The Legacy

The Legacy

Iain Macwhirter in “Disunited Kingdom” (Cargo Publishing, 8 December 2014):

“It seems clear that the newspapers allowed their editorial agendas to get in the way of their communication with their readers. And this has had very serious consequences.

There is now a very large body of people in Scotland who are deeply disillusioned with the press, to such an extent that they simply no longer believe what is written there. Look at any of the internet sites related to the Yes campaign and you will now find, not just criticism of mainstream media but a complete rejection of it, as if it were the propaganda arm of a foreign power.

This degree of alienation from the press, shared by hundreds of thousands of Scottish voters, is unprecedented and should be causing alarm, not just in editorial offices, but in the political parties which are also losing their ability to communicate. “

It’s a difficult assessment to dispute.

We sped through “Disunited Kingdom” in a couple of hours last night. At just 151 pages of main text it’s a lean and punchy read, and we’d highly commend the e-book edition in particular at just £3.59 (at time of writing). While it covers familiar ground there’s stuff in there even we didn’t know, but mainly it serves as a very good concise summary of the referendum campaign, the immediate aftermath and the near future, seen chiefly but not solely through a media perspective.

We suspect that newspapers like the Daily Record with its already-infamous “Vow”, and the Sunday Telegraph with its appalling and hypocritical “dead soldiers” front page days before the vote, feel that the end justified the means, and that all that ultimately mattered was saving their precious Union. (Indeed, the Telegraph’s Scottish editor Alan Cochrane has already said so in almost those words).

But what Macwhirter identifies (and supports in the book with a considerable weight of documentary evidence) is that the long-term damage done to the mainstream Scottish media – and in the end, the Union itself – may be incalculable and irreparable. And what his book demonstrates is that if that turns out to be the case, that damage will be self-inflicted and richly deserved.

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Source: Wing Over Scotland

An economy with the truth

An economy with the truth

By now readers will probably be familiar with STV News reporter Stephen Daisley’s superbly withering review of Alan Cochrane’s referendum diaries. One quote from the book aroused particular interest:

“There are one or two interesting tidbits. He shares a story that Bank of England governor Mark Carney fired a warning shot at Alex Salmond when he came to Edinburgh for their landmark meeting. 

According to Cochrane, the Canadian economist told the First Minister: ‘I’m only here for one day, Alex, but don’t f— with me or I’ll be up here a lot more often.’

But did that really happen?

From: Enquiries <Enquiries [at] bankofengland [dot] co [dot] uk>
Date: Fri, Dec 19, 2014 at 11:59 AM
Subject: RE: Comments credited to Mark Carney by Alan Cochrane

Thank you for your email to the Bank of England.

While we do not, as a rule, comment on private conversations between Bank officials and Government ministers, we can categorically say that the Governor did not use the remarks attributed to him in the book you refer to.

The Governor has enormous respect for the former First Minister of Scotland and always found him to be professional, respectful and constructive in their interactions. We would like to thank you again for raising this issue with us on this occasion.

Yours sincerely

Julienne Laliberté

Public Information & Enquiries Group

Bank of England | Threadneedle St | London EC2R 8AH

All emphasis ours. We’ll leave it at that.

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Source: Wing Over Scotland


Political etiquette is a funny thing. Should some of the more vocal supporters of a Yes vote dare to express any degree of satisfaction at a couple of dozen journalists’ jobs being lost on a Unionist newspaper, social media is suddenly aflame with pious, angry lectures about the poor taste of rejoicing in others’ unemployment – regardless of whether it might perhaps have been caused by the paper’s own unethical actions.


But when tens of thousands of blameless oil workers face the sack just before Christmas, it’s proving all but impossible for Unionists to keep a lid on their glee.

We’re spoiled for examples, but we’ll take one from today’s Telegraph:

“But what’s this? The oil price has collapsed. Remember that the Yes campaign predicated its economic plans for an independent Scotland on a price of $113 per barrel. It is down in the low $60s. If Scotland had voted Yes, Salmond would right now be facing his first major economic crisis and a devastating shortfall in revenue.

For obvious reasons the Nationalists and Salmond are not keen to talk about all this and prefer to talk about their own surging poll ratings instead.

Labour and the other parties have an opening here, if they can get sufficient numbers of Scottish voters to wake up to the economic reality of what a plunging oil price means for the Nationalists’ fantastical economic plans. The SNP’s advance might, then, be halted and reversed.”

