Bugger Barnett

The Barnett Bypass is the worst example I recall of what is an accepted funding formula being exploited unfairly for raw political purpose. It appears to contradict the aim of Barnett as a means of distributing fairly UK national resources based on population. It is nakedly opportunistic and cynical. It is, in political parlance, a bribe. It says to the DUP: Support us and we’ll pay you.

Further, it is a fact that it was deliberately framed by the Scottish Secretary as a product of Barnett and he made clear he would not sanction it otherwise.

I believe even the Tory Party itself accepts all of this while desperately deflecting to avoid embarrassment. In other words, this is a dirty deal using public money to keep a discredited government in office.

But my question is: Who’s surprised? Are serious observers of British politics really shocked at the use of political patronage to solve a difficult problem? Are commentators genuinely taken aback that a ruthless government machine would abuse the Barnett Formula for a political end? Seriously?

Even if Barnett were laid down in law, they would still contrive a way of circumventing it. And it isn’t. It’s accepted custom and is embedded in the system but there is nothing to demand it is used whenever money is allocated, except of course public expectation. If you want these convenient arrangements and gentlemen’s agreements to work, you need a government that will honour them in all circumstances – a government you can trust. And the reality for Scotland is that all our lives we have learnt time and again that a Westminster government cannot be trusted.

A British government will always support Scotland. Until it doesn’t. That’s the rule that’s more important than Barnett.

So spare me the grief from the holier-than-thou mob. When Scots decided by majority three years ago that they didn’t want to run their own affairs and preferred a London government – Labour or Tory – to do it for us, we surrendered to whatever devious ploys they come up with. Now, nobody ever votes to be made a fool of and I’m sure all Unionist No voters believed they were doing it for the right reasons. It’s just this is the consequence. London decides how much we will get and how much we won’t get. Even having a man in Cabinet and War Hero Colonel leading the Scottish Tories is rendered meaningless when the needs of that London government are on the line.

What I can’t stand is the wailing about how unfair it all is. There is something pitiable about pleading with people who have manifestly no interest in your plight. Did anybody who knows anything about the Tory Party expect anything more? Did anybody ever say: ‘I can trust the Tories to do the right thing for Scotland?’

If, after their behaviour in the indyref – not to mention the previous 300 years – a single Scot honestly expected a Tory government to play fair, they should get themselves sectioned under the Mental Health Act.

‘We wiz robbed – again.’ Make that Again. And Again. It’s a never-ending litany of robbery and insult and still a large section of the electorate ask them to do it again by voting for the same people.

It sums up just how weak our position is that we’re reduced to raging about whether a funding formula should have been applied to money spent elsewhere so we could get a notional nest egg. ‘We should get some too,’ sounds to me like the bleat of people who never learn a lesson. The government has the power to do virtually as it wishes in a country without a written constitution. And even when the rules appear to be written down, as in the Scotland Act, we can be quickly disabused – see the Supreme Court ruling on Scotland’s role in the triggering of Article 50. To me the main issue here isn’t the dubious authority of Barnett and the technical detail of when and how it applies. It is the principle of how a democracy should work. This looks wrong. It sounds wrong and, from the mouth of Mundell himself, it is wrong.

Here’s Andrew Wilson who heads the Growth Commission and ex MSP via Twitter.

‘I am sure people are following but every area of DUP deal would normally fall under Barnett equivalent areas.

And to bypass the system is quite something which the post war Scottish team would normally unite to fix. This probably wont stand. But we live in such strange times of self harm. Remarkable really. And while I get the argument its not relevant as not England as anchor spend this fails completely to get the whole policy intent.

Every post war secretary of state (bar none) would step in now. Every single one. I think the current one might still. Lets help him

And while by passes have happened a lot they have almost always been in the favour of the countries. A shoddy awful system & I dont approve. But the sense of unfairness from today’s move is not a matter of technical debate but obvious

So we shouldnt wind selves up on technicals rather than natural justice and (frankly) national self interest.’

Sorry about the Twitter grammar. Not wishing to put words in his mouth but I think he means, and I agree, that Barnett normally flows from a spending settlement in England and doesn’t in this case. But it really a case of politics – that is, it doesn’t feel just and isn’t in our national interest. That’s the key point. And the Union’s politics are now so broken that what would have seemed normal not so long ago – when Scotland’s politicians would have united to find a fix – is now not on the agenda. That’s what I was saying yesterday about previous Scottish Secretaries who recognised when to intervene.

