The BBC and Nicola Sturgeon

Two days ago the first minister gave a speech entitled We need greater diversity both on and behind our TV screens at the Edinburgh International Television Festival. To give credit where it’s due, it was a thorough and well-informed job that spoke well, if not of her, then of whoever wrote it for her. Of course, the same could be said of a well-crafted speech by any politician.

It did contain a touch of hubris in her characterisation of August as a time

when Edinburgh and Scotland are the cultural capitals of the world.

I’m not sure they’ll have noticed that in Sao Paulo or Beijing, but maybe it’s the sort of thing politicians have to say about their home turf. I also wondered whether the impossible claim that

viewers in Scotland and around the world … now have access to an infinite variety, or at least an infinite number, of programmes

was a reflection on the state of maths teaching in Scottish schools.

I also found little to disagree with in the part of her speech dealing with diversity and equality. Some of it was predictable from a politician who’s made gender equality the core of her ‘progressive’ pitch. Some I agreed with wholeheartedly, not least her objection to the fact (I assume the statistic is correct) that

three-quarters of new entrants to journalism had done an unpaid internship.

The progressive bit of me is wholly opposed to unpaid internships: they are yet another barrier in the way of young people who cannot afford to work unpaid, even for a limited time.

This was all about projecting the first minister as stateswoman on an international stage. It’s why, I guess, there was a nod in the direction of ‘the different nations and regions of the UK,’ no overt criticism of the UK itself, and certainly no statement of the SNP’s overarching purpose – independence/separation from the UK. It’s presumably also why there was none of the overt hostility towards the BBC specifically and the mainstream media (MSM) generally that characterises much of the Scottish nationalist narrative at all levels – from senior elected politicians to the conspiracy theorists convinced that the BBC/MSM are all part of a gigantic plot to undermine the nationalist cause.

But if the detailed crafting of the speech was likely to appeal to the assembled great and good of the industry, the careful listener could also discern the persistent rumble of discontent in the latter part of the speech, on ‘Television production in Scotland.’

Here a little background is helpful. If you were not aware, the SNP and other nationalists had campaigned for many years for what was popularly called the ‘Scottish Six,’ a proposed hour of news on BBC1  produced entirely in Scotland, wrenching Scottish viewers away from the combined UK/Scottish bulletins that currently fill that time.

The rug was pulled instantly, and adroitly, from under the SNP’s feet earlier this year when the BBC announced that rather than an hour of news from Scotland, they were starting a whole new BBC Scotland channel that would include an hour of news delivered each evening at 9 p.m. Extra money for the channel and for other programmes to be produced in Scotland was announced, along with more jobs for journalists.

Observe how the first minister dealt with this in her speech.

First, while ‘I warmly welcome the BBC’s moves … I called for that new BBC channel when I last spoke at this festival.’ So, you’ll get the point, the idea was really hers.

Second, although the channel ‘is set to have a budget of £30 million … there are already legitimate questions about whether that will be sufficient.’

And third, ‘the fact that the new channel will only be broadcast in standard definition could limit its appeal. For drama, in particular, viewers increasingly expect high definition to be available.’ Hmm, really? It’s not something I would see as hugely limiting. It smacks more of a special advisors’ brainstorming session in which someone said, ‘Come on, there must be something else we can spin  against this.’

The comment about the budget reflects a constant nationalist refrain that can be summarised as ‘it’s not fair.’ There’s never enough UK money devoted to Scotland, a grievance echoed in a more general point the first minister makes elsewhere in her speech about the BBC:

approximately 72 per cent of the licence fee raised in Scotland will be spent in Scotland. However in Wales and Northern Ireland, it is 98 per cent. Even with the BBC’s new commitment, we won’t have parity with those countries

and, no surprise to many of us, her statement that

it’s hard to escape the conclusion that Scottish broadcasting – for all the undoubted progress of recent years – is still being short-changed.

Curiously, a similar point about fairness and parity was entirely missing from the Scottish government’s response to the latest GERS (Government Expenditure and Revenue Scotland) figures which confirm, yet again, that public expenditure per head of population is significantly higher than elsewhere in Britain and exceeds taxation raised in Scotland.

