in independence politics

I haven’t blogged for a while, although I’ve been active on Twitter and YouTube. The reason is that the events of the last week have been so egregious that not even the unionist media could ignore them, indeed, The Sunday Times – journalists first and unionists second, unlike, say, the Scotsman or Scotland on Sunday - have been the main vehicle for the revelations about our deeply corrupt political system in the United Kingdom. The media coverage has been intense and immense, so there was little I could add.


The Letters Page of the Scotsman provides a vehicle for panic-stricken unionists, especially the Tory variety, to give vent to inchoate cries of pain as they see Scotland moving towards independence. A new note has crept in, that of recognition of the inevitability of the process, which now manifests itself in the extraordinary demand that the SNP should voluntarily disband after independence.

The rationale for this is that the SNP was and is a one-issue party, and having achieved its aim now has no role, and should leave the way clear for Labour, Tories, LibDems to lick their wounds and resume business as usual in the new Scotland. Had, for example, India and Pakistan, two of the great nations who threw off the dead hand of the British Empire followed this route, one of the oldest political parties in the world, the party of Gandhi and Nehru – the Congress Party – would now not exist.

(I have some knowledge of the Congress Party. When I got married 52 years ago yesterday, few of the guests who attend our wedding in Drumchapel Parish Church and the subsequent modest, steak pie and chips reception above the City Bakeries in Great Western Road, Glasgow, would have known that the handsome young Indian guest Hari was the son of Lal Bahadur Shastri then Indian Minister for Commerce and Industry, and subsequently the successor to Jawaharlal Nehru as Prime Minister of India.)

The other argument advanced, including by  a tweeter yesterday, is that the SNP “contains left-wing, centre and right-wing politicians” and therefore should leave the field clear after independence for the ‘true’ left, right and centre parties. I had to gently point out that all large parties contain left-wing, centre and right-wing politicians, and therefore by this logic, they should all disband and leave the field clear for – what, exactly? The pure-as-the-driven-snow minor parties, riven by mini-feuds over obscure dogma points?

This also ignores the fact that there are no major left or right parties anymore – the Tories, Labour and the LibDems now all occupy a position somewhere right of centre, and are in effect one large Establishment Party, as the infamous Coalition to defend the Union against Scotland’s independence now exemplifies.

The Save England from the Tories theme

The other theme of the moment is that Scotland should stay in the Union to save the people of England from a permanent Tory hegemony caused by the loss of Scottish Labour MPs after independence.

This specious nonsense was first propounded recently by Douglas Alexander, and has subsequently been taken up enthusiastically by Johann Lamont and, amongst others, Kenny Farquarson, political editor of Scotland on Sunday. Kenny appears to be convinced that a large number of Scots share this unselfish democratic concern for the fate of poor England if Westminster loses its Scottish Labour MPs.

It is a proposition – I will not dignify it by calling it an argument – which most English voters would consider risible, if not deeply insulting. Most Scots fall about laughing at the proposition.

What it says is that the democratic preferences of a country of some 60 million people should be perverted by the political fiat of a country of some 5 million people.

Of course, this is exactly what has happened to Scotland from 1979 to 1997, with a Tory Government that they had decisively rejected.

In 1997, Scotland got a UK Labour Government, and was a Tory-free zone for a time. Unfortunately, this Labour Government out-Toried the Tories, led us into two disastrous conflicts and almost bankrupted the economy, while making many of its ministers filthy rich in the process.

Then in 2010, Scotland again decisively rejected the Tories, returning only one MP, yet thanks to John Reid’s TV interview destroying Gordon Brown’s attempts to stitch together a Rainbow Coalition, we wound up with the present incompetent Tory/LibDem administration.


This blew up this morning because of the competing UK and SNP Government online consultations in progress, with allegations by Labour that the SNP online poll is deeply flawed, because it permits multiple responses, anonymous responses, etc. (I call it a poll, because it is online polling through a series of questions to establish the opinions of individual voters).

In a word, it is deeply flawed, and although Labour’s attack is motivated by jealousy over the high responses rate versus that to the UK poll, and they are grinding axes, and are clearly the pot calling the kettle black, my feeling is that the referendum consultation outcome is now badly damaged by this debacle.

I could kick myself for not seeing the consultation’s inadequacies when I completed it, and for not testing its robustness – as I routinely do with other online polls/consultations – by trying additional submissions, etc. Only last night, I was urging voters to respond to the consultation on Twitter, and supplying the link.

I have done this today, and the flaws are patently and belatedly evident to me.

At base, the criticisms come down to failure to require registration or any proof of identity, failure to block multiple submissions under the same or alternative identities, allowing anonymity, etc. I have completed online polls and questionnaires by reputable newspapers, e.g. Financial Times and Guardian, where none of these things were possible, so the technology clearly exists to avoid them.

My spirits rose when Stewart Hosie appeared for the SNP to answer Anas Sarwar’s criticisms (originating with Labour’s Patricia Ferguson) but were speedily dashed when it became evident that he was ill-prepared and had no answers and, most uncharacteristically for this most considered and calm of SNP ministers, resorted to bluster to defend the indefensible.

