Scary Woman

How can there be a winner when there isn’t a motion or a vote? Don’t you hate the way the knee-jerk media numpties boil everything down to Win and Lose, cheapening it into a TV game show…

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Last night’s leaders debate – minus Cameron and the other one – was all the better for not being nearly as divisive as some of the previous efforts, at least initially, and I found myself actually listening to the content and even warming at times to Ed. So rational and reasonable did it begin that I had a hallucinatory moment in which Ed was the heart-of-gold but dithering PM and Nicola was his acerbic and demanding deputy – it only needed Blackadder as the spin doctor to be commissioned.

But the more managerial and competent Nicola sounded, the more it dawned that southern Tories would view it as confirming their worst fears – this woman is actually good at what she does and so must be resisted at all costs…different if it were Natalie but this scratchy wee Scot is not flaky, however squiffy her ideas. When she says she plans to keep him marching steadily leftwards, she means it.

This combination of well-meaning nincompoop Ed (think Hugh Laurie) and fierce ideologue Nic pushing the UK away from the basket of policy options on which the middle classes have prospered, is pretty much the perfect deterrent for Tory Britain… ‘and she wants to break up the country I love’.

It didn’t really need their Eton Boy hero to sneer from the stage as if everyone else were part of the household staff. In fact it was probably stronger in impact for his absence, allowing the right wing southerners to grasp for themselves the full horror of not one but two social democratic parties working out how to distribute the wealth to make things fairer. Pro Europe. Trade Unions. Red tape. Progressive tax. Even Trident under threat. You could imagine doors bursting open in Surbiton and wide-eyed women, arms flailing, running screaming into the street.

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This plays into my own long-term prediction – which has been knocked sideways by Labour refusing to retreat in the polls – of a late Tory surge composed of those who flirted with UKIP but found it too outré for their taste and Blairite swingers turned off by Miliband. Labour don’t usually get the number of votes they are predicted to and the last week or so always forces the reluctant to make up their minds which means looking from one leader to the other and picturing them on the steps of Number 10. Ed fails at this point because he looks like he’s soliciting on behalf of the Jehovah’s Witnesses.

We can’t also forget the gold rule of modern elections – look at the economy. Every pointer says Improving, On the Up, Lift-off but only in that way you see at a British space launch where no one dares look in case the rocket veers off into a nearby car park. Still, even the IMF says Britain has the answer (suspiciously announced while Osborne was attending an Ebola conference with Christine Lagarde) and, if you’re minded to believe the brain-dead media analysis, there are signs of progress. Not before time, you might say, since the Americans seemed to leave behind the crash and bank bailouts years ago.

Forgetting that employment is now part-time, zero hours, sole trader, or even training, and pulling a veil over the national debt which the Coalition doubled on our behalf – oh, and an appallingly poor rate of productivity – things are better in terms of numbers if not actually on your contactless payment card.

So it may be that Cameron scored rather well by not appearing last night – a bit like Scotland going up the world rankings by not playing games. It’s how he won the referendum too remember and it could be a new way of doing politics…I’ll sit at home with a gin and you lot wound each other mortally – then I stride in and strip you of your valuables and remove your gold fillings. (The Labour term is bayoneting the wounded).

The dilemma is of course, that it still doesn’t get Cameron a second term unless there is a similar boost in Lib Dem fortunes, which I don’t see. But I do subscribe to the view they will work with the Tories again if the numbers work because they are really proud of what they’ve achieved, have discovered their inner Tory and really have little left to lose. What’s done is done…

But, all you Scot Nats, beware. If the Tories do struggle home, lances broken, flags in tatters, bloodied and bruised, it is we who will be blamed. The revenge of Labour will be forever to stain the memory with Tartan Tory legend.

And twice beware. If the SNP helps Labour form a government, the irrational Scot-haters in the media are even now preparing the ground for a full assault on our nation for cheating them of their democratic birthright under the Union (that’s the right to rule us). We are variously mad, hypnotised and stupid and some of the Spectator, Mail, Express and Telegraph stuff is stopping just short of encitement. If the Scots really do deliver the blow to English supremacy predicted, the cybernats will appear as but fleglings compared to the squawking vultures of hatred that will take flight. We are about to discover who the real zealots are – in an age of recently confirmed UK hegemony– and what really lies in the heart of Unionism. It won’t be pretty.

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Bon Accord

We’re back…after a week in the Perthshire hills we return to the Watershed Election. Did I miss much?

