Where it’s at

That title reminds me of a linguistic joke, so let’s get that over with:

New student at Harvard, seeing a clearly established student whom he can ask for information: “Say, is this where the library’s at?

Established student (snootily): “This is Harvard. We don’t end sentences with a preposition.”

New student: “Oh, I’ll rephrase my question. Is this where the library’s at, asshole?”

To the point, now. It’s been a long time since the Scottish independence movement has been anything other than murky, unpredictable, unbelievably baffling or just plain hopeless. However, things are beginning to turn the corner, with some upcoming dramatic events:-

  1. This coming Wednesday, it is said, Nicola Sturgeon will set out her response to BJ’s refusal of the request for a Section 30 order. This either will or will not contain a commitment to an indy referendum this year. It’s difficult to see how it will plausibly do that. But if it doesn’t, the SNP’s credibility will slide down by another notch.
  2. The background to this, and the basis of all SNP policy on independence since 2015, is their belief that independence can only be securely won with the consent of the British government; anything else will create too much division in Scotland, and too much risk of non-recognition abroad.
  3. An alternative explanation of the SNP’s conduct since 2015 is that they don’t in fact want independence – they want to stay in power and keep their jobs and perks for ever. Political life after independence will become much more difficult for the SNP, with their primary aim accomplished and the rise (let us hope) of a proper Scottish opposition.
  4. The Alex Salmond trial opens soon, and there’s open discussion among commentators that this will destroy the SNP. It will destroy the SNP because the accusations against Salmond are (commentators say) a stitch-up, and Sturgeon (they say) played a large part in setting that stitch-up up. She did this (they claim) to demolish a rival who wanted to take the party in a direction she didn’t favour. (The thought of the honest, open, red-headed wee wifie whose mouth butter wouldn’t melt in being revealed as a corrupt and self-seeking political turd is an unsettling one, until you remember Blair’s metamorphosis in just a few years from left-wing poster-boy to financial scammer and international war criminal.)
  5. A line of argument that might mitigate the SNP’s dishonesty is that their proposed direction – indy with consent – is truly the only viable one, but that this will take ten to twenty years. Their only dishonesty is that they haven’t admitted to that timescale.
  6. If the SNP is eviscerated by the Salmond trial, a new party will head the independence movement (let’s just assume it’ll call itself the Scottish Independence Party, for heaven’s sake!). It’ll be much more aggressive in calling out the lies of the mass media on Scotland’s economic and cultural strengths, and in challenging Westminster’s machinations to erode devolution. If the movement is eventually forced to go for UDI, it will be a UDI which Scottish voters are in favour of because they’ll have listened to all the arguments, and one for which international recognition has been prepared through diplomatic initiatives.
  7. This might not be far off. After January 31st, an EU that wanted Scotland to join it (because of its economic potential and cultural compatibility) would be able to twist the arm of the UK, because the UK will no longer be an EU member and the UK will want a trade deal.

The Scotsman doesn’t believe this last point: it reports that the EU has stated categorically that it will not readmit a Scotland that has separated from the UK without consent. What The Scotsman doesn’t say, however, is that the EU will twist the British government’s arm to give consent, and that will be the price of the trade deal. So there’ll be consent, and therefore indy. And the Northern Ireland settlement shows that BoJo does actually back down when he has no cards.

Construe as Mince

Craig Murray’s petition to bring in OSCE observers for the next Scottish referendum (which I hope you’ve all signed – DO IT NOW!) has resurrected the doubts about postal votes in 2014. These doubts solidify, for some people, into the claim that the 2014 referendum was rigged by the UK Government packing the postal vote with “No” ballots, as evidenced by the extraordinarily high postal turnout. This is a consoling narrative for those indy supporters who were gutted by the massive “No” wrecking-ball that crawled out of the woodwork on September 18th to steal the referendum (which many Yessers feel in their bones was in truth a clear victory for Yes) and demolish their dreams. So we need to look at that claim again now.

