Don’t Let the Facts Get In The Way

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.

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34 thoughts on “Don’t Let the Facts Get In The Way

  1. I would not worry too much about Gerry Hassan says and writes Derek. It has been apparent for some time, to me at least, that Hassan has a grudge or some kind of grievance/resentment against two of the best commentators on Scottish politics, Iain Macwhirter and Joyce McMillan. It does not surprise me that he has had a go at you and others. For someone who apparently advocates kindness, integrity, positivity, good feeling, generosity etc in politics, Hassan does not half like to get personal. I suspect he has an image of himself as someone above politics and tribalism. Gerry really does need to get off his high horse, because it is now becoming ludicrous and more than a little contrived.

  2. Steve Asaneilean

    It’s astonishing the number of academics who have thrown off that have ditched that mantle in favour of a particular form polemic without evidence – Neil Oliver, David Starkey, Dan Snow, Dominic Sandbrook, etc. – and now “oor Gerry” too?

    It’s amazing how many of them gets gigs with the BBC as well.

    But no conspiracy theories please.

    • Neil Oliver and academic? He has a degree in archaeology but hasn’t held an academic post or published a thing as far as I’m aware…

      • Steve Asaneilean

        Fair point – can I swap him for Niall Ferguson? ☺

        • Yep! Don’t like Ferguson but he is a scholar all right.

        • On the subject of tele-historians I’ve been surprised by the recent non-use of Norman Davies during the Scottish and EU referendums. He has, after all, written the 2 best one volume books on British and European history (‘The Isles’ and ‘Europe’). He also holds 2 chairs in History at UCL and the Jagellonian University in Krakow as well as a Fellowship at Oxford.

          Instead, we had endless helpings of Starkey, Snow, Ferguson etc. It couldn’t have anything to do with the fact that Davies doesn’t toe the Unionist or Brexit party line?

  3. Don’t read as much Hassan these days. Having looked at the article concerned I think this is wise.

  4. I too used to admire Gerry, I am sorry if he has been “corrupted” in some shape or form. Apart from that all I would say is “Yes!”

  5. You’re anything but a closed mind. 😀

    As for Mr Hassan? Bit rich for my blood. (not everyone attends uni or has advanced degrees in reading really, really big books with long wurds n’ sich)

    I’m not engaged today for the sake of philosophy or endless theoretical/mental exercises. I’m an ordinary punter looking for practical answers to everyday problems. Westminster and its system of government is a problem for everything I care about. Therefore I look to commentary and reportage that seeks to address, or at least clearly explain that problem in the most straightforward, plain speaking manner possible. It also helps if there’s a little bit of heart in there and you know the writer actually gives a sh… (cough). Enough to say that so many do not.

    Its also fair to say that a lot of folk come here for a reason and I’ll leave it at that. 😉

  6. Charles P. Kearney

    Like ever so many ‘Commentators/Journalists’ Today, I fear Mr. Hassan, whilst being Paid by a Dying Print Media, that has the benefit of not Publishing any Comments that disagree with their Writers, is suffering badly from the Fact that the dreaded ‘Public’ on Social media take them to task loudly and persistently!

    After many Years of Publishing totally unsupported allegations without fear of contradiction, they are being asked for Evidence they do not have. And it has not gone unnoticed, that in an effort to do so, they will oft Quote, equally unsupported allegations by Activists of the Same Bent who Post stuff as Fact that is then taken up by the Newspapers and Broadcasters and reported as such!

    What we see regularly are totally apocryphal ‘Tales’ being Reported as ‘Fact’ and Written in Tablets of Stone! It is now apparent, to those with even half a Brain, that those Hailed as Historians, Professors, Cherished Commentators and Journalists, have Feet of Clay, and will write anything that helps to maintain them in their positions of Privilege—even if it comes at the Price of destroying their Reputations!

    • A Biochemist Writes

      “I’ve asked for some (evidence) but so far nothing is forthcoming. Is that how academics work nowadays?”

      On the basis of THIS evidence, the answer to your apparently is “Yes” – in the particular case of this academic.

      Two problems here:

      (1) The subject – Politics is not really an academic subject insofar as opinion and personal preferences/political leanings drive so much of what its practitioners write and think (if they think).

      Its the same in Economics and other social studies areas.

