Saturday, January 7, 2017

The news where you might be, but probably aren't

I think most people would agree that STV have been somewhat better and more balanced in their coverage of the Scottish political scene than either their network ITV counterparts, or the BBC.  It was therefore very disappointing to see STV journalist Oliver Dickinson post the following tweet a few hours ago -

"Looking to speak to anyone in Scotland who has had an operation delayed or cancelled in the last year for tonight's STV News."

OK, look.  It's all very well broadcast journalists reacting with indignation and incredulity when the hated "Cybernats" question their commitment to political impartiality, but they really do only have themselves to blame if they're going to publicly post tweets that basically say "we want to feature you on the news if you've had a bad experience with the Scottish NHS that would lend credence to the opposition parties' latest attack line, but for pity's sake don't trouble us if you've had a good experience".  An ITV journalist (Peter A Smith) defended Dickinson by essentially saying "don't shoot the messenger" - he argued that if bad news exists, you shouldn't be blaming a journalist for reporting it.  That's fine, but what you can blame a journalist for is seeking out only negative information, and precluding even the possibility of exposing himself to anything more positive.  It's fatuous to pretend that such an approach will not skew the content of the eventual news item.

Not for the first time, David Halliday nailed it with his own sardonic response -

"Looking to speak to anyone in Scotland whose experience matches tomorrow's Labour party press release, for the day after tomorrow's news."

Friday, January 6, 2017

It's beginning to dawn on some of our leading unionist journalists that an indyref is coming very soon

The title is an ironic tribute to Kenny "Devo or Death" Farquharson, who ever since the shock of the Leave vote has been tying himself up in knots trying to convince himself that Brexit doesn't need to have any serious consequences, and more specifically that it needn't have the obvious consequence of a second independence referendum.  (Wait a minute here, old boy.  Independence isn't devo, so it must be...death!  It can't...won't...mustn't happen!)  First of all he kidded himself that Theresa May cared so much about averting an indyref that she would "triangulate" Brexit in a way that would be acceptable to Nicola Sturgeon.  When even he had to admit to himself that was in the realms of fantasy, he then worked himself into a frenzy about an entirely fictional concept known as "the UK single market", which he decided on the basis of zero evidence that Sturgeon must secretly share his obsession with.  Now all he's got left is the notion that Sturgeon is somehow deliberately allowing herself to be 'beaten by the clock'.  He cites as evidence a BBC interview in which she said exactly the same thing she's been saying for ages - that an indyref is likely, but can be averted if the UK government does a U-turn and seeks a soft Brexit.  On the basis of that, Kenny claims to be seeing signs that "Nats" are "beginning" (classic weasel word) to realise that an indyref may not be happening any time soon.  Not that any of them are actually saying that, of course, but he can see it in their faces, even though he's not actually looking at their faces.

Now, I'll make a small concession here - it's possible that an early indyref may not happen.  The snag for Kenny, though, is that we can say with a very high level of confidence that one of the following WILL happen...

a) The UK will stay in the single market, and free movement of people will be retained.


b) The UK will transfer enormous powers to the Scottish Parliament, including powers that are generally only associated with a sovereign state, to enable Scotland to remain in the single market after the rest of the UK leaves.


c) Genuine Devo Max will be granted as compensation for Hard Brexit occurring without any special status for Scotland within Europe.


d) There will be a second independence referendum by 2020.

Which of those four options do you think is by far the most likely?  Yeah, exactly.  Somewhere, very deep down, Kenny knows it too.  Incidentally, a) can probably still be regarded as the second most likely possibility, albeit a very long distance behind d).  All hell will break loose if that happens.

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If you've enjoyed my writing over the last year and feel a sudden inexplicable urge to "buy me a hot chocolate", bear in mind that my 2015 fundraiser remains open on an ongoing basis for top-up donations - it can be found HERE.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Why it's important to give your lower preferences in the local elections to other pro-independence parties

This is a sort of "readers' request" post - I was asked the other day to post an explanation of how the Single Transferable Vote system (STV) works.  Probably not a bad idea, because for the vast majority of us, when we go to the polls in May for the local elections it'll be the first time we've voted under that system for five years.

