Guest post from Robin Carmody. A full version can be read here.
It was reading Yvonne Ridley’s tweets on this matter which finally got me to write this.
The one thing that matters about Scotland, the one thing from which everything else comes and to which everything else returns, , is this: 1968 never really happened there, and therefore neither did its principal legacy in the rest of Europe (but especially England), the separation of economic Leftism from social and cultural conservatism, the rendering incompatible of these two once-allied forces. This is why England can’t be Scotland. and why Scotland can’t be England, for those souixante-huitards and Black Atlanticists who would find Scotland unsettlingly folksy and homogeneous. In the end, that is all it is, and whether or not an English Leftist supports and sympathises with Scotland’s claims to nationhood depends entirely on what sort of Leftist he or she is, which criteria (1945 or 1968, basically) he or she considers most important. Maybe that’s all I need to write.
But it isn’t quite, of course; I have to write something more because I am in equal parts both kinds of Leftist; my basic inability to take sides (in itself a very English thing rather than a Celtic thing, as detailed further below) has me taking in equal parts from the 1945 and 1968 traditions, and thus from traditions with fundamentally oppositional views of the merits and worth of Scottish independence. Yvonne Ridley is, of course, is the ultimate anti-68-er (on a scale of one to ten, with the most hardline souixante-huitards rating ten, she’d be way, way down minus one). Not only has she allied herself with forces of extreme social and religious conservatism (as much of the international Left has admittedly done), she has actually joined up with such forces herself, and become not merely an ally of convenience but an actual believer (which the great majority of the Western Left has not) and moved to Scotland because within it her sense of the Left – the most extreme form of a world where 1968 never happened – seems to her to be protected and preserved. And there is nothing more unpleasant and extreme than the zeal of the convert, with which she is infected on two subtly-related fronts. Her take on Scottish independence seems defensive and negative There are others rooted in far more humanistic values, an approach to the world far closer to mine, which may be critical of the Israeli state but does not share her aggressive paranoia.. I can easily forget it when reading Ridley’s religious self-assurance, but there are plenty of visions of Scottish independence which evoke a world in which I could happily live.
The most traditionalist parts of both Right and Left in England share a conspiratorial mindset, a belief that the entire modern world represents a conspiracy against them and their approach to life. When I see the Traditional Britain Group, which represents a quasi-fascist, Third Positionist undercurrent which in my worst nightmares exploits the instability of England after Scottish secession to create a totalitarian state from which Puerto Rico status seems like a positive relief and national saviour, I could not help thinking of elements of the old Left in England, lost and homeless and yearning for what their Scottish counterparts can cling to in hope of escape, the belief that everything has been permanently corrupted and the only way out is a total retaking and restaffing of all institutions. John Pilger’s sense of the entire media saturation of the present age as a grand-scale lie, an organised delusion from a deeper truth, has more than a little crossover with this part of the Right. There is a shared hatred for both economic and social liberalism. Both yearn for a moment in history when everything was perfect, uncorrupted: it’s just that for one that moment was a notional pre-capitalist mediaeval state of being, and for the other it was 1945; one calls the world that is out to get them “cultural Marxism”, the other calls it “neoliberalism”. But both share an elemental romanticism which has been a far stronger political undercurrent among both mainland Europeans and Celts than among the English. (Searchlight notes with some accuracy that the European intellectualism of the Traditional Britain Group may very easily turn off many of the sort of people in England they are aiming to turn on).
And both, in their own ways, are trying to find answers to the question which Scottish independence, or not, asks for their neighbours, and inwardly screaming (it can only be inward: they are, after all, English) that no comparable question can give them in turn something to live for. Living alongside something so seismic is so hard to take in isolation that it can only be that very English distrust of elemental romanticism which stops both old Left and old Right from being far stronger forces in England than they are.
