The Councillor, the Newspaper and the Critic

The Councillor, the Newspaper and the Critic

 

At the end of 2016, the Scotsman newspaper announced that, to mark its bicentenary, it would enlist 200 amateur contributors to write at periodic intervals short articles about anything that interested them. I sent in two sample essays, and on 17 January received word that I was to join the Scotsman 200 group. My first article, ‘Two Referendums are Enough’, appeared on 6 February. My message was that ‘Momentous change requires unequivocal endorsement’. That is, a simple 50% + 1 of the vote was insufficient endorsement for major constitutional change, such as Scottish separatism or withdrawal from the EU. I did include some disobliging comments about Scottish nationalists and the way they treat those who disagree with them. This elicited a barrage of insulting tweets. QED. Nothing new there.

 

My next essay appeared on 9 March. It was called ‘Education Requires Effort from the Learner’. There were no party political points in it, and I received no abuse as a result of its appearance. The same was true of my third article, published on 29 March, ‘Learning a Language – English’, which was about literacy, or the lack of it. My fourth essay, ‘On Being A Unionist’, published on 21 April, definitely was party political. I criticised nationalists for not appreciating the benefits of the UK, and SNP MPs for appearing on Russian media to disparage the UK. My contact at the Scotsman thanked me for ‘such a fine piece’, and said – after I had suggested I perhaps shouldn’t write too strong a piece for my next contribution to the Scotsman – having written an unforgiving piece about SNP lies for Think Scotland:

Don’t feel you have to reign [sic] things in too much! We like it when it’s controversial, it gets people engaged and sharing. You might get a few angry comments online but am fairly confident you’re more than a match for any keyboard warrior. I’d be rather         disappointed if you didn’t have a right good whack at stirring things up.’

I had already stirred things up with some letters published in the Scotsman (and elsewhere) which criticised the SNP.

 

Things, however, changed at the Scotsman, including the editorship. I knew that Councillor Mhairi Hunter (Glasgow), who is, I believe, Nicola Sturgeon’s constituency office manager, had written to the Scotsman after my first essay to complain about me. How did I know that? She boasted about doing so on Twitter. This is a typical SNP MO. If anyone writes displeasing things about the SNP, you can be sure that a nationalist or several will write to your employer or other interested party in the hope of having you disciplined or sacked. I know of a current case of someone whose employer has been contacted by nationalist Twitter users because s/he opposes the SNP. It must have been a great disappointment to nationalists who had written to my former employer (as some told me they had) when they discovered that I am retired. No wonder so many people disguise their identity on social media, especially if they are in a branch of public service.

 

After my fourth essay for the Scotsman, and the second to contain criticism of the SNP, Councillor Mhairi Hunter tweeted ‘Btw it was someone at the Scotsman who advised me to email the editor with my concerns about Jill Stephenson rather than simply tweet them’. A week or so after that, the revolting nationalist blogger, ‘Wings over Scotland’, tweeted: ‘I gather from a well-placed source that we’ve seen the end of Batshit Jill as a Scotsman columnist….’ This creature – Stuart Campbell, who lives in the safety of Bath, England, but preaches Scottish nationalism – is, of course, a chum of Councillor Mhairi Hunter (and of almost half of all SNP MSPs and MPs).

 

I had received no word about any of this from the Scotsman, and so I wrote to my two contacts there asking a simple question: ‘Have you been told to stop publishing my output?’ A simple yes or no would have sufficed. But this was a question that neither of them could, or would, answer. I’d like to think they were embarrassed. I received one evasive reply, advising me to ask the deputy editor; otherwise, silence. So, I wrote to the deputy editor, giving background, as above, and asking the same question. He replied ‘I’ll look into it’. Several days later, the new Scotsman editor tweeted, somewhat grumpily, saying that I was not a Scotsman columnist and therefore could not cease to be one, that the Scotsman aimed to publish a variety of views, and that he had been approached by no member of the SNP election team. Aha! I did not mention ‘the SNP election team’. I specifically mentioned Councillor Mhairi Hunter. There was no denial of contact from her – or from other SNP supporters. ‘Nufab4’ tweeted: ‘I complained about it, can’t imagine I was the only one’.

 

A number of people – most of whom I do not know, but who share my sympathies – tweeted the Scotsman to ask if it was true that I was being barred and whether there had been SNP pressure on the newspaper to bar me. They were summarily blocked on Twitter by the Scotsman. But others were delighted. A tweeter called ‘Crocodile Dumfries’ tweeted: ‘Who cares what the reason is? I am just elated that the bigoted little git is now past-historywoman’ (quite clever – Historywoman being my Twitter name). Replying to Wings over Scotland, ‘Lord Hingmaymajig’ opined: ‘I imagine it will be billed as cybernats trying to silence her as opposed to people not wanting to listen to moronic bile’. Another Wings’ fan, ‘Marco Roberto’, added ‘has the old bag been canned woo hoo party time’.

