Rattles out of the Pram…

There’s always a dilemma in being an editor – even at the lowly level of this blog. Do you give oxygen to articles you regard as unhelpful out of a sense of balance or, if they’re irredeemably hopeless, out of respect for the status of the writer?

My initial reaction to an item this week was to recoil in horror and silence in case the author had flipped. You know, lost his marbles. But after contemplation, and a carrion feast in the Unionist press, I’ve changed my mind.

http://rattle.scot/snp-independence-is-dead-start-again-or-shut-up

In October my friend Alex Bell sent an email about his new project, a magazine – ‘confident and intelligent without being tribal’ – pitched at the level of the Spectator and New Statesman. There would be comment ‘across the spectrum, a celebration of our cultural achievements and coverage of global events’. Sounds good, although of course, there are reasons why Scotland doesn’t already have such a product and that made me doubtful. (The market is small. Potential readers already get the New Statesman or Spectator which has Scottish content. We have Bella and Left Review in this territory. The stable of writers is small and already has other outlets. Magazine culture has never gripped Scotland has it did Ireland and even Wales).

But hey…this is the age of new media. So when I saw on Twitter Alex’s article for Rattle magazine denouncing the SNP as flawed and even immoral, I assumed it was a publicity ruse to drum up investors. Its tone was so hyperbolic and its conclusions so hare-brained that it reminded me of this year’s classic zoomer hit, Adam Tomkins’ children’s fantasy, in the same Spectator, of life under the cruel and sinister SNP. And indeed, within minutes it was being quoted extensively by the mad professor as proof positive that the SNP were liars and charlatans. That was after another impartial judge of Scottish affairs, Labour lackey David Clegg at the Record started the feeding frenzy in earnest. So this was already more than stirring up controversy, it was arming the opposition. There is a point at which unflinching criticism turns into self-flagellation. Until now Alex has made a cogent case, regularly, for the SNP being instinctively too conservative and, as head of policy, he suffered the frustrations of this more than most. His leftish impulses were repulsed by a party that has built success on never getting too far ahead of the conservative Scots. I tend to agree with him but satisfy myself that the politicians who have actually dedicated their adult lives to the Cause and taken the trouble to get elected, know a deal more than I do about what people will support. So far it seems to be working, no? I’m always amazed at the rocketing ambition of people inside the political bubble who want to set the national Sat Nav to Destiny. They expect the People to rise up and demand a New Order when most voters want the bus to come on time. The SNP is already asking the Scots to throw out the constitutional settlement of three centuries and create a build-your-own sovereign nation. It’s a tall order without demanding they also turn upside down the social model they are used to. How radical do you want ordinary people to be?

So the Nats could be more ambitious and polish their radical intentions but then no party fulfils everyone’s hopes. They only have to encapsulate the ideas that come closest. Maybe RISE comes closer to Alex’s ambitions, or maybe he just gets bored easily and needs to move on intellectually. He has a fierce intelligence, a long commitment to the Cause and I’d never doubt the integrity he applies to his words. Indeed I think since leaving the government he’s written another book.

Sadly this Rattle article reads like the outburst of a defector rather than the rant of a critical friend. It feels as if it should bookended with the words: ‘…and therefore it is with regret that I remove myself from the campaign for independence and commit myself to working within the Union.’

You can’t really accuse your own side of deliberately misleading the voters and of acting immorally and still claim to be a friend, can you? This sounds like the apotheosis of an acrimonious departure ending in schism. I assume it’s well intended and designed to trigger internal soul-searching but I’m afraid the Tomkins-esque terminology will do little to endear any Nationalist engagement with his criticisms, rather leading instead to ostracism. If the magazine is to avoid tribalism, the editor may want to revisit the definition of the word.

