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Showing posts with label Scottish independence referendum. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Scottish independence referendum. Show all posts

Monday, 12 December 2011

Alex Salmond back from China today with 6 questions for Cameron


On his return today from China after a week-long trade visit to promote Scottish interests and industries, First Minister Alex Salmond has made a key intervention on the European issue, writing to the Prime Minister David Cameron with six crucial questions about the UK's isolation within the European Union as a result of the Prime Minister's veto of a new European Treaty.

The First Minister said:

"It is extraordinary state of affairs that while the Scottish Government and our agencies were working hard to promote Scotland's interests and industries in China, David Cameron was blundering into apparently changing the UK's entire relationship with the European Union – without even discussing it with his own Lib Dem coalition colleagues, never mind the devolved administrations in Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast.

"Given that David Cameron took it upon himself to isolate the UK in Europe - from non-euro and the euro members alike - and without a word of consultation, he now needs to answer six key questions about the implications for Scotland of what he has done.  As the price of playing to his own backbenchers, the Prime Minister now leads a riven administration - with zero credibility in EU negotiations across the range of policy areas where Scotland's interests are crucially affected.

"Last week's developments in Brussels demonstrate that Scotland urgently needs a voice at the top table when our vital national interests are being discussed, by becoming an independent member state, instead of being shut out of the room."

The First Minister's questions to the Prime Minister are:

1. What risk assessment, if any, did the UK government undertake of the likely impact of its veto decision on investment into Scotland and the UK, and on negotiations affecting key Scottish industries such as agriculture, fishing, and financial services - where qualified majority
voting already applies?

2. What assessment, if any, was made of how Scotland's interests will be affected in the EU by being represented by a UK government that is excluded from important decision-making meetings, which will impact directly on Scotland?

3. Given the serious impact of a UK treaty veto, why did you not consult with the Scottish Government and other devolved administrations on the use of an option which Mrs Thatcher and John Major in their negotiations both managed to avoid?

4.  Can you confirm the reports in the Italian and UK press that you told the new Italian Prime Minister that your negotiating stance was based on the 'big internal problems' you would face if you had agreed to the Treaty change?

5. With key negotiations ongoing concerning the EU Budget, agriculture and fisheries, how do you believe that the important Scottish interests involved will be affected by being represented by a UK member state which has isolated itself?

6. Will you agree to an urgent meeting of the Joint Ministerial Committee, involving all four of the UK administrations, so that the full implications of your decision can be considered?


The Senior Special Adviser
First Minister of Scotland
St Andrew's House
Edinburgh  EH1 3DG

Sunday, 11 December 2011

Cameron’s veto, Europe and Scotland

veto from the Latin I forbid – a constitutional right to reject a legislative amendment.

Cameron’s fiasco at the EU summit was a disastrous negotiating and diplomatic failure in my view, but it has positive aspects as far as Scottish independence is concerned. (I may analyse this from a negotiator’s perspective later.) Whether they offset the undoubted threats caused by the UK being marginalised in Europe remains to be seen, but let me proceed to what I know may be regarded as a dangerously rash statement, one which I will probably regret.

I think the Scottish Government may have to re-think its timescale for the independence referendum, and by that, I mean bring it forward. 2014 at the earliest is now beginning to look like too late.

To use the telling phrase of an SNP branch colleague, the present situation has the feeling of a phoney war, a term coined to describe the period from September 1939 to May 1940 – from the UK’s declaration of war against Germany to the Battle of France and Dunkirk.

I recognise all the commitments made to timing in the second half of the term, repeated many times by the First Minister and others, but circumstance alter cases. The global situation and now the European situation have experienced a quantum shift since April/May of 2011. The new, deeply unstable situation created by David Cameron will potentially seriously damage the UK economy, and soon.

His government has no mandate from the people of Scotland, and unless Scotland, as a pro-European country, wants to be shackled to an anti-European dinosaur and retreat into the insularity of an offshore island of Europe, the Scottish people must have the chance to speak as soon as possible.

If the Coalition falls, Scotland would have the same voice that it had in May 2010 at a general election. What song it would sing is another question …

If it sang the same song, it would still be powerless against the Westminster numbers. There is little doubt that had Labour been in Government, the outcome of the EU summit would not have been much different. A general election now would probably produce another hung Parliament and another Coalition, even if there was a polarisation of the vote in England to Labour and the Tories.

