The Ineptitude Councillors Can’t Criticise

30 10 2012

Full disclosure again: a quick glance here will reveal a familar name getting pipped at the post in Govan back in May.  So I perhaps have a keener interest than many in what our esteemed city mithers and faithers get up to.  And how they achieved the platform to get up to it.

A wee story caught my eye today via the Twitter feed of Glasgow’s only Tory Councillor, David Meikle.  The latest copy of council crapsheet Glasgow magazine contains a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it reference to one of the less high profile scandals of the 2011 election campaign.  You can see the column in its entirety here:

Courtesy of @cllrdmeikle

For those squinting on one of these new-fangled “phones”, it reads:

Glasgow magazine is a corporate publication of Glasgow City Council which includes articles on the policies and decisions of the council administration.

In an issue of the magazine last year, a story on the council budget included comments from the Council Leader which accused the Scottish Government of treating the city unfairly.

Although similar comments by the Council Leader had been printed or broadcast previously by the media, they should not have been presented in this manner in Glasgow magazine.

As a result, the council withdrew that issue from circulation.

It’s referring to this story, way back in the mists of time before the Scottish Parliament Elections in May 2011.  Glasgow City Council decided it would be a splendid wheeze to use their publicly-funded glossy magazine, delivered free to every house in the city and piled high at every library, leisure centre and council office going, to promote some of Gordon Matheson’s recent postulations on the Large Hadron Collider and its implications for quantum physics how snidey John Swinney and the SNP were for not giving him more money to spend on publicly-funded glossy magazines featuring interviews with Leader Matheson.  If you think something about that decision smells a bit, congratulations on having a nose.

It speaks volumes for the arrogance of some in the City Chambers that they either didn’t think about the implications of publishing public-funded partisan attacks, or didn’t care.  That decision cost the tax-payer £42,000 as the magazine was re-called, but not before many thousands had already been delivered.  A year and half a later, the above weasel words appear (note, for example, the missing phrase, “but not before many thousands had already been delivered” at the end of the statement).

Was Leader Matheson directly involved in arranging the publication of his own taxpayer-funded self-promotion?  Probably not.  The blame likely lies with the council officials responsible, namely those in the PR & Marketing Office.  Supposedly politically neutral public employees were happy to publish a partisan attack on the council administration’s political opponents less than 5 weeks before a national election.  That strikes me – at the very least – as demonstrating utter incompetence and contempt for public finances, and strays dangerously into the terrority of doing their masters’ political bidding at the expense of political neutrality.

You won’t hear anything like that last paragraph from any of Glasgow’s 79 elected councillors.  Not because they disagree – although doubtless the beneficiaries of such propagandising among the Labour Group would.  But because the Code of Conduct governing their behaviour specifically prohibits democratically-elected representatives from making such criticisms.  Annex C, Part 20 clearly states:

Councillors should not raise matters relating to the conduct or capability of employees in public.

I don’t know what the definitive opinion of opposition councillors is with regards the conduct of Glasgow City Council employees in the mis-use of £42,000 of public money.  And even if I did, I wouldn’t share it, because they’d be in a large amount of Standards Commission-related trouble if their views were publicised.  As an ordinary punter, I’m quite at liberty to be as critical (or, indeed, as gushing) as the laws of defamation allow.  But the 79 people – the only 79 people – within GCC with a democratic mandate from the electorate, can’t say a negative word about a group of people who decided to take election spending into their – by which I mean the taxpayers’ – hands.

We don’t know – quite rightly – what, if any disciplinary proceedings were brought against the officers who OKed a publicly-funded party political statement to be delivered to everyone in the city.  But if the decision had been taken by a democratically-elected councillor, they’d have faced a hearing in front of the Standards Commission for Scotland, and if found guilty, possible expulsion from office.  They’d be signing on the dole, reputation and career in tatters.  Instead it was the officers who erred, and that £42k just gets added to the tab, with no public accountability or investigation, save a pathetic ‘No-me-a Culpa’ in the same publication that got the OK 19 months ago.

That’s democracy for you.


