Sunday, 28 October 2012

The claws are out

The British state - no pussy-cat!
I do not inhabit the political bubble. I am not "in the loop". Unlike Euan McColm, I don't get calls from spin doctors eager to influence my opinion. And that suits me just fine. I am perfectly comfortable with being a mere political anorak. I am quite content that my perspective may be more attuned to that of "ordinary voters" than is possible for those tainted by constant contact with the elites of politics and the media. And if that perspective is any guide then those ordinary voters are pretty disgusted by what they are seeing. The British state is on the defensive. The claws are out. And things are starting to get really dirty.

Alex Salmond has long been something of a hate figure for the British establishment. The more so since they have been obliged to at least pay lip service to dealing with him on equal terms, only to find that this master of the political arts is more than a match for them. In various ways, from the SNP's election victory in 2007, through the proving years of that first minority administration, to the 2011 election landslide and lately culminating in the signing of the Edinburgh Agreement, Salmond has bested the best that the British state could send into the fray against him. The British state does not take such slights to its imperious pretensions lightly.

In the past, a "nuisance" such as Salmond would have been harassed then jailed and, as a last resort, unceremoniously assassinated. We live in different times. Harassment, imprisonment and murder are no longer the order of the day. But while the weapons may have changed, the attitudes most certainly haven't. The British state is still as jealously protective of its power, privilege and patronage as it ever was. And as bitterly vindictive towards those who challenge it as the constraints of modern society will permit.

This past week has seen one of the most vicious and concerted attacks on Alex Salmond that we have witnessed to date. With the help of a constant media barrage of propaganda, the British political parties have managed to generate in susceptible minds an impression of  incompetence, confusion and even dishonesty in the SNP leadership. In salvo after salvo the same distortions and downright lies have been rained down on anybody who is still listening to the BBC or reading the nation's newspapers. At Holyrood, the likes of Lamont and Davidson have sought, somewhat feebly it must be said, to do their bit for the British state, descending to some borderline unparliamentary conduct in the process. The onslaught has been relentless.

It is not uncommon in such a fevered atmosphere for people who should know better to get caught up in the mentality of the Angry Villagers, losing sight of the facts and recourse to their critical faculties in the process. Thus, the frenzy tends to become self-perpetuating and self-reinforcing as it infects even some of the less irrational and prejudiced minds among us.

Euan McColm might well be flattered to be cited as an example in this context. His opinion piece in today's Scotland on Sunday (Salmond both a formidable asset and the greatest challenge to Yes cause) pretty much encapsulates the current smear campaign against Alex Salmond. First, there is the acknowledgement of Salmond's abilities as a political operator in the hopes of establishing some kind of credentials as an "honest broker". That pretence doesn't last long as McColm almost immediately seeks to portray Salmond's political abilities as some kind of personal flaw with the claim that he has "carefully absented himself from tricky political debate". It seems that it's OK for Salmond to be a clever politician just as long as he doesn't do the things a clever politician would do.

And all the other elements of the smear campaign are in there. Many of the more astute commentators are rather backing off from explicit allegations that Salmond lied in that interview with Andrew Neil now that it has been subject to more thorough analysis than journalists are generally capable of or willing to attempt. But it is too juicy a morsel to let go of, so it has to get another mention before the fact that the accusation has been totally discredited becomes general knowledge. Likewise the malicious myths based on misrepresentation of the ministerial code - knowingly or through ignorance - and dumbly unquestioning belief in the moral rectitude of Catherine Stihler's vexatious Freedom of Information request.

Then there is the dismissal of the investigation into the allegations against Salmond and the impugning of the integrity of those assigned the task of conducting that investigation. This is necessary, of course, as it is all but certain Salmond will be cleared, as he has been on no fewer than five previous occasions, because the charges against him are unfounded. Basically, the British nationalists have demanded an inquiry while simultaneously declaring that they will not accept the results of that inquiry unless there is the guilty verdict that they crave. That, folks, is the British sense of fair play.

And the propaganda effort would not be complete without an attempt, however contrived and feeble, to link Salmond's political fortunes to the success or otherwise of the Yes Scotland campaign. All pretty standard stuff. And not particularly cleverly executed. So why did McColm's article attract my attention?

