Saturday, August 19, 2017

Calamity Cable?

You may have heard that there's a new Britain-wide YouGov poll out showing a significant drop in Jeremy Corbyn's personal popularity.  For my money, though, the bigger revelation from the poll is that it suddenly looks like the Liberal Democrats have made a catastrophic mistake by electing Vince Cable as their new leader.  (In fairness they didn't have much choice, given that nobody else wanted the job, for a variety of implausible and pompous reasons.)  Cable's net rating is a dismal -27, which is exactly the same as Theresa May's.  Presumably that can be explained by his involvement in the Tory-led coalition between 2010 and 2015, but it's quite surprising that the passage of time hasn't succeeded in rehabilitating him.

Speaking for myself, I find it difficult to dislike Cable, and he's obviously a serious figure.  I reckoned it was probably in the Lib Dems' own best interests that Jo Swinson had allowed him to take the job (regardless of what her real reasons for doing so were), but it looks like I was wrong about that.  Swinson was in it up to her neck during the coalition period, but the public probably aren't as aware of her role as they are of Cable's.  She would have started with more of a clean slate, however undeservedly.

The Liberal Democrats' collective rating has slipped from -20 in the immediate aftermath of the general election to -33 now, and the obvious suspicion is that this has been caused by Tim Farron being replaced by Cable.  It's hard to see what else has changed for the worse in the intervening period.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

BMG subsample turns anxiety into despair for embattled Davidson

After a delay of a few days, the datasets for the new GB-wide BMG poll have finally appeared.  In spite of the Conservatives holding a narrow lead across Britain (unusual in polls since June 8th), we once again see the now-familiar sight of Colonel Davidson's Scottish Tories in third place in the Scottish subsample...

Labour 44%, SNP 27%, Conservatives 18%, Liberal Democrats 8%, Greens 2%

Obviously the sizeable Labour lead is a matter of some concern, but individual subsamples are often wildly unreliable, and it remains the case that the SNP have held the lead in the slight majority of the fifteen subsamples published since the election.  The SNP have been ahead in eight, Labour in six, and the Tories in one.  The SNP have also been ahead of Labour in nine of the fifteen subsamples.

There isn't much doubt that the SNP remained competitive, and probably held the lead, in the immediate aftermath of the election.  The question now is whether that remains the case, or whether Labour's position has quietly strengthened during the second half of summer, which has seen very little polling of any sort.

So what *is* a mid-spectrum blogger?

The world hasn't seen a debate as fierce as this since the fateful day Donald Trump first uttered the word "covfefe".  Up and down the land, co-workers have been arguing, marriages have become strained, children have been pleading with their baffled mothers, and it's all in search of the answer to one simple question: what exactly did Bella Caledonia mean when it tweeted this?

"Mind-numbingly bored of mid-spectrum bloggers spewing their p*** and bile into the public sphere."

Countless domesticated Cybernats begged Bella to be let in on the secret of what a "mid-spectrum blogger" actually is, and which particular mid-spectrum bloggers the tweet was referencing.  No explanation was forthcoming (although, let's face it, a number of us probably weren't going far wrong if we thought we felt our ears burning).  Having done a bit of historical research, I can reveal that this isn't even the first time that the mystery phrase has been given an outing.  Back in March 2015, Bella said the following in an editorial about women-only shortlists -

"I for one am getting bored by mid-spectrum male monotone bloggers who can only speak in the language of anger."

That doesn't actually shed any more light on the situation, because no clarification was provided in that article either.  However, it seems to confirm that Bella has a very well-developed notion of what a "mid-spectrum blogger" is, even if that isn't being shared with the rest of us.  In the absence of any hard facts, here's some speculation about the various possibilities...

1) Autism.  Bella might be suggesting that certain undesirable bloggers are either autistic or have characteristics that are comparable to autism.  Admittedly it seems highly unlikely that Bella would use quite such a tactless insult, especially not on two separate occasions, but the possibility can't be entirely ruled out, for the obvious reason that the word "spectrum" is most commonly used in relation to autism.  People with Asperger's Syndrome and the like are regarded as having "high-functioning autism", those who are severely autistic are regarded as having "low-functioning autism", and those in between are "mid-spectrum".

