How writing to the Herald could get you into trouble

As the late Max Bygraves used to say “I want to tell you a story”. This is based on the points made in this Wings article https://wingsoverscotland.com/nazi-pugs-fuck-off/#more-102034. Basically Campbell’s thesis in this is based on Section 127 of the Communications Act 2003 which makes it an offence for anyone who

  1. (a) sends by means of a public electronic communications network a message or other matter that is grossly offensive or of an indecent, obscene or menacing character; or

(b) causes any such message or matter to be so sent.

This can get you six months in the poky, or a fine of five grand, or both.

Campbell bases his argument first of all on his own experience, when he was charged – though never prosecuted – for breach of the above offence. One instance was when he suggested to Chris Cairns – who just happens to be his cartoonist – while he was having difficulty managing the new interface on Adobe Photoshop, that he might just “fire a nail gun into your forehead because it will hurt less”. In short, while Stuart Campbell has never headed the advice I was given once that one should never put anything on social media that you wouldn’t say in front of your maiden aunt, the evidence against him was gossamer thin, and depended on some pretty special, and quite ridiculous interpretations of what he had said.

Nonetheless, he had his computer equipment impounded by the Met Police, was detained for 10 hours and released only on Police bail for three months with his future personal freedom a matter of conjecture. He was also at the wrong end of further bad publicity from the mainstream media – though that, of course, was before the charges were dropped.

Now, it might, MIGHT, be argued that Stuart has taken this all a wee bit far, but it reminded me of an exchange I had on the Herald with one Peter Russell, who describes himself on his website as having been since 1985 “PA to successive Leaders of the Council [Glasgow City Council], then in economic policy, social policy, and international strategies, ending up as Advisor to the Lord Provost.”.

This began with a letter by Peter Russell, published by the Herald on 21st December, which I have added as an appendix. But basically what he was suggesting was that since Scotland sells four times as much to the rUK as to the EU it would be bad idea to leave the UK, particularly as they send us 15 billion every year to keep us going

What I took offence at was the customary reference to the degree to which Scotland is “subsidised” by the rest of the UK “we are sent £15 billion” etc, which depends utterly on the very dodgy GERS figures which, even GERS makes clear, would have no relevance were we independent. My reply is letter 2 at the end.

In this as well as the GERS argument, which is always used one year at a time, I pointed to the calculations by such as Gordon McIntyre-Kemp, the Fiscal Commission and Jim and Margaret Cuthbert, that between 1980 and 2012 Scotland, if independent and even if we spent the revenue in the same way as Westminster did, would have an accumulated surplus of between £50 billion and £148 billion. I also asked why we needed to be sent this largesse by the UK.

For this the very next day, the following reply was published from Mr Russell (this is letter 3):

Now there are all kinds of issues in his reply, not least his reference to “investments”, spreading risk etc, which if you think about it undermines his own argument, as the £15 billion (if you are prepared to accept the figure) is simply risk management – our return for all the dosh we put in before. I would thought suggest we would also do well to think about changing our investment manager. But those are points for another day.

The main issue is the sentence reading “The first is a surprisingly unsophisticated view of the economy, in that he seems to believe that revenues originating in Scotland over the past 35 years were shipped off south and straight into the pockets of the greedy English, never to return” and in particular the reference to “the greedy English”.

A re-reading of my letter will confirm that I never used either the words “greedy” or “English” in my letter at all, never mind consecutively. Rather, my argument was that, leaving to one side the validity of GERS, by focusing only on a single year Russell is able to ignore that over a much longer period Scotland has not only been a net contributor, but a significant net contributor to the UK. However it is his view that I have slighted the “greedy English” by pointing out that the accumulated surplus earned by Scotland over 32 years was shipped off to London (which btw it was and used to give Thatcher’s pals their tax breaks, and to pay the dole for all the poor sods who lost their jobs in the “Thatcher revolution”).

