David Torrance – what a laugh!

I mentioned David Torrance in my first entry here. David is currently punting his updating of his book about Salmond, which seems to me to be rather like a rabid Old Firm fan writing a book about whichever side is the other side for him (or her?).

To engender a wee bit of interest he wrote an extra article for his friends at the Herald (usually we only have to put up with him on a Monday, but this week we got him twice). This article was headlined – perhaps to show how even-handed he is – “Salmond: The man who gave a new lease of life to uncompromising tribalism.” (click on the headline and it will take you there.

The thing with David is that he is one of these guys who has set himself up as a “great thinker”, but actually he’s a sloppy thinker whose argument falls apart before we have got through the first quarter of the piece. This one is no better.

He writes, in the third paragraph,

But although often [don’t you just admire that “often” – with a single word he reminds us that Salmond perhaps wasnt always impressive – I rather suspect though, he would struggle to nominate anyone for whom the modifying “often” would not be appropriate] impressive as First Minister between 2007-14, Mr Salmond was perhaps best understood as an opposition politician and the SNP as an oppositionist party, more comfortable defining themselves in terms of what they were against rather than what they stood for“.
However, in the preceding paragraph, he has reminded us that Salmond changed the terms of debate in Scotland, moved his party toward gradualism, professionalised the SNP (though here, I think, he understates the role of John Swinney) and developed the talent pool (citing Nicola Sturgeon).
I appreciate Salmond is a complex figure with a complex career. I have my own differences with him, but as a simple matter of logic are these two judgements really consistent with each other?

For instance, while a politician who was essentially “oppositionist” might develop the talent pool, would he professionalise his party? It might seem that these two things are consistent, until there is an appreciation one does this with an aim in mind. Certainly it’s hard to find consistency in the charge of “oppositionism” (the noun from David’s new word) and the SNP’s move to gradualism from where the SNP had once stood, and most certainly in terms of setting the debate, as both these things require some sort of aim that goes well beyond stopping the other side – the ruling side – from achieving their aim.
Moreover the evidence that Torrance adduces to defend his claim is weak. For instance he argues

The Scotland’s Future White Paper published neatly encapsulated Salmondism: a triumph of style over substance, debating points over detailed policy.”,

This of course, cheerfully (indeed necessarily) ignores that because Westminster stoutly refused to come up with any detailed figures or information, far less pre-negotiate on what situation would apply on any matter (eg currency) in the event of a Yes vote, the “detailed policy”, required “detailed” information and that simply was withheld by the Unionist side that Torrance cleaves to.
However, he is to be congratulated for putting up that one example of evidence, for there are no others – the rest, at best, are “wink, wink, know what I mean”. In fact, I would like to thank David for at least giving me a good laugh here, as he can produce several paragraphs of assertion of his own, but still criticise Salmond for indulging in the “politics of assertion”. Maybe taking the plank out of your own eye would help here David.
I was trying to think how to summarise this, and in this respect too, David Torrance has been remarkably helpful, when he writes that for Salmond “it looked as if politics to him was little more than a game and the “truth” whatever happened to work in the moment…… inevitably tempting him “to busk, to rely on his immense native wit rather than always attend to the tiresome detail”. This entire piece exemplifies the same fault in David Torrance. It reads almost as if he started off from the headline (my admittedly vicarious knowledge of journalism suggests that the headline usually comes after) and wrote something to suit, without ever feeling the need to offer up much in the way of evidence, other than a superficial misunderstanding of much of the WP and an edited quote by Harry Reid.

In fact, I ended up wondering what this whole thing was about, and then when I got to the end I found the explanation “A fully revised and updated version of David Torrance’s book Salmond: Against the Odds is available from Birlinn. ” Perhaps, it being the summer recess, Salmond will spare the time to write to the Herald again. Last time he concluded

“First, I hardly know David Torrance. And secondly – and much more problematically for a biographer – he doesn’t know me at all.” (you can find this here http://www.heraldscotland.com/opinion/letters/13181351.Alex_Salmond_s_reply_to_David_Torrance/)


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