 

The issue in all this was not whether my contributions to the Scotsman were to be discontinued or not. I have no inalienable right to be published in the Scotsman or any other newspaper. The issue was and remains that a politician, and one very close to the First Minister, sought to put pressure on a prominent newspaper to cease to publish a contributor who criticised that politician’s party, MSPs and MPs. It appears that even Mhairi Hunter eventually realised that this was not a good look for a politician. There appeared on Twitter on 6 May a tweet from ‘Leya’, of no identifiable identity, saying: ‘For anyone claiming tht [sic] Mhairi Hunter is responsible for Jill Stephenson no longer featuring in the Scotsman… it just isn’t true’. According to this account, Councillor Mhairi Hunter had not received a reply to her complaint about me from the Scotsman, but when she (Leya) wrote to complain about me, ‘I promptly received a response from them, letting me know that they were looking into the circumstances of Jill’s contributions’. So Councillor Hunter did not receive a reply, but some random punter received a prompt and detailed response, including: ‘As Prof Stephenson has now featured in [Scotsman 200] twice, she will not be appearing again’. ‘Leya’ was able to produce what she claimed was the reply from the Scotsman. It had been sent from an 02 mobile phone and, apart from the name ‘Euan’, had no details about the person sending it and no mention of the Scotsman. Is that how the Scotsman’s editor conducts correspondence?

 

Like Councillor Hunter, ‘Euan’ was of the view that I had appeared twice in the Scotsman. As mentioned above, however, I had in fact featured in it four times, as any editor at the Scotsman would have known. But only two of my articles were noticed by Wings over Scotland – who, of course, passed them on to Councillor Hunter. These were the two that were critical of the SNP. So where does that leave us?

1) An SNP councillor close to Nicola Sturgeon tried, by her own admission, to influence a newspaper’s choice of contributors, on the basis of two out of four of a particular contributor’s articles. These two just happened to be ones criticising that councillor’s political party and certain members of it;

2) when that councillor realised that that was likely to show her up in a bad light, someone else (friend? party member? councillor herself?) tweeted a cock and bull story about that someone else having tried to influence a newspaper. The newspaper which had not responded to the councillor responded ‘promptly’ to the someone else (allegedly);

3) according to that someone else, her protestations about my article of 21 April had succeeded in having my contributions stopped. That is, a private individual (allegedly) had been able to influence the Scotsman’s choice of contributor on the basis of a politically-motivated complaint;

4) the Scotsman had (allegedly) informed this someone else of their decision but had not informed the contributor;

5) one of the first people to hear of this was Wings over Scotland, who heard of it from a ‘well-placed source’: Councillor Mhairi Hunter, I presume.

 

Many of us are aware of the bully-boy tactics used by the SNP to get their way. The use of these during the referendum campaign against the former Principal of St Andrews University was revealed only after an FOI request. The use of them against the journalist, Stephen Daisley, was a more public affair, because he was able to make it so. That’s apart from the boycotts of firms who came out against separation from the UK and the low-level thuggery experienced during the referendum and 2015 general election campaigns – the stalking, filming and harassing of former Labour MP Margaret Curran by SNP activists was particularly vile. There have been instances of SNP thuggery during the current general election campaign, usually against Conservatives – in Cowie, for example. The perpetrators are so proud of what they do that they video it and post it on social media. Who knows how many people have been silenced or driven to change their behaviour for political reasons by the ruling party in Scotland? Is this really the kind of Scotland we want?

 

 

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The Grand Old Duke of York and SNP Lies

Nicola Sturgeon is preparing legislation for another referendum on separating Scotland from the rest of the UK. She will, of course, require permission from the UK government to implement it. Nationalists will hate that, but it is the law. Ms Sturgeon is now assembling her troops at the foot of the hill. Some of these followers are becoming excited by the prospect of another campaign and another vote. If all Ms Sturgeon does is to follow the example of the Grand Old Duke of York, who marched his troops to the top of the hill and marched them down again, she will find that a substantial section of her supporters is, at the very least, restless. Ms Sturgeon is caught in a bind: her party is not much interested in government. It is a campaigning party with one aim: the break up of the UK. Anything else is as incidental as it is inconsequential.

 

The SNP has developed a formidable campaigning machine, using agit prop tactics familiar to those involved in far left campaigning. The Bolsheviks used these tactics, exploiting the medium of the poster to great effect. With 87% of the Russian population illiterate at the time of the October Revolution in 1917, the vivid and expressive poster with a brief slogan was a major weapon in the Bolsheviks’ propaganda armoury. The SNP uses a similar modus operandi, although there tend to be more words on their posters. Of this more anon.

 

For Sturgeon, the question of a second referendum poses an existential problem. Of course she wants to hold one – contrary to what she said during the previous referendum campaign – not least because her entire adult life has been consumed by this cause. But the experience of recent years has made her cautious. The sheer fact of the loss in 2014 is one reason. Another loss would consign the referendum question to the dustbin, where it should already be languishing after the 2014 vote. More personally, the fact that Alex Salmond resigned early on the morrow after the vote, just as David Cameron resigned early on the morrow of the EU vote, poses a serious warning. If she holds another referendum and loses, she will be expected to resign, toute suite. Bringing an end to her career is the thing Nicola Sturgeon fears most of all.

 

The tension between Sturgeon’s caution and her simultaneous need to keep the SNP masses on the boil is becoming acute. This is why the SNP continues to lie comprehensively about the area that was its Achilles heel in 2014: finance and the economy. The GERS figures are accepted (by some but by no means all SNP supporters), if grudgingly. They present a clear case for remaining in the UK. So the SNP has to lie about Scotland being ‘bled dry’ by Westminster, even while the GERS figures demonstrate that Westminster actually cushions Scots against the hardships their economic performance, were they on their own, would entail.

