I’m a Stormtrooper!

I couldn’t sleep and read the papers at 4 am. I saw Brian Wilson’s column and opted out of responding because I couldn’t get the point. Criticising BBC presenters is…sinister? What does it mean…does he think we’ll come round the croft on September 19 with baseball bats? (Don’t tweet this but I know the plan is to round up the Unionists as they approach the polling station, transport them to Leith and force them to scrub the decks of the Royal Yacht).

However I’m advised it might be good for traffic on the site to blog back and as it happens, it coincides with a major development here I hope to announce next week involving me and the media.

I have to say though that, if it’s of any interest to the editor of the Scotsman who wonders if his £200 to Brian is worth it, I haven’t had a single email, call or tweet about his star columnist’s effort this morning. A bit disheartening, no? Almost anything about independence is retweeted and shared across platforms and forums, yet I see nothing, a big zero, about Brian’s column in our “national newspaper”.

I’ll tweet this blog and give them some oxygen. http://www.scotsman.com/news/brian-wilson-sinister-signals-transmitted-by-snp-1-3350058

Let’s start with the basic premise…that in his Andrew Marr interview, Salmond displayed fury – and toe-curling unpleasantness -and in some unspecified way threatened something that should worry people who care for their country’s integrity. What I saw, and it’s on YouTube, was Salmond picking up on an inappropriate remark by a BBC presenter and, as is his right, challenging him. Or, as Brian puts it: UNLEASHED THE FORCES OF MENACE!!! What….with his Dan Dare Death Ray?

But, hold on.  There is no Salmond complaint, no Scottish government complaint, no SNP complaint. They are NOT complaining as they are entitled to do. Far from showing fury and scorning dissent, they are letting Marr off the hook for what every BBC journalist knows was an unprofessional slip. Asked time after time on the referendum question time, John Swinney refused to say the BBC was biased. Is Brian arguing that politicians should be compliant in the face of truculent presenters? Does he for example, approve of Ian Davidson insulting the professionalism of Isabel Fraser on Newsnight? Most people would find that much more offensive in tone than Salmond’s smiling intervention with Marr.

Marr of course had already bought, as has Brian, the Barosso line about difficulties in membership without ever asking what treaty would be applied and when did the EU enact a law about expelling members? Glaring, basic, journalistic errors that are glazed over by the ego of a handsomely remunerated public figure paid to interrogate but proving incapable when the moment arose. I wouldn’t have thought a graduate of journalism would approve of partial interviews.

Nor do I approve of Kenny McIntyre’s name being called in defence of opinionated interviewing. If that’s what the late BBC correspondent was doing I must have missed it. Forceful, challenging and demanding, yes, but impartial to a fault. Did he ever betray a personal bias? I have no idea, for example, what he voted or if he voted. I recall walking down a corridor in Queen Margaret Drive behind Donald Dewar who had just been speaking to Kenny. Dewar said to his aide… “he is absolutely straight and impartial”. It is inconceivable Kenny would imply to a senior politician on air that he thought he was wrong. Off air, yes! But that would cross the very line Marr did and McIntyre knew where that line was.

Surely the difference with Andrew Neil is that he declares his politics. He is a right-wing, anti devolution, anti single currency and anti the public sector (which pays his handsome wages). We know his views and so take them into account. He also interviews fairly in that each side gets the same treatment. (Memo to Naughtie)

Here is another insight into the Brian Wilson modus operandi. Instead of Scotland’s place in Europe being the issue – “As is Salmond’s way, the man was a welcome substitute for the ball.” How utterly journalistically vacuous is that? Corny, clichéd and a corruption of what every observer including the entire Scottish press recognized as a concerted personal campaign led by Labour against Salmond which was recorded by Professor John Robertson. But when you’ve only one eye, you only one see one side.


Oops, this is where I come in. Cue music…I’m one of Salmond’s Stormtroopers. No really. Yes, read that again. A blogger, not a member of the SNP, who disagrees with Salmond on NATO and on currency, who expresses widely-held doubts about the impartiality of public sector presenters is (in Brian’s Wookie World) a Stormtrooper,

an elite soldier of the Empire, an ever present reminder of the absolute power of the  Emperor, a faceless enforcer of the New order often using brutal tactics, distinguished from all other by his signature white armour…

What ARE they putting in the peat in Stornoway?