It might result in something much worse if the extreme parties of the right caught a popular mood of anti-Europeanism coupled with a distrust of the three failed major parties – Tories, Labour and LibDems.

No one calls a referendum they don’t expect to win, but no one can ever be certain of the outcome of a referendum, especially in rapidly changing times.

Polls are snapshots of popular opinion at a point in time, but they are like a snapshot of a sunny day in Edinburgh – a moment later the sky opens and the wind cuts to the bone. And if you are lucky, the clouds part, the winds abate and the sun shines again. If you are not, and you are are not clad for heavy weather, a bolt hole must be found, and anyone that promises shelter will do.

A great Englishman once said "There is a tide in the affairs of men, which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune."

A great Scotsman, Robert the Bruce, was faced by a stark choice on of the 23rd and 24th of June 1314 - to be prepared to give battle against superior forces or retreat. Emboldened by his victory over an English knight, Henry de Bohun, in single combat, and by the unexpected route of a force of 300 hundred English knights under Clifford, he still was faced with the decision to either give battle or retreat. He chose to give battle, and to risk all for Scotland’s freedom.

Alex Salmond is not a 14th century knight, and he is not playing 14th century politics. But he will not be oblivious to the parallels. Bruce had not intended to give battle, but he reacted to rapidly changing circumstances, especially to the knowledge of the impact of his two unexpected successes on the already low morale of the superior force.

The First Minister has already killed his Henry de Bohun and his force have routed their Clifford. How will he assess the dynamics of a rapidly changing situation on his return from China?

I was puzzled and disappointed that no Scottish Government minister chose to appear of The Politics Show Scotland today to discuss the Eurozone/UK crisis. I dismiss out of hand the explanation that prior commitments or diaries had anything to do with this decision.

I also dismiss the inevitable unionist opposition conclusions – that the SNP has no coherent policy on Europe or that the party is a one-man band, waiting for Godot.

I think we can be reasonably certain that Scottish Government ministers have been in close contact with Alex Salmond, and that there is a bigger – perhaps a much bigger – game afoot.

Are we preparing to emerge from the Tor Wood?

Monday, 5 December 2011

Attitudes to independence – ScotCen and the economy

The September 2011 figures are out today on attitudes to independence from the Scottish Social Attitudes Survey conducted by ScotCen, part of the National Centre for Social Research (NatCen).

Here’s the Guardian’s report Scots back independence – but at a price

And here's a trailer to tomorrow's Guardian - Look north, Scotland

The Herald carries a picture above the statistics of Michael Moore, who looks as if he had just been performing a strange dance – or even a strange act - with three other people who have suddenly been removed – probably David Mundel, Margaret Curran and Willie Bainthe Anti-Scotland Coalition.

As with all polls, the advocates for opposing sides rush in where angels fear to tread to offer their partisan interpretation of the figures, and lofty, disinterested academics lay claim to a dispassionate analysis. I am not always easily persuaded that those claiming heroic objectivity truly are objective: there are quite a few Scottish academics around who are anything but objective, not to mention one or two captains of industry, and it is true that an expert can usually be found to say whatever those seeking his or her services wish to be said, e.g. experts called as ‘objective’ trial witnesses for a fat fee.

However, over the years, there is at least one Scottish expert that I trust and that is Professor John Curtice of Strathclyde University, who is also a consultant for ScotCen.  He gives his objective view of the figures, one with which I don’t quarrel. It is that the appetite for a more powerful Scottish Parliament and for independence has grown in the last year, but it is still no higher than it has been on previous occasions since devolution, and the SNP has a long way to go before the referendum to persuade the electorate to vote for independence.

I will try to avoid the selective juggling with figures that goes after the publication of poll results, and simply focus on the three key facts, as I see them -

32% of those polled want full independence. So did 32% of Scots in 2004, and in 2005, 35% of Scots wanted out of the UK. Since devolution (1999) the figures have fluctuated narrowly around a low of 23% a year ago to the 2005 high of 35%.

58% of those polled want to stay in the UK with devolved powers to Scotland. Last year it was 61%. Since 1999, the figures have ranged from 44% in 2005 to that 61% figure last year.

Money matters – support for independence changes radically if voters believe they will be in pocket or out of pocket.

The poll has been properly conducted by a reputable organisation of integrity, and its sampling procedures and methodology are sound. (The sample size is significantly lower this time than in every previous years, under 1200 as compared with the 1500/1600 of all previous years.)

