Friday, 16 April 2021

The concerted smearing of Alex Salmond only exposes the servile mediocrity of Scotland's 'mainstream' media

As campaigning for the Scottish Election intensifies, so does the smearing and vilification of Alex Salmond.

From its founding event, the classic signs of a concerted take-down of Salmond and his newly-formed Alba Party have been all too apparent. 

Whenever you see the 'mainstream' media, and particularly it's liberal commentariat, running major adverse 'news' and opinion pieces on such persons it's a fair bet they've been marked down as an immediate and present threat to powerful and establishment interests.

And there are useful illustrations of just how pernicious that response can be.  

Jeremy Corbyn and Julian Assange are both, in their own ways, figures who have threatened to disrupt and expose the prevailing order. Both have been subjected to intensive attacks on their characters in order to demonise and marginalise them in the public eye. 

It was notable how, without a shred of actual evidence, the weaponised 'antisemitism' tag was enough to help take Corbyn down. 

The enduring persecution and torture of Assange has seen another such offensive in containing and punishing those who dare expose the crimes and deceit of power, all serving as a threatening reminder to prospective others. 

As Caitlin Johnstone's excellent smear-debunking guide on the Assange case explains:

"If everyone can be paced into viewing him with hatred and revulsion, they’ll be far less likely to take WikiLeaks publications seriously, and they’ll be far more likely to consent to Assange’s imprisonment, thereby establishing a precedent for the future prosecution of leak-publishing journalists around the world. Someone can be speaking 100 percent truth to you, but if you’re suspicious of him you won’t believe anything he’s saying."

The same kind of media-generated campaign is now underway against Alex Salmond.

And the process is remarkably similar: 

  • Select favoured smear - sex slur, antisemite, Kremlin lover, variation of  
  • Media outlet or hostile opponent initiates allegation
  • Individual denies 'charge'
  • Denial amplified as 'news'
  • 'Opinion' columns take up attack
  • More enemies of individual pile-on
  • Pile-on covered as further 'news'
  • Individual issues further denial
  • 'News' of 'denial story' grows
  • Individual is bogged down in 'denial story'
  • Actual task of running election campaign, exposing the powerful, public interest whistleblowing, all now obscured by 'character story'
  • Drip-drip of smears and slurs feed into public 'consciousness'
  • Associations made, suspicions registered, impressions formed
  • Individual damned and marginalised
  • Damage done

Alex Salmond represents a substantive political threat to the Union. If the establishment could have found any 'dirt' on him prior to or during the 2014 independence campaign you can be sure it would have been used. 

But, with public support for independence undiminished, such forces are now using anything at hand to break him. Rather than engage what he actually stands for, the modus operandi is to slander, feed suspicion and destroy.

Salmond has already been through a trial of endurance. Hounded and subjected to unwarranted civil procedures and police investigations, he has faced a criminal court led by a female judge, his defence backed by numerous female witnesses, and been cleared of all charges by a female majority jury. One prior incident of 'inappropriate behaviour' has been privately apologised for and mutually resolved. He has also won the civil case against those who used and abused the procedures to deal with such matters. 

This is a man who has been relentlessly persecuted, who has contemplated being jailed, his life almost ruined. Yet those responsible for that set of malicious actions remain in office. And an entire establishment campaign is still being waged to bring him down with more mendacious messaging.

On 7 April, BBC Radio Scotland's Good Morning Scotland ran an audaciously loaded line of questioning on Salmond's supposed 'links' to Russia and Vladimir Putin. Salmond comperes an independently-produced show which, like many others, is aired by RT. This gave presenter Gary Robertson the supposed cue to drill Salmond on his 'connections' to the Kremlin and, astonishingly, whether he thought Russia was behind the alleged chemical attack on the Skripals in Salisbury. Though preceded, in hostile fashion, by some actual points on independence, Robertson spent longer on this 'topic' than any other, consistently repeating his risible questions. With so much at stake in this election, and with so many immediate issues to probe and discuss, it is truly revealing that the BBC made the decision to run this line of 'enquiry' and give it such air time.