The BBC was involved in one more development the first minister touched on, the establishment by the National Film and Television School (NFTS) of a new base in Scotland. The Scottish government will support the base and

the BBC is giving significant support to the venture – the school will be based at Pacific Quay, and will be able to use the BBC’s studio facilities.

The BBC’s own news item on the subject spells out the government’s own contribution a little more fully – £475,000 – and confirms the corporation will contribute with the government to a bursary fund for students. I suspect that, taken together, its commitment and that of the School itself is significantly more than the government’s.

Wouldn’t all this – the news hour, the new channel, further investment in Scottish TV production, the NFTS – be an occasion to say simply and wholeheartedly ‘I congratulate the BBC for their commitment, their actions and their funding’? But no, that’s not the narrative. The facts have to be acknowledged but enthusiasm and gratitude cannot be made explicit. The whole approach remains as grudging as the SNP’s attitude to anything that is British.

A final detail from the speech. Channel 4 are apparently considering, or are being urged to consider, a move of their HQ out of London. Thus the first minister:

One other issue which I know will have been discussed a lot over the last few days is Channel 4’s proposed relocation … Glasgow would be an obvious base.

If you were running a major UK TV channel, would you move it to a city where the main aim of the dominant political party is to put it into a foreign country? Answers on a postcard to David Abrahams, chief executive of Channel 4.

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If it looks like a duck … the problem with the SNP’s name

What those of us who do support Scottish independence are all about could not be further removed from what you would recognise as nationalism in other parts of the world.

– Nicola Sturgeon, Edinburgh Book Festival 18 August 2017

Oh dear, the SNP leader has discovered what’s wrong with her party’s name. People use the word ‘nationalism’ for all sorts of nasty stuff.

This profundity seems to have been drawn forth from Ms Sturgeon neither as a result of some radical realignment of the SNP’s philosophy (maybe that’s what their autumn ‘relaunch’ is about … maybe) nor as a recognition of some of the nastier fringe elements who cling to her party. It’s essentially a public relations/marketing response to the bad rap that the word ‘nationalism’ has had recently.

Elsewhere in that statement, Nicola said that she probably wouldn’t have chosen ‘Scottish National Party’ as its name ninety years ago but it was ‘far too complicated’ to change now. I don’t see why not. Many a company has tried to save an unpopular product by changing its name. Why not the SNP?

Admittedly, it could be challenging, but as always No Thanks! is here to help. A personal brainstorm threw up a few possibilities.

It would be good to keep the same initials for brand recognition. But the only ‘N’ that came to mind was the old 1970s jibe of ‘Scottish Nose Pickers.’ Bad taste and the danger of my being ridiculed almost immediately ruled that out.

A more assertive and truthful name also had its attractions, like Scottish Separatist Party. Alas, the initials SSP have already been taken by the miniscule Scottish Socialist Party and it seemed unlikely that the comrades would be willing to cede the right to them for the greater good of someone else’s cause.

Then it came to me, as good things often do in a brainstorm.

If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then it is a duck.

Here was the solution. ‘Nationalism’ must henceforth be replaced in the public mind with ‘duck quacking.’ It makes sense in so many ways. You only have to test it out in the many contexts the SNP have been happy to use nationalism for the last ninety years.

The party of course would become the SDP – the Scottish Duck-quacking Party, a nice fit too with the social democracy they purport to espouse.

Ms Sturgeon’s statement at the book festival would be made hygienic and inoffensive as ‘What those of us who do support Scottish independence are all about could not be further removed from what you would recognise as duck-quacking in other parts of the world.’

Following on from which, unlike duck-quacking in those parts of the world, Scottish duck-quacking would be civic and joyous.

Unlike other duck-quacking it would also be an outward-looking and internationalist duck-quacking.

Nicola could say, truthfully, ‘I have been a proud duck-quacker since I was sixteen.’

Patriotism could be roused by leading nationalist politicians beginning their speeches ‘Fellow duck-quackers! …’ So much less threatening than the alternative.

Mind you, it could be tricky if the euphemism (sorry, rebranding) were extended to critics of this particular -ism like Albert Einstein, who famously didn’t quite say ‘Duck-quacking is an infantile disease. It is the measles of mankind.’

Duck-quacking as an infantile disease. I like it.

