Enter the Newsnet

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I got involved in Newsnet just after the referendum and found a thriving online community committed to independence and fierce about getting the best possible deal for Scotland if that wasn’t achievable. http://newsnet.scot/2015/02/newsnet-scot-financial-appeal-if-you-value-independent-journalism-support-us/

Since then myself and Maurice Smith of TVI Productions in the Merchant City in Glasgow, have looked inside, outside and under the bonnet and taken our time to reassemble a visually appealing website with easy-to-understand operation and a range of diverse content.

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It isn’t as easy as it sounds. There is a hinterland to Newsnet which was the original of its type and became a bridge into the online Yes movement for thousands. Insofar as it is possible for New Media, Newsnet has a history – and a bit of tradition.

Yet the debate changes, the country changes and so do we. A lot of our regular readers come to us, in a crowded market, for niche material. We don’t pretend to run a full-blown 24 hour news service but rather we redefine what we think of as news. Scan your daily Press and imagine just how many of those headlines you really couldn’t live without. Then think how many you’d like to read if they had some insight and analysis from a Yes or Home Rule perspective. There is always another side and that’s we way we try to think.

What will be the real situation in North Sea oil and gas not today but in two years time? How do we develop oil if we want to be green? Why DID Labour lose its mojo? What were the Lib Dems thinking? Is the scale of UK sovereign debt real or is it a cover for ideological public spending cuts? Is SNP support verging on the messianic and is a fall from grace imminent?

That’s the way we see current affairs and we seek out people with knowledge and an alternative view to provide it. We hear from former Tory businessmen who are sick of the British obstacles to trade, from women who are energised like never before… from historians and campaigners and creative and academics like John Robertson whose ground-breaking work on broadcast bias drew a furious response from BBC management.

Our contributors write for us. We interview them on radio. Sometimes on television. I know many people who appreciate a different tone, a fuller, uninterrupted informative interview which is longer than the presenter-led BBC news allows. All from a Scottish progressive perspective which doesn’t have you howling the radio in exasperation. They download from the Newsnet website or the App Store and use it while running or in the gym, while busy around the house or driving. And you get my analysis of key events. (I never miss it.)

We do it because we love it…and because it’s a contribution to the national debate. The days of remaining silent are over. We’re not trying to make a profit, we’re trying to become sustainable.

We are looking for everybody’s contribution and have a separate section dedicated to citizen journalism. We cover arts and history too. We’re offering more – invites to events and debates and, if you’re up for it, an interview by batemanbroadcasting.com! We plan to engage fully up to the General Election with informative pieces and our university-based media monitor. To help us do so, we’d like you to come inside the Newsnet and help us with a one-off donation or make the accountant’s day with a monthly subscription. Head over to the site and have a look.

http://newsnet.scot/2015/02/newsnet-scot-financial-appeal-if-you-value-independent-journalism-support-us/

We have writers and broadcasters who need to make a living. We have offices, a studio and equipment to pay for. You’ll get a welcome pack (steady…) and maybe too that exclusive glow that comes from knowing you’re an insider. And all regular subscribers are eligible to win a day in the wine bar with me for you and a mate…but don’t tell Jim Murphy!

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Taking a Vow

Been ill. Not as ill as Labour’s anti-NHS campaign, mind…just out of sorts for a few days, and it’s amazing how many blips appear on the radar over three days so let’s start with one.

The Daily Record…dearie me. In my day, back in the late sixties, seventies and onwards, it was king of industrial, trades union and Labour journalism, as well as crime, with unrivalled, no-nonsense coverage hammered home for the working man like rivets in a steel hull. Today it is the outsourced PR agency of the Labour Party.

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Not only did it contrive the vacuous Vow along with Labour and Gordon Brown but it now seems it wasn’t even capable of reporting accurately on its own story. The Independent Press Standards Organisation’s damning analysis of the Record’s reporting of How the Vow was Delivered is now added to the ignominy of the political con they orchestrated on the Scots.