A Wee Bit Of A Week

28 10 2012

Frankly, the legal intricacies of EU accession, successor states etc. mean sod all to me.  Like everything the EU does, the terms of the new Scottish state’s entry to the club will be decided by politicos and civil servants in back rooms on the basis of political expediency.  Whatever legal advice either side receive is only as good as the laws it’s based upon, and the wriggle room within those laws will be used in the actual negotiations to get around whatever obstacles may be there.  There will likely be some bumps and potholes on the road in, but the politically expedient outcome for all parties is an independent Scotland in the EU, and that will in all likelihood be the end result.  It all makes for some interesting academic discussion, but in terms of determining the ultimate destination for Scotland I feel it’s pin-dancing.  Then again, I’m an incorrigible cynic.  [And for those fond of pointing to Spain as a massive rock on that road, unshifting and unyielding to the idea of newly independent nations elsewhere setting a precedent to their own agitators, think about whether the Spanish would fancy having 2 non-EU countries, smarting from their blocked attempts to become members 28 or 29, controlling main entry and exit points to and from Iberia and the rest of the continent, particularly at a time of deep economic malaise in Spain.  Gibraltar has some experience of such tactics at the hands of the Spanish themselves – always best to learn from your opponents – and as the Spanish playing hardball just now know, the prospect of the Catalans and Basques playing hardball  post-independence will put a stop to any more posturing from the Spaniards.]

I can see why opponents of independence would want to make hay with these legal grey areas though.  They see the onus of proof as falling on the Yes campaign and the Scottish Government, and given the lack of black or white answers in play, look to undermine the independence case via such uncertainties.  I think it’s pretty disingenuous myself, and I’d like to see Catherine Stihler MEP pursue the principle with equal energy by asking the Westminster government what legal advice they’ve sought with regards the UK pulling out of the EU, something the backwoodsmen of the Tory backbenches seem to be propagating with ever increasing vigour recently.  But that’s politics.

So why the Scottish Government didn’t kick this one into the long grass for as long as possible, I don’t know.  Regardless of the sophistry employed, the impression was definitely left that formal legal advice from within the Government was floating around somewhere within St Andrew’s House.  Going to the mattresses to defend its non-release under Freedom of Information may have been technically correct within the letter of the law, but to the average schmuck – myself included – it looks bad.  A simple statement months ago, along the lines of “we’ll wait for the formal consultation to be analysed and published before moving to the formal legal advice stage” (which is where we are now after Tuesday’s statement from the DFM), laying out a process and rough timetable, seems infinitely preferable to the last week of the press writing stories about trust and efficiency, rather than the fact that the consultation revealed that the majority of responses were broadly supportive of the government’s preferred framework for how the referendum was to proceed.

That was the afternoon tea to the leaden breakfast/brunch (delete depending on employment status) that emerged earlier as John Finnie and Jean Urquhart announced their resignation from the party and parliamentary group.  Having discussed that at the time there’s not much to add, other than to point to the contrast between the reception they received from virtually everyone in the party – respect, sadness, and best wishes for the future – with another individual who left soon after, holding aloft his hitherto unknown concerns about the EU and currency union as part of his holy trinity of Bad Things About The SNP.  Life is obviously tough for these “leading activists” I’ve apparently been running up and down stairs with all these years, so nimble and swift on their feet it was almost as if they weren’t there at all…

So not my greatest week as an SNP member (although the time the computer I accidentally deleted a year’s worth of canvass records was probably worse §).  Coming off the back of an emotional conference, losing 2 MSPs, and making a fair old Horlicks of the EU legal advice stuff.  It was looking bad by Tuesday afternoon.