It is clear that Mundell was excluded from this decision and has been humiliated. Again. Even his Tory friends don’t rate him or this would never happen. He is weak and talentless. If he had the dignity, he would look at the last two days and resign.

Here’s another Twitter sample, this time James Mitchell, Professor Politics at Edinburgh.

‘Basic logic of Barnett formula (Barnett did NOT invent it) was to rationalise spending decisions/avoid political muscle as determinant

There have always been ‘by-passes’ because political muscle continued to rule

Today has seen the most egregious case of political by-pass. Fiscally and politically irresponsible.’

He agrees that this was the use of raw politics, or muscle resulting in fiscal and political damage. No sign here at least that any Barnett ‘rule’ or law was breached.

And here is the Fraser of Allander Institute on the subject: ‘…On a technical level there is nothing in the Northern Ireland agreement that contradicts any rules or laws.’ The author goes on to say there are other concerns but they are of a different nature, concluding that: ‘HM Treasury acts as both rule-maker and referee. It appears to have complete discretion as what is within and outwit the Barnett Formula without consulting the devolved government.’ Exactly. We are powerless. They decide for us and we lump it. that’s where we are and that’s the nub of it, not the convoluted jumble of Barnett consequentials.

We need to stop clinging to discredited assumptions and show some muscle of our own. Which is why I’m glad to hear the First Minister say the referendum remains on the table but the legislation can wait until Brexit is a done deal. The Barnett Bypass shows exactly the colour of people we’re dealing with – ruthless and unprincipled with no care for Scotland (or Wales). If they think they have nationalists on the run and all we can argue with is technical details on funding formulae, we should give up.





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Cut and Run

What is a Secretary of State for? Scotland’s was abolished in 1746 when naughty highlanders attempted some pre-emptive devolution but was reinstated towards the end of the 19th century when a visible presence was required – the Duke of Richmond duly came north to shoot grouse.

Then, since the Scottish Parliament, the duties have dwindled almost to nothing, the role being merely to act as cypher between London and Edinburgh. Oddly, you may think, the budget has nevertheless spiralled upwards. Or not oddly at all, as the job has increasingly been to counter politically the SNP.

The hangover from the days of real as opposed to posturing Scottish Secretaries in the modern era, say from the 1960s onwards, has been to represent Scottish interests in Cabinet. Phrase it how you like – a Scottish voice, a Caledonian hand on the tiller, an occasional storm warning and, now and again, No Entry barrier when a decision presages another War of Independence.

Throughout this era men such as Michael Noble, Willie Ross and Gordon Campbell followed by Bruce Millan, George Younger and Malcolm Rifkind had a firm grasp of the requirement to stand four square in the way of Whitehall decisions that they knew would look bad and, fancy, sometimes actually were bad. I draw a distinction because this is politics in which appearances matter and often are little more than mirage. In the same way that justice must be seen to be done, so the exercise of responsibility for Scotland must appear to be performed earnestly and staunchly.

Such men boasted about standing up for the nation and fighting their corner. In their company, a word was dropped in your ear and, if you didn’t get it over the clink of the teacups, an aide would intone the dire news: ‘He told her to her face. There was blood on the wall…’

Today one fears the only blood spilt is likely to be David Mundell’s as he is swatted aside by colleagues. He may of course be adept at behind-the-scenes knife fights in which he secures devastating concessions, only to walk away brushing the dust off his suit shoulders to the sound of Search for the Hero Inside Yourself. What do you think?

Today’s news that what will prove to be an initial down payment of £1b of new money for Northern Ireland should have rattled the teacups in Dover House. Journalists should have been summoned from the brave Scottish Press and told: ‘You can’t print this yet but…’ There should have followed a story of how Our Man was incandescent with (weakened) Theresa May who had surrendered to the DUP and not honoured a promise she made that Scotland would also benefit. Hadn’t David himself said as much on telly? He made clear it would all be above board and transparent and Barnett rules must be applied. Cue headlines about furious Mundell fighting for Scotland. He’d never been so mad. Either May gave him what he wanted or he’d resign…

Sound corny? Well, it would work. The papers would lap it up and it would be on the front of every one except the Express who have a court case involving the cousin of the former nanny to the Princess of Wales.