In the Scottish referendum every argument from either side can reasonably be counterbalanced by the other: the Yes campaign can say with total justification that, if you can’t block out whatever is channel 865 on Sky then you can’t block out BBC1, and the inference by some in Westminster that you could is, like so many other stances taken from that end, stupid and counter-productive. The No campaign can respond, equally reasonably, that if you can’t control the global spread of media and you don’t even attempt to, then the point of secession is negated and undermined. The Yes campaign can say, quite reasonably, that Scotland’s role in Europe is being held back by people and institutions far more sceptical of the EU and its purpose than the general Scottish population; the No campaign can respond, also with a good deal of truth behind it, that Hollywood and rock’n’roll have been as important, as foundational, to proportionately as many Scots as English people. Certainly there is a tendency on the part of some Yes supporters either to deny this or almost to infer that a Yes vote could eliminate it, wipe it from the folk memory, and in the process to divert too far from the far more universally applicable economic reasons for independence; if there is a narrow No vote, this would probably be the biggest reason, just as the unfounded scaremongering, which might well partially be driven by a desire to eliminate politically inconvenient socialist tendencies from the Anglosphere, would be the main cause of a narrow Yes. People in my position frequently, with some justification, accuse the Yes campaign of selfishness (and also of hypocrisy, since they see themselves as above and separate from the drift in such a direction in post-1979 England) – of being concerned purely for their own social democratic idyll and of being indifferent to the fate of the rest of us. The Yes campaign can respond, perfectly reasonably, that we are the selfish ones for wanting to use others to give us what we cannot give ourselves.
Or maybe it is a matter of tone, a fundamental psychological difference between the English and the Celts. Over and over again I find myself agreeing with the basic meat of what Scottish independence supporters have to say, but being turned off by what often comes over to me as a rather arrogant, combative, dismissive tone to it. It was once said that, to understand Enoch Powell, you had to be conscious of his Welsh ancestry because it was the source of his “un-English, but Celtic, passion for going all the way”.
Does this mean that, underneath it all, I’m a Tory as well (at least in the gentle, diffident shire sense that Powell, the proto-Thatcherite child of a great industrial city, very definitely wasn’t, part of)? Some people would say yes, no doubt, and yes I can hear all the jokes about moderation to excess starting already. But I prefer to think of myself as a liberal humanist – in TPL terms, in the tradition which runs from On the Threshold of a Dream to ELO’s Time, and the pieces about them, not the vast, unedifying swathes of proto-Cameronite muck to come. I do cherish the English liberal humanist tradition which has been so eroded and threatened in recent times, and I don’t want it to be weakened still further, turned more than ever into a defensive, bull-headed nationalism, defined far more by what it is against rather than what it is for, which bears disturbing resemblances to Serbian nationalism as it developed in the early 1990s. Scotland has its own traditions, and they can no doubt thrive better apart. What worries me is the survival, or not, of the liberal traditions I myself was raised for, which I fear need the help of others to thrive now because those theoretically raised for them increasingly don’t really understand them.
The frustration caused by the gulf between my identification and sympathy with some aspects of Scottish independence aspirations – my basic belief that it represents a positive, progressive social model for those who can be part of it – and the way I must live, the way I am confined to live, is a cause of almost unbearable pain. In the end – for the purely emotional side of me, for the 1945 side of me – “I want the one I can’t have”. That Morrissey – precisely the sort of English Leftist who could only have thrived and really been understood if England had been Scotland – could be a wise chap, when he wanted to be.
JK Rowling has donated £1 million to the Better Together campaign. Rowling is a long-standing Labour supporter
By Rosie Bell (via Facebook):
When J K Rowling wrote best-selling children’s books that even children who didn’t read, would read, she was a force for betterment.
When she showed that a writer could hit the jackpot she was a creatives’ beacon of hope.
When she insisted that the popular film adaptations or her books should not be Hollywoodised she was a patriot.
When she recalled her own years of being a single mother dependent on welfare payments and reiterated her support for Labour she was a good socialist.
When she donated considerable sums to clinics treating multiple sclerosis and campaigned for research on the disease because of her own mother’s illness she was a heart-string puller.
I think Scots may have even been a wee bit proud that this unassuming woman of considerable achievement chose to live in Edinburgh. At least one coffee house has put up a plaque noting that she used to hang out there.
