Carmichael is innocent. Aye. Right.

There has been a great deal of comment about the Carmichael judgement today. In particular I recommend

  1. Lallands Peat Worrier whose headline makes the important point “No vindication here. Only survival.” (http://lallandspeatworrier.blogspot.co.uk/2015/12/no-vindication-here-only-survival.html)
  2. Derek Bateman who points to the repellent conjunction of Carmichael getting off with Darling joining Morgan Stanley’s board, presumably at a nice high salary. As Derek puts it “Two spivs together ready to go to any length for personal advancement, both lacking the essential element for public office – decency” (http://derekbateman.co.uk/2015/12/09/men-of-honour/)

Starting off with Craig, he was taken aback by the statement Carmichael put out after the judgement was announced to the effect that

Although I was always confident of winning the last few months have been a difficult and stressful time for me and my family.

We have been enormously grateful for the tremendous levels of support received from local people, in both Orkney and Shetland, regardless of which political party they normally support…

This case was politically motivated. It was a deliberate attempt by nationalists to remove the last Scottish Liberal voice at Westminster, and is a mark of the unhealthy polarisation of Scottish politics since the referendum.”

Craig condemns this straightforwardly with the description of it as “extraordinary arrogance“, coordinated with similar statements by “Willie Rennie and “Bomber” Tim Farron“.

However, I would go further – it is further indication of a man who regards truth and falsehood as commodities to be manipulated to suit himself, his own interests, and the interests of his career development (such as it is now). That statement is nothing more than a succession of lies. Lies which no doubt will never be exposed by the msm

  1. He was always confident of winning. Really? As Lallands Peat Worrier puts it, “At the outset of the case, many scoffed that the action was doomed, a baseless, tissue-paper thin witch hunt that the courts would junk at the first available opportunity. Many of these prophets will feel vindicated in their cynicism today, but they are mistaken. Against all prophecies to the contrary, the petitioners scored point after legal point, persuading Lord Matthews and Lady Paton that this wasn’t a tenuous frolick – or a pop-eyed interpretation of the Representation of the People Act – but a serious, arguable challenge, well-founded in law.” It is I suppose possible that he was confident at the outset, but that must have disappeared soon after the start, like the proverbial snow off a dyke, as he realised he did have a case to answer after all.
  2. He has been enormously grateful for local support. Really? A crowd-funding appeal to pay his legal costs attempted to raise £50,000 but closed after raising less than 10% of that (http://www.thenational.scot/news/fundraising-bid-for-hero-mp-carmichael-ends-after-complaints.7544). Tonight the fund raised by the Orkney Four stands in excess of £184,000 (https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/the-people-versus-carmichael#/)
  3. The case as politically motivated and” a mark of the unhealthy polarisation of Scottish politics since the referendum.” First of all, not all of the “Orkney 4” who were the petitioners, as Danus Skene (the SNP candidate who just failed to unseat Carmichael in May) puts in the Shetland Times, “The Orcadian petitioners are four private citizens of differing political persuasions, and their initiative has no links to the SNP or, so far as I am aware, any other organisation“. However as Skene also notes in the same online comment, it was “political in that it is an attempt to hold a lying politician to account” (http://www.shetlandtimes.co.uk/2015/12/09/case-was-politically-motivated-says-carmichael). To the extent it is indicative of the political situation in Scotland, it is perhaps a positive indication that the electorate are no longer prepared to sit meekly by while their politicians lie (and let’s not forget this was admitted by Carmichael) to them and do nothing, even if it’s only to help fund the necessary legal action.

Of course Carmichael couldn’t leave it at that. In an interview with Norman Smith on the BBC, he added to the above with

  1. the bald claim that he has been cleared by the Court. He has not been. He was found to have lied, and to have lied at least in part to encourage his own election which, as the judgement said, had become a two-horse race. The case fell on whether he had lied about his personal character – even then the court was left with only “reasonable doubt”. Hardly a ringing endorsement.
  2. Did he have a case to answer, asks Norman Smith, who then lets him off with the rather lame response that he “had already apologised“? Rather like I shoot someone dead and then say sorry, so I shouldn’t have to appear in court. The judgement of the court was quite clear. Even now, after his reputation has been thoroughly trashed in the media and in an electoral court, he continues to tell lies. The fact is that he actually lost on two of the three points raised by the petitioners – he did lie and he did seek personal advantage from that lie. It fell only one point – whether it reflected his personal character, and it is to that we will now turn.

