Losing the Plot

There’s a point in every storyline when your suspicions are confirmed. The plot twist may seem entirely improbable but you can’t shake that feeling in your gut. You go from: I think that’s it, to: My God. I was right.

Usually that’s followed by incredulity. How did they get away with that…

For the last year and a half the case for the Union has had the same wobbly foundation. In fact it’s taken its cue more from Midsomer Murders than The Night Manager. One, if you’ve ever watched, is am dram for telly, poorly acted, totally implausible and devoid of theatrical tension. The other, whatever your take on the concept, is the opposite – tight, tense, expensively designed and with a plot that gnaws at the edges of your suspicions. You wonder if this could almost be real.

In Scotland the Holyrood opposition is political am dram. High calibre statecraft, it ain’t.

Labour were the de facto upholders of the UK because they carried so much popular support, a Hercules labouring under the weight on his shoulders. They swayed voters in their droves because if Labour believed in it, it had to be for the good. Right? Many of the same voters realised years ago they had deep suspicions of a system that foisted Tory governments on them every 10 or 15 years and there were more Tory years than Labour. Social advances were reversed and it was a two steps forward, three back. Still, if a humble voter could see that surely all the big brains in Labour could too. And they were sticking with it, laughing at the SNP meantime for pretending to have an alternative.

But sometimes it’s the captain on the bridge that is last to see encroaching disaster. If complacency or stupidity takes hold he can look down the wrong end of the telescope and spy only insignificant troubles on the horizon. He may even be aiming the glass in the opposite direction. Whatever the explanation, Labour didn’t see the iceberg ahead and, like Titanic, is beyond redemption – too far from help to save much more than the women and children and a few stragglers. The great liner that carried so many hopes is going down.

(I imagine a decades-long resurrection project with academics seeking artefacts from the submerged vessel and possibly a film, Labour: The Movie. There will be tours of Glasgow. ‘This whole city was once run by them – with council, Holyrood, Westminster and European representation. The City Chambers here was their stronghold. Now there’s three of them left’).

I say this because I can think of no Labour figure, indeed no figure in Scottish politics from any party, whom I fear. By fear I mean an opponent with the ability to reach out, to wound, to make you rethink your position, one who just might be changing the views of the electorate. And who, given time, can turn the tide of opinion. I’m reluctant to say so because it sounds complacent and that’s not a clever place to be. I held back until near the end on Jim Murphy because he carried the air of the big beast from London that has traditionally seduced the journalists. But mainly because I couldn’t believe Labour could fall any further. A revival of some kind must be imminent, I thought. Like Labour’s 2010 General Election campaign when Murphy was Secretary of State charged with winning back or retaining all of Labour seats won in 2005. He did.

I had hopes for Alex Rowley, believing him to be an authentic working class voice from a previous admired Labour age who could add bottom to Kezia’s wide-eyed enthusiasm. He disappeared without trace and has now broken his promise about not standing on the list. I doubt if one in ten voters could name Kezia’s deputy.

What does leadership contender Neil Findlay do? Isn’t he supposed to be Jeremy’s man in Scotland making challenging speeches on a radical left theme and raising the red flag as both a rallying call for voters and a veiled threat to Kezia to get on board, or something like that.

Who are the MSPs? With the lack of members and quality at Westminster isn’t there a need for a commensurate upturn in Holyrood activity? Where are experienced old hands like Patricia Ferguson and Dave Stewart? Or Lewis Macdonald and Ken McIntosh? Where’s the new talent…wasn’t Drew Smith supposed to be a rising star? Or by election winner Cara Hilton. Does Jenny Mara still have a role? Who is Margaret McCulloch? Who’s John Pentland?

And behind it all is the grim Buddha, Blair McDougall, the Better Together failure.

