Saturday, November 18, 2017

Hothersall faces bushtucker trial of the soul as everything he thought he could rely on turns to dust

Fate has dealt Duncan Hothersall a cruel hand over the last eighteen hours or so.  Deep down, he probably always anticipated that mystery man Richard Leonard would take the Scottish Labour crown, bringing an end to the branch office's resistance to Corbynism.  But the news about Kezia Dugdale....well, it's a real Ramsay MacDonald meets the Chuckle Brothers moment for poor Dunc, whose idiosyncratic vision of "International Socialism" now lies in tatters.  He hasn't been seen on Twitter since the news broke, and many suspect he's pondering a new career as a Spanish public prosecutor - something he can really put his heart into.

Scottish Labour leadership election result:

Richard Leonard 56.7%
Anas Sarwar 43.3%

I'm trying to decide whether that margin of victory justified the extreme 7/1 odds on a Sarwar win.  Probably not quite, although it looks like the result was never in that much doubt, in spite of what we had been led to believe.

I'll be completely honest about this - faced with the very limited options available to them, I think Labour have made the right choice (just for once).  We've seen enough of Anas Sarwar over the years to know that he would have been a disaster area, and that no-one would have taken him seriously as a potential First Minister.  I thought Leonard came across reasonably well in the STV debate with Sarwar - it sounded like he was actually thinking about his answers rather than reading from a script, which is quite rare in this day and age.  If he can keep that up when debating with opponents from the SNP rather than his own party, he might do OK...but that's a big "if".  He seems to have exactly the same irrational rage towards the SNP that all of his immediate predecessors have displayed.

I saw Christopher Silver say on Twitter earlier that the "pro-indy left" will have to drop their "instinctive dismissal" of Labour in the light of this result - well, that rather depends on how serious they are about the "pro-indy" part of the equation, doesn't it?  Leonard seems to be an absolute dinosaur on the constitutional issue.

It'll be interesting to see what the significance is of Leonard putting off any decision about suspending Dugdale for a few days.  The expectation that she's going to be cut adrift is now so strong that it'll be hard to pull back from that, but on the other hand a few days' grace will give her a chance to actually appear on the programme and mutter "for the many, not the few" as she devours assorted insects.  Maybe we'll hear some waffly excuse about how they can't suspend someone who may have been unwise, but who is nevertheless "reaching out to young people".

If she does go, it'll mean that the people who were leader and deputy leader of Scottish Labour in late August will both no longer even be members of the party just three months later.  A totally unprecedented state of affairs.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Andrew Neil: the mask slips

Amid the mindless hysteria about Alex Salmond's perfectly reasonable decision to run his show on an Ofcom-regulated UK television channel (it's on Freeview, for pity's sake!), there is also a slightly more thoughtful 'middle position' being taken by some.  Basically that position is: "No, of course Alex Salmond hasn't done anything terribly wrong, and of course it's not true that the mainstream British broadcast media is as pure as the driven snow while RT is evil incarnate.  But that's not to say there is no distinction between the two.  RT's news coverage deliberately pursues a political agenda, in contrast to the BBC and ITN, where any bias is usually unconscious or unintended."

That's quite a seductive argument, but for it to have validity, you'd be entitled to expect that the BBC would react with a degree of concern and reflectiveness if the more partisan channel ever succeeded in showing it up - by, for example, broadcasting an interview that was overwhelmingly in the public interest, but that the BBC had inexplicably neglected to conduct.  One of the most common observations on social media about Alex Salmond's interview with Carles Puigdemont was just how bizarre it was that no British broadcaster had previously shown a full-length interview with the exiled Catalan president.  You'd have hoped that the BBC bosses watching would have had a light-bulb moment and thought "Damn, we should have done that on the Andrew Marr Show.  It was an oversight and we'd better put it right now."  That would have been the reaction of an organisation that truly has only unconscious biases, and rectifies them when they're identified.

Troublingly, however, if Andrew Neil's extraordinary rant at an RT host on last night's This Week is at all representative of the wider BBC, their reaction seems to be entirely different and highly belligerent -

"The whole point of Russia all focused to undermine our faith in our democratic institutions, and to divide us....I went on to your website before we came on tonight and they're all stories that try to undermine our faith in our society.  They're all trying to divide us, you give prominence to Catalonia, to Scottish independence, you're trying to divide us."

So the reaction is not "we should have done that interview ourselves", but rather "no decent broadcaster should have given Puigdemont the oxygen of publicity because Catalan nationalism is bad". There, unwittingly, Neil has vindicated the argument that RT and the BBC are two sides of the same coin - ie. that RT pursues a political agenda by giving prominence to the Catalan and Scottish independence movements (thus "dividing us") while the BBC pursues the opposite agenda by starving those movements of attention where possible (thus "bringing us together").  That would of course be entirely in keeping with the BBC charter requirement that the corporation must operate in the interests of the United Kingdom's cohesion, but if that is what's going on, it's murderously hard to see how the BBC can ever cover the Scottish independence debate fairly and impartially.  For both the BBC's sake and for the sake of democracy, we must hope that Neil was speaking for himself only.

Where he probably was speaking on behalf of many of his colleagues was in his extraordinary "heads I win, tails you lose" attitude to the regulation of broadcasters.  When it was pointed out to him that RT is regulated by Ofcom in much the same way that the BBC is, he argued that this meant that RT was probably going to lose its licence - in other words the fact that RT won and has so far retained its licence is somehow proof that the channel is just about to be taken off the air.  If anyone made a claim like that about the BBC, you'd question their sanity, and rightly so. When it was pointed out to him that the BBC's political editor Laura Kuenssberg had been censured by a regulatory body in much the same way that RT has occasionally been censured by Ofcom, he reacted as if someone had just defended a serial killer.  "Laura Kuenssberg is a very fine journalist", he said quietly, with the subtext being that an attack on Laura Kuenssberg (even by the BBC's own regulators) is an attack on journalism itself.  In other words, RT being censured by their regulators is proof that RT is a Kremlin propaganda machine, and the BBC being censured by their regulators is proof that BBC journalism is the victim of persecution.  Yup, that all seems pretty clear-sighted and fair.