 

It is because the SNP is getting somewhat desperate, knowing that the support for separation is not there and that another referendum on it would go the way of the first, that some of its followers, and even representatives, have revived the spurious list of ‘English’ assets paid for by Scots. The most asinine of these is the refurbishment of the London sewers. Scots are said to be paying several billion pounds for that. The truth of the matter is that Thames Water (a private company) is raising the money for the project from its own customers. That should be enough to stop this downright lie from being propagated, but just watch – it’s coming to a leaflet or billboard near you. The same is said about HS2 (for which Scots pay a 2% share based on assessed benefit) and Crossrail, for which Scots do not pay – they are compensated through the Barnett formula. Further it is alleged that Scots paid a population share of the London Olympics. This is another lie: Scots did not pay for the London Olympics.

 

Another thoroughly dishonest claim by separatists is that the GERS figures don’t show the full value of Scottish exports because those exported through an English port are classed as ‘English’ exports. This is, quite simply, a black lie. The earnings are attributed to Scotland. The further trick with exports is to claim that when exports (especially whisky) pass through English ports the ‘export duty’ collected is claimed by the Treasury, thus depriving Scotland of valuable revenue. Now, listen very carefully: I shall say this only once. THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS EXPORT DUTY. That means that there is not ‘whisky export duty’. That means that the English are not depriving us of revenue from ‘export duty’. Because – and I will say it a second time – there is no such thing as ‘export duty’. As Fraser Whyte (who knows a lot more about this than I do) says at https://whytepaper.wordpress.com/2015/08/25/meme-busting-whisky-and-the-non-existent-export-duty/: ‘It is an illusion created by nationalists to manufacture an unwarranted grievance in an effort to dupe voters into saying Yes (or voting SNP)’.

 

Yet only at the weekend Sandra White, an SNP MP, was circulating rubbish of this kind. Those who were canvassed intensively by the SNP before the 2014 referendum now believe these lies as ‘facts’. They are evidence-proofed by the lies the SNP told them and cannot now be swayed. This is particularly because the SNP and its close ally, the Wings over Scotland blog, have further ensured that their supporters will read and believe only output from sources approved by the SNP/Wings (aka Stuart Campbell). If there are any nationalists who still have an open mind, I recommend to them the following factually-based and factually-accurate blogs:

https://whytepaper.wordpress.com Fraser Whyte’s ‘The Whyte Paper’

http://chokkablog.blogspot.co.uk/ Kevin Hague’s ‘Chokkablog’

http://rwbblog.blogspot.co.uk/#! Neil Lovatt’s ‘The Red, White and Blue Blog’

 

For those who doubt the legitimacy of the GERS, here is an article by an economist with a track record of support for independence: https://www.commonspace.scot/articles/9162/margaret-cuthbert-what-gers-and-brexit-reports-tell-us-about-scotlands-economy

Finally, an illustration of how supporters of separation simply make things up, in their quest to discredit the union. The claim in the black panel is nonsense.https://pbs.twimg.com/media/Cq9p8e2WcAA9Xes.jpg:large

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Marches and Referendums

Marches and Referendums

So there was a ‘march’ in Glasgow on Saturday? A few thousand people turned up for what SNP leaders would doubtless call a ‘joyous’ demonstration of democracy. One SNP member, Alison Dickie, the failed SNP candidate in Edinburgh Central in May 2016, tweeted a picture of a mass of defaced saltires with the legend ‘Democracy speaks’. This was at the end of the week in which the intrepid ‘indycampers’ at Holyrood had finally, after farcically long-drawn-out proceedings, been given notice to quit by a judge. Whether the smaller imitation of that camp, in Glasgow’s George Square, remains, I cannot say. It was a project conceived by the utterly risible ‘Scottish Resistance’, they of the 3-person demonstration outside the Tunnock’s factory last year. Their leader, James Scott, had earlier endeavoured to court notoriety by trying to have David Cameron arrested for breaching the Kellogg-Briand Pact of 1928 (don’t ask). It is probably still possible to view on Youtube the critical moment when Scott entered a police station saying ‘I’ve come to report a crime…. An international war crime’. Absolutely hilarious.

 

The ‘march’, which looked more like a rally, on Saturday was ‘for independence’. Now, as things stand, the ‘independence’ question has been settled, in the ‘once in a generation/lifetime’ referendum in September 2014. Following that, a new Scotland bill was enacted with unusual parliamentary speed, and various new functions were devolved to the Scottish parliament. It is no surprise that this did not assuage the appetite of the SNP and its followers. It did not need the Brexit result to trigger a new push for another referendum: the indycampers were ensconced at Holyrood long before that (from November 2015). Now some candidates for the deputy leadership of the SNP, following Stewart Hosie’s disgrace, are trying to garner support for their cause by whipping up referendum fever, even though Nicola Sturgeon has been reluctant to give a firm commitment about holding another poll. She knows that both Salmond and Cameron lost referendums, after which, in both cases, they immediately resigned as leaders of their countries. Ms Sturgeon has no plans to end her career yet or in the near future, and she is understandably reluctant to risk it. At the same time, though, she needs to keep the mass of her followers on the boil. It’s quite a dilemma for her.

