Not losing

Elections are not won, they’re lost. Outcomes are decided, not so much on the basis of who campaigns best, as on who fucks up least. What influences voters most is not a candidate’s personal appeal; or a party’s manifesto; or their record in government or opposition. The single most significant factor affecting voters’ choices is the number and quality of the gaffes, blunders, humiliations, pratfalls and car-crash media appearances. Forget party political broadcasts. What voters actually watch are those video clips on YouTube of politicians making total arse-danglers of themselves. The major political event of 2019 wasn’t anything to do with Brexit, but Jacob Rees-Mogg seen lounging on the green leather benches of the House of Commons oozing haughty disdain for the proceedings of what passes for democracy in England-as-Britain.

To be completely fair to the privileged prick, Rees-Mogg was probably exhausted following an arduous afternoon of braying and honking every time an SNP MP rose to speak. Those farmyard noises don’t make themselves.

That lounging incident – or ‘loungegate’ as I would be obliged to call it had I been sufficiently lobotomised to be a British newspaper hack – probably had more impact on the UK general election than even the biggest and most garishly liveried campaign battle-bus. In fact, British Labour missed a trick there. Emblazoning their campaign coach with that image of Rees-Mogg at rest could well have tipped the balance in their favour.

Gaucheries and solecisms have taken on such importance in British politics that it is no longer enough to lie in wait ready to pounce when one comes along. We might suppose that the average British politician could be relied upon to produce a substantial blooper reel for opponents to pick through looking for the juiciest bits. But they’re not dependable. They can’t be trusted to botch and bungle on cue. Supply must chase demand. So politicians – or their plausibly deniable media teams – have been obliged to get creative. Instead of trawling for a suitable snippet that might not even exist, they’ve taken to performing some subtle, or not so subtle, digital surgery on whatever is to hand.

We’ve all seen those sequences in which a whole season’s-worth of missed sitters have been strung together in rapid-fire succession in such a way as to almost make football appear entertaining. Election campaigns are now doing something similar. Digital media being almost infinitely manipulable, it is possible to quickly assemble a video clip seamlessly edited to feature only those moments that make even an opponent’s loving mother cringe.

Conversely, if the Prime Minister has performed the ceremony of laying a wreath at the Cenotaph in the less than dignified style of Mr Bean, he can have the state broadcaster replace the inappropriate comedy act with stock footage of Winston Churchill winning the war. (There probably should be at least one ‘allegedly’ in there. But, fuck it! I’m not in the mood!)

It’s all about perception. Acting on the mindless logic of the mob, electors give their mandate to whoever looks least like an incompetent buffoon or a swivel-eyed loony.

Or so it used to be.

Like much else in the world of politics, the old reliabilities have lately been turned on their heads. As Boris Johnson has demonstrated, it is now possible to be a faux pas on legs that support a bloated bag of triple-distilled mendacity, yet remain in contention for the highest political office in the land. A malignant child-clown. The bastard love-child of Katie Hopkins and Mr Pastry. And quite possibly the British Prime Minister that will be imposed on Scotland for the next five years by English voters acting on the mindless idiocy of the mob.

But let’s not complain too much. This electoral tolerance for sociopathy garbed as zaniness and ineptitude passed-off as eccentricity has knock-on benefits for the SNP. Inured to the antics of Boris Johnson and a British political elite that looks increasingly like a cross between an Ealing comedy and a Victorian freak-show, voters barely notice the SNP’s farcical capers in Kirkcaldy & Cowdenbeath; or the SNP candidate in Banff & Buchan emphatically disavowing the party’s main aim as set out in its constitution; or the big Boris/Brexit-shaped jobby at the centre of the election campaign where we were promised independence and #indyref2 would be.

Nicola Sturgeon is an astute and capable politician. There is no way she’ll ever fuck up as monumentally as Boris Johnson does constantly. The bad news is that relative competence, credibility and sanity may no longer be enough. The lunatics have taken over the asylum through a shell company registered in the British Virgin Islands.

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Presumption of guilt

Presumption of innocence does not apply to Donald Trump. He is to be presumed guilty until proven guilty. Even if he is proved innocent, we should probably continue to presume him guilty, just as a precaution. Trump never looks more guilty than when he is protesting his innocence. He’s like the guy sprawled in the gutter wearing only what you like to think is his own vomit but insisting that he’s not drunk. The more sober he says he is, the more inebriated he seems. Even if there is a perfectly innocent explanation for his predicament that doesn’t involve consumption of ill-advised quantities of alcohol, you’re still going to entertain the suspicion that he’s very, very pished.