Of course, the government had already quietly agreed there would be a quid pro quo for Scots but the story would be allowed to take hold until redemption day when Mundell’s triumph of extra funding was announced. Scotland’s champion, David Mundell.

You could even go further and actually imagine if there was no set up and Mundell did actually have the balls to make a demand. Has Theresa May ever been weaker and more likely to cave?

But this is all fantasy for a pipsqueak politician whose sole strength is holding on to office against all odds. As you may know from observing promotion climbers at work, it is often the most obsequious, untrustworthy and incompetent who succeed because they lack the gene of resistance. Such is Mundell.

Now as far as I know Barnett applies only to English spending and how geographic budgets should be compensated as a result.

As far as I know Barnett has no statutory basis. It is advisory. In other words, the government can do with it as it sees fit. Pay it or not. That is what we voted for in September 2014, to allow the British government to run our affairs for us and that’s what they’re doing.

But there’s a world of difference between the rules and the politics. That’s the space where a talented and committed Scottish Secretary would emerge to say: to Hell with the guidelines, I have a battle to fight in Scotland. You are arming my opponents just when I’m on the charge. This cannot stand. I need something to offer Scotland and all those people who voted for us this month.

Instead the proud Tories step back and lash out at the SNP, the clearest sign they recognise their own weakness. What an inglorious start to the careers of the new intake, learning first hand from Mundell the toe-curling lessons of the game – if you want to survive the fight, turn your back and run. And remember, Scotland is never worth it.

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That’s All For Now

This will probably be the last time I actually write anything about the BBC so my heart is light.

Some responses to the blog gave me a laugh, some had me nodding in agreement and others had my head in my hands.

First, for all those hard of learning, can I repeat (please imagine capitals on) I have never said there is no bias. Every time I’ve written on this topic I’ve only ever offered my own direct experience to say there is no deliberate, organised, planned BBC campaign to do down the SNP, oppose independence or vilify Yes.

Bias takes many forms and comes from many sources, none of them acceptable professionally but some, no doubt understandably, as in any large organisation with multiple platforms, working round the clock producing an endless stream of output.

The truth is that no news organisation is free from bias no matter how hard they try because it is an objective – and aspiration – that can never be achieved 100 per cent. Human frailty and work pressures ensure that several times a day someone somewhere will have legitimate cause to claim a report does not accurately reflect what they believe to be true.

When you add in other factors like corporate mindset and, yes, personal viewpoints masquerading as fact, it is inevitable that some output will appear compromised.

Personally, I believe we have undergone a transformation in newsgathering and information dissemination in which old certainties and methods have been changed or dismantled. Put another way, standards have fallen, probably in proportion to the sheer amount of information now sloshing about in the ether. To keep up with rapidly advancing technology – and in response to government public spending cuts endorsed by voters – the BBC has found itself under crushing financial pressure. Therefore some budgets were cut, notably staffing. Take away a tier of decision-makers like programme editors and you remove an essential filter through which material is screened before broadcast. Their role was supervisory asking questions like: Are we right to describe a political initiative this way? Could the opposition fairly complain about it? Why are we doing yet another item on the same subject? Do we need more balance? Without them the rigour goes.

Sometimes it’s just bad journalism, either in the framing of an item, the choice of guests or the quality of script and questions. That comes from both inexperience (not helped by removing through redundancy those with the knowledge to pass on) and, conversely, the sloppiness that comes from long experience. We all get lazy. A good example in recent months was a radio interview with two economics academics, both known as Better Together old hands but not introduced as such – in other words identified as if neutral. Anyone with knowledge of the referendum would have known their affiliation which I assume the producer didn’t. The experienced interviewer then asked them non-challenging, soft questions about the possible consequences of independence including a shrug-of-the-shoulder effort to the effect that ‘…it would all be terribly complicated…’ I listened in horror to an inept, uninformative item that gave a misleading impression. It failed every tests of BBC journalism. I said to myself: They can hardly object that critics say they’re biased if that’s the quality of the output.