Although the media coverage I’ve seen takes at face value the factual content, I’m afraid that, journalistically, it is a failure as there is virtually nothing but polemics here. Like a blog, it’s a fiery blast and any factoids that might have supported his assertions were shrivelled to a crisp in the heat of rhetoric. Worse, as a Nationalist, I see him repeat exactly the same flaw as the Express, Mail and Telegraph in his analysis of the economic case. I read in vain for any concept of what an independent economy might look like. He relies for his damning verdict on the official numbers provided by Treasury sources, totally missing the point of independence – making choices that suit Scotland. That means finally seeing the actual accounts, not the ones that ascribe spending to Scotland that never comes here and loading Treasury assessments of our debits rather than actual figures. He allows for no movement on debt for example during years of negotiations, but simply assumes our economy will carry on with the same spending commitments we have now. What would be the point of independence if that were true? These are the words of a man who has no faith in the very idea he has been promoting for three decades.

Let me address a wider point. He writes: ‘Independence needs facts and planning. The leadership fear those facts will rip the party apart. The SNP is growing comfortable in its role as the Scotland party within a lop-sided UK, while pretending it is still fighting for independence to keep the party together.’

The weekend the SNP won the Scottish election 2011, I called Kevin Pringle in Salmond’s office from my car in Moidart. I told him that, with a referendum inescapable, there was an urgent need for an independent organization systematically disseminating information on Scotland, the EU, NATO and the UN. A think tank was required, separate from the party, whose research would inform the debate and become a trusted source. If nothing was done, anti-Scottish interests and those with an anglo-centric outlook would do the work instead and create a one-sided view. If the SNP leadership used their contacts, they could find backers for the project although it would remain independent. As Alex himself told me later, he, as key adviser, turned the idea down. Yet it would have established the ground for research and media-informing intelligence on all matters relating to independence – ahead of the Unionist mob and the IFS. Who was afraid of facts ‘ripping the party apart’ then?

And that phrase ‘pretending it is still fighting for independence’. That’s nice, isn’t it? All those folk I see on Maryhill Road on a wet November night knowing that every vote counts no matter how well you’re doing, giving their time and investing their hopes in the Cause…just pretending, are they? Or are they – and am I – just willing dupes manipulated by the cynical leadership?

There is a disdainful tone running through this piece which will delight Jackie Baillie but it is one that does no favours to Alex Bell and Rattle. It has the feel of Johan Lamont’s farewell – hard words, some necessary, but falling into recrimination that hints at deep resentment. Just as ‘Branch Office’ was the gift that goes in giving for the Nats, so ‘Independence is Dead’ from Salmond’s adviser may be the undying motto of Rattle magazine.

Still, Alex wanted publicity. And, you have to agree, he got it!

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43 thoughts on “Rattles out of the Pram…

  1. “This sounds like the apotheosis of an acrimonious departure ending in schism.”
    What? While I agree with much of the content of this article Derek, there is no need to confuse, or indeed alienate, people with pretentious brochan like this. :o)

  2. If he’s expecting to find solace with some other party that might share his dream, i fear it’ll be a long search for Alex Bell

  3. Like you I was enamoured of the idea of another potential source of news and information regarding Scotland and the Scots that differed in tone and content from current mainstream media. However, whilst I took out a short term subscription in order to see how Rattle develops, if future articles are as devoid of facts and as short of constructive criticism and appropriate references to relevant material as this first article I do not expect to renew it.

  4. Unfortunately the whole article disappears in a torrent of invective that will simply turn folk away who voted yes and delight the no camp. The camp needing all the nourishment it can get its hands on. This thin gruel paste is the only thing they can rejoice in and its going to have to last them.

    The sad case is that the media in Scotland has become so dysfunctional that it short circuited any attempt at reasoned debate and honest reflection. They are simply not trusted by folk who voted yes. And while the Bell article may generate some much needed heat for a union that looks like it lost the referendum last year, its simply won’t last.

    The other thing to come out of it is that this article may very well be its last.

  5. ”– there was an urgent need for an independent organization systematically disseminating information on Scotland, the EU, NATO and the UN. A think tank was required, separate from the party, whose research would inform the debate and become a trusted source.”