Trump is prostrate in the political gutter, awash with lies and deceit, proclaiming his honesty and sincerity in a manner that makes him less believable with every utterance.

Two examples of his dishonesty stand out. The first is when he insists that US corporations have no interest in “the NHS”. Even if that predatory interest was not as evident as I have previously pointed out (, we know that he is now contradicting an earlier statement when he was quite explicit about US trade negotiators setting their sights on “the NHS”. Plus we have the recently revealed documents which confirm that “the NHS” is very much on the table.

Trump is lying.

The second lie is evident when you ask why Trump is telling the first lie. He has previously been far from reticent about the fact that US corporate hyenas regard “the NHS” as a juicy bit of prey. Why is he now saying that “the NHS” is so unpalatable even those corporate hyenas aren’t tempted. Could it be that he has been asked to say this by his British hosts? Might he have been nobbled?

It’s easy enough to imagine friend and fellow liar Boris Johnson having a quiet word in Trump’s ear, explaining that he was getting an increasingly hard ride on the issue of “the NHS” and, pretty please, could Donald help out his old Tory chums.

Trump has obliged. The nonsense about wanting nothing to do with “the NHS” is clearly intended to spike the guns of those warning about Tory plans to give US corporations unprecedented access as part of a desperately needed trade deal. Trump is interceding in the general election campaign on behalf of the Tories. Which is precisely what we would expect after he promised to stay out of it.

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A poll worth heeding

There are a couple of things worth noting about the YouGov poll which suggests a Conservative win with a substantial majority. The first is that it is very likely to be accurate. This because voting intentions in England, where UK general elections are decided, are based very substantially on Brexit. These voting intentions are fixed. They are unlikely to change because nothing about Brexit is going to change. Or, at least, nothing is going to change soon enough or dramatically enough to have any impact on voting intentions. Nothing is happening with the Brexit process. Not that is visible to the public, antway. And none of the parties are going to change their stance on the Brexit issue during an election campaign.

It is significant, too, that none of the 68 Tory MPs giving Boris Johnson a working majority is likely to be a ‘rebel’, They wouldn’t have been selected as candidates if they were not as committed to taking the UK out of the EU at any cost as their leader.

The second thing to note is that, as is commonly the case, Scotland cannot affect the outcome of this UK general election. The most Scottish voters might hope to do is slightly reduce the Tory majority. They can only do that by voting for their SNP candidate. As has been true for many years now, there is absolutely no point in voting for British Labour in Scotland. I dislike the expression “wasted vote”. As far as I am concerned, participation in the democratic process is always worthwhile. But a vote for British Labour in Scotland is certainly futile if the intention – or the hope – is to influence the outcome at UK level.

In Scotland, British Labour is irrelevant and the Conservative Party is anathema.

We have to think, calmly and rationally about what is the best outcome for Scotland in the coming election. A good case can be made for a British Labour minority government supported by a substantial SNP presence at Westminster. But we have no way of bringing about that outcome. Or even of contributing to it in any effective way. Whatever British Labour in Scotland (BLiS) may tell you, there is simply no possibility of them enjoying a miraculous resurgence. And, even if that miracle were to happen, the election would still be decided in England.

The best outcome that is actually achievable is a massive win for the SNP. A win on a scale that shakes the British establishment. A win so big it cannot be ignored.

What does Scotland gain from returning upwards of 50 SNP MPs? We know that the SNP provides the most vigorous opposition to the Tories at Westminster. Even if this opposition cannot have much actual effect because of the way the odds are stacked against them – both numerically and procedurally – it is SNP MPs who speak, not just for Scotland, but for democracy, decency and political sanity. It is SNP MPs who ask the awkward questions. It is SNP MPs who defend our NHS and other essential public services. It is SNP MPs who truly hold the Tory government to account in a way that only those with very long memories will recall British Labour doing.