Repeating the core conclusion -

The support for a fully independent Scotland has increased since the same poll last year,

The support for continued membership of the UK and for devolution has fallen since last year.

Economic perceptions matter a helluva lot.


Over the last 12 years, somewhere between a quarter and a third of Scottish voters polled wanted full independence.

Over the last 12 years, somewhere between half and 60% of Scottish voters want to stay in the UK and have a devolved Parliament.

Those who want to go back to pre-devolution status and remain in the UK are in the minority, say around one in ten

The don’t knows are about one in twenty.

Something odd happened to preferences around 2004 and 2005, and anybody who claims to know why is engaging in speculation.

Some unknown factor or factors are at work  when one tries to relate the figures to the election of a nationalist minority government in 2007 and the return of that government with a massive majority in 2010.

If this poll is predictive of how Scotland will vote in the referendum, the outcome would not be full independence.

Neither unionists nor nationalists can take unalloyed comfort from these figures.


The decade and a bit since devolution has been one of the most unpredictable periods in recent history, not just in the UK, but in Europe and globally.

Devolution, a radical enough event in its own right, designed by the Labour Party, still at their power peak after their landslide UK victory, to kill Scottish nationalism dead, failed in that primary objective, as forecast by the the likes of Michael Forsyth and Tam Dalziel.

On the 9th of September 2001, a single catastrophic event changed the nature of global politics, and led to the invasion of Afghanistan.

In 2003, the US and the UK launched an illegal war against Iraq, supported by an uneasy coalition of other nations.

In 2005, Tony Blair was returned as Prime Minister with Labour holding 355 MPs but with a popular vote of 35.2%, the lowest of any majority government in British history. (His popularity had been in decline even before the disastrous Iraq War.) Blair resigned in the same year, and Gordon Brown became Prime Minister.

In May 2007, the first ever Scottish Nationalist Government was elected by the Scottish electorate.

In 2008, the global financial and banking system went into near-meltdown, and catastrophe was narrowly averted by massive borrowing and effective nationalisation of some of the UK banks.

In May 2009, the UK Government and the UK Establishment finally failed in its long legal battle to prevent the British people knowing the truth about MPs – a blocking action led by the Speaker of the House of Commons, Michael Martin, a Scottish Labour MP - and the initial sordid facts of its investigation into MPs' expenses were published by The Telegraph, including claims by the Prime Minister Gordon Brown and the Justice Secretary, Jack Straw that they were forced to repay. The Speaker resigned in disgrace, and criminal prosecutions followed against MPs and members of the House of Lords, resulting in imprisonment in some cases.

In May 2010, a UK general election outcome created the potential of a hung Parliament, the radical difference between the voting patterns of Scotland and the rest of the UK became even more starkly apparent, with Scotland returning only one Tory MP. A Tory-led Coalition Government was hastily formed after John Reid, a Labour peer and others deliberately wrecked the possibility of a Rainbow Coalition involving Labour, the LibDems and the nationalist parties.

In May 2011, the Scottish electorate returned Alex Salmond and the SNP Government for a second term with a massive majority.

In England, serious criminal rioting that started in London spread to other English cities, but not to Scotland.

As of this moment, there is another European and global economic crisis that carries even greater dangers of economic meltdown than the 2008 crisis.


All of the above is the context in which the Scottish peoples views on independence were canvassed. The Scottish electorate is one of the most sophisticated in the world. Having been betrayed by UK politicians, betrayed by Scottish Labour politicians and betrayed by the Liberal Democrats, they see a Tory-led government that they didn’t vote for attacking their living standards.

Sophisticated or not, they can be forgiven for being confused, and for feeling that no expert, media pundit or politician can be wholly trusted. But despite that, they made a massive act of trust in trusting the SNP, a party unequivocally committed to independence with their future for what will be five unpredictable and turbulent years. They also consciously and deliberately punished the Scottish Labour Party and the Scottish LibDems for their betrayal of their hopes. They never trusted the Tory Party anyway, and never will again.

Anyone who tries to confidently explain the narrow fluctuations in the support for independence in polls over 12 years such as these is either a fool or a charlatan.