In deconstructing this basilica of bile, beware the phrase – To be clear. In the mouth of a politician it means – Warning: big lie coming this way. Thus I am apparently saying Marr and – of course, the ubiquitous Naughtie – are not worthy journalists who earned the right to be on the airwaves. Only I’m not. In fact only a few posts ago I praised them as expert exponents of the art. I admit to not watching Sunday morning television but I fervently wish Andrew Marr to stay on air as one of the BBC’s most talented interviewers. He f****d up the Barroso interview and did the same with Salmond. I’ve made terrible errors on air and agonized over them later. It happens. And I expected to get criticism and a red face and duly got both.


My point about Marr and Naughtie is that they are floating somewhere above the BBC rules by dint of their celebrity status. Marr re-crafted his book about Scotland to cash in on the referendum and duly told us we were anti English if we favoured independence. This is the standard sneer of the I-made-it-in-London crowd who simply cannot grasp that their country isn’t the hopeless pit they left behind.

In today’s Times Naughtie is interviewed as, you know, London celebrity-back-in-Scotland and he does seem to make more news than he actually reports. He confirms in remarks to Magnus Linklater everything I’ve been saying by giving us his sage interpretation that there is emotion in the debate but hard-headedness will win out. I could be wrong but I think that’s Nationalism equals emotion, Union equals common sense. If the BBC did its job properly, Jim’s boss would have a private word in his ear and suggest he stop parading his opinions across the media at every turn since he’s paid to be impartial and that sure ain’t what’s coming over.

Imagine what Brian Wilson would say if Brian Taylor told the Times that of course there was still an attraction to the Union but the demand for a New Scotland was overwhelming. Then of course journalists would have to be reminded of their duty to the country…

Incidentally, Salmond was right about Barroso sucking up to Cameron and other leaders because he wants the NATO job. It’s all over the media. http://blogs.spectator.co.uk/coffeehouse/2013/07/is-jose-manuel-barroso-after-the-top-job-at-nato/ Try Google, Brian.

The principle flaw however is the confluence of two artifices. One, that Salmond, and myself, are trying to close down debate. Now who does that remind you of in the referendum campaign? Salmond has travelled Britain – and Europe – to argue his case and was, remember, on the very Andrew Marr show that seemed to trash his EU case just two weeks before. Not exactly hiding is it? There is too over 600 pages of White Paper and the standing offer to debate live with the Prime Minister.

I’m out here. Right now. I gave up the comfort zone. The easy thing was to sit behind a mike and pick up the money. But here I am, giving it everything for the Scotland I want…online and in public meetings. And if I hear my country patronized or belittled or public broadcasters failing in their duty, in my opinion, I’ll say so.


I can only assume it’s all getting a little uncomfortable for those with tentacles throughout the mainstream media to find the casual acceptance of their importance disappearing.

Here’s a media professional’s question. Why is Brian Wilson writing about a week-old event with a thin link to a nationalist blogger in an hysterically over-written paean of pish? What else is happening this week that Brian is well placed to write about? Oh yes, the Scottish Labour conference. Of course, Johann’s big event, the lurch to the Left, the wonderful Devo Nano initiative, Ed’s speech. Yet not a mention from Labour’s incisive commentator. Any idea why not? Does Brian approve of Johann’s further devolution plans and increased tax scheme? It would be nice to know.

The other part of the con is placing the idea that he is the unbiased observer. You may think that someone whose job was head of the rebuttal unit for New Labour might have learned a little humility over the years on the question of media impartiality. Donald Dewar told me Brian’s key skill was as a wordsmith who could take an opponent’s words and turn them into something totally different. A propagandist? I asked. Dewar smiled.

Didn’t Brian go to court in 1979 because the pro devolution parties had more faces on television than his side? I didn’t notice him going to court this time when three parties were lined up against one in BBC studios.

Wasn’t Brian in the same New Labour government that lied to parliament, the United Nations and the British people in order to justify an illegal war which killed untold thousands? His Labour journalist colleague Alistair Campbell was rewriting intelligence reports and creating paste-together films of atrocities to crank up public rage. They didn’t just criticise BBC reporters, they demonised a single journalist and forced the resignation of the Director General and precipitated the worst crisis in the corporation’s history. In an attempt to hide the truth.  Now that’s what I call sinister.

And so is the relationship with Ian Taylor of Vitol, head of what I regard as the most sinister company in business today given its associations and record. There was a time when radical outspoken Brian Wilson would have taken up the challenge of revealing the full story of Vitol’s background. Now he just takes the money. Half a million for Better Together, wasn’t it? But there I go, being all nasty again.

