Ice cream wars updated, with a side of good Scottish berries

If you’ve not tried Mackies excellent dairy ice cream I’d urge you to. I especially recommend their white chocolate and coconut variety.

Mackies are a Scottish family-owned company based in rural Aberdeenshire that must provide or support hundreds of jobs. Their products are sold UK-wide including in upmarket supermarkets like Waitrose. They also manufacture crisps and a range of chocolate bars. But they had the temerity to include a union flag on some bars of dark chocolate with Scottish mint:

Almost inevitably, this sparked instant nationalist outrage including this:

The anger culminated in a recommendation by an online enthusiast to boycott Mackies’ ice cream and buy a better and cheaper Scottish alternative, ‘Strachan’s Traditional Dairy Ice Cream’:

Here is Strachan’s  traditional dairy ice cream. You’ll note its packaging does indeed include the saltire which so excites and enthuses nationalists:

And here is Mackies’ traditional dairy ice cream:

If the two products appear similar it may be because ‘Strachan’s’, an Aldi own-brand, is manufactured for them by, you’ve probably guessed, Mackies (my thanks to @dhothersall for pointing this out on Twitter).

Ironies abound in what is only one case study amongst many.

The whole upset was based on a misunderstanding. Mackies pointed out that the union flag was only included on an export version of their chocolate bar at

the request of our overseas retailer customers … [It] made the bars instantly recognisable as an imported product to the USA’ (cited in the link above).

Far from hiding under the union flag, Mackies badge all their output, including both ice cream and errant chocolate bar, as the product of ‘Mackies of Scotland’.

Despite the intent to damage the company through a boycott of their products, the ignorant action of recommending an alternative brand would only have resulted in Mackies ice cream being bought under another label, and incidentally benefiting a German-owned supermarket.

There are at least three uncomfortable truths for Scottish nationalists in this nonsense.

First, not only is the union flag more recognised internationally than the saltire, it is regarded abroad as a positive marketing attribute.

Second, they are mere amateurs in what makes a successful economy. They do not know better than the companies concerned what is best for their business.

Third, through their irrational devotion to symbols they are willing to actually damage Scottish companies that provide jobs and help drive our economy.

None of this will be news to followers of Scottish politics for the last few years. The same sort of belligerency was evident in the 2014 referendum campaign: Tunnocks (confectionary) and Walkers (shortbread) come to mind as two successful Scottish companies that have been targeted in the same way.

For the record, this is my list of nationalist food-related grievances, although not all apparent in the Mackies case:

  • where there is a choice, Scots should eat food produced in Scotland rather than in the rest of the UK regardless of the fact that if everyone did the same our farmers, fishers and distillers would have no market for their products in England or Wales, let alone elsewhere
  • Scottish food is better than the equivalent produced in the rest of the UK, for example raspberries, for which we are renowned (at least in our own eyes, but see ‘Some rasps to go with Mackies delicious ice cream’ after this article)
  • food and drink produced in Scotland should be explicitly labelled as such. For example it is not enough to say ‘Grown by Joe Bloggs in Perthshire’, let alone ‘Grown by Joe Bloggs in Perthshire, UK’. Any label on Scottish goods saying ‘Produced in the UK’ is entirely unacceptable
  • the saltire is acceptable as a badge of origin on Scottish food, even desirable, but the union flag is not. This is true whether the food is marketed in Glasgow, London, Paris or an airport duty free shop somewhere in Asia. For some this is a matter of general sentiment, for others it is because the union flag is ‘the butcher’s apron’, a pejorative term originating with Irish Republicanism
  • not labelling Scottish food explicitly as Scottish dilutes ‘Scotland the brand’ and our national identity
  • this is all part of a concerted attempt to undermine that identity and do down our economy. It may well involve a plot by the UK government or its agencies
  • inappropriate labelling (as defined by objectors) is a valid reason to boycott the producer or retailer concerned.

(I have been careful to specify ‘the rest of the UK’ in this list as I have never seen objections to food from anywhere else being sold or badged with its nationality in Scotland)

Like many people, other things being equal I’d prefer to eat food produced as locally as possible. This means it’s fresher and uses fewer ‘food miles’ to get to me. And if it’s genuinely better than produce from elsewhere, I’d prefer to buy it over an alternative product. If I were an aficionado of single malts, I wouldn’t look further than Scotland to stock my drinks cupboard, however the bottles were labelled. As for the rest, it’s hokum.