Worse than Labour’s dire straights are the voices of the Union, the shrill and weirdly disconnected media voices which strain to turn every decision into a weapon, often in direct contradiction of the polling evidence. One of the mysteries of the modern debate is how the BBC fails to unearth writers to interview who actually support (broadly) the governing party. Little as I listen, when I do switch on I hear identifiably Unionist journalists from UK-supporting outlets like the Times, the Herald or, God help us, the Daily Mail. They are ‘countered’ by writers from the alternative media most of whom support the Greens or RISE. It is an extraordinary conundrum in a country that the party with the massive popular support carries on rising regardless of an antipathetic and sometimes biased media offering. In a way the BBC is reflecting the media accurately. There really aren’t journalists currently in newspapers in Scotland who don’t have an axe to grind against the ruling party at election time. The newspapers just don’t hire people in that mould and are instead fully equipped with well-drilled anti-SNP propagandists. By that I don’t mean lending deep scrutiny to policy or politicians’ behaviour which is the journalists’ role. There are some real signs of this now coming from the new media. From the decaying print industry we get only the sham and the shameless. Witness the ream of vitriol that flowed from, among others, the Herald during the TinthePark debacle. A relentless flow of innuendo and opposition quotes couched in the language of corruption and sleaze. The clear suggestion we were invited to entertain was that a former SNP staffer and elicited a bung of public money from her Nationalist mate at the ministry for a company that didn’t need it. The only ‘evidence’ was the woman involved had indeed worked for the party and – smelling salts, please – was partner to an SNP MP. That she might be earning a living doing something different which involved approaching politicians was discounted despite the creation of a veritable industry of such people facilitating and lobbying…of all parties. And indeed she had contacted MSPs of all parties, a fact mysteriously missing from some of the Herald’s one-sided coverage.

The woman, Jennifer Dempsie, had in fact only arranged for a meeting between her boss at TinthePark and the minister and didn’t even attend. The grant was the result of the meeting. It was paid to cover the cost of relocating the event.

When last week the minister involved, Fiona Hyslop, was ‘cleared’ of any wrong-doing because there was none, one simple story appeared in the Herald reporting, in effect, that their relentless pursuit of a questionable story without factual foundation, had been exposed as shoddy, low grade character assassination. Some tweeted that Hyslop deserved an apology from the editor. The apology is surely due to Dempsie whose attempts at an alternative career were put under public scrutiny, so turning off prospective employers and, more damaging, persuaded her to avoid a career in politics when she was nominated for a place on the Highlands and Islands list. The overblown, under-researched scuttlebutt repeated with such glee by a former leading newspaper is one reason why it is in serious decline. Congratulations are due to the editor for chasing a talented young female away from our politics…(the same editor who sacked a talented young female journalist for disagreeing with him). Much of the rest seems to be composed of a kind of Bullingdon Club of self-congratulatory commentators with Twitter links to Joanne Rowling.

And where are the sane voices of the Union among the citizenry? My Twitter timeline has very few of those. Instead it has rabid and often disturbingly unhinged outpourings from leading Unionists like Tom Gallagher and Ian Smart, both obsessed with Nazis. Phrases like ‘you spit on working people’ and ein volk, ein reich are their stock-in-trade. The impression they give is of bitter, self-obsessed, irrational curmudgeons failing to deal with defeat and feeling instead the resentment at their humiliation. What kind of contributors to a new country would such people have made had we won the referendum? And when I get disagreement with my tweets, the ubiquitous Rangers references are prominent. Is that what Unionism has become. A throwback to the fifties?

All this – the implosion of effective political opposition, the collapse of Establishment media credibility and the fear and loathing of Unionist voices – combine in a lurid blaze of failure. One can only assume that the future of the Union remains in the hands of the silent constituency who know this but are untouched by it, whose rejection of independence is as concrete as it is unspoken. It may not be articulated but is none the less real for that, a spasm of defiance at a world they see changing before them but which they refuse to acknowledge. Like Labour, they live in denial. But they cannot stop the inevitable.