I saw glimpses of those leaders’ coconut shies of which we probably need one or maybe two, fully spaced out from campaign start and then again towards the end, but really, haven’t we had enough of the same fairground fun? They have now dominated the coverage and haven’t left the public much endeared to the political leaderships of our country, I fear.

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Jim Murphy caught my eye as the domineering candidate – skeletal, tall, shouty, starey-eyed and talking over everyone as if nothing had progressed from his student politics days when the bully, contemptuous of others, usually prevailed, his mob baying from the floor. I suspect his energy is cheering for the remaining Labour loyalists who just need someone to stick it to the Nats but utterly useless for winning back the disaffected – a point rather confirmed by the opinion polls which placed his performance below that of Ruth Davidson.

Intrigued by Ms Ruth, who could be said to be growing into the job – in all senses. Not to be unkind, I hope, she has changed shape somewhat which detracts from gawky kid image she started out with by making her look more mature – an Annabel mini me – and she does look comfortable ‘in her self’ as they say. I’m still not sure what Scottish Conservatism is though, or even if such a thing exists, and this feels like a good time to redefine what the membership is voting for – before they die off completely. Do they accept every single Osborne cut? Do they prefer jobs without a living wage, security, normal hours, or holidays and pensions? Would they like their own job to be like that? When would they be content for the UK to use its nuclear weapons independently? Why have they lost the support of small business. Why would I vote for them?

On the other hand, I thought Nicola was business-like and competent and conspicuously small amid it all. She is blessed with an appeal that disarms and draws you figuratively to her side allowing her to be both doe-eyed in retreat and firey in attack and still command your support. It’s an odd phenomenon which can lead to the viewer rather accepting what she says without scrutiny simply because she says it, and is, therefore potentially dangerous. (The contrast is with Murphy, who couldn’t hand me a cheque without my doubting his sincerity.)

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When I see those photos of her almost submerged among a throng, or relaxed playing with a child and realise this working class woman, who made it to university without any of the privileges we expect of Westminster leadership, is now First Minister of Scotland, my country, I want to burst with pride. She’s what I want my own girls to become. She is living, breathing proof of what anyone in our country can achieve – and why it’s important that we remove all the blocks of class, prejudice, money and inertia to let everyone else follow her…

And, damningly, that’s exactly what Labour believes too, or at least used to. I haven’t a moment’s doubt that Labour voters have the example of Nicola Sturgeon in their mind (or someone they know just like her) when they think of the Scotland they desire. It’s just that their party has decided society can’t afford to pay for it – cuts in public spending, for the seventh year in a row (and confirmed by Ed Balls this morning), are needed as well as charging kids a mortgage just to get a degree. This neo liberal miserablism is crushing low-paid families, creating a malleable workforce stripped of rights and minus work/life balance. Curiously, it doesn’t seem to have curtailed the comforts of the well-off.

It is worth remembering that as we divide for voting purposes into different tribes, the aspiration of most Scots is similar and, notwithstanding those affiliations, is made explicit in the SNP’s offer to support a Labour government. Indeed, I suspect the SNP objectives of moderate extra spending and cancelling Trident’s replacement, are much closer to Scottish Labour instincts than are those of the bombastic Mr Balls. And, whether he likes it or not, it seems clear the same Ed Balls will indeed only have a career as Chancellor so long as he accepts those SNP votes in parliament. However the mechanics work, Nationalists will effectively be part of the British government (unless there is a late Tory surge) working together with the – until now – hated Labour Party.

SNP folk might like to dismiss that idea and take solace that they will instead be holding Miliband’s feet to the fire but both the Opposition and the media will view it entirely differently…it will be portrayed as the Labour/SNP government working against the interests of Britain. To work effectively this unholy alliance will require corridor confabs and back-of-the-hand agreements and, however strident he sounds today, the understanding that Miliband must deliver for Scotland. The SNP will be working with Labour. Read that again and contrast it with the Red Tories and the 45 and the remember the fury that may of us reserve uniquely for Labour and its leadership. From around the middle of May we – the Scottish Nationalists – will be effectively in government with sworn opponents Labour. They will be our new chums. (Do try and smile nice.)

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I believe that once the unease and acrimony dies away into a pattern of behaviour at Westminster, a working relationship will emerge, one that makes our current war of words obsolete. It will still be justifiable to point up differences but much more difficult to decry Labour as somehow against the interests of Scots. The same will apply to Labour rhetoric against the SNP – the instant counter is a question: So why are you working with them at Westminster?