Another thing a good editor does is look at the continuity of coverage over a longer period. For instance, the best stories are based on criticism – something someone doesn’t want you to know. (Nowadays that’s usually the SNP government). Therefore it makes sense that a correspondent keeps in touch with those looking to expose shortcomings. In other words, the opposition. They, in turn, are fed inside information from sources who share their political affiliation. It could be in health, for example, and a good correspondent gets a stream of material from an opposition source about problems in hospitals that embarrasses the government. That is journalism. But a good editor will spot when the weight of similar attack stories seems excessive and turns into an area of public concern in itself. It’s obvious that not everything in a given field like health is bad news or the NHS would stop functioning. The reality is that there are heartbreakingly good stories in our hospitals every day and world leading work is done. Journalism is by definition selective. So an editor would look to balance his output over time with good stories. No editor – less chance of balance.

I know it doesn’t fit the blood lust of condemnation but doesn’t it sound a bit more plausible than a coven of executives scheming Sturgeon’s downfall and instructing reporters to do the dirty work?

Someone in the responses thinks the BBC is best pals with the Liberals’ press office so just gets them on air instead of the Greens…

Someone else thinks if you’re Unionist, your face fits and you get on and that’s why I apparently didn’t – nothing to do with my aversion to promotion to any management role then or my total unsuitability for the job…

Another says you can’t be a former Tory activist and be neutral…

And someone suggests they only started being anti SNP after they hired me…

(I must have been the only one not in the know. Or maybe they started when I left. (‘Right, Bateman’s away. Let’s get the Nats.’)

It is true that, even to me, there are items which sound so wrong, so unbalanced that I understand perfectly why a consumer would deduce there is deliberate bias, although the obsessive scrutiny of detail is just sad – a pro SNP story drops down the online page! A mistake at a Labour council is headlined ‘Council in scandal’ but a mistake at an SNP council is headlined ‘SNP council in scandal’ !!

Our capacity for outrage is outstripping national productivity.

But others recognise that you don’t need a conspiracy to produce an effect and I agree. We all work to the boss. Yet my sense is that at BBC Scotland staff have been more afraid of managers because they’ve shown a willingness to sack them than a desire to distort the news to order.

To those convinced Pacific Quay is a bastion of Unionism, wittingly or otherwise, I should point out, contrary to some of my correspondents, that two heads of the news department in recent years have been, so far as I know, Scottish Nationalists – one of them led the Yes campaign, Blair Jenkins. People don’t as a rule talk about how they vote (it never bothered me) but I know for certain at least one on air presenter whom you also know, who is a committed nationalist. There are Yes-voting producers of my ken. I’m aware of one manager who definitely voted SNP and of another who backs independence and reads this blog – (hi). Both John Nicolson and Brendan O’Hara worked at BBC Scotland. I have no reason to believe the political make up of the staff is any different from wider Scotland.

Beware of the groupthink you accuse journalists of perpetrating. One correspondent says most posters here are against me therefore that proves it. In other words, if enough of us say it, we’ll drown you out, never mind the facts. (I’m afraid it doesn’t work that way.)

Another suggests the ex BBC man now working for Nicola Sturgeon might be a double agent sabotaging her efforts. So that’s why they lost all those seats!

Let’s stop making ourselves look silly. There are genuine concerns about BBC Scotland and I’m doubtful about the SNP hands-off strategy which avoids confronting real broadcast issues head on. But remember that the SNP after a Yes vote has no intention of destroying what is there but rather building on it to produce a better service. Criticism would be better focussed on that plan than demonising individuals (some of whom don’t even write the scripts they read). The wilder the accusations, the more extreme the reactions, the easier it is for the BBC to sweep them aside.

There’s also a feeling that relentless blaming of the broadcasters shifts responsibility for SNP failures away from where it belongs. Blasting the Beeb over coverage of education stats won’t help the kids at school. Asking the SNP questions might.

An activist dialogue with the party about the BBC, conducted in reasonable terms, might result in a better SNP approach to broadcast shortcomings AND make the corporation think harder about quality journalism and balance.

Which reminds me: someone asks if the BBC showed how other small countries were faring independently during the indyref. Yes, they did. Allan Little went to Scandinavia. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-25061445

The best summation is this from Chris. I concur.

