Thursday, 30 April 2015

Hysteria Come-All-Ye

Continuing the transcripts of my contributions to Michael Greenwell’s The Polling Station podcast over the last few days. You can listen to it each day here – it's always well worth it. Even my bit.


Watching the Andrew Marr Show is a great way of getting a hangover, even if you haven’t actually been drinking. It’s got an intoxicating title sequence, with the subliminal message “Hey, look at this hip and quirky guy!”, as Action Man Andy buzzes past London landmarks on his turquoise scooter to the accompaniment of a jazzy wail with urgent diddly-dum undertones. However, in almost no time your head begins to throb with disappointment, as his first guest appears and it becomes crashingly obvious he’s forgotten to think up any questions.

This week Andy sat like an utter berk, offering no challenge as Boris Johnson, looking more and more like the bastard offspring of Caligula and the Honey Monster, accidentally-on-purpose mangled the SNP’s name three times.  “The Scottish Nationalist Party”, trumpeted the blond bombshell, in that schoolboy prankster fashion that’s made him the idol of the Conservatosser Party.

Boris’s tour de farce marked another stage in the Tories’ ramping up of anti-SNP hysteria, which now includes posters in English marginal seats showing Alex Salmond as a pickpocket.

Abandoning conventional electioneering in favour of outright slander is a time-honoured Tory tactic, and it’s much cheaper than employing a whole bunch of researchers on zero-hours contracts, so it’s a win all round.  Pundits agree, probably because they’ve all read the same press release, that this approach is “cutting through” to swing voters, who are deserting UKIP and going back to the Tories, simultaneously lowering the average IQ of both parties.

The Mail on Sunday, the preferred newspaper of the party’s goose-stepping wing, is playing an increasingly strident role in this demonising of democracy.  Its headline, the runaway winner of Terminological Inexactitude of the Day, was also - in its own fashion - a major scoop.  We all knew Theresa May was a feckless Home Secretary with terrorists running rings round her, but who’d have thought she’d also turn out to be a head-banging fantasist who thinks the Abdication was a bigger deal than World War Two?


Star turn on the day's whirligig of lies was the Telegraph’s front-page letter, ostensibly signed by leaders of 5,000 small and medium-sized businesses, saying how brilliant things were under the Tories’ long-term psychopathic plan, and pleading for 5 more years so the nation could be completely brought to its knees.

As you might suspect, the whole thing was a concoction of Conservative Campaign HQ spearheaded by Karren Brady, best known as Lord Sugar’s annoying wee clipe on The Apprentice, who’d been trawling the Internet for support for weeks.  Of course, in that time approximately 5,195,000 businesses hadn’t signed the letter, but in the wonderful world of propaganda, where cat-sick can be passed off as cottage cheese, that didn’t matter a jot.  This was an important intervention in the election, so we should all lay down our cereal spoons and LISTEN.

It was reminiscent of the choreographed news-mugging the Yes campaign regularly experienced, but with one significant difference.  In the run-up to the referendum we were up against ruthless professionals with steel-trap minds, whereas in this case the Tories seemed to have outsourced the job to a confederation of village idiots. 

Not only had their minions left glaring virtual fingerprints all over it, as Andrew Neil pointedly observed on the Daily Politics show, but the list of signatories was full of duplicates, people who weren’t directors or shareholders, characters from Game of Thrones and various anagrams of Grant Shapps. “It’s a shambles!” proclaimed Neil, his wiry thatch sparking with indignation, as the Tories’ human shield of the day, Treasury minister David Gauke, adopted the vaguely forlorn expression of a bloke who’d forgotten to wear his incontinence pants.

So was the whole episode really “catastrophic backfiring stunt of the day”?  In a just universe it would be.  But, gob-smackingly, a few hours later, the BBC 6 o’clock news was still reporting the letter as if it mattered, when the real story should have been the Tories trying to defraud the electorate. Meanwhile, Andrew Neil’s awesome demolition job might as well have been a dream.

