Wings Over Scotland
The diverging path
April 17, 2016 by
Rev. Stuart Campbell
The Sunday Herald, which enjoyed a major sales boost from being the first Scottish newspaper to officially back independence but has since seen its circulation increase partly eroded, has this morning chosen to throw a stick of dynamite onto the fire.
The paper’s front page today teases a double-page spread inside with the headline “SPECIAL REPORT: HOW INDEPENDENCE SUPPORTERS SHOULD USE THEIR SECOND VOTE”. And then things get a little strange.
While the headline suggests that the paper itself has commissioned said report, the first noteworthy fact in the subsequent article is that it’s done no such thing. The story actually refers to a study paid for by Electoral Reform Scotland, of whom more in a moment. It opens with an unequivocal statement:
But readers will search the piece in vain for Prof. Curtice actually saying such thing. Indeed, it’s remarkably short on any direct quotes from him at all.
To hear straight from the horse’s mouth we have to look to a separate article, in which Curtice (talking about a scenario where the SNP sweep all but two constituencies and get almost no list seats) says something a very great deal more ambiguous:
What Curtice actually says is that some people have speculated that nationalists might be wise to use the second vote tactically. That’s an ENORMOUS distance from “Professor John Curtice says Yes voters should instead give their backing to another pro-independence party”, and we can’t imagine that Prof. Curtice will be too delighted about having those words put in his mouth.
(It’s perhaps worth observing that on the Herald’s website the main article has the title “Revealed: How Scottish independence supporters should use their votes on May 5”. But on the site’s front page the piece is advertised with the rather less committal “New study claims: independence supporters should not cast second vote for SNP at Holyrood election”. Our emphasis.)
The second article also attempts to back up the assertion with this passage:
But that’s one hell of a big “if”. According to Professor Curtice’s report, on current list polling if the SNP get 100,000 votes Labour will get not 80,000 but just 41,000. (The Nats are averaging 46% on the list to Labour’s 19%, more than twice as much.) On the present polling averages Labour will get three list seats if the Nats sweep all the constituency seats, not all seven.
Both articles, interestingly, are by “Group Investigations Writer” Peter Swindon, who was formerly a Parliamentary assistant to Labour MP Anas Sarwar.
The spread in the print edition is completed by an Iain Macwhirter column entitled “The key to healthy Scottish politics: diversity not monopoly”, a title which readers might reasonably conclude was also an argument against an SNP majority, despite the fact that it admits:
“There might not have been a referendum if the d’Hondt (list system) had worked perfectly, because the SNP might not have reached the magic 65 seats. This is why supporters of the SNP insist that a second SNP vote is never wasted.
If, in 2011, all those list votes had gone to little parties, and none of them had reached the 6% threshold, then Labour might have got back in the game.”
(Macwhirter, a federalist who reluctantly backed independence as a least-worst option over the status quo, also specifically dismisses this site as an “SNP loyalist” one, which – speaking as someone who’s never been a member of the SNP, never voted for them and never told anyone else to vote for them – is a little disappointing.)
Finally, the Herald website also carries a story by Tom Gordon titled “SNP failing to make winning case for independence, warn RISE”, for any remaining readers who hadn’t yet got the message.
The paper’s coverage of Curtice’s report, then, is unarguably distorted. But what of the report itself? As noted above, it was commissioned and paid for by Electoral Reform Scotland, whose website provides bios for its three main officers:
And the first two of those are pretty interesting.
Willie Sullivan is quoted directly in the main Herald story:
So the report was produced for an organisation which openly states that it doesn’t want one party to dominate Scottish politics, from which it might reasonably be presumed that it would prefer the SNP not to have a majority.
We can also fairly surmise that Willie Sullivan himself almost certainly doesn’t want that, because until 2012 he was a Scottish Labour councillor.
Rory Scothorne, meanwhile, may be familiar to readers as one of the founders of the virulently anti-SNP website “Mair Nor A Roch Wind”.
If Scothorne didn’t exist, readers might well take him for some sort of satirist’s idea of a comedy student Marxist. This extract comes from the last article he penned for the site before joining ERS:
MNARW advocated independence as a means of destroying the SNP and bringing about a worldwide revolution of the proletariat. And if you think we’re exaggerating, here’s Scothorne again in a piece written a week before the independence referendum, outlining his goals for a Yes vote:
“ Independence is won, and the SNP form a minority or coalition government in 2016. They deliver on several of their “progressive” promises, but vocal criticism from a small but not insignificant left bloc, on the streets as well as in parliament, helps to foster widespread disappointment with the first years of independence. The vicissitudes of currency union demand cuts in some areas, and the left leads demands for an independent currency and opposition to cuts.
When global economic turbulence hits the Scottish economy just as it is regaining its balance, a coalition of Labour and the radical left surges into power on the back of mass protests demanding that the promise of independence be fulfilled. This coalition hands immense power to the labour movement and encourages the ongoing formation of people’s assemblies across the country, while nationalising industry and infrastructure and withdrawing from NATO.
Continuing economic instability damages the Labour-led government’s credibility, but its mass extra-parliamentary base pulls politics further leftwards, much to the horror of right-wing commentators at home and around the globe. The Scotsman churns out red-baiting editorials about “the enemy within,” while The Times scoffs about the “failure” of independence as inequality plummets, capital controls come into force and top rates of tax soar.
As continuing global turbulence thrusts the left into power across Europe and the US, Scotland’s socialists are ready and willing to join – even inspire – an international wave of strikes, nationalisations and occupations which mark a decisive step towards a profound transformation of the global system.”
Other articles on the site were equally explicit, like this from 24 September 2014:
“A Labour majority at Westminster will be the best result for Scotland because it is the only feasible way for Scottish working class interests to be reflected in a Westminster government.
Last night I attended a meeting called by Glasgow West Radical Independence to discuss where the organisation should go. Many of the speeches focussed on opposing Labour, instead of talking about renewed demands for power or policies that would bring us closer to the aspirations we had for independence.
Some are reluctant to work with trade unions and trades unionists which are affiliated to Labour, whereas they should be looking to the likes of Unite and Unison, as well as the STUC, to lead a demand for meaningful economic power. They are gleeful about the SNP’s surging membership, when they should be making plans to unseat its members in 2016.”
But even Radical Independence aren’t radical enough for MNARW:
“RIC might all too easily slot itself into the ongoing movement for independence. If it does so, then it is a useless vehicle for the left, it will burn up the fuel of support it has worked hard to win, and, in short, it should be criticized, attacked, resisted and undermined.”
So in short: two people violently opposed to an SNP majority, and indeed to the SNP in general, have commissioned a report with the aim of convincing people not to vote for the SNP, a conclusion which the Sunday Herald has – for reasons known only to itself – actively and vigorously decided to misrepresent as being the personal opinion of Professor John Curtice.
As ever, this site will not tell anyone how to vote. We’ll leave readers to arrive at their own views on ERS Scotland and the Herald’s attempts to do so.