The article starts by harking back to 2004 and the launch of Salmond's campaign to become party leader again. At the time I was not a member of the SNP, although I was an ardent supporter of Scottish independence - as I have been quite literally all of my life. I didn't like Alex Salmond. And I was far from alone in that. Although I recognised his skill as an orator and his superiority when it came to debate, I was nonetheless seriously dubious about his ability to unite the party behind him and avoid alienating people with what I suspected was a rather abrasively arrogant manner. I was also concerned by the fact that he never seemed ready to be content to simply win a debate, he always gave the impression of wanting to utterly crush and humiliate his opponents. In short, I was not convinced that he had the necessary qualities of a party leader and, by extension, that he could not be convincing as a potential national leader.

I was wrong.

To be more accurate, I was to become wrong. I'm pretty sure my assessment of Salmond was fairly near the mark at the time that I reached my conclusions about him. But he changed. He changed quite dramatically.

I'm not entirely sure when this transformation occurred. As said at the start, I don't move in those circles. It seems likely that the effort to remodel himself started prior to his running for leader in 2004. But I know that it became quite startlingly apparent early in the campaign for the 2007 election. I knew then that we were looking at a future First Minister and the man who would deliver a referendum on independence. Perhaps even the ultimate prize.

I knew I was looking at a man who had changed himself in very significant ways. Something that, in itself, is no mean feat and greatly to be admired. But it was more than that. This was a man who had taken his personal weaknesses and hammered them into political strengths. He did not seek to discard or disguise his arrogance, as a lesser man might have done. Instead, he moulded that arrogance into a powerful aura of resolute confidence that inspired all around him and conveyed to the electorate.

Aware of his flaws, Salmond surrounded himself with people well able to mediate and keep him in check. Like any leader worthy of the name, he delegated to others realising that their strengths would compensate for his weaknesses. And it was his arrogance that allowed him to do this. Secure in his supreme self-confidence, he had no fear of bringing into his inner circle the kind of people a less assure individual would have regarded as a threat.

He was the man for the job.

And he still is. That is why the British establishment is so determined to get rid of him

I am not naive. I harbour no romantic notions about politicians. I do not imagine they should, or could be some kind of superior creatures not subject to the same sort of folly and failings that the rest of us fall prey to. I accept that they are just human beings. Then I judge them on how effectively they do their job. How well they are fitted to the role that they fill. I accept that some of those qualities that we might find unappealing or even reprehensible in another context may actually be desirable or even essential in our political leaders - so long as they know where to draw that all important line. And I'm pretty sure that's how most people look at it.

I'm pretty sure people are not going to be swayed by the vicious smears and contorted calumnies perpetrated by servants of the British state. I'm pretty sure they will trust their own judgement rather than the pronouncements of the blatantly prejudiced.  I'm pretty sure they see in Salmond a man who knows where that line is.

I'm pretty sure people look at Alex Salmond and they see someone who is far from perfect as a man, but bloody effective as a political leader. I'm pretty sure they look at Alex Salmond and they say, as we tend to here in Scotland, he'll dae.
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  1. A good read. I don't often comment but your personal feelings on Alex Salmond are similar to mine.

    I am not an SNP supporter and I can see why people might dislike him, I was one of them even just a couple of years ago. But as you know, this shouldn't be about him. It is because personalities come to the fore in the media and not substance.

    I generally vote for a party or a candidate based on various factors at the time and on policies over the near future. But independence or not goes on well after Salmond is no longer with us. The amount of vitriol spewed about Salmond as though that should be the main and only factor on the 2014 vote is a disgrace, and it occurs each and every day in the national newspapers.

    I have not officially taken a "side" on this debate but after extensive reading over the last two years, I've leaned from "keep things as they are" to "I need more evidence" to "the unionists need to give me more to stick with the status quo".

    Like I said I wasn't a fan of Salmond in the past but all it takes is a week of reading the media and watching his performances compared to his leader counterparts in Holyrood (or almost anyone in general in UK politics actually) to wonder just who would do a better job in his shoes. Your points on this matter are spot on and it's a shame they get drowned out by everything else.

    1. Thanks for that, Ray. It's good to hear from a waverer. Especially one who is taking a critical interest in the debate.

    2. Good article Peter, This is the NO camps strategy in a nutshell, Smear Salmond get the pro Unionist media to help with this, Of course it will backfire ,Us Scots have and has always had a sense of fair play, The Labour party in particular have learned nothing their wholly negative campaign in the last election backfired spectacularly,

    3. yes and our sense of justice will prevail.Karma is a wonderful thing and the amount the unionists are going to get back will finish them once and for all. Lets have a rag mans roll,made up of all the unionists, who have talked this country down and make sure none of them ever hold office again in an Independent Scotland

    4. While your anger is understandable, David, I prefer to think that independence will offer the chance of a fresh start. An opportunity to leave old animosities behind us.