But of course, you can always rely on the clots running the show at Labour HQ to spectacularly make a complete Archie of things.  Putting out a statement with Paul Martin’s name attached branding Salmond a “liar” was an error of Chris Iwulemo proportions.  Firstly because his credibility when it comes to these things is low already – witness his previous feeble attempts to use the Ministerial Code against Government ministers.  Another brainfart from him was never going to carry much credibility with anyone, and could safely be filed under “the usual guff”.   Secondly because the mere act of using the word “liar” was immediately going to focus a chunk of the attention onto the Labour front bench to justify it.  As Iain Macwhirter said during the week, “politicians very rarely lie”.  So if you’re planning to take the whole thing to DEFCON 1, you’d better make damn sure you’ve got your sources and justification lined.  A 6-month old YouTube clip from the Andrew Neil show you’ve had gathering electronic dust in a virtual desk drawer isn’t going to cut it, in particular when you doctor the transcript in your press release.  People usually ask questions about things like that.  So we had footage on Reporting Scotland of Martin looking sweaty and uncomfortable and avoiding having to use the actual word “liar” on camera, and Jackie Baillie down the line on Scotland Tonight having to defend the Labour accusations when the spotlight should have been on the Government and the FoI request.

And First Minister’s Questions… I doubt there are words in the English language to describe the calumny Lamont & Davidson presented as their version of holding the executive to account.  Let’s get the crystal ball out right here – Ruth Davidson should make the most of signing her Christmas cards “Leader of the Scottish Conservative Party” because it’ll be the last time she spreads festive greetings from her current position.  Comparing Alex Salmond to Bill Clinton must rank amongst the kindest things the FM’s opponents have ever said about him, yet Davidson seemed to think this was the kind of deadly satire needed to pierce his armour.  A wee word, Ruth – most punters who care see Clinton as a sharp, successful political operator who led the Democrats to two successive Presidential election victories after 12 years in the wilderness, looking like Plato compared to his successor, despite his cigar-chomping foibles.  If you fancy drawing parallels between him and Alex, go right ahead.  Then there was the Nixon comparison.  The words “I am not a crook” gushed forth from her gub, and for a second I felt sure she would be pulled up by the Presiding Officer.  That she did not I feel owes more to the grey area around Parliamentary etiquette when quoting others, and given other circumstances when FMQs does not carry the charge it did on Thursday, I reckon she’d have been humiliated by the PO into withdrawing.  That then led to Salmond producing the Romney comparison, a line put out in a press release a couple of weeks back – which, incidentally, I thought was pretty weak at the time (oh what great political antennae I possess) – but which came into its own when faced with Davidson’s kamikaze tactics.  Do none of her advisers ever have a look and see what the other side are up to?  “Ruth, just a word.  That US Presidents thing you were planning on going on?  Best leave it.”  Have a watch back of FMQs and you’ll see Annabel Goldie behind Davidson, jaw hanging open at the mince being pedalled by her former protege.  The only question now is whether she hangs on until the easter eggs are in the reduced bin, or at full price.

Johann, of course, came first.  It’s now becoming a running joke that her only public appearances happen at FMQs.  You’d like to think she spends a good chunk of the other 167 1/2 hours of her week preparing for Thursday lunchtimes.  If she is, it appears her preparation must consist of playing Ker-Plunk with marbles etched with the FM’s face.  Great fun I’m sure, but not cutting a lot of opposition mustard.

I feel cruel just going through her performance.  A year from now, it may well seem that this was the biggest chance of her leadership to land one on the FM.  There will undoubtedly be other mistakes made by the administration in the months to come, but this was one made for an opposition leader.  A situation created, in part, by the FoI requests of Lamont’s own MEP, doubtless made in the knowledge or hunch that she was onto, well, literally nothing.  Weeks and months to prepare for an event that could’ve made her leadership count in one fell swoop.  Instead it was a carbon copy of every other appearance at the FMQ lectern.  If great politicians rise to the occasion, Johann was the failed dough tossed in the bin in the early rounds of the Great British Bake Off.

So, a week best put down to… I don’t know.  Nerves?  Nine-dimensional chess?  I hope it’s all the entree for the great debate we’ve been promised though, cause another 103 weeks like the one we’ve had and I’ll be ready for the knacker’s yard.

§ The wonders of computer technology sorted it eventually.  Though not after a great deal of worry and vodka.

