Desperation days 1 and 2: Is there an election on this week or what?

Sunday Herald

Commentary by Derek Bateman


Danger! Warning! Four days to voting and the die is cast. Expect splenetic outpourings from the defeated!

Derek Bateman
Derek Bateman

Watch as all reason departs and a red white and blue mist descends. Like a slow motion car crash the hopes of the anti-SNP battalions are dashed in agonising detail. Their futility gives way to rage and the true prejudices of British Unionism spurt forth. All across the media they are bursting their plooks. These are the desperation days as voting approaches.

But take heart. There is much enjoyment in watching your opponent rip off his mask of even-handedness and reveal a face contorted by fury at his own futility.

The impotent rage at you ignorant Scots continuing to support the Nationalists despite repeated lectures from David Torrance in The Herald and assorted sages, has equalled Gary Tank Commander as the most entertaining aspect of the election. There was a time when I myself was moved to anger at the self-righteous vitriol that flowed against people backing a party dedicated to nothing more than self-government. But I now realise that the relentless, predictable stream of whining for a Scotland that has gone is the journalistic equivalent of surrender. You can group any number of columns under the same headline: We know we’re beat and there’s nothing we can do to stop it. 

Strapline: Please – just make these independence types go away and bring back the good old days when Scots knew their place.

There’s even an argument about the dangers of majority government. Imagine – in a modern democratic state, deploying a proportional voting system, intelligent people are actually worried that someone might win the election. Indeed, rational people have taken to calling a democratic majority in a multi-party system a one-party state. And they say we’re the fruitcakes!

Best laugh of all had to be Neil Oliver in the middle classes’ broadsheet the Sunday Times. This was foot-stamping tantrum stuff that belittled the man. Anybody would think he’d discovered split ends. I know he’s not a real historian but there was kind of P5 History Class element to assertions about referendums being intended to end the argument for good. Has he noticed that in eight weeks time we will have a second referendum on EU membership? It was via a second referendum that Scotland got its parliament. (Guide for Neil: a second one means there was one earlier)


But this wasn’t one of those considered pieces where a man known for history programmes takes the trouble to reflect on the British story and why, in his view, that background and shared experience outweigh the impact of one party’s policies making it better to remain in the Union. This was more an insight into the unhinged space in Neil’s mind in which the SNP should have remained the joke party he laughed at in the seventies. Indeed, you’d have to say it is a remarkable achievement for an ‘historian’ to have missed the evolution of the SNP into the professional and successful party it is today. (Those missing years from Neil’s tirade are what are known in the trade as ‘history’).

But you can’t argue with a madman. Best to depart the scene of the meltdown and have a laugh on the way home. He will have lost many admirers – not because of a partisan intervention and a reasoned case – but with the frothing and spitting tone along the theme common to all Unionist opinion – that it’s the Scots themselves who are too stupid to see reason.

As an aside, can I say I welcome all voices to the debate and don’t think anyone should be shackled. But you do have to accept consequences. For revealing the truth about the BBC, I am blacklisted by them – no hardship as I would decline to appear. But using your celebrity as a platform to insult and demean those who don’t share your views as he did is an abuse of your status. In truth, a furious attack on some outlier like UKIP would not be seen as much of a crime but it becomes much harder to justify when you’re addressing anything up to half the voting population. That’s the same population the BBC wants him to appeal to with its programmes. Mmm…

David Torrance: Derek pretends not to read his column
David Torrance: Derek pretends not to read his column

I won’t go into David Torrance’s last throw of the dice before voting in the Herald because, to be honest, it’s too tiresome to read in full. You only need the heading – that Nationalists are as vacuous as Brexiters – to groan at yet another frankly idiotic offering that demonstrates the yawning hole in the intellectual case for Unionism. Perhaps that’s the problem – none of them can articulate what that now means and how it shapes our future. It is unending negativity railing against the forces of change and democratic renewal without any rational explanation of why remaining is preferable.


It’s a tip some of them might like to consider but there’s clearly a significant group who vote SNP but who don’t yet want independence. They do so because the Nationalists offer the best breadth of policies, the smartest politicians and have the right priorities for Scotland. It is surely a scathing verdict on the others that even people who back them on the key constitutional issue still don’t vote for them to run the devolved government.

Away from the slavering columnists it is another insight I think that those of a more progressive mind like Lesley Riddoch or Kevin McKenna are reduced pretty much to arguing that the SNP must do better. Of course they should. Every government in the history of mankind should have done better. So what? You only have to look at the reverse of that concept to see how little it means. Suppose you wrote: The SNP are totally brilliant and perfect in every way and simply couldn’t do any better. How would that look? Put another way, what they’re saying is: Shock Opinion – the SNP are not infallible. Perfection not yet attained, says new report.

Well, they’re certainly a long way from perfect but they’re also a long way nearer to it than anybody else in this election. And everybody knows it. For every doubt – reading standards at primary fall – there is a mountain of evidence to the contrary with impressive outcomes across all education including the best-prepared young people in the world, according to the ONS. And have the Britnat journalists looked at what is happening in English education under their British government? Forced academisation with dodgy businessmen running schools and taking over public assets while paying themselves two stonking salaries.

In health we have a generally well-run service properly funded. Again, look at the English example of health trusts facing bankruptcy and hospitals unable to offer the full range of treatments.

Sunday Herald
Sunday Herald

Unlike the editor of the Sunday Herald I don’t know for sure who will win the election – and saying it’s in the bag is guaranteed to reduce turnout – but there are many wrinkles to confound the orthodoxy of the radicals who say it’s boring. Will Labour hold on better than predicted – is there a Kezia sympathy vote? Will Greens be in government and what difference will it make? Can the Tories really be the Opposition? Will Rise make more than a blip? Will the Lib Dems hold the Northern Isles? Will my home territory embarrass me by voting Tory yet again? Will turnout be disappointing? Can we expect a reshuffle if Sturgeon gets her mandate? Who knows. Let’s just be sure what we’re voting for. The simplest question is: Who best reflects your priorities – and vote for them. And when I do, I may just have a little chuckle at the angry losers’ expense.