What does all this tell us?  Three things:

(1) You couldn’t make it up.
(2) Unfortunately, they can.
(3) If someone offers you cottage cheese, be very careful.


As the knackered old baggage carousel of anti-SNP slurs creaks depressingly round, one of the claims constantly trundling into view is the idea that a large contingent of SNP MPs exerting influence on policy throughout the UK is somehow illegitimate. Hang on, what about all those warm words we got from the Ministry of Patronising Pish?  “We want you to LEAD the UK, not leave it.”  Did we miss the small print again?  “Sorry, chaps, you’re only allowed to lead it where we tell you, and, just to make sure, we’ll be standing behind you with a cattle prod.”

This idea that the SNP having clout simply isn’t cricket underpinned Kaye Adams’ interview, or perhaps the term should be “sneerathon”, with Nicola Sturgeon yesterday.  Those of you with offices to commute to may be unaware of Kaye, whose helpline and counselling service for Unionist bampots is broadcast on Radio Scotland at 9 am.  If you’ve a tendency to sleep in, however, her voice will get you up and out of bed faster than anything, apart from waking up next to a horse’s head.

Yesterday Kaye managed to be snooty, condescending, dismissive, passive-aggressive, hostile, and often all five at once, but that’s like saying water is wet.  It was her line of questioning in one wee section towards the end that jarred like a comb-and-tissue paper in a string quartet.  I can’t quite capture her niggly tone, but let me paraphrase.

“What about voters in the rest of the UK who’ll have you exerting influence but can’t vote you out?  You’re not even standing outside Scotland.  Do you have a problem with that as a democrat?”

You won’t be surprised, since I’m obviously completely biased, to hear that Nicola dealt with the question with aplomb.  Impressively, she also managed it without lamping Kaye with the nearest heavy object.

But seriously, folks, it’s disturbing to see this pernicious “illegitimacy” tosh constantly tip-toeing into the debate. A bloc of even 59 MPs out of 650 in no way constitutes illegitimate influence, unless the other 591 are cardboard cut-outs too stupid or obsessed with duckponds to do their jobs properly. 
And if, by chance, some of them are, I’m sure Scotland can offer their constituents a few tips on clearing ‘em out in 2020. That’s the power of democracy. 

Saturday, 25 April 2015

Sweet Little Lies

Here’s an edited transcript of my contributions to Michael Greenwell’s The Polling Station podcast over the last week. You can listen to it each day here – I’ll be back on it on Monday, and before then Michael has plenty of other fab guests to knock your socks off.


Hats off to our Prime Minister for a quintessentially Cameronish performance on Sunday’s Andrew Marr show.  Being interviewed by Marr is like being mugged by a blancmange, so you rarely get the chance to show off your core skills, but even so Dave rose to the challenge and produced a 15-minute masterclass in tetchiness, obfuscation, bribery and downright scaremongering, including the following brazen but completely unfounded assertions.

(1)    Food bank usage, roughly 62,000 per annum when the Coalition took office, had shot up to a mind-boggling one million because… wait for it… the Tories had considerately begun the practice of advertising food banks at job centres, and not because the Department of Work and Pensions was being run by an incompetent psychopath.

(2)    Despite mountains of evidence, Dave wasn’t too feart to debate with ordinary folk, but was in fact the only party leader out meeting the public.  This will be news to the extraordinarily gregarious Nicola Sturgeon and even to Jim Murphy, who may spend his life surrounded by rent-a-crowd placard-carriers but still finds time to yell at pensioners in the street.

(3)    Surprise, surprise, a post-election deal involving the SNP, who “didn’t care about England, Wales and Northern Ireland” and didn’t want to see “our country” succeed, would be “calamitous” and “frightening”.  Labour, Dave claimed, were already planning to cancel road projects in the South of England, presumably because the SNP’s chief fixer Angus Robertson had threatened to break their knuckles if they didn’t.