A Few Quick Thoughts On John & Jean

23 10 2012

If you want to see miracles happen, watch the reaction to John Finnie and Jean Urquhart’s decision to leave the SNP Parliamentary Group.

The normally hyperactive @theSNP Twitter feed fell silent.

As a mere whippersnapper in party membership terms, it ill-behoves me to criticise their decision.  They’ve done far more for the cause of disarmament and social justice than I ever have.  That is worthy of the utmost respect – and universally amongst my fellow-travelling “hopelessly naive”§ peers there has been nothing but.  We will see them alongside the rest of the Yes campaign over the next two years.

I will say this about today’s events.  Anyone who thought the risk of this happening was zero or close to it, must be “hopelessly naive” themselves.  You can’t alter one of the historical cores of the party, and do so in a way that in some cases insulted the intelligence and commitment of people who’ve given their entire adult lives to the cause, without fallout.  The vast majority of us on the No to NATO side are staying and fighting from within the party to ensure the contingent part of our new policy – the bit where we dictate to NATO the terms of our membership – is carried through and strictly adhered to.  And hopefully to revisit the policy at some later date (but don’t hold your breath).  But obviously some, both in elected positions and in the grassroots, were going to see what happened as a red line too far, and take the last remaining option open to them.

And given the precariousness of the parliamentary arithmetic, such fallout would always be harmful to the party’s ability to control the Holyrood agenda.  Not on the big issues like the referendum, social justice, or defending universalism from the ranks of Better Together, but on the less high-profile stuff, including parliamentary timetabling.  And if John, Jean, Margo & the Greens form a Technical Group, another opponent appearing every week at FMQs.  We are now a heartbeat away from losing our hard-won majority, a majority built in the large part on the tireless efforts of the very activists who voted No to NATO last week.  There’s some horrible-tasting irony for us right there.

If those behind the new NATO policy hadn’t considered this sad outcome a very real possibility, you have to question who was “hopelessly naive” all along.

§ And in a completely separate paragraph, I would like to mention this tweet.

An Old Win, But A New Victory

21 10 2012

I arrive home from National Conference on Friday night filled with thunder, frustration, desperation, and drink.  From the train and then onto the bus from Queen St through to the Southside, I concocted paragraphs in my head, screeds of prose, willing myself home quicker so I could batter away at my poor abused keyboard and pour out the swirling contents of my cranium.  I got home, took off my shoes, then promptly zonked out on the bed.

I’m glad I did.  Conference nowadays is already a heady pressure cooker, 2000+ folk crammed into a medium-sized concert hall and a tent, shuffling around looking for a seat in an overcrowded cafe, snaking past the exhibitors at a pace that prohibits nicking out for a “quick” fag.  Add some free wine from some reception or other, and you can feel the wee-est things becoming irksome.  And the vote and debate on NATO was anything but wee.  I’m glad I’ve had the last 48 hours to unwind a bit, enjoy time (and more drink) with friends new and old, and give the gecks a good clean, before committing my thoughts to a web server.

I voted No to NATO until the bitter end.  By which I mean not only did I back the key amendment which would have maintained party policy, but also voted to reject the motion in its entirety, and to remit the proposal back for proper, in-depth discussion and consultation within the party.  I would do the same if we ever meet as a party to discuss the issue again.  My opinions haven’t changed a bit.  I abide by the constitutional collective decision-making of the SNP, and am bound by the decision taken, as are we all.

What was clear from the result is that the activists voted No to NATO.  A majority of those of us who don’t earn a living from the party backed the amendment.  Every Government minister supported the resolution.  A majority of MSPs did likewise.  My impression (and it is only that)  is that a  majority of the researchers, interns, assistants etc followed the leadership – although a substantial minority did not, in the same way our MSPs contained people with the fortitude of Jamie Hepburn, Rob Gibson, and Sandra White, to name but three.  But the volunteers said no.