The 'story' of Salmond's 'denial' was, of course, picked up by the entirety of the Scottish press, notably the Daily Record's vitriolic Paul Hutcheon, and turned into predictably shrill headlines. The same 'story' was then exploited by every opposition party, including, and most vehemently, the SNP. 

Altogether, a neat example of how to construct, amplify and peddle a smear. 

However, Salmond has shown an admirable ability to take on such media and its smear tactics. 

In an illuminating interview, hosted by political analyst James Kelly, Salmond gave vent to his feelings on the dismal state of the BBC, STV and other 'mainstream' media in Scotland, stating:

"These are people who should look to themselves and what their public duty is."

He also reinforced such points in another discussion with Galician journalist Pilar Fernandez:  

"The establishment of these organisations is totally and utterly decrepit...They're incapable of organising their coverage in an intelligent, or fair, or impartial manner...In the case of the BBC, well, it's par for the course."

In a further disgraceful interview, LBC presenter Iain Dale also tried to run the same 'Kremlin-serving' and 'inappropriate person' smear lines. 

Again, as Dale was to discover, Salmond showed himself not only adept in his own defence, but ready to shine a critical light right back on the media running such smears.

Salmond has no need to express contrition for appearing on RT. As he reminded Dale, his programme is made by an independent company and hosted without interference. 

More usefully, Salmond's critics should be mounting serious interrogations of the BBC, and thinking about their own appearances on it, British state media having the worst record in world history in fronting imperialist propaganda and covering for the UK's mass crimes against humanity.

That damning truth cannot be countenanced by such journalists, just as it's now beyond the SNP leadership itself, a party now in the grip of anti-Russian hysteria, as amplified by the NATO-promoting, MI5-liaising Westminster duo Stewart McDonald and Alyn Smith.

Their relentless attacks on Salmond, Russia and RT are now part of the same establishment agenda.

And it's that very same set of slurs that are being repeatedly run by Scotland's 'leading political journalists', Paul Hutcheon, Tom Gordon, David Leask, Kenny Farquharson, David Clegg and others.

Lamentably, a further 'left-liberal' commentariat in Scotland have joined in this petty denigration of Salmond, with their posturing cries of 'Kremlin stooge', 'ego trip' and 'inappropriate person'.

Few amongst this parochial media class have made any serious effort to address the actual dynamics of the independence issue, the SNP's refusal to deliver it, why that has opened up new political space, bringing Alba into play, and how it came to be led by Salmond. Instead, a major political development, requiring commensurate analysis, has been reduced to sneering jibes and woke virtue-speak. 

There's no acknowledgment either that substantial sections of women are not only comfortable with Salmond's leadership, but have abandoned the SNP for Alba because they see it as a much greater protector of women's rights. Indeed the majority of Alba candidates are women. 

Where's the real critical analysis of how all that came about on Sturgeon's watch, particularly given her own avowed feminism?

Another such attack line has been to denounce Salmond and Alba as 'homophobic', as in a particularly ugly message from BBC-favoured political commentator Gerry Hassan.

Impressively, Salmond called-out Hassan's mendacious comment in his interview with Dale.

(Presumably concerned at this and the damage to his 'academic reputation', Hassan later took the tweet down.)

Hassan has been pouring out a whole range of these facile claims, from 'Kremlin paymaster' and 'male Alba', to 'reactionary Salmond'.

The crude attempt to taint Salmond and Alba in these ways demonstrates just how readily such media have pandered to an 'on-board' identity politics, failing even to acknowledge Salmond's own past record on such matters. 

Salmond, of course, was the First Minister who introduced same sex marriage in Scotland. 

Alba's women's 'and equalities statement also includes a very clear pledge to defend all minority rights, initiate a citizens' assembly to look at the gender recognition issue, and to work in a much more consensual way over these matters than what's been going on inside a highly-controlled SNP. 

Attempts to portray Alba as some kind of right-leaning entity are similarly spurious. Essentially, this is a left-of-centre social democratic party, with a primary focus on independence. Indeed, with figures like Kenny MacAskill, Chris McEleny, Michelle Ferns and George Kerevan on board, it stands considerably to the left of anything currently evident within the SNP leadership. Forthcoming Alba policies are also likely to veer leftwards of the SNP's essential neoliberalism. The key appeal, for now, is the vital opening it presents for an immediate and more effective set of routes to independence. 