Everyone has an opinion Derek, but not all of those criticising the BBC do so from a splendid isolation beyond the BBC – some of us have also worked there in the past and have had major issues on London’s patrician relationship with Glasgow. I agree with yourself that there is no direct edict from above – “destroy the Nats!” – but there is a group think in parts of the Beeb based on a variety of factors that I do think can help to create an atmosphere of bias in places. With staff jobs disappeared, and people now on short term contracts, the mantra of “you’re only as good as your last job” is one that focuses the mind if you are going from three month contracts to three month contracts, for example. Don’t upset the apple cart – keep your head down, do what is asked, and you might just be back again next week. 

There will nevertheless be individuals for whom many of us will have issues – Nick Robinson in 2014 with his edited Alex Salmond comment of “he couldn’t answer” is one that I have never been able to justify. But I do also buy into the idea of a decline in journalistic standards, an under-investment in investigative journalism and documentary, and an over-reliance on newspapers as unquestionable sources. On another front, a lot of output is also made by indies these days, and I think there are some issues there also. Mentorn Scotland’s handling of Question Time is appalling, for example, and I’m not just asking as a viewer today, but as someone who has a friend who has shared much experience with me of having worked on the series for many months. 

There is a lot the BBC gets right, but in these days of constitutional urgency, every single error gets amplified a hundred fold. Whether the BBC is biased is one question, but the fact that it is perceived to be biased, with allegations that it somehow never seems to satisfactorily address, is what ultimately will hole it below the waterline. As much as it is impossible to blame everyone in the BBC for being biased, it is also equally impossible to accuse every viewer/listener with a grievance of having no genuine issue of concern. There are issues on both sides. The tragedy is that a lot of good folk at the BBC are as much a victim of all this as many of the viewers who feel so aggrieved. The ultimate failure is in management at the corporation.

Thank you for listening. That’s all from us for tonight. Sleep well. Here’s the national anthem….

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Public Service Announcement…

I know we have bigger things on our mind just now but I wanted to slip this out in the meantime. I didn’t want to do it during the election. Regular readers (and members of the Bateman Blog Cult) will know that I haven’t written about the BBC for some time. I have stopped doing so for personal reasons.

There is a strand of reaction out there that I find insulting and, however thick-skinned I may be, also hurtful and tedious. To be clear, I have no objection to anyone disagreeing with me…that’s the essence of the exchange – blog and react. Nor do I worry about political opponents taking cheap shots – that’s expected.

What gets to me is people on my own side refusing to allow me my own opinion and insisting I adopt theirs.

I’ve grown tired of self-appointed thought police telling me that ‘I must know what the BBC are doing’…sick of the ‘Come off it, when are you going to admit there’s deliberate bias’…or ‘How can you expect to be taken seriously (when you don’t agree with me)’

Here’s an actual example. Until you accept that it was your old pals at the bbc who decided the result of this election then there is no hope for you. Defend them all you like but they truly are the concentration camp guards who claim that they were just doing their job. Plantation quay needs to be destroyed.  How, I care not. Starved of funds or burned to a crisp, either is fine.’

Even when I don’t mention the BBC, the same thing happens gratuitously. ‘Is Derek still insisting this just poor management…’ (Scoff)

I can’t endlessly defend myself against ill-informed comment. On Twitter I was accused of being a Fifth Columnist, as in a secret agent posing as a Nationalist. It’s clear that partial information has led some to think I’m a cheerleader when long-term readers remember I actually resigned from Pacific Quay so I could campaign for independence. I did accept a deal to go but I still took a significant income hit at the time. I was the first, and I think still am, the only insider who went public with very precise detailed, and named, evidence of what I saw going on. That was no mean feat for someone with over 20 years in the BBC. I haven’t darkened the door since. When Professor John Robertson had his spat with the BBC management over bias in the news, it was me who publicised it.

I have been a consistent critic of the BBC and even laid out a detailed management plan of how they should have handled the referendum and what was needed to turn things round. My view hasn’t changed. I am often left open mouthed at the output when I do hear it such is its quality, although I don’t consume it very much any more. I don’t actually blame any outsider for believing there is willful bias and indeed I know very sensible people who believe just that. It is their right. But I won’t be railroaded into believing it myself and then insulted for sticking to my guns by people who’ve never crossed the threshold of Pacific Quay.

I just don’t believe the BBC organises and controls its journalism deliberately to damage Yes and the SNP. I say that because I was there and would have known. It takes a special kind of behavior to get someone to deny what they know to be true (or untrue).