Here’s a link to what Brian and his Labour pals in the British establishment mean to me, a sometime Labour voter. This is what he and his corporate friends and the British state have done to Scotland and why diverting attention with cheap personality pap is failing in this campaign. I don’t care about Wilson’s journalistic integrity, nor overpaid Marr’s, nor Naughtie’s. Anybody contriving to create and perpetuate this slur on our country deserves every insult coming their way. It takes five minutes, the same as it takes to read the Wilson column. Then tell me what sinister is. Watch and weep.

Illiberal Non-democrats

In my lifetime, Liberals have been the middlemen of politics, the sensible centre ground offering reason and light in the heat and fury of tribal politics. They sought peace and concord and applied a moral principle. So I was re-reading something this week which could have been a Liberal Democrat mission statement.

This is what the Edinburgh Agreement says: ‘The United Kingdom and Scottish Governments are committed…to working together on matters of mutual interest and to the principles of good communication and mutual respect.  The two governments have reached this agreement in that spirit.  They look forward to a referendum that is legal and fair producing a decisive and respected outcome.  The two governments are committed to continue to work together constructively in the light of the outcome, whatever it is, in the best interests of the people of Scotland and of the rest of the United Kingdom.’

Here’s what the Scottish Secretary says on EU membership: “It is the view of the UK Government that article 49 is the procedure. That is not going to change.” And later: “I think that is a fox, the corpse of which is riddled with bullets. It is barely recognisable as a fox any more.”


Alistair Carmichael – crafting his own dead parrot allusion – has rejected out of hand the Scottish government’s argument for using section 48 relating to treaty amendments to effect Scotland’s EU membership. And this from a government which ‘refuses to pre-negotiate’. Well, it’s certainly true that negotiation is banned, but what we didn’t expect was that the decisions would be made unilaterally anyway.

We now have currency union unilaterally ruled out without negotiation followed by Scotland’s seamless EU entry blocked by diktat, again without any discussion between governments.

Now you may casually dismiss what Carmichael says on the grounds that he doesn’t enjoy a surfeit of respect from the voters barely any of whom have heard of him, but it’s worth considering the implications of his remarks to MSPs because they illuminate a trend in the Things Are Alright camp.

I don’t imagine the intricacies of EU treaties will sway many sensible Scots, you only have to follow your common sense to see what will happen if Scotland votes Yes and makes clear its determination to remain EU members. But the path Carmichael appears to have chosen is the most precarious and tricky the frankly irresponsible not just for Scotland but for Britain. Article 49 is for accession states, it is for new members who have not previously been members and are not members now….applicants who have had to work to meet the aquis, the exacting legal standards to comply with the rules. That is not Scotland. Undeniably and indisputably, that is not EU-compliant Scotland. You have to wonder that any proud Scotsman could willfully portray his country as less in stature than it actually is. So what does the Carmichael position mean?


If there is a Yes, it isn’t just a problem for the Scots but for London and the rUK which will help represent Scotland internationally. Will they choose years of uncertainty while Brussels contrives a treaty amendment requiring 28 in unanimity which essentially tells Scotland You’re Oot? (Wouldn’t that require member 28 – that is rUK – to join a vote expelling the Scots?) Meanwhile Britain’s internal trading relations are severely restricted, Scotland’s net contribution to Brussels stops, London has to undertake jointly with us re-entry talks which may well involve themselves as the rUK’s membership will also be subject to overhaul, an In/Out referendum looms and UKIP play merry hell. The upshot could well be a sickened England voting to withdraw completely from the EU stew. London will be at the heart of all this as guarantor of the referendum result – see Edinburgh Agreement above – and instead of fighting against Scotland, will be battling against the full force of the EU machine. That is, if they insist on following Article 49. It would be a self-inflicted wound that could lead to a long-term disaster for the whole of Britain and yet can be avoided by the adroit use of Article 48 which allows for treaty amendments and which eminent authorities deem applicable. Here’s the EU expert Graeme Avery: “The scenario of an independent Scotland outside the EU and not applying EU rules would be a legal nightmare, create social and economic difficulties for EU citizens, and deprive the EU of benefits of Scotland’s membership such as its budgetary contribution and fisheries resources. To avoid this unwelcome outcome, one may expect the British Government to espouse vigorously the use of Article 48 in due course.”

And yet the man supposed to represent Scottish interests in London merrily tells our national parliament that the simplest, safest route is now a bullet-riddled corpse. Without even the benefit of talks, mind. Just dismissed…by the arrogant and ignorant Liberal Democrat who has muscled his way into the top job and now uses his time to denigrate the very ideas that can secure his country’s future. At the same time he does disservice to the European ideals to which he pretends to subscribe. Talking down hardly covers it.