It then only takes a look at the diary to May 5, 2016, 12 months after the General Election, to see how things could change at Holyrood too. That’s the date of the Scottish election when the SNP will contest with Labour for power in Edinburgh. An deal in London will necessarily curtail the critical language between the parties in the Holyrood campaign and is another reason why Labour will feel the heat to deliver early for the Scots – failure to do so is bound to damage the party’s chances further and leave the SNP free to rack up another overall majority.

There has always been an alliance of interest between the SNP and Labour and many of the policy differences – independence apart – are either designed to dovetail with inappropriate English positions or are contrived differentiation.

We may be entering an era when acrimony gives way to rapprochement along the old fault line of our politics. The creation of a left-of-centre realignment based around Devo Max and shared interests both at Westminster and Holyrood could render redundant much of the antagonism that marks our debate. It may even be that, in redefining relationships and shedding the bitterness, in the longer term, a new coalition of interests about independence emerges. This kind of changed outlook will demand an altered approach and the generation of a new politics which looks for dialogue rather than damage and country before criticism. It may sound naïve today but with any deal in Westminster this is where we are headed and with compromise on both sides, the prize could be a Left Alliance and the end of auld sang…

 

 

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London Calling

 

old-bbc-news-logo-549I’m sorry. Really, really sorry. Not for anything I’ve written (although maybe I should be). No, I’m sorry about the BBC, the organisation I was proud to work for. So much of what has gone wrong with its news judgement is a failure of effective management and the toxic public feelings now widespread have not been addressed by the BBC, leaving journalists to take the brunt of the opprobrium, mostly without justification – James Cook being a case in point.

But this morning I cringed as the main UK news programme, Today, rehearsed the Nicola-prefers-Cameron story by saying (words to the effect): The memo may by completely untrue and she may never have said any such thing, but could it be true anyway…!

In other words they know the memo was a fake and all participants have denied it and it could be a deliberate smear in an election campaign, but, hey, this is fun. So let’s stick it to them one more time. Nothwithstanding, it’s all rubbish, Stewart Hosie, don’t you actually prefer Cameron anyway?!

That is exactly how propaganda works – you start by floating the idea, put it in people’s mind and then contrive ways to milk the lie until it lodges. I wondered at first why the SNP was participating by putting up the deputy leader for interview but of course what else can the SNP do? Non-appearance looks like guilt and they’d run the item anyway only using someone whose message might not be what you want because by definition, it would outside the party.

Hosie did a straight and effective job denouncing the whole idea and proving that this SNP has never had so much political talent as it has today. The interview descended into a cringeworthy trawl for a sliver of anything to cling to including a question on what HE thought of Miliband as Prime Minister. He correctly answered it was up to Labour who led the party and if Ed was leader then it was possible he would be in Number 10. (Blindingly obvious)

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The interviewer wanted him to admit he didn’t see Ed as PM material as if to confirm the leaked memo line – but who on God’s earth does think Ed is Prime Ministerial material? You might as well ask: when did you stop beating your wife?

We then got the Question of the Year so far that had me rolling out of bed in laughter. So out of touch are these London numpties that she was able to ask him (an SNP MP) who he thought should be leading Labour…eh? And would he prefer – wait for it – Jim Murphy! After ‘Sturgeon Prefers Cameron’, it’s ‘SNP prefers Murphy’…

I’ve been trying to unravel the purpose behind this Christmas cracker joke question and can only deduce that Poppy and Venetia in the Today planning team were left without an editor and had to come up with searching questions on their own for this ‘SNP-thingy.’ Poppy, whose dad goes fishing on the Tay once a year, thought Scots didn’t want Ed ‘because he’s from Hampstead’ and they didn’t like the English. Venetia suggested they’d prefer a Scot – like Gordon Brown – and they giggled. Who else did they know who was Scottish? Jim Murphy! He’s one of them. They’ll want him in charge so they can do business with him…they’ll be friendly because they’re part of the Tartan Mafia.

What mindset does it demonstrate that professional programme-makers could seriously ask an SNP MP if he’d like Murphy to lead Labour? I’m one of the kinder elements towards Jim who, as far as I can see, is deeply loathed not just by the SNP but inside his own party – the degree of contempt is eye-popping. Hosie laughed it off like an April Fool but could reasonably have delayed and then said: ‘Are you serious, Sarah? Have you any idea what you’re suggesting?’ (Also, can you imagine, say the Chancellor, being asked who he’d prefer leading the SNP? They wouldn’t dare)

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Nothing daunted, of course, the Beeb then had an item in the subsequent news bulletin mentioning that the SNP has been less forthcoming about what they think of Ed as PM…What did the reporter Norman Smith expect them to say exactly? ‘We think he’s an outstanding candidate for national leadership. We disagree with every other commentator and opinion poll and Ed’s our man?’

