Wednesday 24 October 2012

Poisoned politics

Poisoned politics (Photo credit: Murray Williams)
There is a sickness in Scottish politics. A corrosive malignancy in the very heart of our nation. A debilitating malady that threatens to cripple our democracy.


Crude, mindless, intellect-sapping hatred. The seething hatred of the British establishment for the freely and democratically elected government of Scotland. The intense antipathy of Britain's ruling elites for the largest and most popular political party in Scotland. The burning resentment of British career politicians towards Scotland's rightful First Minister - a man whose ability and popularity provokes jealousy of truly toxic intensity.

This sickness has been evident to the honest observer for some time. It is always there, simmering just below the surface. It manifests at low level in various ways. We see it in the blatantly biased reporting of the BBC. We see it in the daily diet of "Salmond accused...!" headlines served up by the mainstream media. 

We see it in the bilious ranting of journalists like Alan Cochrane. We see it in the incessant petty sniping of unionist politicians more concerned with scoring political points than with fulfilling their role as a democratic opposition.

We see it in the ludicrously one-sided "deliberations" of the Scottish Affairs Committee at Westminster, and in the shameful shenanigans that have become a distasteful feature of Scottish Questions in the House of Commons.

But it is on those rare occasions when there is a hint of blood in the water that this hatred comes fully into sharp, shocking focus. For that is when the feeding frenzy begins. The trigger for the current feeding frenzy was a TV interview back in March 2012. But first, the briefest possible bacground.

The Scottish government takes the position that on achieving independence Scotland and the remainder of the UK (rUK) will both be regarded as successor states in terms of their status vis-a-vis the European Union (EU). For those who have taken the trouble to look into the matter, this is an entirely reasonable not to say obvious position. The anti-independence campaign, however, as part of its scaremongering effort to make independence seem as daunting a prospect as possible, insists that only rUK will be treated as a successor state and that Scotland will be treated as an accession state. That is to say, that the newly independent Scotland will be forcibly ejected from the EU; its people stripped of their EU citizenship; and all existing treaties rendered null and void. A supremely implausible "year zero" scenario.

This scaremongering is usually embellished with all manner of tales about the fearfully onerous terms that Scotland will then be forced to accept in order to gain membership of the EU. All complete nonsense, of course, as is generally the case with stories intended to frighten the vulnerable and the gullible. But that is not the issue we are concerned with here.

What we are concerned with is the supposed Holy Grail of "The Legal Advice". Anti-independence campaigners maintain the pretence that there is some definitive piece of legal opinion that settles the question of EU status once and for all. They claim to have such definitive advice supporting their rather ludicrous "year zero" position. Although nobody has ever actually produced it. Now, some time ago, as part of the general mischief-making pursued by the British parties, Labour MEP Catherine Stihler submitted a Freedom of Information (FoI) request demanding to know if the Scottish government had sought legal advice in the matter of Scotland's post-independence EU status and, if so, what that advice said.

As I have explained elsewhere, this FoI request was entirely frivolous and vexatious and it was, as Stihler knew it would be, refused by the administration on the grounds of the principle - adhered to by all administrations in the UK over many years - that ministerial advice is sought and held in conditions of strict confidentiality. Cue much faux indignation, well-rehearsed outrage and a general wailing and gnashing of teeth amidst which might be heard the endlessly repeated mantra of "the public's right to know".

In the face of all this, the Scottish government maintained its adherence to established practice and its compliance with the ministerial code. The matter went to the Information Commissioner who ruled that the administration should reveal whether it held legal advice but not what the advice was. A cobbled-together compromise which the government then announced it would appeal in the courts - as, indeed, it was bound to do.

And so to the present. Yesterday (23 October 2012), in the course of announcing the publication of the results of the Scottish government's referendum consultation, Deputy First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, let it be known that the administration had not sought specific legal advice on the matter of Scotland's EU status. This provoked yet another maelstrom of ill-informed comment about Salmond having "squandered taxpayers' money" by trying to conceal information for some never-quite-explained ulterior motive. Surprisingly, at least to those new to observing the antics of anti-independence pond-life, no mention was made of the individual whose efforts at petty politicking had necessitated this expenditure, Catherine Stihler.

Thus, the pack was primed. All that was needed was that tiny drop of blood to set them off. It came in the form of the aforementioned TV interview in which Alex Salmond spoke to the arse-clenchingly awful Andrew Neil. Being First Minister is not all beer and skittles.