Whatever your view – and I admit mine is that much of the current affairs output is rank – the demonization of individuals is unworthy of the movement. At Newsnet we received an article accusing a named journalist of blatant anti-SNP bias in a programme. It was such that we declined to publish, leading to a fractured relationship with the author, a well-known BBC conspiracy advocate. Months later that same journalist was working in Nicola Sturgeon’s office as a special adviser where he remains to this day. Some bias…

It’s begun to feel like Lilliputian fascism…little voices constantly demanding that everyone must think the way they do otherwise they’re traitors. This straightjacket orthodoxy kills goodwill and stunts critical thinking. We don’t all have to agree all the time and we must stop when we try to coerce others. Blogs are all about opinions and I’m entitled to mine, however nuanced it is and however it contradicts those of others.

Since I don’t mention the BBC, I’d appreciate it if others didn’t distort my views and display disrespect. Messages from those who demand I ‘own up’ to being wrong about the BBC and accept their version of reality won’t appear here and I’ll block tweeters doing likewise.

Like many on our side, I don’t need to do this blogging business. If we imagine the election result was disappointing, ask what it would feel like if there were no free blogs to turn to? I want your arguments and disagreements but more than that I want your respect.

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Everybody else is chipping in with their I-Know-Where-the-SNP-Went-Wrong opinions. So here’s mine. (Isn’t it amazing to discover how many experts there are out there AFTER the event.)

It was, we are told, wrong, wrong, wrong to offer a referendum on Scotland after the Brexit deal. Really? I don’t remember anyone but the Tories picking that up – presumably from focus groups. Then of course we hear it’s all the fault of Sturgeon having her husband as party chief – a job he held when they got together as far as I know – and which made not a jot of difference in all the preceding election victories.

Like all mass operations, election results are a volcano spewing out clouds of barely discernible material that can only be identified once cooled and hardened over time.

You can certainly argue the referendum issue was key but what is truly indisputable is that this was an anti-SNP spasm. Note: It was not an SNP Loss. That is fake news and a five-year-old can see it’s numerical nonsense. But there is a distinction to be made between losing an election and losing momentum. Momentum is as important as winning/losing in politics. But not in government – hence we see both SNP and Conservatives winning numerically and forming governments (at time of writing) but still losing momentum. It is the oil in the political engine. Without it, the turbines slow and the motor seizes.

For myself I go back to what I was feeling and thinking during the election rather than being smart after the event – a speciality of mainstream writers who fasten on to the zeitgeist in the blink of an eye and please don’t remember what they wrote a month ago.

I became concerned and confused by the SNP election strategy because it was hard to discern what it was. I couldn’t write that it was wrong because there was nothing palpably off-key. But there was nothing to enthuse either. It was a content-free zone relying on the same mantra as two years ago at the last election – a Stronger Voice for Scotland. Did, I wondered, the SNP have its own secret polling indicating that this would work? As a supporter I’m reluctant to raise serous doubts mid-election, not because a Bateman Blog will change public opinion! Rather because it feels like undermining the effort.

I convinced myself that the opinion polls privately confirmed that the anti-referendum feeling wasn’t running strongly enough to make a difference except in a handful of seats and all that was needed was stoicism. Further, a late Corbyn swing was most likely to damage those Tory votes moving against the SNP. I was wrong.

I’m astonished to find the party had little idea it was heading for a crash landing until it was too late. Yet the movement of voters across the North East and the Borders was, it turned out, on a scale that should have set off klaxons much sooner. Was canvassing good enough? Was it accurate? Were the findings relayed to HQ? And were the decision-makers at the centre good enough at their job?

I don’t doubt for a moment that the real problem here was simply timing – the election came too soon instead of playing out over Brexit when there is a greater chance that the grim implications of life outside the EU will compel a demand for a vote to leave the UK, at least to test the idea and give a choice between UK and EU.

May’s hubris knocked out the timing, rather like Iain Gray losing the 2011 election so badly he gave a majority to the SNP and hastened the referendum to a time that proved too early.

