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Showing posts with label SNP referendum consultation. Show all posts
Showing posts with label SNP referendum consultation. Show all posts

Thursday, 5 April 2012

A tsunami of misinformation–polarised politics, journalists and the media

On the same day as the Bradford by-election results were announced – a landslide victory for George Galloway over his Labour opponent, winning by 10,140 votes, overturning a Labour majority of 5,763, with 56% share of the total vote – Paul Routledge, political correspondent of the Daily Mirror headed his column

Imran races to victory

By the time you read this, Imran Hussain will have been declared Labour MP

At 10.30 pm on the same evening, Routledge said -

“Well, I got the Bradford by-election wrong … but so did the voters.”

A case of very sour grapes, Paul?

A look at Paul Routledge's biography on Wikipedia may or may not go some way to explaining this spectacularly wrong piece of political journalism.

Of course, we’ve had this kind of objective political reporting in Scotland for many years now, and SNP supporters have developed at the very least a healthy scepticism over the objective political reporting of the Daily Record, The Scotsman, The Herald, The Sunday Post and Scotland on Sunday over the last decade. That is not to say that things haven’t changed a bit of late, nor do I fail to recognise that a tiny number of Scottish journalists have been consistently fair and objective, while not pretending to be unaligned in their sympathies or their judgements.

I have stated my position on journalists many times. I don’t expect ‘balance’, i.e. giving equal space to two sides of an argument – or moral equivalence - where there is egregious imbalance in the facts. I did not expect balance when reporters entered Auschwitz: I do not expect flat-earthers to be given the same space and air time as cosmologists: I do not expect creationism to be treated as an equivalent scientific theory to evolutionary theory: I do not expect balance when innocent civilians – men, women and children are being murdered in the streets, whether by a middle eastern dictator or a Western Coalition of the Willing.

And so to today in Scotland …

THE GREAT CONSULTATION DEBACLE

Sherlock Holmes referred to the case of The Giant Rat of Sumatra, and now we have The Giant Rats of the Referendum Consultations, both of them becoming smellier by the day.

The focus today in The Scotsman is the smaller of the two rats, The UK Consultation, with extravagant claims being made about its outcome, based on 3000 responses.

I am deeply uneasy about consultations such as these, although I have up till recently loyally supported the SNP Government’s consultation, on the very shaky basis of my consultation is bigger than yours yah-boo cries to Michael Moore and his UK consultation.

The Three Arse Cheeks (in George Galloway’s new phrase for Labour, LibDems and Tory parties in Westminster) of the Unionist Coalition of Opposition to the Independence of Scotland were clearly going to claim to know the mind of the Scottish People, and since the old silent majority rubbish, beloved by unionists - especially Tories - had played out its usefulness, the silent majority had to be allowed to squeak in an approved line pretty damn quick before the Wicked Wizard of the North, Alex Salmond, had his evil way with the referendum timing and the formulation and number of the questions.

So let’s scan the front page and the headlines in today’s Scotsman, guardians of the spirit and traditions of fearless factual reporting, the voice of the nation, i.e. the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. (Whatever made you think the nation would be Scotland? Silly boy!)

Scots ‘to be asked one referendum question’

Scottish Secretary says straight vote on independence his ‘highest priority’

“Independence is different from devolution” Michael Moore

Two questions into one ballot paper don’t go, says Moore

Tunnock’s view on referendum doesn’t taste so sweet for Alex

The front page story, continued on to page 4,  is by Tom Peterkin, Scottish political editor. Alas, Tom doesn’t appear to rate a Wikipedia entry like Paul Routledge, and I can’t find a biography. A Google search under his name does turn up a lot of critical comments about his journalism, but the both the Scotsman and Tom will probably dismiss as them as cybernats.

In a total, including the Tunnocks’s piece, of over 1000 words, Peterkin gives about 80 words to Bruce Crawford MSP, the Parliamentary business secretary. In contrast, quotes from Michael Moore, Scottish Secretary abound in the article. There are a couple of paragraphs of speculation about the First Minister of Scotland’s position on the second question.

There is also a nice little table showing the results of the consultation, with impressively high percentage response in favour of those things Michael Moore, the UK and the Scotsman are also mainly in favour of.

The Peterkin piece closes with a paragraph that is intensely revealing, with an unfortunate choice of words that unintentionally gets to the heart of the real reason for the implacable opposition of the UK and the Three Arse Cheeks Parties – “the coalition parties” - to the independence of Scotland.

Some in the coalition parties have suggested that a UK-imposed referendum could be the ‘nuclear option’ if it is felt that the Scottish Government is taking too long to go ahead with two questions.”