As long-term readers know, I spent an inordinate amount of time on this blog in the run-up to both the 2011 and 2016 Holyrood elections trying to expose a cynical propaganda campaign that was hoodwinking people into thinking that the list vote was a sort of 'second preference' or 'bonus' or 'luxury' vote.  In 2011, it didn't go much further than the familiar "2nd Vote Green" schtick, but last year there was a much more concerted (I'm tempted to say ruthless) drive by the wider radical left to con SNP supporters into thinking that their party was guaranteed to win an outright majority on constituency seats alone, and that their list votes would be wasted unless given to the Greens or RISE.  Bella Caledonia pushed that line relentlessly, and for one mad weekend just before the election, even the Sunday Herald was taken over lock, stock and barrel by the "split your votes" campaign.

The reality is that, in principle at least, the list vote is the more important vote because it broadly determines the overall composition of parliament.  That's certainly how it played out last year after the claims of 'absolute certainty' that the SNP would clean up in the constituencies turned out to be bogus.  The SNP's constituency vote increased, while their list vote fell - leading to a decrease in the SNP's overall number of seats, and the loss of their overall majority.  That outcome shouldn't have been a surprise to anyone, but I suspect it was a very nasty shock to some SNP supporters (including even some SNP members) who bought into the idea that voting for their own party on the list was unnecessary.  We should count ourselves lucky that the vote-splitting propaganda didn't cost us the pro-independence majority at Holyrood - it could very easily have done if more people had been persuaded to switch to RISE or Solidarity on the list, because neither of those parties were even vaguely close to winning a list seat in any region.

Having been so sorely bitten by last year's events, it's perhaps understandable that many SNP supporters are now instinctively reacting by saying "I'm only going to vote for the SNP in the local elections, and I'm not going to give a ranking to any other party".  But it's really important to stress that the Single Transferable Vote system used for the local elections is completely different from the voting system used for Holyrood, and using your lower preferences for other parties is nothing like so-called "tactical voting on the list".  It's literally true that using your lower preferences in the local elections cannot possibly harm the SNP in any way.  At worst, it won't make any difference to the outcome at all, but at best it will help another pro-independence party to deprive a unionist party of a seat on your local council.

Some people seem to intuitively struggle with the idea that the SNP cannot possibly be harmed by using the lower rankings.  I think maybe they imagine that STV is a kind of 'points system' akin to the Eurovision Song Contest - ie. if you rank Labour tenth, they'll be awarded 'one point', and that point might end up costing the SNP a seat.  But that's simply not how it works.  If, say, there are two SNP candidates in your local ward, and you give your first two preferences to those candidates, your lower preferences will not even be taken into account until both SNP candidates are either elected or eliminated.  Your vote will not budge from the SNP column until that happens.  There are no exceptions to that rule - as long as you make sure you give your top preferences to all of the SNP candidates (there may be more than two depending on which ward you live in), using your lower preferences for other parties is literally risk-free.

The best way of looking at your lower preferences is that you're expressing an opinion on who should be elected if the SNP are no longer in contention for one of the seats in your ward.  If the final seat in your ward boiled down to a straight fight between the Tories and the Greens, wouldn't you want to help the Greens to win?  Or would you want to effectively abstain and risk ending up with a Tory councillor?  You're doing the latter if the SNP candidates are the only ones you give a ranking to.

It probably matters less whether you bother giving rankings to the unionist parties, although speaking personally I used all of my rankings in both 2007 and 2012, and I expect I will do so again this time.  One way of making the impossible choice between Labour, Tory and Lib Dem is to look at which party is vying with the SNP for control of your local council.  In Glasgow, for example, it might make sense on a tactical basis to rank the Lib Dems higher than Labour, because depriving Labour of a seat by any means will make it harder for them to form an administration.  I expect in most cases pro-indy people will want to rank independent candidates higher than all unionist party candidates (unless the independent in question is known to be a hardline unionist themselves).

OK, a couple of extra pro-indy councillors on North Ayrshire Council isn't going to decide the constitutional future of Scotland.  But as they say at a certain supermarket chain, every little helps.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Progressive Permutations

Just a quick note to let you know that I have a new article at the TalkRadio website, about the potential benefits of an anti-Tory "progressive alliance" between the SNP and Labour at the next UK general election (assuming such an event ever takes place).  You can read the article HERE.

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Update about the BMG poll : I'm delighted and relieved to say that BMG have mended their ways to some extent since October.  The datasets for this week's independence poll in the Herald reveal that the question asked was 'Should Scotland be an independent country?', bringing the firm back into line with universal good practice.  The only small downside is that the poll isn't directly comparable with the October poll, which perhaps casts a little doubt on whether support for independence has really remained as stable as it appears.  But that problem pales into insignificance compared to the utter lack of credibility that would have plagued future polls on independence if ludicrously dodgy questions about "remaining a member of the UK" had become normalised.