You really are left feeling you live in a different country sometimes and how ironic that you discover that from listening to the national broadcaster.

(I’m glad to see the Scotland Office came up with a good answer to the leak. Carmichael says it was a mistake…that’s all right then)

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Easter Funny

So, not so much Spiral as Inspector Clouseau, then. Frenchgate turned from scandal to farce and left Labour – Miliband, Murphy, McDougall and assorted MPs – as comical as Rene and his leetle French chooms mouthing ridiculous accents in Allo Allo.

It’s the undignified haste with which Labour now pounces on anything that might, just might, nibble a corner from Nat support that makes it so embarrassing. And just when Ed has upped his personal ratings by proving not to be as gawky as the media pretend, he blows it by lathering up with cod indignation even as the story is disintegrating. Quelle tosseur.

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And what a squalid wee plan it turned out to be. The French, who will be unamused at being dragged into domestic election politics, clearly implicate the Scotland Office one of whose senior officials – and there aren’t many – was told on an informal basis by the Consul General about Sturgeon’s meeting with the Ambassador. This official then wrote up a version and included the line about the FM preferring Cameron to Miliband, bizarrely since it wasn’t said or perhaps maliciously, if it was for partisan reasons.

Since the Foreign Office deny knowledge of it and if we take that at face value, it appears the Scotland Office ‘leaked’ an unofficial document purporting to be official, to the Telegraph…for what possible reason, do you imagine? Did someone go rogue? Is such a thing possible without being creased up by laughter at a Scotland Office run by a Lib Dem? Carmichael, conspicuously missing throughout, denies all knowledge, as does Fluffy Mundell, the normal source for media briefings.

Of course, we enter the realms of Sir Humphrey here as, when a stink bomb goes off in Whitehall, Priority One is to isolate a culprit and separate him from the herd and collective responsibility…so that ‘The government is not at fault’.

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But there is a problem for the guilty one – this is an election when tighter rules apply and this involves a key third party, the French government. Both the electorate and a friendly neighbour will expect a proper explanation and proof of action, if not an actual defenestration.

As for the Telegraph, this is but the latest scandal in an organisation lacking in the credibility needed for a major player in public life, damned by the feebleness and cynicism of its journalism. If Simon Johnson had lived up to his media pals’ estimation as a fine pro, he would surely have sought reaction from the principal players – and found his story immediately compromised if not destroyed, and he couldn’t have that, now could he?

Yet the paper is but messenger on behalf of a government office either running a dirty tricks campaign – my own suspicion – or out of control. After the recent long list of abuses we suffered at the hands of the Great British State in the indyref, this fits perfectly the pattern of skulduggery which is its hallmark.

I suspect that a changed Scotland no longer treats this scheming against it with equanimity but regards it as yet another reason for retaliating against London government in the most decorous and yet most hurtful way – by voting SNP. It pulls together all those poisonous threads of resentment against Tories, Whitehall and Labour duplicity in one cathartic and yet democratic act. We are now the Scunnered Generation, eager to get into the polling booth to mark a cross that says: Take that, you lying bastards.

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Labour, again, are a sorry sight this morning, clinging to a lie, obfuscating and wheedling in a way that is beneath even the dignity of Jim Murphy. If teetotallers ever do wake up with headaches, this is his hangover Sunday – his story and associated accusations in tatters, apologies and corrections demanded with debates looming against Sturgeon. (As well as stories in the press about his personal links to the drinks industry which he’s promoting at football grounds). Is there anything they could say you would believe? I wouldn’t trust them to run an Easter egg hunt.

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‘Allo ‘allo…

Je suis Nicola! (With heartfelt apologies to our massacred friends at Charlie Hebdo)

How the fading British media has come unstuck over the latest tawdry piece of propaganda orchestrated to smear an elected politician, this time seemingly with the contrivance of the state machinery.