 

But, easy as it is to mock many aspects of the pro-independence campaigners, there is a serious side to this. Why do people march? To demonstrate their displeasure, certainly. They also do it to intimidate, as we have seen over the years in Northern Ireland and as we saw during the Scottish referendum. In this vein, there was a ‘march’ on referendum voting day. In Craigmillar, in Edinburgh – and perhaps elsewhere – there was a ‘march’ to the polling station. Now, why would one side of the debate be keen to round up voters and ‘march’ them collectively to the polling station? To impress on them (1) that they should vote, and (2) how they should vote. The flyer advertising the ‘march’ explained that ‘The Pied Piper of Niddrie invites all yes voters to take part in the march to the short walk to freedom’, and exhorted ‘Let’s all be Bravehearts!’. Not much neutrality or ambiguity about how people should vote. In a district, it would be easy enough to keep an account of who joined this ‘march’ and who did not. Woe betide those who did not. For the record, the electoral district of Edinburgh East, in which Craigmillar is situated, was the one district in Edinburgh that returned a (small) majority for separation in 2014.

 

Saturday’s ‘march’ was not quite like that. But those involved carried flags with ‘yes’ scrawled on them, of the kind that were ubiquitous during the referendum campaign. Pro-separation campaigners on social media refer to themselves as ‘yes’ voters, and SNP activists have plenty of ‘yes’ merchandise to sell. Alyn Smith, SNP MEP, one of the contenders for the SNP deputy leadership, ‘believes his party should consider including European Union membership in any referendum question on independence… [and that] “all options” on the wording of any future ballot proposition should be discussed’ (Sunday Herald, 31.7.16). Clearly, Mr Smith regards any future referendum as an internal party matter whose arrangements should be decided by the SNP. Whether this is the view of the SNP leadership is not clear.

 

Mr Smith, and anyone who thinks as he does, needs to be told in no uncertain terms that it is not up to one side of the argument to choose the question for any future referendum. In 2012, David Cameron made a terrible mistake in leaving the setting of conditions for the referendum to Alex Salmond. It allowed the SNP two long years in which to embed in broad sections of Scottish society its hatred of the union and its dishonest case for separating from the UK. Nevertheless, on the matter of the question, the Electoral Commission had the final say. The preferred SNP question was: ‘Do you agree that Scotland should be an independent country?’. Now, as any examiner knows, ‘Do you agree’ leads the respondent towards a particular answer and is not (or should not be) permissible. The Electoral Commission agreed, and the question was ‘Should Scotland be an independent country?’. We now know, however, that gifting one side a ‘yes’ answer gives it a substantial advantage – perhaps of the order of 7-9%. It was with that in mind that the Electoral Commission ruled that the question in the EU referendum should not have a ‘yes/no’ answer, but should be ‘Leave/Remain’.

 

I do not want another referendum (on any subject), and recent polling suggests that that is a majority view in Scotland. If in the end Ms Sturgeon bows to party pressure and holds a ‘second time in a generation’ vote, she and her party must not be permitted to gerrymander for their own advantage the conditions under which it is held.

 

 

Nationalists, Risk and Expert Opinion

I have been trying, with little success, to understand why the SNP appears to retain a strong following among voters. After all, it’s not as if it has shown much competence in government, especially in key areas such as health and education. We are told that the party will command a handsome majority in the Scottish parliament after the May elections – perhaps taking all of the constituency seats. After what happened in May 2015, anything is possible. Reeling in as many voters as possible is the aim, and this is why Nicola Sturgeon is being so coy about whether a new referendum will figure in her manifesto. Yes, I know it’s the SNP’s manifesto, but she has made it clear who will decide its contents. She needs to include the promise – however vague – of a new referendum in order to appease the masses who signed up for SNP membership after the lost referendum. They expect it, and Sturgeon will face more than disappointment if they are denied it. Resentment will grow.

 

Yet she also has to avoid frightening the horses. Convinced No voters are less likely to vote SNP in May if there is a risk of another referendum. And, as she knows, Sturgeon needs a fair number of No voters to vote SNP in order to secure an absolute majority. In any case, the last thing Sturgeon wants at present is a second referendum. Whatever she says in public, she knows – and John Swinney knows – that an ‘independent’ Scotland would be in financial difficulty from day one. Had there been a yes vote, day one would have been 24 March 2016: that is to say, Scotland would at this moment have been staring disaster in the face.

 

Recently, I have encountered separatists on Twitter who say that their problem in 2014 was that No voters ‘were not prepared to take the risk’ of leaving the UK. This is all of a piece with Alex Salmond’s modus operandi. He is not a details man. He painted in broad brush strokes and spoke in an upbeat manner about aspiration. He perhaps didn’t actually say ‘It’ll be all right on the night’ – although some of his associates said something similar – but that was the message. This is not surprising: Salmond is a gambler, he likes a flutter. It is not surprising that a gambler should bet the house on a risky prospectus. This may explain some voting behaviour to us: the age-group which most heavily voted yes was that of the 25-39 year olds, particularly males. By contrast with uncertain youngsters or prudent older voters – who had experience, no doubt sometimes of a bitter kind – for that younger age group, and particularly for young men, taking a risk was exciting rather than hair-raising.

 

So some yes voters actually admit that there would have been risks and uncertainty, but are sure that it ‘would have been worth it’. It’s a sort of ‘death or glory’ mentality: we could be better off ‘free’, they say, but we could be worse off – let’s see which it will be. The risks they would have been prepared to take include uncertainty about the currency and lender of last resort, about the economy and Scotland’s finances without the Barnett formula, about entry (and terms of entry) to the EU, and about the possibility of a refusal by the remaining UK (rUK) to share services and functions of the UK that even nationalist Scots like. No voters are derided for not being prepared to buy what was undoubtedly pie in the sky. This is, no doubt, why the idea of ‘prenegotiation’ has been floated – to persuade the UK government to negotiate a separation settlement before a second vote is held, so that the terms of separation are known in advance.