It’s the first time our payroll vote has had to be rolled into action.  Iain Macwhirter called the outcome of the NATO debate “The day the SNP lost its innocence”, when we “compromised its principles for the sake of political expediency.”  I think the loss of innocence is wider than the straight-up outcome of a single vote.  We’ve never had a period in our history when so many depend on the party and its apparatus for the means to put food on the table and a roof over their heads.  I joined when we had 3 MPs (shortly to increase by 33% thanks to a by-election win in Perth), 2 MEPs, a couple of hundred councillors and no Holyrood.  There were maybe 20 people employed by MPs, MEPs and the Westminster Group, excluding those at HQ involved in the day-to-day administration of the party machinery.  Shadow Ministers were using annual leave from their day jobs to discharge their political role.  We are in a very different situation now, and you can increase that number around 12-fold as a minimum.  That those bodies were key to Friday’s outcome is unprecedented in the party’s history.

Other parties have been in a similar situation for years.  We haven’t.  Please don’t misconstrue this as a rant against those higher up the pecking order than I.  This is not a case of a bitter loser conjuring up visions of folk threatened with P45s for exercising independent thought.  I can’t and don’t doubt the motives and reasoning behind those who backed the Angus² alliance.  It’s about the numbers of cards counted for and against the proposals.  For the first time, a motion backed by a majority of the rank-and-file delegates, the people who give up their time and effort of their own volition – rather than being contractually obliged to – did not pass Conference.  That is a major change for a movement which has been extra-parliamentary and deeply tied to the concept of a member-led, branch-centered formal decision making process.

Will it lead to mass cancellations of membership?  No.  Will it lead to an outbreak of Maoism across the SNP, researchers and press officers bombarded by rotten tomatoes?  No.  We will move on as a party, concentrating our full energies and resources on the 24 month campaign ahead.  But on Friday, something about the party and its internal mechanics, tedious and boring to the outsider, but a core tenet of our practicality of belief, changed, quite possibly forever.

Time will tell what the implications of that sea-change are.

The Obligatory NATO Post

18 10 2012

Full disclosure at the outset – I won’t be at SNP Conference this Friday, or indeed at all.  Despite what some who should know better may claim, it costs delegates a bob or two to pay our attendance fees and go along, far less to partake of a Snowball or two as part of the evenings’ socialising.  A previous post of mine may give a hint as to why this isn’t an option for me this year.   [EDIT] Thanks to a combination of very kind family & friends, and a delegate dropping out at the last minute, I shall indeed be heading to Perth.  I am a relieved, grateful, and happy weegie.

But I still have an influence on the resolutions being discussed at Conference as a rank and file member, along with thousands of others who’ve been discussing at branch meetings across the country the main item on this year’s agenda – the SNP’s position vis a vis future NATO membership.  And let’s make absolutely sure that point is underlined at every opportunity – it’s the party membership who ultimately determine this or any other policy position of the party, now or in the future, and when our opponents attempt to denigrate that fact, ask how much internal democracy is on display at one of their interminable panel sessions.  It would be wrong to say the level of knowledge and passion displayed by the fellow members of my branch on this fundamental debate was surprising, because they are, amongst a multitude of superlatives, knowledgeable and passionate.  But it has fair gladdened the heart to see us take our deliberations seriously, scrupulously, and in good faith.

It’s a debate, however, that isn’t necessary.  Not because our nation’s continuing post-independence membership of NATO isn’t important.  And not because we should avoid difficult issues because they might ruffle a few feathers.  But because we are setting a chunk of our manifesto on the table four years out from the very election we want to present it at.  Scottish NATO membership won’t be determined at Conference, wasn’t decided at last year’s Scottish Parliamentary Election, and it won’t be determined at the referendum.  Our country’s position on NATO membership can only be decided at the inaugural elections to a fully sovereign parliament in Edinburgh, because it’s only that which provides any incoming government of whatever political stripe with the mandate to commence legislative work on previously reserved matters.

That may all seem fairly self-obvious.  But sadly, it’s a message that seems to have been lost over the last couple of months.