But the latest poll seems to confirm this– it’s the economy, stupid! It won’t be Braveheart politics or nostalgia for an imagined vanished golden age that determines how people will vote in the referendum, nor will it be intellectual and emotional commitment to the principle of independence – it will be their perception of which party has their economic and social interests at heart, can protect jobs and incomes and has the competence and the resolve to shield them from the global storm that is raging around them.

But can such a question as the independence of the nation really hinge on whether the voter is £10 a week better off or £10 a week worse off? I hae ma doots on that one – answering a simplistically loaded survey question is one thing – making the huge leap to freedom is a much bigger question. I believe the majority of Scots will decide based on a more complex argument than a tenner either way, even though the real difference between a YES or a NO might be £20 – not inconsiderable to many, and to a working family, £40 a week or more.

Since voters will be subjected to a barrage of contradictory statistics, whose version will they believe?

Will they gamble their future and that of their children and grandchildren on a crude monetary criterion? The demonstrably economically incompetent Labour, Tory and LibDem parties, or the party in which they placed their trust in May 2011?

In uncertain times, people have an instinct to “keep a hold of nurse for fear of finding something worse” (Hilaire Belloc). But when they look at Nurse UK, they see something that all their instincts now tell them does not have their interests or Scotland’s at heart. Yet before they let go of that clammy embrace for ever, they will have to be certain that the new hand that they clasp will guide them through the storm.

The SNP has a window of somewhere over two years and a lot less than four to give the Scottish electorate the confidence they need to take that decisive step into an unpredictable, but exciting future.

The Scottish electorate will vote in the referendum as if their life depended on its outcome - because it does …

Monday, 7 November 2011

The Ladybird Book of devo max – suitable for unionists under 304 years old

Are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin …

Once upon a time, there was an independent – that means free, children – nation called Scotland. It ran all its own affairs, worked hard and spent its own money. Then another nation bullied them into giving away all their money and the results of all their hard work, but promised to give some of it back if they didn’t cause any trouble and did what they were told.

The big bully nation went on to bully lots of other nations to do the same thing, but over a long time, most of them got fed up, told the big nation to get lost, and went back to spending their own money. They became independent – that means free – again.

But Scotland still gave away all of its money and all of its talent and hard work, and the big nation got richer, especially in the big city called London – that’s where Dick Whittington and Ken Livingstone used to live, and where Boris Johnson now lives – while Scots got poorer and died younger.

Scotland was ruled by a party called Labour, who liked the big nation, because they could go there and get rich by working in a palace called Westminster. If they were lucky, they became Lords and never had to do any real work again.

But some Scots didn’t like their money and their talent and their oil being stolen, so they started a party of their own to try and get their money back. And they wanted to be independent – that means free – again, and not have to bully other nations to give away their money and their freedom.

Labour didn’t like this, because if it succeeded, it would spoil their party and they wouldn’t be able to go to London and get rich, like Dick Whittington and Boris. And they wouldn’t be able to become Lords and stay rich by doing nothing when the ordinary Scots people got fed up with them, and wouldn’t elect them anymore.

So Labour decided to give Scotland a tiny wee bit of its independence – that means freedom – back, and they called this devolution. Scots would be allowed to play little games in a corner of the playground, and spend a tiny wee bit of money, but they couldn’t play in the big boys and girls’ game.

But now the Scots own party, called the SNP, want to be independent – that means free – but if they have to let the big nation continue to bully other nations with the threat of a big bomb which they keep on submarines in Scotland, at least they want to spend all of their own money, and run almost all of their own affairs.

That’s called devolution max, children, but a nice cosy term for it is devo max. The big boys call it full fiscal autonomy, but that too big a word for Labour to say. It’s not independence – that means freedom – but it’s better than nothing.

But it still leaves Scotland with the big bomb – which they don’t want – and it still lets the big nation bully other nations, and send young Scots to die while they’re doing it.

It’s not hard to understand, if you think about it, children, although the big nation – and the misguided Scots who support it – have great difficulty in understanding it. Or perhaps they just don’t want to understand.

Now that’s naughty isn’t it ?

Let’s finish up with a song – what would you like, children? Rule Britannia or Flower of Scotland? I thought you’d say that …

Are you sitting comfortably? Then we’ll begin …

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

What Scots thought about government in 2010 - Scottish Social Attitudes Survey

A fascinating document, the findings of which are not as easily attacked by the Unionists as the ComRes poll and other samples.

But the big question is where does Scotland stand today? And where will it stand on the fateful day when its electors cast their votes on independence?