Anyhow, I think I’ve got my pudding tonight sorted – Mackies white chocolate and coconut ice cream with a side of Scottish rasps, Driscoll’s Maravilla as it happens, ‘Grown in Kincardineshire’.

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Dear ____,

Dear ____,

When we met on our recent trip you said it must be quiet up here because I hadn’t enlightened the world with my pearls of wisdom for two months.

In the cause of family harmony, I didn’t respond at the time but thought I should explain now I’ve had time to think about it.

In fact, there’s plenty to write about. I even started to collect some material on a few subjects but the truth is that when push came to shove I just couldn’t be ***ed because we seem to be locked in our own special time warp, as you’ll see when I get to the end of this missive. It saps the will, but I decided I should make the effort for you, so here goes.

First, we’ve had three bizarre manifestations of the separatist tendency that lingers on here, manifestations that are oddly linked together.

It started with a small group of die-hards who announced they were going to walk 500 miles ‘for indy’. You get the reference presumably? It was an old song by The Proclaimers, ‘I would walk 500 miles’, although if I remember correctly they were aiming to fall down at some girl’s door, not knacker their feet for a lost political cause. Mind you one of them, I can never remember which, has gone all political since then and pops up occasionally in The Natonal comic with his thoughts on some abstruse issue or other.

Anyhow, the half-dozen or so 500 miles walkers were set off on their epic journey by Ian Blackford, the SNP Commons leader, who may or may not have known what he was doing.

The leading lights in the endeavour seem to have been a rather odd hotelier and a guy who was proud to say he’d been a (strictly legal highs) drug dealer. The back up convoy for their effort included a car that, thanks to an online DVLA service, anyone interested could have found out was neither taxed nor insured. Some of the not-so-hardy band were clearly strangers to the art of long-distance walking and either gave up completely or emerged from the untaxed car only to hurple into the next town on their route to greet the handful of ‘Yes’ fanatics that could be bothered to turn out and view the spectacle.

The highlight of their stupidity was a pit stop at Stirling Castle where they were asked politely by an employee of Historic Environment Scotland to move on as they clearly constituted a political demonstration on HES property. As you’ll guess, within a few hours the hapless employee was being dubbed a fascist on social media and the HES chief executive a yoon planted on Scottish soil by Westmonster. Or some such.

The Stirling incident was an eerie forwarning of what was to happen at an ‘All Under One Banner’ event in Edinburgh as the walkers finally ended their dreary trudge. They were filmed on the day of the AUOB demo setting off from the car park of a suburban Edinburgh steak house with the aim of triumphantly leading the AUOB crowd through the capital’s streets to a rally in Holyrood Park. Maybe they did, maybe they didn’t. But they certainly didn’t feature in the self-publicity AUOB generated.

The eerie forewarning I mentioned was the fact that AUOB also had a run-in with Historic Environment Scotland – about their planned rally in the park. They were clearly told that aspects of it were not on but seem to have gone ahead anyhow. Again, the spat was accompanied by the demonisation of HES as a tool of everything and everyone out to thwart Scotland, this regardless of the fact that it is a Scottish Government agency. Not that I noticed any SNP politicians saying that HES’s rules should be respected. Indeed, the AUOB march, at least at some stage, was headed up by Keith I’ve-not-really-been-moved-sideways-to-the-post-of-depute-leader Brown. And three lesser luminaries from the party chose to address the rally in the park.

I wonder sometimes if these people know the tiger they’re riding. But then it has emerged that ‘All Under One Banner’ may not be the tiger it probably thought it was. Their banner seems to be big enough to encompass extremists of one sort or another, four separate registered companies seem to be or have been involved in it, its organisation and structure is unclear, some of its spokespeople have been caught writing unpalatable messages on social media, the collections taken at their events may not all be accounted for, and at least in its present guise it may be imploding.

From afar, you may ask why all this matters? Well, they’ve held a series of events across Scotland this year and made unsustainable claims about each. In Edinburgh, they claimed that 40,000-60,000 or 100,000 or 193,000 (!) people marched for indy. A unionist group that held a counter-demonstration estimated, on the basis of a detailed count, that no more than 13,000 were present. Edinburgh council, working closely with the police, estimated 20,000. I’ll stick with the council estimate. As with so much of nationalism, there’s a constant need to ‘big up’ the claimed support. All part of the black arts of propaganda, I guess.

