Shell Shocked

A few quick thoughts on last night before I dash away to record a discussion on it for with an all-female panel. (It will be posted later and I’ll tweet when it’s ready).

I don’t much like the idea of winners and losers in debates because it detracts from content and what should be the key element of dialogue, but without thinking of it as a sporting event, I still felt I had heard a more compelling case and a more measured tone from Salmond than a curiously unsettling performance from Darling. (I thought Glenn Campbell done good in this show. A nod to him and old bruiser Bernard)


At heart what is lacking from Darling is a convincing case for No. When asked to step beyond fear and uncertainty over his opponent’s proposition, he flounders. Or rather, he crumbles. To be flummoxed on what new powers might deliver is a stunning hole in the middle of the Unionist case. To be honest, I always thought there would come a scary moment for Nats like me when the Unionist parties realised they needed a clear Next Move and would produce a combined Devo Max offer guaranteed by all, irrespective of UK government configuration after the general election.

Ludicrously late it might have been and dogged by their refusal to have it on the ballot paper but a strong offer with total agreement would have swung wavering Labour folk into line. It hasn’t happened. Why on earth not? It looks like failure to commit and leaves their case weak and woolly when they needed something to shove in Salmond’s face and say: Look. This is what they want and we’ll deliver it.

And wouldn’t it have been a coup for them if they had an intelligent and attractive woman leader in Scotland who could have presented their case? Imagine if she had stepped up for the second debate, figuratively shoving Darling aside and saying: Let me at him. I can do this. I speak for working class Scotland and I’m his match.

The sad truth about Alistair is that his skills aren’t really in this domain. Think back to the first debate and all that happened was that he confounded the doubters by shouting, dominating by speaking over and being aggressive – against expectation. There was no content. There WERE questions and demands but again he stumbled on powers. His case relies entirely on picking holes in the opposition and working them into uncertainties to worry people. That should only be the start of his proposition, not the end. And how can a Labour politician (as he constantly said he was as if it was in doubt) not sound like the champion of social justice, however defined?


Alistair looks and sounds like corporate man and was nailed by the woman who reminded us of how he is the plaything of the corporations, pocketing thousands for helping the NHS privateers. People can take him up to a point but the same tight mouth, angry eyes and finger jabbing doesn’t work twice, especially when your message is unchanged.

Salmond, whom they try to denigrate, is made to sound modest in comparison, reasonable and only occasionally fired up with passion when appropriate. The right wing numptie press in England like to deride him as a provincial bank manager type (that is, not the right stuff). Yet the town banker used to be a figure of respect, on speaking terms with all, carrying our secrets, never getting too far above himself or the gossips would start. Like Salmond he might not quite fit his suit and have a crumpled look, a man clearly at war with his weight – aren’t we all – and with a vulnerable side that makes him approachable. He is not the forbidding, ultra smooth and aloof posh figure Darling projects. Disappointing that Darling couldn’t bring himself to call Salmond by his first name. Such blatant rudeness. Such contempt for both the man and for his office (and by extension Scotland). There is a visceral dislike in this that he can’t conceal and I speak as an Angry Nat.

There was a moment at the end where I realised how badly this had gone. I have been in studios when an interviewee has had a bad day and made a hash of a discussion. It takes time to recover composure. The result is that even after you’ve thanked them, they sit stock-still. They don’t move a muscle as they go back over their performance and what it means for them. Shell shocked would cover it. That’s what Darling did at the final whistle. He was unmoving, hands stuck to the lectern, mind absorbing the awful truth.

Ultimately, the Union case is Don’t Change. Don’t Risk It. It Could Be Worse. Scotland Isn’t Worth It. The delirious energy of Yes, boosted with more oxygen from last night, mocks their sterility. No is turning this into a gothic gloom of a future where we’re crap and we know it but we’re powerless to change it.

That gives undecided voters a clearer impression of the choice, stripped of the mechanistic and legalistic sophistry around currency and treaties and debt.

The commentators sneer that this might come down to Scotland or Britain– which is it to be? It may come down something even simpler – The Future: Good or Bad?

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Bargain Basement Britain

Tonight’s debate, if I believe Better Together’s briefing to Magnus Gardham in the Herald, will concentrate on the ‘untrustworthiness’ of Yes on oil predictions and the NHS. Or, if I take a different interpretation, Salmond will point out how you can’t believe a thing No says on either issue. It is the existential heart of the debate of course – who do you believe, if either?

Well, away from the domestic issues of the Scottish agenda I wondered what else was happening in the kingdom of Great Britain, spiritual home of the No camp.


As Alistair Darling prepares to issue warning after warning of doom to follow self-determination he might want to reflect on the reality of the country he wishes to preserve.

First, Barnardos says the UK’s poorest families have too little money to cover basic weekly living costs, let alone a trip to the beach (Bank holiday).