    I really like the sound of this, since ABell is no longer ‘adviser’ do you think this idea be run past the current SNP administration and be better received?

    There is no doubt the SG need a better outlet for their policies and views as the MSM seem to get worse with every passing day.

  6. Terrific article Derek. I think this passage here is excellent:

    He relies for his damning verdict on the official numbers provided by Treasury sources, totally missing the point of independence – making choices that suit Scotland. That means finally seeing the actual accounts, not the ones that ascribe spending to Scotland that never comes here and loading Treasury assessments of our debits rather than actual figures. He allows for no movement on debt for example during years of negotiations, but simply assumes our economy will carry on with the same spending commitments we have now. What would be the point of independence if that were true? These are the words of a man who has no faith in the very idea he has been promoting for three decades.

    Why are so many unionists in Scotland determined to avoid these points? They are so obvious but yet they get rejected out of hand by unionists. Why is that exactly? Is it conservatism, fear of change etc? Whatever it is it is completely irrational in my opinion. It runs from unionist politicians in Scotland to their activists and media buddies.

    • Well because they fear having to engage. I know this bloke, I call him Average Craig, nice lad, working class has done quite well, family car, new house, is into electronic consumer goods and loves his two week holiday every year. During the referendum and the general election his comments were along the lines of I don’t care, this is really boring, when are they all going to shut up. Despite not saying it was obvious that he was a no voter, and I believe that is because he is intellectually lazy and conservative in outlook ie I’m doing alright so although I think of myself as Scottish I can be arsed with all the hassle. These people are the folk the unionists love and it is in their interest not to engage with them and instead feed them manure through the media, hence Average Craig noticing this information and I presume getting reinforcement of his views and sharing on social media. This is the barrier we face. Sad but true.

  7. Nah : Bell just wrote a load of spiteful vindictive bollox; regarding former employers.

    Tedious drivel displaying little measured intellect,

    SNP well rid of such a ‘ petted lip clown loose cannon’

  8. I would go further – not only polemical, but petulant and juvenile. The big boys in the street won’t let him play with them any more so he’s gone off in the huff to play with the other lot.

    But it’s disappointing to find someone you describe as having a “fierce intelligence” display the exact opposite. What was the purpose of his article, so devoid of facts, rigorous analysis and compelling argument other than to put the boot in? We can read this in the Wail or Torygraph.

    He seems to have swallowed the Unionist argument whole, that the regressive, repressive, poor-punishing, rich-rewarding, state-shrinking, war-mongering quasi-imperialist policies dictated by a bloated financial sector will continue unchanged. As Derek says, why then argue for Independence?

    Death Rattle, methinks.

  9. Another few points (I did not want to make my last post too long) 😀 ….You are absolutely correct Derek about the need for an independent, independence supporting think tank free of any political party, or at least at arms length from the SNP. It was badly needed during the referendum, and is needed now because unfortunately the propaganda against independence from the British state and their MSM buddies is going to be unrelenting, regardless of whether an independence referendum is on the horizon or not.

    Lets be honest the lack of Yes political infrastructure during the independence referendum (aside from the Yes campaign/ social media websites etc) just encouraged the likes of Jackie Baillie and company to continue lying constantly to the voters in Scotland. Sure they are going to continue because they are one trick ponies, and do not know any better than to lie for the union and the British state. But if there was a respected and rigorous independence supporting think tanks it would make the conditions much more difficult for them to continue their mendacity.

  10. I reckon the title of your article, Derek, says it all.

  11. Yes, he certainly got publicity Derek.

    His piece has been ably dissected by yourself, LPW, Wings and WGD, so basically no more need be said on the frankly laughable content of the article.

    I’d barely heard of the fella myself, (though I think he’s had a piece or two on NNS), but on reading his article I could have sworn he was anything but a supporter of independence.

    Anyroads, I think if you had to file this episode under a heading, it would fall into the ‘with friends like these…’ category.