In case you haven’t quite got my point yet, following Russell’s process of argumentation, it is possible – for him anyway, plus anyone of similar view – to define any argument which says that Scotland does not get a good deal into a claim that the fault lies with the “greedy English” – as it was formulated this time.

To date, this hasn’t happened, but Peter Russell being English – born in Middlesex and not moving to Glasgow till 1985 – could claim that such arguments are, as the Communications Act requires, “grossly offensive” to him. Or if not him, then anyone else. And remember, this can get one kept in custody for 10 hours and put on Police bail for 3 months as well having your pcs, phone etc impounded while the Police look through them. Clearly, it’s something we could all do without.

But all of that was about 15 months ago. But recently the issue has come back to us when Brian Cox claimed on Question Time (15/03/2018) that “leaving England is a different thing”. This drew a letter from Mr Russell on 17th (letter 4)

This includes the sentence “In other words, to Mr Cox, England is such an exceptionally bad place that it is a uniquely unsuitable partner for Scotland, unlike France, Bulgaria, Croatia, Malta or any other country he can think of” is offensive to me, but as I am not French etc and it’s because of its utter stupidity, I cannot do anything about it. I did though write a letter which was published by the Herald on the 18th (letter 5)

This letter focuses on the facts that Brian Cox was (all too typically) cut off by Dimbleby, and could have then elaborated on his point rather than the few bald words “Leaving England is different”. But more importantly it makes the point that as the EU is an economic union mainly concerned with trade, and the UK is an all singing and dancing incorporating political union that deals with any facet of our lives that it cares to do so, the two are different, and therefore Brian Cox was right, that “leaving England is different”.

This did not however produce a reply from Mr Russell, but instead from Councillor Alex Gallagher (sometimes I wonder if they are the same person – have they ever been seen in the same room?): Letter 6

Even for Alex this is a pretty bizarre sort of effort. I actually wonder if he did read the letter, or just the headline. Or was just doing his fellow Labour apparatchik a favour? His letter is mostly notable for its utterly bizarre argument, as despite Gallagher’s assertion I do compare the EU and the UK (indeed I think its clear most of the letter is dedicated to this) but find that they are different, or exactly as Cox was arguing. In turn Gallagher’s letter drew a whole load of replies, one from me. Letter 7, which basically argues the above. However there is a new ingredient, as Gallagher explicitly raises the issue of “nasty nationalism, which echoes Russell’s attribution to Cox that we can be partners of anyone, just not England.

The point is that racism, and allegations of this are back on the table. Most concerning is Gallagher’s argument that “the language [of independence] has been modified in recent years says more for the need to pretend moderation to buy votes” In other words even rational argument in favour of independence is only to conceal the racist foundations of nationalism.

I would though recommend the other letters published on this topic that day, as many of them are excellent. You can find them here http://www.heraldscotland.com/opinion/letters/16103980.Letters__Voting_SNP_is_in_no_way_a_sign_of_being_anti_English/

Russell, however, returns to the slips on the 23rd. (Letter 8)

I think the development in Russell’s position is most clearly expressed in his final paragraph, and in particular while he considers the UK as the political environment, us Nats “insist on driving whatever wedge they can between us, forever putting their own narrow political interest above the greater good. Their attitude towards England is an integral part of the same divisive and debilitating whole, no matter how much they try to excuse it or explain it away.” So British Nationalism = good, but Scottish Nationalism = bad, very bad, with not a single redeeming quality.

I would suggest that this is not very far from the suggestion that any attempt to justify Scottish independence might be “offensive” to anyone who is not Scottish, or even does not consider the UK in the terms that, for instance, I portrayed the UK in several of my letters.

Would such a prosecution succeed? Who knows? But is that the aim? Or is the aim to remove, or even just harry, anyone who argues in the public domain that Scotland should be independent? As above, Stuart might have made more of it than is justified at the moment, but the future might be another thing.