On that day, be on the right side of history, Scots - vote YES for freedom.

Monday, 5 September 2011

The Force is with us – 39% 38% 23%

39% 38% 23%

Today’s TNS-BMRB poll reported in The Herald means a majority of Scots declaring a preference are now in favour of independence, and this is consistent with every indicator since May 6th 2011, from the election results to the recent Ipsos MORI poll that a great sea change has swept across Scotland and the political consciousness of the Scottish people. It reflects the assertion, across the globe, of the right of the people to throw off the conspiracy of wealth, power and inherited privilege, often backed by force – a movement that is throwing off old hegemonies, whether they be totalitarian dictatorships or corrupt, flawed democracies, or the relics of old empires. It is the zeitgeist, and it will not be denied.

We are fortunate in Scotland that we can do it by democratic means, by the ballot box, without the use of force, and without a blood sacrifice of our bravest people. But our bravest people, our servicemen and women are being sacrificed weekly in the misguided foreign entanglements of the UK government, as it desperately tries to hang on to its image of itself as a global power player. And our entire country, Scotland, is being placed at risk by being used as the base for outmoded weapons of mass destruction in our Scottish waters.

The task ahead is clear – to progressively shift, a percentage point at a time, the undecided 23% towards asserting their independence at the ballot box, and convert as many of the 38% committed to a failing corrupt, incompetent United Kingdom to support for their own freedom as a nation – Scotland.

Monday, 22 August 2011

The Referendum – and a Trojan Horse

The independence referendum is now the defining issue in virtually all Scottish political discussion, and a significant one in UK politics. Political points are made on a range of issues, but with the independence question always explicit or implicit. UK politicians and media commentators have been wrenched on to the Scottish narrative, whether they like it or not – and they clearly don’t.

Michael Moore is reported today as demanding that Holyrood stop being negative about issues and cheer up. While the office of Secretary of State for Scotland still exists, we have something to be negative about, and as for cheering up – why not resign, Michael, and give us all an excuse for a party?

Tuition fees rears its head again as the reality bites for England. Sir Malcolm Rifkind, KCMG says the Scottish Government’s position is unfair. This archetypal Scottish Tory, who served as a minister under Major and Thatcher, a former Secretary of State for Scotland, and a failed Scottish politician - dumped twice by the Scottish voters - found a safe haven as MP for Kensington and Chelsea, which is about as far from the realities of Scotland as one can get. He has nothing of value to say to Scotland. He is exactly the kind of Scottish product of the Union and the British Establishment that Scotland can do without – a decision that Scots have already made, about him and his party.

John Redwood, the man who had trouble with the words of the Welsh national anthem, thinks that the Scottish Government is using the tuition fees issue “to radicalise the English”. They are not, John – they are living up to their manifesto commitment to maintain a key Scottish value – free education for all – and they have used their powers legally and properly in a devolved Parliament to do so. Dare I suggest that, on this issue and many others, it appears to be the Coalition Government – and before them the Labour Government – who are trying to radicalise the English by their disastrous policies, greed, and venality.

But let me comfort you, John,  by saying that I am trying to radicalise the English, at every opportunity I get, to recognise that the root of their problems is not the Scots or the Welsh but the Union – a failed, corrupt political system. I plead guilty as charged.

Radicalise, England – regain your country and your self respect – dump the Union, and with it the Lords, the knights, the barons and the whole corrupt mechanism of patronage, wealth and undemocratic institutions. You have nothing to lose but your Garters!


I have requested many times that the Scottish National Party, the Government of Scotland, clarify their position on, what for me, are the fundamental issues on Scotland’s independence – nuclear weapons, nuclear bases, foreign policy and fiscal control. To try and focus the debate on these fundamentals, I wrote my own little credo of two key principles and three core objectives, and offered it for consideration and downloading where appropriate.

The referendum on Scotland's independence

I have no idea how many people share these views, inside or outside the Scottish National Party. I do know that if you are a supporter of the Labour Party, the Tory Party or the Liberal Democrat party that, either you do not support these views – since all three are opposed to Scotland independence, committed to the Union and to the nuclear deterrent – or you are in a state of doublethink, entertaining two or more contradictory beliefs at the same time.