It was the same with currency. They foretold the future without conferring with Scotland first. Like Macbeth’s Three Witches, Osborne, Alexander and Balls dictated events. I liked this description of Shakespeare’s trio. ‘They represent darkness, chaos, and conflict, while their role is as agents and witnesses. Their presence communicates treason and impending doom. During Shakespeare’s day, witches were seen as worse than rebels, “the most notorious traitor and rebell that can be.” They were not only political traitors, but also spiritual traitors as well. Much of the confusion that springs from them comes from their ability to straddle the play’s borders between reality and the supernatural. They are so deeply entrenched in both worlds that it is unclear whether they control fate, or whether they are merely its agents. They defy logic, not being subject to the rules of the real world’. Precisely.

Carmichael’s absurdist position was amplified by his crass use of language. Lured by an questioner he may have been but it befits a clever politician to avoid traps. Not to realize he was stumbling into an odious metaphor betrayed the truth about a man bumbling around in unfamiliar surroundings.

Some of us remember Liberals as the consensual figures in our alphabet soup, the compromisers and co-operators who exuded reason. To listen now to Carmichael and the decidedly Tory –sounding Alexander is to feel the shock of realization that one was duped. Both men have produced what defence lawyers used to call a tissue of lies in order to mislead their fellow Scots into rejecting the one avenue by which they can take command and control their own affairs, what Liberals used to call Home Rule. Campaigning I understand. Lying I deprecate. These positions on currency and the EU are deliberately crafted misrepresentations paraded as fact and are proof that the Liberals have lost the conciliatory gene and joined the anti-Scottish alliance so completely that their party history will need to be re-written.

Rich Wrinklies For Yes


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Didn’t get round to posting yesterday…I was having a champagne bath and making boats out of £10 notes. There is so much silver money about to burst into the economy that I’m launching my own range of grey luxury goods including cashmere cardigans with built-in ipod pocket, solar-heated buckskin slippers and solid gold, diamond-tipped porridge spurtles @Dimanate Derek©.

I must say as a pensioner myself that the Tories are misunderstood. Allowing those of a certain age who have earned it to spend their retirement fund on Caribbean cruises shows a truly compassionate side to the “evil Tories”. And when the money’s gone, who cares? You can’t take it with you, can you? May as well have a blast and when it’s gone rely on the state to pick up the pieces. I see all kinds of business opportunities here. For example, I may set up a financial vehicle aimed at OAPs where they can shelter their pension money instead of tying it up in an annuity. Of course, the charges would have to quite high but if I market it through Saga and get Michael Parkinson to front it, I could clean up. Which group is most vulnerable to financial scams and cold-calling? Yes, pensioners…Osborne is right, the economy will soon be booming again, awash with silver sterling pouring out of retirement accounts. Bingo! as the Tories like to say.

mrunda champagne-thumb-480x537-945

I may have detected the slightest hint of electioneering in this statement which didn’t sound much like a Budget to me at all. In fact I’m not sure why we have a Budget nowadays, the autumn statement seems to knock it sideways and half the contents are leaked so it’s not news to the markets. Just rename it the Election Giveaway and stop pretending. And to rub it in, I suspect that all along the Thames Valley where the Tory-minded seats line up like dominoes, this, along with tax changes favouring the better off, they will be smiling this morning.

Osborne has shown in whose interests the Tories govern and while Labour is still slightly ahead in the polls, Miliband and Balls are miles behind on economic competence. Added to the underwhelming Scottish document on devolution and the impression grows that Labour may be entering a spiral of failure. The funniest idea of all is that Ruth the Ruthless has an historic chance to upstage Labour with a more radical option. If the Devo Plus analysis is correct and Johann’s incoherent pastiche only raises 26 per cent of the budget, not 40 per cent, it will be easy for the Right to overtake her offer. The ignominy will be crushing and not lost on Labour voters who already harbour severe doubts about both Johann and Miliband. And to cap it all, Panelbase shows the gap closing further with possibly as little as a three per cent swing required.


Staying with Labour’s travails, did you see Jenny Marra’s intervention in the row over Lena Wilson, head of Scottish Enterprise, earning £60,000 from the private sector? Jenny said: “Commanding a high salary in the public sector is different from the business environment. As it’s taxpayers’ money there is an expectation that the employee will be wholly devoted to their job with no other external responsibilities and interests. While it’s vital that Scottish Enterprise directors have their finger on the pulse of business, I don’t think it’s the public expectation that highly paid public servants are pulled off in other directions. Scotland’s economy needs its full-time officials doing their jobs full-time.”

