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Showing posts with label The Times. Show all posts
Showing posts with label The Times. Show all posts

Saturday, 11 May 2013

YES campaign becalmed or going backwards? Angus Macleod and Gerry Hassan on Good Morning Scotland

Angus Macleod: "The SNP and the YES Campaign have been unable to answer the questions the electorate are asking."

The SNP and the YES Campaign ARE answering the questions the electorate are asking, Angus - in policy papers, online, on the media, on the doorsteps, in leaflets and information sheets.
What they are not doing is answering the Unionist press version of what the electorate are asking, or more accurately, what you would like them to ask - negative questions with a closed agenda. And of course, your paper, The Times, and the others have no interest in publishing the real answers and facts given.

We are in a war of facts and ideals - I know what side you are on and what side I am on, and I and thousands like me are working tirelessly to get the real answers and the true facts out to the Scottish electorate, who, as you rightly say, are intelligent - and will listen and evaluate.

Gerry Hassan: "Basically, I think the SNP are in the wrong strategy, wrong question, wrong timescale."

Angus Macleod: "Gerry's absolutely right .."

Well, that was really helpful, Gerry - advanced the cause of independence no end ... acting as straight man, feeding lines to The Unionist Times correspondent.

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

The EU Fiasco, the British Bulldog and the referendum timing.

I feel instinctively European in cultural and political terms, because I am a member of a dwindling demographic that remembers what Europe was like before the European Union: I know what Europe has accomplished and the fate it has protected me and my family from for over fifty years. Contrary to right-wing myths, it wasn’t WMDs that kept Europe from internecine strife, it was the institutions of the European Community, initially an economic union (the EEC) and now a political union.

So it was was incredulity, then contempt, followed by sadness and a deep anger that I watched the Cameron fiasco unfold. The signs were clear last Wednesday at Prime Minister’s Questions in Westminster. One after another, right-wing Tory eurosceptics - or rather europhobics - stood up, in an orchestrated public lobbying of their own leader, mouthing jingoistic nonsense about the British Bulldog and the need to stand firm against the wickedness of Brussels. The same mob welcomed him back from his European negotiating disaster as a conquering hero, with one nauseating, fawning speech after another.

The British Bulldog is now an out-of-control pit bull, rampaging uncontrolled by its anti-social and irresponsible owner, the UK right-wing establishment, posing a threat to the stability of all its neighbours. But they have responded quickly and effectively by placing a cordon sanitaire around it, marginalising its baleful influence on civilised behaviour, then ignoring it while they get on with real life.

This unfortunately creates problems not just for the immature and selfish owner of the dog, but for his immediate and extended family and his entirely innocent neighbours, who are now going to find major obstacles in interacting with the wider community on which they are dependent.

One neighbour in particular, Scotland, has been concerned for some time about this dog and its owner, and their plans to get clear of them - while respecting and pitying his unfortunate family - are well-advanced. But in view of recent extreme behaviour by the British Bulldog, they may have to accelerate them.

I think I’ve taken that rather tortured analogy as far as I can. But one more comment.  Today’s G2 Guardian supplement revealed that Cameron deliberately keeps a full bladder before important meetings and speeches to maintain focus and concentration. Perhaps that explains his odd, tight-mouthed look – but the result at the EU summit was that he pissed all over his relationship with 26 members states.

Right at this moment, the 26 countries are in deep difficulty in reaching a deal, and if they don’t, it will be disaster of global proportions, not just European. What is abundantly clear is that the UK could have been part of those discussions without having sacrificed anything, had Cameron stayed to negotiate and influence, instead of posturing. Deal or no deal, the 26 countries won’t easily forget that he opted out.


On Sunday - blog link – I wrote the following -

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.

Today, the Times has a two-page spread on its own Ipsos MORI commissioned poll on the timing of the referendum. The First Minister has made it clear that he is still committed to his second half of the term timescale, but I suspect the pressures will grow, not from the unionists, with their early-referendum-and-fail scenario, but from a much wider constituency, including among SNP voter and supporters.