The interview as whole was the kind of unsatisfactory shambles which invariably ensues when the interviewer considers himself the real celebrity and imagines that whatever few might be watching are doing so to hang on his every word rather than to listen to what is being said by that pesky distraction, the interviewee. In the course of this, at about 10:40 on the video for those who want to spare themselves the full ordeal, there was the exchange that induced the paroxysms of contrived, sputum-spraying indignation which were to follow.

NEIL: Have you sought advice from your own Scottish law officers in this matter?

SALMOND: We have, yes, in terms of the debate.

NEIL: And what do they say?

SALMOND: You can read that in the documents that we’ve put forward, which argue the position that we’d be successor states.
To the rational mind there is nothing untoward here. Although there is a suggestion that the two men may be talking somewhat at cross-purposes due to the incompetence of the interviewer, it is abundantly clear from the full exchange that Salmond is referring to already published material and not unpublished material. The conversation having previously flitted back and forth between the two.

We are not dealing with rational minds, however. We are dealing with minds addled with hatred. And those minds latched onto only the part of the above exchange which seemed to provide an excuse to vent that hatred.

The assertion being made by Salmond's political enemies is that his words, "We have, yes...", amount to a claim that the Scottish government had sought legal advice. A claim which, had it actually been made, would later be proved to be false when Nicola Sturgeon revealed that no specific advice had been sought.

In accusing Salmond of lying, the unionist politicians and their friends in the media choose to completely disregard most of the content of the exchange. They take only the snippet that serves their purpose. To any reasonable person this would seem dishonest, at best. But in the minds of these accusers, hate overrules both reason and truth.

In order to try and understand the extent to which all rationality has been abandoned in the frantic quest for a stick with which to beat their supreme hate-figure, let us examine what these demented minds have accepted - and what they want the rest of us to believe. They want us to believe that Salmond, a man all but universally acknowledged as one of the most astute politicians of our time, having stood solidly by the ministerial code through several parliamentary interrogations and numerous public interviews, suddenly decides to breach that code in order to confide in a minor TV personality. Some may claim that it was wheedled out of him by an accomplished political interviewer. But it's Andrew Neil we're talking about, so that argument is hardly persuasive.

And look at the supposed lie! It's not just any lie. It's just about the stupidest, most ill-thought, most transparent lie that you might imagine. A lie that is absolutely certain to be exposed. Even inadequate politicians instinctively avoid such clumsy lies. What contortion of the intellect is required to suppose that a political operator of Salmond's calibre might have so casually dropped such a flimsy falsehood into a televised interview?

And it is a lie that serves no purpose. There is absolutely nothing to be gained from it. Nothing!

Even Andrew Neil didn't think he'd caught Salmond in an indiscretion. If he had, surely even he would not have been so distracted by wonder at his own superbness as to fail to pursue that indiscretion. It is clear from the way the interview proceeds that Neil is perfectly well aware of the fact that Salmond was referring to material already in the public domain.

Not only is the accusation of lying disproved by the facts, it is simply not credible on the face of it.

But that matters not at all to those whose powers of reason have succumbed to festering hate. They are in that feeding frenzy. No thinking is even possible.

This is the sickness in Scottish politics. Self-perpetuating, self-reinforcing, self-justifying hatred. This is what threatens to render rational debate on the matter of our constitution all but impossible - leaving us instead with an interminable round of empty, futile confrontations. And the great danger is that eventually the taint of this poison might spread from the British nationalist camp and come to infect all of us. I shudder to think what happens then.
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  1. It's been a bad couple of days for Mr Salmond and the SNP and I can understand why your upset about that, but if a Labour or a Tory politician had acted in the same way as Mr Salmond, there is no doubt that the SNP would also be using a word beginning with the letter L.
    That said, I agree that there should be no hatred in this campaign. Unionists and nationalists may disagree, but we are not enemies, and we will all have to live together in the Scotland which emerges from the referendum.

    1. It's not been nearly as bad as British nationalists comfort themselves by imagining. The resignations, while regrettable, had to have been anticipated and they will have no practical effect on the administration while arguably strengthening the Yes Scotland campaign.

      As to the scurrilous and completely unfounded accusation of lying, the First Minister will shrug this off for the vacuous nonsense it is. And the longer British Labour functionaries like Paul martin try to keep it going the greater the chance that it will come back to bite unionist arse as more and more people become aware of just how much dishonesty has been involved in concocting the smear.