It’s hard to defy her logic. And we can apply it to the leader of Better Together Alistair Darling who receives £66,396 a year to be a full-time MP for the people of Edinburgh South West. Median wages in Scotland are £25.960, so Alistair already earns 2.5 times as much as the average Scot he represents. Yet year on year he earns several times that. In the last MPs’ list his additional outside earnings were £170,000, giving him an income of £234,900, almost exactly 10 times his constituents’ incomes. Does that mean, as Jenny says, he is being pulled off in other directions? Indeed it does, since he is also full-time leader of Better Together. So is he wholly devoted to his job with no external responsibilities? Maybe Jenny would like to clarify.

And talking of double standards, if Aberdeen can get away with using council facilities to tell every household to vote No, how is it that in West Lothian, where the same regulations apply, even renting a hall is verboten?

A Yes request to use Linlithgow Burgh Halls was met a firm No because “Unfortunately we are not able to accommodate your event at Linlithgow Burgh Halls as we have been advised by our legal team that facilitating such an event on council controlled premises would breach section 2(3) of the 1986 Local Government Act.”

The law says:


Prohibition of political publicity.


A local authority shall not publish any material which, in whole or in part, appears to be designed to affect public support for a political party.


In determining whether material falls within the prohibition regard shall be had to the content and style of the material, the time and other circumstances of publication and the likely effect on those to whom it is directed and, in particular, to the following matters—


whether the material refers to a political party or to persons identified with a political party or promotes or opposes a point of view on a question of political controversy which is identifiable as the view of one political party and not of another;


where the material is part of a campaign, the effect which the campaign appears to be designed to achieve.]


A local authority shall not give financial or other assistance to a person for the publication of material which the authority are prohibited by this section from publishing themselves.

So, who’s right…Aberdeen or Linlithgow and how come it’s Yes that is prevented from campaigning with public facilities, not the No side? I am now so confused, I must go and read Johann’s Devo Naw document to clear my head.

The Scottish Spring

This goes against all my instincts but I can’t fight the feeling any longer. For probably the first time since I started blogging last September, I begin to think we can win this. Or more accurately that we really are going to do it. It’s an amalgamation of things. First the combination of Jim Murphy and Alistair Darling this week has mildly shocked me. Watching their performances – remember these are two of the Big Beasts of Labour Unionism – gabbling and scrambling to make questionable point after doubtful assertion, I suddenly had an Emperors’ Clothes moment. I thought: They are desperate. They sound like drowning men with so many pleas for help that it was pitiable. Neither could let the interviewer in, each of them repeating a string of claims which all ran into and over each other, neither of them displaying the gravitas and stature expected of their office, with so many caveats popping up in my mind as they spoke that I was left convinced they were in propaganda, not persuasive mode. They had nothing.


I heard Jim – eyes wide as if transmitting horror – on the STV sofa say that Scotland raised less  income than it spent therefore how will it cope…the idea being we would be bankrupt. I nudged my aching head and thought: isn’t that called a deficit? Doesn’t every country have one…except rich little countries like Norway which invested its oil money rather than spending it? Doesn’t Britain – Jim’s real country, as opposed to Scotland – have a deficit? And doesn’t every other country borrow money to cover the gap? Does he mean Scotland will be outside the club of normal nations? And is it not also the case that the deficit is in fact caused by the apportioning by London to Scotland of a share of UK national debt, money that doesn’t actually get spent here anyway? He was equally domineering and unattractive on the Radio Scotland programme in the afternoon.

Alistair too sounded slightly manic like a man on laughing gas, unable to stop himself, talking over the interviewer and reading his list of questionable assertions like someone who had memorised the shopping list and had to hurry before he forgot. I remember Malcolm Chisholm doing this in interviews when he was a minister where he was wound up so tightly, through nerves and desperation to get his point over, that he talked twenty to the dozen and made no sense at all. They sound like some agricultural machine spraying slurry in an incessant stream of meaningless invective. Contrast with Nicola Sturgeon calmly but persistently making one or two key points in a moderate tone. She wins hands down, yet Darling and Murphy are the best Better Together have got. Where is the “proud Scotsman” Alistair Carmichael who campaigned behind Michael Moore’s back to replace him? What an abject failure he has been. What grim pleasure Moor must get watching his replacement flail from the sidelines.