On a less positive note, and quite apart from the fact that the supplementary question about whether there should be another indyref by December 2017 was very silly as a matter of principle (nobody is seriously proposing a referendum quite that soon), the wording of the question also turns out to have been subtly biased.  This is what was asked -

"A referendum on Scottish Independence took place in September 2014. In your opinion, should there be another Independence Referendum within the next year?"

The opening sentence is redundant, so you have to wonder what it's doing there.  The subtext seems to be "There was one very recently. Do you really want another one so soon?"  The purpose is presumably to make it as hard as possible for people to answer in the affirmative - and yet, remarkably, almost 40% of respondents did so.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Masonic Values

I thought long and hard today about whether to say anything at all on Twitter about the John Mason episode.  I'm sick to death of arguing with people, and I know from past experience that some otherwise sensible people seem to lose all rationality when you depart from the approved script on issues relating to gender politics, no matter how carefully you choose your words.  But when I saw a couple of people go so far as to actually say that John Mason should resign (!) I felt I just had to say something, although I did try to choose my words very carefully to avoid being unnecessarily provocative.  This is what I said -

"John Mason's tweet was clearly ill-judged, but it's a profound insult to him to just assume he was talking about sex.  People calling for Mason to actually RESIGN over that tweet have lost all sense of perspective."

And, yup, the reaction was depressingly predictable.  Here is what I've learned over the last few hours -

* John Mason's comment that "The girl does not always say yes first time!" was obviously about sex.  It's completely ludicrous to think that an old-fashioned, religious man like Mason would instead have been talking about asking someone to dinner, or to the cinema, or to marry him.

* OK, maybe it's not so obvious that he wasn't talking about proposing marriage or asking to go on a date, but it doesn't matter anyway, because asking a woman if she'd like to go to dinner this Friday after she told you she was washing her hair last Friday is EXACTLY THE SAME as pestering her for sex.  "No" to dinner last Friday means "no" to dinner for the rest of your natural life, and if you ask the question again, that means you don't respect a woman's right to withhold consent and are basically a bit like a rapist.

* It's unclear whether the "you can't ask for a date more than once" rule also applies to women, or only to heterosexual men.  (I did seek clarity on that point, but to no avail.)

* Men are literally not allowed to have any opinion whatever on what does or does not constitute harassment.  If a woman states that she has suffered harassment, men should simply "shut up and listen".  There are no objective criteria upon which harassment can be identified or ruled out - if a woman says something is harassment, that's what it is.  Full stop.

* If a man argues that there must, in fact, be some kind of objective criteria before anyone can be considered guilty of harassment, he is by definition a misogynist.  No apology is required for calling him a misogynist, and if he asks for one, the onus should instead be put on him to apologise for his misogyny.

* All men, without exception, bear collective responsibility and guilt for any trangressions against a woman's right to withhold consent.  It doesn't matter that collective guilt is inconsistent with the basic principle of individual equality - that objection can be instantly magicked away with the words "mansplaining" and "#NotAllMen".

* If a man does not go out of his way to delete a woman's Twitter handle from his replies to other people on a thread that she is part of, and instead points out to her that the block function is the simplest solution if she does not like his tweets, this again means that he is ignoring women's right to withhold consent, and is a bit like a rapist.  Please note : this principle does not work in reverse.  Women are not required to accede to a request to remove a man's Twitter handle from their replies, and there are no 'consent' issues if they fail to do so.  They are also quite free to continue talking about him on their own timelines, post screenshots of his tweets without alerting him, and make derogatory and abusive comments about him.  None of this constitutes harassment in any way, shape or form, and indeed should be positively encouraged.

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I lost no fewer than nine followers on Twitter (update - twelve!) simply as a result of that exchange, but I must say on this occasion I'm really glad I didn't try to keep my head down.  The groupthink on this subject is literally terrifying, and it needs to be challenged.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Have even biased BMG just reported a boost in support for independence?