(By the way, our teachers are not happy with the SNP government’s commitment to their terms and conditions and they pulled at least the same number of marchers as AUOB, 20k but maybe more, to a protest yesterday in Glasgow)

The third linked manifestation to touch on is a recent ‘blockchain’ poll purporting to show that over 98% of the population supports independence. The legal-high drug dealer seems to have been involved with this nonsense too, scurrying around to sort out some problem with addressing that meant not all the intended target of Scottish residents could vote. As only 1,600 did anyhow the whole exercise meant diddly-squat although it got too much publicity. And no I haven’t got a clue what blockchain democracy is.

Meantime, at the serious end of the nationalist spectrum, the SNP held their autumn conference. There were the usual glib generalisations about independence, its inevitability but just not quite yet you understand, and all the rest of it. Curiously, the one thing that should have given the party pause for thought this year – their Sustainable Growth Commission’s report – seems to have got scarcely a mention despite the fact it was only last month depute leader Brown led three member ‘national assemblies’ (they go in for pompous titles) that gave them reams of feedback on Post-it notes. All disappeared without a trace.

Well, that’s about it I guess until our next session. Apart from one thing – the latest poll by Survation for the Daily Record suggests 45% of the population support independence and 55% oppose it. Usual caveats about trends etc but does that sound familiar? It should. It was the referendum result in 2014. Four years of energy expended on a lost cause with the basics of good government neglected, and no change in public opinion. What a waste.

Yours optimistically (as always)

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To see ourselves as others see us – the UK and #ScotlandisNow

You’ll surely recognise the quote in the title of this post, deliberately in standard English, unlike Burns’ original words. That’s because this is mainly about international perceptions of the UK, although you’ll also find some discussion of contemporary Scotland.

I was led into the subject by an article on the BBC website entitled How do you market a country? much of it about how Chile had tried to change its international image. It cited something I’d not heard of before – the Anholt-GfK Nation Brands Index. The Index starts with the presumption that people’s perception of countries is based on six factors – their governance, culture, people, tourism, immigration and investment, and exports:

It then carries out annual surveys in twenty countries to test perceptions of these factors for a total of fifty countries. The 50 countries are listed on the Brands Index website linked above, the methodology is explained here.

No doubt this all has its limitations but it does provide a consistent measure of the international perception of different countries. Facts are also important as I tried to demonstrate when I looked at the UK’s standing in the OECD’s Better Life Index of advanced economies, which measures 24 statistical indicators, from dwellings without basic facilities to time devoted to leisure and personal care. But if you doubt the importance of perception consider where you’d rather spend your holidays, Italy or Syria, or take part in a demonstration against the government, Norway or North Korea. Most of us could choose even if we’ve never been to those countries.

Bearing all that in mind, here are the results of the most recent Anholt-GfK Nation Brands Index for the top ten countries, based on data collected in 2017:

You’ll notice how the top ten rankings are taken by what the index compilers call ‘Western market economies, along with Japan’. You might also notice how France has moved up the rankings from 2016 and the USA down (Macron and Trump respectively? My guess).

What I want to point out particularly is the UK’s position, in third place, above other nations usually highly thought of. The only Nordic nation in the top ten is Sweden and many Scottish nationalists’ favourite exemplar, Norway, doesn’t make the top ten at all.

If perceptions are important the UK’s third place is a major asset, even or perhaps especially in these Brexit hard times. It also gives the lie, repeated so often by many Scottish nationalists, to the claim that the UK is universally reviled throughout the world (cue canards ‘Westmonster’, ‘evil empire’, ‘butcher’s apron’ etc. etc.).

None of this says anything about international perceptions of Scotland which, if some nationalists are to be believed, are as high as they claim perceptions of the UK are low. But if you’re part of a country, the UK, that enjoys such a high international reputation, why not rejoice and use that reputation to support your own efforts to promote the advantages of Scotland?

That of course is not on the SNP’s agenda. Their own attempts at marketing Scotland focus on what they disingenuously call a ‘partnership’ with the fatuous slogan ‘Scotland is Now’, to ‘create a new campaign and identity for Scotland’. Their website has some interesting stuff on it but also much that is partisan. In its short life it has accumulated eleven items that feature Nicola Sturgeon, from ‘First Minister’s statement on the EU referendum’ (placed, I’m pretty sure, on the site retrospectively) to ‘Scottish whisky tourism gets £150M boost’.