The claim

The detailed account of this rigging (the “Dunoon Report”) has gained some traction among the Indy community. It was authored by Andy Anderson, Education Officer of the Dunoon Unit of the Democratic Socialist foundation, and a video of Andy explaining the report to a group of activists shows him as a sober, thoughtful and concerned individual. We can summarise his report as follows:

1. Three public figures (John McTernan, political strategist and advisor to the Labour Party; Susan Dalgety, former Labour councillor and civil servant; and Ruth Davidson, leader of the Scottish Conservatives) said in public, before the count had started, that the postal ballot showed a clear lead for No. It’s illegal to count postal votes early, so these people couldn’t have acquired this information legitimately: there must have been government malpractice.

2. The reported postal-vote turnout is not believable as it stands, and broke world records in four local authority areas. To quote the Dunoon Report, “[The Electoral Management Board’s] claim that there was a spectacular world record 96.4% turnout in the PB in Argyll and similar spectacular results in the PB all over Scotland, needs to be carefully assessed, before it can be accepted as a fact.”

2. In Argyle and Bute, more people voted postally than were on the postal-ballot register. “We have a grand total of 743 people on the PB register who could not vote,” says the Report, when the count shows that only 526 people did not vote.

3. Areas with a higher proportion of postal votes returned a higher proportion of No votes; this correlation held across all 32 local authority areas. In the words of the Report, “[A]s the level of the [postal ballot] rises, so the No vote rises with it and takes a stronger and stronger lead.”

5. The fraud was committed by the UK Government replacing unused postal votes with fake votes for “No”. Clandestine government agencies will have access to local authority records, and therefore will have known how many postal ballots had been issued. They also knew, as the referendum approached, who had voted and who had not, and had copies of their signatures (which are on local government computers). So they printed postal ballot papers for electors who had not voted, and submitted them in the normal way through the mail or at local authority offices, reversing the result of the referendum. To quote the Dunoon Report, “[A] massive No vote was inserted into [the postal vote], ensuring an overall No vote majority at the Referendum.” This fraud left no trace in the counting process.

Evaluation

I found this account persuasive (and worrying!) when I read it in detail for the first time recently, so I decided to flesh it out with numbers. The data I used comes from Wikipedia, with postal ballot details from the Electoral Management Board, as quoted in the Dunoon Report. A copy of the Dunoon final report, and my extracted data-sets, are on my website here. Let’s take the Report’s five claims in order:

1. Public figures knew some postal results before the count. These politicians’ comments are consistent with there being government-sponsored fraud: they would have made the comments to soften up the public for the massive No that was about to engulf them. An alternative explanation is that some unscrupulous busybody had counted postal votes, and had primed three political idiots to talk about it in support of No.

2. The postal turnout was unbelievably high, and set world records. The postal-vote turnout was 93.7%, as against 82.5% for the in-person turnout. Postal-vote turnouts are always higher, but I could find no data that would show whether this particular turnout was unbelievably high or not. I could find no data at all on world records for postal-vote turnouts. The claims that these turnouts are unbelievably high and constitute world records are concrete and verifiable, so the absence from the Report of data to support them is worrying.

3. In Argyle and Bute, more people voted than was possible. The electoral register was a year old at the time of the referendum, and therefore included people who could not have voted. The Dunoon Report estimates their numbers as follows:

Those who had died since the register was updated: 125
Those who had moved away since the register was updated: 250
Those in prison: 6
Those with dementia: 362
TOTAL: 743

This total of 743 people who could not vote is clear evidence of fraud. 14,409 people were registered for postal votes, and 13,883 votes were received (13,926 in my data-set, due to rounding differences): so only 526 people did not vote. But 743 people could not have voted, so more people voted than was possible.

If we examine the data critically, however, more holes appear than we can be comfortable with. Firstly, “couldn’t have voted” – the form of words used consistently throughout this section of the Report – is not the same as “a ballot paper couldn’t have been sent in”, and the outstanding case of this is the group of people with dementia.