All journalists make factual mistakes – it’s an occupation hazard – and, if in this case they were relying ‘on a source’…well, you’re in the hands of the source and if they mess up, you do too. It’s happened to me.

But the really strange part of the paper’s reporting is the inconsistency. On the front we were told (on November 27) that the Scottish budget ‘would nearly double’ (100%). Inside the paper it said the budget would rise by nearly two thirds (66%). Online however it stated the budget would go up by 50 per cent. I can think of hacks from the past who would say that was how they did their expenses…

The confusion with numbers you might just forgive on an inside item on local government spending but on your own We’re-the-Heroes-Who-Saved-the-Union Nat-busting mega splash it beggars belief, especially since the Smith report is supposed to add powers not cash so the spending budget should remain neutral.

It speaks of at least two issues. The first is a rush to self-promote, to overegg with a sense of delight and no doubt relief that they were vindicated when what was needed was a cool head. Eager-beaver journos often oversell their own material. It is the job of subs and, in this case, the editor, to make sure the story was correct and made sense. So, whoever’s name appears on the copy, the ordure drops at the door of Murray Foote.

But also this could have been written by an orgasmic Labour hack selling a line and not by a pro reporter paid to keep it in perspective. The Record seems terrified of its own fate if there is to be a Labour election disaster (again). For years they have watched Labour edge towards the precipice but unlike Labour voters, haven’t prepared to unhook themselves with danger imminent.

The IPSO judgement – that their article ‘significantly misrepresented the fiscal consequences of the Smith Commission’s recommendations’ and ‘the inaccuracy was particularly significant and prominent’ on a story originally of their own creation and on an issue of critical importance to the nation – is a shameful legacy that would have the inky, tobacco-stained soldiers of the Record’s heyday shuffling off in dismay to the boozer.

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With painful coincidence the IPSO judgement came less than a week after the death of one of the Record Old Guard, Gordon Airs, who will be remembered as one of the greats.

(I was scoffed at on twitter by one of the new breed, David Clegg, recently for daring to offer my take on politics as if I knew anything. You can imagine the IPSO ruling raised a few wry smiles around here.)

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A Ship Called Dignity

I broke with habit this morning and turned to Radio Scotland at ten past eight. (The kids were doing my head in.)

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Up came Douglas Alexander as shadow foreign affairs spokesman giving an educated summary of events in Ukraine and the potential threat to the Baltic states and sounding, as always, briefed and competent. This is Douglas at his best, analysing and explaining with his sub-Blair tone of plausibility and demonstrating a capacity in opposition that I don’t remember being replicated in office. Some are better suited to opposition, good at challenging, but oddly dysfunctional in office. (Brian Wilson springs to mind.)

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I did wonder briefly if, when he does interviews now, he’s thinking of them as job applications for some World Bank or EU role that might pop up for a respected international affairs former politician…

He is admirably cautious and steers away from military implications – I think that lesson has been learned – invoking the EU and further sanctions while generally gilding Labour with a seam of credibility absent from other policy areas. I can’t help wondering when some backbench woodentop will stamp on that credibility with tackitty boots and warn that with Putin on the march, the UK needs its own nuclear deterrent which could be fired independently on Moscow if it gets out of hand. My money’s on Brian Donohoe although Jackie Baillie has a personal first strike capability of her own.

Douglas had a Putinesque brusqueness about him, unusual when his default mode with interviewers is emollient and patient. ‘Yes. Yes. I’ll come to that point…’ This showed up as irritation with Gary Robertson for trying to interrupt the flow when, as Douglas knows, the odd question or two is what the principle of an interview is all about.

Wonder what’s bugging him, I thought.

Towards the end, we found out. Unless it was just morning dyspepsia, I think Douglas was digesting the Daily Record poll and had been advised by the production team beforehand that he would be asked a question about Labour’s performance – a question he couldn’t duck.

http://www.dailyrecord.co.uk/news/politics/revealed-daily-record-poll-shows-5187551

He knew he would have to brush aside as much of it as he could get away with and setting an impatient tone from the off would help. You can’t be all soothing one minute and clipped and gruff the next because that would show how pained you were.