 

Appendices

Letter 1 – Peter Russell to Herald

You report that Nicola Sturgeon believes that losing single market membership could devastate Scotland’s economy (“Sturgeon: A single market exit would be devastating”, The Herald, December 20).

She is correct – assuming she means the UK single market, which to Scotland is worth four times that of the EU. We also share a single land mass, a common language, and common currency, a common labour force with common skills and qualification regime and unqualified freedom of movement, a common customs and taxation regime. On top of that, we are sent £15 billion per annum to support Scottish public services. All directly controlled by a common parliament of equal constituencies, but with key competences devolved.

So why does she wish to rip Scotland out of the Union against its will?

Peter A Russell”

 

Letter 2 – My letter to Herland replying to Letter 1

Peter Russell asserts in his letter today that Scotland is “sent £15 billion per annum to support Scottish public services”, but I am certain that he knows well this £15 billion is not some kind of munificent festive gift, but Scotland’s share of the UK deficit, which we will repay by a population share deduction from the block grant to service the UK’s £1 trillion debt.

But where does Mr Russell find his £15 billion figure? This comes from GERS, the accuracy of which has been subject to challenge, both in terms of its current accuracy as well as how much it tells us about an independent Scotland. But as it’s Christmas let’s ignore that argument for now and proceed on the basis that it is worrying that Scotland would have this level of deficit.

Mr Russell bases his argument on a single year, which is generally unwise as this can be misleading, and indeed if we adopt a more historical perspective, we find a range of estimates for the accumulated surplus Scotland would have earned between 1980 and 2011/12, varying between £50 billion (Gordon McIntyre-Kemp) and £148 billion (Jim and Margaret Cuthbert) with the Scottish Government’s Fiscal Commission in the middle between £82 billion and £116 billion.

These all use data from GERS and assume Scotland would fully fund its share of pre-1980 UK debt, and maintain the same levels of expenditure on services such as health, education and defence. They differ because of different assumptions about the rate of return that could be earned from the accumulated surplus. However, assuming a rate of return identical to what the UK had to pay on gilts gives an estimate of a Scottish sovereign wealth fund of “comfortably over £100 billion” (Jim and Margaret Cuthbert), with no public-sector debt.

Thus, rather than the UK in any sense sending us money, over the last 35 years the reality is that Scotland has overall – not over just a single year – been a net contributor to the UK.

I am sure Mr Russell will find these figures contentious (to say the least). But if so, he really should explain why Scotland needs to be “sent” £15 billion to support our public services when our economy has been run by Westminster for the last 309 years? If we are, as Dr Michael Kelly asserted the other day, “Begging bowl Scotland” then perhaps we should be asking ourselves whether we are prepared to continue to allow Westminster to manage our affairs for us any longer, when they don’t seem to be making much of a job of it?

Lastly, Mr Russell asks why the First Minister wants to “to rip Scotland out of the Union against its will”? This is an odd question, as Scotland will only leave the UK when its electorate votes for this in the next referendum. Perhaps he means Ms Sturgeon is looking NOT to have Scotland ripped out of the European Union against its will?

 

Letter 3 – Peter Russell replying to my letter 2

ALASDAIR Galloway (Letters, December 23) shows two things in his account of the cash flows between Scotland and the rest of the UK.

The first is a surprisingly unsophisticated view of the economy, in that he seems to believe that revenues originating in Scotland over the past 35 years were shipped off south and straight into the pockets of the greedy English, never to return. In fact those revenues were retained within the same UK economy as the Scotland that generated them, and used for all sorts of things like social security, pensions, Regional Selective Assistance, tax cuts, the NHS.

Scotland benefited at the time from that public expenditure proportionately by population and need to the same degree as any other part of the UK, and of course continues to do so even as those revenues have declined. In these ways, the historic revenues to which Mr Galloway refers can be seen as investments which spread the risk and provide protection for an uncertain future.