People with dementia can of course vote; in fact it is probably illegal to prevent a person from registering or voting on grounds of dementia. So care-home staff will take steps to ensure that such people are registered and vote; the care staff or a family member may even mark the ballot-paper for them (and there are statutory provisions for bypassing the signature, for persons who can’t sign their name). So it’s difficult to see the justification for including these 362 patients among those for whom a ballot paper could not have been sent in. Removing them reduces the number of impossible votes from 743 to 381, well within the count of 526 people who did not in fact vote.

Similar considerations apply to those who had died or moved away: the ballot papers were sent to their old addresses, and the current residents there could have sent in those votes, and no doubt in some cases did. This means that the Report’s third claim, that more people sent in ballot papers than was possible, doesn’t stand up.

4. A high postal vote correlated with a high No vote across all 32 local authority areas. This at least looks sound: the chart below shows the relationship between postal votes in the local authority areas (ranked by the proportion of the vote that was postal, and divided into four groups) and the No vote in each group:

dunoon-chart-1“R-squared” is a statistic that shows how closely two data-sets match: 0.0 is no relationship at all, 1.0 is a complete match. A value of 0.98 is extremely good for any human-society data, perhaps even too good to be true. So let’s look at it more closely.

I first asked myself why, and on what basis, the 32 areas had been divided into four groups, but the Report is silent on this. Then I looked at the figures for each of the 32 separate areas, and found that the postal-vote levels do not in fact fall into natural groups at all (red bars on the chart below, which show what percentage of that area’s vote was postal). Similarly, the percentage of No votes (blue bars on the chart below) shows no observable relationship to the size of the postal vote (red bars), and in Group Two and Three goes down as the postal vote goes up:

dunoon-chart-2Deeply suspicious now, I inserted the 32 data-lines for the separate local authority areas into a scatter-plot like the first chart above, plotting the full data, rather than just the four group-averages. The scatter-plot looked like this:

dunoon-chart-3A statistician’s professional verdict on this correlation (R-squared = 0.14) would be that it’s a bit below piss-poor. What the Dunoon Report has done here is to hide the detailed data of the 32 local authorities by reducing it to four averages, which give a spectacularly different result. My own qualifications in statistics are nothing to write home about, but I do know that this is elementary data-rigging, arrived at by ignoring the principle of data integrity. Data integrity says that the investigator should look at all the data, not just the bits she likes; next time you meet a statistician, ask them whether data integrity matters, and then hide under a rock until they’ve finished exploding. So no cigar for the Dunoon Report on this one: the full data shows that the level of postal votes has no correlation with the level of No votes, and blows its fourth claim right out of the water.

5. A clandestine government agency replaced unused postal votes with fake No votes, compromising the result. The clandestine tactic, it is claimed, was to hoover up unused postal votes and replace them with fake No votes. So how many votes would have been available to these purveyors of state-sponsored skulduggery? We’ll have the answer if we can estimate how many postal votes were genuine.

We know the electorate size and the votes cast for all voters, and the electorate size and the votes cast in the postal vote, so by subtracting one set from the other we can get the turnout for the in-person vote. It’s 82.5%, slightly lower than the 84.6% overall turnout, which was inflated by the high postal vote. Nobody thinks that the genuine postal-vote turnout could have been lower than the in-person turnout, so let’s take that figure of 82.5% as our baseline, our threshold for genuine postal votes. The possible number of fake votes is the difference between that number, 82.5% of the postal electorate, and the number of postal ballots received, 93.7% of the postal electorate.

A turnout of 82.5% of the postal electorate gives us 657,410 genuine postal votes; the number of postal ballots received was 746,308. The difference between the two – the window for fraud – is 88,898 votes. However, “Yes” lost the referendum by four-and-a-half times that number, 400,000 votes. These numbers are not shown in the Dunoon Report; but, presented or not, they mean that the Report’s fifth claim, that a clandestine government agency changed the result of the referendum by faking postal votes, can only be construed as mince.