The first published Scottish poll of 2017 has just arrived from BMG - although in fact the fieldwork is already ancient history.  It took place in the first half of December.  As far as I can see, BMG haven't posted any information themselves yet (hardly surprising given that it's only the early hours of 2nd January), so all we have to go on are the details in the report from the Herald, who commissioned the poll.  There is a claim made in the report that this is an independence poll, and that it shows figures of Yes 45.5%, No 54.5%.  However, we have to be extremely sceptical about that claim, because the Herald also reported that a previous BMG poll back in October was an independence poll, and it turned out to be no such thing - respondents had instead been asked whether Scotland should 'remain a member' of the UK or not.  That was a nonsensical question, not least because the UK isn't an organisation and it doesn't have any 'members'.  The biggest problem, though, was that the question gave no indication at all of what would happen to Scotland if it didn't 'remain a member'.  Would it become a Crown Dependency?  Would it become part of another existing state?  What?  Without clarity on that point, the poll could not possibly be considered to be a poll on independence, and it was profoundly depressing to see people who ought to know better (John Curtice and whoever runs the Britain Elects account on Twitter) going along with the fiction that it could.

We'll just have to wait and see whether BMG have put their house in order and changed their ludicrous question.  In the interests of the whole polling industry, and also in the interests of basic fairness as we approach a likely second independence referendum, we must hope that they have.  The only minor consolation if they haven't, though, is that it would mean that this poll is directly comparable to the October poll, and shows a small 0.2% increase in support for "leaving the UK" since then.  Obviously that is not a statistically significant increase, but the fact that there has been no decrease is potentially important, because it boosts the chances that the extensively reported drop in support for independence in the last YouGov poll was just a meaningless blip caused by routine sampling variation, rather than a real drop that we can expect to see replicated in other polls.

BMG certainly aren't doing much to dispel their reputation for bias on Scottish affairs with the breathtakingly daft second question they asked in the new poll (although obviously if the wording was insisted upon by the Herald I'll apologise to BMG).  They asked whether respondents wanted a second independence referendum in 2017, and unsurprisingly found that a majority didn't.  Er, so what?  Does anyone seriously think the SNP are remotely interested in holding a snap referendum this year?   The earliest it's likely to be is 2018, and 2019 is also a strong possibility.  Here's my suggestion to BMG - next time, go the whole hog, and ask people if they want an indyref within the next week.  Then, to your little heart's content, you can play around with headlines like "Devastation for Sturgeon as Scots reject holding UK partition vote before teatime next Friday", but what the hell you'll think you have actually proved is anyone's guess.

Why are these people so scared of asking sensible questions about a realistic timescale, or indeed about the basic principle of holding a second indyref to keep Scotland within the EU?  Well, yes, I think we can probably guess why.

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An amusing quote in the Herald piece from Labour's nominal "Shadow Scottish Secretary" Dave Anderson : apparently the SNP must not use the Remain vote in Scotland as a "false mandate" for an independence referendum.  Don't worry, Dave, they won't do that.  The mandate is instead derived from the SNP's overwhelming victory in the Scottish Parliament election, and their manifesto pledge that Scotland should be able to call a referendum if there was a material change in circumstances, such as the country being dragged out of the EU against its will.

Sunday, January 1, 2017


Happy New Year, Scot Goes Poppers.  (I've heroically refrained from using the phrase 'Scot Goes Poppers' for the best part of nine years, but if America wants Donald Trump as its president, I'm not sure why I should bother maintaining my own dignity any longer.) 

For obvious reasons, it's hard to look ahead to 2017 with any amount of optimism - for all but nineteen-and-a-bit days of the year, an unstable narcissist is going to have the power of life and death over every single person on the planet.  And it's almost certain that the UK government's drive to drag Scotland out of Europe will shortly get underway in earnest.  But there are one or two things to look forward to - most obviously, it seems highly likely that Labour will finally lose control of Glasgow City Council in May, which will be a symbolic moment on a par (almost) with the fall of Byzantium in 1453.

I'm grateful to Stuart Campbell for unblocking me on Twitter this morning, which means that anyone who signs up to the Wings blocklist from now on will no longer be automatically blocking me.  Obviously I still think it's an extremely bad idea to blindly block thousands of people on Twitter without having a clue why you're doing it, but each to their own.

I'm currently attempting to make my way home from the Edinburgh street party.  Last night (Friday), I went to see Alice in Wonderland at the Lyceum Theatre, and when the 'Queen' came off stage, she fixed me in a vice-like grip and planted a kiss on the top of my head (see attached picture).  I made an executive decision not to wipe the lipstick off, in the hope that people might be fooled into thinking I had a more eventful Hogmanay than ever seemed likely.