Michael Moore is the MP for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk, and in the 2010 General Election, he retained his seat with an increased share of the vote. In that election, the LibDems experienced what proved to be a very temporary love affair with the electorate. Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk is typically LibDem country. Michael Moore succeeded Danny Alexander as Secretary of State for Scotland: both owe their position quite simply to the uncomfortable realities of Coalition for the Tories, (the Tories didn’t win the 2010 election – Labour lost it) otherwise Scotland would have had David Mundel. For that, and that alone, we may be grateful to Michael Moore.

Since then the LibDems under Nick Clegg have comprehensively betrayed the electorate, their supporters, the students and the poor and vulnerable by propping up the most illiberal Government of recent times. The LibDems were all but extinguished in the Scottish election of 2011, Tavish Scott resigned as leader, and, were there a general election tomorrow, the LibDems in the UK would face a similar fate. Even the electors of Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk  might re-examine their reflex LibDem voting patterns.

But this man is given a major platform by the Scotsman and by Tom Peterkin, and the Scottish Government, re-elected for a second term with a massive, unprecedented mandate to govern and hold an independence referendum, is given token and dismissive coverage.

The 3000 response, unverified, un-monitored UK referendum is given uncritical, highly selective coverage, coverage that ignores the block response of the Labour Party: 740 out of the 2,857 responses to the UK Government’s referendum consultation were the identical text from the Labour Party website. (Unless of course, you listen to John Curtice – see below)

Page 5 presents some quotes under the headline -

Hopes and fears, optimism and suspicion – people speak their minds

‘People’ turn out to be five organisations, one group of academics, two individual academics, an email from a member of the public, and Maitland Mackie of Mackie’s ice cream fame.

The five organisations I am fairly certain did not poll their members or employees to formulate their view: the joint submission from academics at the University of Edinburgh presumably did: Maitland Mackie may have sought the views of “70 staff and 500 cows work[ing] in a 'sky to scoop”  design chain”: the email from the member of the public represented a view expressed by only 4% of the 3000 respondents – that non-residents Scots should have a vote in the referendum – was presumably included because it closely accords with the view of The Three Arse and the Scotsman.

On the day after the 2014 referendum on Scotland’s independence, I entertain the hope that Tom Peterkin and the Scotsman receive jointly the Paul Routledge/Daily Mirror Award for spectacularly failing to predict the outcome of a vote.

PROFESSOR JOHN CURTICE

There is however some balancing sanity in this total of three pages of less than objective reporting – a piece by Professor John Curtice on page 5.

John Curtice, a man whom I admire, takes a lot of stick from the kind of SNP supporters who also believe that the BBC collectively is the Great Satan, engaged in a conspiracy to frustrate the independence of Scotland. The reason for this is that he deals with numbers, with facts, and it takes a bit of effort and at least baseline numeracy and perhaps familiarity with the basis of sampling and polling opinion to come to grips with his arguments.

(As I write these words, I know that they will be closely followed by comments in the usual vein. I will publish these, providing they are not actually defamatory – as they often are – but I have given up trying to reason with with them, and have said all I intend to on that score. For those who are desperate to have confirmation of their views, they may find a more sympathetic home on Newsnet Scotland.)

I will not attempt to summarise John Curtice’s considered and precise analysis – it must be read carefully and digested. So which government is right on the big question?

It will, sadly, be promptly dismissed by some nationalists because its critique includes the Scottish Government consultation, and that kind of nationalist critic blanks off everything positive in their resentment at any objective criticism of the SNP.

Well, I support completely everything John Curtice says, I believe he is objective, a fine example of what expert analysis and criticism should be about, and I thank him for his formidable contribution over many years to Scottish life and politics and to my understanding of both.

And, no – I have never met John Curtice in my life, and have no connection whatsoever with him, except maybe a shared concern for Scotland, for truth and for factual accuracy.

And grudgingly, I thank the Scotsman for allowing him space to bring a breath of cold, fresh air to today’s coverage of the UK Referendum Consultation – and consultations … And there is a smidgeon of objectivity in their leader  on page 26.

 

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

The Referendum Consultation changes–and complaints against the First Minister

By and large, I’m now satisfied with the SNP retrieval of credibility and response to the referendum consultation debacle, both with Bruce Crawford’s comments in the press release and Stewart Hosie’s online comments.

But we need to tighten up our game in many respects. The Party was too slow to respond to the Cruddas story last week, at fault with the referendum consultation online design, and slow and inadequate in its initial responses to an unfolding crisis.