But now she is a bitch; a whore; a traitor; a Tory; a deluded wee hen, all with added sweiry words. Oh, and English as well.
All because she wrote a sane, reasoned article on why she thought Scotland should not go independent and contributed some money to a campaign she believed in.
No wonder I hate this referendum.
Since Game of Thrones has come up in the comments thread, here’s a video which covers both Game of Thrones and Edinburgh:-
Above: Bambury talking nationalist shite
The following appeared in The Scotsman:
Book review: A People’s History of Scotland by Chris Bambury (Verso £12.99)
Reviewed by Roger Hutchinson
IF YOU think Scotland has always been left-wing, wake up to the complexities of the past.
A significant element of the Left will vote Yes in September because it believes that, without the hindrance of English Tory votes, a socialist republic will be established in an independent Scotland.
Chris Bambery’s book supports that view. He is a veteran of virtually every Trotskyist body in the UK, from the International Marxist Group to the Socialist Workers Party and now the small splinter International Socialist Group. The word “international” is something of a puzzle, as the Scottish International Socialist Group is nationalist. The “Scottish Workers’ Republic,” he writes, is “a dream we hold in our hearts and minds.”
Do not, then, approach this book expecting to read more of the pussy-footing academic social history which Scotland already has in abundance. Bambery sets out to prove that all of Scotland’s past has led us, with Marxist inevitability, to the day when the red flag will flutter over Holyrood.
A full people’s history must begin with our most distant ancestors. Bambery skips through the post-Ice Age settlers of 11,000 years ago but, the Neolithics not being strong on Gramsci, moves quickly on to the Middle Ages. Although we are promised “a corrective to the usual history of kings and queens, victorious battles and bloody defeats,” when it meets the agenda, as in the Scottish wars of independence, the civil war and the Jacobite risings, this book positively bubbles with kings and queens and gory battles.
Twenty-three pages into his book, Bambery recommends the Holywood movie Braveheart as giving “a good account of [William] Wallace’s life.” That statement should disillusion even the sympathetic reader. The day we defer to Mel Gibson’s version of our past is the day Scottish history dissolves into fantasy.
It is a shame, because there is much of interest here. There is a predictable account of the events leading up to the Treaty of Union in 1707, which was not of course a democratic decision as democracy didn’t exist then. But the plausible analysis that Scottish negotiators – who were representing a bankrupt country – drove a hard bargain through the treaty and that Scotland consequently benefited more from the Union than did England, merits not so much as a nod.
The Enlightenment and the Jacobite risings pose a problem to left-wing nationalists. Bambery flunks the first and passes the second. The Enlightenment flourished in Scotland immediately after the Union. It may have done so anyway – David Hume and Adam Smith would still have been born and educated in an independent Scotland. It is nonetheless difficult to ignore the possibility that the Lowland Enlightenment was kick-started by a fresh and invigorating free association with like minds from the rest of Britain.
No more, if he is writing a people’s history, can a responsible historian avoid the unsavoury connection between the Enlightenment and what Chris Bambery calls “the darkest chapter in Scottish history”, the Highland Clearances. The clearances were a straightforward response from Scottish landowners to Lowland Enlightenment theories of improvement and scorn for tribal responsibilities.
The bulk of this book deals with labour unrest since the 19th century. The growth of trade unionism and the discovery of a political voice in the industrial proletariat is powerful and stirring material. In telling the stories of the ordinary footsoldiers in the Radical War of 1820, of the cotton spinners’ strike of 1837 and of the miners’ struggles from 1840 to 1984, in describing the lives of such as Mary Brooksbank and James Connolly, Bambery offers a Scottish version of EP Thompson’s The Making of the English Working Class.
It is almost a parallel history for, as Bambery says, there was solidarity between workers north and south of the Tweed. The oppressive forces facing cotton weavers in Glasgow were identical to those confronting their equivalents in Lancashire. Coalminers in Fife and Durham had shared conditions, shared aspirations and in some cases the same employers. None of them had much in common with the land wars of the Highland Gaels.