No British government is ever going to facilitate or cooperate with any process which puts their ‘precious’ Union in jeopardy. That includes the Section 30 process to which the First Minister is so inexplicably committed. In terms of Scotland’s cause we must therefore consider what might best serve that cause when the time comes to seek the restoration of Scotland’s independence with the consent of the Scottish people but absent the involvement of the British state. Unquestionably, Scotland’s cause is best served by maximising demonstrable support for the SNP – the only party which is unconditionally and unequivocally committed to independence.

That commitment to independence necessarily entails so much more. It entails a commitment to protecting Scotland’s democracy; to defending the Scottish Parliament; to preserving our ability to develop a distinctive political culture informed by the needs, priorities and aspirations of Scotland’s people. It entails dedication to maintaining our essential public services, such as NHS Scotland, and defending them against predation by corporate hyenas.

Even if you are not yet persuaded that Scotland’s interests can only be secured by ending the Union with England-as-Britain, a vote for the SNP is much more than a vote for independence. It is, first and foremost, a vote for al the positive things mentioned above. But it is also a vote against the chaos and corruption of British politics. It is a vote against a system which imposes Tory governments on Scotland regardless of how we vote – along with all their socially corrosive and economically destructive policies.

It is a vote against a political system which so favours a corrupt and incompetent elite as to allow Boris Johnson to become Prime Minister. It is a vote against a system intent on maintaining established power, privilege and patronage while actively excluding the worthy and the talented.

It is a vote against an archaic and grotesquely asymmetric political union which denies the people of Scotland the full and effective exercise of our sovereignty. It is a vote against everything that England-as-Britain has become and will become as its decline into ugly right-wing nationalism continues.

The YouGov poll has to be taken seriously. We must anticipate Boris Johnson continuing as British Prime Minister, but armed with a solid majority in the British parliament and emboldened by his victory. A Boris Johnson made all the more dangerous by being afforded almost unfettered power. A Boris Johnson determined to earn that most ominous of epithets – strong leader.

Behind this gleeful, gloating, malignant child-clown, a British government intent on locking Scotland into the Union and dragging us along on its wildly erratic journey into the political, diplomatic and economic unknown – leaving behind it a wasteland of public services in which the poor and the powerless must survive however they may.

The only thing which can function as a buffer between this and Scotland is a strong, determined and assertive SNP government in Scotland supported by a massive SNP presence in the British parliament. It may be that we have the former. On Thursday 12 December we must ensure that we have the latter. For Scotland’s sake, we must all vote SNP.

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Playing the fool

This could be seen as a highly controversial statement, but Jackson Carlaw may not actually be an idiot. Calm down! I’m not saying he’s particularly clever. Only that it’s possible he may not be as daft as you would assume just from listening to him. He might be a man of normal intelligence. How would we know?

You see, as a British Nationalist politician, Carlaw is obliged to say really stupid things. It’s the same for all of them. They all have to behave in public as if they’re in an episode of ‘BritNats say the craziest things!’ They all have to act stupid, whether or not they actually are. Take Richard Leonard, for example. (In case you don’t recognise the name, he’s the nominal ‘leader’ of a particular British Nationalist clique calling itself ‘Scottish Labour’.) He has to pretend that, despite having been an MSP (Central Scotland Region) since 2016, he still doesn’t know which powers are reserved and which devolved. He must be aware that this makes him look woefully ill-informed and not very bright, but he happily accepts the sacrifice of his dignity in the name of the British ruling elites to whom he owes unquestioning loyalty.

They’re all at it. All the British politicians squatting in the Scottish Parliament have to act stupid as required by their sole mission to preserve the Union at whatever cost to the nation and people of Scotland. Some, like James Kelly, play the fool with effortless ease; unfailingly giving a performance that is utterly convincing. Quite how he does that thing with the slack jaw and the blank eyes is a mystery, and must be the envy of stars of stage and screen from the great method actors to Nicolas Cage.

So, when you hear Jackson Carlaw banging on about a non-existent “commitment” that the 2014 independence referendum was a “once in a generation” event, cut him some slack. He’s probably just hamming it up for the cameras. And go easy on him when he compounds this idiocy by insisting that, having made a decision on the basis of what they believe to be the circumstances prevailing, the people of Scotland should not be permitted another opportunity to exercise their right of self-determination for forty years. That’s eight parliamentary terms. Potentially eight different governments. To put it in some kind of perspective, there was only a little more than forty years separating the first powered flight and the breaking of the sound barrier.