And he did sound pained. Peeved. Miffed. Aggrieved, etc. We all know the mantra – that every vote for the SNP helps Cameron win and he dutifully made it without a challenge such as: ‘Didn’t Scotland vote Labour in the last election and still got Cameron? And again in 79, 83, 87 and 92 when we got Thatcher then Major?’

But it has a sense of truth about it that will be hard to dispel because it’s nice and simple and we haven’t fashioned a good enough slogan in reply yet but it won’t help if it’s asserted without question across the media as in this case.

It is noticeable though that Douglas – he is Labour’s thinker, remember – can’t give a positive reason for voting Labour and is left with the negative warning that, if you don’t vote for him, something worse will happen. Welcome to the indyref mark 2, courtesy of the Better Together team now running Scottish Labour. This isn’t even Things Can Only Get Better – it’s You’ll All Die of Plague.

So what was the reason why the Ashcroft polling found he was likely to lose his own seat in Paisley?

http://lordashcroftpolls.com/2015/02/scottish-battleground/

We’ll never know because Douglas’s ire was up by now and he went right off message ranting that the SNP had appointed someone who ‘thought Celtic fans were scum’ and who had ‘threatened violence’…and generally he sounded rattled and downright cross. It’s just possible that if he’d been asked another Putin question then he would have lost it. ‘We have to bomb the bastard…’

This isn’t the Douglas Alexander I know. Even wound up, he’s as scary as a kitten -just a polite middle class laddie that many voters will be a bit proud of because they wish their son was like him. Always, he calculates. So, knowing all the numbers, he usually devises a cute riposte that has the neutral muttering… ‘maybe he has a point.’ Not this time though. Instead he sounded like he didn’t have any answers except the grim, truth – that he’s in deep trouble and the house of cards is shaking. He certainly conveyed that message and if he’s worried, you can bet the more febrile and insecure among the Labour cohort are already taking medication.

The one argument he had exposes where Labour now are – that the concentration will soon fall on Tory versus Labour. They have to hope like Hell that when the media get fully up to speed for the election, the focus will be on Westminster, Cameron, Clegg and Miliband so the SNP will be excluded and, especially on television, they will be invisible. They are praying that the one-sided media will do what Labour can’t on its own and diss the Nats.

But hold on. What has historically applied may not this time. Despite television’s obsession with UKIP, Farage’s expected total is minimal (usually 2) and it will quickly become apparent that is so.

http://www.electionforecast.co.uk

Alliances of Nationalists and Greens change the picture completely and with Sturgeon constructing a presence in England – and Cameron desperate to warn of a Labour-SNP government – I can’t see Douglas’s Land of Hope and Glory scenario working as normal. Sturgeon will be front of house for this production.

And, sorry Douglas – back to my own theory about this election. 2015 is about revenge. Scots are sick of Westminster and its self-seeking tribe no matter their affiliation. They were scunnered by Unionists in the indyref and it was the tipping point for significant numbers of Labour people who haven’t just embraced the SNP but are applying the zeal of the convert to Labour and want to punish them. They felt shame and embarrassment about Labour in those two years and their own self-worth was damaged by association. Labour lost its self-respect.

They see little distinction between the two parties (and the Lib Dems now) and have heard Labour’s UK message which is appeasement of the well-off in the Thames estuary where the votes pile high. And then there’s the leader. It’s true that voters narrow their focus on who looks and sounds like a leader as polling day nears and everything I see indicates that Miliband is Michael Foot without the donkey jacket – a loser.

The SNP meanwhile have learned from the referendum and are even more motivated now with a huge ground campaign, a new breed of candidate, unquenchable optimism and something else Labour have mislaid…a ship called dignity.

