In their Own Write

More examples today of how easy it is to manipulate the Scottish media. The first is a happy-clappy item in the Herald trumpeting the views of the house-vending industry on a recent ‘surge’ in activity (I think that means folk are buying and selling houses).

There is a rising chorus of optimism in this report which makes it sound as if the world has emerged from a dark place into the sunny uplands of cheap mortgages, paper profits and market upgrades into ‘more desirable properties.’ It could have been written by an estate agent.

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Boom for Property Market After No Vote is the headline and those who make a living from this artificial pumping up of nominal values get a say including the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors and the barra boys of stately homes, Rettie and Co – all cock-a-hoop that the political nonsense is over and the right decision was reached and they can all get back to money-making.

I seem to remember Rettie issuing a statement during the campaign ‘warning’ Scots that the monied mafia had stopped scouring our country for shooting estate bargains while we weighed up independence. We made it inconvenient for them by playing our democratic games.

Now they’re roaring back into business after No voters cleared the way for them by ensuring there would be no tricky questions over taxes and money exchange. It’s odd though because Scotland still has, and is consulting on, powers over land ownership which I believe should be used to limit the number of acres any one person or entity can own and to charge them for unproductive use. It is time the Scots – rather than a self-selecting few – benefited from the wilderness that comprises our country and time we stopped pretending that rising house prices is anything other than the beginning of another inflationary bubble. If there is one area where Ms Sturgeon could legitimately burnish her supposed left wing credentials without damaging the SNP support base, it is land. And wouldn’t it be worth it to hear Ruth Davidson championing the landowners’ case?

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But the Herald has no interest in wider land use issues and plays the consumer card by indicating industry satisfaction at an upturn as if it were universally welcomed. Interestingly, it touches on what may be the real reason most of the high-end property diggers are queuing up to buy now – the impending arrival of the land and building transaction tax which will hammer high value properties when it replaces stamp duty. Purchasers are rushing to beat the deadline.

The surveyors’ organisation merely needed to pass on a thin report based on assumptions about market activity and the media prints it, unchallenged. No scrutiny of underlying attitudes to the market or mortgages, families or inflation AND a free advert for Rettie.

No challenge either to the latest offering from the obscure and somewhat secretive Fiscal Affairs Scotland which commands column inches and broadcast appearances just by stating mostly the bleedin’ obvious. It is also in the Herald today to tell us our longer-term public budgets will be cut. Who’d have thought, eh? Seven years of austerity and counting…an ideologically committed party of small government in power…an opposition in agreement with them…declared additional cuts of £25billion now exposed as £48billion over the next parliament…Scotland voting to stay in the Union…Barnet under threat…and the economic experts can bravely predict budgets will be cut! Well, thank you, Professor.

This tiny outfit is given space to inform us that if you ring-fence budgets in, say health spending, it means more cuts fall on other areas. That’s the kind of blinding insight you need crack academics to reveal. Or are they just using these reports and their ready access to the media to advertise themselves as economic analysts to corporate Scotland and that’s where the real money is made – writing reports and forecasts for companies? They tell us ‘revolutionary’ thinking may be required to deal with future spending. What does that mean? What is their proposal? We are not told although I suspect it means stopping universalism which is what every soft left neo liberal (Labour) apologist goes for because cutting expenditure is the limit of their imagination, locked as they are in the mindset of conventional orthodoxy.

Here’s a thought for the pot of revolutionary thinking. We could grow our economy. One of the reasons I backed independence was to have strategic capacity – the ability to move all the levers at our disposal so they aligned in Scotland’s favour. That means we would control competition policy, public procurement, taxation, immigration, investment, land use, inward investment and every other tool which other countries adjust to produce the perfect mix for their own benefit. (It’s also a reason I didn’t back sharing the pound as it denies us money control and interest rates).

Independence would have provided the jolt our country needs to boost the economy. No more relying on policy and support from the south but finally it would all be in our own hands. All across the economy we could have made improvements. The North Sea needs a new dynamic regime as all sides agree. Do we really think the same people who took all the tax, sold off the national oil company and invested not one penny of the windfall are better at it than the Scots?