The Court found for the petitioners on whether Carmichael had lied, and lied to influence his election. In paragraph 61, the judgement says,

On this issue, we are satisfied that it has been proved beyond reasonable doubt that the first respondent made the false statement of fact for the purpose of affecting (positively) his own return at the election.”

In other words, not only did he lie, he lied precisely to encourage his own election in Orkney & Shetland.

Moreover, they go on to describe his conduct during the Cabinet Office inquiry as “unimpressive.  The first respondent stated in evidence that he had agreed at the outset of the inquiry that “ministers and special advisers would co-operate with the inquiry” (transcript 10 November 2015 page 21).  Yet in our opinion his evidence relating to the questionnaire issued by the inquiry demonstrated a lack of candour and co-operation on his part.” (para 68). One example of this was his denial to the Cabinet Office questions “of whether he had received the memo, and if so, what had he done with it.  The first respondent said that he felt entitled to answer the first question in the negative, as he had never physically received or seen the memo.  As a result, he considered that the second question became “largely redundant” (transcript 9 November 2015 page 75). 

However perhaps the most damning comment comes much earlier – paragraph 8 in fact – where we find “We had no concerns about the credibility and reliability of the witnesses, with one exception:  that related to the first respondent’s evidence that, in the context of questions about the source of the leak, he was not concerned about his reputation or his standing in the constituency.” The first respondent is Alistair Carmichael, thus the only witness the court found shifty and unreliable was the former Secretary of State for Scotland.

So how did he get away with it?

It is at paragraphs 58 and 59 that Lady Paton and Lord Matthews address the part of their judgement which was fatal for the petitioners. These read as follows

“[58]      In the present case, when speaking to the Channel 4 interviewer, the first respondent did not make such an express statement about his personal character or
conduct.  He did not, for example, describe himself as a trustworthy, straightforward, and honourable individual who would not be involved in any leak, far less an inaccurate leak.  His constituents might, as a result of their own experience of him as their MP over the past 14 years, have formed their own view about his character and conduct, and might have thought that he was indeed of such character that his code of conduct would not permit him to be involved in such a leak.  They would, of course, be entitled to that view.  But on 5 April 2015 in the Channel 4 interview, the first respondent did not expressly make a false statement to the effect that his personal character and conduct was such that he would never be involved in a leaking exercise.  What he said was a blatant but simple lie about his lack of awareness of one particular leak.  We accept that the lie was intended to imply his non-involvement in that leak.  What is less clear, however, is whether his lie can be construed as proof beyond reasonable doubt that he was making a false statement about himself to the effect that he was someone who was upright, honourable, trustworthy, and straightforward, and therefore would not be involved in the leak.

[59]      On this matter, we are left with a reasonable doubt.  That doubt is whether the false statement was a general one in relation to his personal character or conduct, or whether it was more specific and limited to a false statement that he was not involved in that particular leak.  Put another way, insofar as this issue is a legal one, or rather a question of mixed fact and law, we are not persuaded that the false statement proved to have been made was in relation to anything other than the first respondent’s awareness (or lack of awareness) of a political machination.  Accordingly we are not satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that the words used by the first respondent amounted to a “false statement of fact in relation to [his] personal character or conduct”.  It follows that we are not satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that an essential element of section 106 has been proved.  Even if we were to apply a lesser standard of proof (i.e. the civil standard of “on a balance of probabilities”), we would not be satisfied that the first respondent has been proved to have made a “false statement of fact in relation to [his] personal character or conduct” in the course of the Channel 4 news interview, a fortiori bearing in mind the desirability of a strict interpretation of section 106: cf Bennion, Statutory Interpretation (6th edition) sections 271 – 282;  Thomas LJ in R (Woolas) v Parliamentary Election Court (supra), at paragraphs 82 et seq and 94 – 95. ”

The key to this part of the judgement is “in the Channel 4 interview, the first respondent did not expressly make a false statement to the effect that his personal character and conduct was such that he would never be involved in a leaking exercise“. So had Carmichael, in the course of that interview, not only denied knowing anything about the memo, and the leak, but protested that he would never ever involve himself in such skulduggery then we might have had a different outcome. One is almost reminded of the legendary Baxter Basics MP of Viz fame

Craig Murray is absolutely scathing about this part of the judgement – the reasoning is “pathetic” concluding “This is the judgement of a woman justifying a pre-determined stitch-up.”