      This simply cannot happen in real academic subjects like Maths, Physics, Chemistry and my own area.

      (2) The ‘professor’ concerned is at the ‘University’ of the West of Scotland.

      There are, in academia, professors and ‘professors’. The real ones know who’s who – sadly the re-designation of former local authority colleges as ‘Universities’ means that the public is no longer able so to discriminate. Unless and until they write shite.

      “Ah but, Tomkins is at Glasgow”. Well yes – but I know, but I also know just how high an opinion his Glasgow colleagues have of the Great Tory Panjandrum.

      We are lucky to to have had him descend amongst us.

  7. There’s a despicable group of us who go along to Gerry’s fringe meetings and ask him questions. We really shouldn’t, it’s like cruelly teasing a hamster. To summarise his political position: everybody vote Labour – again – and all will be well with the world -again – just as it was before and always has been. Again. And again and again.

    Facepalm just doesn’t cover it. He’ll get published, though, because he is an important part of the conservative consensus.

  8. Gerry Hassan is only interested in one question: Judean Peoples’ Front or People’s Front of Judea?

  9. I’m afraid I don’t rate Gerry Hassan as an academic and never have. I’m amazed that he has got as far as he has. I suppose that’s because he churns out words on an industrial scale, but it’s quantity rather than quality with Gerry. What he has to say is frequently 1) repetitive, circular and inconclusive, as if searching for the focus of his argument, but never quite finding it, and 2) not evidence based. 3) Neither is he particularly sharp or insightful, (unlike yourself) but has a mind of the plodding variety. You are rarely any wiser after having read a Hassan piece. He is not a polemicist, I’ll give him that, but that’s not necessarily a virtue in political writing. In academic writing polemicism is of course a negative, but the compensating positives of well researched evidence are also lacking in Gerry’s ‘academic’ writing.

    In common parlance, Gerry is an empty windbag.

    As to what he has against you, I think you are right that it is connected to the Rise thing, and the search for a more radical independence movement than the SNP.

    But there’s also a personal angle. As somewhere along the line Gerry has some grasp that you have qualities of factual recall, cogency, passion and insight in your political writing that is severely lacking in his own attempts to grapple with the zeitgeist.

  10. Perhaps there is no conspiracy, however there does appear too be a trend developing.

    The pansies, as you termed them, retreating from Twitter.

    I followed the reference on Twitter to Gerry Hassan’s article in the Scottish Review. Tedious drivel is as much as I can be bothered saying of it.

    Now Andrew Neil terming cybernats the scum of Scotland. His employer’s response – a public body, to Neill calling arguably a sizeable portion of the Scottish population scum, will be interesting.

    Has the UKOK bugler sounded retreat from internet engagement and back to the much diminished MSM stockade? Has their Brexit dilemma started to niggle at their self-assurance?

  11. Bella Caledonia tweeted a link to this, under the words: “Oh dear”.

    I haven’t read all the stuff referred to, so I can’t make a fair judgement, but I have always thought Derek pretty reasonable and fair. And I was taken aback, a while ago, by Bella Caledonia’s apparent support for what appeared to be moves to split the pro-independence movement. Nothing is more effective in assuring the impotence of any anti-establishment movement for change than left-wing factions splitting off because the revolution – as yet unattained – does not measure up to their various theoretical versions of perfection.

    • I stopped reading Bella altogether around that time as I quickly got sick to the back teeth of pro-RISE articles & more than one totally unjustified ad hominem.

      I gave it another try after the election & lasted half a page.

      • Steve Asaneilean

        Same with me. I thought Bella’s behaviour during the last election was dreadful, petty, sneery playground stuff of the worst variety.

        The attitude they displayed towards Messrs Bateman, Kavanagh and Kelly was just nasty and unjustified vitriol.

        I stopped supporting and reading it from that point which is a pity as there were often some good kernels amongst the chaff.

  12. By golly, he’s fairly got under your skin!
    Ignore him and, maybe if we all do that, he’ll go away.
    Growing up the daughter of a policeman, my mother told me to ignore kids stupid enough to try to taunt me enough to get a reaction. ‘They are not your friends.’ He is not your friend and, I hate to say, probably never was. Maybe he has never liked you but was using you and your connections to promote himself. The more he comes out with this guff, the more he proves he is not your equal and doesn’t engender the same respect that you do.