Ms Sturgeon’s fellow panellist at the Edinburgh Book Festival has the good grace to look sceptical at her disclaimer of nationalism

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Lies, damned lies, and nationalist monitoring of the BBC

How would you set about researching whether a media organisation, let’s say the BBC, was biased in its news output? Qualified academics could give a better answer but my guess is that it would involve at least these steps:

  • a statement of the objectives of the research
  • an explicit definition of what the project understands as bias
  • a null hypothesis that the news output isn’t biased to ensure rigorous testing of any findings
  • a clear methodology in line with best practice to include how any sample of cases is to be drawn
  • perhaps a comparative element, with other media organisations and other studies
  • clarity about the proposed outputs of the research
  • transparency about who is involved in the research
  • a project brief including all the above information, to include a statement of where funding has been obtained from or is to be sought.

Now shift from the realm of principle to the reality of practice, the practice specifically of a current project by a group of nationalists called ‘Monitoring of BBC Scotland political output.’ Their Indiegogo fundraising page (there’s always a fundraising page) says ‘BBC Scotland needs to be watched … closely’ and makes its position clear:

… patterns and traits that might serve to highlight the existence of an institutionalised agenda-driven culture have remained hidden … The aim is to draw attention to the worst examples of BBC Scotland political output.

Well, I guess that’s honest if hardly objective. It’s difficult to know the totality of who’s involved with the project. The only names I’ve seen so far are G A Ponsonby and Alan Knight, author and documentary-maker respectively of ‘London Calling,’ sub-titled ‘How the BBC stole the [2014] referendum.’ These are people who have already proved to their own satisfaction that the BBC is biased against Scottish independence, so you might know what to expect from any further ‘research’ they carry out.

As it happens, they’ve just published the results of their first week’s monitoring on a separatist blog, authored anonymously although ‘provided by a freelance journalist who has been commissioned by the project team’ (Note that ‘project team.’ There is reference also to a ‘monitoring team.’ Plenty of teams but few names.)

The ‘analysis’ is in the form of a daily narrative commenting on two or three news items selected (on an unknown basis) from the BBC TV programme ‘Reporting Scotland.’ Most of the comments already made on the blog offer uncritical (and unrealistic) praise but one of the more perceptive makes the point that some sort of statistical or summary analysis would be helpful. This would be impossible to achieve objectively since only selected items are presented for scrutiny. So any critique, thus far, needs to be on the basis of the narrative presented.

As it happens, one of the items discussed is one I’ve taken some interest in, although yet to write about – the Scottish government’s baby box scheme. One comment on the blog describes the monitoring as ‘forensic,’ so I thought I’d return the favour and carry out my own analysis of what is said about it. To get the context, you’ll have to read the full text:

Thursday, 3 August 2017 …

Baby Boxes

Following is a report by Steven Godden on “so-called” baby boxes. This segment opens with a family in Orkney who were part of the original pilot scheme, and both mum and dad have nothing but good things to say about their baby box. The young mother, Cheryl, is clearly touched when she smiles and says that this has given her son “a real good start.” But, as the report moves on to the experts, this is the last good thing said of this Scottish government initiative.

While it is noted that this scheme in Finland – where it has run since the 1930s – has seen a dramatic decrease in the infant mortality rate, the question is asked: “to what extent is that to do with the baby box?” No answer is offered of course, this is the sowing of doubt before Francine Bates; CEO of The Lullaby Trust – a charity that does not even operate in Scotland – says that she would not endorse baby boxes. It might be worth pointing out that Ms Bates has an OBE and, as a friend of the Royal Family, did Christmas back in 2013 at St James’s Palace. The BBC did not feel the need to mention her connection to the establishment as she aired her “doubts” during her overtly negative assessment of the benefits of baby boxes.

“There is no safety standard anywhere in the world,” she says, “that covers a cardboard box to place your baby to sleep in.” The implication here is clear; that this mere “cardboard box” is substandard and dangerous. Sandwiching this, the BBC’s own commentary refuses to clarify that the Scottish government has ensured the baby boxes, as Mark McDonald – the Minister Childcare and Early Years – has made clear, “have British safety standards accreditation as a crib and is the first non-commercial baby box that does.” What the BBC says is that the Scottish government has “worked hard” to ensure their safety accreditation, implying that it does not yet have this.