Working through these calculations to verify the Dunoon Report’s claims has made me angry. Not because my comfort blanket – that the referendum was stolen from us by some malign agency – has been stripped away, but because of the egregiously dishonest presentation of data. The Dunoon Report says the postal-vote turnout was unbelievably high and broke world records, but shows no evidence for this; it claims that more people voted than was possible, but the choice of words is sloppy and the figures do not stand up; it says that a high postal vote, area by area, always gives a high No vote, but it does not, and the Report hides the data that show it does not; and the Report says that packing the postal votes “ensured an overall No majority”, when the putative packing amounted to less than one quarter of the majority, and this data is not even referred to. That this dishonest Report should have been going the rounds for five years, consoling Yessers with its unexamined data and false claims, annoys me.

Lessons

What can we learn from this? I think there are two take-aways for us. The first is fairly obvious: if a document comes your way that makes a data-based case, examine the data carefully, compare it with other data that you know or can easily acquire, and verify that it all makes sense. The second relates to how we expect to win IndyRef2. We should not console ourselves with comforting narratives, false expectations and wishful thinking. Instead we need to concentrate on clear, factual arguments, presented soberly and straightforwardly; at the end of the day, we want an IndyRef2 that has been properly thought through by the electorate and reflects the considered consent of most voters. That’s not an impossibility; all the facts are on our side, and we just need to put them over properly.

Definitely no pals at Pacific (updated)

Response from BBC Scotland: “We couldn’t be arsed. Now go away.”

And this from an outfit that is still recovering from the public relations disaster of messing with Wings Over Scotland’s YouTube channel!

Oh, well.

Mr Ian Small
Head of Public Policy
BBC Scotland
40 Pacific Quay
GLASGOW G51 1AD

Dear Mr Small,

I’m offended by the enclosed response that I’ve received from the Editor of “Reporting Scotland”, and I think you should be concerned about it too. It’s a public relations disaster: she hasn’t been sent half the information (two charts), she refuses to read the other half (online supporting data), she makes a cheap jibe at my using the wrong name for the UK-wide broadcaster, and she ignores the main question (which was “Please explain your policy”).

In an article in The Scotsman on 20th August, you wrote, “We want to engage, constructively, in dialogue with those who question our journalism or are suspicious of our decision-making.” In this instance, you failed spectacularly to do that.

When Scotland becomes independent, this way of treating your customers will not look good. I would welcome it if BBC Scotland could engage with the issues I raised.

Yours faithfully,

Derek Rogers

Editor, “Reporting Scotland”
BBC Scotland
40 Pacific Quay
GLASGOW G51 1AD
Dear Editor,

I thank you for your reply to my letter to BBC Audience Services asking why you discriminated against some political parties. While I welcome your personal engagement with this topic, I don’t think your response will do, for reasons which I give interleaved below.

Best regards,

Derek Rogers

Their response in detail:

Dear Derek

Reference CAS-5126206-61V30W

Thank you for your correspondence. Your comments were passed to the Editor of Reporting Scotland. who has asked that I forward her response as follows:

“Thank you for writing to BBC Audience Services about various ‘leaders’ interviews in September and October when party conferences were being held.

In these interviews, you say “you did not reflect the respective strengths of political parties in Scotland, and you discriminated against some politicians.”
— I did say that, and I note that you don’t challenge it. Does that mean that you concede this point?

You further say “your interview times were roughly similar for all four parties”. That is as it should be – at the time of a party’s annual conference we endeavour to provide for all main parties parity of coverage of the conference as a whole and of any leader interviews we may do within or around that coverage.
— It is not as it should be. Coverage should reflect the relative strengths of the parties.

— The interviews were not “at other times”, so the paragraph which follows is irrelevant.
At other times, news judgements are more likely to drive editorial decisions – so that if a party is in government it is more likely to find itself being questioned than other parties because it is initiating policy for the respective legislature to pass into law. This is the case for the SNP in government in Scotland, as it was for Labour and the Liberal Democrats in previous administrations in Scotland; and it is also the case for Labour, the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats when they are or have been in power in the UK. The views of other parties are, of course, also sought and reported.

You suggest that for big stories from across the country, licence fee payers “will look not to yourselves but to BBC London”. I somehow doubt that, as BBC London serves London and some surrounding areas as a vibrant local station.
— I clearly meant the UK-wide broadcaster, in contrast to the Scottish broadcaster. Your response is a cheap jibe that demeans you.