If we ran energy policy, wouldn’t the dream of re-industrialisation through renewables have more chance of happening? The so-called think tank simply dismisses our constitutional status as irrelevant to the cuts needed – yet how could they know what deal Scotland might have struck on, for example, debt? Suppose there was a trade-off between sovereign debt servicing and Trident, seriously reducing Scotland’s share of UK indebtedness?

At least Professor Brian Ashcroft – elsewhere in the Herald – has the flair to come up with some answers and goes beyond the arid Fiscal report by pointing out that these relentless cuts are themselves damaging the economy and risking the recovery. We need in injection of investment to protect the signs of growth and that should be the Scottish government’s job to borrow. New beefed-up borrowing powers would mean extra economic control here in Scotland where it’s needed. (He might not like it, but that chimes broadly with my own view). In fact Ashcroft is a lot closer to the declared aim of Fiscal Affairs as stated on the website… ‘to understand the effectiveness of economic policies’. Clearly they have failed to do that in this case, merely accepting the diktat of Westminster policy-makers.

The authors at Fiscal Affairs sound like the Labour Party to me. ‘We’re a’ doomed,’ is their motto. There is nothing to do but suck it up and stop resisting, stop campaigning, stop trying. This is Britain. Just give up.

But who are Fiscal Affairs Scotland to command acres in the national Press with such ease when other organisation have to hire PR help just to get a mention? As discussed here previously, they are what used to be CPPR, the Centre for Public Policy for Regions (that’s Scotland, by the way) – semi detached from Glasgow University. They appear to have been spun out of that entity, a fact hard to deny when their own website points you to the work they did while at CPPR. The only staff appear to be John McLaren and Jo Armstrong.

What I always want to know with self-styled think tanks is Who’s paying? And the awkward truth here is that we don’t know. There is no public information on who is paying salaries and costs or under what contractual arrangements reports are produced.

Under Trustees on the website there are five individuals. Among them Robert Black was auditor general, Gavin McCrone is well known, Richard Harris was director of CPPR, and there is Lorna Jack of the Law Society. (She is also a trustee of Jack McConnell’s foundation against poverty in Africa.) The drop-down for Advisory Board is empty, as is the menu for News and Media, and Contact has only personal emails and mobiles for John and Jo which may mean there is no office. (The charity regulator has the principal office as a chartered accountants premises on an industrial estate in Glasgow which looks like an administrative nicety).

So two economic academics register as a charity ‘for the advancement of education, or citizenship or community development’ with no specific beneficiaries in mind, to ‘carry out activities or services itself,’ according to the regulator – all meaningless charity legalese – and on that basis are feted by the national media whenever they turn out a report whether it is informative, incisive and helpful, or not.

So far they’ve been pretty helpful to Labour. Their previous effort at independent, politically non-aligned analysis was welcomed by Jenny Marra when they warned that handing all tax powers to Scotland exposed us to falling oil prices, dovetailing with the Unionist case against Devo Max.

And when two years ago, at the CPPR, they previously made the case about falling oil forecasts, they were contradicted by the man they had quoted in their support, Professor Alex Kemp. http://www.newsnetscotland.scot/index.php/scottish-economy/6457-cppr-claims-on-oil-estimates-challenged-by-leading-academic

There is a tendency in our short-handed, Google-based newsrooms to buy whatever sugary line they are presented with and just to ‘bung it in’. There is in Scotland right now a profound debate about politics and government and how we improve peoples’ lives. Journalists like to claim a special role in for themselves in our society at such times but unless they can bring a deeper insight and wider understanding than the Herald today, they will increasingly be seen as part of the problem rather than the solution. All the conventional sources are on trial post-referendum as normally compliant citizens had their eyes opened to the institutional shortcomings of the society they knew and trusted.

We have learned not to believe them and it’s clear with the media they still don’t deserve to get back our trust.

