Holiday Quiz

A draft of an article by a respected columnist was sent to us anonymously…any guesses who it might be?

‘In the words of Pliny the Elder…adminitio cybernatus servus rightis Caesar maximus spotonia. For those bereft of a classical education (Nationalists) I have an up-to-date translation gleaned from my Central Office Online Thesaurus. It is: Alex Salmond is a fud. As his biographer I can confirm that this view of the once-mighty First Minister chimes with my own informed opinion, bringing together the mind of an immortal Roman philosopher with my own.

Game set and match I think, but the Herald expects 800 words for their money so I’ll now attempt some scratchy justification for yet another anti-SNP tirade dressed up as analysis. Some people think I quote obscure historical figures to make me look clever but it’s simpler than that. The trouble is it’s really quite hard to keep coming with something original every week when I’m so busy elsewhere so I tend to fall back on tried and tested themes I can trot out with ease. (Should you be admitting this? Ed)

The Herald has never paid very much because the age of hiring genuine talent for decent cash is long gone. (You can say that again. Ed) They don’t expect much which makes it a dawdle although they’re now so short of actual sub editors, I have to proof read my own copy before it goes over the web to South Wales where they attach my huge photo. (The bigger it is, the less space I have to fill with words)

But what the cybernat critics forget is I’m pretty stretched these days with other commitments what with Alex Massie muscling in on the Scottish right wing writer gig and appearing in what should be my slots in the Mail (handsome payers) and the upmarket Spectator. But wait till my new book on classical interiors in New Town Edinburgh (Birlinn) comes out. It’ll blow them all away.

My theme today is that the SNP are not a radical party, not like Mrs Thatcher. They are boring, conventional, middle-of-the-road Church of bloody Scotland Highland dancing teuchters who take their holidays in a cottage in the East Neuk. But worse than that, they refuse to make any mistakes. They’re like the Bank of Scotland branch manager in Forfar High Street circa 1955 – dreary, efficient, trustworthy, well-liked and, in a limited way, successful.

That’s what Tories used to be when John Buchan was in his heyday. Ah, to think of such as Richard Hannay as Tory candidate for Argyll and Bute…dashing, windswept, true blue and utterly fucking British. (That’s enough. Ed)

You see it’s hard to stomach that there is no future for ambitious young-ish Tories in today’s scarified Scottish landscape. Time was when someone like me would be fighting off requests to stand in a winnable seat. Of course I would demur and bluster a bit until the blandishments got too much and I’d do my duty. But really, if Holyrood Regional Council is all that’s on offer, I’d rather not. I couldn’t be the showman like Tomkins and what’s the point of being too far down the Edinburgh list?

And it’s disappointing to say the least that the SNP won’t be goaded into putting up taxes as I’ve been advising for ages. David says it’s all part of the plan – starve the insurgents of money and force them to betray their true tax-and-spend instincts, leaving the way open for the dreadful Ruth person to be Tax Cutter Extraordinaire. (Must write something nice about her soon before anyone notices.)

So the Nats behave like Tories who are actually popular while having the gall to hoover up socialist votes too – and there’s nothing any of us can do to stop it.

I see that embarrassing lightweight Gardham finally cracked and went public admitting in effect he can’t compete against #SNPBAD. It was a fair go but really it’s because whatever he writes nobody takes him seriously. The real hashtag should be #SNPBADbutGardham10timesworse.

Of course I’m above engaging in twitter spats with goggle-eyed separatists. I’m on a different level from them with their handmade blog sites and amateur output. Best to ignore them altogether…unless I use the dreadful Wings person to publicise my column on Twitter as I did today. Or when I base last week’s column on BBC reject Bateman. Apart from that I never mention them. (You just did. Ed)

Anyway, I believe the government should be subject to scrutiny although I don’t think it’s appropriate to do the same to honest searchers after truth like columnists. Therefore next week I will ask why the government is dropping human rights, chasing away talented immigrants, impoverishing working people and concentrating spending in London. (You sure you’ve got the right government? Ed)

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A Bridge Too Far

We really are small minded and parochial, aren’t we? You’d certainly think so from reading the daily papers. The sense of dismay expressed in the Scotsman splash story (Hauliers Face Disaster As Bridge Re-opens to Cars) on the early reopening of the Forth Road Bridge failed to capture the relief and delight at the great work done by the bridge maintenance teams. The concerns of the hauliers are entirely relevant but to allow a lobby organisation spokesman to dictate a paper’s line on an important national story was a failure of judgement.