What this results in is a sinister presentation of the baby boxes, where the Scottish government is shown to be on the defensive on the question of infant mortality and a “London-based” charity’s research into baby boxes and cot deaths is “inconclusive.” Over all, the report seems to suggest baby boxes risk babies’ lives.

The timing of this report too is interesting. It is curious that Reporting Scotland has returned to the theme of fictitious dangerous baby boxes 12 days ahead of the nation-wide unrolling of the Scottish government’s free baby box scheme. One would get the impression the state broadcaster is doing everything in its power to damage what is in essence a truly good government project.

The first point to make about the news item, as I remember it, is that it was not an overview or judgement on the whole scheme. The news of the day was the comment about baby boxes by Francine Bates, CEO of The Lullaby Trust. The lead-in, a positive reaction to the boxes from the Orkney pilot, was clearly not positive or long enough for the anonymous monitor. And if the project is talking about bias, note how Ms Bates’ contribution is characterised:

  • her charity ‘does not even operate in Scotland’ and is ‘London-based.’ What is this if not an implication of untrustworthiness, as if somehow being based in another part of the UK invalidates their expertise or taints their attitude to Scotland? (although see the last bullet point in this list)
  • the charity and Ms Bates are described as not endorsing baby boxes. In fact if you listen to the interview with her and read the charity’s guidance their stance is more nuanced, carefully thought through and moderately expressed. Moreover, it relates only to the use of the baby box as a place for sleep, not to any other aspects including the contents of the box
  • while Ms Bates and the Lullaby Trust seem to have the experience and knowledge to make their judgement, there is no evidence whatsoever that the anonymous freelance journalist writing this has an equivalent experience and knowledge to conclude that the charity’s view is an ‘overtly negative [my italics] assessment of the benefits of baby boxes’
  • Ms Bates ‘has an OBE and, as a friend of the Royal Family, did Christmas back in 2013 at St James’s Palace. The BBC did not feel the need to mention her connection to the establishment.’ What can you say about this? She has a relatively minor honour [You could mention Sir Brian Souter or Eddi Reader MBE here – ed.], she allegedly, although no proof is offered, ‘did’ Christmas at a royal palace and, shock horror, she is a member of ‘the establishment.’ So the implication is drawn that she is an unreliable witness on the subject of baby boxes. This is shameful stuff. If you want bias, and smearing, look no further
  • not stated, but I checked, the charity’s guidance for parents on baby boxes and their CEO’s statement on the subject do not mention Scotland once although Ms Bates does refer to ‘manufacturers and retailers.’ So the implication from the foregoing bullet points that somehow this was an attack on the Scottish government scheme is completely unwarranted.

Other aspects of the item on baby boxes are also worth challenging:

  • asking a question about the contribution baby boxes made to lower infant mortality rates in Finland is seen as ‘sowing …doubt’ and ‘no answer is offered [to the question] of course.’ It strikes me as entirely reasonable to make the point that other factors contributed to lower mortality rates. It verges on a sort of paranoia to believe that the point was deliberately or even unconsciously inserted by the BBC to discredit the baby box scheme
  • the monitor says ‘the BBC’s own commentary refuses to clarify that the Scottish government has ensured the baby boxes … have British safety standards accreditation as a crib …’ In fact, the SNP and the minister have asserted that the boxes have ‘British safety standards accreditation’ but offered no proof, which would be easy to provide, for example by citing a BSI standard. The BBC is right to be cautious on this point (I have a Freedom of Information request lodged with the government on which standard(s) the boxes meet – answer due by the beginning of September)
  • finally, doubt is cast on the timing and motivation of the BBC’s report ’12 days ahead’ of the national launch of the baby box scheme and the conclusion drawn that ‘the state broadcaster is doing everything in its power to damage what is in essence a truly good government project.’ Really? My perception was solely that expert comment had been made about one aspect of baby boxes generally, that the timing was coincidental, and the BBC was quite reasonably linking the news to the government scheme (the charity’s comments were also on the BBC UK news that day, without any reference to Scotland). And whether the scheme is ‘a truly good government project’ remains to be proven.

I apologise for the length and detail of my comments on this one item from the Ponsonby/Knight monitoring project but detail needs to be countered with detail.