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26 thoughts on “In their Own Write

  1. Absolutely – so many jornos seem to behind the curve. Your previous post supports this.

    I came in from the farm a bit early for First Minister’s Questions ( I didn’t want to miss AS’ last one live ) and caught a section of the Smith Commission sessions. The contributors’ statements and answers emphasised what many of us know – that the Referendum, despite the result, has opened the eyes of Civic and Institutional Scotland. I wouldn’t want to be in Smith’s shoes with such a national groundswell when at the same time ” he who pays the piper ” down at Westminster will expect something of a fudge.

    Down here in the Borders my postage stamp of a farm is surrounded by monsters most of which’s owners have English public school accents. They would be horrified to know though that Lilliesleaf was a 40% YES. Just as well voting is anonymous since otherwise it would be like saying to His Grace piss off with your foxhunting – you’d be out of tied house and job before you could spit.

    Like you I’m watching how Sturgeon & Co go about Land Reform. If the first response to the LRRG’s report is anything to go by, don’t hold your breath – all they did was to announce that a Registry of ownership would be completed WITHIN TEN YEARS. This before there’s real action I guess.

    • Yerkitbreeks- to be fair the state of the Land Registry and Companies House record keeping and the structure of companies contribute to the difficulties of tracing the ‘real’ owners of land across international borders, makes me think 10 years is just a guess. Me? I’d throw resources at this project. The potential benefits of knowing exactly who owns what will dwarf the cost of tracing the owners

  2. Spot on, Derek – but you omitted to mention John McLaren’s academic attainments, and his and his partner’s links to the Labour Party in Scotland.

  3. Marvellous read. Thank you!

  4. Excellent article Derek, very sharp. Thanks for keeping flagging up FAS and the Labour-Herald-FAS axis. From your observations it seems FAS exists to manage and limit public expectations of Devo Max, to ensure that what Smith delivers is Devo Minnow, in order to conform to the London Labour diktat for negligible change, using the standard TINA defence, beloved of municipal Labour (There Is No Alternative). Labour have been perfecting this technique for generations, lowering and managing public expectations, so that the public are grateful for whatever mediocre offerings are ‘achieved’ by Labour.

    But you and Yerkit are right to point to the increased mood of public vigilance and raised expectations, which the SNP could also fall victim to, if they are not careful. Land reform and community empowerment legislation look like being tepid and underwhelming. Although I will probably vote SNP I remain sceptical that they are not using all the powers available to them, no doubt for feat of rocking the boat and alienating potential moderate voters, whom they must win over to stay in power.

    Take fracking, for instance. Planning is a devolved area. So I don’t know why the SNP doesn’t just modify planning legislation that no fracking can take place in urban areas in the central belt. Perhaps they fear that they could be sued by fracking companies. Perhaps the devolution of planning is administrative, rather than having the power to alter primary legislation. I don’t know the answers to these questions. All I note is a kind of reluctance to govern, and to make bold legislative moves.

    • I am sure that Fracking is EXPLICITLY excepted from local planning rules. so NO ONE can actually prevent the normal restrictions on access etc taking place. I too want the new leader (whom I admire) to be FAR more prepared to rattle the box.

      “Softly, softly” didn’t win the game first time around – perhaps a more vociferous approach will do so next time.

    • I don’t know how you know that land reform legislation looks “like being tepid”, as we haven’t reached that stage yet. What we have is a meaty set of recommendations from the Land Reform Review Group which offer the potential for very substantial reform.

      • There is disappointment being voiced by EVOC over the community empowerment bill. The proposals on common good land were very weak, and amounted to who should be able to sell it, not how it should be protected.

  5. Frankly, there weren’t many Yes votes from rich landowners who are, presumably, mostly Tories. I fail to see why such a obvious target is being handled with kid gloves. Tax them harder, particularly on unused land. Many of the big landowners don’t even live here (for example, Paul Dacre of the Daily Mail) and are claiming huge agricultural subsidies for what are barren sporting estates.