You can almost feel Iain Martin’s blood vessels popping as he tries to keep a sombre, concerned look on his face while delighting in the chance to sacrifice thousands of jobs if only it will stop the dastardly Nats in their tracks.

Yet let’s ponder the reality for a moment.

If Scotland had voted Yes, Salmond would right now be facing his first major economic crisis and a devastating shortfall in revenue.

No he wouldn’t, you imbecile. If Scotland had voted Yes, independence negotiations would barely have even begun. The oil price, and the revenues derived from it, would “right now” still be Westminster’s problem. Scotland wouldn’t have been independent until spring 2016 at the earliest, and Unionist commentators like Martin insisted that in reality the process would have taken years.

If the oil price is still in the doldrums 18 months from now, the No camp will have a degree of political justification for gloating over the job losses and economic consequences. Until then, drawing any link between the oil price and the economic case for independence is empirically idiotic.

Scots were told that the UK’s “broad shoulders” would protect them from such fluctuations in oil revenue. Yet the price has only been falling for a few weeks and we’re told that the entire industry is already “close to collapse”, with tens of thousands of jobs set to be lost.

But one oil-producing nation that’s unconcerned by these developments, of course, is Norway. Sitting on an oil fund of half a TRILLION pounds, Scotland’s neighbours across the sea could afford to sit out the current slump for decades. Unionists angrily insist that Scotland couldn’t have had a similar fund because it has run a constant budget deficit for the last 20+ years.


But crucially, that overlooks the fact that it only ran that deficit because it was in the UK. Even before you factor in the savings that could have been made (most obviously on defence) if Scotland hadn’t been subject to UK spending decisions, independent analysis shows that Scots subsidised the rest of the UK by £222bn over that period.

Even the firmly Unionist economist Professor Brian Ashcroft found that Scotland’s deficit was entirely down to having to pay interest on the UK’s debt:

“Scotland’s share of UK debt interest amounted to £83 billion at 2001-12 prices. Subtracting this from total estimated Scottish spend of £1,440 billion we get a debt interest adjusted estimate of spend of £1,357 billion. This means that Scotland was in overall surplus by about £68 billion.”

Even a very modest oil fund of £68bn would have protected Scotland for many years. Earlier this year the OBR predicted that oil revenues for 2016/17 would be just £3.3bn. Even if the oil price fell so far that companies made no profit at all, and therefore no tax revenue accrued to the Scottish Government, that would make only a small dent in even Prof. Ashcroft’s worst-case £68bn fund (which also assumes no investment growth), let alone the more realistic £222bn one.

So the No camp is, as usual, trying to have it both ways. They’re airbrushing out the oil fund Scotland would have had if it had been independent already, while at the same time pretending that if Scotland had only just voted for independence in September we’d be having to deal with it now, when in fact it would still be London’s problem.

None of this is complicated. Every journalist and politician in Scotland knows perfectly well that even if there’d been a Yes vote the current price of oil would be Westminster’s headache, not Holyrood’s. Every one of them knows that the oil price in spring 2016 could be just about anything, because absolutely nobody predicted the current slump.

(They also know that the reasons for the fall are almost certainly geopolitical, and very likely the result of deliberate short-term engineering aimed at punishing, variously, Russia and the USA.)

Yet all you’ll read in the Scottish press is “OIL PRICE EMBARRASSMENT FOR SNP”, and lurid tales of “Greece-style economic meltdown” as dim-witted political hacks fall over themselves to praise Kezia Dugdale for attacking the Nats on the crisis at Holyrood yesterday. (Dugdale, of course, already has much experience in blaming the SNP for things which are entirely reserved to Westminster.)

We know news is pretty slow in Scottish politics at the moment. But even so, on balance we’re going to stick to writing 2016’s stories in 2016.

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Source: Wing Over Scotland

It could be worse

There’s only one person on Earth currently more hated by The Sun than Russell Brand (against whom it runs a substantial attack piece roughly every other day), and that’s Vladimir Putin. So the paper’s been almost as delighted by the recently plummeting oil price as Scottish Labour and Tory MSP Murdo Fraser, because it can revel in the trouble the collapse causes Putin.

Today its main politics lead is a full-on gloat about the dreadful state Russia is in at the moment, giving up half a page to an eye-catching graphic.


It must be hoping people don’t look at those numbers too closely.

Despite being a far bigger country than the UK, Russia has less than a tenth of our debt. It also has foreign currency reserves more than 82% larger than the UK’s, and crucially 70% larger than its debt. It could pay the whole lot off in one fell swoop if it chose to and still have £100bn in the bank.