I am afraid I do not understand your reference to “turn-lengths”, as in “the reduced turn-lengths for Blackford and Corbyn, at 11 percent and 7 percent respectively of the total relative turn-lengths for all speakers”.
— In all conversations, speakers take turns: one speaks and stops, and then another speaks. The length of a “turn” can be measured (usually in seconds). If six speakers are treated equally, they will each get one-sixth (17 percent) of the total turn-lengths. Blackford and Corbyn did not.

You also refer in your bar chart 2 to “interruptions” and “hostile comment” which are subjective labels with no measurable standards – an “interruption” can be by an interviewer attempting to get the interviewee to answer a question, a “hostile comment” might be a challenge to justify a statement.
— These are not subjective labels: I laid down objective criteria for them, which I described under “Methodology” in the supporting data. I enclose a copy.

The bar charts which I have received are in monochrome with no legends and therefore tell me nothing – so unfortunately I cannot comment on them. You have supplied a link to an unverified external source: we do not open such sources.
— The paper copies of the bar-charts that I sent to Darlington were in colour and had legends; if they didn’t reach you, you should complain to them. The charts are publicly available at:
— indyref2.scot (blog-post of October 12th)
— scotlandisdifferent.wordpress.com (blog-post of October 12th)
http://www.derek.scot
http://www.derek.uk (click ‘BBC’ at foot of front page – the directory is no longer hidden)
http://www.derek.co.uk (as above)
If your policies do not allow you to access any of these sites, I will send you paper copies.

chart-1

chart-2

You say in your concluding paragraph “Your disfavouring of the SNP leaves me, rightly or wrongly, with the feeling that I have a grievance”. The SNP is not being “disfavoured” and therefore I believe you “wrongly” have the feeling that you have a grievance.
— I still have the feeling that I have a grievance.

— My closing question, which was signalled at the beginning of my letter, was, “Can you tell me what policy decision has led you not to reflect the strength of party support, and to discriminate against some parties?” You do not address this question.

Thank you again for being in touch.”

Kind regards

Andrew McCormick

BBC Complaints Team

http://www.bbc.co.uk/complaints

NB This is sent from an outgoing account only which is not monitored. You cannot reply to this email address but if necessary please contact us via our webform quoting any case number we provided.

 

No indy pals in Pacific Quay

BBC Scotland undermines the independence movement by playing down public support for the SNP. SNP support is massive. Seven out of every ten Scots who are members of political parties are members of the SNP; and in the 2018 Holyrood election, the SNP won half the votes and took all but half the seats:
show-support.png
This makes the SNP virtually as large as all the other parties put together, and leaves them fragmented and scrabbling for scraps from the table.

So how much time did Scotland’s party of government get allocated in BBC Scotland’s recent pre-conference interviews with leaders?
members2
That’s right – the SNP, huge in terms of membership, came third in inteview time. There’s an enormous discrepancy there. And if you thought that, despite the shorter time, the treatment would be even-handed, then think again:
hostile2
Massively more interruptions, and massively more hostile comment from the interviewer, for Ian Blackford than there was for Ruth Davidson.

There are those who say that this is just the rough-and-tumble of political debate, and that the independence movement is out to nurse a grievance, but BBC Scotland’s discrimination is more pervasive than that.

A letter to BBC Scotland making these points is below.

Dear BBC Scotland,

I’m writing to ask for clarification on your policy regarding political interviews, specifically the six interviews broadcast by Reporting Scotland on 13th September with Vince Cable, 20th September with Jeremy Corbyn, 27th September with Theresa May, 30th September with Ruth Davidson, 5th October with Keith Brown, and 7th October with Ian Blackford. In those interviews, you did not reflect the respective strengths of political parties in Scotland, and you discriminated against some politicians.

a. In what follows, I use Scottish data rather than UK data. Given that the name of your organisation is BBC Scotland, I expect it to take a Scottish perspective, and this expectation was reinforced not only by the name of the programme which broadcast these interviews, “Reporting Scotland”, but also by the strapline on its website saying “Big stories from across the country”. For UK perspective, listeners will look not to yourselves but to BBC London.