    5. Thats exactly what I had in mind. A fresh start with fresh minds. The other way would be like making Saddam Hussein head of defense. Besides if such a roll existed before Independence it may make some think twice before telling lies for their own ends. But I totally take on board ,and agree with your sentiments. My comment was if you like a bit tongue in cheek

    6. I do understand that your comment was not completely serious. And it does raise a serious issue about those who would knowingly act directly against Scotland's interests in the name of preserving the union. But are there really significant numbers of such people? I rather doubt it.

      Ultimately this kind of thinking leads us into the realm of branding people "traitors" and "quislings". I don't think that is helpful at all. It only makes post-independence reconciliation more problematic. And we will have enough to contend with as it is.

  2. The EU advice furore is perhaps the most telling example of how the press and BBC in Scotland act as Labour's propaganda arm and as agents of the British state.

    What are the facts of the whole matter when the media, labour, the conservatives and the lib-dems have been publicly calling Alex Salmond a liar. What have they got on him?

    1. Did Alex Salmond lie to the Scottish public by declaring that Scotland will stay in the EU when in fact he has had no basis for that advice?

    The one bit of that Andrew Neil interview that nobody in Labour or the press quotes is the bit at exactly 10 minutes in where Alex Salmond quotes supporters of his viewpoint as Emile Noël, Eamon Gallagher and Lord MacKenzie Stuart

    Emile Noël, the first and longest serving Secretary-General of the European Commission said: "Scottish Independence would create two new member states out of one. They would have equal status with each other and the other states. The remainder of the United Kingdom would not be in a more powerful position than Scotland."

    Eamonn Gallagher- former director general of the European Commission stated: "Scotland and the remainder of the UK would be equally entitled, and obliged, to continue the existing full membership of the EU. This was conceded by Emile Noel, one of Europe’s founding fathers and long-serving secretary-general of the European Commission, who said Scottish independence would create two states, which would have "equal status with each other and the other states".

    Lord Mackenzie-Stuart, former president of the European Court of Justice who stated: "Independence would leave Scotland and something called the rest in the same legal boat. If Scotland had to re-apply, so would the rest. I am puzzled at the suggestion that there would be a difference in the status of Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom in terms of community law if the Act of Union was dissolved."

    I'd be surprised if the SNP haven't obtained other legal opinon on Scotland's status as a newly independent state but the idea that the SNP have just made things up about Scotland's entry into the EU is demonstrably false just from these three opinions.

    2. Did Alex Salmond lie to the Scottish Parliament that he had received legal opinion from his Law Officers on a newly independent Scotland's status in the EU?

    Even the Labour party haven't bother with that one.

    3. Did Alex Salmond lie to the Scottish public that he had received legal opinion from his Law Officers on a newly independent Scotland's status in the EU?

    The only thing that Labour and the press have as a hook to hang their accusations on is in that Andrew Neil interview where what is said is so ambiguous that Labour had to alter the quote to suit their purposes. Something else that should be noted is that Alex Salmond didn't volunteer that information, it was only brought up in response to a direct question from Andrew Neil who neither let Alex Salmond elaborate on the answer nor questioned him further on the answer.

    With a proper press the first thing they'd have done is asked Labour to come up with something to back up their serious allegation of mispropriety against the First Minister but with our press all we get is them shouting, "Liar, liar pants on fire", in concert with Labour.

    If the the Scottish press goes financially belly up either singly or collectively I'm not going to shed a tear.

    But you're right Peter this is just the first salvo in what's going to be a very dirty campaign aimed at discrediting Salmond in the hope of de-railing the Yes campaign.

    1. The role played by the media in recent events merely exemplifies and ongoing disgrace. The press in particular is totally failing in its duty to inform the public. A duty which is a crucial component of our democracy. Rather than analysing and explaining issues, journalists in the mainstream media are intent on generating confusion and opacity where none need exist.

      One of the tricks of their nefarious trade is conflating different issues in order to make them seem more complex. Fortunately, we have the online media - which is doing much of the work that the mainstream media should be doing. Unfortunately, where blogs have the capacity to examine issues in depth, it is the press and TV that has the greatest immediate impact. I'm not sure how we overcome that.