A great deal of the focus has been, entirely correctly, been on the position of Trident and the associated bases and infrastruture in a post-independence, pro-NATO Scotland.  So I’ll not dwell too much on that aspect, except to say that the residents of Akrotiri and Dhekelia who thought Cypriot independence might mean the end of UK military bases on their land would seem to have been disappointed.  Or have a gander at the Treaty Ports left in place on the soil of the newly-indepdendent Irish Free State.  Concentrate instead on the wider foreign policy implications of continued NATO membership.

I don’t think I’m alone in the world in being a mite sceptical at US external relations.  When any country manages to outlast the decrepit Soviet Union and the pomp of the Victorian British Empire in an Afghan occupation timeline, you know something’s gone a bit Pete Tong.

Being in NATO means a tacit acceptance – and I would argue, endorsement – of these and other follies.  I don’t suggest that France and Germany agreed with the invasion of Iraq, or indeed individual acts of successive US administrations.  But by remaining shackled to a US-dominated military superstructure, we place a great deal of our national and moral interests in the hands of the Pentagon.  The same Pentagon that funded right-wing extremists in their 2002 coup against democratically-elected Hugo Chavez.  The Pentagon that decided the fact that 17 out of 18 of the September 11th murderers were from Saudi Arabia was grounds to drop cluster bombs on Afghanistan, install their man as President, then later begin negotiations to bring the Taliban back in play.  The Pentagon that lends its support to the reprehensible occupation of Palestine by funneling tens of billions of dollars of military aid into the Israeli regime.  Frankly, I could fill another 1,000 words with the grotesque failure and immorality of successive occupants of the White House, Democrat or Republican.  We want no part of it.

If NATO genuinely was a pooling of military resources and assets amongst nations in a spirit of mutual respect and co-operation, I don’t doubt we’d feel differently about it.  But it’s not.  It’s a Cold War relic, an historical artefact kept in operation for its benefit to those promoting a greater Pax Americana.  Whether it’s the UK government or Scottish government accepting of this, I don’t want those making decisions in my name to accede, however implicitly, to these values.

We’ve been patronisingly told that maintenance of current party policy would be handing a gift to those who seek to lower the aspirations of the Scottish people and keep the wheels on the UK jalopy.  What an insult.  What a disgrace.  The idea that we as a movement should roll over on a key core of what makes who we are, on the basis that some Unionists may clap their hands in glee, is as idiotic as it is unthinking.  It’s the same logic I came across at a selection hustings many years ago, where a candidate addicted to self-promotion and muppetry§ proclaimed “Your vote could make Labour FURIOUS!”.  Even my bum-fluff chinned self could see the inherent insult implicit in such messages – ‘don’t support who or what is best – support what winds up your opponents’.  What an abdication of belief, of vision, of ideology.

There are undoubtedly many genuine, principled supporters of NATO in the SNP.  I extend the utmost respect to them, particularly for sticking to those beliefs when we on the other side were confident our views would coincide with the party’s views for the foreseeable future.  The members and activists I know who’ve consistently maintained their stance are amongst the best I know.   I would encourage them to stick to their guns and vote with their beliefs.

But those who would seek to vote Yes to NATO because they’ve been told it’s the easy path, because it’s what certain individuals and external interests want, because they fear the response from our political and media opponents – I hope they consider the lessons of New Labour, and the results of chiseling away at our core values and political soul bit by bit.  Sooner or later, there’s no more soul to chip.

§ Dorothy Grace-Elder in 1999, since you ask.

For The Sake Of Ten Minutes

15 10 2012

I’m not too sure if I agree with the headline on Tom Devine’s assessment of the “Edinburgh Agreement”, reading as it does “Today is the most important date since 1707 Act of Union” You might as easily point to the establishment of Glasgow University Scottish Nationalist Association (85 years old) or the original National Party of Scotland back in 1928 as pivotal moments in the campaign for Scottish independence.  But it marks the end of the beginning of the process towards full self-government, and the planting of the seeds of the 24-month campaign ahead.

It’s a debate that requires everyone involved to be as informed and knowledgable as they can be, from the politicians eager to promote their version of how Scotland should move forward, to the 4 million-odd voters who must make their decision based on what vision proffered best accords with their ideals and hopes.  And it requires a media class with a sound grounding in the facts at hand, in order to present each case to the electorate and challenge the people arguing the merits from both sides.