b. The amount of time you gave to the four shorter interviews did not reflect the relative strength of the parties in Scotland. SNP support is broad, not to say overwhelming: seventy-four percent of all those in Scotland who are members of any political party are members of the SNP; the SNP has half the seats in the Scottish Parliament; and it took 45 percent of the vote in the Scottish 2016 Parliamentary election. The remaining parties share what members, seats and votes are left over. But your interview times were roughly similar for all four parties, with each party taking between 20 and 30 percent of the available time, and the SNP – which is larger than all the other parties put together – placed third. All the features I describe here are documented in the attached two supporting charts.

c. You also discriminated against some politicians. Forty-four percent of the time spent on interviewee interruptions was used to attack Jeremy Corbyn, 39 percent to attack Ian Blackford, and only 17 percent to attack Ruth Davidson; by contrast, Theresa May, Vince Cable and Keith Brown were not interrupted at all. Interruptions reduce the length of a speaker’s turns, making it more difficult for them to be coherent and persuasive, and this is shown in the reduced turn-lengths for Blackford and Corbyn, at 11 percent and 7 percent respectively of the total relative turn-lengths for all speakers. The underlying data for the supporting charts can be found at http://www.derek.uk/bbc (type the URL into your browser address-bar – there’s no link from elsewhere).

Your disfavouring of the SNP leaves me, rightly or wrongly, with the feeling that I have a grievance. I can see that you might wish to undermine a political party whose first stated aim in its Constitution amounts to destroying the United Kingdom, but your job as the public broadcaster for Scotland is to represent all strands of opinion fairly. Can you tell me what policy decision has led you not to reflect the strength of party support, and to discriminate against some parties?

Yours faithfully,

Derek Rogers

 

Cracks in the ice…?

RECENT CONVERSATIONS and internet posts have left me with the feeling that the independence argument is in fact won, and the ice-sheet of No that’s been stifling the hopes of younger generations is beginning to crack and break up. First up is the dog-walker, whom I reported on earlier, who had a visceral hatred of nationalists because of what they were doing to the country he loved. Leaving aside the question of why loving one’s country isn’t nationalism, this man is trapped in circular, content-free thinking:

– I love my country.

– How do we know you love your country?

– Because I want it to stay in the UK. That’s where it belongs.

– How do you know it belongs there?

– Because it does. And I love my country.

This isn’t political or social thinking, this is emotional masturbation. And the problem for these people at the high end of the No scale is that, when faced with facts or concrete thinking, they have nowhere to go: they can only retreat into vitriol. There’s a glorious instance of this in the comments to an article by Lesley Riddoch – surely the least vituperative of commentators – in today’s Scotsman , where the level of vilification is beyond belief, and is a disgrace to any society claiming to have a tradition of constructive debate. We should take heart from this. When the campaign gets going, the No side’s only resource will be evidence-free fervour, and that’s not going to withstand the well-argued set of benefits that the Yes side is going to be promoting.

Overall, the more closely the more you look at the Unionist output, the less content you find. Chokka Blog’s latest post (to take an example) rests its case on “the bonds of moral solidarity that bind us”, but he doesn’t tell us what they are: for that we have to wait for Part II, and it’s now three months since Chokka Blog posted anything. Perhaps he lost confidence in the bonds of moral solidarity when he saw the UK Conservative Government hounding immigrants, sanctioning benefits, murdering spies with nerve-gas, bombing Yemenis, and breaking up families by deporting foreign wives and mothers. The Scottish popular press has taken a different approach, inexorably trivialising the debate, with attacks on minimum alcohol pricing, the baby box, and the cost of the First Minister’s temporary accommodation – all stories that were deconstructed by the independence website Wings Over Scotland. Wings has time and again shown how empty the Unionist anti-SNP claims are, and for this is of course vilified daily – “vicious underbelly to the independence campaign”, “scum”, “bastard”. But the only substantive accusation made against the site is that the blogger, Stuart Campbell (it’s a one-man show) lives in Bath. These are not arguments, and none of this is a threat to the case for independence. You would expect Unionists to start rebutting the main planks of the independence case – you’d expect them to say what’s wrong with using our own resources to deliver prosperity, with having our own immigration policy, with creating a fairer society embodying social democratic values, with deciding for ourselves whether to leave the EU or to keep Trident, and with not being the submerged one-tenth of a voice in the all-UK Parliament. But none of these gets an airing.