The range of even this small part of the contents exemplifies another problem – who’s it all aimed at – investors, tourists, business, potential students, people who live here already …? In seeking to have something for everyone it looks as if it doesn’t have enough for anyone. As for ‘partnership’, all the agencies listed as partners are actually part of the Scottish Government except Universities Scotland, who rely for a substantial part of their funding on the government.

Admittedly, the endeavour follows other campaigns that didn’t last long – Scotland the Brand (which I quite liked), the Best small country in the world, and the stunningly imaginative Welcome to Scotland.

If it’s a problem finding the right image for a country, the originator of the Nation Brands Index, Steve Anholt, has a word of warning:

I have been looking for 20 years for a single properly documented case study of one single country, city or region that has demonstrably moved the needle, even by the most microscopic degree, on its global image as a result of marketing, messaging or communications.

His view is that reputation comes from doing things not consciously trying to build images.

In that context, ‘Scotland is Now’ is likely to be a waste of time and money.

Meanwhile in the real world, international perception of the UK is right up there with the best.

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In which I carry out a Twitter poll …

My having (almost) comprehensively trashed the value of Twitter polls in a recent post entitled Twitter polls – a word of advice to the wary, sceptical readers may even now have their finger over the hashtag button ready to bang out #hypocrite when they see this brief article.

Yes, I’ve carried out a Twitter poll.

Easiest way to explain is a screenshot of the question together with the results:

I only kept it open for 24 hours because it was not an entirely serious endeavour and I make no claim for the accuracy of the results. Indeed, I am surprised at the high proportion of people, 72%, who said the most common response to asking nationalists politely for proof of some unlikely assertion was ‘Abuse’.

I guess that unlike the unambiguous response of ‘Silence’ or the specific ‘Find it yourself’, abuse is a very subjective concept. One person’s mild banter can be another’s deep hurt.

What did surprise me was the fact that nearly 550 people went out of their way to answer my question, many of whom were not followers of mine. The subject clearly struck a deep chord.

Although only 5% chose ‘Other’ responses as an option, a selection of comments on the exercise, not all of which relate directly to that option, are worth recording.

  • Typically, I get all of the above. Usually including various @s so that the person you’re engaging with requests backup so that you’re overwhelmed with nonsense.
  • ‘I’m not doing your research for you’ followed by a long thread with me trying to explain the concept of burden of proof.
  • Don’t forget all the hashtags.
  • The usual rants. Scottish sovereignty, Westmonster, Tories, Empirical Overlords …
  • ‘You must hate Scotland’ is a favourite.
  • Other: ‘Look! Squirrel!’ [For those unfamiliar with the shorthand, a way of trying to create a diversion on to another subject]
  • Usually a sequence of all of them followed by a block.
  • When nationalists ask for proof and I show it, they eventually descend into how I have supplied evidence from one viewpoint and anyway what is proof, the only true proof is a mathematical proof… etc etc.

I suspect that most of these comments will be familiar to many who brave the wildlands of Twitter.

As a counter to the dismal litany, two other responses should be noted.

First, one brave soul admitted that they sometimes do the same, telling people who challenge their own assertions to go and do a bit of investigation themselves. I must admit, it’s tempting.

But I especially liked:

Having experienced all your options, every now and again you get a decent debate with none of the above!

I agree with that last one. It’s a rare but satisfying Twitter moment when you can thank someone for their exchange of views and depart wishing each other well. And – hint to online opponents – so much more effective if you want me to consider your point of view.

The serious point, of course, is that if you make an assertion supposedly grounded in fact you should be willing to provide evidence if asked, otherwise your claim is worthless. I usually just say ‘A link will do. Thanks’.

If you’re tempted to tell me that the same phenomenon happens the other way round, I can only say I’m sure it does. I don’t see many examples of that because, by and large, I tend not to be engaged in contentious debate by people who are united with me on the separation/independence question.

And just to prove my own even-handedness (yes, I can provide the evidence if I’m challenged), within the last week I’ve asked politely for proof of what I thought were particularly unlikely assertions not only from various Scottish nationalists but also from a UKIP politician and a Momentum supporter. Both of them remained silent. I drew the line at a demented American who believes the sale of pre-packed plastic picnic cutlery has been banned in the UK.

Sometimes, life is just too short.

My thanks to those who answered the poll, and especially those who commented on it and are quoted above. You might see I’ve changed your words slightly, but only to eliminate Twitter shorthand and fit the style of this post.