2) Liberal Democrats.  Bella could be complaining about bloggers who are in the middle of the political spectrum.  Again, that seems a bit of a stretch, but from a RISE perspective "centre-left" may well seem like a downright catty barb.

3) Unexceptional talent.  The spectrum Bella is referring to could be that of ability, with the high-spectrum wordsmiths of Bella (a website I've written for twice, I hasten to add) being contrasted with the mid-spectrum oiks who lower the tone pretty much everywhere else.  But this theory fits in a bit too neatly with the deeply unfair perception of radical left writers as comprising an elitist "Byres Road Cappuccino commie set" that regards itself as intellectually and morally superior to the rest of the Yes movement, so for that reason I'm sure it can't possibly be correct.

4) ZX Spectrum users who prefer the middle of the keyboard.  (Self-explanatory.)

Feel free to chip in with any other suggestions.  We'll get to the bottom of this, no matter how long it takes.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Will "The Democrats" respect the Scottish democratic process?

James Chapman, the former political editor of the Daily Mail, seems to think he's the British Emmanuel Macron.  That's questionable enough, but in fact he thinks he's more than a Macron, because apparently his new political party "The Democrats" is going to save us all from the historic error of Brexit.  Well, good luck with that one.

Bizarrely he's already announcing firm policies for this as-yet-unfounded party (no internal democracy for The Democrats, it seems) and one of them is that referendums will be completely forbidden in future -

"Referendums will be outlawed by #thedemocrats. We believe in parliamentary democracy"

This raises a couple of obvious questions as far as Scotland is concerned.  Firstly, what does it mean for devolution?  Legal opinion may be divided on whether the Scottish Parliament currently has the power to hold a consultative referendum on independence without Westminster's consent, but there's no doubt at all that it has the power to hold referendums on devolved matters.  Are The Democrats planning to follow in the Tories' footsteps by stripping the Scottish Parliament of some of its current powers?

Secondly, if this ban on referendums is indeed going to be arrogantly extended to Scotland, which parliament is James actually talking about when he uses the phrase "parliamentary democracy"?  With referendums no longer a possibility, the decision on whether Scotland should become an independent country would instead have to be taken by an elected parliament - and logically that parliament should be the Scottish Parliament.  That would of course make the path to independence somewhat simpler, because both of the last two Scottish Parliament elections have produced clear pro-independence majorities.  But if James is instead suggesting that Scotland's constitutional future should be entirely at the whim of a parliament in which only 9% of members are elected by Scotland, that would be rather tough to square with the concept of democratic self-determination.

If I was going to offer a small piece of advice, it would be to choose a completely different name for the party.  There is actually a precedent in Britain for a party called The Democrats, and it's not a happy one.  The merger in 1988 between the Liberals and non-Owenite Social Democrats initially produced a party called the Social and Liberal Democrats, but for everyday use that was shortened to The Democrats to avoid the "alphabet soup" of being referred to as the SLD while in competition with the SDP, the SNP and the SDLP.  The twelve months or so that the name was used proved to be a very dark spell, with the party slumping to just 6% of the vote in the 1989 European elections.

Pop Goes Global

Spotted this on Waverley Bridge when I was on my way to a Fringe show on Thursday night. I was going to sue, but then I remembered that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. ("Imitation" is not a pun about the Jan Ravens half of the picture, although I've just realised that it could be.)

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Greer makes a sectarian attack - will the self-appointed Civility Police intervene?


Above is the Green MSP Ross Greer, in a cosy chat with the notorious James McEnaney of RISE, using sectarian anti-Irish language to attack Jason Michael of Butterfly Rebellion (who is not Irish himself but lives in Dublin and has worked at the Glencree Centre for Peace and Reconciliation). This seems to be Greer's revenge for a number of strong (but entirely non-abusive) criticisms that Mr Michael has made of the radical left over the last couple of weeks.  The implication seems to be that Mr Michael is some kind of unhinged militant nationalist.