But the real change is Labour’s rubic cube of proposals which lack the element of zing that can transport it beyond mere policy into a campaign theme. It is risible and must shake the faith of the hardened No brigade in suburbia let alone the real hard core Labour voters who would prefer a question of their own on the ballot paper. Not only is Labour’s offer weak, it is only Labour’s. After three years of working together – and the years of Calman before that – the Unionist front has failed to coordinate a response. They jeered and scoffed at the SNP for lack of detail, then got it and still tried to sneer and now, after months of teasing, when confronted with Johann’s own moment of revelation, drop the seventh veil to audience laughter. Truly and historically pathetic.

There is little sign Labour will win the next election and if they form a minority government what might fall by the wayside? Oh, extra powers for Scotland perhaps? There is a school of thought now that whatever the outcome, the impact of this tawdry affair will irreparably damage Labour. Some forecasts have the SNP winning Holyrood again and taking 20 seats in the General Election.

Then there is UKIP, loathed in Scotland yet poised to be the winner is this year’s Euro elections where again Labour’s vote may reduce them to a single MEP in Scotland. The English reaction to this success for a Little England anti Scottish anti immigrant party will repel many Scots and confirm our different political culture.

The daffodils are out in the garden with the snowdrops and spring is in the air. Maybe that’s what I’m smelling. Or maybe it’s the clean cool fresh air of an independent Scotland. I’m begining to think it’s the Scottish Spring.

Is That It? (2)

I was a bit worried about what Labour might do. I worried before the question was set because it was clear they could adopt Devo Max as a principle, “insist” on its inclusion as a third option, meanwhile start working on the detail to suit themselves and over the last couple of years run away with the polling and benefit from the oxygen of anticipated referendum victory and even a chance of winning at Holyrood again. They blew it.

Today was the chance to retrieve that loss by astounding us all with the scale of their ambition and rewriting the No campaign by shoving a pie in the Yes face. They blew it. Again.

Labour is pathologically inept. It is now the living embodiment of Johann…conservative, parochial, backward, deferential and unqualified for its role in public life. Not only is the level of their offering restricted, it makes the fundamental campaign error of being incoherent and therefore too complicated to sell on the doorstep. Is income tax devolved or not? How much? At the top end or at the bottom? Or both? Can the upper level go up AND down? Do other rates have to rebalance? How much will it raise and what will it be spent on?

A policy you can’t describe is a failure. What does it say to Labour voters whose incomes have fallen, or to those whose benefits have been cut or who can’t afford to eat? We’re fiddling around with some parts of income tax and we’re getting an extra £1000 a year from the 100 Scots earning more than £100,000…so that’s the Celtic squad taken care of.

Welfare is what Labour voters would liked to see in the hands of the Scots but that has been cherry-picked to include the bedroom tax which as been effectively neutralised anyway. Leaving almost the full range of benefits in the hands of the Tories is a vote-loser. Corporation tax would have been a logical adjustment – it’s already mainstream as an idea in Northern Ireland – but Labour’s timidity in  differentiating Scotland gives the game away…they are resolutely British first. The same applied to air passenger duty. It’s a no-brainer for developing tourism, one of our biggest industries. So it would create an anomaly in the UK but aren’t anachronisms what the Union is all about? This is low level stuff in terms of the UK economy and in terms of the debate – it’s like control of air guns – but still they flunked it. This is a package defined by what it doesn’t offer rather than what it does. Not only does this miss the target, it wont even be part of a united Unionist package before the referendum, adding to the sense of confusion and lack of commitment they offer. I am a relieved man today.

Rehearsal Over

A lot of thoughtful and varied responses. Sorry for the awful quality, probably shouldn’t have bothered, but I think a lot of politically-minded people would listen with interest for the messages contained therein. Steven Purcell, whatever your own politics, is a very well informed observer who knows how to get votes in Glasgow, knows what motivates Labour people and how they relate to the issue of independence. One Yes-minded person who worked with him described him to me as “political genius”. You may laugh but what that means is that if you want Scotland’s largest electorate to vote for you, arguably no one knows better how that is done.

I didn’t interview him in any BBC style because that’s not what I’m doing…I want to do the reverse of a standard BBC devil’s advocate challenging discussion in order to get someone to open up and expand on their thoughts, let ideas develop in a way that hardly ever happens on the airwaves because of time constraints and, yes, the dreaded balance. It is only through listening I believe that we learn what our opponents and others really think and why.