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Where to start? Well the source first. The Telegraph has downgraded since its heyday to an Establishment right wing trumpet which is ok if it sticks to comment and editorials. But opinion has infected its reporting, never more so than under Alan Cochrane and Simon Johnson in Scotland. Cochrane admits in his diary of the referendum spiking stories that Alistair Darling felt were damaging to the No side. This is anti journalism and the opposite of what reporting is about – disclosure. It shows the Telegraph will abandon principle when confronted with a political influence. It can’t be trusted. Then there is the resignation of Peter Oborne as chief political commentator who decided the paper was selling its soul to appease HSBC inn order to keep its advertising contract.

The Telegraph is owned by Frederick and David Barclay, the billionaire tax dodgers and the chairman of their holding company is Andrew Neil (an impartial BBC journalist!). The same company also owns the Spectator, the right wing magazine edited by Tory supporting (and also very talented) Scot Fraser Nelson. They shared the French non-story. All involved are virulently anti-SNP.

I don’t blame any paper that gets a government leak from running the story but it is inexcusable not to contact the principals involved, tell them the detail and ask for their reaction. By any standard, as Andy Nicol of the Sun tweets, this is the most basic of requirements. Again the Telegraph fails the test. There is a case here for referring the story to the regulator IPSO for damaging the integrity of individuals without giving them the chance to respond – that is failing to meet professional standards and bringing the media into disrepute.

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Who leaked? Clearly someone in the government machine. This requires a formal leak inquiry because we are in the period of the campaign when government must remain objective and this is a straight breach of the rules. Why have we had no such announcement?

The dodgy link appears to be the Scotland Office which has been relentlessly campaigning on social media about the powers coming to Scotland under Smith and suggesting devolution is all but complete. That is a political strategy. Now we find the Consul General briefed the Scotland Office on the ambassador’s meeting with Sturgeon and a Scottish civil servant wrote an account which was sent to the Foreign Office where it was even noted to be unlikely that Sturgeon would have been loose-tongued about a Cameron government. The story coming from Johnson, who is Scottish political correspondent, nails it to Edinburgh so it looks like, surprise, the Scotland Office is running a pro-Union operation in the middle of a general election. Alistair Carmichael would be informed of all this.

There were so many Labour tweets online so quickly, it looks like a tip-off. Setting aside the mildly revolting association of Labour with the Telegraph, it indicates a below the radar political operation against the SNP. It is perfectly possible that one individual made an error in the report by misinterpreting something Sturgeon said but the fact this made it to the Unionist press shows malfeasance. I hesitate to say this, but it smacks of the work of intelligence, a point made by Craig Murray who worked at the Foreign Office for 20 years.

If this is remotely true, there will be a programme of similar material designed to undermine the nationalist threat but which, in my view, will have the opposite effect with a wide range of national opinion regarding the media and British institutions are untrustworthy and destabilising, a profoundly damaging position for any democracy.

While few will be surprised at this underhand and undemocratic behaviour, it chimes precisely with the admission by Sir Nicolas Macpherson, Permanent Secretary at the Treasury, that he abandoned civil service neutrality in the referendum because of the existential threat independence presented to the integrity of the state. Nor did he tell us of this betrayal of ‘British values’ until afterwards. This is the Britain in which we live – unprincipled, mendacious and anti-democratic.

You have to fear too for the Labour Party, so useless and so desperate that it is conspiring against the very principles on which it was founded in order to fool the voters of Scotland. It is a pact with the Devil and a fitting epitaph for the shell of Labour.

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The Spectator – and Alistair Campbell – are attempting to justify the story by bigging up the idea that the SNP do want a Tory government whatever the truth about the French report. I am not so sure. Firstly, there was a brutal Tory government in power when we voted last year and it didn’t produce a Yes vote. Second, it would be suicidal for the SNP to rush into a second indyref and lose it. There would be no coming back from that for a generation at least. I do agree that the planned Tory EU referendum offers a chance of a constitutional crisis which could benefit the SNP but look at the stumbling blocks – which coalition partner would agree to hold such a referendum?

The Tories will campaign to stay in as will Labour and everyone except UKIP and they will have British business onside as well as the unions. As in 1975, opinion may start out against but will turn in favour when the risks are presented. Also, Scotland objecting to a UK withdrawal has no legal status in Europe as we are not sovereign. Achieving recognition for a referendum and getting the result accepted is no easy task.

There is the additional risk of a large bloc of SNP members watching a Tory led government and proving ineffectual in stopping it – the Feeble 50 all over again. Far better to show their social democratic credentials and protect Scotland’s interests in an arrangement with Labour to build up their reputation for sound government…and at the same time making life very hard for Labour in Scotland to campaign against the SNP in next year’s Holyrood elections.

I don’t buy it.

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