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Weeping for Kenny MacAskill and his view of Scottish politics

It may seem perverse when the furore around the Salmond allegations is in full flood to be distracted by a column from former SNP politician and cabinet secretary Kenny MacAskill in yesterday’s Herald, entitled Why I weep for the Scottish Parliament that might have been (you need a subscription to read it so if you haven’t seen the article, you’ll have to take my interpretation of it on trust). But it contains unintended lessons the SNP should learn.

Jim Naughtie did a piece on Radio 4’s Today programme this morning on Nicola Sturgeon and Alex Salmond’s political relationship (from 1:46:15 as long as it’s still on the BBC website). He concluded:

We can’t know how this story will play out except that it won’t have a happy ending.

MacAskill acknowledges the current goings on when he writes

Far from members returning to a legislature eager to debate the great issues of state, it’s likely to be introspective if not convulsed by debates over impropriety and personal conduct.

His analysis of what has gone wrong – Salmondgate apart – is fascinating for what it says about both the SNP and the wider separatist mindset. It’s a masterclass in viewing the past through rose-tinted specs and seeing only what everyone else has done wrong to thwart progress towards an independent Scotland.

Consider.

First, the 2014 referendum campaign, which for Kenny ‘was a time of great optimism with widespread political discourse across the country’. According to him, ‘other than one minor egg-throwing incident, magnified out of all proportion, it was conducted in a fair and dignified manner’. His referendum clearly took place in a universe parallel to mine.

Then once it was all over, ‘loyalist thuggery [was] unleashed, the likes of which hadn’t been seen on Scottish streets for generations’. Really? The reality was not much more than one evening in Glasgow’s George Square when a tiny number of idiots from both sides chose to provoke each other.

Again, ‘criticism of independence being divisive and splitting communities was hyperbole if not total rot.’ Not true. Many came forward to say how the referendum had split friends, work colleagues and families, sometimes bitterly so.

As sometimes happens, the detail of his words reveal unintended truths. His hoped-for outcome of the referendum was nothing to do with so-called modern civic nationalism but ‘the restoration of independence for an ancient nation’.

He believes that ‘the debate now stands on whether powers have been removed from Holyrood’. Does it? I thought the opposite had happened with the additional devolved powers from the Smith Commission.

He can even find grievance in a name change with ‘the Scottish Office has even been rebranded as the UK Government in Scotland’.

Unsurprisingly perhaps, there is an overblown sense of Scotland’s importance in 2014 when ‘the world … was also watching and waiting to see what Scotland did’.

And he throws more into the mix – Brexit, the EU, Trump and racism all get mentions.

What he doesn’t do is turn the light upon his own party and government. Not one mention anywhere of their own contribution to what might have gone wrong. For example:

  • the sucking of power and public services into the centre and away from local communities– economic development, water and sewage, police, and fire and rescue
  • never-ending problems with Police Scotland and its governance
  • the botched named person scheme
  • the unnecessary and now abandoned (?) takeover of British Transport Police
  • the decline of educational standards, and teacher shortages
  • ever-lengthening NHS waiting times, and more staff shortages
  • the poor record of parliament in scrutinising the executive and its legislation (not solely the SNP’s fault but as the party of government for ten years they bear a major responsibility)
  • .. and so on. I’m sure other examples could be added.

If Mr MacAskill wants to weep for a parliament that might have been he needs to turn his gaze away from what everyone else has done wrong to the failure of his own party.

I too weep for the parliament and our government but for very different reasons.

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Some fall-out from the Clara Ponsati affair

On 12 July, I wrote a blog post entitled Scotland-Catalonia update – the first minister, the president, the professor, and the lawyer. It was prompted by a meeting between the first minister and the president of the Catalan Generalitat, Quim Torra. I assumed, not unreasonably as he was videoed emerging from Bute House, that Professor Clara Ponsati’s lawyer Aamer Anwar had been in the meeting:

Taken from President of the People Quim Torra Video 3 at 21:51

Ms Ponsati, you probably won’t need reminding, is a professor at St Andrew’s university and was briefly a minister in Catalonia’s devolved government in 2017. She was the subject of a European Arrest Warrant from the Spanish government at the time.