  6. I really believe the Vociferous Approach has to come from us, the increasingly aware general public. An SNP membership of 84,000 needs to be convinced and guided on policy and on the political games played by the opposition and so motivated to be that vociferous movement. I reckon the SNP management have a job on hand to now get out among the membership at branch meetings.

    If Fiscal Affairs comprises just two people then I’d wager that their function is to read, digest and rubber stamp analysis provided to them.

  7. A very good article Derek, I think if the SNP do not take a radical approach to land reform ,their is going to be a lot of people really upset . And if they do not live up to peoples expectations of radical root and branch change .Then they will not be any better then the labour party that has failed the working people

  8. Jo Armstrong featured heavily in a BBC Scotland documentary last year about the merits or otherwise of Independence. She came over as a dismal Jemima and was tagged on screen as an ‘independent ‘ financial expert…interesting adjective but totally misleading. Her mournful predictions had me shouting at the telly because of her facile interpretations of future Scottish economic performance under Indy.

    She was so downbeat and pessimistic, that I smelt a large rat. I did a google on her and lo and behold her professional link with Mr. McLaren. Subsequently, more has emerged of her involvement with the disastrous PFI implementation under the Labour administration and was a special adviser to Jack McConnell 2001-2003.

    The BBC knew who she was and her political allegiances. Yet there she and McLaren have been ,week after week all the way up to the REF and now beyond, being mis-represented to a gullible public as non-partisan ‘experts’.

    In the same manner we had the ‘leading business organisation’, the CBI regularly assaulting our lugholes with their sub-tory narratives every week, until it all came out about the BBC’s membership of same when the CBI finally outed themselves as big fat ‘NO’ supporters.

    The stinking hypocrisy of these tightknit cliques operating within the Scottish establishment, SLAB propagators distorting and lying, but presented by Boothman’s and MacQuarrie’s acolytes as responsible erudite specialists in their field is beyond comprehension in a so-called democracy.

    What the entire scenario presents to us and the outside world is a colonial power operating a closed and manipulative propaganda service. There is no room for doubt or chance of misunderstanding. When the books and films are finally released to the world about the shocking State sponsored campaign of dis-information unleashed on a barely conscious Scottish body politic, the world will turn on its axis.

    Make no mistake, the BBC has been seen, throughout the globe, as the gold standard in impeccable, accurate and honest reportage. The evidence when it emerges will shake and crumble all those firmly embedded myths once and for all.
    The BBC will be seen for what it is, and what it has been for longer than most Scots, myself included can comprehend: simply a megaphone for the puppets in Westminster to ensure compliance and fear in their last colony, that of Scotland.

    Protecting the City of London and its casino banks and insuring the uncontrollable Ponzi scheme that represents the British economy may be the objective of Westminster and its broadcasting arm.
    But when the truth is communicated to the world…where will their reputation be then?

  9. Steve Asaneilean

    As others have said, the SNP needs to be radical on land reform. Nothing more needs to be done to make the case when folk like Andy Wightman have researched it for years and laid out the answers on a plate.
    As for “think tanks” – there is a pernicious culture operating at all levels (your average local council is a good example) where such non-entities are used to rubber stamp that which councils have already decided to do in order to give their decisions an air of (faux) validity and objectivity. Frankly it’s a house built on sand and it sucks.

  10. In my opinion one of the biggest threats to a functioning democracy is our captured media – refer to the works of Chomsky and Media Lens for the details.
    These so-called ‘think tanks’ (mostly funded by neoliberal interests) are constantly used by media such as the BBC without any checking of their funding and presented as politically independent sources – but curiously, it’s seldom ever the left-wing think tanks that are called upon to pontificate their views to a gullible and trusting public. I can”t decide whether the BBC are lazy or biased, it’s probably both.
    Worst of all is of course bias by omission. The BBC omits comment or analysis from left-wing sources, and the right-wing sources they do quote of course do the same.
    As in the independence campaign, how can we have a real democracy if one side is effectively censored?