Last night on Newsnight Scotland, Jim Eadie for the SNP missed an open goal with Kezia Dugdale because he didn't know that the FM had referred a complaint about himself to the Standards body, nor did he appear to know about the list of failed complaints (100% failure rate).

The press release on this went out at 6 pm, therefore must have been drafted at least an hour before that.

Even assuming that the Newsnicht interview was recorded earlier in the evening, he should have know. I knew from 6 pm, responded and by the end of the evening at least another 1000 Scots knew from my blog (hit counter).

Not good enough yet …



Monday, 2 April 2012

Scottish Government press release on the consultation exercise


From: The Scottish Government

April 2, 2012

CONSULTATION ON SCOTLAND'S REFERENDUM

Scottish Government confirms just 3.5 per cent of responses given anonymously – none will be included in independent analysis

The Scottish Government has published details of the referendum consultation responses as at first thing this morning, which show that only 414 responses out of a total of 11,986 were anonymous – just 3.5 per cent of the total.

The figures demonstrate there is no evidence that the process is being skewed by anonymous contributions, Cabinet Secretary for Parliamentary Business Bruce Crawford said.

Neither is there any evidence of multiple identical responses from the same person.

The Scottish Government’s consultation will be independently analysed in order to underline the robustness of the process, and the contract was advertised last Friday. The contract for the analysis is being competitively tendered in the usual way for large consultations, using standard Scottish Government procurement procedures.

The Scottish Government always intended that anonymous responses would be separately identified in the independent analysis. Now, in order to prevent significant numbers of anonymous responses – given the media coverage generated about the issue – responses will only be accepted and included in the analysis if they provide personal identification details, and the Scottish Government’s online portal has already been amended to introduce this further robust procedure.

Furthermore, while there is no evidence of multiple identical responses from the same person, any duplicate identical responses which appear to be from the same computer will be excluded from the analysis so that their view is only represented once.

Cabinet Secretary for Parliamentary Business Bruce Crawford said:

The Scottish Government’s referendum consultation is gathering huge levels of public interest as we debate and discuss Scotland’s future – and the robustness of the process is demonstrated by the fact that the consultation will be subject to independent analysis. This stands in stark contrast to the much smaller UK Government consultation, which was not put to independent analysis.

“As the figures we have published demonstrate, there is absolutely no evidence of anonymous responses skewing the process – quite the reverse – but we can and will make the process stronger still by requiring all submissions to have personal identification details before they are taken into account.  While anonymous contributions would always have been separately identified, we will now ensure that no anonymous submissions are included in the analysis at all. And while there is no evidence of duplicate identical responses from the same person, we can and will ensure that any received are also excluded from the independent analysis so that their view is only represented once.

“These changes address any conceivable concerns about the Scottish Government consultation – while there still remain questions about the Westminster exercise.

“Our public consultation is going from strength to strength, and I encourage everyone with an interest to make their contribution to this vitally important discussion on Scotland’s future.”

Sunday, 1 April 2012

“Events, dear boy, events …” A long, turbulent week in independence politics

I haven’t blogged for a while, although I’ve been active on Twitter and YouTube. The reason is that the events of the last week have been so egregious that not even the unionist media could ignore them, indeed, The Sunday Times – journalists first and unionists second, unlike, say, the Scotsman or Scotland on Sunday - have been the main vehicle for the revelations about our deeply corrupt political system in the United Kingdom. The media coverage has been intense and immense, so there was little I could add.

SOME MINOR THEMES

The Letters Page of the Scotsman provides a vehicle for panic-stricken unionists, especially the Tory variety, to give vent to inchoate cries of pain as they see Scotland moving towards independence. A new note has crept in, that of recognition of the inevitability of the process, which now manifests itself in the extraordinary demand that the SNP should voluntarily disband after independence.

The rationale for this is that the SNP was and is a one-issue party, and having achieved its aim now has no role, and should leave the way clear for Labour, Tories, LibDems to lick their wounds and resume business as usual in the new Scotland. Had, for example, India and Pakistan, two of the great nations who threw off the dead hand of the British Empire followed this route, one of the oldest political parties in the world, the party of Gandhi and Nehru – the Congress Party – would now not exist.

(I have some knowledge of the Congress Party. When I got married 52 years ago yesterday, few of the guests who attend our wedding in Drumchapel Parish Church and the subsequent modest, steak pie and chips reception above the City Bakeries in Great Western Road, Glasgow, would have known that the handsome young Indian guest Hari was the son of Lal Bahadur Shastri then Indian Minister for Commerce and Industry, and subsequently the successor to Jawaharlal Nehru as Prime Minister of India.)