Bambery argues that the desire for separation was a natural reaction to Thatcherism. This isn’t an original thesis, but it carries some water. Scotland’s Tories might not have disappeared, but most of them no longer vote Conservative.
He acknowledges, however vaguely, that his thesis has a counterpoint. It is that in 1979 Margaret Thatcher became prime minister of a Scotland which had, just 20 years earlier, been a Conservative country.
In three consecutive general elections between 1951 and 1959 most of the north of England and Wales and much of London was vainly attempting to re-elect the Labour government which had. a few years earlier, delivered the welfare state and the NHS.
In the same three elections Scots, in unison with the Home Counties of England, gave more votes to the Tories than to any other party and ensured the premierships of Churchill, Eden and Macmillan – and the continuing presence of Margaret Thatcher as a young MP in the governing party.
Presumably because it throws a nasty curve ball at his theory of Scotland as an intrinsically left-wing society on a millennial march to a workers’ republic, Bambery summarises the Scottish politics of this decade as “incredible”. That is not good enough. Other historians accustomed to exploring and analysing such patterns might wonder, who cannot credit it, and why?
History falls neatly into nobody’s political agenda. Nor, most of the time, does the future.
H/t: Dale Street (who comments: “‘A People’s History of Scotland’ appears to be on a par with a book Bambury once wrote about Ireland, which was so badly written and edited that it was impossible to distinguish the factual inaccuracies from the typing mistakes.”)
I’ve never seen or heard it expressed better, or more succinctly, than this from my comrade Patrick Murphy:
Something I will never understand is left wing support for Scottish independence.
This is not a matter of championing the RIGHT to self-determination against national oppression, rather it consists of socialists running around trying to persuade an electorate which has been consistently opposed to independence and prefers unity that they are wrong and should separate from their fellow-workers across national borders
The default position of the entire socialist tradition is for internationalism and no borders. The right to self-determination is an important exception to address particular conditions (colonies, Ireland, Palestine etc). It’s not the norm and we certainly shouldn’t be agitating for it where those conditions don’t exist in any meaningful sense.
Yet another bizarre reflection of a loss of political bearings.
Guest post by Roger McCarthy
BBC Scotland has produced a programme on Helen Crawfurd which I highly recommend for as long as it is available on iplayer (2 PM on 29th April).
Born in Glasgow in 1877 Helen had a respectable Victorian lower middle class upbringing with staunchly Tory parents, initially dreamed of becoming a missionary and married at 21 a Presbyterian minister who was old enough to be her grandfather.
However (at least as she recalls it from her autobiography written around 1950) her Christianity always had a radical and socialist bent which led her into the women’s suffrage movement – and inspired by her husband’s preaching of the text where Jesus chases the moneychangers from the temple the Sunday before a big suffragette ‘raid’ she gravitated into its most radical direct action wing.
This led the respectable minister’s wife into multiple stints in prison for throwing rocks through the Liberal education minister’s window and that of an army recruiting office, for setting off a small bomb at the Botanic Gardens and ‘inflammatory language’ and went on hunger strike three times.
After the death of her husband and the outbreak of WW1 in 1914 she was appalled by the transformation of most of her radical suffragette comrades into white feather waving militarists and threw herself into Red Clydeside’s anti-war movement – joining the Glasgow women’s rent strike campaign in 1915, confronting her former idol Christabelle Pankhurst at a recruiting rally and becoming an increasingly prominent and militant member of the Scottish ILP, the Women’s International League and the Women’s Peace Crusade winning a reputation as one of Red Clydeside’s fieriest orators.
She also acted at some point (probably in the summer or latter part of 1915) as a courier between James Connolly and his old SLP comrades in Glasgow who around this time had taken over the printing of The Workers Republic and met Connolly himself and other Republicans in Dublin.
The October Revolution threw her further to the left as the Bolshevik publication of the imperialist secret treaties removed whatever lingering illusions she may still have had about liberal democracies and she was increasingly involved with the internationalist left-wing of the ILP arguing for joining the new Communist International.