However, is there not another issue here – namely should a politician – especially one in a senior position as Carmichael had been at the time – be expected to ever have to provide such assurances? Should we not simply be able to assume, as mere electors, that they would not only not involve themselves in skulduggery of this nature, but of any type? Is the pitch of the politician not essentially “you can trust me electorate. Honest!”

It might be argued, as Malcolm Bruce did in defence of Carmichael at the time that “”If you’re suggesting that every MP who has never quite told the truth – or indeed, told a brazen lie – including ministers, cabinet ministers and prime ministers, we’d clear out the House of Commons very fast, I would suggest,” (http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2015/05/26/malcolm-bruce-alistair-carmichael_n_7440076.html) Of course that omits the fact that most of them, or most often, they don’t get caught. Part of Carmichael’s problem was that he was caught – something that Lady Paton and Lord Matthews in their judgement point out he went to some pains to avoid during the Cabinet Office Inquiry. In other words, it wasn’t just Channel 4 News that Carmichael lied to. It was also the Inquiry, and, reading between the lines of the judgement, perhaps his own Party Leader as well. Something of a pattern? No?

However, Paton and Matthews’ judgement argues that unless Carmichael had given assurances that he would not leak – something at one point in the process he said was “the sort of thing that happens” – then we have reason to believe that he might do just that – i.e. that we certainly cannot trust our politicians. But the fact he didn’t give those kind of commitments/ guarantees got him off in this case.

Let’s look at this another way. Carmichael has leaked the memo by giving his Special Advisor, Euan Roddin, permission to pass it on to the Telegraph. He is confronted by Channel 4 who ask him what he knows about the matter. Instead of simply saying that he knows nothing at all, and that the first he knew about was when he read about it in the papers, he adds that leaking a confidential memo is not something he would ever do (i.e. what he didn’t do, thus causing the petition to fail). Does this really say anything significantly different about his personal character than if he had – as he did – missed out the bit about not leaking? What is more important? Protesting that he would not leak? Or, at the very least, authorising the leak? For the Electoral Court, it seems clear that the former is more important in their interpretation of the Representation of the People Act. Yet what that means is that actually doing the act, has less importance than protesting that one would never do this, oh dear me, no. Is this really what Lady Paton and Lord Matthews meant?

The new, old League Cup

Reports today are all over the media about the latest SPFL innovation of reintroducing mini qualifying leagues to the League Cup. This will begin in mid-July (one of the reasons they have been able to contract with BT Sport who will be looking for content at that time of year, before the football season fully gets going) and use, it is reported eight groups of five team, loosely geographically based.

This is the first thing that puzzles me, since there are 42 teams in the SPFL at the moment. We are told that the four teams playing in Europe will get a bye at this stage so that must leave only 38. So how can there be eight groups of five? Do they plan to bring in a team from the Highland League and one from the Lowland League, even though they are not members of the SPFL? No doubt more detail will come out in due course.

However, the five team format means two things. First of all that every match day one team per group will be idle. Secondly that as there are only five math days, teams will not play each other home and away, but have two home games and two away games.

The idea of mini-qualifying leagues, though it not a new one. While others have made the same suggestion, this was included in the Fans Plan which along with two colleagues – Greig Ingram and Neil Bone – when we were all members of the Scottish Council of Supporters Direct, before Greig and I moved on to Fans First Scotland.

What we said in the Fans Plan at the time was

“League Cup

A frequently voiced objection to leagues of 16, is that it will mean fewer games – six fewer compared to SFL 1 – 3, and eight fewer compared to the current configuration of the SPL. However, it is our view that this can be addressed by a reworked League Cup, using the “mini-league” qualifying structure abandoned more than thirty years ago.

  1. The League Cup should revert to its previous format of pre-qualifying through eight groups of four clubs each, playing home and away to qualify for the quarter finals

The clubs participating in this competition will be those in the Scottish National Football Premier League, and Scottish National Football League 1 – i.e. thirty two teams organized into eight qualification groups (seeded depending on the previous season’s finishing position) of four teams who will play each other home and away, creating a competition with an initial six games. Being the season opener this will also

  1. Offer clubs the opportunity of playing trialists in a competitive situation in games played before the transfer window closes
  2. Trying out new positional and/or tactical ideas in less demanding matches.
  3. Also the possibility of giving young players the opportunity of an introduction to competitive play.
  4. Being seeded as recommended it will create high profile matches, during the excellent weather of the late Scottish summer, with significant novelty value for clubs who seldom enjoy this kind of profile.