His arguments came down to that this was how it had been done previously on other consultations by other parties, that some mysterious process by an unknown organisation after the consultation would scrutinise the responses, weed out the problem, and all would be well, and in effect, that we were no better and no worse than the unionist parties, so there – yah boo!

Not remotely good enough as answers for a process on which the SNP, Alex Salmond and the Scottish Government have all placed great significance, and one which will critically influence the structuring of the referendum ballot paper and the referendum process.

I am also deeply disappointed that my party, the SNP, has not appeared big enough to acknowledge their inadequacies on this issue, and that many online SNP supporters seem to prefer bland cover-up to addressing something that matters to Scotland’s democracy.

The rigging allegation by Sarwar is offensive, but some SNP supporters have asked how an online consultation – or indeed any consultation – can be rigged?

The answer is in the analysis of the responses and the acceptance/rejection criteria. I don’t believe for one moment the SNP would do such a thing as rigging the response, but we have left ourselves wide open to such an allegation, and no matter what we do or say now, the outcome will be fiercely disputed and the results possibly discredited – an insult to, and a betrayal of all those who honestly completed the online survey.

Monday, 9 May 2011

The Scottish referendum - Lorraine Davidson being objective?

Lorraine Davidson, former Labour spin doctor, biographer of Jack McConnell, former Labour First Minister of Scotland ('Lucky Jack'), now a Times journalist, offers an objective assessment of the SNP landslide and the referendum.

Or is it? Judge for yourself. A journalist and commentator has a right to take a position - balance is not always objectivity. But when a journalist has formerly been so close to a specific political party and viewpoint, it pays to be careful. Lorraine is initially critical of the Labour campaign, but then ...

Lorraine Davidson

People in Scotland instinctively want to be part of the Union, but Alex Salmond’s game now isn’t the game the SNP played in the 70s and 80s – with one great leap we’ll be free.

What Alex Salmond wants is independence by stealth. There are already going to be extra powers in the Parliament – they’re going through at the moment – he’s going to beef those up further. His referendum I would bet will also contain an option of full fiscal autonomy, so by the time you get to the independence thing, further down the road – he’s playing the long game … He wants to take the view that nobody in Scotland’s going to matter when you put in the last piece of the jigsaw.”

The Times, according to Angus Macleod, chief political reporter in Scotland, favours no party or political viewpoint, but reports objectively. He exemplifies this approach, and as a result, his analysis and prediction of the Holyrood elections was the most accurate and prescient of all the papers.

Lorraine would do well to remember this, and watch out for that old danger in reporting - the use of coloured terms, i.e. pejorative adjectives, adverbs and appellations. I would like to feel that she is now free of old, reflex, in-denial Scottish Labour and unionist attitudes, but I often fear she is not.

Monday, 14 March 2011

The Sunday Post and Lorraine Davidson

The Sunday Post yesterday carried a piece on page 12, encouragingly headlined ‘The SNP are still smiling and ready for the battle to begin’.  This temporarily brought a smile to my face, especially in the light of the positive, objective reporting elsewhere in the paper. That is, until I read the byline for the report, which was clearly meant to be news and not an opinion piece.

It was written by Lorraine Davidson, former spin doctor to Jack McConnell, biographer of the same Labour Leader and former First Minister entitled ‘Lucky Jack’, and who might reasonably described as having very strong past and current links to the Labour Party in Scotland.

But Lorraine has returned to her former profession of journalist, and I am sure would like to be seen as an objective knowledgeable political commentator on Scottish politics, free from bias, and not still in the grip of old loyalties.

But perhaps you can judge for yourself whether she has approached this admirable ideal, from her first seven paragraphs in an article which, I repeat, was presented as objective political comment.

Sunday Post page 12, March 13th 2011

The SNP faithful gathered in Glasgow this weekend for their final conference before facing the electorate.

Alex Salmond’s party are behind in the polls, they’ve broken many of their promises and at the end of a term in government they’ve made little progress towards convincing voters they’d be better off in an independent Scotland.

If that sounds like a disastrous set of circumstances in which to go into an election, it appears nobody has told Mr. Salmond and his followers.

If nothing else, the nationalists are up for the fight ahead.

The economic circumstances have dictated this election can’t be won through bribery.

The SNP have tried to use the downturn to craft a message which gives the impression they are on the side of hard-up voters.

From freezing council tax bills to promising to continue free higher education, the SNP want voters to believe the party is on their side.

The above sounds to me like the kind of  piece that could have been written by a Labour spin doctor, or even Andy Kerr, which I’m sure is not the kind of impression an objective political journalist, or even the Editor of The Sunday Post wants to create.

But I am absolutely certain that it wasn’t written by either of them - not even they would have been so unsubtle.

No, this is Lorraine’s own work, and she must look on it and reflect, especially on the high standards set by some other Scottish journalists, and perhaps draw some valuable lessons from their work.