So I feel it is reasonable to ask the Scottish Government to be clear on its stance on these vital issues. But I do not believe that the Scottish Government must – or should – respond to clamorous demands from those diametrically opposed to independence to spell out every detail of policy and procedure and the exact structure of the independence agreement before the referendum and before the detailed negotiations on the terms – assuming a YES vote to independence.

The demand for more detail comes also from other voices and groups, who range from those fully committed in Scotland’s independence, through those as yet undecided trying to evaluate the pros and cons, to business, financial and commercial groups, and the main religious groups. I accept fully the rights of these groups to express their views on what kind of independence they want to see, and to use the media and whatever direct lobbying clout they may have to influence the Scottish Government.

But I do not accept their right to try to force the Scottish Government, a government with a secure and decisive mandate from the Scottish people, to give a blow-by-blow account of their policy debates and the minutiae of policy in every area that could possibly arise, at a time when the date for a referendum has not been set, and may be two or even three years away.

No country seeking its independence has ever behaved in this way. They have either seized their independence by revolution or by velvet means, e.g. America, by a war of independence and Slovenia, by a non-violent secession – a velvet revolution, by a long period of passive resistance – India – or by a longer process of gradualism and evolution.

I reiterate two of the paragraphs from my little downloadable credo -

I am prepared to trust the elected government of Scotland and the team it selects to negotiate all matters relating to these principles and objectives. I expect them to consult with the Scottish people on detailed measures only to the degree that it does not prematurely show their negotiating hand or constrain the necessary flexibility that all negotiators must have.

I do not require a second referendum to ratify the agreement reached on the detailed terms of the independence agreement, providing none of the deal breakers above are compromised.

The reality is that the outcome of the referendum, one that will fundamentally affect Scotland’s future for many years, perhaps decades, and which will have a significant influence on UK and European politics and Western alliances, will be determined, not by politicised interest groups, nor by the chattering classes (of whom I am one) but by ordinary Scottish voters, at all levels of Scottish society, voters who have little knowledge of the detail, but a good grasp of the main arguments and issues. Their decisions, like all decisions, will be influenced in part rationally, to the degree that the media, politicians and commentators give them accurate, unbiased facts, but also by emotional factors.

In a democracy, the people decide, as the Scottish people did on May 5th 2011, in defiance of the distorted information being pumped relentlessly at them by unionist politicians and their media and celebrity mouthpieces. The new media played a vital role in this, as they will in the referendum lead-up. Those in favour of Scotland’s independence need to exercise caution in how they discharge this vital duty and beware of being sucked into the agenda of those diametrically opposed to independence.

And the objective of their communications should be to persuade the voters, and to counter the torrent of misinformation, distortions and just plain lies that emanate from the unionist camp. Trying to influence politicians in the Scottish unionist parties is at best a marginal and probably fruitless endeavour, in my view, especially under the mistaken belief that bridges can be built across party lines. Bridges can be built with ordinary people – the electorate – but the only bridge that unionist politicians can cross is the one that leads from their own failed parties to one that unequivocally supports the independence of Scotland – and there is more than one – e.g. the Green Party - although only one that can deliver independence.

Any attempt to secure a common agenda with unionist politicians runs the obvious risk of a dilution of the very heart of the concept of independence, e.g. Independence Lite, fatal compromises that would keep Scotland in thrall to the UK. Bloodied and confused by their election rout, the unionist parties are making conciliatory noise about independence.

Be careful – I hear the creaking of a large Trojan horse entering the gate in these initiatives.

Saturday, 13 August 2011

The English riots - weekend thoughts …

The riots have subsided, but the danger has not. The Government, who should be relaxing with a post coital cigarette, blowing smoke rings after their heroic efforts to save the nation, are instead engaged in an unseemly spat with the Metropolitan police, who are accusing the Cameron/Clegg Gang of blowing smoke in the faces of the people by claiming that they had saved the nation from the rampaging, Blackberry-inspired mob and police incompetence.

Little sense has been talked on the media, with elderly historians like David Starkey (last night on Newsnight) displaying their complete failure to understand the present, whatever their understanding of the past may be, Kelvin McKenzie spluttering his tabloid rage and indignation in a studio discussion, and John ‘The Baron’ Prescott in equally pop-eyed, incoherent populist mode on the Question Time Special (whatever it was, this edition certainly wasn’t special!), railing against the Government and the Establishment as though he hasn’t been part of it for far too long for most of us.