Their incomes have declined in recent years due to what the charity condemns as a “toxic mix” of rising living costs and cuts to working and non-working benefits. Welfare changes have included measures that break the link between benefits and inflation.

One in five families have less than £423 a week coming in, based on the government’s 2011-12 statistics for households below average income.

Barnardo’s said its calculations reveal that a family of four on this income could not afford a seaside trip in any of the popular locations it surveyed. Minimum disposable weekly income for the poorest families is £39. (Yes. That is £39 disposable)

Meanwhile, Labour’s own research of the activities of their Better Together allies reveals that the poorest areas of England have endured council cuts under the coalition worth 16 times as much per household as the richest areas. Hilary Benn, the shadow communities secretary, said his figures showed the government had “failed to apply the basic principle of fairness” when allocating money to local councils. Councils covering the 10 most deprived areas of England – measured according to the index of multiple deprivation– are losing £782 on average per household, while authorities covering the richest areas are losing just £48 on average.

Hart district council in Hampshire, the least deprived local authority, is losing £28 per household, while in Liverpool District B, the most deprived area, the figure is £807.


So we see a shocking disparity loaded in favour of leafy areas which support the Conservatives and again it is poorer people who bear the brunt of vicious Tory policy – Tories Better Together are campaigning with. Labour are fighting to ensure the same Tories will be able to run the country on average every 10 years. Then comes the sting.

However, Mr Benn confirmed that, given Labour’s commitment to matching the government’s spending plans for 2015-16, a government led by Ed Miliband would not be in a position to raise overall council spending.

That is Labour’s bind. They are committed to the same austerity budget as the Tories they complain about.

Instead Labour would focus on distributing money more fairly, he said. And I’m sure they WILL attempt to help Labour areas more if re-elected but it hardly speaks of radical politics to float all boats, does it? He means they’ll fiddle with the limited budget to help their voters just as the Tories are helping theirs. Hardly a sense of national purpose for social justice.

Those same suffering families mentioned above will be pleased to hear there is likely to be an interest rate rise before Christmas which will hit those living on borrowings to get by and on extended credit. If they have a mortgage they could find their homes under threat unless they are locked into a mortgage deal. The monetary policy committee split for the first time in years on the question of a rise. So it may happen soon. The Governor warned that ‘increases in Bank rate well ahead of any pickup in wage and income growth risked increasing the vulnerability of highly indebted households. Finally, an unexpected increase in Bank rate might cause sterling to appreciate further, bearing down on inflation and further impeding UK economic rebalancing.’

The value of the pound, much trumpeted as an icon of Union is currently weighing down economic performance. The strong pound does have benefits for holidaymakers who can afford to go abroad and in keeping the cost of imports down.

But it is hampering the elusive rebalancing of the economy by pushing up the cost of exports at a time when demand is weak in crucial markets such as Europe. This is Money says: ‘Britain is one of the biggest exporters in the world, selling everything from engines, cars and parts of planes to whisky and Burberry macs. But it still runs a huge trade deficit, with imports vastly outstripping exports.

The eurozone is Britain’s biggest export market followed by the United States, so the strength of the pound against the euro and the dollar is crucial.’

So poverty is rife in Deep Pockets Britain, the economic recovery is trailing behind other countries and looks extremely fragile with the fabled rebalancing no nearer, a big hit could be coming before Christmas with a rates rise and meanwhile Labour stands should to shoulder with the Tories to stop Scotland finding an exit from this neo-liberal catastrophe.

And, if you’re talking doom in Edinburgh as financial institutions plan an exit after a Yes vote, check this out from the Irish Times. ‘London hosts more than 250 foreign banks, many of which have based their main European subsidiaries in the UK capital and gained an automatic passport to operate across the other 27 countries in the EU single market for wholesale financial services.

If the UK were to leave the EU – the so-called “Brexit” scenario – senior bankers worry that Britain would be unable to negotiate the same passporting rights for its financial services industry. If these were lost, it would force many corporate and investment banking operations to leave the UK.’

At least four American banks are making contingency plans to leave London if there’s a Euro exit and only today Cameron is beefing up his exit rhetoric. Not that this is making headlines in Scotland where the No camp’s warnings of corporate flight from Edinburgh were front page news. It raises an interesting point though. Supposing Scotland does vote Yes – are those Edinburgh institutions going to decamp to London if its only a year or two away from leaving the EU? If we vote Yes it could be that Edinburgh becomes the destination of choice for overseas banks wishing to trade with Europe.

Merely some thoughts to hold on to as the slugging match gets under way at Kelvingrove tonight.