It didn’t take long. A day after the last blog, the latest slew of last-gasp hysteria splashed across the page. On Twitter ‘STV digital reporter’ Aidan Kerr commends a Daily Record editorial: The political divide in Scotland is no longer between left and right. It is between Yes and No. He adds a hashtag #Ulsterisation.

I explained yesterday how the dafter and more extreme examples of anti-SNP messaging, increasingly now the norm, made me laugh rather than angry. I’m afraid I didn’t laugh at this disgraceful and unwarranted slight on Scotland’s political culture. It is an attempt to introduce sectarianism from Northern Ireland into the national debate – a tone and tribal venom we have mostly and rightly avoided, apart from the Unionist mini riot in George Square.

Adam Kerr, STV digital politics reporter
Adam Kerr, STV digital politics reporter

What possible justification can there be for deliberately stirring partisan division along Protestant/Catholic and UK/ Ireland lines? Can this seriously be viewed as an appropriate and intelligent addition from a mainstream broadcast organisation? Having your staff generate online storms with anti-nationalist, pro-Labour rants is already a dubious role for a regulated broadcaster. But bringing the politics of Ulster into the public domain without historical explanation or detailed justification isn’t just cheap. It’s despicable. Who’d have thought as the anti-Nat voices rage that they’d sink this low. On the same day, we read with horror of graffiti deriding the Ibrox Disaster. Among the retweets below Kerr’s dangerous outburst is one saying: This is the legacy of SNPIRA. It is from someone using the Red Hand.

And what could be the justification for STV bringing the Ulster troubles into our election debate? We have a political argument – something which exists in all democracies. Is it religion-based? Is it tribal as in one identifiable community against another? Is it geographical pitting one area against another? Does it require the Army to separate sides? Have there been any murders? Knee-cappings? Kidnappings? Shootings or barricades? Or is the suggestion from STV’s ‘digital reporter’ that is where we are headed – that all this talk of separation is leading us into internecine warfare? Who, could he tell us, are the terrorists? Which side is the IRA and which the UDA? Is he forecasting we move into enclaves with the like-minded and only use Nationalist taxis or Unionist taxis and employ private enforcers?

There is not the slightest sign that the democratic will of the electorate is being subverted either through extra-legal resistance to the SNP majority or in acceptance of the referendum result. The very fact that politically, there is a row about if and when there will be another is the clearest evidence that the first referendum is done and dusted. No riots, no bombings, no killings. So just which aspect of Ulsterisation is he referring to and could he stand up and tell us instead of hiding behind STV whose ‘digital offer’ since the indyref has been characterised by juvenile agitprop. Is our political divide filled with genuine hatred so that one community is pitched against another and can never come together, never resolve differences or accommodate each other?


We know conclusively that some Nationalists vote for Unionist parties and that the SNP has firm backing from those who don’t want independence, hardly irreconcilable positions. There are Twitter storms (STV’s real aim?) but that hardly accounts for majority opinion. We took pride in the indyref in being an independence movement without a hint of violence or threat. The in-your-face shouting from both sides was less than I witnessed during the poll tax demonstrations. Here we see again that for every rational Unionist-minded Scot there is a journalistic scavenger exploiting doubts and fears to whip up hatred. What a disgrace of a media we have.

It’s also telling that he is endorsing the Record’s line that Yes/No is a ‘new divide’. Really? This is new, yeah? I’m afraid that to anyone over the age of 40 the fault line in our politics has been glaringly obvious since the 70’s. There was a Tory-Labour fight until around the discovery of oil when the SNP began their rise and threatened them both. But it was Labour that realised the potential damage the Nationalists could do to their support and when they began to turn the Tory tide, making themselves rulers of Scots, the SNP became the main enemy. After Thatcher the Tories were finished and Labour dominance meant having constantly to repel SNP attacks. That has been the sharpest and most contested territory in Scotland for 40 years. The viciousness of this could be frightening but for all the spitting, intimidation and shoving, it was never like Ulster. The comparison with a Falls Road riot or Drumcree – or the sense of fear you could see in the eyes of the brave people of the North – is laughable and an insult both to the Scots and the Ulster folk themselves. The ignorance of our political journalism is bad enough. Marrying it to deliberately combustible comparisons is downright dangerous.

The other example today is normally cogent Alex Massie taking a serpentine journey through the pages of the Times to explain why, in essence, the SNP is bad. Awfy bad. It’s about democracy and how you can’t trust it and why it’s deceitful for Sturgeon to try to use it as a device to win independence. Not the strongest case for Unionism, you might think, this anti-democratic approach. It may be that he thinks by not committing to a referendum in all and any circumstance in the manifesto that the SNP have no right to call one after Thursday.

As he himself would say: Poppycock. First because manifestos have no legal authority and have been shredded by every single government including the SNP when it suits. Second, there can’t be a single person voting SNP who doesn’t know what they stand for and what their long-term objective is. They may not want independence or may not want it soon but they can’t escape the consequence of the party’s principle aim. Having said that, the effect of yet another Unionist newspaper blast at independence succeeds in leaving the impression it is an immediate ‘threat’ and as soon as the Nats line up the target and it stops moving – Blam! No matter how often she says it, they just don’t hear. It’s as if the only way to confirm their own hysteria is to convince themselves she’s lying – if only you could see the lizard face under her mask!

Still, only one more Desperation Day to go until we get the power to do the one thing that silently and brutally trumps them all…