Such logic and calm analysis as there has been has come almost exclusively from the young, especially the articulate young people who actually live in places from which the violence has sprung, and these young voices were able to effortlessly demolish the wet-lipped, uncomprehending incoherent, and  blustering  outpourings of the Starkeys, McKenzies and Prescotts. These young commentators maintained their effortless cool and their logical thrust in the face of their elders-but-most-certainly-not-betters, and they made a fair showing of trying to conceal their amused contempt for the more ludicrous demonstrations of how out of touch they were with street realities.

In fact, one of the most-wet lipped (mainly the lower lip) tirades of the week came from Michael Gove, who was born to be an old fogey and has already perfected the style. Directed against Harriet Harman, who could have been vulnerable to properly directed arguments, Gove’s rant was totally ineffective, but delightfully amusing, as he came close to spontaneous combustion in the studio.


This has been a strange week for the broadcast media. In terms of instant visual coverage of events, they were in their element, and excelled themselves. As far as political analysis went, they resorted to clichéd interviewing styles and clichéd questions, and their selection of commentators consisted in the main of rounding up the usual suspects to deliver their confident banalities.

When they did get a least some of the right voices on their programmes, the presenters were often poor at directing and controlling the debate. Such real people as they did find seem to have been the result of accident, rather than design. When they did stumble across reality, in fairness, they recognised it and made the most of it, but to the point of repetitiveness on occasion.

The politicians whose greed, lack of vision and lack of humanity had led to the riots, predictably seized upon selected instances and individuals to bend them to their pathetic narrative of excuse and blame.

Print media, as it does in the face of such rapidly unfolding events, ran desperately behind the story, and mainly failed in what is their new primary role of providing the kind of detailed examination of facts and sober, cold-light-of-day commentary. Instead, they tried to ape the television coverage, and failed miserably.

Neither television nor the print media showed any evidence that they really understood the nature and implications of the new media.

Our politicians and pundits certainly don’t understand it, in spite of their cack-handed efforts at using Twitter, Facebook, etc.

We had a former senior police officer, Brian Paddick, asking why the police had not been “on Twitter and Blackberries” in advance of the riots. He seemed unaware of how these two manifestations of the new media actually worked. It would require something on the scale of GCHQ to monitor them, not to mention a radical change in the law, and the monitoring would be nullified by instantaneous modification of behaviour by the young. Young people find it difficult to contain their amusement and contempt for this kind of nonsense from those in authority.

There are only two choices that I can see open to governments, intelligence services and the state apparatus in the face of the new media -

either accept that we now live in a world of totally open communication, much of it rubbish, much of it inaccurate, some of it pernicious and dangerous, and deal with the criminal aspects and egregious abuses while recognising and accepting that everybody will know - or think they know - everything at all times and on all issues


adopt the repressive control and censorship of all free communications, technology and media that characterises totalitarian regimes across the globe, including those regimes that we condemn, and have committed our armed forces to destroy.

Friday, 10 June 2011

When you’re in a hole, stop digging, Michael Moore

Colonial governors have tended to fall somewhere along a spectrum from amiable and bumbling to pompous but dangerous. It would probably be unfair to try to fit Scotland’s latest colonial governor, in these last days of empire, into that spectrum, although pompous and bumbling but not yet dangerous come to mind.

Moore strains for gravitas and achieves pomposity: he attempts clarity and attains incoherence. Last night, he was metaphorically hunted around the studio by a relentless Gordon Brewer, as Moore lurched around trying vainly to dodge the blows raining down on him.

The cause of his woes was his two referendums quote -his woefully ill-conceived attempt to make a decisive entrance into the great independence debate by firing a warning shot from the ramparts of unionism across the rampaging, upstart Scottish nationalist mob running around in triumph after their electoral victory. The result of this misconceived shot was to blow the hapless Moore backwards on to his arse, to the ill-concealed contempt of his masters and the delight and derision of peasants like me.

He deserved everything he got last night from Gordon Brewer, who ideally should have been masked, stripped to the waist, wielding red-hot pincers, his eyes glittering at the prospect of pulling bits off Moore. BBC Scotland should give more attention to its mise-en-scène.

Enough, enough - I’m ashamed of myself for enjoying this medieval spectacle.

And now for something completely different and unrelated – a bit of light relief from the politics …

I was always a fan of the Addams Family, both the books and the 1960s television series, and one of my favourite characters was Lurch. Here is Lurch attempting to dance.

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.