      As to your other remarks, I obviously concur. It would good if your could spread that message among British nationalists of your acquaintance. They're the ones who need to mend their ways.

  2. Thank you, Peter, for this article. HATE does indeed encapsulate everything that is distorting the political scene in Scotland (and to a lesser degree in the rUK).

    Quite why the visceral hate of the SNP I am still trying to fathom. Unless it is the now increasingly real fear that a successful YES vote in the referendum will erode the comfortable lifestyles of the anti-Independence/pro-dependency brigade. I can (almost) understand this from politicians whose troughing days are numbered; but less from journalists who I had thought once upon a time had a moral compass, and a desire for truth when they entered the profession.

    Small wonder politicians and journalists are held in such low esteem.

    I hope and trust that we on the Independence side of the argument never fall into the abyss so able inhabited by those ranks against us.

    Saor Alba

    1. I appreciate the feedback. Thank you.

      While personal gain may be a factor in the increasingly desperate efforts to preserve the failed union, I feel there is rather more to it than that. There is undoubtedly a strong element of British nationalism at work. And it is not in any sense comparable with the mature, pragmatic civic nationalism of Scotland's independence movement.

      British nationalism is primitive, sentimental, romantic. Much given to banal jingoism and gaudy baubles. It is elitist and exclusive. It embraces notions of superiority and exceptionalism. It is, in short, the very kind of nationalism that is a breeding ground for the insidious hatred to which I refer.

      Let us make no mistake. This contest is fundamentally adversarial. But that does not mean that it has to be confrontational.

  3. Great article, Peter. Has anyone asked the UK government if they have sought advice on remaining in the EU (and what the advice was). If not, why not? They certainly have a lot of opinion on it. We need to know if it is informed opinion.
    Also, if the EU booted us out, where would they fish..?

    1. Thanks for the positive feedback.

      As to your question about UK advice, see today's Courier - "UK Government accused of 'hypocrisy' for refusing to release legal advice on independence and the EU"

      There is actually no mechanism by which Scotland could be "booted out". And it is simply unthinkable that they would want to do so even if they could.

  4. I kept wondering why the Media were so hostile to the SNP - I could see why they were a threat to the other political parties, but not the media. Then I got to thinking about Ane Satyre of the Three Estaitis and what happens when you challenge the establishment. That led me to thinking about the Fourth Estate and John McGrath's play "A Satire of the Four Estates" and things got clearer. The SNP simply challenge the establishment and that won't do. The newspapers, the BBC and STV are as much a part of the establishment as the politicians, the aristocracy, the churches, the banks, etc....and think they should not be challenged by the electorte. The SNP challenge them. Perhaps that's the problem.

    1. Thanks for your input, Jeannie.

      You make a valid and very important point about the media being part of the establishment. Journalists often like to portray themselves as "rebels" defending the little people against the might of the state and corporate power. The truth is that, at least as far as the mainstream media are concerned, they are generally the servants of both.

  5. It is real hatred from the establishment, not just a sickness. I'm not inluding most ordinary members of the unionist parties, as most folk won't have read too deeply into the dirty tricks of the past, but they will resort to anything to hold on to the remaining parts of their Empire. The Willie Macrae story is a good place to start.
    If this was 1912 instead of 2012, gunships would be off the Scottish coast. Independence has only been a theoretical issue to the British establishment until recently. Now it has become a real possibility, the gloves are starting to come off.
    I just pray that the 'contest' stays peaceful, and the 'establishment' doesn't provoke a physical response. I'm sure MI5 have folk in place ready to cause trouble.

    1. I note what you say without further comment.

  6. Great article. Thank you.

  7. Hi, I have been following comments on WOS and NNS for some time but this is the first time I have commented on any article. The reason I am doing so is because I completely agree with you view on the hatred that exists amongst the unionists. I think that most of the pro-independence people try to keep positive and present facts on their reasons for voting yes in 2014.
    People like Mgt Curren seem to take it as a personal insult if someone disagrees with her views on the union – her incoherent ranting on Question Time was a sight to behold. I believe that there is no depths to which the establishment will stoop to destroy the credibility of the Yes movement.I don’t understand the reasoning of people like her and AN – do they really think that the British Establishment will admire them for this stance or do they not care?
    I also have friends who are died in the wool labour supporters who seem to look for excuses to vote No. I am at a loss to understand their attitudes as they tend to be smart, intelligent people but they will be over this like a rash.
    I have given up on getting much truth from the MSM and I now rely on the above sites for factual reporting.
    What do you think of the possibility of AS suing the people who continue to call him a bare-faced liar despite the release of the tape with his interview with AN clearly showing that he said – yes in terms of the debate?

