Academics. What are they like? For every honest intellectual there is an Adam Tomkins (entertaining but a one-man battlefield between the brainy and the bonkers), pitiable Tom Gallagher (deranged and now a dignity-free zone) and the estimable Gerry Hassan (from avid analyst to attack dog).
They’re like tightrope walkers, inching forward and forever wobbling on the verge of falling into their own prejudices. (Adam’s Spectator piece on Named Person Armageddon is my favourite zoomer read of all time). I’ll pass over Tom who just needs someone to love him and turn to oor Gerry. He has been a mainstay of our national debate and a chronicler of Labour’s decline bringing an ardent interest and irrepressible zeal to political discussion. His interviews in (frequently my) BBC studio were performances rather than talks, filled with detail and illuminated by bright ideas and wide perspectives. To be honest I’ve always liked him and thought of him as a bit of a pal. You know, political chum, friendly acquaintance, that sort of thing.
Sometime ago he began to retweet at me in what at times I took to be an aggressive tone (easy to misunderstand on Twitter) using language that seemed designed to wound, even rounding on me in support, of all people, Chris Deerin.
It’s felt like something has changed such is the dismissive sweep of his denunciation. I felt I was being corrected. The professor was censorious. Now he has taken to personally insulting me in print (Left Review, in something purporting to review events over the summer) as a ‘close-minded nationalist’ harbouring conspiracy theories. Well, we all live in the street and I give as good as I get. I defend but don’t complain, if you see what I mean. Everybody has an opinion. But it should be based on some evidential basis, no? I object to being traduced on a false premise and without a shred of evidence. (I’ve asked for some but so far nothing is forthcoming. Is that how academics work nowadays?)
So I wondered a bit about my ‘closed mind’ because it’s true I will go to my grave believing in our independence. But to me that’s called commitment. It’s belief in a vision of our future. And I’ve always said that I am a democrat first. I accept the decision of the Scottish people even to the point of worrying that a narrow referendum win would be divisive and stymie progress. I do not rule out any other option for Scotland and immediately after the vote argued for a federal system. Since we voted against independence I would accept greatly increased powers short of nationhood.
I have advocated a working alliance between the SNP and Labour putting aside the national question because the policy differences are mostly contrived and hold back public policy development. I proposed a formal process before the budget involving all parties given equal status with the Finance Secretary to press their case for resources in order to find the widest possible consensus. To counter poor legislation I advocated an all party committee to revise the practical impact of new laws approved by the parliament as a quick form of revising second chamber. I argue for a pro-EU, internationalist Scotland committed to equality at home and partnership abroad with no military engagement not sanctioned by the UN. Closed mind?
In conversations on Newsnet I don’t even argue a case against my guest. Instead I invite them on the basis that we hear what they have to say, not me. They are told to expand their ideas and be as expressive as possible. We speak to socialists, Labourites, Greens, academics, artists and rebels. I let their voices be heard in a way and at a length the BBC doesn’t countenance. Newsnet itself has no position on independence as an editorial stance. It is, like the rest of the new media, broadly Yes but publishes criticism of all parties and the government. Have a look.
Personally I have criticised, from memory, the handling of Named Person, SNP currency policy, European planning during the indyref, fracking, lack of dissent on the backbenches, heavy discipline at Westminster, doubted oil extraction policy and the glorification of Sturgeon. I supported Ken Macintosh for Labour leader and Tommy Sheppard for SNP deputy. Does that qualify for Gerry’s Closed Mind Award? Or is the truth that he hasn’t bothered to read and fell back on a prejudice because that’s good enough for him?
He’s right about conspiracies though. The first is the worst. There is a conspiracy that makes sure the kettle is empty whenever I want tea. It is always me who fills it up.
Other than that I’m at a loss. In fact the only ‘conspiracy’ he names is one I have repeatedly dismissed, namely ‘the BBC stole the referendum’. I explicitly disagree – in print – with G A Ponsonby that there is any organised system in BBC news to skew the agenda. There isn’t. I would have been part of it. I would have known about it. I have written that the referendum was sound. Suggesting otherwise is whacky. I can’t think of a single conspiracy I subscribe to that would justify such a reference.
What has happened to Gerry? What has happened to academic rigour? Or has he been corrupted by his new status as mainstream commentator – paid by the anti independence Daily Record organisation – and imagining that he is now a journalist rather than a ‘writer and thinker?’ Surely the best advice is to stick to the day job.
Attacking without foundation because you disagree is one of those tightrope issues, teetering between bias and bigotry. Its bastard offspring is the casual smear so beloved of George Foulkes. It really isn’t a good look for Gerry at all. I won’t detain you over the irony of accusations of personal attacks from someone writing… personal attacks.
Then I had a light bulb moment. The contrast he makes between myself and Bella Caledonia sounded familiar, especially with mention of G A Ponsonby. And of course, it’s because the real independence sideshow over the summer, counting May, was the personalised attacks by Bella on those of us (myself and Paul Kavanagh included) who welcomed the SNP’s tax plans. Eat Your Cereal, it said expressing contempt for those who didn’t follow the Rise mantra of hitting the higher earners too hard. Missing from the Hassan view of recent history is Bella’s disgraceful personalised campaigns against James Kelly, myself and Wee Ginger Dug (as well as derisive treatment of Newsnet) while pretending not to be promoting Rise. Why is this not included in Gerry’s analysis? How could any look back omit the worst and undignified in-fighting the Yes media has suffered? Surely it was the best example of exactly the kind of backward, closed-mind politicking he claims to despise?
Perhaps, just perhaps, the answer lies in the Radical Independence conference in the months before the referendum. I remember going in to a room being addressed by two speakers one of whom looked remarkably like Gerry Hassan. It was hair-raising stuff. The quote I recall was: Scotland is not a democracy. Scotland is run by the corporations…
Now we all know big business is too close to government and they grease the revolving door between Whitehall and industry but is Nicola, and was Alex, really being told what to do by Amazon? Was Salmond so close to Murdoch that he stopped legislation? Was the 85 per cent turn out in the indyref corrupted by the CBI?
This is the kind of hysterical nonsense that chases away voters. Is Gerry a secret Rise agent? Well he did write – in the anti-indy Sunday Mail – that the party could become ‘a truly radical voice’, although that was before the election when they got 0.5 per cent…
However he votes, maybe we shouldn’t look to Gerry for any comfort as we prepare for the reformation of Yes in the coming days. This is what he wrote after the indyref.
Yes and No are over. They are not the future. There is no future in them. They belong to the past – and died on September 18th. The Yes/No binary has to be lost to allow the emergent new voices, spaces and movements which came forth in the referendum to grow, be set free, and find a place to flourish which is not dependent or related to the independence referendum.
There can be no real Yes Alliance. This is for a number of reasons. Yes cannot live as a political movement post-September 18th.
I don’t know if it’s my love of a good conspiracy but I think there will be a renewed Yes movement. It is not over. There is a future. We shouldn’t allow the doubters to introduce personality politics. It would be a pity if someone as outward looking as Gerry wasn’t part of it. I don’t want to close my mind to the idea.by