    I don’t think I’ll be following Mr Bell’s work.

  12. The article was ridiculously unbalanced. I see there is a follow-up piece with a slightly more balanced headline: “SNP independence model dead”, which perhaps takes some criticism on board.

    I think he has mostly confused the independence referendum with the ‘anti-austerity’ platform the SNP took during the UK general election – when holding the balance of power would almost certainly have slowed down UK cuts. Anti-Austerity really was the focal point there, and Nicola Sturgeon seemed just as popular in England at one point after the TV debates.

    With independence, everyone knew Scotland wouldn’t turn into Norway overnight.
    But having more control over the economy and spending choices was important to build the type of society Scots wanted. I remember the “Bairns, not bombs” image all over facebook at the time.
    Was the main SNP reason for independence really an economic one?
    I honestly don’t remember it as such. Most of the economic arguments were an attempt to rebut the “Project Fear” campaign which basically forecast Scotland as the new Sudan if we dared to govern ourselves.

    Of course the white paper took an optimistic line, but that was based on facts at the time.
    If oil prices had doubled instead, would unionists be writing articles saying “We blew it?
    Focusing entirely on the change in circumstances with the oil price drop, plays right into unionist hands.
    Especially when you hand them an overblown headline as a weapon.

    It’s a shame really.
    Just how is that ‘confident and intelligent without being tribal’ mission statement going to go down now?
    An admirable cause, but when its founder comes away with a one-sided diatribe that sounds like it could have been written by one of the more crazed SNPouters, it basically shatters any credibility in that objective.

    A lot of unionist joy at his rant rests on the propaganda value of the author as ‘Salmond’s ex-policy chief. Due to the publicity it has received, it would be good to see Alex Salmond himself shred the logic behind it.

  13. Now I appreciate that you, Derek, know Mr. Bell and I don’t. But I have an opinion, and something you just said has reinforced it.

    If the SNP leadership used their contacts, they could find backers for the project although it would remain independent. As Alex himself told me later, he, as key adviser, turned the idea down. Yet it would have established the ground for research and media-informing intelligence on all matters relating to independence – ahead of the Unionist mob and the IFS.

    Many years ago I was warned that there were, inevitably, fifth columnists within the SNP, planted there by the enemies of independence in the British state. If you think that’s impossible, consider the much more difficult infiltrations that have been carried out on anti-nuclear campaigners, animal rights activists and environmental pressure groups. In this case nobody would have to fake a new identity or lead a double life, just espouse political opinons divenrgent to the ones they really held.

    I was warned that these people would have wormed themselves into the party’s hierarchy, aiming for positions of trust and influence. They would then use these positions against the party’s best interests at the time and in the circumstances where it would do most damage. And none of us would know or could tell who these people might be.

    I think Mr. Bell may well have been one such infiltrator.

    This is from Wings.

    Bell left the party (at least as an employee) under something of a cloud in July 2013, in circumstances that neither side has ever discussed (https://archive.is/vGZEp). Ever since then he’s been a regular fixture in the Unionist press, savaging the leadership for one thing or another.

    Rumbled?

    There were/are such people. The person who told me was in a position to know. If not Bell, then who would you suggest?

  14. My own cursory reading of reports seemed to suggest that he was saying that the economic case for independence, as set out in 2014, is out of date and needs replacement with another. But nobody who has supported independence for as long as he has (apparently), should have been in any doubt that the media would use what he wrote to serve the unionist argument, and going ahead in that knowledge does look like a deliberate attempt to cause damage. And if the prospect of media glee didn’t occur to him, he shouldn’t have been an advisor in the first place.

  15. Same old shit, different day. Whether they”re ex- SNP or ex/current Left …who cares. Tories and Libs don’t even matter. These individuals are in it for themselves. As ever. We’re way past that.

