Friday, 17 November 2017

The TV rating wars we've all been waiting for - Gaelic Mafia vs Russian Mafia

From my Daily Record column

The new Alex Salmond show presents me with a viewing challenge. I’d love to watch it but I fear he airs at the same time as re-runs of the evergreen “Speaking Our Language” with Rhoda MacDonald on BBC Alba.

It’s the viewing battle I’ve dreamed of for years - the beautiful Gaelic Mafia takes on the ugly face of the Russian Mafia. I know who’ll win that one.

But Salmond is no loser, he knows what he is doing by taking the Putin rouble.

Hiring himself out to the Kremlin-backed propaganda station on the same week RT registered with the US Department of Justice as a “foreign agent” is not a point of irony, it is exactly the point.

Going Slavic instead of going slàinte is a logical extension of the battle Alexi, as we must now address him, has been fighting against the UK media since at least 2012, earlier even.

It was about then, during the London Olympics NHS celebrations, the Queen’s rainy but jubilant Jubilee -  all that damn Britishness being beamed into Scottish living rooms - that the SNP leader crystallised his contempt for the most valued British asset, the BBC.

Auntie Beeb is the glue that holds Britain together, the flickering tribal flame which even in this day of splintered audiences gathers us around the polished Strictly dancefloor.

It’s not perfect, but when it comes to news the BBC is impartial, politically independent and still the most trusted thing about Britain.

So, from the perspective of the new Soviet hero, it must be destroyed.

To be fair Salmond did try to dismantle it first, demanding a Scottish Broadcasting Service airing kaleyard kitsch for the glens in the hope viewers turn their back on the Thames and the bass drumbeat of Eastenders. Some hope.

Instead he must de-legitimise the BBC. He had a fair go at this during the referendum, egging on the lynch mob BBC “bias” mentality as a “joyous” celebration.  

He knows he will be attacked for coming under Kremlin “kontrol” but putting himself on a news chatshow pedestal holds a mirror to other broadcasters, undermining their credibility in his reflected ego.

Of course RT is an arm of the Russian state, but isn’t the BBC the same thing, ask his useful idiots?

Isn’t the Putin rouble the same currency as the Daily Mail shilling? 

Well, the Daily Mail editor is keen on shooting wildlife, I hear, but not as enthusiastic as agents of the Russian state when it comes to shooting journalists.

There is no equivalence, at all, although for a Pavlovian section of nationalist support the comparison will be legitimate.   

I read Salmond wrong after 2014, I thought his hand in glove role with his successor was as father of the nation, a selfie daddy to all Scots.

Instead his task is to keep the 45 at 45 degrees centigrade, ready to boil the moment centre-ground Sturgeon decides the opportunity presents itself again.

It’s demeaning work for a former first-rate politician, but in the long game he thinks this will help crumble the Jericho walls of what keeps us British.  

Episode one of the Alexi show aired relatively unscathed, interviewing the exiled Catalan independence leader, the nearest thing we have to a 21st century Prince Charlie.

There is a limited supply of separatists to have as guests, though as a running theme some will never tire of Salmond’s trumpet.

Monday, 13 November 2017

Who will carve up the fishing Brexit bonus?

From my Daily Record column 10/11/17

To the Fishmonger’s Hall, for a briefing on the bright future of fishing under Brexit. 

The splendid building is home of The Worshipful Company of Fishmongers, one of the great Livery Companies of London.

The Livery Companies were a posh name for the trading cartels that historically carved up business within the City of London boundaries.

It's a suitable venue for fishermen’s leaders who are the most enthusiastic supporters of leaving the EU and the shackles of the Commons Fisheries Policy.

They see fishing as the Brexit poster boy, with only a few months of transition out of the CFP after the UK’s March 2019 departure.

That’s to be followed by talks around a “grown-up” table that December to decide who gets access to the British fishing grounds. 

They don’t doubt the UK government will deliver on this. Everyone is aware of the “political dynamics” as Bertie Armstrong of the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation puts it diplomatically.

That’s shorthand for eight of your Tory MPs in Scotland were elected on the back of Brexit-voting fishing communities, Mrs May.

Any sniff of betrayal and you can kiss goodbye to a Tory majority and see the SNP racing back in the North East faster than a grey seal can swallow a half ton of haddock.