Mr Greer of course penned a Sunday Herald column at the weekend, which was objectively damaging to the Yes movement in that it contained an ageist comment which deeply upset older Yes activists, and was gleefully seized upon by an array of unionist politicians, up to and including Ruth Davidson herself.  In defence of Mr Greer, the editor of the Sunday Herald argued that "any damage done to the Yes movement is down to absurd conspiracy-theory trolls screaming traitor at folk who are the real stalwarts of Indy". Well, in the above screenshot, who exactly is it that best fits the description of a screaming, absurd conspiracy-theorist troll?  Isn't it Mr Greer himself?  It sure as hell isn't Mr Michael, who has been civil and measured throughout - as you can judge for yourself by reading an example of his writing HERE.

Having been on the opposite side of the debate to the likes of Mr Greer over the last couple of weeks, I can't have been alone in noticing how the radical left feel that their 'moral righteousness' gives them an exemption from the human decency that they demand of others.  I've been on the receiving end of sweary personal abuse from them that is every bit as nasty as the stuff that is supposed to make Stuart Campbell untouchable (engaging with him in any way is now a worse crime than holocaust denial, apparently).  In particular, I had an extraordinary conversation with someone a couple of nights ago in which she patiently explained to me why it was perfectly all right that she had repeatedly called me a "pr*ck" - her defence was basically that she thinks I am a "pr*ck".  The Green party council candidate who I caught 'liking' a tweet describing me as a "f***ing fool" essentially shrugged his shoulders and said "so what?"  (Can you imagine the outrage if an SNP candidate was caught 'liking' a tweet in which Stuart Campbell called someone a "f***ing fool"?  Yeah, exactly.)

It's ironic that Mr Greer made a reference to the Irish revolutionary period, because it seems to me that it's the radical left who are actually caught up in the warped logic of revolutionary zeal.  The designated 'enemies of the revolution' (ie. those who veer by even the tiniest fraction away from approved forms of discourse on identity politics) are effectively non-people, and anything at all can be done to them for the sake of the greater good.  It's hard to see any other way in which leading figures on the radical left can dehumanise others and chuck around abuse while still honestly believing themselves to be champions of civility and decency in political debate.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Westminster bubble yet to catch up with the Scottish Tories' slippage

James Forsyth had a very silly article in the Sun yesterday portraying Ruth Davidson as the kingmaker in any potential Tory leadership contest.  No-one would deny that Davidson is currently enjoying a spell of considerable popularity among the Tory grass-roots (especially south of the border, where the myth of a "Scottish Tory victory" has taken root), but the bottom line is that everyone knows she's on the Europhile wing of the party, and that if she backs Amber Rudd for leader it'll be obvious she's doing it for Europhile reasons.  Anti-European Tory members will listen carefully to what Davidson has to say, and then think "no, actually, we need a Brexiteer in there".

There are also a couple of side-remarks in Forsyth's article that had me scratching my head.  He claims that Jeremy Corbyn would now be Prime Minister if it hadn't been for the Tories' mini-revival in Scotland.  As I pointed out in the immediate aftermath of the election, that simply isn't true.  We'd certainly be in a very different place if it hadn't been for the Scottish Tory gains, because the Tory-DUP deal wouldn't have been arithmetically viable, and as a result we'd be heading towards a second general election in the autumn.  However, there would currently be a Tory caretaker administration, not a Labour one.

And Forsyth notes that Davidson doesn't want 10 Downing Street for herself, because her "immediate aim is to be First Minister of Scotland, not PM".  OK, where to start with that one?  First of all, it can't be that much of an "immediate" aim, because she had a chance to stand for First Minister only last year, and declined to do so.  Incredibly, Willie Rennie stood but Davidson didn't.  There isn't another Scottish Parliament election due until May 2021 - almost four years away.  If she does have longer-term designs on a senior Cabinet position at Westminster, she may have to start planning her escape from Holyrood sooner than that.  Her moment in the sun won't last forever.

But let's assume Davidson is still committed to Holyrood in 2021.  How exactly does she become First Minister?  There are only two realistic ways it could happen -

a) The Tories become the largest single party in the Scottish Parliament and form a minority government with the help of Labour and Lib Dem abstentions.

b) The Tories finish second in the election, but form a government after at least one other unionist party backs Davidson in the First Minister vote.