  16. The Scottish economy has been shaped by London in order to maximise the benefit for London.
    Anyone who thinks that situation would continue after independence needs to seek mental help.
    No one knows what an independent Scotland’s economy would look like but for sure having it run for the benefit of Scots alone would be an improvement on where we are now.
    Sounds like the SNP were wise to part company with this gentleman.
    The SNP government need to build trust with the Scottish electorate to counter the London establishment propaganda and that will take time.
    Hopefully not too long,would like to see independence before I pop my clogs.

  17. ‘Perhaps more of a Death Rattle in terms of Alex Bell’s crowdfunding ambitions.

    • Argh – stole my line exactly!

      Do not think Rattle will be getting much crowd funding from the Indy side – the side with the vast majority of online users.

      A very stupid mistake by Alex Bell.

  18. Doe’s ‘fierce intelligence’ = sulky dick.

    The poor unionist’s are jumping all over Bell like he’s the second coming, shows their desperation. But to anyone else it’s just a whine.

  19. I think the reaction to this poorly-researched and invective-filled article by Bell tells its own story. On one hand, the YES side still stands firm and rightly debunks this nonsense, while on the other hand the Unionists – in their sheer desperation, like all dying Empires in their final throes – hunt for any tasty morsel of “SNP Bad” with which to keep their illusion alive that little bit longer.

    More pointedly though, what does it say about the appalling standard of journalism we have in Scotland, that such tripe is not only devoured and re-distributed to their (admittedly in terminal decline) loyal(ist) punters, but is presented UNQUESTIONINGLY?

  20. “He has a fierce intelligence,”

    After reading Bell’s piece. I don’t think so.

  21. “there was an urgent need for an independent organization systematically disseminating information on Scotland, the EU, NATO and the UN. A think tank was required, ”

    And a SCOTTISH think tank is still required. I have been banging that drum on social media on and off for two years now but the SNP do not seem interested. And what were Bell’s and presumably the SNP’s reasons for being against such an outfit?

  22. Pardon my French…The formulae you were looking for was Alex Bell = Tosser.

  23. OT, think tanks and regular and genuine contributions to debate get respected. Here’s a report from the global intelligence agency Stratfor, for example, which is regularly quoted in the Catalan press.

    https://www.stratfor.com/weekly/case-catalan-and-scottish-secession-builds

    Don’t know what people think about the quality of the analysis, but it is ongoing and apparently professional.

  24. I think it is time for someone to put together a scenario of how our “union” would now look if the seat of government had been in Holyrood instead of Westminster since the acts of Union.
    At the very least it would expose the fraud being perpetrated on Scots about being equals in this so called union and the fact that we really don’t count.

  25. How could you possibly do this Derek? I thought there was only one holder of the ‘mad professor’ accolade – me! Like sceptics in other times I had challenged some of the fundamental underpinnings of a belief system and had been dubbed ‘mad’ by Alex Salmond in 2010 with endorsements from your good self, Lallands Peat Warrior and Joan McAlpine (naturally enough).

    And now I find there is a usurper to whom you have bestowed the accolade.
    Granted Professor Adam Tomkins was an epic voice for British-minded folk in the referendum years but that was then. His only recent claim to fame is that he has joined the Scottish Conservatives. Whereas I thought I was in a much bigger league: didn’t you even explain to your readers last April that I was virtually an agent for the CIA through having a fellowship back in 2008 from the National Endowment for Democracy in the USA. I was expecting Edward Snowden to find the clincing evidence in the haul of US official papers he copied but damn it he hasn’t.

    Come independence I expected that I would be the only academic occupying the secure psychiatric unit for political offenders. But now it seems that I’ll have to make room for this arriviste. My only hope of being able to continue dining out as ‘the mad professor’ of the Scottish separatist establishment would seem to be the book which i hope will appear in 2016. I may not be able to match the fury and spleen contained in the referendum diary which took Scotland by storm this year, but be sure I’ll try.