The results for those certain to vote were as follows -

1st question - the ‘devo max’ option: 68% in favour  among those certain to vote. 28% disagree with 4% undecided.

2nd question - the independence option: 38% in favour among those certain to vote. 57% disagree with 5% undecided.

The timing of the referendum:

As soon as possible: 33% in favour among those certain to vote.

Within the next two years: 31% in favour among those certain to vote.

Between two and five years from now: 29% in favour among those certain to vote.

There should never be a referendum: 3% in favour among those certain to vote.

The total figures for all polled, i.e. including those not certain to vote, are lower – devo max 64%, independence 35%.

I have two observations to make on this poll -

Firstly, the wording of the devo max option was posed as the first question – or appears to have been - and its wording was as follows -

Q. The referendum may contain separate questions. The first question will ask whether you agree or disagree with a proposal to extend the powers of the Scottish Parliament to include more laws and duties and more tax-raising powers, while Scotland remains part of the UK. If the referendum was held tomorrow, would you vote to agree or disagree with the proposal.

Ipsos MORI is a polling organisation with an impeccable pedigree and reputation. I am not a psephologist. But I have professional experience of formulating and asking questions, and analysing the answers – in interviewing, in questionnaires, in psychometric testing and in negotiation.

My training and experience taught me the following things that are relevant to the above poll -

1. The sequence in which questions are asked matters profoundly, regardless of what guidance and disclaimers the questioner or the question paper may offer.

2. In psychometric questionnaires, the questions must speak for themselves, be unambiguous in their wording, and any preliminary guidance offered by the person applying the questionnaire – if one is present – must follow a rigid formulation. No ad hoc clarification may be offered of the meaning or wording of the question.

3. The distinction between between the agenda of the person commissioning the test and that of the organisation applying it, and the professional constraints on reconciling these agenda must be managed with great care to avoid distortion of the results.

If I understand the above Ipsos MORI question above correctly, it was the first to be asked in their poll. That sequence matters.

The question as worded refers to the referendum possibly ‘containing two separate question’, but it then goes on to say that the ‘devo max’ question will be the first question in the referendum, but that is not my understanding.

The only thing that is certain is the the referendum will contain a simple YES/NO question on Scottish independence. There may be a second, devo max type question: if there is, it is likely that it will be the second question on the ballot paper, not the first. Unless the Times and Ipsos MORI know different (or the Times report today misquoted its own questionnaire) then the question claims a predictive knowledge of the referendum question sequence that no one else has, and which may be just plain wrong.

Additionally, the wording in the Ipsos MORI question says -

“… The first question will ask whether you agree or disagree with a proposal to extend the powers of the Scottish Parliament to include more laws and duties and more tax-raising powers, while Scotland remains part of the UK …”

I don’t think I am alone in thinking that some might interpret “while Scotland remains part of the UK as meaning “while still part of the UK before independence”.

On that interpretation, as a committed supporter of independence, I would have answered YES to that question. If I was committed to the Union and devo max, I would also have answered YES, on the interpretation that I was voting for Scotland to remain part of the UK.

This seems unclear to me, and obviously affects the interpretation of the result. However, I have not yet read the full Ipsos MORI figure, I may be a psephological dunce, and someone may clarify matters for me speedily and put me in the corner in a pokey hat.

My observation on the timing question is simply this – I believe it to be significant, to be a growing trend, and that the SNP, while not responding prematurely to straws in the polling wind, will be ill-advised to ignore the possibility that the FM may have to re-think his timetable or lose the zeitgeist.

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

The gentlemen of the Press - again …

The Scotsman backed the SNP just before the May 2011 election on the basis that they had the best team and were best equipped to lead the country, which the Scotsman, despite its title, had to reluctantly concede was called Scotland, not Great Britain or the UK.  In this, the paper was running behind the manifest thinking of the Scottish people, as revealed by the rapidly changing opinion polls. In a declining market for print journalism, it doesn’t do to back a loser, as the Scottish Daily Record and the Sunday Mail are painfully discovering.