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The Freemasonry of the Media

For 45 years I have been a ‘Member of Her Majesty’s Press’ and have now become a lifetime member of the National Union of Journalists. I was never one of the top gun star performers in any of the places I worked but I was steady and occasionally inspired. I didn’t ever cut it as a news reporter because it requires an unflinching doggedness for information that I lacked. I just didn’t care enough about what passed for news most of the time because it was the ‘here today, gone tomorrow’ sludge that you still read in the papers today.


I became a better journalist when I left the staff job and was free to think for myself and come up with ideas based around issues rather than a traditional concept of hard news. This was particularly valuable in the BBC current affairs department where I eventually made what I think of as my main mark – presenting Good Morning Scotland for 10 years – my proudest moment.

At the BBC, I quickly realised that there was instant criticism of a kind that didn’t happen in papers. One of my first jobs was a film package on the ‘87 election in which, for timing reasons, I excluded mention of one SNP target seat. (Dumfries and Galloway, I think). I was sitting at the news desk watching Reporting Scotland, with my report, go out live. As soon as it finished, the phone rang. I picked it up and it was the SNP convener from Dumfries demanding to know who Derek Bateman was and why his electoral seat was ignored. I owned up and learned a lesson…you may not get everything right but you must bloody well try. If you know something is true, you fight to get it in. Demand the time from the producer. Stand up for the public’s right to know. Even the detail can count. People also regarded the BBC as theirs in a way they didn’t with the papers.


And, despite the ego and vanity, both of which you need in the media, especially in broadcasting, I learned that criticism is part of the game. I had been pretty much inured to it in papers because people wrote letters of complaint and it was unlikely any would ever appear on the letters’ page. The attitude of editors was mostly to wish complaints away unless they were legally based. There was a kind of collective protection scheme in operation. By-line journalists were superior types and complaint was treated as a form of personal insult.

So, although I didn’t like criticism, I learned at the Beeb that if you didn’t balance, if you over-interpreted or went too far to one side or other, it came right back at you because there was a complaints procedure and you would be called to account.

Now this has changed dramatically for the press with social media because it means no one can write anything without an instant in-your-face reaction. I call it digital democracy.

But what hasn’t changed is the freemasonry of the media – a highly-tuned sense of commanding a special role that no one can breach. Anybody producing an alternative is an enemy, an outsider to be resisted. The mainstream enjoy their special status as upholders of freedom and champions of the people despite the ugly truth that led to Leveson.

Even when they are interfering with a murder inquiry or spying on detectives, they are adamant there should be no interference with their rights. It is after all a threat to democracy to interfere with the running of the media… And if you want to fire up a journalist try some criticism. Try suggesting that the source of their information might be contaminated by self-interest or that they regurgitate government releases as fact. Try suggesting that the funding of BT from Vitol is a revolting denial of everything that any socialist would hold dear and should have been investigated fully by the press. It is a truth as old as print that the first person to take offence will be the person who gives offence. No matter what inaccurate, unfair, insulting or offensive material a paper prints, the journalist will turn into a delicate petal at the first word of snub. People who spend every minute of every day judging others – organisations, families, politicians, artists – cannot abide themselves being judged. It has always been true which is why Scotland’s mainstream journalists are lining up behind Magnus Gardham of the Herald whose execrable one-sided column I objected to (see above). I went further and questioned the professionalism of someone in a key role who could write what is plainly a regurgitated Better Together briefing ahead of Monday’s leaders’ debate.

I think the piece beggars belief in suggesting that two interventions – one nakedly political – were from reluctant champions of the truth forced in the public interest to correct the deliberately misleading case of Yes. He writes that this is the Yes weakness which will be exploited – its untrustworthiness.

If you really wanted to make that case and stretch credulity, you really would have to acknowledge what only the most one-eyed already know – that the misleading, the hysteria and negative fear-mongering has been the hallmark of No. There are always two sides but in ignoring the documented record of No, he himself misleads. Is it deliberate or is it innocent?

I suggest there is a common view – and that much is true – that he is out of his depth, which is the bit they can’t take. You’re not allowed to personalise criticism in their world even if it’s relevant.

But where were these champions of restraint when one of their own, the Daily Mail, was pursuing innocent pro Yessers and photographing them and branding them Cybernats? Which of them supported me when I was called a nazi stormtrooper in the Scotsman? Did they object when the Express called me a bigot or any other number of Scots on one side of this argument? Of course not. I – and they – are not part of the Freemasonry of the Media protecting itself from what it is more than happy to dish out to others.

I ‘m sure there are pro Indy people who don’t like what I wrote but isn’t it interesting that on Twitter standing alongside the mainstream journalists are one from the Record, the paper that gave us Magnus, Paul Sinclair and Tom Brown whose withering anti Scotland views were reviewed here; Mike Elrick, the Labour spin doctor; the anonymous and notorious Labour troll Grahamski; a raft of bigoted Unionist twerps and the inevitable James Macmillan, the conspiracy fantasist. Could you have a clearer illustration of what the mainstream now represents – BT stooges, Labour loyalists and Union extremists. If that’s the combined opposition to telling the truth about the tawdry state of the Scottish media, you can keep it. You’re welcome. And it’s revealing that not one has anything but personal abuse or criticism of me to offer. I can’t see a single critique of the Magnus item. Do they agree with his analysis or is it just blind loyalty to one of their own?