We also recommend that the eight groups are set up geographically so as to offer the maximum number of local derbies – for instance a Glasgow group containing the Old Firm; an Edinburgh based group which would include Hearts and Hibs; an Ayrshire group with Kilmarnock and Ayr; a Fife group including Cowdenbeath, East Fife, Dunfermine and Raith Rovers.

The eight teams emerging from the mini-leagues will play, home and away matches at quarter and semi-final, followed by a final – therefore a maximum of five additional games

This creates a playing season for teams in the Premier and League 1 made up as follows

  1. League Matches – 30
  2. League Cup – 6 minimum, (11 maximum)
  3. Scottish Cup – 1 minimum
  4. Giving a minimum total of 37 matches”

Our proposal was part of a larger range of ideas for changing the game in Scotland, focusing particularly in increasing the level of competition between teams as a means of attracting back fans. In particular, we took the view that 12 or 10 team leagues required teams to play each other too often, thus reducing interest. Our preference was for 16 team leagues, teams playing each other twice. As above, this means reducing the number of guaranteed games to 30, but the introduction of the above format would make good that loss, and in a constructive way since the groups being based on geographic proximity and thus local rivalries, could attract even more fans.

It will though be apparent to the particularly numerate reader that the above includes only 32 teams – ie the teams in the top two leagues. Our proposal for the remaining 10 – who would play in the level 3 “Qualifying League” – is for them to play in a new competition we called “The Scottish Communities Cup” with the teams in the Highland and Lowland Leagues.

A slight adjustment to numbers would allow the SPFL proposal of giving a bye to the four teams playing in Europe to be included in this (eg the top four in the previous season’s level 3 league to participate in the League Cup). It would though have the advantage of teams playing each other home and away, but in particular is part of an overall restructuring of the game to leagues based on 16 teams, rather than just a minor tweak to a single competition and hoping that this will reinvigorate the game as a whole.

The Fans Plan was not a pick and mix proposal, but instead a systematic restructuring of the game in Scotland based on the following observations/ principles

  1. Fan opinion that revenue should be more evenly distributed; that clubs should play each other twice per seasons and not three or four times; fans’ sense of exclusion from the developmental process in the game
  2. That competition within Scottish football lagged behind that of the leagues in Portugal, Belgium and to some extent the Netherlands. We also showed that match day attendance in these leagues was increasing, while in Scotland it was in decline;
  3. That competition within the game needs to be increased to make the game more attractive by increasing the uncertainty of outcome, both of individual matches, and of the league outcome in a season as a whole. By addressing this, we suggested that fan interest, and attendance, would increase, thus increasing the resources available to the game.

In short what is proposed today for the League Cup has several advantages, but its particular disadvantage is that it is part of a piecemeal approach to developing professional football in Scotland, when what is required is an approach which begins from an identification of its fundamental problem – lack of internal competition – and makes an appropriate range of responses to this.

The MSM, the Herald, birling or revolving and Syria

Just when you think the Herald cannot sink any lower, up pops Friday’s (4th December) offering from Magnus Gardham (http://www.heraldscotland.com/news/14123238.SNP_accused_of_using_airstrikes_vote_to_fuel_demands_for_independence/?action=success#comment_15018137), suggesting that the SNP have used the Syria bombing vote in order to further independence. Even by his standards this is wearisome in the extreme.

The headline (and it’s the lead story – having about 1/3 of the page, while bombing Syria gets THREE paragraphs in the bottom left hand corner. Sahing not a lot more than that we are bombing Syria) pretty much reflects the argument – “SNP accused of using airstrikes vote to fuel demands for independence” – but makes one or two excursions into what is or is not a scientific poll, and various conjectures on how the late Tony Benn might have reacted to the speech made by his son Hilary on Wednesday evening at the end of the debate on bombing Syria. Though it might be said this is simply another device to beat Alex Salmond in particular, and the SNP in general.