You might also want to refresh your memory on, or even challenge, my characterisation of what would make a reputable project to monitor media bias. This self-fulfilling prophecy from nationalists who’ve already made their minds up is not it. The sadness is that many people will believe this stuff unthinkingly.

If you want to see everything through the lens of a conspiracy nothing will dissuade you that the BBC  is engaged on a ‘sinister’ enterprise. Maybe you also believe the moon landings were filmed in a warehouse in Houston. Good luck.

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Yesterday was a bad day for my team apparently (something to do with books)

Quite why yesterday was a bad day for my ‘team’ I don’t know.

It was a late-night jibe lobbed in my direction on Twitter by someone (anonymous of course) whose brief profile included the hashtag #scotref, so at least I knew where he was coming from.

I assumed his use of the word ‘team’ was an arcane reference to a comment on my own Twitter profile about changing my photo because nationalists kept accusing me of looking like Alex Ferguson. Anyhow, after I told him I had no interest in football whatsoever, he came back with his killer blow. No, the team he meant was ‘unionism.’

‘Unionism’ had a bad day? Really? I couldn’t be bothered to go back and ask him why but I could think of only two things.

The first was a meeting between UK and Scottish ministers about more devolution post-Brexit. I wrote about it yesterday and don’t intend to do so again, except to add that Messrs Swinney and Russell seem to have emerged saying that they were going to withhold their consent from something or other at some stage.

The second was a flurry around an article a Times journalist posted online about politicians and book-reading. It included a comment that Nicola Sturgeon seemed to genuinely enjoy reading and it cited books she’s mentioned previously. It’s more general thrust was whether politicians asked to suggest books for those newspaper summer reading/Christmas gift lists chose tactically in order to enhance their reputation. I saw it before it was withdrawn and found it mildly informative, droll even.

It was withdrawn because unfortunately it included a claim, quickly proven to be untrue, that ex-SNP politician Alex Salmond didn’t read books. Apart from having his article removed from The Times website, the journalist concerned apologised to Salmond. So you’d think that was that.

Far from it.

Nationalists on Twitter were already in full froth. The article was shameful (never mind the nice things said about Nicola). They personally knew that Salmond was an avid reader. The journalist had failed to check his sources. He was a yoon. The whole MSM was corrupt. The Times should be boycotted (I didn’t see that one but I’m sure someone said it somewhere).

Included in all this was a tweet from SNP MP Joanna Cherry:

Ms Cherry’s insistence on including her professional status in her self-description is well known. I had always thought there was something vain, even pompous, about it. After all, there are many other MPs who might claim equally honourable and distinguished backgrounds – doctors, professors, military officers, other QCs even – who make nothing of it in the way they describe themselves for political purposes.

But now it appears there may be something more to Joanna’s use of the letters ‘QC.’ Why would she ask ‘as … a lawyer’ for a copy of an article she suspects may include an untruth? The implication – I can think of no other – is that she is going to somehow assess whether it is untrue from a legal point of view. And as a layman I can only believe that is to assess it for defamation. What other purpose would she have?

I don’t know if she thought she was going to do a homer for someone, Alex Salmond, she described in another tweet about the same subject, as a ‘friend and colleague’ (ex-colleague, surely?). In the advocates’ ‘stable’ she still seems to be affiliated to, her expertise is described as professional negligence, in particular clinical negligence; personal injuries, in particular psychiatric injury and work related stress; mental health; public and administrative law; employment law. Nothing about defamation there.

It’s all very reminiscent of another SNP MP (ex- this time), ‘Mr’ John  Nicolson, who used his professional background to challenge and then seek the dismissal of journalist Stephen Daisley from STV (you can read about that saga here, first, and then here).

By the way, Ms Cherry’s hunt for the article that was concerning her yesterday included these tweets:

and

I can’t see the reply of Stuart Campbell (who runs the Wings website) as he blocked me on Twitter aeons ago. Presumably he sent her a copy of the article. Still, it’s good to see people with a legal interest in friendly contact with each other, he at present pursuing a case for defamation against Labour leader Kezia Dugdale.

Whether Alex Salmond does or doesn’t read books is all pretty trivial stuff, but it’s interesting to see how not only Ms Cherry but a whole tribe of online nationalists rushed to defend the man the moment the allegation was made. Of course, with his ‘show’ at the Edinburgh Fringe looming any publicity is, as they say, good publicity. At least there’s less chance he has to trudge the Royal Mile handing leaflets out for it.