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It’s A Man’s World

I’m told by a correspondent that Scotland and the SNP are regularly referenced in the Catalan media as leaders of the new progressive politics. Here is a short translation from the publication ARA – the main Catalan language daily printed in Barcelona – examining what is filling the socialist Left void in Europe.

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The collapse of traditional social democracy, accelerated by social change, the economic crisis and corruption, is producing alternatives from a range of traditions which are also either laying claim to its space or attracting its voters. The Scottish independentists have become consolidated as the national and practically the only party of reference in the country for a significant part of the popular classes. Progressive pro-Europeans steadfastly opposed to the inheritance of the Thatcher era, they have taken over the space abandoned by the London-dominated Labour Party. The independentist victory in working-class Glasgow on 18 September is significant in this respect.’*

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And it’s certainly true that the Nationalists are moving into the space vacated by the old Left parties although precisely what policy areas justifies this new status isn’t always clear.

One of my own measures is attitudes towards, and policies for, women. That took me to the Centre for Contemporary Art on Sauchiehall Street last night to view a film made about the impact of Ailsa McKay, the feminist economist from Glasgow Caledonia University on people to whom she revealed her theories, including Alex Salmond who paid moving tribute. (She died last March).

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The film itself does not explain Ailsa’s theory in any detail but the compelling insight and inspiration of those exposed to it acts as a lure to find out more. I intend to do so and have plans to use Newsnet as a platform for exploring where the standard measures of economics, which exclude much female input, go wrong and lead directly to women being literally undervalued.

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I’ll come on to my own understanding of the feminist case in a moment but first Business for Scotland has an interesting article today by Alexandra Black explaining how women are excluded and effectively mistreated and under valued under the current economic model.

http://www.businessforscotland.co.uk/mind-the-gender-gap/

In it she writes: ‘In 2011 the UK Government created an initiative called ‘Think, Act, Report’ with the aim of exposing the transparency on gender inequality, to provide action and encourage good practice. In the research they discuss the stages of women in work and acknowledge that women in the 3rd stage (been at home with children) take a downward shift in status. Too right we do! On a positive note the report does at least acknowledge that this doesn’t make sense economically, as often these 3rd stage women have received substantial investment in education and possibly training.

In the UK, 1.3 million women want to work more hours and a staggering 2.4m women want to work who aren’t! It seems that the UK has access to a ready and willing resource that is being overlooked. In Scotland, if participation of available and willing to work women was introduced into the labour market, it would boost our annual economy by £700m in tax revenues. This massive economic potential needs to be leveraged.’

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Ailsa would agree but as a member of what has become a global women’s movement in this area, she would go further and say it isn’t only about following the existing structures into work but reassessing what that actually means if you are a woman at home. If the woman (in the traditional configuration) isn’t at home, how can the ‘bread-winning male’ take part in the active economy either?

This section (from Wikipedia) sums it up. ‘Feminist economics call attention to the importance of non-market activities, such as childcare and domestic work, to economic development. This stands in sharp contrast to neoclassical economics where those forms of labour are unaccounted for as non-economic phenomena.Including such labour in economic accounts removes substantial gender bias because women disproportionately perform those tasks. When that labour is unaccounted for in economic models, much work done by women is ignored, literally devaluing their effort.’

Why don’t we count women’s contribution? Because the structures we use for accounting are organized historically by men who impose their own gender bias.** The international standard of national accounts explicitly excludes ‘non-market activities’ so that all developed countries, and in essence the entire measurable world economy, dismisses the contribution of half of the population.

The message to women is: You don’t count. Literally. All that lugging shopping bags, piles of ironing, screaming kids, sleepless nights…all for nothing as far as the economists are concerned. Your home help or cleaner – well, that’s different. They count because you pay them cash but your spending allocation (from dominant male) is just part of the naturally-recurring scheme of things. I think the equation is…Man Powerful, Woman Inferior.

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Even in Norway which included unpaid household work in the GDP in the first half of the 19th century, left it out in 1950 for reasons of compatibility with the new international standard.