Best of all, the interview provoked a Twitter intervention from none other than Jim "not a spoof account, you couldn't make it up" Murphy himself, castigating Dave for his obsession with the SNP.  Dave may have walked away with the day’s prize for telling porkies, but when it comes to unintentional irony, there’s still no-one to touch creepy Jim.


Sorry, folks, have to bite the bullet and mention the Daily Telegraph again. Once a respectable paper of record, albeit with the manner of a dyspeptic brigadier general, it’s deteriorated in recent years into a spiteful, hate-filled rag you wouldn’t use for wrapping your chips in case they got covered in drool.

Having been taken to the cleaners over Nicola’s chat with the French Consul General, it’s out for revenge – and the SNP manifesto launch was its big chance.

Out came the big hitters.  Boris Johnson, who knows the Latin word for everything and the true meaning of nothing, likened the SNP to King Herod, Attila the Hun and voracious weevils munching the timbers of a church tower.  Iain Martin, ostensibly a journalist but actually no more than a puerile Twitter troll, compared the manifesto launch to a Nuremberg rally.   

But the big lie came in the morning headline. SNP PREPARED TO PARALYSE ARMED FORCES UNLESS TRIDENT IS SCRAPPED.  It turned out this was all Stuart Hosie’s fault for innocuously remarking on Sunday Politics that the SNP would vote against spending they didn’t support.  Bleedin’ obvious, you might think, but it inspired the Telegraph to concoct a nightmare scenario of the defence budget being frozen, Our Boys going unpaid and having to forage in the countryside for nuts and berries, and Vladimir Putin moon-walking unchallenged in Trafalgar Square.

The only problem is, even if this ludicrous interpretation were true, the maximum number of SNP MPs would be 59.  To paralyse defence spending, 268 of the remaining 591 would have to vote with them.  Including nearly all of the Tories. A brilliant way to spite Ed Miliband, to be sure, but also electoral suicide, don’t’cha think?


The prize for “boggle-eyed hysteria of the day” went to snivelling wretch Piers Morgan, who oozed himself on to the pages of the Daily Mail to describe Nicola Sturgeon as “the most dangerous woman in the world”. Yikes!  Previously she’d been the most dangerous woman in politics, then Britain. Where would her ambitions end?  Was an army of Cybernats, under the influence of a control device masquerading as a coffee-maker, already constructing a Death Star to give her dominion over the universe?

Actually, the truth was more mundane.  Piers, who’s an expert in faking a good scoop, had simply plagiarised Lord George Robertson’s Big Book of Burbling Idiocy, specifically the chapter where an independent Scotland ditches Trident, NATO instantly falls apart and the forces of darkness obliterate civilisation, leaving only cockroaches. Including, very possibly, Piers Morgan.

As for “terminological exactitudes”, well, that too was a no-brainer.  Which is appropriate, because it came from Jim Murphy. Breaking the embarrassed silence after his come-uppance from cold-eyed head office hit man Chuka Umunna, he’d blurted out his now-infamous Tweet that the SNP manifesto had “broken a promise” over a second referendum.

Well, no, Jim, “once in a generation” wasn’t a promise, it was a personal opinion from Alex Salmond, who carefully described it in those terms, as you’d have heard if you hadn’t been yelling “SNP BAD” at the hatstand.  And, even if it was a promise, it hasn’t been broken because the SNP haven’t actually called a referendum. They didn’t rule it out, but neither did they rule out free unicorn-flavoured ice-cream for every teenager or Scotland annexing China.

Anyhow, what’s it got to do with politicians?  We, the people, will decide.  Terrifying, isn’t it?


Where to begin with the Lib Dems?