Contrast the grudging line of the Scotsman with the balanced approach of those most directly affected – the Fifers. Here’s the Dunfermline Press – Fife Council Welcomes Re-opening of Forth Bridge But Ban on HGVs ‘Frustrating’.

That’s surely more accurate and reflects the public attitude. The council leader is measured and sensible, congratulating all concerned but worried too on behalf of businesses.

It’s almost as if the Scotsman was following an agenda which it was determined to hold onto no matter what happened so that even the good news of an early, if partial, re-opening had to be presented in a negative light.

So it was with the Herald which ran a line ridiculing Alex Salmond apparently for daring to enter the world of international affairs. Salmond Accused of Grandstanding…

It was one of those Who Does He Think He Is articles that tells you more about the organisation that prints it than the man it’s written about. It tells you the Herald has no respect for it’s most successful politician of the modern age, gives little credence to either of the parliaments he sits in and implicitly mocks our own country as a backwater undeserving of respect. What kind of self-loathing leads a journalist to headline an article on international diplomacy with cheap opposition jibes about self-aggrandisement? A strap line contrasting with the real headline would work just as well. But to make the sneer the main point of the story is entirely inappropriate. Salmond was representing Scotland and our national interest in a mission with delicate overtones because of the recent re-emergence of Iran as a cooperative player in the international debate. (I doubt it could have occurred without Foreign Office approval with Washington copied in) Indeed it makes you wonder if it was purely a bilateral partnership initiative at all. To see it purely in the context of the Holyrood village demeans not Salmond but the Herald. It looks parochial, perhaps fitting for a paper that no longer describes itself as a national for circulation purposes.

The BBC seems afflicted by the same disease of imagining that an event has no news value unless it is first contradicted by an opponent which in turns forms the basis of the coverage. Little wonder Jackie Baillie is an ever-present in the news. It is always informative to know what opponents think – in this case that they are small-minded with no real argument – but just because a spokesman makes an objection it doesn’t constitute the main point of a news story. The feeling is that the journalists are caught in the tramlines of a fixed view – get story, get contrasting spin and headline it.

It’s the same mindset that led to headlines this week on the TNS opinion poll findings showing the SNP up again – ‘despite the troubles over the bridge.’ They suggested there was no dispute that the SNP was in trouble over the closure whereas in fact there is no evidence that the wider population remotely blamed the government. That was the opposition and the media’s own instinctive response but one I doubt was shared across the country. Again, it’s myopic and mean and fails to reflect truly the view of Scots. Another way of writing the story was to say: SNP support up despite anti-nationalist campaign by the media. Do either the opposition or the media ever ask themselves if this relentless one-sided pandering to knee-jerk criticism does them any good? Their sole conclusion appears to be that the country is hypnotised into dumb obedience. That’ll explain it then.

I complain because I’d like to see a well-resourced and effective media, but to be honest, I believe the shallow and negative reporting works in favour of the nationalist cause. Therefore my dismay is countered by the optimism of knowing that the ultimate objective of independence is best served by keeping the media and the dim opposition exactly as they are – unnecessarily insular and too often petty.

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Press Prima Donnas

As a general rule, if you’re going to be a journalist, best to learn some of the basic skills first…one would be to read information properly and comprehend it before reporting or commenting. (It’s those old-fashioned principles that just won’t die).

My blog on the parliamentary press corps being entertained by the First Minister at Bute House doesn’t argue that all journalists or all papers are Unionist. It doesn’t argue that the First Minister shouldn’t have the reporters for drinks. It does question if officially hosting one aspect of a deeply divided media – undisputed, I think – really reflects the media reality. It does suggest – again indisputably – that she fails to recognise equally the part of the media that works on her side.

The underlying case made in the Herald by David Torrance implies that there is no Unionist media at all, merely a collection of different viewpoints reflecting a free press which selects items based purely on news value. This makes him the lone voice of a lost cause. This is so in conflict with everyone’s experience as to be verging on the extreme. From academic study to George Monbiot to Alex Massie to the BBC’s own Audience Council to the National Union of Journalists to Paul Mason to Stuart Cosgrove. Indeed, to any sensate being not dependent for a living on the same mainstream media, one of the defining issues of modern Scotland is our failing media – up to including the mighty BBC. (Apologies: Kenny McQuarrie does agree with David…there is no bias.)