And this led this 43-year old Scottish minister’s widow to make the difficult and dangerous pilgrimage to Russia itself in summer 1920, travelling via fishing boat, cargo ship and the Arctic port of Murmansk, meeting up with John Reed in Petrograd who gave her a tour of the revolutionary sights and finally in late August (her autobiography’s chronology is frustratingly vague) arriving in Moscow – a few days too late for the Second Congress of the Comintern itself.
Here her 1950 autobiography is probably less than fully frank as while she met Lenin (which seems to have been a standard feature of a Moscow tour at this point) and Alexandra Kollontai she has nothing to say about any meetings with Zinoviev or Radek or any of the other senior Comintern functionaries who were to become unpersons in the 1930s, but who were hardly likely to have ignored a prominent figure in the ILP who they needed to press for either its accession to the Comintern or the biggest possible split over the issue at its next conference.
She does however have a lot to say about John Reed who she met again in Moscow on his return from the Baku Congress in mid-September and accompanied him and Louise Bryant to the Bolshoi theatre, a night which 30 years later inspired one of the few lyrical passages in her autobiography:
The great Bolshoi Theatre was opened as the autumn days approached and John Reed got tickets for us to attend several performances of opera and ballet… One evening I was seated in a small box near to the great centre box … which had originally been the Czar’s . In the box on my left was an American millionaire named Vanderlip whom John Reed told me had been visiting to see if he could get a concession in Kamchatka for something or other. -
On that evening the Czar’s box was occupied by a delegation of peasants who had come from some of the distant villages for some conference. An old peasant was seated in the centre chair – the Czar’s chair – and around him were the middle aged and young peasant men and women with bright kerchiefs on their heads. I looked at the old peasant with his greying beard and saw the expression of wonder on his face as he gazed at the magnificence and beauty of the scene being enacted on the stage. Then I turned to watch the millionaire in the small box on my left and the words of Mary in the Magnificat came to my mind ‘He hath put down the mighty from their seat and hast exalted those of low degree. Thou hast filled the hungry with good things and the rich thou hast sent empty away’. The old Russian eagle had been removed from the shield on the front of the Czar’s box and the hammer and sickle had taken its place. The men and women who were out in the fields producing the food of Russia were honoured while the American millionaire who wanted to exploit the resources of Russia got a third rate seat. l was on top of the world.
By Simon Winder in the latest edition of Standpoint magazine (yes, I know that Standpoint is generally a right-of centre publication, but that doesn’t mean everything that appears there is wrong. This strikes me as a well-argued and perceptive piece, written from a left-of-centre perspective, that pro-independence leftists would do well to study, even if the suggestion that Salmond’s rhetoric is “effectively fascist” or that the SNP’s ideology is “national socialist” is, perhaps, a little OTT. It should not be assumed that everyone associated with Shiraz Socialist agrees with everything – or even anything -in the article):
Alex Salmond’s blend of flag-waving and leftist economics is all too similar to the ideologies that ravaged 20th-century Europe
Last summer, when I was checking the proofs for my book about the Habsburg Empire, Danubia, I found myself reflecting on the way that across Central Europe over the past century and a half different forms of nationalism have done almost untold damage. Wherever I travelled there were entire towns whose populations had been killed or expelled at the command of one form of nationalist zealot or another. My conclusion (which I am sure is an uncontentious one) was that anyone who makes exclusive claims based around flags, songs or mystical and immemorial borders was at some base level evil — that to believe in such things, which have more in common with magic than rationality, puts the believer and his disciples en route to catastrophe. And then I thought about Alex Salmond.
The Habsburg Empire, which was destroyed during the course of the First World War, joined together part or whole of 12 modern European countries and stretched from the Alps to western Ukraine. It was hardly a model of rationality and could often be cynical or incompetent – but it seems like a vision of paradise compared to the nihilistic disaster that unfolded for its inhabitants from 1914 to the end of the Cold War. Several generations found themselves savaged by all the most horrible elements in Europe’s formidable armoury of creepy prejudices sprinkled with a dusting of intellectualism – what language you spoke, your religion, your political views had you herded into different camps at different times. In the end nobody won. Whatever terrible crimes the Communists carried out they at least had a salutary attitude towards the nationalists scattered across Central Europe who had done so much to support the Nazis and to poison community after community that had until then generally lived cheek-by-jowl for centuries, if not in harmony then in grudging indifference.