I’m not trying to justify anything in Steven’s record in office, but to probe him on what he thinks, how that opens doors to Labour voters and how and why Labour may be making mistakes – or even what they are getting right. I’ll do the same with a Tory. It is a long listen if you’re used to conventional radio but if you want to learn something new, sometimes it requires patience. I allowed Steven to talk about his personal issues because he’s entitled to that. Many people “enjoyed” his trials but whatever errors he made, and he doesn’t deny them, he proved to be fallible, as am I. This is about what we, as people who need Labour votes to win independence, can learn from an expert. That he agreed to share his thoughts shows I think that he’s not stuck in the Labour mind-set.

You can disagree with him but I think he represents an intriguing cusp in Labour thinking. I don’t believe he’s at all afraid of independence, just not convinced it’s necessary, like the hundreds of thousands Yes needs to turn. But he does passionately want major reform and wants it across Britain. If there’s isn’t independence, I agree with him. If you listen closely, there is the clear dilemma of many of our fellow Scots who don’t support the SNP but want major change and have been denied by their own party their favoured option and are hovering, ready for one last push to Yes. Steven Purcell may only represent the failed Labour Party to you, but to me, and I suggest to seekers after independence, he embodies the agonising choice of those whose votes will determine our nation’s future. And after speaking to him, I really couldn’t tell if he’ll vote No or Yes. Imagine the impact if he declared before September 18. (I’ll have to ask him back).

Referendum Radio Rehearsal

I’ve been seeking alternative voices on the referendum to gauge what’s really happening and not relying solely on sources that will support my own point of view, which is what we all do for reassurance and to keep our focus. But the big  unknown out there is what those who are persuadable are thinking and especially in areas where the population is highest. In board terms that means West Central Scotland where by some estimates nearly 40 per cent of voters associate themselves with Labour. And as we know, Labour’s position is anti independence – officially. We also know many Labour people don’t take that view and others are ready to make the leap if they can be convinced. So what does that take? How do we persuade them to back the transformation of our country? One of the most astute analysts of Labour politics is Steven Purcell. His rapid rise in Glasgow politics caused resentment in Labour and his emergence on the national scene did the same for many Nationalists. When he had a public fall from grace there was much laughing behind hands and, as I described it later, unedifying pleasure. He’s back in business now and sharp as a tack, his loyalty to Scottish Labour strong but unconstrained by a need to appease leadership egos.


I am part of a group putting together a Referendum Radio station which will provide, among other items, long form interviews with key players in the debate. In the meantime I’ve been practising. I spoke to Steven today and as a taster of what we are planning thought you’d like to hear his views as this is the week of the Labour conference. I will be using professional equipment soon and this meeting was inexpertly recorded by me! So you get the first cut. (This is the blogosphere after all) He has some interesting things to say and I suspect there is more to come as the campaign moves on.

(upgraded version)

Don’t laugh at the quality, either of the sound or the interviewing….But  let me know what you think.

Catching Up

Busy weekend and no time to blog…that’s where tweeting comes in. Why should anybody go more than a  day without knowing what I think?

If Headlines is dropped from Radio Scotland, I don’t think it shows bias, just lack of understanding of what the audience wants and lack of respect for the listeners. It has become one of the forums for different views and is a rarity on RS in that allows free flowing discussion at length, something that listeners crave. It also treats the listeners with respect by disparaging the silly scare nonsense that so much of the media pretends to take seriously. It also allows us to laugh which gets away from the mock sincerity of so much current affairs.

But why for example would you drop Headlines but keep the Business programme on a Sunday morning…a minority interest surely in what is surely dress down time at the weekend.  We shouldn’t make the assumption that the BBC knows what it is doing.  It manifestly does not, as with the   Saturday morning changes when they dropped Newsweek in favour of a two hour under resourced GMS. I hear it may be replaced with a debating format in which a Yes goes up against a No which could be a good idea with the right guests and referee but disastrous otherwise. I’m not sure that’s the relaxed Sunday morning thing either.

It won’t be presented by Andrew Marr, a fine journalist like James Naughtie who sought fame in London and found it. The problem here it seems is one of assimilation because after 25 or 30 years absorbing London culture and learning about it, embedding themselves there and bringing up families, they lose some aspect of what makes them Scots.

Is it not the same principe that applies to immigrants to Scotland? They adjust and acclimatise and are no longer the same people who left another country through time. It is a natural process but we make the mistake if assuming London or England is the same country when it is not. But like all diaspora they develop a confused impression of their identity and blame the rest of us for not sharing their view.  Presenters are notoriously egotistical and are allowed to puff up their egos until they become bullies and Big shots. They think they are bigger than the people they interview. Marr blew his Barroso interview and he now knows it. The lack if a follow up to find out what legal process would follow a Yes vote was inexcusable and laughable. Yesterday he was trying to cover that failing up but made a worse mess by giving us the Marr Declaration on the EU and was embarrassed by Salmond. It is the triumph of vanity over talent. And it is noticeable that the London Scots treat Salmnod with contempt, with a different tone from the one applied to Cameron.