The second is a certain meanness of spirit. The approach of regarding Scotland and the rest of the UK as hermetically sealed and indeed antagonistic units reflects an attitude of “what’s mine’s is mine and I am going to keep it.” The other way of looking at the same data is that the UK is a mechanism through which its different parts can share between, and support, each other for mutual benefit.

Of the above, one is the view of nationalists, and the other of social democrats and socialists. One is the philosophy of holding and keeping, and the other that of sharing, and supporting each other. I know which is more seasonal.

Happy Christmas everyone.

Peter A. Russell

 

Letter 4 – Russell’s letter re QT and Brian Cox

BBC’s Question Time is not what it used to be in the time of Sir Robin Day, or even Peter Sissons, but it still has the ability to produce some illuminating insights. Good examples are the “muddle not a fiddle” assertion of the hapless Henry McLeish and the hilarious silence of one of the SNP’s top brains, Joanna Cherry MP, when asked the simple question “what currency would an independent Scotland use?” (We are of course still waiting for an answer to that question, from Ms Cherry or anyone else at all.)

The latest edition (March 15) provided another such moment. The wealthy expatriate actor Brian Cox was asked by an audience member why he was pleading for political unity across the EU when he was committed to destroying that same unity with the rest of the UK. His answer was: “leaving England is a different thing.” In other words, to Mr Cox, England is such an exceptionally bad place that it is a uniquely unsuitable partner for Scotland, unlike France, Bulgaria, Croatia, Malta or any other country he can think of.

SNP politicians like Nicola “My granny came from Sunderland” Sturgeon or English-born Michael Russell may claim it is not the case, but the mask has slipped. They can say “some of my best friends are…” as much as they like, but we can see exactly what drives the nationalism of the likes of Mr Cox.

Peter A Russell,

Letter 5 – My letter to Herald reply to Peter Russell’s Letter 4

It was always predictable that when Brian Cox uttered the words “”leaving England is a different thing” that the Unionist side of the independence debate would be all over it like a rash. And so, it has proved, with comments such as “the truth at last”, and Peter Russell’s letter offers another example.

What Cox said immediately beforehand, in response to a question from the audience that “if unity is so important, why are you so for a Scottish referendum and Scottish independence?” is ignored in Mr Russell’s letter. Cox replies that “we wanted to stay in Europe, we didn’t want to leave Europe”, which of course is true as 62% of the EU referendum vote in Scotland was Remain. It is only after this Cox makes the “leaving England is a different thing” comment, drawing protests from some members of the audience. Even then, Cox is willing to respond, but David Dimbleby cuts him off from saying more to move to another panel member.

Had Dimbleby not done so, then some of the comment on social media would have been forestalled, because it is clear leaving the United Kingdom and leaving the European Union are quite different things because each is a different kind of Union.

The European Union is an economic Union whose powers are limited to matters of trade (so the customs union, internal market, commercial policy, consumer protection, and transport, and monetary policy for Euro countries), as well as fishing and agriculture. Other than this, the EU can only “support, coordinate or complement the action of EU countries” in areas such as tourism, sport, culture, education and health, but are explicitly not allowed to require harmonisation of any member state’s laws or regulations.

The UK, on the other hand, can be considered an example of an “incorporating political Union”, where two states – for instance England and Scotland – are entirely dissolved into a new state, This means that the powers of the state created by the political Union of 1707 are those of a normal sovereign state, and thus certainly not restricted to trade, agriculture or fishing.

Of course, in 1999, some powers – on health and education etc. – were returned to Scotland by devolution. However, recent experience shows that it is always possible for Westminster to take these powers back or attenuate them. As the Supreme Court reminded us in the case brought by Gina Miller last year, “Parliamentary sovereignty is a fundamental principle of the UK constitution”, and “Parliament has “the right to make or unmake any law whatsoever; and further, no person or body is recognised by the law as having a right to override or set aside the legislation of Parliament”.

Therefore, to compare the EU, an economic Union, mainly limited to matters of trade, to the incorporating and comprehensive political Union that is the UK is therefore not only unreasonable, but wrong, and even worse, utterly misleading. Brian Cox was correct. “Leaving England is a different thing”.