The lesson of the Habsburg Empire’s demise is probably that multinational states are extremely valuable. They define themselves by some measure of tolerance and the heir to the throne, Franz Ferdinand, had until his assassination, planned for his accession all manner of schemes to federalise the Empire. Before the catastrophe of the First World War very few of the Empire’s inhabitants imagined that independence was even a rational option. Even Tomáš Masaryk, later to found Czechoslovakia, could only imagine a federal solution – the lands of Bohemia and Moravia which he wished to have autonomy were simply filled with too many people who could never be reconciled to rule by Czech-speakers, as turned out to be the case.
This is when I started to think about Salmond. The United Kingdom is Europe’s last big multinational state – and in that sense vulnerable to what nationalists love to think of as “the tide of history”. But the disasters of the 20th century have perhaps taught us that there are many problems with nationalist ideas on sovereignty. Indeed the European Union was created specifically in order to neuter these problems. One hardly discussed reason why the EU might be antagonistic towards Scottish independence is that Salmond’s rhetoric and reality swim in exactly the opposite direction to all the most positive European trends since 1945. While most of Europe pools its sovereignty, here is someone yet again making mystical claims for the greater virtue that would emerge from drawing a ring around a particular chunk of land.
Exciting, isn’t it?
While Alex Salmond demands the right of an independent Scotland to retain the pound, stay in the EU, remain in Nato and keep the monarchy, the Greens (or, at least, their member Adam Ramsay) have entered the fray with a persuasive statement of why the rest of us should support independence. A comrade, perhaps rather cruelly, provides a précis:
12 Reasons Why England Can’t Ignore Scotland’s #Indyref
1) It’s exciting
2) It’s really exciting isn’t it?
3) It’s got people talking
4) It’s big, a biggie, a big deal
5) It’s practically revolutionary – Smash the State!
6) Scotland will be rich without England, honest
7) Scotland will be an anti-racist country
8) You’re no the boss o’ me, Cameron!
9) We will dump all those right wing Labour MPs etc (somehow) – and replace them with nicer people
10) We’ll tak’ the high road …
However, another comrade (a Scot, as it happens) added a further comment: “I think you’re all being very unkind to the Green chap. His Twelve Reasons are the most succinct and intellectually rigorous statement of the case for an independent Scotland that I have ever come across.”
By Roland Wright
A decade ago Paul Hutcheon was an investigative reporter. But now he just hunts with the pack.
Could the decline in the paper’s circulation be in anyway related to the decline in the quality of its journalism?
“Leading Labour MSP Urged to Resign After Taking Part in Unite Demo Outside Director’s House,” read the headline above an article by Hutchinson in yesterday’s edition of the paper.
Over five weeks after the event, the giant inflatable rat used in a Unite protest outside the house of an Ineos director had made a comeback: “Smith was one of 13 people pictured. He was standing next to the rat.”
Hutcheon’s use of the hack-journalist technique of guilt-by-association was positively breathtaking. It ran as follows:
The rat was next to Drew Smith who was next to his aide Michael Sharpe who is the son of Cathie Jamieson MP who is part of Ed Ball’s shadow treasury team at Westminster.
Sharpe, luckily for him, was not standing next to the rat. He was “holding a placard.” A very unconventional activity for someone taking part in … a protest.
Not that Hutcheon actually refers to the event as a protest. Deploying his wordsmith skills to the utmost, he writes instead of “the Unite trade union’s notorious ‘leverage’ demo.”
Another problematic aspect to the article was that Smith was not actually taking part in the protest (not that there would have been anything wrong with his participating, especially given that he is chair of the Labour Trade Union Group in Holyrood.)