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19 thoughts on “Losing the Plot

  1. It’s that inevitability that is driving them all crazy. They’re standing on the sea-wall watching the tsunami heading towards them and there’s not a damn thing they can do about it.

    None of their smears, lies or whining makes a jot of difference. Some of them are destroying the very institutions they work for in their vain attempt to change events or at least keep those who still have the same beliefs as them from discovering the truth, The truth is the british empire is over and no matter how hard they wave their little union flags the end is nigh.

  2. jacquescoleman

    A very good article. And I particularly liked this line. “And behind it all is the grim Buddha, Blair McDougall, the Better Together failure”. Describes him to T.

  3. Labour in Scotland as Titanic… Is that why they are all LISTING?

  4. And with a probable brexit, it seems that the union is over.

  5. When I think of the treatment meted out to SNP spokesmen and women by BBC interviewers during indyref, hounded, harried,interrupted and sneered at, and listen to the respectful tones used by the same interviewers as they speak to Brexit supporters, I am aghast. The BBC was instrumental in losing indyref; now they risk giving Brexit success.

  6. Take it you have probably caught last night’s leaders debate and Ms Dugdale’s constitutional howler Derek?

    No, no surprises on the level of intelligent opposition. Certainly no surprises on the conduct of the media, either broadcast or print. Theses groups are what they are. They are also the authors of their own predicament. They spent so much time blindly propping up a system which caused no little pain to their electorates and readerships (mainly because they were alright Jack), they simply didn’t see when a fair sized chunk of that population said enough is enough.

    Nope, both party and media just hammered on, regardless of the cost to people’s lives and our society.

    I think they’ll find that sympathy for their problems will be in short supply these days.

    • Steve Asaneilean

      The three opposition amigos then spent all day yesterday backing each other up on the assertion that Nicolas PROMISED no further referendum for at least a generation.

      Yet I am unaware of any statement from the First Minster where the word “promise” was used in the context of another indyref.

      Does such a quote exist? If not then all three leaders are guilty of knowingly and wilfully lying. Why are the BBC then not challenging their assertion?

      • No it doesn’t exist anywhere as a pledge or an agreed upon outcome. It was stated as a matter of opinion by Alex Salmond when questioned by an interviewer and I think used on his personal preface in the White paper. I’m sure Nicola used the term herself at some point Steve, but y’know whut? If it ain’t in the Edinburgh Agreement or the Smith Commission proposals, or the Scotland Bill settlement, then the three amigos can go twist.

        Not only that, but its not up to any Scottish government to dictate the terms of Scotland’s democracy to the population. In Scotland by the claim of right, the Scottish parliament derives its power from the population.


        If the Scottish electorate ain’t happy with the settlement delivered by Westminster, or the treatment of their representation by the same hoose on the Thames, or indeed their own treatment at the hands of the media, then no party and no government has the right to prevent them from revisiting the issue at a time of their choosing.

        • Steve Asaneilean

          My sentiments exactly – but we still need the media to challenge the three amigos on proving exactly where Nicola used the word “promise” – “put or shut up” as they say.

          Yes I know I am asking MSM do actually do their jobs and that could be seen as little more than wishful thinking but we’re allowed to dream are we not?

      • Because, as the Carmichael case has proved, the establishment of this county considers lying to be fair play for politicians.

  7. Most people are not listening anymore and that is really getting under skin and making them worse. I would normaly want to watch the leaders debates because next to your average Joe I’m a bit of an anorak but Iv made my mind up and nothing will move me from SNPx2. I did catch a bit of the debate on STV and felt a bit of a rage when that Muppet demanded an apology from Nicola and to respect democracy!! Well the voters have painted the political map yellow for a party that supports independence. They respect democracy when it suits them. The leaders themselves my verdict is: Nicola was a bit too nice but still strong, Patrick was good and tempted me to vote green on the list but I just can’t see them doing much. Kez absolutely useless, can’t see any ex labour supporters rushing back. Willie, totally irrelevant. Ruth, tried hard but no amount of polished turd can deflect the fact your a Tory, one of them. Yoonies that are too daft to know better proping up her claim to be main opposition. The sooner Indy ref 2 or UDI the better