Fishing is only 0.1 per cent of the UK’s economy but is an important symbol of taking back control, to borrow a phrase.

Fishing leaders anticipate a last-minute Brussels ambush in Brexit negotiations to demand continued access to UK waters for EU fleets as the price for a wider trade deal.

Fishermen are having none of that and the UK government is in delicate position, my shorthand for when fishermen have a hold of politicians by the, er, gills.

The guildmen serving breakfast assure us that by controlling UK waters there will be fish for all. 

What they mean is a bigger share of the fish stocks for the cartel of supermarket-sized trawlers that prowl UK seas.

The bizarre quota system of fishing has succeeded only in concentrating catching power in the hands of fewer and fewer powerful fishing interests and family businesses which deploy ever more efficient ships to hoover up the seas.  

For all their talk of reviving Britain’s coastal communities fishing organisations show no willingness to loosen the grip the big boys have on the quota. 
   
Any Scottish politician serious about preventing a Brexit “power grab” should stand ready to challenge big fishing interests.

If Brexit means Brexit there should be a UK-wide strategy to revive small and medium scale operations from the Telford harbours and towns long ago left behind by the super-trawlers.

It will mean taking some of the power, and some of the profit, away from the big boys in the guild hall.

Over to you Ian Duncan, Michael Gove, Fergus Ewing and any MP and MSP with a coastal constituency.   

Sùil Eile air Eòrpa aig còig air fhichead

Sùil Eile bhon an Daily Record

Chuir cuideigin nam chuimnhe gun robh an còigeamh sreath thar fhichead de dh’Eòrpa a’ tòiseachadh air an t-seachdain seo.

Deagh naidheachd dhan phrògram as bunasaiche a thàinig à leudachadh telebhisean na Gàidhlig.

Droch naidheachd dhuinne a bha an-sàs anns a’ chiad sreath.

Mar a bhiodh na cailleachan a’ cantainn mun telebhisean, cha robh an internet againn an uair sin.

Agus mealaibh uile ur naidheachd, sgioba 2.0 aig Eòrpa, a tha air duais Bafta a bhuannachadh an aghaidh phrògraman làidir anns a’ chànan eile.

Tha iarrtas ann a-nis gum bi tionndadh Beurla de dh’Eòrpa air a dhèanamh airson uair a thìde as ùr de phrògraman naidheachdan a tha gu bhith aig BBC Scotland an ath-bhliadhna.

‘S e buille bàis a bhiodh an sin dhan phrògram Gàidhlig. 

A’ chiad riaghailt airson craoladh na Gàidhlig, ‘s e bhith a’ cruthachadh sgeulachdan nach fhaic sibh anns a’ Bheurla.

Rudeigin cho luachmhor ri Eòrpa, bu chòir a ghlèidheadh.

Chan eil an t-airgead ann airson a bhith mar sgafallachd airson seirbheas Beurla, a bhios mar sgimilear a dh’itheas am biadh bhon a’ bhòrd.


English translation

Someone reminded me that the 25th series of Eorpa was starting this week.
Great news for the most original programme that came out of the expansion of Gaelic television.
Terrible news for those of us who were involved in the first series.
As the grannies used to say about the televisison, we didn’t have the internet then.
And congratulations to the Eorpa 2.0 team who won a Bafta prize against strong programmes in the other language.
There’s a demand now for an English version of Eorpa for a the new, hour-long news programme that BBC Scotland is launching next year.
That will be the death knell of the Gaelic programme.
The first rule of Gaelic broadcasting is to create stories that you do not see in English.
Something as valuable as Eorpa, it should be preserved.
The funding is not there to be a scaffold for an English service, which will be like a freeloader eating food from the table.

Sunday, 5 November 2017

Cui bono, and what happens now to Brexit?

From my Daily Record column on Friday

Who benefits? Always the key question when a crime or a political crisis takes place.

Well, obviously Gavin Williamson is the winner of the “Pestminster” sexual harassment scandal.

In a moment of catastrophe the ambitious Tory chief whip, who has risen from nowhere in seven years, recommended himself for the more powerful job of UK Defence Secretary.