The Unite protest coincided with the Dunfermline by-election campaign for the Holyrood seat left vacant after the resignation of the incumbent SNP MSP.
Along with two of his aides, Smith happened to be distributing Labour by-election leaflets on the estate where the Unite protest was taking place.
This certainly makes a mockery of the anonymous “senior party source” quoted by Hutcheon: “A trade unionist with any sense would not have gone within a hundred miles of that protest.”
Clearly, there wouldn’t have been much point in distributing leaflets calling for a Labour vote in the Dunfermline by-election over a hundred miles away in Inverness.
But the bigger problem with the article is the headline reference to Smith being “urged to resign.” By whom was he being “urged to resign”?
Why, none other than Eric Joyce MP!
That’s the Falkirk MP with the chequered history of drunken brawls in the House of Commons and Edinburgh Airport, dalliances with a 17-year-old schoolgirl, drink-driving, refusing to take a breathalyser test, and record claims for parliamentary expenses.
When it comes to speaking out about parliamentarians who should resign, Joyce clearly commands no small degree of authority on such matters! In a comment unlikely to endear him to local councillors, Joyce said:
“The image of a Labour shadow cabinet member smiling as he takes part in a leverage squad outside someone’s home is thoroughly nauseating. He should resign immediately.”
“The Scottish shadow cabinet doesn’t feel like a serious prospect at the moment. Members are content to operate at the level of the local councillor which some of them remain.”
A non-story about a man who stood next to a giant inflatable rat over five weeks ago?
It’s hardly investigative journalism. In fact, it’s not even news.
Guest post by Dale Street
Above: fearsome, isn’t it?
It’s been a busy week for media hacks who hate trade unionists. And what better opportunity for hacks to vent their spleen than the fallout from the Ineos dispute in Grangemouth?
The Sunday Times (27th October) led the way with lengthy articles about the contents of e-mails sent or received by former Unite Ineos convenor Stevie Deans.
A dossier of these e-mails had been “passed to police last week”. But subsequent press coverage suggested that the e-mails had also been passed on to half of Fleet Street. And the source of the “dossier” was Ineos itself – hardly a disinterested party in the matter.
The opening sentence in the Sunday Times front-page article had all the right buzzwords: “Ed Miliband is facing a crisis this weekend as a cache of bombshell e-mails expose a concerted union plot involving blah, blah, blah.”
Only the word “sinister” was missing. But this was the Sunday Times, not the Sun.
A few paragraphs into article, however, the “crisis” eased off to become mere “pressure” (“… Miliband is facing pressure …”). And by the end of the article the crisis-cum-pressure turned out to be no more than a rent-a-quote from a Tory MP in Crawley called Smith.
Pages ten and eleven carried a lengthy article about the e-mails, headlined with the lurid quote: “A Blueprint of How to Hijack a Constituency”
On closer inspection, however, the quote turned out to emanate from a “company insider” whose qualifications for making such a judgement remained as unknown as the insider’s name.
To be fair to “company insider”, what he/she actually said was: “It looks like a blueprint …” But even that still begs the question of what, if any, expertise the “company insider” had to be able to conclude that the e-mails “looked like” a blueprint for a CLP takeover.
The article made great play of the figure of “a thousand e-mails” (or, alternatively, “a thousand e-mails and attachments”). But this turned out to include e-mails (and attachments) received as well as sent, and covers a period of eleven months.
Nor was there any mention of the whether the e-mails had been dealt with during or outside working hours.
In terms of the e-mails’ contents and volume, there was certainly little or nothing in the article to give weight to the claim by “company insider” that “Deans spent most of last summer organising his union’s infiltration of the Labour Party.”
This weekend’s Sunday Times (3rd November) continued its attacks on Unite, this time in the shape of three articles and an editorial focusing on the Labour Party report into allegations of vote-rigging by Unite in Falkirk.
“Revealed: Milband’s Dossier on Union Plot” read the headline over the front-page article, while a spread on pages 14/15 appeared under the headline “The Secret ‘Vote-Rigging’ Report Labour Suppressed”.