A lot changes in a lot less than four decades. Someone who is just old enough to vote in the coming UK general election will be 58 years old by the time Carlaw thinks it appropriate for that person to make a choice about their nation’s constitutional status. It is, whatever way you look at it, a ludicrous proposition. Made all the more ludicrous by the fact that there never was any “commitment” such as Carlaw refers to. It never happened. There were a few instances of phrases such as “once in a lifetime”. But, unless you’re genuinely stupid or unfamiliar with the English language, it is clear from the context that these phrases are being used idiomatically and hyperbolically to describe the opportunity and not literally to describe the event.

What you will not find is any reference to “once in a generation/lifetime” in the Edinburgh Agreement or the Scottish Independence Referendum Act 2013 or any legislation or concord which would constitute a “commitment”.

It may well be argued that the SNP administration at the time gave a hostage to fortune when they used that phrase. Maybe they should have seen how British Nationalists might take a common expression and weave around it an entire script to be parroted by British Nationalist politicians doing their ‘village idiot’ routine. (A script that has to be kept simple if it is to be used by such as James Kelly and Boris Johnson.)

It could be said that the SNP acted foolishly on a few occasions. But that is a very different thing from acting the fool constantly, as Jackson Carlaw and his fellow British Nationalists are wont to do.

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The list

Nicola Sturgeon’s list of demands is, of course, premised on a minority British Labour government which, as things stand, looks like a very remote possibility indeed. The Tories have a 10+ point lead in the polls, and that doesn’t look like changing. Boris Johnson appears to be bullet-proof. It doesn’t seem to matter what he does, so long as he’s a Brexiteer, England-as-Britain wants him as its Prime Minister. Which means he and all his idiocy also gets foisted on Scotland.

Nor is Corbyn looking like someone who can transform things. Whatever lights of charismatic radicalism he may be hiding under the bushel of his unremitting dullness, he is obliged by the British political system to chase the same voters as have apparently pledged unquestioning fealty to Boris Johnson and the freak-show which is the British Conservative Party.

Nicola Sturgeon is certainly aware of this. She knows that she can demand this and that for no other reason than to highlight the fact that British Labour is not going to stop Brexit; or scrap Trident; or do any of the things their faithful followers have convinced themselves their party would do if only it could steal enough of Boris Johnson’s clothes to fool those critical voters without actually becoming indistinguishable from the malignant child-clown. Or, alternatively, if Jeremy Corbyn could stir the apathetic masses to action in a way that one wouldn’t really expect of someone who has the compelling presence and personal magnetism of a substitute geography teacher.

What Nicola Sturgeon doesn’t seem to be aware of is that British Labour is no more likely to accede to her demand for a Section 30 order than it is to revoke Article 50 or dismantle the British state’s nuclear deterrent. All of these belong on the same list as Nigel Farage’s image appearing on a commemorative €100 note – the list of things that just aren’t going to happen.

It’s easy to understand why she demands things like an end to the Brexit insanity. Forcing your opponents to reject policies which are popular with voters can be a very effective campaigning tactic. But that’s not what is happening with the attempt to make Jeremy Corbyn signal his readiness to immediately grant a Section 30 order in exchange for SNP MPs serving as a crutch for a minority British Labour administration. Albeit a rather wobbly crutch. Nicola Sturgeon genuinely seems to suppose that this is a realistic possibility.

Why anyone might believe something so far-fetched is a mystery. To give credence to the notion that any British Prime Minister might facilitate or cooperate with a process which jeopardised the ‘precious’ Union flies in the face of the stark political reality of British Nationalist ideology and England-as-Britain’s need to maintain its grip on Scotland.

There’s lots of truly weird stuff going on in politics right now. But all of that weirdness would be as nothing compared to the British state sacrificing its interests in the name of democracy and decency. That stands on its own right at the top of the list of things that just aren’t going to happen.

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Little lies

The BBC press office response on Twitter (see below) to criticism of the way in which a video clip shown on it’s lunchtime news bulletin was edited is interesting. They claim that the sound of audience laughter and jeers in reaction to Boris Johnson’s answer to a question about honesty was cut to save time. And they point out that the full clip, including the laughter and jeers, was broadcast in full on a later news bulletin. The latter is undeniably true. The former is at least superficially plausible. Taken as a whole, the response nicely typifies the way the BBC deflects criticism.