Theresa May is such a weak Prime Minister that she could only accept his support. Older ambitious men in cabinet, appalled at his audacity, cannot contain their jealousy. That’s the men. 

Women may have won,  that's a qualified result because cleaning out the political stable, as Ruth Davidson put it, of dirty old men who feel entitled to take advantage of younger women does not end sexual harassment. 

When the spin out from the grotesque Harvey Weinstein allegations collided with the world of British politics a serious problem was in danger of being reduced to gossipy tittle-tattle about knee-touching.

It took the grave claims by Labour activist Bex Bailey of a covered-up rape to underscore what is at stake. We might be at a turning point in public life, but the fight for equality and against sexual harassment will be a constant battleground.

The opposition are surely winners, if they have the strength of will to seize the prize. 

Yes, the PM is weakened, but Brexit, the issue that defines our political destiny steams on, dented but not derailed - yet. 

The big news of Michael Fallon’s resignation overshadowed two important developments in the Brexit debate on Wednesday.

Firstly, the opposition managed to force a vote that ought to bind the government into revealing the impact assessment of Brexit on 58 sectors of the economy.

The statistics, if they are redacted they will be leaked, will spell out the devastating effect of this act of national self-sabotage. Some minds may be changed.

The same day the Electoral Commission announced it was opening an investigation into Aaron Banks, the millionaire funder of UKIP and the Leave.EU campaign. 

Russia clearly attempted to manipulate the results of the US and French presidential elections. Why on earth would it not seek to diminish one of the world’s leading nuclear powers and undermine the 
European trading bloc by interfering with the Brexit referendum?

Following the Leaver loot might lead all the way to Moscow, but whether Russian propagandists slewed the Brexit result is now almost academic.

There is a sense of resignation across the UK that Brexit will now happen, when the time is opportune to stop it. 

Theresa May’s government is beginning to resemble John Major’s, but that government limped on for five year stabbing itself into incompetence.

May’s is unravelling quicker, but  there is no sign of Labour derailing the Brexit process.

Keir Starmer shows signs of being able to do it, the SNP would willingly join in the act, Corbyn is the drag anchor. 

The Tories are in a bloody mess but that is no guarantee that Corbyn's Labour party can win.

But to recall Tony Blair, if they can’t take this lot apart in the next few years they shouldn’t be in the business of politics at all.

Catalonia makes me grateful for David Cameron

El Mundo editorial the morning after Catalan parliament declaration

There can’t be many good weeks to be David Cameron, the worst Prime Minister Britain had in modern times.

But last weekend, as I tried to unknot the constitutional mare’s nest of Catalonia, I actually felt grateful for his premiership.

The Catalan declaration of UDI has little effect on the Scottish independence debate, but imagine what would be happening now had Cameron not staged the 2014 referendum here.

Had Scotland not voted three years ago Nicola Sturgeon would be under crazy pressure from hard-core nationalists to follow through on the Catalan example.

They staged an illegal referendum, violently opposed by the Spanish state, and declared independence on the back of a 92 per cent yes vote on a 43 per cent turn out. Now their leaders are in court or residing in Belgium and the ugly mess is heading to a December election.

Some SNP MSPs are dancing in the streets at the Catalan crisis, though Sturgeon is canny enough to keep her distance.

I was in Mallorca last week, the Catalan island has a relationship with Barcelona akin to Shetland’s regard for Edinburgh.

They weren’t dancing there, and anyone celebrating the breakaway Catalan republic should be careful what they wish for.

Those making the most capital out of Catalan crisis are Europe’s far-right nationalists, people most SNP supporters would run a mile from. 

I remember years ago trying to make a programme about the legacy of the Spanish civil war and discovering, in my naivety, that an event celebrated as a great socialist struggle by Scots was regarded as a tragic, embarrassing taboo by Spaniards.

It was an early lesson in not assuming you can inhabit other people’s histories or political skin.  

As I have said before the only parallel that can be drawn between Scotland and Catalonia is that we had a legally agreed referendum and settled the issue. Not forever, perhaps, but for now, with a vote and and undisputed result.

Friday, 22 September 2017

Referendum news in full...

Good morning, here is this week’s referendum news.

Vince Cable wants a second referendum, but not one like the first one.