Ailsa believed that one solution was a basic income for all as a ‘tool for promoting gender-neutral social citizenship rights’. Turning that idea into policy is an area for the brave to venture but, if we are to rethink the very basis of national accounting on a global scale, why not give it a try? Natalie Bennett showed what can go wrong if an aspiration isn’t research-based. http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/feb/01/green-party-chaotic-but-have-lesson-for-main-parties

There are groups and bodies feeding into the SNP government on this and related issues but you can see how a traditional party machine would wonder privately if this would look like mad wonk politics to ordinary voters unless the detailed preparation was done first. I’m at least encouraged that those around Ailsa believe the government and SNP is genuinely open to a radical reappraisal of women’s role and much more so than any other party. But this is daring stuff and needs a concerted effort to engage and invigorate. But our world has changed in Scotland, hasn’t it? We’re progressives, right? Let’s prove those Catalans right and start leading the new European politics. And let’s use Ailsa McKay as our inspiration.

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*Thanks to Joyce McFarlane

** Each country measures its economic output according to the System of National Accounts (SNA), sponsored mainly by the United Nations (UN), but implemented mainly by other organisations such as the European Commission, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), and the World Bank. The SNA recognises that unpaid work is an area of interest, but unpaid household services are excluded

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Nurse! Quick!

No sooner did I finish the post below than Jim Murphy is caught doing exactly what I say he is, only this time he has to admit it. It isn’t eggs this time, it’s chickens coming home to roost.

http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2015/feb/17/scottish-labour-leader-deletes-youtube-video-nhs-stats-wrong?utm_content=buffer7896d&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter.com&utm_campaign=buffer

I’ll come to the NHS operations stats but first, my main concern isn’t the numbers or targets, but the staff. To stand outside an identifiable hospital and make inaccurate claims about cancelled operations is an insult to those who work there. You only do that if there is a genuine concern that you can separately verify – as in the staff or unions are up in arms and have asked you to come in for a briefing – and they say it’s ok to use the name of the hospital. Otherwise you are staining the staff, both medical and admin, with allegations, even if your real target is the government.

That your claims are also wrong is pretty dismal and shows an opportunistic hunger to decry public services for political gain.

There is another element in this tawdry story which gives an insight into the Murphy/Better Together mindset. It is this: ‘Somebody made a mistake in interpreting the statistics that we got from a freedom of information request. We don’t get published data although they do in England.’

See? It’s No Jim’s Fault, Right?

It’s the SNP’s fault for not having all the information available for him and then it’s the fault of the researcher who misinterpreted the details. Of course it was…

There would be no justification, would there, for thinking that Murphy just couldn’t resist the temptation to ridicule the NHS when the topline figures appeared? Nothing in his history or of Better Together’s to hint at chicanery to manipulate the media with a skewed message? I’m sure there will be a full explanation in the Record in the morning.

A real leader needs to do better than this. Take responsibility. Go back to the hospital and apologise. Say we all need to make sure we don’t mess with the NHS – the government must publish all the data and Labour must behave responsibly – words to that effect.

It seems to be pretty plain that the medical reasons for cancellations which changes the meaning of the Scottish numbers, were clear in the information and there is no excuse for rushing on to Youtube. Doesn’t he have a health spokesman, or Labour folk in the NHS or a university contact where he could check? I mean, if you’re looking at four times the cancellation rate, it’s spectacular, so you’d want to make sure it was genuine before wetting your pants with excitement. But fact-checking isn’t Jim’s game – dominating the media for visibility is.

I’ve said all along that he is trying too hard because nobody can keep up with every announcement and voters just think he’s hyper and ultimately boring. Now he’s compounded the problem by allowing opponents to say you can’t believe him on health, thus neutralising one of the key election issues (albeit devolved).

The contrast with Sturgeon is startling. Her calm but energetic appearance while guiding a government and impressing across the UK against Murphy’s frenetic, incoherent playground noises to which we now add lack of trust and desperation to talk down the NHS making it a political tool just as he did Scotland in the indyref.

Time for his medication…

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