Various things about the meeting had intrigued me, as a reading of my previous blog post will confirm. I decided, therefore, to submit a Freedom of Information (FOI) request, as follows:

I would be grateful if you could provide me with the following information:

  1. any briefing note(s) she [the first minister] received in preparation for the meeting, whether from Scottish Government civil servants or other sources
  2. any minute or note of meeting that was made by civil servants attending the meeting
  3. if not included in 2., a list of all those attending the meeting
  4. specifically, if not included in items 2. or 3., confirmation of whether the Scottish lawyer Mr Aamer Anwar attended the meeting (as context for this request an online video taken outside Bute House that day and posted on YouTube clearly shows Mr Anwar emerging from the building and joining Mr Torra on the pavement. Should it prove necessary, you can view the video concerned at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jDTnkI2jaOM– the relevant part is at about 22 minutes)
  5. if not included in any other items listed above, the reason Mr Anwar was at the meeting and what role he played in it.

I’m pleased to say that I received a full response within the statutory timescale although some information was redacted (withheld).

The first thing to get out of the way is an unequivocal statement about Mr Anwar:

 I can confirm that Mr Anwar did not attend or participate in the meeting between the First Minister and President Torra. He did however accompany the Catalan delegation to Bute House.

That much is good and assuages one concern I had previously. As he was pictured (above) emerging from Bute House we must assume that he waited in an ante-room during the meeting. One hopes he was at least offered a coffee.

However, the FOI response and other information available raise a number of other issues that are worth recording.

A first preliminary comment is that this is the first time I have seen both the first minister’s briefing notes for a meeting she has attended, as well as a minute of the same meeting. If for no other reason, they are worth a wider circulation and I append them both at the end of this post.

The briefing notes are a competent civil service job about which little complaint could be made. They were doubtless supplemented with an oral briefing at which other, unrecorded things were said but that would be true of any significant meeting involving an elected office-holder.

You either agree or disagree with the wider political context set by the notes:

The Scottish Government is keen to strengthen [its] bilateral links with Catalonia … further opportunities for bilateral cooperation … We profoundly regret that the Spanish Government has not proceeded by way of dialogue with Catalonia’s political leaders and that the issue is now, instead, subject to a judicial process.

My own view, which will be no surprise, is that our SNP government dabbles too much in what are essentially foreign affairs.

There are some intriguing details in the material.

  • In the main note, part of what the Scottish government can ‘offer’ the Catalans has been redacted. What might the first minister have considered offering the Catalans that is so sensitive?
  • In the covering letter I received with the FOI response, one ‘exemption’ justifying redaction relates to ‘the provision of advice by … Law Officers’. What might that advice have been and where might it have appeared in the briefing? Did it perhaps relate to the legal limits beyond which any statement or action by the first minister should not go?
  • Annex A lists bilateral links between Scotland and Catalonia, including shared membership of ‘The Climate Group, The Under2 MoU Coalition, Districts of Creativity, and The Vanguard Initiative’. Who’s heard of any of them and what is Scotland getting out of them? As for the ‘Districts of Creativity’, apparently run by the separatist regional government of Flanders in Belgium, how ironic that our SNP government is willing to be a member of a group that characterises the entire  country as a ‘district’.
  • Annex C T&I [Trade and Investment] refers to two new jobs as ‘part of the EU expansion project’ that has received some media coverage. One is in Barcelona, the other in Madrid (which will cheer the Catalan separatists no end). Both are ‘co-located’ with ‘DIT’, the UK government’s Department for International Trade; in other words a quiet acceptance by the SNP government of the reality that internationally Scotland is a region of the UK and that promoting trade has to be done under the umbrella of the DIT.

If that last point is an example of the gap between the SNP’s outward assertive rhetoric and essential timidity, is this photo also?

It shows the first minister and Mr Torra in the by now traditional formal photo taken with visitors at Bute House. You’ll notice that like her earlier meeting there with Theresa May, but unlike most meetings with foreign leaders, the room sports two large saltires. In the May case, there was a widespread assumption that not showing the union flag was a calculated insult. But what’s going on here? Surely, she wouldn’t wish to insult the Catalan leader as part of a meeting described as ‘cordial [and] aimed at strengthening the ties of friendship between Scotland and Catalonia’?

The answer may lie on the Bute House mantelpiece. If you look hard enough you’ll see two much smaller flags, a saltire and a yellow and red striped official flag of Catalonia. The version approved by the nationalists, including no doubt Mr Torra and sported at Scottish separatist events, includes a blue triangle and white star. This is curious, smacking perhaps not only of timidity but also a last-minute amateurish attempt to square some arcane circle of solidarity vs legality. It’s not of course a distinction that bothers many SNP supporters and politicians in meetings about Catalonia, online or at demonstrations.