Ah, the dignity of a Free Press and the intellectual stimulus it bestows on the nation. Grateful we are for those soothing voices of reason, untroubled by tribalism. Alan Cochrane, Simon Johnson, Alan Roden, Chris Deerin, Euan McColm, Magnus Gardham – a veritable pantheon of journalistic brilliance. There was a fine example of true-to-form free press journalism in the king of papers this week.

Is David the only journalist in Britain who doesn’t understand how the media overwhelmingly works in the interests of establishment interests? Does he know who owns the papers? Has he noticed how the Herald, which pays him, has steadily diluted its journalism in the interests of profit? Perhaps a dose of the New Media would help.

It is surely disingenuous to imply that an individual journalist’s political leanings make any difference to what he or she is obliged to write – or is that a Freudian slip by a someone whose personal politics very much dictate his professional output.

Touching too to read the First Minister expressing appreciation for the work the media do. Everyone I know at the SNP, especially at the media relations end, never stops saying how much the whole party acknowledges the debt they owe to the honest endeavours of the Scottish mainstream.

I’m sure Nicola Sturgeon does believe in the role of a free press, whatever that means in a Britain where a handful of tax-dodging billionaires control most of it, but I’m equally sure she understands she can’t win either. By sidelining the media, if that were somehow possible, she merely antagonises them and it’s generally true that she herself gets a good press because even the partisans can’t find enough to taint her with. ‘The SNP leader receives an overwhelmingly good press, but the politics of grievance contrives the opposite to be true.’ The difficulty here of course is that they are inseparable in that constant attacks on the government with little foundation and certainly scant context ARE attacks on Sturgeon because she is the administration. Perhaps that slipped David’s notice. And isn’t it just a trifle laughable to hear the term grievance dispensed by those whose entire daily schtick is based on complaint about everything the SNP does, including win elections?

But overwhelmingly I’m sure she understands that the ham-fisted vitriol and Unionist cheerleading hasn’t changed the mind of a single Scottish voter. No matter how many ‘SNP failure’ think pieces David writes – and I’m anticipating a slew of Tory revival articles before next May – not a tiny fissure has appeared in the voting patterns. The truly humiliating fact for the celebrating hacks to swallow is that no one actually cares what they write – insofar as giving up on the Nats is concerned. It’s a living but it’s of limited consequence. Far from inspiring writing, the media gives us instead the whine of the loser. And a bad loser at that…it’s easy to forget who actually won the damned referendum.

The Jackanory journalism that contrives to portray Yes as uncritical and automatically self-proclaimed good guys provides  a misunderstanding by the author of the role of New Media. It isn’t designed to replace mainstream but to challenge and supplement it and it was born out a need for more and better information. If the old press had been doing its job, there would be no New Media. So long as we are  bombarded by one-sided coverage with dubious foundation, there will be a need to contradict and correct. New Media has struggled to get into a broader game of general coverage because of the need to respond to the continuing poor quality of established outlets. Perhaps the greatest myopia of all is wilfully to see only the New Media has partisan and the Old Media as unbiased.  It’s like the Unionist parties pretending to be relevant by telling themselves it is so.

(We bury Ian Bell tomorrow. That makes it a raw time for anyone who actually knew him for 30 years, drank with him and maybe shared an office. I was mildly piqued that his name was being casually appropriated here in a piece extolling establishment journalism and proximity to power at the expense of critics prepared to challenge vested interest. But I probably misread that part. Otherwise it would be too distasteful.)

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Party Time!

Now in the old days an invite to a media Christmas drinks do meant an afternoon and evening training for the World Cup of Boozing – usually ending up in a curry house cuddling the assistant general secretary of the STUC…or some other notable depending on the source of the invite. Sometimes it meant fights when simmering bad blood between reporters burst out under alcoholic pressure. Happy days…

The point was to put aside differences between vested interests and the key journalists covering their patch – industry, party politics, education etc, acknowledging the role each other played in the great tapestry of public life (as a smart alec columnist might say).

So it was interesting that, so far as I can tell, the First Minister’s journalists’ drinks event this year was exclusively for the conventional, and all but exclusively Unionist, media. Interesting because it’s the role adopted by the non-respectable media that has the Unionist types in such a funk. The constant and immediate debunking of the usual slew of un-researched, churlish Nat-bashing that has passed for journalism over the last decade, has destabilised the old media. They hate us. New media is a constant threat to what they still think of as their credibility, leading them to circle the wagons. The Record for example used to compete with the Mail. Doesn’t happen any more – they’re like Labour and the Tories disguising their affinity as SNP attack dogs with contrived differences. And can you imagine Scotland without Wings, sans Bella and minus Common Space?