They might as well talk to the trees as chop them down to make paper for a manifesto, because after the 2010 tuition fees fiasco, when they inexplicably mixed up the terms “abolish” and “increase threefold”, no-one will believe a single thing they say.  Their manifestoes are like a box of chocolates from hell:  not only don’t you know what you’re going to get, but it doesn’t really matter, because all the chocolates turn out to be rabbit droppings anyway.

None of this stopped them launching their Scottish manifesto at a patisserie in South Queensferry, where the flakiness of the pastry blended in with that of the politicians. Willie Rennie, needing to brush up his CV in good time for 2016, paraded his barista skills on a coffee-making machine, while everyone else looked around for plant pots into which they could surreptitiously tip the results.

Voters may be tunnelling with their bare hands through concrete to get away from the Lib Dems, but Willie remains touchingly, albeit glaikitly, optimistic.  He insists the electorate will give his colleagues another chance, because they offer balance and a middle way.  For example, faced with a choice of four nuclear submarines or zero, they opt for two, so the UK can still have all the downsides of nuclear weapons while deploying them in a completely half-arsed fashion.

Meanwhile, Nick Clegg was desperately bribing public sector workers by promising them pay rises in line with inflation – currently nil, but let that pass.  Everybody knows this policy has no chance of surviving the vampiric leer of George Osborne or the mad staring gaze of Ed Balls.  Like most Lib Dem policies, it’s like a sheet of lasagne:  it may look firm at the moment, but as soon as the heat’s on it’ll soften up and be submerged in a load of mince.


Ah, First Minister’s Questions, always a bonanza for the terminological inexactitude hunter.

Holyrood may not be able to emulate Westminster’s cacophony of braying, harrumphing and honking from our testosterone-fuelled imperial masters. But if you’re after sanctimonious guff, fake outrage and hilarious stairheid rammies, FMQs is the very dab.  Even if afterwards your ears feel as if they’ve been massaged with rusty cheese graters, at least you get some giggles along the way.

The cause celebre today was SNP candidate Paco McSheepie, or rather his disappointingly humdrum alter ego Neil Hay.  If you read the Scottish Daily Mail, he’s a vile Cybernat troll who’d benefit from a good tasering.  If you read Wings Over Scotland, he’s just an ordinary bloke who occasionally used to re-tweet satire and express his own views clumsily.  If you read both the Mail and Wings, seek professional help immediately.

Anyway, Mr Hay had apologised, so he was obviously guilty of something. “Sack him!” demanded Kezia Dugdale, even though, with postal voting already under way, this would create chaos. “Let the voters decide!” snapped back Nicola Sturgeon, confronting Labour with its worst nightmare.

I’ve got a feeling the voters may decide the whole thing is a bum rap, but as I’ve also placed a bet on Jeremy Clarkson opening a charm school before 2020 you’re entitled to have a few reservations about my judgment.  The real big lie  -  not of the day, but of the past three years – is the implication, snidely whispered by much of the press, that it’s always people on the pro-indy side who are doing the trolling and abusing, and never the pure-hearted Unionists.

That was why it was so gratifying to see Nicola follow up with a haymaker. “Will Kezia Dugdale take action on Ian Smart?” she asked, naming the high-profile Labour-supporting lawyer, much feted in fantouche BBC Scotland circles, who regularly regales his Twitter followers with descriptions of the SNP as fascist scum.  Poor Kezia looked totally discombobulated, as if a mongrel had just chewed up her favourite Barbie doll.  Well and truly telt.

It was blatant whataboutery from Nicola, of course, but sometimes – at the risk of sounding like David Cameron -  it’s the Right Thing To Do.

Want to hear more lies?  Click right here.

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Aural Diversions

Don't worry, folks, the next blog post will be up before too long , but in the meantime you can find me pontificating about the election campaign, and the porkies politicians and others are coming out with, towards the end of Michael Greenwell's excellent daily "Polling Station" podcasts.

The podcasts also feature Michael having interesting conversations with Ivan McKee, Mark Frankland and Gillian Martin (alias MisssyM), so they're just about the best 9 minutes or thereabouts you can spend.  Join us!