In the aftermath of that referendum I was interviewed by Phantom Power and was forthright that Yessers had to accept the outcome and live with it. This prompted an outspoken response accusing me of giving up on independence etc. I will never do that but I am also a democrat and if the Scots vote against me, I’m duty bound to accept it. Like (my very good friend) JK Rowling, I believed the establishment would get such a shock from the closeness of the vote and, subsequently from the amazing 2015 election result, that something akin to federalism had to be the answer. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. Not only did we get but crumbs from the table in terms of powers but they devised a fiscal trap by giving income tax rates but not no other balancing taxation levers. They built-in a fiscal time bomb to make us fail. The cynicism of that in the circumstances is shocking and displays contempt both for democracy and the Scots. (Which is one reason I say Mundell is nothing but a Westminster agent rather than a Scottish champion).

The mistake of some was to appear to ignore the result of 2014 and continue as if it never happened. I agree you don’t give up on your principles and objectives after a setback but you have to find the grace and guile to change the language and point of attack. The SNP leadership seemed to get this until the breathtaking gaffe of Cameron in asking Brits to endorse immigration (effectively) in an EU referendum. It doesn’t matter that a second indyref was party policy in the event of a British No and a Scottish Yes, the mistake lay in assuming the wider country would agree to go through another vote because, if you like, the SNP said so. They seemed to be blind to the significant numbers of Yessers who were still anti-EU. When it comes to it, I imagine many of them would vote for independence for Scotland with the EU over staying in the Union outwith the EU but we are steps away from that position and it’s not a answer they want to give right now.

So what could they have done? Well, not pounced on the EU outcome like an osprey on trout. The trick is always to take opinion with you. As I’ve argued before, one of the prime talents of the SNP, certainly under Salmond, was to stay in step by talking up a subject and waiting for the public to catch up once they’d contemplate it. There were over the years many voices urging ‘radical’ solutions – just as there are now, but the leadership understood the nationalist heartlands. Having spent the last 30 years in the north east, Salmond had a firm understanding of more conservative, non-radical voters and what they would tolerate. Regular readers will remember I’ve often written about this phenomenon that too many inside the Central Beltway have never experienced – the cautious traditionalists who could be wooed by a well-run Scottish government if Westminster had lost its appeal but who would unlock the gun safe if they heard danger in the form of a radical idea approaching. Salmond, Robertson and Whiteford all managed this conundrum with craft and Salmond remains a figure of gravity across all sectors in the north east. I’m far from convinced Sturgeon, or any of her immediate cohort have the gifts required to reflect that ability.

The question is: Did she consult wily old Alex before coming out for the referendum so forcibly? I have no doubt he agrees that this is an opportunity not to be missed but would he have urged caution? Why not remind people it has always been an SNP plan then resist the temptation to push it, waiting instead for public opinion to come into line, or otherwise? Political opportunism does not attract the public – one key reason May failed in Westminster and why so many people were thrilled for Corbyn. She was exploiting the numbers and assuming they would back her, taking for granted their votes. Sturgeon looked to do the same. She was saying: Look! My prediction comes true so I’ll threaten a second vote and you’ll back me. She took them for granted.

We’re all a bit weary of voting and maybe Nicola is too. I’m afraid you can’t just stomp the country waving without a new message. If your opponent has a simple, one strand message, you need a riposte. She had none. So that looked complacent. But where were the rest of the talent pool? We saw Angus Robertson but where were the wide range of SNP characters to display the breadth of coverage the party represents in local, Holyrood, Westminster and Brussels arenas? I know they were fighting their seats but I didn’t see Eilidh Whiteford appear, or financial and economic experts Ian Blackford, Geoge Kerevan or Roger Mullin. Did Tommy Sheppard get an outing?

Even her own Holyrood team lack presence. Do you know what brief Angela Constance holds? When did you last see Shona Robison? One the best of the crop is Jeanne Freeman, again not exactly being muscled to the front of the studio queue.

I wrote recently about the dire state of SNP communications, once the flashing glitter ball hypnotising the whole media. It has stopped spinning and somebody’s switched off the lights as a long run of initiatives has spun out of control, perhaps the worst being Named Person laws which burst in the tabloids with virtually no public awareness of its existence or its intentions. It was immediately demonised and all the hard work was needed to extricate it from the lies. Good PR avoids that.

So you see, it may be that the election was the culmination of many issues which were triggered by indyref2.

But I struggle to agree that the thing to do is panic and run in the opposite direction shouting No referendum! That’s what Labour does. You don’t like this policy, I have others. I’m against Corbyn, except for this week when I support him. I will support a referendum until I decide I won’t.