But let’s consider the headline issues first. The main witness for the prosecution in this instance is Ian Murray, the Labour MP for Edinburgh South. One has to wonder which planet is Murray occupying just now for him to be able to say

For the SNP playing politics and independence always comes first“.

One of the usual criticisms of the SNP is its tribal nature, but in this case, rather than reflect on SNP voting in the same way as 70% of his own party, it is utterly clear that tribalism is more than a small part of Mr Murray’s own thinking. Perhaps it is his frustration at not being able to berate them for not voting the way he did?

And what is the basis of his accusation – other than the customary SNPBAD? It appears to be the claim from other political parties, including Murray’s own Labour Party, that the SNP have used the Syria vote as a means of demonstrating the distinctiveness of opinion in Scotland from that elsewhere in the UK. The distinctiveness of this thinking can then be used to justify a second referendum. The difficulty with that is that the leader of the SNP has said the Syria vote does nothing to bring forward a second referendum. So a complete denial, but it seems increasingly clear that faced with even a denial the Unionist parties are wont to respond “aye well, they would say that, wouldn’t they?”.

A cognate criticism has been made by Murray’s colleague, Labour MSP Neil Findlay, who even though, like Murray, being against bombing Syria managed to be critical of the SNP because all of their MPs were against bombing Syria http://wingsoverscotland.com/the-eurasia-principle/), perhaps again caused by the frustration about not being able to condemn the entire SNP because one of them voted for bombing?

It’s not as if this is the only example of such conduct. For instance, it seems that the Unionist parties spend more time talking more about a second referendum than the SNP do. However, the debate that their talk engenders justifies the claim that the SNP are obsessed with a second referendum nonetheless. Perhaps the real source of concern is that despite attempts to cover over this up the fact is that opinion in Scotland about the wisdom of bombing Syria IS different, though it is important not to exaggerate the degree of difference.

Let’s look at the evidence.

In his report Gardham reports criticism of the use made by Angus Robertson of an online poll by VoteScotland (http://www.votescotland.org/) which purported to show that 72% of Scots were against bombing Syria . Of course one of the criticisms of online polls is that their representativeness is uncontrolled since those replying will often be self-selecting, and thus not random or necessarily reflecting all shades of opinion. The consequence of self-selection is that the outcome doesn’t reflect those who decide not to participate (in that sense, elections suffer from the same defect since we might decide to just not vote). But a deeper problem still is that one needs to know about the online poll if there is to be any possibility of participating, and that is more likely if the poll is being run by – or advertised by – a site that one regularly reads. Perhaps then the 72% quoted by Robertson was run by a site that was particularly likely to be read by people opposed to bombing Syria (though given that 28% voted in favour, clearly not read only by people opposed to bombing Syria), and to the extent this is true, the accuracy of the poll might be challenged.

However, the finding that is most often quoted is that of Yougov, which is also an online poll, which also has other similarities to the poll quoted by Robertson. First of all, to be involved in a Yougov poll one has to “join” – to sign up – for Yougov – it is, in other words, self-selecting. But of course in that respect VoteScotland is exactly the same in that in order to vote one has to register with the site in order to be able to vote. Therefore, in both cases if you aren’t a “member”, you won’t be participating, even if you know about it. So in that respect Yougov and VoteScotland are similar. Secondly, while they select from their “members” to participate, even if one is invited to participate, one might decide not to – there is therefore a degree of self-selection at this stage also. Here the two sites do differ since VoteScotland does not invite its members to participate – they simply chose whether to vote or not. There is therefore less control for VoteScotland in that respect.

In short, Yougov might be stronger than VoteScotland in terms of their processes and controls, but another way of looking at this is the size of the sample. There were over 2300 in the VoteScotland sample, according to the Herald (http://www.heraldscotland.com/news/14117707.Poll__72__of_Scots_oppose_extending_air_strikes_in_Syria/) and 1657 in the Yougov sample that Gardham quotes from. However, that figure of 1657 is a figure for the UK. The number of people from Scotland in the overall figure is reported to be 159 (just under 10% of the total sample). Thus the VoteScotland sample is fourteen times the size of the Yougov sample in Scotland. So the conundrum that we have is which is more important – the larger sample of VoteScotland, or the stronger controls of Yougov. What is clear is that Gardham’s argument that Robertson’s “claim was based on an unscientific online survey and was sharply at odds with the most recent opinion poll, by YouGov” is totally unwarranted. Both have their weaknesses, and in particular the Yougov poll is based on a small (159) Scottish sample. Really journalists with little experience or knowledge of polling methodology should steer clear of such issues, and this is a good example of why. As Stewart Campbell tweeted “Why don’t you fuck off Gardham you tiresome wank“.

