This poll smacks of desperation

This poll smacks of desperation

WHEN the Scottish Government decided to back a proposal from the Greens to remove the defence of “justified assault” in cases of parents accused of beating their children it was to be expected that the Christian Right would be quick off the mark with its counter-offensive.

And thus, on that very day they released the results of a poll which they claimed showed that 75% of Scots opposed such a change in the law and that went unchallenged by the media. But in polling the question asked and the context and mood set by previous questions is crucial. The survey asked 60 questions, making it a very strange and eye-wateringly expensive exercise. Don’t take my word for it, you can find it here.

Leaving aside the composition and backers of the Be Reasonable group who commissioned it (this has been done by Bella Caledonia), there is the way this debate is being couched around that cuddly word, smacking. The defence in court is against assault. If that word was used, or the word beating, what would that do to the poll numbers?

I’m not criticising the pollsters ComRes, but in years of covering political opinion surveys I can’t recall a set of more skewed, mood-setting questions and inappropriate binary choices. Take these two sets of statements inviting agreement or disagreement.


Or look at this either/or offering on the prospects of a ban.


So, yes, amid this scattergun exercise the pressure group did get the response they wanted to the question “Parental smacking of children should/should not be a criminal offence.” Substitute the word beating or assaulting for smacking and I bet the result would change. Still, it’s good to know that “Christian values” include “justifiable assault” of young people. Suffer the little children, and all that.

Beware what you wish for when casting your tactical vote


AT THE 1992 General Election I recall casting a tactical vote for the first time, putting a cross against Donald Gorrie of the LibDems’ in Edinburgh West. However, another decent man, Lord James Douglas-Hamilton clung on for the Tories.

I’ve never written about my voting record before for the same reason I eschewed carrying any party card; I saw no reason, as a journalist, to carry a hostage to fortune, but before 1992 I voted Labour. In 1997 my second tactical Gorrie vote was successful and helped Scotland become a Tory-free zone.

So I am not here to cry foul at the new wave of Unionist tactical voting against the SNP which is now evident from the polls. It’s a legitimate, democratic tactic (although, frankly, odd in council polls when schools and bin collection are subsumed into the constitutional question).

So if you are a true blue Tory and staunch Unionist, have at it. And if you are someone who has voted Labour or LibDem previously but is up for giving Nicola Sturgeon a bloody nose, that is your right.

All I ask is that you please think first, not just about what you will be symbolically voting against,  but what you will actually be voting for.


Don’t take the word of a socialist who’s in favour of independence. Read the words of journalist and former Conservative MP Matthew Parris. For those of you behind the Times pay wall I include a couple of extracts.

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And later:

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Sure, a vote for the Tories will be a blow to the SNP, but they’ll  still have a clear majority of Scots seats at Westminster and their Holyrood mandate. And you? You’ll have another regressive UK Government, more privatisation, further war on the poor, and brutal payback for upstart Scotland. Enjoy.

NHS Improvement, an oxymoron

NHSII RECALL conversations with Labour friends during 2014 who were critical of the Yes side playing the NHS card during the independence debate.

They argued that it was dishonest because health was already fully devolved and therefore irrelevant to the Yes/No question. I disagreed, arguing that as NHS funding was squeezed South of the Border this would come back to haunt Scotland through reduced Barnett consequentials, assuming that the Barnett formula even survived the backlash after a No vote.

Well, as we say in these parts: “Ye ken noo.” Segue forward three years and look at the state of the NHS  in England — a recurring car crash on a weekly and monthly basis. I sometimes thank providence for the unwon battle for a Scottish Six, for it is only by receiving our daily fix of London-centric BBC news that we are reminded what a mess the Health Service is in South of the Border. Imagine if the only news we were getting was Opposition carping at Holyrood devoid of the relative picture of NHS crisis elsewhere on this island?

And so to today’s toxic news courtesy of The Times that the English body and comedy gold oxymoron, NHS Improvement has detected a “golden opportunity” to borrow £10 billion from hedge funds. Shall I repeat that? Borrow £10 billion from hedge funds. It’s as if the saga of PFI has been sent down Winston Smith’s memory hole.

The story says this would be spent on a hospital repairs backlog and improved GP care. The Treasury may or may not approve this, but if it goes through it would constitute health spending in England which will bring no consequential funding to Scotland. It will accelerate the slide towards the Scottish system being coerced towards the ultimate goal of the US healthcare model.

Prepare for Ridley

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WELL, that was an extraordinary few days of bizarre triumphalism from the Scots Tories, full of threats, boasts and hubris. From the warning by the Prime Minister that she was planning to rein in the powers of Holyrood and the odd couple wearing Union Flag coats, to Ruth Davidson railing against the SNP’s obsession with another referendum by obsessing about . . .
OK, you get the drift. But it set me thinking. You see, as a journalist, I covered the miner’s strike in 1984 and have a vivid memory of the Ridley Plan. This was drawn up by Nicholas Ridley, who would now be labelled alt-Right, in the wake of the 1974 miners’ strike which brought down the Heath government. Written in 1977 it was leaked and published a year later in The Economist, so the NUM were forewarned.
Mick McGahey was listening but Arthur Scargill wasn’t. The plan had the Westminster Government picking the time of the next fight, coal was to be stockpiled, anti-union laws introduced and the police virtually militarised to take on pickets. The Thatcher Government saw what happened to Heath and declared the miners “the enemy within.”
The same newspapers have since 1999 been aiming their guns on the Scottish Parliament. Segue forward a few decades and as far as Whitehall are concerned who is the new “enemy within” which almost brought down David Cameron? I think we know the answer to that. Just have a look at the Express, Mail, Telegraph.
This is not a defeatist point. A second independence referendum is there to be won, or lost. But strategists need to ask whether there is a new Ridley Plan in place whereby Tories are picking a fight on their own chosen ground or escalating the conflict to a level none of us had even thought of. Just be ready.