 

Letter 6 Alex Gallagher’s letter to the Herald

PETER A Russell (Letters, March 17) seems to have kicked the hornet’s nest of Nationalist reaction (Letters, March 20) by pointing out the anti-English flavour of Brian Cox’s contribution on BBC Question Time. In particular, Alasdair Galloway’s assertion that “it is wrong to compare the economic union of the EU with the political union of the UK” blithely ignores the fact that, in the context of Brexit, Nicola Sturgeon and other prominent Nationalists are currently making such comparisons on a daily, or even more frequent, basis. It sometimes appears that, contrary to Mr Galloway’s beliefs, comparing the unions of the EU and the UK is the Nationalists’ only strategy. But that’s ok. Logic, facts and evidence don’t come into it when defending the sacred cow of independence.

As for the denial that Scottish Nationalism is in any way anti-English: I’m old enough to remember when being anti-English was the only string to the SNP’s bow. In the 1970s and 80s when, incidentally, most of the current senior SNP leadership joined the party, there would be very little other motivation for doing so. That the language has been modified in recent years says more for the need to pretend moderation to buy votes than it does to the underlying emotional tug of nationalism’s need to create enemies where none exist. Brian Cox deserves our praise and thanks for disinterring the nasty reality and exposing it, once again, to the light of day.

Alex Gallagher,

 

Letter 7 – My letter replying to Alex Gallagher

Councillor Alex Gallagher claims I asserted that “it is wrong to compare the economic union of the EU with the political union of the UK”. However, this was the headline to my letter rather than anything in the letter itself, so Gallagher would do better to direct his criticism toward the headline writer.

Indeed, my letter makes precisely the sort of comparison of the two Unions that, according to Gallagher, “Nicola Sturgeon and other prominent Nationalists are currently making … on a daily, or even more frequent, basis”, that the EU is an economic Union while the UK is an incorporating political Union, thus validating Brian Cox’s claim that “leaving England is a different thing”.

More importantly however, Cox’s statement and my defence of this only has anything to do with the “nasty reality” of nationalism, in Councillor Gallagher’s imagination. Nor is there any more justification for Peter Russell’s quite sordid and ridiculous accusation that Cox’s claim means that “England is such an exceptionally bad place that it is a uniquely unsuitable partner for Scotland, unlike France, Bulgaria, Croatia, Malta or any other country he can think of”.

What is certainly clear, though, is that making such generalised smears of racism remains part of the Unionist narrative against anyone who supports Scottish independence, as well as its significance in the mindset of Unionism.

Letter 8 – Russell replying to everyone who had been critical of his friend Alex

THE replies (March 22) to Alex Gallagher’s letter of March 21 regarding anti-England sentiment as an ingredient of Scottish Nationalism are an education in themselves, notably a perfect example of “some of my best friends are…'”and, as a bonus, a quite chilling reprise of Winnie Ewing’s Thatcheresque “enemy within” rhetoric.

It is quite easy to imagine the aftermath if the Brexit referendum had turned out differently: those supporters of the SNP who support EU membership would have said “thank god for that, the EU is not perfect, but we have to live with it and seek to change it from within.”. In contrast, in the identical case of the status quo having been confirmed in the case of Scotland’s referendum in 2014, they never stop their peevish and contrived complaining and noisome agitation for a re-run.

Those of us who disagree with Scottish nationalism simply wish for the outcome of the democratic vote taken freely by Scots to be respected and accepted in the same way, and for a political environment which is focused on improving the lives of Scots and English, Welsh and Northern Irish people alike, where we work and debate together to build a better UK from within. Scottish Nationalists, however, insist on driving whatever wedge they can between us, forever putting their own narrow political interest above the greater good. Their attitude towards England is an integral part of the same divisive and debilitating whole, no matter how much they try to excuse it or explain it away.

Peter A Russell