Willie Rennie is appealing to the SNP to join the campaign for another referendum, but not the second referendum they want.

However, now that second referendum is off the agenda the SNP might back the idea.

But not while members are outraged about Catalonia being refused a referendum by Madrid, which is exactly what Theresa May did earlier this year when faced with demands for a second referendum.

The SNP didn’t make much noise about the Catalan referendum beforehand, because they needed Madrid’s silence during the campaign for a second referendum, which didn’t happen because of Theresa May, which was a relief because they didn’t want one.

Now the second referendum is shelved, for now at least, the SNP can be angry about the Catalan referendum, which might or might not happen.

On the other second referendum, not the one the SNP want, the jury is still out, but it is unlikely to happen.

When Nicola Sturgeon was asked if there will be a second referendum, she is reported to have said: “The honest answer to that is - I don’t know”.

Just time for some late news, Nicola Sturgeon has clarified that when she said “I don’t know”, she was talking about when a second referendum might be. She still wants one.

On the other referendum, the second referendum, the not the one she wants and not one like the first one, the First Minister said it is becoming “more and more difficult to resist”. So, that might be on, after all.

I hope that’s cleared things up. That is all the referendum news this week. 

Friday, 1 September 2017

Five lessons from Dugdale's leadership

From my Daily Record column
To borrow a phrase, I come to bury Kez, not to praise her. Kezia Dugdale was a far better leader than the Scottish Labour party deserved in 2015 but she made mistakes, as we all do.
Here are some lessons the next leader whoever he, and it looks like it might be a man, should learn from her.
Five things Kez got wrong:
1. Flirted with independence.
Dugdale undermined herself and beleaguered Labour loyalists when she said she might consider voting for separation. Nicola Sturgeon stooped to conquer (and damaged herself) by throwing fresh doubt on Dugdale with the accusation she had privately backed a second referendum as a post-Brexit option.
2. Attacked the leader but failed to topple him.
When Dugdale joined calls for Corbyn to resign and backed Owen Smith, she was speaking for Scottish members. But hers was neither a full-blooded mutiny nor a resignation. It was a battle a more astute politician would have avoided and it overshadowed her tenure.
3. Struggled to turn Scotland into a three-cornered fight.
In a political duel it is difficult to be hard from the wings. Dugdale did not master the impossible art of being the third party leader. Admittedly few politicians can.
4. She lacked a killer instinct.
It comes from being a genuinely nice person in a ruthless game. In life it sometimes happens but in politics the nice guys don’t win.
5. Didn’t get the timing right 
Was there ever a good time to be Scottish Labour leader? She came to office too young with the party at their lowest ebb. She leaves too early, granting Corbyn the opportunity to seize the balance of power on Labour’s ruling body, the National Executive Council.
And five things the next Scottish Labour leader must get right
1. Surf the Corbyn wave but don’t kid yourself.
Corbyn’s speeches in Scotland were the debating equivalent of reading a Cal Mac ferry timetable out loud but the crowds loved him. That bewildering phenomenon might be a clue to him just being this summer’s flavour. Don’t count on Corbyn being this popular with the youth vote for long and he will be just shy of 73 at the next general election. Build your own brand.
2. Kill off Indyref 2.
The gas could be turned up on independence very quickly if Tory Brexiteers wreck the UK’s economic future. Let the Tories make the case for Unionism, Labour have to make the case for Britain. The socialist principles for being better together have been neglected for too long.
3. Set the agenda.
In the latter part of her leadership, Dugdale developed a bread and butter platform focusing on health, education and social justice. Built on those foundations, the national debate is listing back from the fixation with the constitution. Labour can lead the way.
4. Fight the real Tories.
Ruth Davidson and her crew are bad news for working class communities. The small state, tax-cutting Tories are not where instinctive Labour voters should be going with their votes.
5. Take a long walk, preferably from Eastwood to Easterhouse.
It’s only 13 miles and a pilgrimage from one of the richest communities in Scotland to one of the poorest would symbolise Labour who are for everyone in the country. It might be tempting to veer off the path to the left but the walk is only the beginning of a journey to Bute House. Don’t leave the middle path is still the best advice for anyone who really aspires to be Labour’s next First Minister.