Has the Herald’s Iain MacWhirter peaked?


By G.A.Ponsonby
Respected by Unionists and Nationalists alike, Iain MacWhirter’s views on Scottish politics are read and devoured by those of us looking for informative and reasoned analysis on the Scottish body politic.
Assaulted by the David Maddox’s and Magnus Gardham’s of the print media and irritated by the Severin Carrell’s and Alan Cochrane’s, MacWhirter offered blessed relief – an oasis of relative objectivity in a journalistic desert.

Alas, it looks as though Mr MacWhirter has finally succumbed to the scourge of the Scottish media – the lurgy has taken him – and we mourn.

Like all falling stars MacWhirter’s downfall was quite spectacular, a hissy fit whilst taking part in a Radio debate with Euan Crawford alerted followers that all was not well.  This was confirmed with his article yesterday – local election polling day – which contained variations of the same clichés that followed the SNP’s first election win in 2007.

“Has the SNP peaked?” was the rhetorical question posed by Iain in an article that was a throwback to those days when newspapers spent their days waiting for the SNP’s mythical honeymoon to end.

In a kind of comedic coincidence, the Scotsman’s Tom Peterkin also asked “Will local elections results be end of SNP’s honeymoon?”, both were joined this morning by BBC Scotland’s Raymond Buchanan asking the same clichéd question.  The BBC man’s claim on Call Kaye that the Scottish local election results may lack legitimacy due to low turnout might be a clue as to which party has ‘won’.

However, if the sub-headline to Iain’s article was bad, then what followed was even worse as MacWhirter employed smear, wishful thinking and a sizeable dollop of eye-popping invention.

Try this sentence for size:

“How do Edinburghers express their fury at the trams fiasco when all the main parties are implicated one way or another, with the exception of the Tories perhaps?”

The trams were opposed both locally and nationally by one party – and it wasn’t the Tories.

The last council vote on the mater saw Labour supported by the Tory party in a proposal that was crazier than the original plan.  So insane was the amendment put forward by the Labour group that the person who proposed it was in shock when they left the chamber.

That the media, and BBC Scotland, desperately tried to blame the SNP (who had abstained) was evidence of nothing more than the state of the Scottish media.

There’s more in the article – take this for instance:

“All governments lose political momentum eventually: the media gets bored, scandals start chipping away at the leader’s credibility, voters start to blame the government for economic misfortune.  And by rights this should be happening to the SNP.”

The media gets bored with what Iain?  The Scottish media have desperately tried to create the impression of a scandal and inept ridden SNP Government since 2007. 

Edinburgh trams, Trump development, Megrahi release, Lunchgate, Souter knighthood, tea with Lottery winners and of course Murdoch meetings … and back to Trump again.  These are only a few of the shabby contrived ‘scandals’ devoid of evidence and, where investigated, resulted in a ‘not guilty’ verdict.

As far as “economic misfortune” is concerned, perhaps MacWhirter’s article was penned weeks before the latest economic figures were released that showed Scotland outperforming the UK, which has now been plunged into a second recession.

The SNP has been calling for more capital investment for months – the UK is in recession because of the Tory/Lib Dem government’s refusal to inject cash into this area.

Iain has a further pop at the SNP, claiming that somehow they have lost their way and a pre-referendum inertia has taken hold.

“The 2007 SNP administration had moral purpose coming out of its ears – condemning the war in Iraq, opposing nuclear weapons in the Clyde, tackling climate change and introducing the toughest CO2 emissions targets in the world.  Latterly it defined itself through opposing university tuition fees, promoting growth in favour of austerity and legislating for minimum pricing on alcohol.”

MacWhirter’s point is here is that this term, the SNP have lost the radical edge and aren’t really doing much.  The areas he chooses in order to back his claim though are spurious to say the least.

Iraq, nuclear weapons and the austerity measures are all reserved to Westminster and as far as I know the SNP stance on each has been vocal throughout and hasn’t changed.

Climate change and CO2 emissions?  Has Iain been on a remote island?  If there is one area the SNP has been pushing to the absolute max it is green renewable energy. 

The abolition of University tuition fees has been similarly profiled in tandem with Curriculum for Excellence.  And as for minimum pricing for alcohol, well that and anti-sectarianism legislation have both been pushed through in the face of fierce opposition from the Labour party.