  26. Important point about the ‘Think Tank’ or similar, intellectually-independent, body.

    The Independence Cause, of its very nature, necessitates many leaps of faith in the belief(s) that it an independent Scotland can survive and indeed prosper. Personally I have not the slightest doubt that a Scottish government, in Scotland, could not fail to do a better job of managing Scottish resources, be they slightly more or less, than a British government in Westminster. So many of the policies which would naturally fall into place (no Trident, fairer taxation, better management of oil and other natural resources, no House of Lords, more realistic overseas representation…and so on) have the potential to positively impact the economy that it becomes extremely difficult to convince an electorate, especially a conservative one, that the risk of change is both calculated and worth taking.

    The Think tank (I’d prefer to see a different name) could focus on benchmarking which is no bad thing for any government to do without necessarily appearing to be politically-driven.

    Just my 2 cents.

  27. Mad, bad and not someone I wish to know.

  28. He sounds remarkably like somebody called Bernicia that I used to debate fiercely with on Bella last year. Same unionist arguments. Same duality about whether he was friend or foe. Scot or Brit. Whether independence was affordable on the SNP model outlined in the White Paper or not. Whenever I would counter him with one thing he would shift the goal posts to something else. Without hard figures it is all speculation anyway. The more fundamental point is whether a developed country of five million people is capable of going it alone, to which the answer is, of course it is.

    The second question then becomes whether it ought to go it alone, ought to ‘break up Britain’. Would it make that much of a difference? Would life be better? Would the play be worth the candle? Would Europe and the world be less secure if England was shorn of Scotland? The answers all lie in the results of negotiations that never took place and in the record of an independent state’s government that never yet happened. The answers to those questions cannot be found.

    We are not oppressed in Scotland, we are misgoverned in the sense that we do not control our own resources and our economy and social model are made to fit that of another country which differs significantly from ours in terms of demography, income distribution, distance from markets, history and culture. The disbenefits of that situation are impossible to put across in £s. It’s more of a philopsophical point.

  29. The fact that Mr. Bell was one of BBC Scotland’s go-to guys tells you all you need to know. He was on quite frequently before the Ref.
    Don’t know about now since I hav’nt looked at any of their output since.

  30. To those regretting the absence of some form of independent/objective financial ‘think tank’ and decrying the SNP for doing nothing, don’t you think if the SNP suggested/established such a foundation it would defeat the ‘independent’ label that we seek?

    If there is a genuine NEED, then why can’t some of the eminent professors, economists, academics etc. who we occasionally see in the media do this themselves?

    I agree it is frustrating that, quite obviously biased organisations are presented as “Independent” by the Corporate Media, but establishing our own biased body will not help. The SNP will have to stay away from this one. Over to you professionals

    • But who is going to fund it? Some wealthy benefactor perhaps, or crowdfunding? It would still be possible for the SNP to fund a think tank and for it to be independent, given appropriate governance. However, we need a think tank to look at things from the perspective of an independent Scotland. And not like the IFS which starts from a neoliberal, unionist position and produces “forecasts” based on the status quo.

  31. I come from a part of Scotland that has been SNP for more than 30 years, we tend not to think in terms of Left, Right or centralist with the exceptions of the Lairds.
    Class mentality, should be consigned to Scotland’s dustbin, we could copy countries like Germany, Ireland or Finland.

    Scotland should be looking at how we wish to spend our GDP, do we want to create employment thru training and industries or do we want to be arming ourselves with nukes and living off benefits, do we want to invest in renewables, do we really need the Royals or should the money go towards improving living standards, do we wish to be part of NATO or lean towards neutrality, can we change the system of land ownership to suit the people of Scotland, like they did in Scandinavia?

    We should have a media service that is not allowed to lie or manipulate, promote sectarian hatred, belittle the Scottish people and so on, if we can fix this, we are half way there.

  32. […] The last 900 or so words of Bell’s article are a rambling diatribe against the SNP and its members and supporters that for the sake of brevity we’ll omit here, as it’s already been addressed by Lallands Peat Worrier [EDIT: and Derek Bateman]. […]

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