*  *  *

I don't generally offer betting tips on this blog, and I'm not going to start now...but I maybe would have done if Ladbrokes hadn't just closed their books on the Scottish Labour leadership contest.  The 7/1 they were offering on Anas Sarwar earlier today just seemed like crazy odds.  All the mood music from both camps implies that Leonard is the more likely winner but that it's too close to call.  If you buy into the Neil Edward Lovatt theory that betting odds are a predictive God, you'd have to conclude that Ladbrokes or their punters know something we don't, but more likely is that they don't have any inside information and are just lazily assuming that a comfortable victory for the Corbynite is logical.  7/1 definitely looked like a value bet - but (perhaps thankfully) it's too late to put that to the test.

*  *  *

I was all set to defend Kezia Dugdale's decision to take part in I'm a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here! until I remembered that she's still a sitting MSP and that it's therefore a completely ridiculous thing for her to be doing.  She's supposed to be representing the voters of Lothian in parliamentary votes and debates, and helping them if they contact her with a problem.  She will self-evidently be neglecting those responsibilities for the entire duration of her stay in Australia.  I trust the mainstream media will muster at least twice as much hysteria for Kezia as they managed for Alex Salmond, because there's no doubt over which of those two has made the truly indefensible decision in pursuit of attention.

Whether deservedly or otherwise, Kezia had until now looked set to emulate David Steel by "passing from rising hope to elder statesman without any intervening period whatsoever" (as Michael Foot famously put it).  But I suspect she may have permanently destroyed her credibility with this single act.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

A gentle hint: this kind of behaviour doesn't just bring journalism into disrepute, it turns journalism into a laughing-stock

Those of you on Twitter are probably well aware that there's a Herald journalist called David Leask who is notorious for being the least tolerant person you could ever encounter.  It's almost comical - he's literally blocked every single person who's ever interacted with him unless they've unreservedly agreed with his own worldview in each and every microscopic particular.  He has no self-awareness at all about how this behaviour reveals him to have a sinister, mildly fascist mindset (I use the word 'fascist' advisedly - defined in part as 'no tolerance for opposing opinions') and indeed he advertises what he is doing quite openly - after most blockings he 'names and shames' the offending person and states his 'reason' for blocking, which in most cases is silly beyond all belief.  He carries on doing this without any understanding of the immense harm he's doing to his own reputation - and by extension to the reputation of his profession - because, you've guessed it, he's already blocked anyone who is capable of being a candid friend to him and taking him to one side.

Over the years I've been on Twitter, I've watched in genuine astonishment as practically everyone I know, across all shades of pro-independence opinion, has been blocked by Leask, often after interacting with him very respectfully on just one single occasion.  Being aware of his antics, I began to regard it as a game to see if I could end up as just about the only non-sycophant left that he hasn't blocked, simply by permanently ignoring him.  However, over the last few days he has lost the plot even by his own high standards.  Because of his hardline views about Russian-funded media in the UK, he's taken to declaring that anyone who defends Alex Salmond's association with RT cannot by definition be part of the 'real SNP' or share the values of the 'real independence movement' (a jaw-dropping piece of conceit given that Leask is not actually in the indy camp).  This naturally means that Salmond himself, the man who led the Yes campaign in the indyref and has been leader of the SNP for almost one-quarter of its entire existence, is not 'real SNP' or 'real pro-indy'.  I'd humbly submit that is quite possibly the most embarrassing argument ever put forward by any professional journalist who does not work for the Express.

So I finally cracked.  I decided a more interesting game than ignoring Leask would be to see if I could gently challenge him by making a point that is practically irrefutable, and come away without being blocked.  The result, I'm afraid, was all too predictable.

Remember that the above tweet is the only time, in eight years as a Twitter user, that I've ever interacted with the guy.

Try the game yourself.  Go on, it's fun.  Say to him: "It's Thursday, David", and ten seconds later he'll publicly execute you with the words "Blocked for denying it's always Wednesday".

Ladies and gentlemen, I give to you the one and only Mr David Leask.  

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

New ICM poll is hammerblow for Dugdale...sorry, I mean Rowley...sorry, I mean 'Position Vacant'

Confusion reigns today over whether the role of interim Scottish Labour leader is now completely vacant or occupied by Jackie Baillie (and indeed confusion also reigns over whether we'd be able to tell the difference between those two possibilities).  One thing remains constant, though - there's no sign of any joy for Scottish Labour in the opinion polls.  The SNP are back up to 4% of the Britain-wide vote for only the second time in any ICM poll conducted since the general election, and the Scottish subsample shows the following: SNP 40%, Conservatives 27%, Labour 20%, Liberal Democrats 6%, Greens 5%, UKIP 1%.  This is the twentieth subsample in a row across all firms to put the SNP in first place.

Of course no individual subsample should be regarded as reliable given the small sample size, but for what it's worth the ICM poll is the first straw in the wind since we were all royally entertained by the affectations of outrage over Alex Salmond's TV show.  So the very earliest indications are that the SNP's detractors may have to find a line of attack that is more promising than "Salmond is almost as bad as Kim Philby" (which is something that Channel 4 News presenter Jon Snow actually said out loud last night!).

'We need to talk about the monarchy as part of independence'

The latest from Phantom Power's Journey to Yes series, featuring someone who you might remember giving Ruth Davidson a (thoroughly deserved) hard time during the general election campaign.