Mr MacWhirter’s next observation is unfortunate, given the comments from Bank of England chief Mervyn King who revealed the eight month dithering of Gordon Brown’s Government when faced with the emerging banking crisis in 2008.

“It was that sense of purpose and conviction that allowed the SNP to sail through the 2008-10 financial crisis largely unscathed, even though Alex Salmond had been far too close to individuals such as Fred Goodwin and had been allowing his speeches to sound like press releases from RBS. Labour has never understood why it got a lot of the blame for the financial collapse and yet gained none of the credit for the banking rescue which was organised by a Labour Chancellor, Alistair Darling.  Why hasn’t Mr Salmond been tainted forever as the bankers’ little helper?”

Labour got the blame because Labour were in power, they alone controlled regulation.  Brown deregulated to such a degree that the USA were forced to do the same in order to prevent a migration of financial institutions across the pond.

The result was an anarchic free-for-all that saw a collapse in world banking and the demise of first Northern Rock then Bank of Scotland – Bradford and Bingley and RBS also succumbed.  US institutions also fell as the Ponzi scheme collapsed.

We now learn that one million job losses and a recession could have been avoided had Gordon Brown acted eight months earlier.  Maybe that’s why Alex Salmond hasn’t been tainted – it wasn’t his fault.

Iain then rushes to embrace the smears that have dominated much of the Scottish political narrative this past week:

“Alex Salmond, say Labour, is over-enamoured of rich men.  Look at the way he volunteered to lobby for Rupert Murdoch on his bid to take over BSkyB? … Look how he is refusing any inquiry into phone hacking in Scotland, and insisting it should be left to Leveson in London.

Labour is on the right lines here.”

So, smearing political opponents using baseless accusations backed up by conjecture and innuendo is “on the right lines”? 

Is this the same Iain MacWhirter who once wrote an article entitled ‘Stop the election smears, Brown deserves a fair chance’, where he proclaimed he didn’t believe stories suggesting Gordon Brown had a bad temper and had manhandled party aides and shouted at other workers?

Alex Salmond had five meetings with Rupert Murdoch.  He has claimed they were about jobs and investment, no doubt quite a bit if small talk ensued also, and – given Murdoch’s media background – it wouldn’t be surprising if the state of the newspaper industry in Scotland wasn’t discussed, another sector where jobs are in jeopardy here in Scotland.

In early March this year, on his blog, Mr MacWhirter wrote:

“Of course the First Minister insists Murdoch was just there to talk about jobs over ‘tea and Tunnocks caramel wafers’ as one of Scotland’s leading employers.  But if he thinks Scottish voters will believe that then he is out to lunch.  Salmond also says that he made his views clear about Leveson and newspaper ethics. 

But this came rather hollow from a politician who had just leaked the date of the Scottish independence referendum – 18th October – to give the super soaraway Sunday Sun a front page splash for its first edition.  Is that really the kind of behaviour we expect from our First Minister?  That he sells his referendum for a sycophantic tweet from Rupert Murdoch?”

More smears regarding the date of the referendum as claimed by the Sunday Sun.  There is nothing hollow about Salmond’s views on Leveson and newspaper ethics.  The SNP, alone in Scotland, has been hammering home the lack of action taken by Labour after the Operation Motorman report was compiled detailing widespread illegality across the newspaper sector.

MacWhirter, in common with almost every other journalist in Scotland, is guilty of suppressing Labour’s hypocrisy over illegal practices in the newspaper industry.  We are also still waiting for condemnation of Ed Miliband who attended an exclusive garden party hosted by Murdoch and who promised the Sun exclusive access to Labour’s new policy initiatives shortly after he became leader.

If Iain MacWhirter doesn’t want to accept Alex Salmond’s word that there was no secret deal agreed with Rupert Murdoch and that meetings focused on jobs then that’s his prerogative.  However a smear is a smear, whether levelled at Salmond or Brown.

The only way the First Minister can put a stop to wild smearing is to invite TV cameras into every meeting at Bute House.  Of course MacWhirter would be the first to accuse Salmond of gimmickry and of pandering to his own ego.

MacWhirter is one of a handful of commentators one could always be certain would employ reason and a degree of objectivity in his commentaries.

There’s no shortage of journalists prepared to manufacture attacks on Alex Salmond, we don’t need Iain MacWhirter to join this unseemly pack.