It's also well worth remembering that the Alba Party itself was founded by admirable leftist investigative journalist Laurie Flynn, someone the current media crop couldn't remotely hope to match.  

All told, this whole set of events has revealed the dire poverty and shameful prostration of 'mainstream' journalism in Scotland. Likewise with much of its liberal-left online circle.  

Little wonder a serious indy-pushing blogging community is gaining rapid attention and support - feeling the same hostile backlash for doing so.   

As the entire effort to ruin Salmond has shown, there's a deep seam of political and establishment corruption to be mined and exposed here. But there's a dearth of serious investigative journalists willing to do so. 

And the continuing denigration of Salmond in the course of this campaign has been another example of a service media lining up with the prevailing order to break a dangerous and threatening figure.   

Glenn Greenwald has called the British media the most servile in the world. That's quite an indictment. 

And there's a particular case study of it to be viewed here, right now, in Scotland.

Sunday, 4 April 2021

The simple case for Alba and #MaxTheYes as the way to independence

The Scottish Election on 6 May represents the most vital and perhaps last realistic chance we might have for securing independence in the foreseeable future.

In approaching it, we should be aware of what has led to this crucial impasse, and how we can best utilise the opportunity.

In positive anticipation of that task, all independence-seeking people should be directing their energies in making the most assertive case possible for leaving this defunct and all-constraining Union, while being clear about the reasons for still being held captive by it.

How we got to this juncture 

It should be glaringly obvious by now that there is no realistic prospect of Boris Johnson or any other political defender of the British state granting, permitting or facilitating the means of its disintegration. 

The near-death experience for the Union in 2014, and significant rise in support for independence since, means that it will not risk allowing another referendum. Any measured view of how we now advance independence should start from this primary point of recognition. 

As such, relentless condemnation of Johnson and cries of 'he must respect the democratic rights of Scotland' is totally wasted energy. The more useful question to ask here is why Ian Blackford and the SNP are still spouting this futile line from their secure positions at Westminster.

Beyond what we now expect of Johnson and a rigid British establishment lies the more obstructive problems and political failings of Nicola Sturgeon's own party and government.

Most notably:

  • The SNP's centrist politics, a Growth Commission-led neoliberalism that has inhibited radical economic and social development. This rightward drift has dulled any party/governmental ambition for serious change, resulting in devolutionary complacency and Westminster compliance, while also locking Scotland into UK 'defence' interests and unwanted NATO militarism.

  • Sturgeons's presidential-styled leadership, party-first authority and centralising control, resulting in multiple erosions of internal party democracy, ruthless purging of opponents and damaging divisions. 

  • The takeover of the SNP by identity politics and its zealot adherents, resulting in a fixation with the GRA and Hate Crime bills, the demotion of women's concerns, and a now more disturbing civil climate. There must be justice and protection for all in society, but these authoritarian impositions are not the way to realise it.

  • The unconscionable pursuit of Alex Salmond by an inner elite, their malign attempts to put him in jail, and the sordid efforts to cover their own careers and political backs when duly exposed.

  • The Scottish Government's failings over Covid, in its default acceptance of Westminster policies and 'mitigations'. Sturgeon has also refused to present the Covid crisis in Scotland as a public health emergency that could have been much better handled as an independent state.

  • The SNP's failure to deliver independence. The most damning reason of all, and the primary context for the emergence of an Alba Party and associated Yes forces. Obsessed with reversing Brexit, the lost years, wasted resources and unused multiple mandates for independence has left a deeply disillusioned and alienated movement seeking alternative strategies. Beyond all the 'Salmond's ego' smears and deflection, it is Sturgeon's and the SNP's own repeated failure to pursue independence that has created this impasse and consequent space for Alba. 

It should also now be obvious to all serious pro-independence people why the Unionist press, media and wider establishment are pitching for Sturgeon at the expense of Salmond. He's an immediate threat to the Union. She isn't. There's a common set of interests at play here in attacking Salmond and talking-down independence, which is why Sturgeon has been so keen to engage and feed such media.

How we use the opportunity 

The sole task for the independence movement is actually gaining independence. And it is now a greater potential reality than at any time in the last, lost six years. 