Putin’s country is on a fundamentally sound economic footing, with a monthly trade surplus of £10bn, while the UK loses another £2bn every month. Unemployment in Russia is lower, and while inflation is higher so is wage growth, so Russian workers are getting fractionally better off in real terms, and also doing slightly better relatively than British ones (0.7% above inflation compared to 0.6%).

Cunningly, the Sun leads the graphic with the only two figures that are actually worse for the Russians – interest rate and currency exchange. But neither of those impacts massively on ordinary people – Russian mortgage rates are capped at 2.2% above inflation, so as long as wages keep pace with inflation there’s no problem for homebuyers. (And rich pickings for savers.) And while foreign exchange rates do have a knock-on effect on shop prices, that’s already accounted for in the inflation rates.

In short, then, Russia is running a profitable economy, it’s got hardly any debt, it’s got enough money to pay it off if it wants to, Russians are more likely to have a job and they’re getting marginally richer for doing it even when you factor inflation in. (And they haven’t endured half a decade of real-terms falls in their standard of living along the way, because until now the economy has enjoyed years of growth.)

There are other issues in Putin’s state, of course, like rampant crime and corruption. But on the metrics the Sun has chosen to judge, the oil crisis still leaves Russia in a vastly better position than the debt-stricken, deficit-running UK, where the poor starve, real wages have dropped to 2003 levels, and there are about to be five more years of vicious austerity cuts that will change the fundamental nature of the state as British people have known it for generations.

We might go and buy a copy of Pravda to keep tabs on it all.

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Source: Wing Over Scotland

A Christmas bonus

A Christmas bonus

Hang on a minute. We just got yet another begging email from Labour.


Those vacancies sound familiar. The amount, not so much. £87,500?

Because alert readers will remember that yesterday we drew your attention to some vacancies the party was advertising, and super-alert readers will recall that they included the 10 assistant organiser posts mentioned here. And we also worked out how much they were going to be paid – £76,830.


So who’s trousering the other £10,670?

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Source: Wing Over Scotland

The tipping point

The argument that seat projections based on current opinion polling give the SNP (based on uniform swing) a wildly unrealistic number of seats seem at first glance to be compelling. More than two dozen current Labour seats have five-figure majorities, and several are higher than 20,000. Taken individually every single one represents a mammoth task, and capturing the bulk of them looks an absurd dream.


We’re deeply sceptical ourselves about the predictions giving the SNP 40 or more seats, partly for that reason and partly because the lesson of 2011 – when the Nats somehow pulled off a 30-point poll shift in around six weeks – shows how foolish it is to call a febrile-looking election that’s still the best part of five months away.

So we’re not going to be doing that. We’re not making any forecasts here. Rather, we were interested in taking a look at how it could happen, and how First Past The Post, for so long the SNP’s mortal enemy, could next year become a powerful ally.

By any rational measure, FPTP is a crude and massively unfair tool of democracy. It often results in governments having huge absolute majority despite securing the backing of barely a third of voters. In 2010 the SNP, Tories and Lib Dems got almost identical numbers of votes in Scotland, yet got six, one and 11 MPs respectively.

The Nats got MORE votes than the Lib Dems, yet Nick Clegg’s party got almost twice as many seats. Labour only got 2.5 times as many votes as the Tories, but got FORTY-ONE times as many MPs. Sympathy for the Tories isn’t our strong point, but on any fair analysis that’s not a legitimate reflection of how the country voted.

Nevertheless, FPTP is the system we’re stuck with and under which the 2015 election will be conducted. And the unfairness of the system is one which starts to massively favour parties who can get just the sort of vote share that the SNP are currently recording. If the Nats fall just a little short of current polls, Labour will hold most of their seats. If the SNP reach the tipping point, everything changes.

Let’s illustrate how it works. We’re going to use averages – we stress again, this is an illustration, NOT a prediction – and assume that every seat is the same size and (with one group of exceptions) gets the same vote shares across the country. And we’ll give the SNP 45% nationwide, at the low end of their current polling.

We’ll start with the exceptions, and make an absurd assumption just to make the SNP’s life a bit harder – let’s also say the party’s current six MPs all hold their seats, and every one of them gets 70% of the vote, which is basically impossible.

(Gordon Brown got under 65% in his Kirkcaldy seat last time round, and was returned with a vast majority of over 23,000.)