  8. Thanks for "popping your cherry" here. Be warned! You may get the bug!

    You picked a good example with Maggie Curran. Horrid individual. And none too bright. It is so disappointing that "Scottish" Labour can't find better people than this.

    Salmond will never sue over something like these accusations of lying. Why drag it out? The whole thing will be history in a week. He would be accused of trying to silence critics. And, besides, the silly fuss is actually doing more long-term damage to those throwing the mud. The Scottish electorate has unequivocally indicated that it is totally fed up with this kind of politics.

    Keep on commenting!

  9. Another fine article, Peter, I just don't understand the reasoning behind these ceaseless and incessantly rabid attacks on the First Minister. Yes, it is clear they regard him with hatred, yes, it is clear they see the SNP and independence as a threat to their gravy trains, but surely they must see how a good proportion of everyday Labour voters regard this strategy, and how alienated and aggrieved they must feel?
    Despite it being an ugly form of politics, part of me hopes the Scottish Labour party continues along these lines. I know quite a few ex-Labour voters now firmly in the Yes camp because of such behaviour. Hounding the First Minister of the country like a slavering pack of rabid dogs, and to no avail, and aligning themselves closer and closer in the Tory camp, instead of trying to come up with something positive to say about their position, is only going to alienate more and more, all to the benefit of the Yes campaign.

    1. The secret of analysis is asking good questions. And you just asked a very good question. What are the unionists - particularly Labour - hoping to achieve by their strategy?

      The first thing I'd say is that it is probably a mistake to imagine there is a "master plan". Or even a single motive. It is also a mistake to assume rationality. We tend to like to think of the world as orderly, predictable, proceeding according to some comprehensible pattern. But it ain't necessarily so.

      Having said all that, if I was asked to deduce from their behaviour what the anti-independence campaign is aiming for I'd say they were trying to hold the NO vote. Despite the polls that they keep going on about, they realise that there is no way they can touch that core 30+% of committed independence supporters. So they are not even talking to them They are talking only and exclusively to NO voters. And mostly to the waverers. The big chunk of voter that is always counted with the NOs but which, because they are actually devo-whatever supporters, should really be counted with the don't-knows.

      Hence the scaremongering and smear tactics. The reason they don't have a positive message - even if one could be found - is that it does not serve their purpose. Those devo-waverers have already rejected the status quo. They are never going back to it no matter what line is devised to sell the union. The best the Bitter Together mob can hope for is to deter them, or some of them, from reaching the tipping point that will take them into the YES camp.

      One of the reasons the unionists wanted to bring the referendum forward is that they, or their advisers, recognise that this negative strategy is strictly a short-term thing. It cannot be maintained for two years. It will do more harm than good as far as their cause is concerned.

      So they look for a really big hit. Something that will pull those waverers back and keep them there. What we are seeing with this "advice lying" nonsense is an attempt to create that one big thing - while also working up the uncertainty about the EU and maybe taking Salmond out of the game.

      It won't work. It won't work because that big thing cannot be spun out of nothing. Just as the best lies are mostly truth, so the best smears are based on something real. There is nothing real there. No foundation to build on. By next week it will have been relegated to the pile marked, "previously accused" for use in propaganda to give the impression of "past form".

      Then they will look for something else. But so long as Salmond doesn't get caught with a Cayman Islands account stuffed with money siphoned off the block grant they will always be struggling. And getting more desperate.

      Bloody hell! This has turned into an article. And I haven't even touched the irrational motivations yet. Best stop for now.

    2. Thanks for the extended reply, Peter, and it is all accurate, though not sure about how it is strictly a short term thing, they have been active in these tactics for years now, I just re-read an article I wrote in Feb, and nothing has changed, though some of the reaction has changed with groups like Labour for independence popping up. Whether this will make any difference I don't know, though, as you stated, there seems to be no master plan (I doubt Lamont and Co. could form one if they tried!), they seem to stutter and dither from day to day, digging deeper holes to fall into.
      (Cayman Island accounts - isn't that where the London wealthy and fat-walleted comedians pay their tax?)

  10. Brilliant analysis of how our wonderful Scottish media mangle the truth.
    Time to remind ourselves of what they have done in the past by re-watching the excellent BBC Alba documentary 'Diomhair'

  11. Good to be reminded of that documentary, David. Many thanks.