Of course, to say the argument is won doesn’t mean the vote is won, and there will be varied opinions on how best to do that. It will be unpleasant on the personal level, because the Unionists will scream and have tantrums. It may also become unpleasant on the political level, if the UK Government starts removing devolved powers and abolishes the Scottish Parliament. But there’s nothing like knowing how good your case is to keep you engaged and moving forward.

Bang on the money, that needed saying!

Wow, this needed to be said, and here it is! This is a statement on the Catalonian referendum issued on 25th October 2017 by the office of the United Nations High Commissioner on Human Rights. I show the link above, but I quote the statement in full anyway at the foot of this post.

The statement makes four main points, exposing the logical fudges used by those who support the Spanish government. These points are also highly pertinent to the Scottish situation, and we need to think of ways of addressing them. The four main points are:

  1. The right of self-determination belongs to the people, not the state, and the state cannot take it away.
  2. The right to self-determination overrides the principle of territorial integrity.
  3. Using force, making a referendum illegal, and annulling autonomy violate international covenants on civil and political rights.
  4. Dialogue and negotiation are the way forward.

The constitutional settlement for Scotland violates the first of these four points: we can’t hold a legally binding referendum without the consent of the UK government. Nor are the conditions clear under which the UK government can withhold consent. At least in Spain they know where they stand – it’s illegal, full-stop. In Britain it’s at the discretion of the government of the day, which is a way of giving us no rights but not admitting it. We need to say loudly and clearly that this is wrong, and basically ignore it.

On the second point, there is firstly the trivial jibe that we “want to break up the United Kingdom”. Yes, we do, because it basically f*cks us, and this UN statement tells us that we have the higher claim. Of more weight is the constant assertion in mainstream media that regions cannot become states because there is an international consensus – supported by the United Nations – that international borders are inviolable. This statement gives the lie to that.

Some commentators doubt that the UK government would use force to suppress an independence campaign, but I’m not persuaded that they wouldn’t. The Irish Civil War is less than 100 years old, and the Northern Ireland Troubles cost 3,000 lives. The UK government will surely exploit Yoon thuggery if it needs to.

Fourthly, dialogue is the way forward – yes, thank you, now pull the other one. The current UK government doesn’t engage in dialogue at the best of times, and the coming indy ref will not be the best of times. But if we can’t do it peacefully, by dialogue, and basically with agreement – including the grudging agreement of Scottish opponents – then, however good the consequences for our economy and well-being, we still face 100 years of bitterness, discord and hostility. Ideally we should be putting to the UK government an offer they can’t refuse, showing the benefits to them of a Scottish secession. That will mean some hard thinking and some forceful point-making.

[Title of this post changed 1/11/2017.]

====&&&====

Statement on Catalonian autonomy from the office of the United Nations High Commissioner on Human Rights

GENEVA (25 October 2017) – The UN Independent Expert on the promotion of a democratic and equitable international order, Alfred de Zayas, is calling on Spanish authorities to enter into negotiations in good faith with leaders in Catalonia following the announcement that the Spanish Government would suspend the region’s autonomy. On 19 October, the Spanish Government announced its intention to impose direct rule on the region after a deadline seeking an end to the Catalan independence campaign was not met. His statement is as follows:

“I deplore the decision of the Spanish Government to suspend Catalan autonomy. This action constitutes retrogression in human rights protection, incompatible with Articles 1, 19, 25 and 27 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Pursuant to Articles 10(2) and 96 of the Spanish Constitution, international treaties constitute the law of the land and, therefore, Spanish law must be interpreted in conformity with international treaties.