Apply that to their 45% national share and that leaves them with 42.2% of the vote in the other 53 seats. Let’s presume that the 3rd-placed and 4th-placed parties get a modest 10% and 5% in each seat respectively (in reality it’s unusual for the 3rd and 4th place to get that little). That accounts for a total of 57.2% of the vote, leaving just 42.8% available for everyone else, which in most cases in our scenario is Labour.

And what that means is that if just 0.7% of the vote goes elsewhere – to UKIP or the Greens or the Socialists or whoever, or if the #2 and #3 parties pick up slightly more – then that 42.2% is enough to give the SNP every single seat.

Now, of course, votes AREN’T uniform across the country. But these numbers simply illustrate how FPTP’s tipping point works. If you get 45% overall, then – particularly in a four-party system – it’s very hard in any sort of plausible reality to distribute your votes in such a way that you DON’T win the large majority of seats.

(The killer reveal is that Labour did just that in 2010 with almost exactly the national vote share – 42% – that we’ve given the SNP here in their 53 target seats, and with a much more fragmented and therefore weaker opposition than we’ve assumed.)

Drop your vote below 40% and all sorts of gaps open up in your defences, especially if tactical voting comes into play, but somewhere between 40% and 45% you reach the summit of the mountain and you turn into a landslide crushing everything below you – even if another climber was hot on your heels. Getting there first is everything. They don’t call it First Past The Post for nothing.

Supporters of independence have been mocked for adopting the nickname “the 45″ to describe themselves. If the SNP can hit that mark next May, or anywhere very close to it, Unionists may find themselves laughing on the other side of their faces.

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Source: Wing Over Scotland

Running terrified

The egos of the SNP’s tiny band of six Westminster MPs must be swelling by the day at the moment. For weeks we’ve been recording Labour’s standard, decades-old mantra about how Scots mustn’t vote SNP or the Tories will get in.

In today’s Herald, meanwhile, no less a figure than the Prime Minister himself warns that if we vote SNP, Labour will get in.


And the Lib Dems? The Lib Dems have completely lost their minds.


The image above is a leaflet being delivered in the constituency of Sir Malcolm Bruce, which seems certain to be contested next year by former First Minister Alex Salmond. It’s a startling piece of work, including a “send ‘em all back home” pledge on immigrants that may still have the capacity to shock the party’s remaining supporters.


But almost the entire leaflet focuses on something that’s somewhat bewildering in the context of a Westminster election – stopping the SNP.

“Only Christine Jardine can beat the SNP here.”

“Help us beat Alex Salmond and the SNP.”

“The SNP have let down the North East.”

“The SNP is spending vital transport money in the Central Belt instead of investing here in transport in the North East.”

(Um, just while we’re here, isn’t most of that Central Belt transport expenditure accounted for by the Edinburgh trams, which the SNP opposed but which were forced through by the opposition parties, including the Lib Dems, who were actually in charge of Edinburgh City Council at the time? But we digress.)

And on and on it goes. But electing Christine Jardine won’t do anything about any of the SNP actions that the leaflet rages against, because of course all those matters are controlled by the Scottish Parliament, so it’s extremely strange to be calling for tactical votes against the Nats on those grounds. The impression created is rather that all three Unionist parties are simply terrified of the SNP, which currently has less than 1% of Westminster seats.

And it explicitly is a call for tactical voting – the leaflet uses a wildly-dishonest type of bar chart that’s been a feature of Lib Dem literature across the entire UK for years.


The reality of the 2010 result in Gordon is somewhat different.


After the Lib Dems in first place the seat was essentially a three-way tie. As it happens Labour have chosen a no-hoper candidate, (although so have the Lib Dems – Christine Jardine has contested two by-elections for the party in the north of Scotland before and never managed to gather more than 3800 votes), but they and the Tories are starting no more than 1,716 votes behind the SNP and either one should be perfectly capable of beating them in a tactical-voting situation.

It’s a remarkable tribute to the SNP that three parties with a combined 621 seats at Westminster (and 53 in Scotland) are issuing panicked calls for their supporters to unite tactically against a party with just six, which isn’t even standing in 90% of Westminster constituencies and has no designs on 10 Downing Street.

By ganging up 100-to-1 on the SNP, the Unionist parties are sending a message that any Nat MPs elected to speak solely in the interests of Scotland, with no obligation to UK party whips, will hold massively disproportionate influence in the House Of Commons. We can’t help wondering if that’s a prospect that the people of Scotland might not mind too much.

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Source: Wing Over Scotland

The preposterous truth

The preposterous truth
Source: Wing Over Scotland

Scotlands FreePress Archive