The arrival of Alba is, effectively, the re-manifestation, and all the energetic optimism, of the 2014 Yes movement.

The frustration and resentment many Yes people have felt towards the SNP leadership in the new political landscape since that momentous event is understandable. It’s been a legitimate response to a politics of prevarication and betrayal. 

But that shouldn't be used now to cloud rational assessment and mature political action. 

Serious advocates for indy within the SNP fold should also recognise that the presence of Alba can only help raise the stakes for independence.

All such forces should be uplifted by the significant political opening now before us.

Kenny MacAskill puts it well: 

"Alba has already transformed this from a rather dull election, where the questions were whether the SNP could win a majority and who would come second. Indyref 2 was only to be a debating point, with the SNP accepting a Johnson veto but the Prime Minister making it clear he’s not granting one. There was to be just enough rhetoric to allow Tory and SNP leaderships to rally the faithful without threatening the status quo."

The arrival of Alba - with the gracious endorsements of AFI and ISP - has made this election an indy game-changer.

Whatever one's party leanings, or none, this is a vital chance for independence. Successful electoral returns for Alba will raise the pro-indy parliamentary majority, change the political configuration of the indy parties, and, most significantly, open up the very options for delivering independence.

That's the crucial opening any serious advocate for independence must now engage.

Which means two simple actions: 

  • Give your Constituency vote to SNP
  • Give your Regional List vote to Alba

This is not about prioritising one vote over the other. 

It's about #BothVotesYes and #MaxTheYes 

As The Proclaimers simply state it:

"We're backing Alba for the Scots Parliamentary elections in May. We want to build as big a majority as possible towards putting pressure on Westminster to grant Indyref2. Vote Alba on your list vote."

Impressively, Alba has established itself in a very short space of time. If it can drive up its vote to anywhere beyond 6 per cent share of the list vote it starts to look like an even more effective force. 

The vagaries of the D'Hondt system show that independence-seeking voters giving the SNP both votes are wasting their list vote on a massive scale, not only depriving seats to another indy party but keeping Unionists in place.  

There's also the reverse paradox here that if indy people don't give their constituency vote to the SNP, any loss of those seats for the SNP only raises its chances on the list, thus threatening Alba's own list hopes. 

Think of that constituency vote for the SNP both as a necessary addition to an overall pro-indy majority and - in improving the prospect of more Alba list seats - as a necessary check on any sole SNP control of the indy agenda. Practicality and principle.

It's also important to see that the Unionist media aren't just attacking Salmond and Alba because they see them as a real threat to the Union, they're doing so to try and protect those very Unionist seats which Alba now threaten to take.

More fundamentally, it's also important to remember that all pro-indy votes, as with all pro-indy parties, should be regarded as a means to an eventual end. For serious independence supporters, the entire purpose of the SNP, as now with Alba, is to get to that point. 

All other issues, debates and, yes, even political hostilities will continue to be played out before, during and after that event - which, one hopes, will generate a whole further new set of radical political possibilities and openings.

A big Alba parliamentary presence will raise the immediate case for independence. Anyone voting for Alba will expect them to move quickly on pushing for alternative options should, as seems likely, Westminster refuse another referendum. 

Even with expected resistance from the SNP, it keeps the issue to the forefront, live and prominent. With any new supermajority mandate, the SNP leadership can finally be pushed into action.

Nicola Sturgeon has made much noise about refusing to work with Alex Salmond. The reality is usually very different in the actual theatre of parliamentary politics. Whatever the case, it's of little relevance to the key impact any Alba presence will have. Disreputable as these statements are in not just taking-down Salmond but talking-down independence, Sturgeon's position, reputation and legacy will become much more crucial if Alba does well. She must at that point raise her game, rather than be seen as continually stalling, and risk being remembered as the leader who split her party and failed on indy.

All independence supporters in this election have much to gain in voting Alba. If they don’t give it their support, a lame, self-serving SNP leadership will only have an ongoing 'mandate' for more indy deferral. If they do help ensure a significant Alba presence, it places all the pressure on the SNP to end that dissembling and finally move with decisive intent on securing independence.  

#BothVotesYes #MaxTheYes