“Denying a people the right to express themselves on the issue of self-determination, denying the legality of a referendum, using force to prevent the holding of a referendum, and cancelling the limited autonomy of a people by way of punishment constitutes a violation of Article 1 of the ICCPR and of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. Alternatively, addressing the aspiration of peoples to self-determination in a timely fashion is an important conflict prevention measure, as is evidenced by the countless wars that have occurred since 1945 that found their origin in denial of self-determination. Dialogue and political negotiation should be encouraged to prevent violence.

“The Spanish Government appears to invoke the principle of territorial integrity to justify forceful attempts to silence political dissent and aspirations of self-determination. While the principle of territorial integrity is important, as understood in many United Nations Resolutions, including GA Resolutions 2625 and 3314, it is intended to be applied externally, to prohibit foreign threats or incursions into the territorial integrity of sovereign States. This principle cannot be invoked to quench the right of all people, guaranteed under Article 1 of the International Covenants on Human Rights, to express their desire to control their futures. The right of self-determination is a right of peoples and not a prerogative of States to grant or deny. In case of a conflict between the principle of territorial integrity and the human right to self-determination, it is the latter that prevails.

“Of course, there are many peoples worldwide who aspire to self-determination, whether internal in the form of autonomy or external in the form of independence. And while the realization of self-determination is not automatic or self-executing, it is a fundamental human right that the international community should help implement.

“The international law of self-determination has also progressed far beyond mere decolonization. Applying the 15 criteria contained in my 2014 report (paras 63-77), it is evident that no state can use the principle of territorial integrity to deny the right of self-determination and that arguments about the legality of actions taken by Catalonia’s elected parliament are immaterial. Such arguments do not nullify the ius cogens character of self-determination.

“The only democratic solution to the current impasse is to suspend repressive measures and to organize a referendum so as to determine the true wishes of the population concerned. Such a referendum should be monitored by the EU, OSCE and private observers including the Carter Center.”

Countering media bias

IndyRef2.scot is currently monitoring BBC political output in the expectation of showing bias. In my view, the approach they’ve taken is unsatisfactory – it’s aimed at cheering up the troops and inciting hatred of the BBC, rather than winning over doubters by showing the true facts. A recent case concerned Reporting Scotland’s news item about data relating to NHS staffing levels. You can read their criticism of Reporting Scotland here; below is my suggested rewrite.

BBC Reporting Scotland : NHS Staffing Levels : Broadcast on Monday 31st July 2017

This news item relates to a consultation initiated by the Scottish government under the title, “Safe and Effective Staffing in Health and Social Care”. The government’s aim is to introduce a law requiring health boards to maintain safe staffing levels, thus securing patients’ protection and defining providers’ responsibilities. This is an aim which it would be difficult to disagree with.

The consultation is being carried out in Scotland by the Royal College of Nursing, who recently presented interim findings to a committee of the Scottish Parliament. The findings show broad satisfaction with existing staffing levels: about two-thirds of respondents raised no concerns. Asked whether a shortage of health care support workers affected patient care, three-quarters said No; asked whether patient care was compromised by staff shortages in general, half said No; and asked whether a shortage of registered nurses affected their ability to deliver high-quality care, two-thirds said No.

satisfaction-with-nhs-staffing-levels.png

So there was no bad news here: respondents were on the whole satisfied with current staffing levels.

Of course it remains true that between a quarter and a half of respondents did have concerns, but in the context of a consultation seeking to determine whether there’s a need for the proposed law, that’s not surprising. Indeed, it’s welcome, because it provides information that can take us forward.

Reporting Scotland, however, like many anti-independence groups, consistently seeks to belittle the achievements of the Scottish government. One way of doing this is to say that a set of figures that shows satisfactory results actually shows terrible results. In the present case Reporting Scotland said, in terms, that the findings show that “staff shortages in the NHS are compromising patient care”, which is the opposite of what the data says. They supported their claim by highlighting in shocked tones the proportion of respondents who said there was a problem – about one-third – and not mentioning at all the two-thirds who were satisfied.