Time is always a critical constraint in broadcasting and rarely more so than in news broadcasts. Shaving seconds – and even fractions of seconds – from video clips is normal practice. And audience noise is one of the things that can generally be thought superfluous. What is missing in this instance is the crucial consideration of the effect on the story of the editing. As Ian Fraser notes, in this case “the laughter was the story”.

That is why the explanation is neither credible or satisfactory. The people responsible for producing these news bulletins are supposedly some of the best in the world. We may reasonably assume that the BBC itself would claim that they ARE the best in the world. Which is what makes it so difficult to believe that they would not take due account of the way any editing might alter the sense or meaning of the video clip. For broadcast journalists and technicians working in news this is fundamental. In every instance, if the first question concerns the amount of time that can be saved, the second question which follows automatically and inevitably is about whether and how the edit impacts the accuracy and veracity of the report. The only exception to this is when considerations of accuracy and veracity come first.

We are being asked to believe that nobody in the production team realised that the laughter and jeering was the most significant part of that video clip.

The attempt to bolster this spurious excuse by reference to the fact that the unedited video clip was broadcast on a later news bulletin also doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. We are meant to suppose that the second somehow cancels out the first. But it doesn’t. It can’t. The edited clip cannot be ‘unbroadcast’. Viewers cannot ‘unsee’ it. Showing the edited clip has had an effect. It has altered the audience’s understanding of what happened. It has distorted their perception of the incident. And it has done so in a way which looks purposeful.

It may well be true that the BBC has “fully covered Boris Johnson’s appearance on the BBC QT special, and the reaction to it, across our outlets”. But how many instances of manipulation must there be before it matters?

I suspect this pattern of a glib excuse coupled with a generalised assertion of probity will be found in a large proportion of BBC responses to complaints of a failure to be duly impartial. There will always be an ‘innocent’ explanation. Often of a technical nature that the public are condescending not expected to understand. And the BBC will always be able to demonstrate due impartiality ‘across its outlets’. If the explanation isn’t ‘innocent’ enough, it can borrow some of the innocence from elsewhere on the BBC’s programming.

The BBC can, and does, claim that there is no evidence of systemic bias in its news reporting. That is only true if one doesn’t regard episodes such as the one under discussion as constituting evidence. They may be portrayed as isolated instances. On-off examples of only apparent bias which can easily be explained. Unconnected flaws in the otherwise perfect gem that is BBC news and current affairs coverage. But there are few more insidious forms of propaganda than the small and subtle lie which is afforded credibility by being embedded in a seam of almost pure truth.

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Johnson’s game

During the 2014 referendum campaign when Better Together / Project Fear was peddling scare stories about Scotland being expelled and excluded from the European Union, one of the reasons I gave for discounting this possibility was the fact that the EU bureaucracy takes a pragmatic rather than a dogmatic approach to such issues. That pragmatism means they tend to be somewhat flexible in seeking to find ways of resolving issues which entail as few complications as possible. Which is why they would all but certainly have opted for the two successor states solution had Scotland voted Yes.

Boris Johnson has evidently learned the lesson of the EU’s pragmatism and flexibility. He took advantage of it to secure the semblance of a ‘new deal’ despite the EU insisting that negotiations were closed. He obviously assumes he will be able to pull off the same trick as regards securing something that can be portrayed as a ‘trade deal’ before the end of the transition period.

There is no way a fully worked-out trade deal can be completed in the time available. Not even if the UK administration was remotely competent. The evidence of Brexit tells us they are anything but that. Johnson is depending on the EU going along with his little ploy just for the sake of not stirring up a crisis.

Expect a rerun of the antics leading up to Johnson declaring that he had squeezed a brilliant new deal out of the EU. The trade negotiations will involve incessant carping about the EU not cooperating and trying to bully ‘poor little Britain’. Meanwhile, the tiniest movement on the part of the EU will be declared a major concession and a triumph for ‘powerhouse Britain’. The British will take exorbitant credit for anything that can be spun as a success by the British media. All criticism will be deflected onto the EU bureaucrats and, if possible, political opponents.

The EU could put a stop to these silly games. But they won’t. That would involve taking a firm stance of the kind that is not compatible with pragmatism.

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