 

Some No voters, knowing that terms would not be advantageous to a separating Scotland, also think that prenegotiation would be a good idea – to show Scots how difficult separation would actually be. If anyone is in any doubt, they need look only at the negotiations currently under way for a ‘fiscal framework’. The UK is not the pushover that the SNP may have expected. The SNP’s idea of ‘no detriment’, as agreed in the Smith Report, is that Scotland should continue to receive from the UK monies to support it while having the right to raise its own taxes – a right it has hitherto seemed unwilling to exercise. The UK government, not unreasonably, is of the view that rUK taxpayers should not support Scotland disproportionately once the SRIT (Scottish rate of income tax) is being levied. Much was said during the referendum campaign about how, after a yes vote, Scotland and the rUK would negotiate a settlement amicably – as if a spurned partner could be expected to show good will. The lesson from the current negotiations is that, even without that cause of ill will, the UK drives a hard, but perfectly reasonable, bargain. There has, after all, to be ‘no detriment’ to English or Welsh, Northern Irish parts of the UK also.

 

Beyond that, there appear to be many opinionated nationalist supporters who adhere to the maxim that democracy means that ‘my ignorance is as good as your knowledge’ (Isaac Asimov, quoted in Tom Gallagher, Scotland Now: A Warning to the World, 2015). This aptly sums up attitudes on the yes side. I have just encountered a case of it on Twitter. I won’t embarrass the author by reproducing his tweet, but I can quote it: ‘CUT Nothing. Scots shud have their own Currency then everything is affordable.’ People who know so little about economics and finance that they believe fallacious ‘information’ put out by protagonists for the yes/SNP side who are not specialists in these fields have been persuaded to distrust genuine experts when they take a different view – as they mostly do.

 

No expert is to be trusted if s/he disagrees with the SNP or Wings over Scotland, a blogger whose area of expertise is computer gaming. Stuart Campbell, aka Wings, is treated as an ‘expert’ on all matters relevant to Scotland’s future, even though – by his own admission on radio recently – he is not an economist. It matters not that he is not an expert on economics: he cherishes and promotes the faith, and that is what counts for his band of acolytes. His followers include significant numbers of SNP MPs, MSPs and councillors.

 

The Scots in that camp show a clear tendency to put their hands over their ears and sing ‘la, la, la’ loudly when their faith is questioned. It is a sorry pass when what used to be a well-educated population, with a reputation for being canny, puts its trust in those who profess a faith and refuse to listen to (let alone consider the views of) people with genuine expertise who do not necessarily have a vested interest in the separation versus union issue, but who contradict the pronouncements of the leader of the faith. I offer a few examples of neutral experts (there are many more) whose analysis gives the lie to YeSNP claims:

1) David Folkerts-Landau of Deutsche Bank, ‘Scotland: Wrong Turn’: http://research.comms.db.com/docs/fxblog_scot12sep14.pdf

2) Paul Krugman (Nobel Laureate):

http://mobile.nytimes.com/2014/09/08/opinion/paul-krugman-scots-what-the-heck.html?referrer=&_r=0

3) George Magnus (economist and adviser to UBS, among others):

http://www.prospectmagazine.co.uk/blogs/george-magnus/the-snps-economic-case-is-draining-away-saudi-arabia-iran-middle-east-european-union-referendum

 

The SNP has played on the peculiar denial of what is reality – as explained in these links – by a substantial section of society, and continues to peddle untruths about ‘Scotland subsidising England’ and about ‘Scotland being better off on its own’. Its supporters post on social media absurd claims of this kind, and even some of its MPs claim that Scots pay for, for example, the refurbishing of London’s sewers. No amount of expert comment can stem the tide of untruths and misinformation. The old saw about a lie being half way around the world before the truth has got its boots on hold very true, with graphic claims appealing to the electorate before the sober truth can catch up with them. Until the vast majority of people have some kind of reality check – and there’s no sign of that at present – Scotland will remain in its current febrile state for as long as too many people refuse to accept the opinion of genuine experts and instead prefer to risk their future in a more than dubious project.

 

 

 

 

SNP Media Myths

I wrote this piece in June 2014. I don’t feel any need to alter what my clear impression was then. Indeed, until the last week or so, the media – with a few honourable exceptions – have done little to question the SNP on its core policies.

‘One of the major mysteries of the referendum campaign is why Nationalist claims and assumptions are allowed to go unchallenged. At least, they have not been seriously challenged; otherwise, there would not still be so many people who regurgitate SNP mythology – about currency union, about the economy, about Europe, about defence, and more. People on social media trot out the standard SNP line on these and other subjects as if they were gospel truth, and call Better Together liars who don’t have any facts. Yet, when I ask – as I have done a few times now – for cast-iron facts from that eminent work of reference, the White Paper, these normally vocal tweeters fall silent.