But the Scotsman doesn’t believe in an independent Scotland, and as they awakened on May 6th to the full implications of the SNP’s historic victory, the magnitude of its majority and the implications of its renewed and strengthened mandate, the unionist panic started. It rapidly shifted gear to combat this new threat, adopting an approach to news reporting pioneered by the Herald, and already used by Scotland on Sunday, that of news bias by headline.

This involves taking a story, often a low-key report by a government body, economic think-tank or obscure, dry-as-dust professional commentator, often an academic, and selecting out of context a comment or fact and blowing it up into an anti-SNP, usually anti-independence headline and sub-header. The news report that follows in the small print then goes on to present a reasonably factual and objective account of what was actually said, thus paying lip service to objective new reporting. This approach is as old as journalism, and can be tracked all the way back to the Hearst yellow press in the United States.

Now it may be argued that this is simply the realities of headline writing, and that all newspapers play this game to sell papers in  highly competitive, challenging marketplace, and that of necessity, something punchy must be plucked from the news report to highlight content and draw readers. Indeed they do, but it is what is plucked and how it is presented that distinguishes the tabloid from the broadsheet, to use a now-outmoded term for quality newspapers. By what they pluck shall ye know them, and there appear to be a bunch of unionist pluckers in the Scotsman editorial team in these heady, referendum lead-up times.

Lest I seem unfair the the Scotsman, let me say that by giving regular space to a fine journalist, Joan McAlpine, who is also a prominent SNP supporter and who is now an MSP, they do offer a trenchant nationalist voice from a respected Scottish commentator to their readers. On the other side, they offer a platform to Michael Kelly, a man of whom prudence demands that I personally say little, for fear of attracting m’learned friends, except to comment that Joan McAlpine is miles better than the former Lord Provost of Glasgow.

Is there a model for me of what the Scottish Press should be, what it could be? Is there a model for me of what a Scottish political editor could be, of what political editors should be?

Yes, there is - the Scottish edition of The Times and Angus Macleod. I confess to having neglected and overlooked this fine newspaper in the past, associating The Times vaguely with its reputation as the Thunderer, with thoughts of Holmes and Watson perusing it over tea and muffins in Baker Street. From typography and layout to content, both news and features, this is an admirable example of what a newspaper should be, what a Scottish newspaper should be, and what the true values of news and political journalism could and should be.

Something’s gotta give, however, as the old song says -

I can’t afford the luxury of three daily newspapers. I’ve abandoned the i, the Independent’s inspired new entrant, after an initial infatuation with it, because of the almost total absence of any acknowledgement of the existence of Scotland and Scottish affairs, in which it mirrors The Independent’s editorial policy. And now, either The Scotsman or the Herald must be relegated to online reading.

Since my wife likes the Herald, and since it still has the finest Letters page of any newspaper, I fear The Scotsman must be the one to enter cyberspace. In these straightened times, £300 a year, or thereabouts, ain’t to be sneezed at …

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.

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Good morning, Scotland - is this a new dawn? (The Times Ipsos MORI poll)

These are the kind of headlines I like to wake up to -

The Times

Salmond surges into Holyrood poll lead

Labour alarm as voters ask “Who’s Iain Gray?”

Today’s lead story in The Times gladdens the heart, but then I remind myself that a poll is just a poll, and however psephologically sophisticated the selection of the 1000 voters polled, these indicators shift and waver in the lead-up to an election. But the shift is marked, and highly welcome, and I entertain the hope that it is an indicator that my fellow Scots have seen through the web of media lies, distortion, selective reporting that represents so much of UK - and shamefully, Scottish - media coverage of Scottish affairs and our devolved politics.

Ipsos MORI poll

forecast Holyrood seat on May 5th

SNP 51 seats (up 4)  Labour 48 seats (up 2)

Tories 14 seats (down 3) LibDem 12 seats (down 4)

Green 4 seats (up 2)

I can only recommend that you buy today’s Times and luxuriate in the good news while it lasts, and fervently hope that it will last, and that the momentum will grow until May 5th.

But don’t relax - get the message out, by every means possible, that Scotland intends to be governed by its ain folk, because only its ain folk can govern it well.

see excellent piece by Alex Porter - Scotland Unspun

The Good News 16th Feb 2011