Of more significance about now ex-politician Alex Salmond were his lies and mis-judgements in office. In case a passing professional negligence lawyer is even now reaching for the Dummy’s Guide to Defamation, I present m’lud, my evidence on the issues at hand.

On lies, Is Alex Salmond lying about ‘The Vow’?

And on judgement, a letter he wrote to the chief executive of the Royal Bank of Scotland not long before it went belly-up, at huge cost to the UK taxpayer, a letter that curiously I’ve omitted to include in this blog before:

You can also read an infamous speech he gave at Harvard just before the financial crash which contains many errors of judgement I’ll leave you to find.

That at least is serious stuff unlike the bumf around his book-reading habits. Meantime, in case you’re wondering, my team is doing fine, thanks.

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EU powers post-Brexit – a case for more devolution to Scotland?

As I write this, I see that UK secretary of state Damian Green is due to meet the SNP’s deputy first minister John Swinney and Brexit minister Michael Russell in Edinburgh to discuss ‘the possibility of releasing new powers to Holyrood after Brexit’ (BBC). Who knows, maybe even as I write they’re sharing pre-lunch nibbles at St Andrew’s House before a cosy chin-wag.

Somehow though I doubt it, since the SNP, as ever in grievance mode, have flagged up their belief, tactical or genuine, of a UK ‘power grab’ in the areas of fishing, farming and the environment, with Russell claiming this would be ‘a fundamental attack on the principles of devolution.’

Now hold on a minute Mike. Here’s my simple-minded idea of a power grab – I’ve got some and you come and take it away (a bit like the SNP’s centralisation of various public services like police and fire, but we’ll pass over that for the while).

But this is not what’s happening with Brexit.

Powers that currently reside with the EU are being brought back to the UK. Whether you like it or not, both levels of government are in a hierarchical sense above the remit of a devolved administration. Why should any powers that reside two levels above be passed straight down to the Scottish parliament, bypassing the UK parliament? Scotland is losing nothing. Indeed, if those powers reside in London it could be argued that they will now be closer to Scotland and more capable of being influenced in the parliament of a single state of which Scotland is part than in an amorphous grouping of 27 states in which Scotland is not directly represented (her MEPs being UK MEPs).

Anyhow, where is the clamour across the nation for more powers over fishing, farming and the environment? The fishing communities seem universally hostile to the SNP’s pro-EU policies and seem to trust the Tories to protect their interests more (check this year’s general election results). The farmers seem to have lost faith in the Scottish Government with the continued farce of the farm payments IT system. And as for the environment, the SNP have got a heck of a way to go to sort out the ‘pure Green hogwash fantasy’ of their own renewable energy targets (see the excellent Energy Matters blog, referred to in No Thanks! before).

From the other side of the fence – the UK government’s – I find it difficult to see what they have to gain by an act of appeasement, especially to an SNP government and party that have waned in popularity since their 2015 peak . The party has only one aim, and everyone knows it’s nothing to do with devolution at any level.

Oh well, I don’t expect Damian to read this and who knows what will be said after today’s meeting. Perhaps a bland joint press release will emerge although if it does I’d expect the SNP to keep sniping away at the ludicrous charge of a ‘power grab.’

Just don’t get your photo taken in front of two saltires, Damien. It solves nothing.

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Hands up if you know what a ‘kintra’ is

Today I afford an opportunity to the entire Scottish cabinet unlikely to be repeated on the No Thanks! blog, a chance for readers to see each minister’s latest tweet unadorned by political comment. Here they are:

  • Nicola Sturgeon July 28. Looking forward to having this new whisky distillery in my constituency.
  • John Swinney July 25. Fabulous to see the stunning @FRC_Queensferry close up. An iconic project for Scotland. Well done to the whole team.
  • Michael Matheson July 15. Keeping crime down and communities safe
  • Angela Constance July 18. Angela Constance Retweeted Scot Gov Fairer. Thanks to the @STARprojPaisley for hosting this important announcement this morning
  • Fiona Hyslop July 27. Well done @ScotWFootball what a game! What a win against Spain and you got us to to the Euros -so proud of you all #SWNT #OurGirlsOurGame
  • Derek Mackay July 20. Oppose UKgov raising state pension age to 68 forcing millions of people to wait longer for their entitlement. Huge issue with no engagement.
  • Shona Robison July 27. The Transplant Flame #whbtg
  • Keith Brown July 25. Good news for children and young people in Clackmannanshire!
  • Fergus Ewing July 27. Surgeries, for constituents only, tomorrow in #Grantown #Nairn & #Inverness No appointment necessary. Full details
  • Roseanna Cunningham July 27. I’m a day ahead of myself!! Never mind. For the bees……. #pollinator.