Part of the problem is that the UK media are afraid to appear anything other than strictly even-handed. Actually, that is not entirely true. The BBC, for one, has felt the need to privilege the ‘yes’ side on a number of occasions, for example giving the ‘yes’ speaker in a discussion the last word (Andy Myles v. Adam Tomkins, Fergus Ewing v. Caroline Flint, Murray Pittock v. Hugh Pennington, to name but three). Normally combative interviewers can give senior SNP members an easy ride – for example, Andrew Marr’s last interview with Alex Salmond. The shining exception to this is Andrew Neil, who is well-briefed and knows where the SNP are vulnerable. No wonder Salmond is reluctant to be interviewed by him again!

At the root of this is a general understanding that the two sides should be treated equally. This has been the case from the start of the campaign – ever since the date of the referendum was announced. Yet then, the No camp was well in the lead. Under normal political conditions, parties with a larger representation in parliament have more air time. This is carefully calibrated so that Lib Dems have a say, but not as often or for as long, as Conservatives or Labour spokespersons. If this principle had applied in the referendum, the No side would consistently have had more air time than the ‘yes’ camp. This is not what has happened.

I have found this irksome, partly because ‘yes’ people tend to have nothing of substance to say. They promise a ‘fairer’ Scotland (whatever that would be), and know so little of what a constitution is that they want to entrench in it matters that are party-political – for example, the abolition of nuclear weapons. At one time, ‘free education’ was to figure in a constitution. This is political illiteracy. Yet I have neither heard nor seen an interviewer take issue with this.

I have been driven to the conclusion that broadcasters and much press coverage is guided by an obsession with giving two sides of an argument equal weight, however flimsy one side is. We see this in the area of climate change, where no radio interview is complete without a climate change denier (usually Lord Lawson) having due weight and respect paid to his opinions. We sometimes hear it on radio when creationists are given equal air time with evolutionists. We hear it when homeopaths are treated with the same respect as medical scientists, with the NHS in some areas financing homeopathic ‘treatment’, as if it were efficacious. And now we find that the wilder claims of the SNP are given at least equal consideration with those of the UK government and Better Together.

In all these instances, the assumption is that it is simply a matter of opinion. But most intelligent people accept that climate change is a serious issue, that evolution is fact, that homeopathy is worthless. They are also aware that SNP claims that the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, the Shadow Chancellor, the chief civil servant at the Treasury and numerous economic experts are ‘bluffing, blustering and bullying’ are a smokescreen to disguise the ‘yes’ camp’s lack of a plan for the currency of a separate Scotland.

When the ‘yes’ camp lose, they will doubtless continue to complain about ‘MSM’ (mainstream media) being biased against them. They already point to ‘proof’ of this, chiefly in the form of a study carried out by someone at a west of Scotland university ‘who favours independence’. But ‘yes’ have STV and the Herald on Sunday on their side, so it isn’t a one-way street. And they have the arch-disseminators of disinformation: Wings over Scotland, Bella Caledonia, newsnet, Business for Scotland (who represent 0.5% of Scottish businesses). Their output – for example, claims that the NHS in Scotland will be privatised if we vote no – is rarely challenged by the ‘MSM’. It really is time the media as a whole examined in detail the myths and untruths propagated by these sites.’

What is the SNP for?

For a parliamentary democracy to function effectively, political parties need to accept the constitution. ‘Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition’ is the term used to describe the largest party not to have succeeded in forming a government. The ‘loyal’ part means loyalty not only to the monarch but also to the constitution by which all parties, and the monarch, too, are bound. It is not unusual for parties to emerge that do not accept the existing constitution. In Weimar Germany, after the First World War, for example, it was not only the Nazi and Communist parties that did not accept the existing (Weimar) constitution. The German Nationalist People’s Party, a conservative party that yearned for the days of the pre-1914 empire, demonstrated from time to time that it had little conception of the idea of a ‘loyal opposition’.

In Britain today, it is clear that the SNP is not a ‘loyal opposition’ (it is not, of course, the largest opposition party). Its primary aim – increasingly, it seems, its only aim – is to destroy the British state. Its MPs may have held their noses at the prospect of taking the oath to the queen-in-parliament, but most of them seem to have performed this, to them, distasteful ritual. They sit in the British parliament but wish to withdraw Scotland from the UK. Throughout the referendum campaign and before it, the SNP did not merely criticise the UK parliament, the UK government, London and, in some cases, the English; beyond that, it ran a campaign of vilification and hatred against these. How else can one explain the constant refrain on social media that No voters are ‘Westminster pedo [sic] protectors’? How else can one explain the constant reference to Westminster as ‘corrupt’? That the English are ‘oppressors’?

It appears to have eluded nationalists that the British state has furnished them with a broad variety of freedoms. We hear bleating about Scots not being ‘free’, being ‘captive’, in ‘slavery’, ‘exploited’. These terms are thrown around indiscriminately by people who do not have the intellectual resources to appreciate that they can badmouth the UK parliament, prime minister and sovereign without any fear of a knock on the door by the police. These people exercise a freedom of speech and association unknown in a great many countries in this world, yet they claim that they are not ‘free’. The way that Nicola Sturgeon – like Alex Salmond before her – talks deprecatingly and sometimes in insulting terms about the prime minister and the UK government is testimony to the fact that liberal democracy is alive and well in the UK: she can do so without fear of retribution. On the whole, UK politicians are too courteous to reply to Ms Sturgeon in kind. This gives her confidence that she is ‘winning’.