The rise of Ruthie Tank Commander

The rise of Ruthie Tank Commander

IN THE dog days of my time as a daily newspaper political journalist I was dispatched on the final Sunday of independence referendum campaigning to report back from the streets of my home city, with which I have a love-hate relationship.
My wander around the streets of Edinburgh concluded in my home patch and I concluded the piece in The Herald:

In Stockbridge the No tribe is gathering — hundreds of Union supporters  on the fields of the Grange Cricket Club. The ostensible reason is an aerial photograph of them forming the word NO.
The real motive is for a segment of society to feel comfort in its own company, safe from the barbarians at the gate. Many sport Union Flag umbrella hats in which there is a vigorous trade. One woman teams such headgear with with a matching maxi dress and rucksack.
The men sport rugby tops and sometimes the full Murrayfield kilt ensemble, the kids private school sweatshirts, and strips. They throw around cricket and rugby balls. No-one is kicking a football. That the shape of a ball determines voting intentions in Edinburgh speaks volumes.

And so it came to pass that yesterday this tribe elected the leader of the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party as their constituency MSP, and mine. Some Nationalists are whingeing that without Alison Johnstone standing in the seat for the Greens, the SNP would have won. Tough. In the absence of any pact the Greens were entitled to stand, and I am delighted that my vote helped get Andy Wightman voted as a regional MSP.
But to those enjoying the frisson of the success of Ruthie Tank Commander, I say we won’t forget Tory attacks on the disabled, benefit cuts, blocking child refugees and general Bullingdon brutality. The babarians remain at the gate.

Rebellion and the evolution of revolution

Rebellion and the evolution of revolution

LAST night a sixth successive sell-out audience in Glasgow applauded a play rooted in events in Dublin a century ago but containing a very modern take on how rebellious instincts would be channeled in the 21st Century.
I’ve not blogged in a wee while as I have worked on a book contribution, but I broke off to see Rebellion, a play by my friend Phil Phil Mac Giolla Bhain. It was performed in the eaves of a night club by Sweet for Addicts, a not-for-profit theatre company but no-one would mistake their production for amateur dramatics.
Directed by SfA founder member Mark Williamson it skilfully meshed the strands of events in Dublin in 1916 with modern day issues around power, control, feminism, bigotry, class and cyber-subversion.
Elements which appealed to these Glasgow audiences, particularly the Rangers-supporting character who is the butt of many jokes, may not travel far beyond Scotland or Belfast, but the core of the story could be re-told in, say, London’s Kilburn or anywhere in the wider Irish diaspora.
Taryam Boyd plays both Tom Murphy, a young participant in 1916 seen mainly as a prisoner of war in the Frongoch “University of Revolution” camp in Wales where Michael Collins was held, and his great-great grandson in modern day Scotland, John Brown.
This bright youngster not only uses his computer skills to peel back the layers of his maternal family history, he is secretly working as part of a hacking group to unmask the misdeeds of powerful figures; a corrupt politician, a child-abusing human rights writer, and ultimately the Prime Minister who took his country to war based on a lie.
I was privileged to see Rebellion, which deserves a wider audience as a movie or television adaptation. It may be rooted in 1916 but the issues raised are timeless.

Who’s next in line for the bully boys?

Who’s next in line for the bully boys?

IN 42 years in print journalism I have never come across a worse failure of a newspaper to back a writer than that of The Herald and Graham Spiers.
I left The Herald four months ago on good terms and the paper had my loyalty for 28 years. Should a reporter get something wrong there is a duty to raise a hand and accept responsibility. But when a journalist insists on and can prove the veracity of a story an editor should provide full backing. That’s the deal.
Yesterday this apology was carried by the newspaper’s website: “In a recent column for heraldscotland, Graham Spiers said an un-named Rangers director had praised the song The Billy Boys.
“He also questioned the willingness of Rangers directors to tackle offensive behaviour, and The Herald and Graham Spiers accept this was inaccurate.”
But Spiers, himself a Rangers supporter who was once given police advice on threats from the club’s fanatics, did not and does not accept this. “My opinion – as expressed in my column – was based on a truthful account of my meeting with a Rangers director,” he insisted yesterday in a statement saying “the pressure brought upon the newspaper became severe.”
A hard-line fans’ website swiftly boasted that the threat of withdrawal of £40,000 in advertising revenues by motor sales and coach operators Park’s clinched the climb-down. The owner is a Rangers director. I hope this is not true.
The irony is that this website  — the same unsavoury crowd who recently threatened critics and their wives and children — loudly trumpet the merits of the full bigoted songbook at Ibrox. The previous article proclaimed the Billy Boys football’s “haka” for the Protestant Unionist Loyalist community.
It used to be press passes and access which were threatened. If it’s advertising, who’s next?