  11. Should be no false outrage at being described as a region
    We just voted to be a region

    Until Nos especially, realise it then they will always vote against there own
    Its a trick oh a ” national” team

    While evey town in Spain has more fiscal automney

  12. I would like to know more about FAS. Who funds them? Just because you give yourself a fancy name does not give you any credibility. Fact that MSM lap it up worries me. But then we know better now.

    Thanks for another great article.

  13. I do hope that all those who say that the SNP should “do something” are getting themselves involved in the procedures of government by either joining and taking part in the democratic life of their local branch or organising to put their views forward to the Government at Holyrood.

    If you haven’t done so already you will find the personal approach to your SNP MSP really very easy. They are after all people like yourselves with the future of Scotland at their heart

    If they don’t know and you do not tell them, how will we get anything changed?

    • Mr Wheelhouse does not reply to emails, nor does Ms Graham (or messages on her website response form).
      I wrote to the Committee on Burrell but most did not reply.
      My elected MSP Mr Lamont does reply, but of course I don’t like his responses as I can’t agree with many of them.
      My local MP, Michael Moore, is an excellent constituency MP. I cannot follow how the Home Rule party came to be so against home rule for Scotland. I suggested before the referendum that he change sides, but it does not seem likely that he will.

  14. Yeah, who knew that cuts to the Barnett hand out would affect spending and services? Thank God they’ve got professors on hand to tell us how shit works.

    (Mutters darkly about stuff)

    Got to love our meeja Derek. What are the odds eh? Almost half of a country’s electorate and their views go completely unrepresented by 100% of its media, both broadcast and print? The odds should have been astronomical. Apparently though, you can live in a country with completely zero positive media coverage or representation.

  15. My impressions nowadays of the professions, and that I am sorry to say covers the lot. From Lawyers to Vets to Professors, I do not rate them. Not too sure about Politicians either but one thing I would say is that those in the SNP are not there or were not there to make a career for themselves but to make Scotland a better place, somewhere that the People of Scotland could control rather than leave it in the hands of the disinterested in Westminster.
    With regard to so called Think Tanks, well if you can, you should hold to the old maxim and follow the money, where are they getting it from. Surely even so called charities have to open their books.

  16. The way to solve the land problem is not by attempting to find out ownership or nationalising assets, but by raising taxes slowly and using this to define ownership.

    I’d start with a tax on all land next to roads, with the sums involved used to pay for deer-proof fencing. If estates preferred to erect their own fences, fine – but they’d have to submit to an inspection to ensure the work was done. That would define the boundaries, with the help of law-abiding estates, as a statutory duty. Once the boundaries are defined by fences, every other measure, such as a flat-rate tax on landholdings, falls into place. No sudden change and no trumpeting of measures, but just gradually making the position of large landholdings untenable.

  17. Always look to Derek for inspiration or an accurate view on our parlous constitutional state. It wrankles that the media gatekeepers keep this invisible to the Public.

  18. Sorry Derek but there is no ‘wilderness’ in Scotland. You are never much more than a couple of miles from a road, and yes, landrover access tracks count. Try telling a north American, and Australian or even a Kiwi like me about wilderness. There are parts of Fiordland in SW NZ where it is doubtful a human ever trod even in these days of helicopter drops.

    Don’t get me wrong the Highlands are nice and the tops of the Cairngorms can get very wild and bleak, but you can usually find a sheep dropping or thousands up there and you are rarely, even in a snowstorm very far from at least a gravelled road. The only road through Fiordland is the route to Milford Sound (dead end for vehicles) and that requires a 24/7 repair depot on the route to clear away landslides and avalanches. There is one road from the western shore of Lake Te Anau to Doubtful Sound but it has no connection to any other road and you get to it by boat across the lake, foot traffic only. It was built for the power station which you can’t see (hidden in the mountain). The only piece of industry in the National Park. The rest is dense virgin southern temperate rainforest with tussock above the treeline.

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