  8. Top-class, Derek. This one was weaved with magic – you are a fantastic, riveting read.

    Why don’t you have a donations option? I would put my hand in my pocket, just to know it guaranteed a champion was representing our country That’s important to us, man.
    If you write fine words, and you stir the blood of Scots then you damn-well ought to drink a beer that was bought for you. We want to buy you a drink, Derek.

    Set up a discrete donations option – they’re all doing it – ’bout time you did same.

  9. One of your best. How much longer can the MSM fight the rearguard action that can only lead them to brink of own extinction ?

  10. James Anderson

    Can only but concur with Derek and Kevin above; this article NEEDED to be written. Your analysis of the Scottish media as a desert when it comes to latent or explicit ‘support’ for the SNP is a vital truth than compels further exploration.

    I made this very point on a Herald forum thread a week or so back. Actually it was in response to an Iain MacWhirter piece of all things. He was doing a hysterical Gerry Hassan-style Cassandra filleting of Nicola’s ‘stop-go’ on the 50p rate; concluding that despite the fact the bloody power ain’t been devolved yet and the Nat’s had never actually committed to a Scotland-only top rate rise, the Scotland-Does-Scandic social democratic dream was already dead and we are all Third Way Blairites now. For me Iain’s over-the-top knee jerk analysis took me from a “with friends like these” moment to a realisation that there is NO “friend” (even critical friend) to the SNP in the entire print media in Scotland.

    No-one who is prepared to explore the pros and cons of a policy position with a view to accentuating the positive when all others will ONLY seek out the flaws. Sure McKenna might serve as part-time advocate but he’s far more comfy reserving the right to stick-it to the SNP whilst backing Indy on a non-partisan basis. And Andrew Nicoll at the pretendy Scottish Sun can be even-handed though one suspects if he was told to back David Cobunter he would. And you are correct to highlight the alt media’s priority promotion of RISE and the Greens a la Bella and Commonspace (it is noticeable that both the National and Sunday Herald have assimilated this prioritisation). There seems no great urgency to develop proportional media representation amongst the plurality that is Scotland’s social democrats even in the Indy-sympathetic corners of the Newsquest stable.

    That a party could have 1-in-50 of the population as members, 56(54) from 59 MPs, a working majority in the national parliament, and be polling regularly at 50-60%; yet not a have SINGLE media outlet or polemicist offer unqualified support (even as a critical friend) will be one of the great sociological mysteries tackled by future generations of media studies undergrads (assuming Ruthie Tank Commander never gets her way and taxes them out of HE).

    Thank you for continuing to say what others will not Derek. More power to your lap-top.

  11. “Is that what Unionism has become. A throwback to the fifties?” – It’s always been like that. People are seeing it for what it truly is now is all.

  12. I totally agree that there are a large group of no voters who have retreated into a comfortable imaginary world where although working and lower middle class in status they will vote conservative as it is the last vestige of crown and empire. This is more important to their identity than being Scottish.

    A large proportion can also unsurprisingly brainwash themselves en masse to reject all conventional understanding of business liquidation in order to protect said group identity. This groupthink in Scottish society is strong among hard no voters and is still mollified by the old media.

    As the old certainties around them change their own positions become more entrenched and their belief in some kind of parallel version of reality strengthens with their irrationality and vindictiveness.

    These hardline no voters will not be turned. They are too far gone. I’m hoping the soft no’s; those feeling duped by the media, the vow and BT lies will make the difference. It would be horrible to think there are not enough in these categories to make the difference. I think there might be further problems though with sections of the hardliners – just think back to George square after Indy ref1. Thanks, very good read.

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