The headlines suggest that the newspaper had obtained a copy of the report. So too do the opening paragraphs of the articles:
“Secret contents of the report are revealed today. They lay bare the shocking conclusions of the enquiry into alleged electoral corruption in the brutal battle by Unite to sieze control of the safe Labour seat of Falkirk.”
In fact, the paper had a Unite document (discovered in Stevie Deans’ “cache of bombshell e-mails”) which appears to be an early draft of the union’s response to the Labour Party report.
The Sunday Times articles re-quoted the various Labour Party allegations quoted in the Unite document. But it did not quote a single one of Unite’s response to those allegations.
This was despite the fact that the article acknowledged that the Unite document was “deeply critical of the Labour Party investigation, which, it says, draws conclusions on the basis of little or no hard evidence.”
(Rather like the Sunday Times article itself.)
In fact, the article even conceded in the small print that “Unite rebuts all the claims in its document”, and that the Unite document contained “a line-by-line rebuttal of the (Labour Party) allegations”.
Such poor-quality one-sided ‘journalism’ did at least display a fine sense of timing: Falkirk CLP was meeting the same day, and the Scottish press had been ‘reporting’ that a motion of no-confidence in Stevie Deans as CLP chair would be proposed at the meeting.
(This was based on various anonymous statements by “a key figure in Falkirk CLP”, “another local party member” and “sources at the local party”. Given that these articles had appeared several days before the CLP meeting, this hardly constituted ‘reporting’ in the normal sense of the word.)
“Miliband will now come under intense pressure to re-open the inquiry and publish its report,” continued the Sunday Times article. But what happened to the crisis-cum-pressure which Miliband was supposedly already facing the previous weekend?
In fact, the only sign of this “intense pressure” in the pages of the newspaper was its own editorial – insofar as a Sunday Times editorial counts as “intense pressure”. The paper hadn’t even been able to get a rent-a-quote from a Crawley Tory MP called Smith.
While the Sunday Times focused on a report which it had never even seen, the mid-week issues of the Daily Mail focused on the terrors of a giant inflatable rat.
A “sinister unit” (Unite’s Organising and Leverage Department) sent “mobs of protestors” to the homes of Ineos directors as part of a “campaign of bullying and intimidation” intended to “humiliate executives and their families”.
“It was a mob, a threatening mob,” explained a Dunfermline-based Ineos director who described how “25 Unite members protested on his driveway with flags, banners and an inflatable rat. … Children as young as seven who were playing on the street were coaxed into joining the mob.”
The article was accompanied by a grainy picture of the “threatening mob”. But the picture gives the lie to the substance of the article.
There is no “threatening mob”. There are simply some Unite members standing around. They are not on the driveway. They are on the pavement. They are not threatening anyone. (In fact, not only was chanting banned on the protest, so too was smoking.)
There is certainly a giant inflatable rat in the picture. But it looks as fearsome as Mr. Blobby on a bad day. As for children being “coaxed” into the joining the non-existent “mob”, if a giant inflatable rat suddenly appears at the bottom of your road, natural curiosity is going to attract the average seven-year-old to take a closer look.
In a follow-up article the Daily Mail reported that the previously unheard-of Jonathan Roberts had resigned from Unite “in disgust after the Daily Mail’s revelation about the union’s bullying tactics.”
Bang on cue, Roberts, who stood for Labour in the safe Tory seat on Thirsk and Malton in the last general election, attacked Unite for “picketing the family homes of company bosses and intimidating their children” and for generally failing to represent its members.
Of course, there had never been any evidence – not even in the lurid pages of the Sunday Times or the Daily Mail – that Unite members were “intimidating children”.
But what did facts count for when the sole concern of such newspapers was to whip up an anti-Unite hysteria on the back of the threat by a billionaire tax-exile to shut down Grangemouth unless his workforce, their union, and the Scottish and British governments gave him everything he wanted?
Not that there might be anything in Jim Ratcliffe’s behaviour, of course, which might merit closer investigation by the fearless journalists of the Sunday Times and the Daily Mail.