Winning is what life and politics are about for the SNP. You might think that, having won elections in Scotland and having formed the government of Scotland since 2007, the SNP leadership would conduct itself as a governing party that attended to serious matters within its competence. Yet it is devolved issues, such as health, education and the police, that are a source of widespread criticism because of the shortcomings in their governance. One has to suspect that many SNP supporters are not aware that these issues are devolved, and it is clear that the SNP is in no hurry to enlighten them. For it suits the SNP government to be able to blame ‘Westminster’ for anything that is amiss in Scotland. To this extent, the SNP continues to behave as if it were still in opposition.

Instead of concentrating on solving the problems of devolved areas in Scotland, the SNP government has preferred to ‘demand’ more and more ‘powers’ and to pretend that it has competence in areas that are not devolved. Thus, there is in the SNP government a cabinet secretary for ‘Culture, Europe and External Affairs’ (Fiona Hyslop); in her department there is also a minister, Humza Yousaf, for ‘Europe and International Development’. These cover reserved areas that are within the remit of the Foreign Office and DfID in London. They are explicitly not devolved areas. Thus appointing ministers responsible for these areas is grandstanding whose only point is to lay claim to areas that give the impression that Scotland is a separate country. It would be interesting to know how much of Scottish government money (our money) is spent on sustaining these vanity projects, with the offices, staff and travel that go with them. How many foodbanks – a constant separatist theme – would that have funded?

There is little – perhaps nothing – that the SNP government does that is not geared towards breaking up the UK. It is an entirely destructive force, and one that has still not acknowledged that the prospectus on which it based its claim to separate Scotland from the UK in 2014 was inadequate and dishonest. It cannot acknowledge that Scots’ standard of living would suffer, probably grievously, if its aim were achieved, because that would lose it support for its cause. Nevertheless, the admission that Full Fiscal Autonomy would take years to implement – unlike ‘independence’, which, the SNP claimed paradoxically, could have been achieved in eighteen months – led to a soft-pedalling of that objective.

The SNP knows that it can count on a reliable minority of followers who, like the party’s leaders, want separation at any price. It also knows that that minority is not greater than about 25% of the Scottish population, and is perhaps less than that. Persuading enough of the rest to achieve a majority proved to be an ambition too far in 2014, in spite of the dishonest campaign – denying that Scots would be worse off outside the union – that the SNP waged. Salmond talked of No voters being ‘deferred yes voters’, and online zealots talk of many No voters having said ‘not yet’ in 2014 – even though that was not an option on the ballot paper.

The SNP neglects governance in devolved areas while at the same time ‘demanding’ the devolution of still more. The UK parties have humoured it – some would say that they have appeased the SNP – and have at times tried to outbid the SNP by offering more concessions. This is the product of a failure to recognise that they cannot outbid the SNP, since no amount of devolution would ever satisfy it. Its raison d’être is, after all, complete separation from the UK – whatever tales it has told supporters about ‘independence’ not meaning separation (seriously, this is what many of them believe). What is clear is that governing is not the SNP’s main interest. It is not a governing party. The SNP is an agit prop campaigning party, staging rallies, marches, events – including, in rather sinister vein, events for ‘wee SNP kids’ – to stir the faithful and to keep their enthusiasm on the boil. This leads to the interesting question: if it ever achieved separation, what would the SNP do then? But I am not sufficiently interested in the answer to wish for that outcome.

for that outcome.

The Wonderful, Horrible Fantasy World of the SNP

The Wonderful, Horrible Fantasy World of the SNP.

 

It is now clear that the SNP has spread its messages of misinformation widely across the Scottish population and that in some areas they have become deeply embedded. No doubt this started well before the 2011 election and was what enabled the SNP to win 45% of the vote in it (on a 50% turnout). The excessively lengthy referendum period enabled the party, its acolytes and the many sympathetic publications, mostly on the web, that reinforced its messages to turn something approaching half of the Scottish population into automatons who reach with knee-jerk reaction for the response from the SNP crib sheet that fits the needs of the moment.

 

Thus they all ‘know’ that replacing Trident will cost Scotland £100bn, with the implication that that is £100bn of Scottish money per year. For a start, the £100bn figure is a UK figure. Secondly, it is the possible global figure over decades The figure I have most often seen quoted for Scotland per annum is £250m, but Salmond claimed in the Scotsman http://www.scotsman.com/news/scottish-independence-trident-costs-taxpayers-in-scotland-m-a-day-says-alex-salmond-1-2610802 that it would be £163m per year. Strange how that figure does not seem to have filtered through to the SNP faithful who spew out all sorts of inaccuracies and falsehoods on social media.

 

SNPers also ‘know’ that for decades Scotland has being paying more into the Treasury than it has taken out. During the referendum campaign, percentage figures were used to claim that Scotland paid in 9.6% of all receipts but received only 9.3% of spending. The fact that the actual figure for spending was appreciably higher than that for receipts was carefully shrouded in secrecy. It has been much the same recently, with the publication of the GERS figures for 2013-14 – the Scottish government’s own figures. Ms Sturgeon was quick to point out that Scots paid in £400 more per head than the UK average. She failed to mention that Scots received £1,200 more per head in spending than the UK average. That is the kind of half-truth and falsehood on which the SNP trades. This is what it has used to convince the faithful of the rightness of its cause. And the faithful, buoyed up by ‘belief’ and ‘hope’, believe it all and regurgitate it at the slightest provocation.