  13. Gave up on Hassan years ago for the simple reason he seemed, at least to my Maryhill mind, to be drifting, with his writing, into a sphere I just didn’t understand. Too complicated for a simple soul like me who probably has tunnel vision on one ambition, to be part of an independent Scotland.

  14. First the accusation then the need for your justification…..then there will be another accusation, and so it goes on….
    It is his stuff, not yours…..be silent that is where real power lies

  15. Whatever happened to RISE anyway ?
    Surely they don’t plan to continue?

    I imagine all these extreme leftist “anti-flag” types will end up backing the unelectable Corbyn at the next UK GE..

    Despite his lack of interest in any further powers for Scotland, and his dubious internationalism where he has no interest in any second referendum on the Brexit terms – even if the UK ends up getting a raw deal for quitting the EU.

  16. I was interested in your comments about the lack of conspiracy at the BBC. I also find conspiracy hard to believe because it would be hard to keep that kind of thing quiet. Having said that, I’ve witnessed many times (in the tech sector) company-wide mindsets form and crystallise until there are central tenets of operation and practice that are never, ever questioned. That leads to employing people that are receptive to the mindset and promoting those who don’t question it, no matter how bat-shit crazy it might seem to an outsider. I’d even go as far as to say that companies like google and apple have a cult-like element about them. Is that what it’s like at the BBC?

  17. I’ve never read Hassan and from what’s been said here I don’t think I shall. Agree with what’s been said.

    I read GA Ponsonby’s book on the BBC, which I thought was a forensic piece of work, but nowhere can I find him saying that there was (is) a conspiracy. I have now stopped listening to BBC radio (other than R3) because the evidence of my own ears tells me that the BBC is partisan in its news broadcasts. Even if we leave aside Scotland, they promote neoliberalism (in the news bulletins) by the way they present the UK government’s economic agenda, by such simple (but partial) expedients as whom they invite to comment, such as the IFS, and whom they never ask to comment. They reflect the position of the UK government.

  18. Gerry Hass… sorry Professor Gerry Hassan is a great example of what turns people off politics. His pompous demeanour projects something along the lines of ‘only someone of my academic calibre understands what is really going on here, you ordinary citizens just don’t get it’. Everyone I know who knows enough of him to form an opinion has reached the same conclusion and has now given up even trying to understand what he is going on about. Calling it incoherent waffle is unfair on incoherent waffle.

    I actually bought one of his books prior to the referendum but gave up with it about half way through because it was so laughably pretentious, endlessly repetitive and frankly vacuous.

    Keep up the good work Derek – you have more talent as a writer in your little finger than the pompous Professor.

  19. I was right there with you right up until the Bella comments. It was as if you got up to fill the kettle and someone else sat down and finished the article for you. Promotion of RISE? I promise you that I have no allegiance there. That lies elsewhere, but having lived through the tribalist SNP 1 & 2 tedium on Bella, surely there’s no need for a debate here to conclude that the sheer numbers of those people filled the pages beyond the dreams of any RISE supporter.

  20. The “Imperialists” will turn anything you say around, black is white, work will set you free etc while not realising the polar position of thier argument!

  21. When the BBC pay for opinions they become “facts” Newspapers do the same
    When so called academics wave their credentials around shouting “Facts” they are accepted as such
    When Joe Bloggs has an opinion it’s “nonsense” with nothing to back it up even if that opinion hits the nail on the head and thumps it all the way in “Not fact” who he, no platform nobody

    Conspiracy? Naw definitely not, couldn’t possibly ever be such a thing, what idiot said that, must be paranoid

    Most people don’t seem to understand the definition of the word “opinion”

    The media do

  22. What do you have against Bella being Left Wing Derek? So a brand new, newly branded allied parties first election did not win it. What did you expect? For start neither they nor the Greens have the funds to stand constituency candidates. Whose fault is that Derek? yours?

    I would have voted RISE if they had stood in this constituency. I came close to spoiling my ballot paper but fortunately the TUSC stood and they claim to be Yes too. Oh dear, not another Left wing party for you to fulminate against.

  23. 50+ MPs etc were are they on bscot I recall slab MPs in abundance

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