Episode 12: Education

Episode 11: Project Fear 2

Episode 10: SNP Economic Policy

Episode 9: Indyref Mark 2

Episode 8: The House of Lords

All the previous episodes, which don't feature me, but are just as much fun.

Sunday, 5 April 2015


Sad news for rodent-faced wretches in malodorous raincoats:  the newspapers won’t be needing you to rummage through politicians’ bins any more, and you’re all on zero-hours contracts, effective immediately.  After all, what’s the point in paying for pieces of evidence that, however compelling, stink the office out and make your colleagues boak uncontrollably, when you can just come straight out and print a pack of lies?

That seems to sum up the new journalism, spearheaded by the Daily Telegraph, which at least had some self-respect in the old days, when it preached the patronising, po-faced piffle of privileged persons, but now waves its knickers shamelessly above its head as it pimps the agenda of tax-dodging billionaires. It doesn’t even bother checking its stories these days; as long as they don’t bugger up the HSBC share price or the Barclay brothers’ pampered Channel Islands lifestyle, let the presses roll!

Under the malign influence of its Scottish Editor, half-man-half-bog-brush Alan Cochrane, the Telegraph has long been squirting poison about the SNP into its readers’ eyes.  No wonder delicate dimwit Anna Soubry quivered as if she’d had an ice lolly shoved down her front when Andrew Marr plonked her on a sofa alongside the terrifying Alex Salmond. 

So how the Telegraph’s collective bile duct must have sizzled with anxiety at the prospect of Thursday’s Media City Mega-Hustings!  Nicola Sturgeon, fresh from rockin’ the SECC and making the other parties’ conferences look like they’d taken place in broom cupboards, was about to introduce herself to the British public. The fiction of Salmond as the bogey-man, still secretly in charge with a jelly-baby version of Ed Miliband in his pocket, looked set to be ripped apart like a paper hanky in the wash.

But if surgin’ Sturgeon’s emergin’, you can be sure a Project Fear smear’s near.  The carefully-chosen agent was Graeme Archer, a hitherto unregarded widget in the Telegraph’s hyper-bollocks machine, who’d had an Ayrshire upbringing uncannily similar to Nicola’s, except that it had left him with a cultural cringe beyond the help of even the sturdiest crowbar. 

In an argument of brain-frazzling absurdity, Graeme portrayed West Sound Radio news and adverts as nannying, Scotland under the SNP as a state-run gulag and, consequently, Nicola as “the most dangerous woman in politics”.  You’d have thought she was about to roar on stage astride a motorbike, hurl a phial of anthrax into the audience, lamp her opponents with a shovel and hold Julie Etchingham hostage until proclaimed Empress of the Universe.

As the world now knows, the result of the debate was “no clear winner”, roughly translatable as “Bugger! Nicola won everyone over, let’s pretend it didn’t happen”.  But, with voters in England busily Googling how they could vote SNP, the cat wasn’t merely out of the bag, it was performing cartwheels interspersed with V-signs. Across Britain, as the prospect of a bloc of SNP MPs standing up for their constituents loomed, clock towers began to collapse and rumours of a honey-for-tea shortage circulated.

Once again the criminally lax journalistic standards of the Telegraph came to the Establishment’s rescue.  With timing that’s in no way clumsy or suspicious, as long as you regularly drill holes in your head and fill them with custard, an explosive memo had reached the desk of Simon Johnson, the Telegraph’s Scottish Political Editor.  Perhaps a thieving magpie had swiped it off a desk at the Scottish Office, or a mysterious wind had blown it capriciously across London, or it had been accidentally e-mailed thanks to a security loophole in the government’s antique Windows XP system.  It’s none of our business, really, which is why the information will be redacted when the enquiry reports in 70 years’ time after everyone involved is dead.