 

They are incapable of believing that the SNP’s figures are wrong. Those of us who say so have got our information from Westminster, they say – and years of SNP bile have ensured that ‘Westminster’ is spat rather than said. They cannot comprehend that Full Fiscal Autonomy would mean Full Fiscal Austerity, as Sturgeon continues with the fiction that she could ‘end austerity’. She doesn’t tell us how that would be possible, beyond some vague claims about ‘growth’ and ‘levers of power’. Thus, when the SNP has complete control of the Scottish economy, it will institute a magic formula that only the SNP knows about. This will stimulate growth in Scotland to levels higher than anywhere else in the world, and twice the levels of growth in the high-growth UK. This must be a wonderful plan. The puzzle is that no-one in any other country seems to have thought of it. That, I suppose, is the brilliance of the SNP: they wear their brilliance lightly, giving a clear impression of economic illiteracy but promising far greater economic capability than the UK – and pretty much anyone else.

 

If you believe the SNP on the Scottish economy, you are truly deluded.

 

FFA would mean Scotland losing £7.6bn – a figure now disputed by Sturgeon and Swinney. It’s a figure from the respected think tank, the IFS, based on the Scottish government’s own figures, and not one that fully takes into account the more recent falls in the oil price. The price of FFA is the end of the Barnett formula, which has brought that extra £800 per head of spending to Scotland. Is there anyone who thinks we can afford to do that? Trade in Barnett for complete independence in financial affairs? Yes, by all means throw back the financial advantages that being in the union have brought. Invisible earnings from the City of London alone bring in billions – far more than North Sea oil – and these have been shared around the UK. That’s what we do in the UK: pool and share. But the economically illiterate tendency, which dominates the SNP and its followers, prefers that we inflict harsher than harsh austerity on ourselves by throwing off ‘Westminster’, because that is the prize for which they aim – regardless of the hardship that it would cause across Scotland.

 

This is a sorry comment on our education system. It has turned out hundreds of thousands who cannot count. When they are given fantasy figures by an unscrupulous political movement which has only one goal, they cannot tell that they are junk. And their belief is reinforced by an industry of bloggers who are the only approved reading for devout members of the SNP, including the risible 45. The number of times these people seek to support a claim they’ve made with reference to Wings over Scotland, Business for Scotland, Bella Caledonia, Newsnet or other SNP-contaminated mouthpieces is shocking. These propaganda outfits seek only to win over more to the cause, not to inform in any meaningful way. They propagate the same worthless dross as the SNP, and the faithful believe them, devoutly.

 

Happily, in the two Scottish debates, the Scottish leaders of pro-union parties were able to bring these issues into the public domain. Ms Sturgeon was found out on the £7.6bn black hole, but of course she has sufficient gall to ignore or deny it. Her grandstanding about ‘free’ university tuition had the shine taken off it by both Davidson and Murphy rightly pointing out that it had come at the cost of 140,000 Further Education College places. How many working-class people go to university? How many middle-class people go to FE college? The answer demonstrates that this is just one area where SNP policies subsidise the middle classes by exploiting those who are poorer. The SNP’s record of getting poorer young people into university is a disgrace, and contrasts unfavourably with the position in England, where – horror of horror – fees are charged.

 

Except that fees aren’t charged. No-one domiciled in the UK who attends a university that is not a private institution pays tuition fees up front. In England, fees are repaid after a graduate earns £21,000, and not before that. This is the kind of information that the SNP prefers to suppress. More suppressed information is that fees bring in good income for English universities, while the Scottish government controls what Scottish universities receive. The SNP government aims to control Scottish universities, planning a measure for June that would alter the governance of Scottish universities to make them more malleable to government influence. Wait for the attempt to set up a Scottish research council so that research interests in Scotland can be ‘aligned’ (Mike Russell’s word) with government priorities. That isn’t what I call research. Research derives from individual scholars’ inspiration and hard work, not from shoehorning research effort to fit some political priority.

 

It’s all part of an agenda of centralise and control. We’ve seen it with the (armed) police force, the Named Person imposition, intrusive questionnaires for school children, the attempt to set up a national database – the prelude to ID cards. The SNP’s whole MO is based on control: first control your party, and ban any kind of dissent; then channel your followers to trusted sources of approved dishonest misinformation; and then impose various controls on the population at large. It is not too much to say that the SNP is an authoritarian force. Please note that I have not said ‘totalitarian’, and that is a word I would not use for our circumstances. But ‘authoritarian’ is entirely appropriate for an outfit that distorts Scottish history, tries to impose control in large areas, and lies systematically to maintain its authority.

 

If this is what you want and what you think is beneficial for our country, no doubt you will vote for the SNP, like Gadarene swine. If you prefer a freer society, one based on freedom of speech and the free flow of information, one where the SNP’s many falsehoods are exposed, you will vote for the party best placed to stop the SNP.

 

Always remember: whichever election the SNP is fighting, they will take any vote for them as a vote for separation from the UK. Separation is the SNP’s only goal and sole priority. The SNP is not interested in what happens to Scotland after it separates from the UK. The fact of separation is what it was formed to achieve and what it is geared to achieving.

 

If you want separation, no doubt you will vote for the SNP. But be clear about this: if you do not want separation and you vote for the SNP, you are behaving in a contradictory way. If you vote SNP, you will be deemed by the SNP to support Scottish separation, whether that is mentioned in the manifesto or not. Some people I know made this mistake in 2011, voting SNP and then saying ‘Oh, but I didn’t want a referendum’. Vote SNP and you hasten not only Full Fiscal Austerity but also separation, the break up of the UK.