Who have been the beneficiaries of this challenging journalism and spikey comment? Overwhelmingly the SNP, I’d say. In fact when I tweet I regularly get a response from SNP elected members, so I, and others, aren’t whistling in the dark. Yet the government seems to prefer David Torrance to Robin McAlpine…even, so help me, Buzzfeed to Bella. This is a weird corporatist approach that flatters her detractors and confirms that the leadership mindset is deeply establishment.

The excuse will be that this is the parliamentary press corps but that just means all those accredited to work at Holyrood which in itself betrays a lack of imagination. In reality it is the political media of Scotland she is entertaining which, if she bothered to look, does now contain more than the usual hacks. A bit disappointing, no? You support the SNP, you subscribe to new media and value it and then learn the First Minister doesn’t. In playing the doomed game of trying to win over the critics, she rather embarrasses herself when their next day front page is a compilation of half -truth and innuendo about the national finances and the Forth Road Bridge.

So…I’m put out at being left off the list, am I? Not really. I haven’t done this type of event for many years and ‘had a prior engagement’ – watching my daughter in the Glasgow Schools Orchestra. But I think it’s worth recording how the old Scotland still operates with the partisan Nat-bashers ushered into the presence of the leader they humiliate daily. The idea of a one-party state rendered even more flimsy…

If you’re wondering who paid for it – well, you did, of course. But let’s join in the seasonal spirit and concede that at least she got a pressie from them of a selfie stick, presumably addressed to The Most Dangerous Woman in Britain.

Talking of danger, I was tweeting this week how it was a genuinely worrying idea to think of Labour winning the Scottish election and running the country. (I know it’s as likely as Jackie Baillie causing a stress fracture of the Forth Bridge). It’s only because we know it won’t happen that we haven’t considered it. But just try out the image of Kezia waving on the steps of Bute House…Jackie in a Matron’s outfit…Iain Gray on finance and James Kelly as education minister (sit doon at the back…)

Whatever your misgivings about our performance on health or the police, ask yourself if there are any circumstances in which you’d feel relaxed about an administration run by Kezia. Imagine Blair McDougall in charge of government information…

You have to admit it is an ace hand for the SNP to approach the end of a second term in office with an opposition as effective as Dad’s Army. This week Corbyn’s man in Scotland, Neil Findlay, appeared to deny that PFI debts – of £37b – were down to Labour and that deals under the Scottish Futures Trust were the same thing.

Blair McDougall misrepresented the OECD report on education by cherry-picking every criticism but omitting every accolade. This type of knuckle-dragging politics has been the hallmark of Labour for years and epitomised their indyref campaign yet they’ve learned nothing. McDougall’s only approach was to whip in the Union support and frighten waverers. It was never to appeal to the Nationalist-minded to win them over. That would require strategy and nuance – with something clever and optimistic. He is a one-trick pony able to make a dog whistle appeal to the already committed yet unaware of how to reach out beyond a shrinking base to recover the voters Labour need. Why, after he came close to losing the referendum, is he still in place? And do Labour really think Anas Sarwar, heir to one of the two warring families of Glasgow Labour, will bring anything but the same glib motormouth politics that scunnered voters last time out?

Nicola might ponder just how more dismal Labour would be without the undying support of the media she flatters. The Tories may have a point – with nothing more to offer than not being the SNP, Labour invite voters to make a binary choice between the two, a risky move. And, if voters accept Labour’s basic premise that the SNP is too dangerous because separation would be disastrous, enough of them just might see the Tories as safest Unionist option. Either that or they give up voting altogether. I see no escape for Labour, saved from execution like the Tories in 1999, by the voting system. And of course, kept on life support by Nicola’s party pals.

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Men of Honour…

It’s Golden Oldies time for Better Together…with two giants of Project Fear proving their moral credentials in the same week. First Alistair Darling, former Marxist and anti-government protestor, late socialist and Labour MP, has accepted a job on the board of Morgan Stanley, a serial appropriator of guilty pleas and massive fines over everything from sex discrimination to cheating customers and rigging markets.