The meetings I attend up and down the country seethe with contempt for those they see as misleading them and misinforming them. They know there is good work too but the overwhelming weight is seen as deliberately biased. Today’s Herald piece is a prime example and with the very existence of some papers in doubt you’d have to wonder at the intelligence of this suicide journalism.

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Standing Up For The Union

Who to believe? Usually the answer is the voice that fits your own case. We’re all human. So I expect the Herald to stay loyal to the Union and I expect its political editor to let his copy drift in that direction – after opening up enough perspective to give respect to the other side.


Today’s woeful Believe Better Together rant by Magnus Gardham is so absurdly one-eyed you wonder if he he’s just arrived in Scotland and missed the opening 39 months of campaign.

Because two – according to Magnus, impartial voices – have been raised this week, it proves that Yes, in responding to them is deliberately misleading the public. Read that again. Yes is misleading the public.

Thinking back over all you’ve heard from the No campaign from ‘Scotland does not exist’, ‘Scotland will not be able to defend itself’, ‘ Scottish independence will please the forces of darkness’, ‘Scotland will be invaded by jihadists’, ‘Scotland can’t look after the oil’, to ‘Scotland is subsidised by England money’, did the message from the Unionist campaign strike you as credible or has it been hysterical, alarmist, surreal, juvenile, insulting and even counter effective?

Whatever your doubts about Alex Salmond’s legal advice on Europe, do you still think Scotland won’t get in? Voice after voice now acknowledges what I and other were saying three years ago – that our membership will continue. The timing and conditions are open to negotiation. (Even Labour’s David Martin now says this).


When the facts are laid out, is it just bluster to say the UK will seek currency union? Many serious voices say that is so including a Cabinet minister known to the Guardian.

Will Scotland really be richer (Choose your amount) or will we each be up to £3000 a year poorer as Alistair Carmichael claims? Call it a score draw if you like.

Is it remotely accurate to write that only one side is misleading and that is Yes? Even by the standards of propaganda, I find that unbelievable. A journalist is paid to find the words to make a case which doesn’t leave him looking stupid or embarrass his paper. He fails that test today.

Ian Wood is not berated for contradicting his own government-sponsored report but treated as an impartial voice when he was actually coming out for NO. You’d have to be a naive rookie or a BT stooge swallowing a briefing not to see that. Magnus missed it.

Then the health professional Anna Gregor berated colleagues who worried about Scotland’s NHS being adversely affect or even privatised by changes in England. To Magnus she too is a highly respected figure. But not Phillipa Whitford? He suggests Gregor was forced reluctantly – like highly respected Sir Ian – to come forward to tell the truth amid the lies. Isn’t that exactly what Whitford did – came forward to speak out because she believes there IS a threat? Not according to one-eyed Magnus. He’s clear – only one side tells the truth and it ain’t Yes. It’s categoric. Magnus writes like a man squarely in the pocket of one side who doesn’t have the professional capacity to be nuanced about it. Bought. Lock. Stock. and Barrel.

There is a withering trope in Yes circles about Magnus, something about an English regional reporter over-promoted and out of his depth in a world not run by Labour any more. The counter objective in that scenario is to prove the doubters wrong and to be seen trying to do so. For me this partisan pile of piffle proves the doubters right. I would have more respect if the Herald told him to write from the heart and admit his – and the paper’s – preference. I suppose intellectual honesty and professional probity are too much to expect from today’s Herald.

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Currency Explained

Still pondering currency? Then you are doing Better Together’s job for them. All they want is that single question to hang there seemingly unanswered, so the mass of people who won’t bother to research it believe there is an issue. And it means they can say to Yes folk What’s your Plan B…


On the other hand, we need answers – be nice to get some from the No side for a change but the media ain’t interested in that game.

This week my radio programme asked Crawford Beveridge to come into the studio. He chaired the government’s fiscal commission which came up with the currency union option and still sticks to it. Crawford is an American Scot who divides his time between California and Scotland and is a successful businessman. He doesn’t talk flannel. His voice is that of a man who knows how the world works, how money is made, what business needs and who believes there is nothing to stop Scotland freeing itself from grip of London control to become a successful rich nation.


Here he does an explainer of the currency issue. It’s part of a half hour conversation with me in which we touch other topics including his worries if the UK leaves Europe – a serious business hazard. Tune in at

Get in touch and tell me if it helped you understand the question and reassured you about currency

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