Whatever bias there is in Scotland, we get a double dose via the London BBC.

Journalists at Work

I’ve been asked for my views on the Bias in Broadcasting evidence to the Culture Committee earlier in the week and I’ve been putting off a response. The BBC hate me when I do and my correspondents hate me more. I criticise one and defend them to the other. It’s the Endurance of the Long-Distance Blogger.


From what I saw, the BBC are in full assault mode and totally unapologetic and as a result look unreasonable, defensive and flustered. It has become the default position of an organisation caught out by events and floundering.

To be fair, the BBC has to defend its reputation. It has a duty to do so and to stand up for its staff. It is the way it has gone about it that is wrong, by opening an inquisition on the author, referring the matter upwards to his boss, adopting an aggressive tone, questioning his credentials, nit-picking his report and failing to make sure it was reported in the normal way. At every stage, they made their predictable mistakes, one after the other, displaying a total lack of what an enlightened management would have regarded as a one-day wonder. By blundering into attack mode, placing themselves above another institution, resenting criticism and overreacting they insured we are still talking about the issue today, have had to read about it in the mainstream papers and found themselves hauled before MSPs.

It all underlines what I said about the day in 2011 when Salmond won his majority – the BBC should have seen the signs and prepared. From that moment the game was on and the Corporation was going to be centre stage. McQuarrie took his eye off the ball because 1) he was concentrating on cutting budgets and getting rid of journalists and 2) he spends far too much time in London and has no effective deputy. That is institutional failure.

Two things about the performance struck me. The first is how shifty John Boothman manages to look when asked a challenging question. He quickly shifts into angry mode creating an air of confrontation when a dash of humility or even, heaven help me, wit would be immeasurably more helpful. There is always a sense in which it is a personal attack he is undergoing rather than an inquiry into the organisation he represents, a fundamental flaw in a manager in which the two become interchangeable. It is exactly what I disliked about his dealings with Paul Sinclair in Johann Lamont’s office, seeming to confuse a personal relationship with what is surely a professional role heading BBC news and current affairs. Questions about programme content should be dealt with through the proper channels, not answered personally. His tendency to bridle and build up aggression doesn’t, to me, leave a positive impression of the BBC. I also suspect that he is everything Kenny McQuarrie dislikes as an urbane and cultured man himself. He must be aware of the image his head of news projects.


There is too a conundrum here. In any other newsroom in the world where their executives were facing a grilling from politicians, the journalists would crowd round the screens and egg their bosses on. ‘Defend us. Tell them we won’t be intimidated. Free speech’ etc. I doubt if a single journalist in the BBC newsroom did that. Instead they would be hoping the MSPs would land a blow or two on the BBC, so discredited and disliked are BBC managers. When McQuarrie praised the impartiality and professionalism of the journalists and the high quality output, you just knew they would be listening and saying: ‘If only…’ They know who cut the budgets and sacked their colleagues and damaged morale and made quality journalism that much harder. In sport it’s called losing the dressing-room.

Incidentally, I heard them say they didn’t have a number for how many complaints had been received about referendum coverage. I don’t believe it. That information is retrievable and if it showed say one per cent complaints, would have bolstered their argument. We’re not hearing the number because it’s too embarrassing to publicise.

The Bias story is a little tragedy for BBC Scotland. When I survey the output, I genuinely find very little to object to. Brian Taylor on GERs for example in his blog this week gave the classic fair BBC analysis. I don’t consume the mainstream obsessively though so inevitably miss a lot. What disappoints me is the failure to take control of this massive story and lead it…to provide exemplary coverage, to bring to the fore their own talented people into frontline roles (James Cook is the exception on the Scottish question time programme, interestingly produced by an independent company which presumably chose him for the job, not the BBC).  The Bias row will be a legacy for the BBC, passed into the history of the campaign, leaving a taint over its reputation and for a huge number of Scots voting Yes, it will be confirmation for them of the Corporation’s failure. But right now the journalists have to get on with the job and put it behind them, as they have had to do over budget cuts since the whole suicidal exercise began. You don’t need John Robertson’s report to know how bad things are in the newsroom – check out the departure lounge. People are choosing to walk, leaving a career and pension and benefits behind in order to breathe freely and start again.  And the air is good.