(If you’re interested, you can see the difference between the two Catalan flags here, as well as a past, flag-related, indiscretion by Alex Salmond, so keen in 2014 to get his iScotland into the EU)

One almost inevitable outcome of the meeting is the acceptance by the first minister of an invitation to visit Barcelona. I look forward to reports of the practical outcomes, as well as confirmation that the party got bargain-basement fares on Ryanair from the SNP’s favourite airport, Prestwick.

There’s a final irony in Mr Torra’s visit to Scotland. It’s other (the?) main purpose was to lend support to the eponymous Clara Ponsati, subject of the Spanish European Arrest Warrant. Eight days after the Sturgeon/Torra meeting, it was dropped, not as a result of the meeting but because of wider political considerations in Spain.

So what of the money raised for Ms Ponsati’s defence in two related online fundraisers I documented previously? Here’s the state of play today (24 August):

Over £340,000 raised, and the second is still open for another 15 days, despite the case being dropped over a month ago. I wonder how much of that total has been dispersed or is outstanding? Still, the first appeal website does say

Please rest assured that any funds leftover after paying for my defence will go to support legal funds for Catalan political prisoners and others in exile.

So anyone contributing will know where any surplus funds are supposed to go, although I doubt there will ever be a public audit trail of where they actually did go.

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First minister’s briefing notes

Minute of meeting

 

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Twitter polls – a word of advice to the unwary

This is not a pro- or anti-anything post.

I assume most readers of this post will be familiar with the Twitter poll. Introduced a while back, it allows you to ask a question and have people select one of up to four answers. Here’s an example I’ve just drafted:

Before you jump in, yes it’s boring, although it’s at least straight-forward.

But the truth is, almost every Twitter poll is a complete waste of time if it pretends to tell you anything serious. Here’s another selection, helpfully provided by someone who thinks my view about Twitter polls is partisan:

In the cause of balance, I’m sure someone could have found a similar set of polls that led to the opposite conclusion and had them rhetorically asking Mr Harrison, ‘Not bad for No, I think you’d agree?’

I hardly know where to start with the many reasons these exercises are spurious, but they all boil down to one phrase – lack of quality control.

Undertaking a valid survey of people’s opinions is no less a skilled exercise than prescribing medicines or designing a road junction. Here’s how most of these Twitter efforts fail.

  • Promoters of Twitter polls are usually biased to one side of an argument and the question asked often reflects their bias.
  • Even if they’re not biased, they often don’t know how to structure a question and the possible answers to avoid leading people on to a particular conclusion.
  • Only people on Twitter will see it, a small subset of people not representative of the overall population.
  • Even worse, only Twitter users linked directly or at a couple of removes from the promoter of the poll are likely to see it, of whom only some will bother to vote.
  • Saying a poll is ‘open to all’ (but see above) and Inviting people to retweet ‘for a bigger sample’ doesn’t make a Twitter poll more accurate. More people with a fixed view pile in, often egged on by someone tweeting ‘Get on over there to vote so the nats/yoons don’t hijack it!’
  • Many Twitter polls deal with big complex issues that are not amenable to resolution by a single question and a maximum of four options for an answer. Question and answers together are also subject to Twitter’s length limitations, forcing further simplification.

For all these reasons, and unlike a professionally-conducted poll, it’s impossible to have any confidence that their results reflect the views of people overall.

I was first exposed to this sort of exercise – though not on Twitter – during the 2014 referendum campaign in a poll run by someone based in Shetland. It was a simple ‘How will you vote?’ Yes/No/Don’t know exercise. I pointed out most of the problems listed above, only to be told ‘Well get out there and get your pals to vote, mate’. If my memory’s correct, the end result before the referendum itself was that something like 88% of those voting were for Yes, accompanied by a good deal of naïve ‘Yay!’-ing and triumph in the forum associated with the poll. It summed up perfectly why this sort of thing is a complete waste of time. Unless of course you’re just conducting a propaganda exercise and/or want to have your point of view reinforced regardless of the facts..

That’s it, almost. My apologies to professional researchers for not putting the word ‘poll’ in inverted commas when it is associated with Twitter. And one final thought. I do like Twitter polls where the percentage results don’t attempt to make a serious point. Even better if they’re (deliberately) trying to inject some humour into a situation. I wouldn’t claim my feeble choice-of-car example does that. But I think you’ll get the point.

 

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