We can pretty much rule out option b) straight away.  Yes, we all know Labour and the Tories are close allies in Scotland, but their cooperation has largely been of the deniable variety.  The moment you have Jackie Bird telling Reporting Scotland viewers that Labour actively voted for a Tory government, it'll be game over for Labour.  The problem may not be quite so stark for the Lib Dems, but I'm fairly confident they would also regard it as too much of a risk.

Which means the only way for Davidson to become FM is to 'win' the 2021 election - ie. for the Tories to become the largest single party.  Well, right now we're in the afterglow of the Scottish Tories' best election result since 1983 - and the limited available polling evidence suggests they've slipped back to third place.  How are things going to get any better than they are now?  Tired Westminster governments generally lose support, not gain it.  Perhaps Davidson's best hope would be for the Tory government to fall quickly, for Corbyn to become PM and then have time to fail...but there's no guarantee that turn of events wouldn't help the SNP more than the Tories.

Let's face it - Davidson is highly unlikely to ever become Scotland's political leader.  Kenny "Devo or Death" Farquharson got carried away with the thrilling motion of his pom-poms a few weeks ago and announced that Kezia Dugdale is the next First Minister.  He was getting way ahead of himself, but it's certainly fair to say that Dugdale as FM is now less implausible than Davidson as FM.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

SNP by-election fundraiser

Just thought I'd give a quick plug to a particularly important SNP campaign fundraiser.  There's a local government by-election taking place in early September in the Cardonald ward - and it's one of those STV paradoxes where Labour are defending the seat even though the SNP won the popular vote in the ward in May.  In theory it's a golden opportunity for the SNP to increase its representation on Glasgow City Council from 39 seats to 40, inching slightly closer to the magic number of 43 required for an absolute majority.  Unfortunately, however, the SNP only won the ward by a roughly 43% to 38% margin in May, and there's almost certainly been a swing to Labour since then (even if there's ongoing uncertainty over exactly how big that swing has been).  Labour probably ought to be regarded as the slight favourites for this contest, so the SNP's campaign on the ground will be all-important.

A relatively modest £1000 is being sought for the campaign - if you'd like to contribute, the fundraiser page can be found HERE.

There's also a by-election coming up in North Lanarkshire, which if anything is even more important, because it will decide whether the SNP remain the single largest party on the council.  If anyone spots a crowdfunder for that one, let me know and I'll post the details.

Friday, August 4, 2017

Lament for the Colonel as Scottish Tories remain in third place in YouGov subsample

There's been such a drought of polling recently that I was beginning to think we weren't going to get anything more until the end of the English school holidays.  However, a Britain-wide YouGov poll suddenly appeared today, suggesting that Labour's very narrow lead over the Tories has stabilised after falling from a peak of 8 points in early July.  The Scottish subsample continues to show the now familiar tight three-way battle: Labour 33%, SNP 29%, Conservatives 28%, Liberal Democrats 7%, Greens 2%, UKIP 2%.

The most significant thing about those figures is that the Tories are in third place, which has consistently been the case in all four post-election YouGov subsamples.  The lead has been switching back and forth between the SNP and Labour, so it's anyone's guess which of those two parties would be in first place if YouGov conducted a full-scale Scottish poll of Westminster voting intentions right now.  An average of the four subsamples produces an exact dead heat: SNP 32.3%, Labour 32.3%, Conservatives 26.3%, Liberal Democrats 6.0%.

On a more positive note, the SNP have had the lead in the majority of subsamples conducted across all firms.  There have been fourteen subsamples since the election, with the SNP ahead in eight, Labour in five, and the Tories in only one.  The SNP have been in either first or second place in all fourteen subsamples, whereas both Labour and the Tories have been in third place in some - underscoring the general impression that the SNP are the party most likely to have a small overall lead.

Fly on the Wings of love, fly baby fly

I was a bit wary when I started reading Robin McAlpine's reflections on the controversy of recent days, because I thought he might simplistically portray CommonSpace as the victim of the piece - an interpretation which I think is quite difficult to sustain, especially after the ugly descent into witch-hunt territory when the website's editor 'named and shamed' Mhairi Black MP for simply hitting the 'like' button on tweets that were supportive of Scotland's leading pro-independence blogger Stuart Campbell.  However, I'm relieved to say there's much more to Robin's article than that, and indeed it's an all-too-rare example of a column published on CommonSpace coming to Stuart's defence and pointing out the lack of perspective of those who constantly demonise him ("vendetta masquerading as virtue").