At the very least the data suggests that opinion in Scotland does diverge from that elsewhere in the UK (though as even Yougov point out, within the UK as a whole opinion does in favour of bombing does seem to be declining (https://yougov.co.uk/news/2015/12/02/analysis-sharp-fall-support-air-strikes-syria/). Moreover as James Kelly points out at Scotland Goes Pop, the Scottish sample includes a remarkably large number of UKIP and Tory supporters (no less than 28% in aggregate) and so might underestimate opposition in Scotland to the bombing campaign (http://scotgoespop.blogspot.co.uk/2015/12/yougov-subsample-suggests-scotland-is.html?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed:+ScotGoesPop+%28SCOT+goes+POP!%29)

But even if we look at the figures from Yougov, which Gardham quotes totally uncritically, but in a bit more detail, his view becomes increasingly less sustainable. The figures for the UK he presents from Yougov are that 48% of people throughout the UK are in favour of the bombing campaign, with 31% against. Clearly that includes the “don’t knows” (21%). If we strip them out, then those figures become 61% in favour and 39% against. For Scotland the figures quoted are 44% in favour and 41% against, which once the “don’t knows” are removed becomes 52% in favour and 48% against. Thus the figure in favour in the UK is a 17% increase on what it is in Scotland. Or, thinking of it in terms of approval, where “in favour” would have “against” deducted, approval in the UK as a whole is 22% (61-39), but only 4% (52-48) in Scotland.

There are therefore differences in opinion, with approval in Scotland only being marginally positive, but in the UK as a whole approval runs at 3 in every 5. So, it’s not like black and white, but what would we reasonably expect when we watch/ listen to/ read much the same media commentary. Its rather like the recent report that Scotland too suffers from elitism just like England (http://www.heraldscotland.com/politics/14119502.New_Elitist_Scotland_report_a__quot_wake_up_call_quot__for_government/) which is hardly a great surprise when we have been part of the same state for the last 308 years, sharing many institutions, not least the legislature that is Westminster. It does though seem clear that the balance of opinion in Scotland about bombing Syria is different from what it is elsewhere in the UK. There might be “terrorist sympathisers” throughout the UK, but there do seem to be proportionately more of them in Scotland. One might have thought this would have been welcomed by that other “terrorist sympathiser” Ian Murray, but it seems, as above, that he has other things in mind.

Now let’s deal with the Benns. This began with a tweet by SNP MP George Kerevan – “Benn summing up for Labour but voting with the Tories. Benn’s father must be turning in his grave” – repeated by Alex Salmond the next day in an interview, but substituting “birling” for “turning”, something which needed translation for readers of the Independent. Salmond said in a radio interview that

His [Hilary Benn’s] father, whose speech I heard in the Iraq debate all these years ago, would be birling (spinning) in his grave hearing a speech in favour of a Tory prime minister wanting to take the country to war and that’s just a reality,” (http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/alex-salmond-says-hilary-benns-dad-tony-benn-would-be-birling-in-his-grave-over-pro-bombing-speech-a6758806.html). In reply Emily Benn – Tony Benn’s granddaughter and Hilary Benn’s niece – replied “Mr Salmond, Your comments are both deeply offensive and simply untrue. I hope you reflect and retract them,”. Whether or not they are offensive or not is of course a personal matter for Ms Benn, but are they untrue? The following comment about this dispute has also been made

“No one can know for certain, but I am pretty sure his mother … and his father would be deeply hurt. They wouldn’t have agreed.

“Tony Benn himself had been air crew and I often talked to him about it. What he would have said is what I say, that bombs without ground troops is simply disastrous,” he said.

“No one can be certain about what people think beyond the grave and I am very much against attributing views to people who have passed.