Then his Unionist associate, the former Liberal Democrat Secretary of State Alistair Carmichael, has his reputation trashed by the courts. He is a man whom the judges felt lacked credibility and reliability, is a blatant liar showing lack of candour – an unimpressive witness at best disingenuous, at worst evasive and self-serving.

Two spivs together ready to go to any length for personal advancement, both lacking the essential element for public office – decency.

In Darling’s case, he didn’t just traduce his own country, its history and people, he filled his trousers while doing so, jetting around Europe at the behest of corporate clients picking up £12,000 a go. If anything reveals the dark heart of a broken so-called workers’ party, it is the bland acceptance by the membership of this kind of personal profiteering while in office –and while in receipt of two and a half times the average salary. (On the same day he joined the board, the company announced staff redundancies. That won’t trouble the impervious Darling. This after all is reward for saving the banks with taxpayers’ money and failing to instigate bonus restrictions in return.)

Not a cheep of dissent was heard during the indyref from the brave People’s Party about Darling’s blatant greed when he accumulated £250,000 while leading their campaign but I hear they are like hyenas on a legitimate loan of £18,000 from years ago to a man now an SNP MP…such a close correlation between fearties and hypocrites.

I haven’t mentioned the Mighty Broon’s venture into the murky world of bonds where he joins the former head of the Federal Reserve and the European Bank – a group of financial goons who were at the heart of the crash. They deserve each other.

Carmichael’s is the most demeaning judgement I recall on a sitting member – excepting the conviction of MSP Bill Walker for wife-beating. It defines him as low-life careerist ready to cheat and lie in order to stay in his seat, dissembling to a Cabinet Office inquiry in the full knowledge that so long as its publication was delayed, he’d be safely re-elected before the voters got the news of his chicanery.

‘We consider that he could and should have been straightforward and candid in his response to the inquiry.  That would have been likely to reveal his involvement in the leak at some time prior to the election, so that his constituents, when voting, would have been in full possession of the facts during the election’ say the judges. Precisely…

The astonishing aspect of this case is that his defence was that he did indeed lie to fool his constituents. He deliberately pulled the wool over their eyes. He admits cheating the voters. The reality is that the knowledge to which they were entitled, yet did not get in time, may well have swung the vote against him. It is the clearest and most blatant act against democracy.

He survives merely because the test in law applied under the legislation chosen by the plaintiffs demands that he tells the lie for a personal reason rather than the political one. They were not convinced he cheated and lied in a way that would lead people to think it was out of character. If he had linked the lie to a statement declaring himself a trustworthy and honest man, it would have damned him. But the lack of that context gave rise to doubt in the judges’ mind and allowed them to decide it was a political ruse instead. But isn’t that exactly why this cowardly man should resign?

Lady Paton writes:’The inescapable inference, in our opinion, is that if the SNP became a less attractive prospect, the first respondent’s (Carmichael) chances of a comfortable majority in what had become a two-horse race in Orkney and Shetland would be enhanced.’ She was satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that the false statement of fact was made for the purpose of affecting (positively) the return of the first respondent as a Liberal Democrat in the constituency of Orkney and Shetland.

In defending himself he has conceded he cheated the people of Orkney and Shetland and is unworthy of their support. In fact, the democratic case against him is stronger today than it was. He squirmed out with the skin of his teeth on the technicality but damned himself out of his own mouth. The statement he made afterwards was the bile of a shaken man, further undermining his stature. Blaming a politically-motivated campaign – check for irony here – operated by ‘nationalists’ contrasts sharply with his unreserved public apologies to voters and the First Minister where contrition was all (ahead of the court case). This was a time for humility not vindictiveness – the case was soundly based and, from the judgement, damn near proved. His arrogance shields him from self-analysis. His reputation is destroyed, the foundation of his election shaken.

There was a chance that his conviction would have drawn a line under an unpleasant episode and helped Liberals in the Northern Isles to move on. That won’t now happen. The stench of his betrayal will contaminate the party’s cause in six months time and leave the final accounting to the voters many of whom will see only one way to even the scores.

The campaign line that ‘Alistair was vindicated’ won’t wash. From his own mouth he played the spiv with the voters. From the court judgment he is a blatant liar who can’t be trusted.

This week has been a reminder of who ran Project Fear and what measure of men they are. Instead of inquiries into Forth Bridge faults, why not a full-blown investigation into quality of political opposition in Scotland? Now there’s a scandal.

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