The tactical mistake has been made, let’s not compound it. For a start, taking it off the table will alienate nationalists, rightly or wrongly. It would be a grievous error to compound the problem by disappointing core support. It won’t stop Davidson, as James Kelly points out, who’ll still complain there’s a secret plan for a referendum. It’s party policy, Holyrood voted for it and it’s twice been endorsed in elections, including this one.

You don’t dance to someone else’s tune and call yourself a leader. We don’t need another Kezia.

However, the mood is against, clearly. The chances of winning look remote. Right now. But isn’t that what we said of Corbyn? Of Brexit? Again the timing is key. We haven’t started the Brexit talks yet. Maybe the tone will change and the objectives soften to allow a customs union or market membership. But I doubt it. May’s new friends are hardliners against Europe and even Labour says we must come out of the Single Market – a grievous error when it could be corrected in the aftermath of the election.

The whole point of the referendum was not to hold a vote now but to await the Brexit deal and give Scots the choice. That isn’t scary, it’s logical and if the London government handles the talks as well as it’s handled the last two years, it could result in a mess even doubtful Scots want to escape.

It is perverse to deny yourself an option when you don’t know the deal. For the SNP it would be farcical to deny its own policy and remove the means to achieving it because of a setback. The first question that would be asked is: What are you for? If you deny Scots the chance to decide their own future over as crucial an issue as the EU, what’s the point of you? As countless voices in England are saying, this is a matter of national interest. Our economic wellbeing, if not the security of the nation, is in doubt. Only anti-European zealots claim there will be an improvement in our condition. Indeed they spend their time devising ways in which we can achieve what we have now by other means.

Scotland has suffered enough from the Union – are we now to follow meekly into reduced circumstances, adrift from our European heritage, locked into decline despite our clear EU vote, removed by a hard right failed government whose strings are pulled by Orange bigots?

What message does it send to those we look to in Brussels for rescue that we distance ourselves from the only means of rejoining the EU? They will wash their hands of us as a distinctive entity opposed to England’s perfidy and seeking to build a bridge to Brussels.

(I laughed at the characterisation of anyone saying this kind of thing as hardliners. I suppose if you drop a plan that is policy, approved by parliament, endorsed in two elections and which is a logical democratic response to an impending national emergency, that you are by comparison weak and ready to run at the first sign of trouble. Therefore everyone else is, by that standard, hardline.)

And yet…there is a right enough problem here. Along with internal improvements in management and organisation there will have to found a way of not scaring the horses. Nicola will be obliged to ‘listen to the people’ and shelve the referendum one way or another…because, as they say, that is politics. At times like this national interest shrinks in the glare of party interest and they smile tightly in the face of headlines saying they’re on the run from Ruthie.

That’s how it will be, no doubt.

We need to face a reality, I think. There is a sizeable constituency of Scots who are as politically promiscuous as they are conservative. The drop in SNP voters turning out is a sign of apathy generated by the campaign but the jump in numbers for Unionism shows how readily people can switch between apparently opposing parties when it suits them. It’s worth pondering that those celebrating Tories will still enjoy the fruits of SNP Scotland like free tuition, prescriptions and school buildings while deserting them for a party which would demolish them. They can console themselves that this was a vote against a referendum but it was also a vote FOR removing child benefits from mothers who were raped, unless they can prove it to a civil servant, a vote for punishing the disabled by literally making cripples crawl, consigning a million more children to a life in poverty, keeping the NHS in demoralising crisis, maintaining the lowest wage growth in Europe and demonising essential immigrants. And nuclear weapons or course, and an underfunded defence. And fox hunting. Ironically, they also back a governments that has overseen the shrinkage of the oil sector. And, of course, getting into bed with those other Unionists, the DUP. I hope they enjoy it.

Because some of us think this may be a time to watch events unfold including the exposure of talentless new MPs selected from what has become a severely restricted gene pool. It’s hard not to shake your head at Scots so afraid of their own future they vote for a hard right government just as England turns against them, in an unnecessary election caused by the grave misjudgement of the previous Tory incumbent. No matter how much humiliation and failure the Tories accrue, you can rely on some Scots to stand up and applaud them. What would these people be like as helpers in a newly independent country…worrying thought, eh?

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