You can check on Twitter, if you wish, that my transcriptions are accurate. I have omitted emojis used in a couple of the tweets, as well as images attached to others. As you will see shortly, I am not concerned about the substantive content of what ministers were saying.

Here’s another tweet, this time with its attachment, The National newspaper’s publicity for the latest column by their regular contributor, Rab Wilson:

Apart from the subject matter, can you spot any difference between the extract from Mr Wilson’s article and the ministerial tweets?

Correct. Ten are written in plain English, one in something very different. Many claim it’s Scots. I’ve been through the online arguments about whether it is or isn’t a separate language or dialect and I don’t intend to reprise them here.

What I would assert with absolute certainty is that in over thirty years of living as an adult in Scotland I have never seen anyone write like this outwith the rarefied confines of those actively promoting the wider use of ‘Scots.’

I made a comment to that effect, also on Twitter, citing especially the word ‘kintra.’ I was perfectly aware of what Wilson meant by it from the context of his column but had never seen ‘country’ spelt  like that. The sceptical tone of my comment, I guess, led someone to direct me to this entry on the Dictionary of the Scots Language (Dictionar o the Scots Leid) website:

So that was me gubbed. The word exists.

Except, that like all good dictionaries this one then references the examples it cites, for example:

1868 … kintra-clash … There gaed a souch o’ kintra clash That he had dreed a sair stramash.

The nine examples given date from 1789 to 1897, which was exactly 120 years ago. None is more recent. This may of course be because the word has not been reviewed in one of the two more recent supplements to the dictionary. I suspect that the more plausible explanation is that it’s archaic and no one normally uses it now. Except Rab Wilson, who is also a poet and may be forgiven to that extent, although he is not writing poetry here and I would not have thought The National’s limited readership much interested in that art form.

That brief extract above from his article includes two words I cannot find in the Dictionary of the Scots Language – ‘leeterally’ and ‘heichweys.’ It also contains words I would regard as no more than an attempt to write a standard English language word in a way that mimics the pronunciation of Scots (or at least some variant(s) of it), for example:

  • an – and
  • o – of
  • wey – way.

But pronunciation of standard English varies enormously throughout the nations and regions of the UK. If anyone is minded to read out loud they can impose their own pronunciation on ‘and.’ I can’t see a reason for simple words like that to be spelt differently.

I’m not attempting to judge a whole language/dialect but it seems to me that this brief extract from a longer article substantially comprises words that are archaic, or invented, or unnecessarily attempt to mimic a particular pronunciation.

Tucked away at the bottom of the dictionary pages you’ll also see this:

which leads me back via the SNP cabinet and their punctilious use of standard English in their own tweets to the question of their relationship with the Scots language. In 2010, their ‘Ministerial Working Group on the Scots Language’ produced a report on the subject. Rab Wilson was a member of that group (as was Michael Hance, director of the Scots Language Centre, which I characterised in a previous post as ‘a wee bittie oot o’ control’). Various other illuminati of what I can only think of as the Scots language lobby served on the group too.

Seven years later, many of their recommendations have worked through the bureaucracy of government to the extent that there are Scots language pages on the Scottish government and Scottish parliament websites. A revealing subject for another blog post might be how much money government, its agencies and parliament have spent promoting Scots in various ways.

Meantime, every, and I mean every, Scot can read and understand standard English, which is the pre-eminent modern international language. As more and more non-native English speakers have rushed to learn English, it seems that the SNP government has determined to retreat into the promotion of Scots, not only in the sphere of culture but also public administration. It is, of course, yet another way nationalism attempts to prove that we’re different and should therefore be separate.