Sadly, as the last couple of days have shown, those London-based journalists who will be treading the campaign trail over the next 104 weeks have been exposed as failing even at the most basic level of knowledge and understanding.  This mince on the Sunday Politics UK Edition yesterday seems a decent summation of the problem.  Three journos for London-based broadsheets – Sunday Times, Financial Times, and there for the Guardian, the execrable Nicholas Watt.  If you can’t be bothered watching (and who can blame you), there’s a mention of the two decades old “Free by ’93”, an unhealthy obsession with Alex Salmond as opposed to, you know, the future of an entire nation, lots of whom aren’t Alex Salmond, and a woman who can’t even pronounce the seven letters that make up the First Minister’s surname correctly.  It’s diabolical stuff, borne of years of ignorance of what was happening with the Jocks.  I don’t blame them for being ignorant of the realities up here, but I do blame them for taking the licence-fee payers’ shilling and pretending they’re not.

This is not moaning for the sake of it over a four-minute piece on a barely-watched bit of background noise over your hangover.  It’s indicative of a wider conceit on the part of the London-based sections of our media, the idea that on the whole, they’re well-placed to cover the story.  Sometimes they may well be, and a fresh pair of eyes on our wee midden is at times sorely needed.  But those peepers need to have real competence and comprehension behind them, and sadly those hacks sent north on the Sleeper seem to lack both.

The BBC’s UK Political Editor, Nick Robinson (ex-President,  Oxford University Conservative Association) took it upon himself to ask Salmond about athletes wearing Union Flags.  At a press conference discussing a referendum on the future sovereign status of a nation.  At the same event, another anonymous hack asked what the timetable was for publishing the prospectus for an independent Scotland.  Something 10 minutes on Google or Wikipedia could’ve told him§, before making an arse of himself in front of the Scottish press corps.  The Telegraph published an online poll which asked “Should Scotland Be Granted Independence?” on the day a refer-bloody-endum was being finalised which kinda takes the whole ‘being granted’ thing and drowns it in a bathtub, being as it is the potential taking back of sovereign power by the people.

This all matters greatly to the tenor, tone, and accuracy of what is presented to the wider public over the coming 2 years.  Yes, we have our own print and electronic media, and whatever disagreement we may have with many of their views, we at least know they understand the nuance of the language used in the constitutional debate, the historic political dynamic that undoubtedly ripples through today’s events, and the basic facts that shape the arguments.  But considering the bulk of media consumed in Scotland comes from the London HQs of the newspapers and broadcast media – for example, a 24-hour BBC News Channel operation plus BBC1 network news, versus 53 minutes per day from Pacific Quay –  it’s vital for both sides in the campaign that these “professionals” have a grasp on what they’re reporting on.

It’s not a question of the Grand Yoonyonisht Media Conspiracy maligning the Yes campaign and, by way of more ignorance, conflating that with the SNP.  It’s true that the bulk of the print media are at best dismissive and at worst avowedly hostile to independence.  Fine.  They always have been, most always will be, and one major aim of the Yes camp should be to move around those obstacles and talk directly to the people.  It’s a question of having the basic courtesy to know what the salient details are and using that to report on events a they unfold.  It’s a question of paying more than lip service to the recent political history of Scotland and making an effort to see what’s driven us along this road, as opposed to the usual banalities about Alex Salmond being a ‘wily operator’ or having a mask that seems to slip more often than an ice-skating cat.  It’s a question of doing a service for their customers and consumers, and helping to educate not just the 5 million residents in Scotland, but the rest of the UK and, via the internet, the world.

So far, the prospects are not good.  Let’s hope they get Googling.

§ It’s actually closer to two minutes, but I’m in a happy, cheery, generous mood here, so let’s give him the benefit of the eight minutes.

What Johann Lamont’s Conference Speech Actually Meant

2 10 2012



















(with apologies to Len Shackleton’s “The Clown Prince Of Football”.)