Basically Robin calls for "kindness not cruelty" towards both Wings and CommonSpace, which is a refreshingly ecumenical attitude.  But I think the deficiency of the article is that it doesn't really acknowledge that CommonSpace itself has failed that test in recent days, and therefore not all of the brickbats that have been thrown at the site are totally unreasonable.  Robin says that he can find nothing malicious in Angela Haggerty's Sunday Herald column about Stuart, and in terms of what she said directly that's true enough - but there was some fairly unsubtle innuendo in there.  She suggested that Stuart was making a mistake that was somehow equivalent to the one made by a well-known politician who was found guilty of perjury.  It's not terribly surprising that some of Stuart's supporters were angry enough to start thinking in the heat of the moment about whether CommonSpace was the sort of site they wanted to continue supporting financially.  Robin suggests there was a "campaign to de-fund" the site - based on what I saw that isn't really true.  Some people spontaneously announced they would be cancelling their subscriptions and there appeared to be a copycat effect.  The only hint I could see of a true 'campaign' was the Butterfly Rebellion explicitly urging people to unfollow the CommonSpace Twitter account en masse, which I thought was way over-the-top (and also very surprising, given that Butterfly Rebellion is an intelligent and quality website).

As far as Jordan Daly's infamous hatchet job on Wings is concerned, Robin's defence is that the column was not commissioned, but was submitted in the normal way and met the criteria for publication, and therefore there was no reason not to publish it.  That's fine as far as it goes, but I think it's a bit naive to imagine that an all-out attack on an important part of the independence movement can just be treated in the same way as any other article without there being negative consequences.  I think CommonSpace could have avoided much of what happened if they had taken the following steps -

1) The title of the column should have been softened.  Over the years I've written dozens of articles for other websites, but I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of times my own suggested title has been used without any alteration.  An editor (or editorial team) can reasonably be expected to take some responsibility for the title of a column, which in this case was needlessly provocative by calling on readers to send the most popular pro-independence site packing.

2) There should have been a very strong disclaimer on the webpage itself that the column reflected the views of the writer, and not the editorial stance of CommonSpace.  There seems to be a feeling that this sort of thing should just be taken as read, but again, I think that's naive.  CommonSpace is well-known to have a past history of publishing brutal attacks on Wings, and not much of a past history of publishing defences of Wings.  Not long before Jordan Daly's column appeared, the editor had tweeted views on the Wings controversy that seemed very much in line with Mr Daly's own perspective - and of course her Sunday Herald column was published not long afterwards.  If there appears to be no obvious distinction between a columnist's views and the editorial line, people are naturally going to conflate the two unless you very clearly and prominently explain what the difference actually is.

3) The column should have been accompanied with another column putting the opposite view.  I have a feeling the justification for that not happening would be that "no column putting the opposite view was submitted", but if you want to be seen as being responsible and not causing unnecessary ruptures in the independence movement, I think you need to be more proactive than that.  A pro-Wings response should simply have been commissioned - ideally from Stuart himself, but if he wasn't interested I'm sure there would have been any number of other people willing to do it instead.

*  *  *

On the subject of the abuse Stuart Campbell has to put up with on a daily basis, here's another invaluable contribution to the cause of civility and solidarity from "Richard Palmer" - the troll ringleader who briefly turned his fire on me last week.  He's now calling himself "Elite Baklava".  Is it just me, or is "we need to do something about w***s like Campbell" a bit of a sinister thing to say?  What on earth would that "something" be?






As you can see, the tweet in which Richard calls me a "f***ing fool" received two 'likes' - and one of them was from "David Al", aka David Allison, who was the Green Party's official candidate in the Barrhead ward at the council elections just three months ago.  Call me biased, but if it's now in fashion to have witch-hunts based on politicians' Twitter 'likes', that's where I'd be starting.

I've no idea whether the Richard gang have any direct involvement in the notorious A Thousand Flowers website, but the overlap in terms of politically correct zealotry and mindless personal abuse is pretty striking.