And yet the reality, as we see from the latest tweets of senior SNP politicians, is very different. They utter not one single word of Scots between them; standard English throughout, to a man and woman. Some might say, and this could be a telling jibe, that this is how educated elites speak, and maybe there is a touch of hypocrisy amongst those ministers – ‘Do as I say, not as I do.’ But aren’t they also showing through their writing the reality of the situation?

In any event, government attempts to mould how people speak and write are likely to be doomed to long-term failure. Ask the French and their Academie Francaise. Even more, ask Ireland, which has seen the use of Irish, their first official language, fall consistently over nearly one hundred years of independence to a point at which under 2% of the population spoke it on a daily basis in 2016.

If many already see Rab Wilson’s use of Scots in public discourse as anachronistic, how many more will do so in future?

Footnote. You may also wish to check a previous post I wrote on the SNP’s promotion of Scots in schools. It deals with a separate but related issue. And Rab Wilson features again.

 

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TRUE or FALSE? ‘The UN says Scotland is a colony of England’

What seems like an eon ago, before the 2014 referendum, I wrote an article on the lie that Scotland is a colony of England. It was in response to the use of the word ‘colony’ by the late SNP leader Gordon Wilson but it’s had an unexpected afterlife as I’ve been able to refer the occasional nationalist to it as they’ve repeated the misapprehension. Apart from a feeble ‘Well, they’re not exactly best pals in Belgium!’ or ‘Some of those examples are different’ I’ve never felt my argument has been seriously refuted. I don’t count being called a ‘clown’ by Wings’ supporter Lindsay Bruce, @RogueCoder250 on Twitter, in response to my latest reference to the piece.

My exchange with Bruce did elicit one interesting comment, by @AnnClaes3. This is the exchange up to that point:

I then asked her if she could provide me with a reference to the claim that the United Nations (UN) had described Scotland as a colony of England. At first this produced these two retweets

which hardly constituted proof of anything except that I now knew at least three people believed the claim.

On further pressing, I was referred to an article called Does Brexit vote underline Scotland is not a country, but a colony? by Alf Baird, a retired professor of maritime business. This is an opinion piece in which, in order to answer his own question in the affirmative, he cites (and provides links to) the UN Special Committee on Decolonisation and UN resolutions on decolonisation. I don’t agree with his argument and, for me, when he talks about

Occupation by settlers … substantial, focused, and rising occupation by settlers from the administering Power [he means England]

he sails perilously close to the position of ultra-nationalist group Siol nan Gaidheal (characterised as ‘proto fascists’ by Gordon Wilson, mentioned above).

However, to be fair to Professor Baird, he does not anywhere claim that the UN itself says Scotland is a colony of England.

I made a couple of further attempts to see if there was any truth in the original allegation. First, I searched Google as widely as I could using keywords like ‘Scotland … UN … colony … England.’ Nothing. Second, I clicked through to the UN pages mentioned in Baird’s article, checked them, and did a final search of the UN website (not an easy one to navigate, but I did at least make an honest attempt). Again, nothing.

If anyone knows I’ve missed anything, please tell me.

My searches did throw up some other references to the UN and Scotland, including

Scotland is the assault capital of the world according to UN stats on violent crime (Daily Record)

and

This Human Rights Day, new report to United Nations shows Scottish Parliament and Scottish Government must go further on human rights (Scottish Human Right Commission)

but I expect these are less welcome to nationalists than confirmation of the now apparently spurious claim that the UN says Scotland is a colony of England.

The three tweeters who have made the claim in the last week or so have just under 3,000 followers between them, not huge by Twitter standards but that’s nearly 3,000 people who have been exposed to, perhaps believed, and for all I know retweeted, the misapprehension that the UN say Scotland is a colony of England.

I have been kind enough to use the word ‘misapprehension’ about this allegation. But it originates somewhere and someone knows it’s not a misapprehension, it’s a plain and simple lie.

And this is how it goes. Falsehoods are planted in the fertile soil of social media. Some wither on the vine and are never heard of again. Others take on a life of their own and bounce around cyberspace until eventually becoming accepted as given truths by the unthinking.

I have no problem with people making contentious claims, of any sort, but they must be willing and able to substantiate them. And the rest of us must be willing to challenge those claims. If a case for independence is to rest on emotion, fair enough. Say so. But if you want it to rest on facts be prepared for people to ask if they’re true or false.

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