“It is simply that my instinct is that they would have been very distressed.” (http://www.thenational.scot/news/tim-dalyell-tony-benn-would-turn-in-grave-at-his-sons-speech.10795)

That is the view of Tam Dalyell, former Labour MP, and a contemporary of Tony Benn for more than 40 years. Indeed Dalyell has a further advantage in that when Benn made his speech in the House of Commons in 1998 against bombing Iraq, it was Dalyell who was sitting right next to him (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HfXmpJRZPYI) – ironically (perhaps) sitting behind him was the (at the time) Honourable Member for Islington North, Jeremy Corbyn. Dalyell’s view is Benn might be revolving in his grave, since, in his view “birling involves a degree of anger. I think it would be more resignation and sadness and that’s why I chose to say “revolving””.

But is there more to this than whether the word “revolving” (or even “turning”) should have been used rather than “birling”? Surely it is more important to come to a view about what Tony Benn would have thought of his son’s speech. It is I think clear from his speech condemning the bombing of Iraq that Tony Benn would not have agreed with the view his son expounded in the House of Commons. Hilary’s speech might have been delivered with some style, and might even have drawn applause (which seems ok as long as it doesn’t involve the SNP) but from the view expounded by his father in 1998 they were unlikely to have agreed. One cannot help but be impressed by the sincerity and indeed the emotion when Benn the Elder contends during his speech that just as the people of London were terrified during the Blitz, that the Arabs will be just as terrified and that, just as in London, Iraqi women will weep when their children die, that MPs voting for a war in Iraq will be taking responsibility for the deaths of Iraqi men, women and children. But if you have time, follow up the Youtube address above, and at 1 minute 40 seconds listen to him talk about the force of the UN Charter and its focus on avoiding the scourge of war, a commitment the previous generation gave to our own and which we abandon if we went to war in Iraq. Personally I heard no echo at all of that in Hilary Benn’s speech which developed the quite reasonable view that ISIS or Daesh is so vile, and fascist that it must be destroyed by means of war. It is clear to me that father and son are developing a different point of view and would not have agreed. Whether Tony is merely revolving or birling seems a secondary point of much less merit than the virtual oppositional views of Tony and Hilary Benn.

Lastly, the motive for this piece was the reporting of Magnus Gardham, Political Editor of the Herald. Just what is going on there? Last summer they introduced a new reader’s comment forum which caused enormous outrage among regular posters, many of whom have either disappeared or post only intermittently, which is a great shame as that forum (in contrast say to the one on the Scotsman) had a reasonably high level of debate, if somewhat skewed toward an independence point of view. Many of the complaints initially were essentially about formatting. For instance if you replied to a post then the original post would be quoted. For comments attracting a single reply this was not too bad, but for one which prompted say 10 replies, every one would be repeated each time, resulting in threads that were ridiculously long. But much of that has been sorted out, however outrage continues. This now largely focuses on two matters. First that certain stories are simply declared off-limits with no facility to comment. In some cases, of course, for instance stories that are very sensitive, this will be the right thing to do. Where it becomes contentious is when comments are not allowed for stories that are politically sensitive, often ones which might be difficult for Unionist parties. Even worse, is when a thread has become extremely critical of the original report and the comments are simply cleared en masse and further comments disallowed. Or when posts are simply not allowed, as happened to me today.

Responding to a claim on a story about the Scottish Government allegedly consulting their Rural Affairs advisor only after they had decided to ban GM crops (http://www.heraldscotland.com/news/14125967.Key_scientist_only_consulted_on_GM_crop_ban_a_month_after_controversial_announcement/) a right wing English poster Peter Mosely suggested that we couldn’t find GM companies funding political parties. Using a Herald story from 2013 (www.heraldscotland.com/news/13120827.Why_has_study_saying_GM_could_kill_been_ignored_/) it could be shown that Monsanto (one of the major companies in the development of GM crops) actively funded what can appear to be neutral scientific organizations such as Agricultural Biotechnology Council (sounds rather like a govt funded research council) and Science Media Centre (sounds like the mouthpiece for the mainstream scientific community). This post was removed – not deleted – no fewer than four times by the Herald without ever appearing on the reader forum. This is not the first time, and by no means am I the only one, as many complain, some of whom simply disappear having given up.

The Herald lost 4.9% of its sales between February 2014 and 2015. In contrast the Sunday Herald increased its sales by 34% (http://www.allmediascotland.com/press/88300/the-media-figures-regional-newspaper-sales-daily-and-sunday-newspapers-scotland/). Policy currently being followed does not suggest that this decline will not continue.