Anyway, the memo was one person’s uncertain recollection of what another person said he had heard in a conversation between two other people a few weeks previously.  By Zinoviev Letter standards, that isn’t even a picture of someone’s willy scrawled on a postcard.  All the Telegraph had to do to determine its reliability was speak to any of the three participants in the original conversation.  Instead, they obtained unchallenged “SNP bad” quotes from Jim Murphy and Willie Rennie, who presumably just happened to be standing there at the time, emblazoned the story on their front page and got straight on the blower to the BBC.

Well, unless you’ve been voyaging on the dark side of the moon, you all know what happened next.  The French Ambassador, the Consul General and Nicola herself all denied that she'd said anything like the remarks attributed to her, and - assuming the UK is serious about maintaining diplomatic relations with the rest of the world - that should be totally, unequivocally, piss-off-and-don’t-bother-me-again the end of it.  Everybody knows it’s a cack-handed smear and, even if MI6 came up with some illicit recordings purporting to suggest otherwise, we’d just assume it was the BBC’s James Cook putting on funny voices.

But we shouldn’t simply leave it there, should we?  This whole episode is shabbier than Worzel Gummidge after a night on the razzle, and there are several organisations whose putrid machinations could do with being illuminated by the taser of truth.

J’accuse the Telegraph, not of slimy propaganda, because we can take that as read, but of total abandonment of journalism in any sense of the word.  I’ve done 97 times more fact-checking today than you could be arsed to do with your Scottish Office “bombshell”, and I’m only writing a rib-tickling blog for my social media pals. Why don’t you change the title of your scrofulous little rag to Fantasist Playground Bully Daily and have done with it?

J’accuse the Labour Party, with the honourable exception of Malcolm Chisholm and a few others, of letting blinkered hatred of the SNP drive them to chunter on about today’s allegations long after everybody knew they were total pish.  What the hell did Ed Miliband think he was playing at, effectively accusing the French diplomatic corps of lying?  Maybe, even if Nicola never said it, he really does feel, deep in a neglected corner of his hard drive, he’s not fit to be Prime Minister?

J’accuse the Lib Dems, in particular Alistair Carmichael, the thinking man’s Rab C Nesbitt, who’s featured in a few of his Telegraph buddy Simon Johnson's SNP-bashing articles and, surprise surprise, bears responsibility for the department that spilled the beans. And how come Willie Rennie, of all people, was in the right place at the right time to provide a quote?  You wouldn’t normally trust that bloke to be facing the correct way round at a urinal.  I wouldn’t say the whole thing smells, but my olfactory receptors are beginning to consider industrial action.

J’accuse the BBC, who leapt on the initial allegation like a starving man on a tub of Kentucky Fried Chicken and treated the subsequent denials, particularly from the French diplomats, like Kevin the Teenager contemplating a spot of room-tidying. Some reports were so weasel-worded they should have come with half a pound of tuppenny rice. And as for James Cook and his high-pitched “Och, but it’s what you all think, isn’t it?” questioning of Nicola in George Square: spare us the boyish butter-wouldn’t-melt cuteness, son, you’re getting a yellow card.

J’accuse the Civil Service of outrageous politically-motivated fiddling. If the memo’s wrong, do you intend to drug-test your staff more effectively in future or just start entering them for the Booker Prize? Even if, against all reason, it’s correct, why was it leaked?  Is driving a double-decker bus through the Official Secrets Act acceptable in this case, because you regard certain democratic choices as against the “national interest”? Would you like to tell the electorate of England, Wales and Northern Ireland what parties you’d rather they didn’t vote for?

Finally, j’accuse anyone who thinks this sort of crap is acceptable, or unimportant in the context of the Big Picture, or worth putting up with because the Union is such a beacon of fan-dabby-doziness, of criminal complacency.  The democracy-subverting bastards who are engineering all this behind the curtain may have their hands full with us the moment, but rest assured they’ll be yanking your chain soon.

And you probably won’t even notice until it’s too late.