The other argument advanced, including by  a tweeter yesterday, is that the SNP “contains left-wing, centre and right-wing politicians” and therefore should leave the field clear after independence for the ‘true’ left, right and centre parties. I had to gently point out that all large parties contain left-wing, centre and right-wing politicians, and therefore by this logic, they should all disband and leave the field clear for – what, exactly? The pure-as-the-driven-snow minor parties, riven by mini-feuds over obscure dogma points?

This also ignores the fact that there are no major left or right parties anymore – the Tories, Labour and the LibDems now all occupy a position somewhere right of centre, and are in effect one large Establishment Party, as the infamous Coalition to defend the Union against Scotland’s independence now exemplifies.

The Save England from the Tories theme

The other theme of the moment is that Scotland should stay in the Union to save the people of England from a permanent Tory hegemony caused by the loss of Scottish Labour MPs after independence.

This specious nonsense was first propounded recently by Douglas Alexander, and has subsequently been taken up enthusiastically by Johann Lamont and, amongst others, Kenny Farquarson, political editor of Scotland on Sunday. Kenny appears to be convinced that a large number of Scots share this unselfish democratic concern for the fate of poor England if Westminster loses its Scottish Labour MPs.

It is a proposition – I will not dignify it by calling it an argument – which most English voters would consider risible, if not deeply insulting. Most Scots fall about laughing at the proposition.

What it says is that the democratic preferences of a country of some 60 million people should be perverted by the political fiat of a country of some 5 million people.

Of course, this is exactly what has happened to Scotland from 1979 to 1997, with a Tory Government that they had decisively rejected.

In 1997, Scotland got a UK Labour Government, and was a Tory-free zone for a time. Unfortunately, this Labour Government out-Toried the Tories, led us into two disastrous conflicts and almost bankrupted the economy, while making many of its ministers filthy rich in the process.

Then in 2010, Scotland again decisively rejected the Tories, returning only one MP, yet thanks to John Reid’s TV interview destroying Gordon Brown’s attempts to stitch together a Rainbow Coalition, we wound up with the present incompetent Tory/LibDem administration.

THE REFERENDUM CONSULTATION DEBACLE

This blew up this morning because of the competing UK and SNP Government online consultations in progress, with allegations by Labour that the SNP online poll is deeply flawed, because it permits multiple responses, anonymous responses, etc. (I call it a poll, because it is online polling through a series of questions to establish the opinions of individual voters).

In a word, it is deeply flawed, and although Labour’s attack is motivated by jealousy over the high responses rate versus that to the UK poll, and they are grinding axes, and are clearly the pot calling the kettle black, my feeling is that the referendum consultation outcome is now badly damaged by this debacle.

I could kick myself for not seeing the consultation’s inadequacies when I completed it, and for not testing its robustness – as I routinely do with other online polls/consultations – by trying additional submissions, etc. Only last night, I was urging voters to respond to the consultation on Twitter, and supplying the link.

I have done this today, and the flaws are patently and belatedly evident to me.

At base, the criticisms come down to failure to require registration or any proof of identity, failure to block multiple submissions under the same or alternative identities, allowing anonymity, etc. I have completed online polls and questionnaires by reputable newspapers, e.g. Financial Times and Guardian, where none of these things were possible, so the technology clearly exists to avoid them.

My spirits rose when Stewart Hosie appeared for the SNP to answer Anas Sarwar’s criticisms (originating with Labour’s Patricia Ferguson) but were speedily dashed when it became evident that he was ill-prepared and had no answers and, most uncharacteristically for this most considered and calm of SNP ministers, resorted to bluster to defend the indefensible.

His arguments came down to that this was how it had been done previously on other consultations by other parties, that some mysterious process by an unknown organisation after the consultation would scrutinise the responses, weed out the problem, and all would be well, and in effect, that we were no better and no worse than the unionist parties, so there – yah boo!

Not remotely good enough as answers for a process on which the SNP, Alex Salmond and the Scottish Government have all placed great significance, and one which will critically influence the structuring of the referendum ballot paper and the referendum process.

I am also deeply disappointed that my party, the SNP, has not appeared big enough to acknowledge their inadequacies on this issue, and that many online SNP supporters seem to prefer bland cover-up to addressing something that matters to Scotland’s democracy.

The rigging allegation by Sarwar is offensive, but some SNP supporters have asked how an online consultation – or indeed any consultation – can be rigged?

The answer is in the analysis of the responses and the acceptance/rejection criteria. I don’t believe for one moment the SNP would do such a thing as rigging the response, but we have left ourselves wide open to such an allegation, and no matter what we do or say now, the outcome will be fiercely disputed and the results possibly discredited – an insult to, and a betrayal of all those who honestly completed the online survey.