Friday 17 November 2017

The TV rating wars we've all been waiting for - Gaelic Mafia vs Russian Mafia

From my Daily Record column

The new Alex Salmond show presents me with a viewing challenge. I’d love to watch it but I fear he airs at the same time as re-runs of the evergreen “Speaking Our Language” with Rhoda MacDonald on BBC Alba.

It’s the viewing battle I’ve dreamed of for years - the beautiful Gaelic Mafia takes on the ugly face of the Russian Mafia. I know who’ll win that one.

But Salmond is no loser, he knows what he is doing by taking the Putin rouble.

Hiring himself out to the Kremlin-backed propaganda station on the same week RT registered with the US Department of Justice as a “foreign agent” is not a point of irony, it is exactly the point.

Going Slavic instead of going slàinte is a logical extension of the battle Alexi, as we must now address him, has been fighting against the UK media since at least 2012, earlier even.

It was about then, during the London Olympics NHS celebrations, the Queen’s rainy but jubilant Jubilee -  all that damn Britishness being beamed into Scottish living rooms - that the SNP leader crystallised his contempt for the most valued British asset, the BBC.

Auntie Beeb is the glue that holds Britain together, the flickering tribal flame which even in this day of splintered audiences gathers us around the polished Strictly dancefloor.

It’s not perfect, but when it comes to news the BBC is impartial, politically independent and still the most trusted thing about Britain.

So, from the perspective of the new Soviet hero, it must be destroyed.

To be fair Salmond did try to dismantle it first, demanding a Scottish Broadcasting Service airing kaleyard kitsch for the glens in the hope viewers turn their back on the Thames and the bass drumbeat of Eastenders. Some hope.

Instead he must de-legitimise the BBC. He had a fair go at this during the referendum, egging on the lynch mob BBC “bias” mentality as a “joyous” celebration.  

He knows he will be attacked for coming under Kremlin “kontrol” but putting himself on a news chatshow pedestal holds a mirror to other broadcasters, undermining their credibility in his reflected ego.

Of course RT is an arm of the Russian state, but isn’t the BBC the same thing, ask his useful idiots?

Isn’t the Putin rouble the same currency as the Daily Mail shilling? 

Well, the Daily Mail editor is keen on shooting wildlife, I hear, but not as enthusiastic as agents of the Russian state when it comes to shooting journalists.

There is no equivalence, at all, although for a Pavlovian section of nationalist support the comparison will be legitimate.   

I read Salmond wrong after 2014, I thought his hand in glove role with his successor was as father of the nation, a selfie daddy to all Scots.

Instead his task is to keep the 45 at 45 degrees centigrade, ready to boil the moment centre-ground Sturgeon decides the opportunity presents itself again.

It’s demeaning work for a former first-rate politician, but in the long game he thinks this will help crumble the Jericho walls of what keeps us British.  

Episode one of the Alexi show aired relatively unscathed, interviewing the exiled Catalan independence leader, the nearest thing we have to a 21st century Prince Charlie.

There is a limited supply of separatists to have as guests, though as a running theme some will never tire of Salmond’s trumpet.

Monday 13 November 2017

Who will carve up the fishing Brexit bonus?

From my Daily Record column 10/11/17

To the Fishmonger’s Hall, for a briefing on the bright future of fishing under Brexit. 

The splendid building is home of The Worshipful Company of Fishmongers, one of the great Livery Companies of London.

The Livery Companies were a posh name for the trading cartels that historically carved up business within the City of London boundaries.

It's a suitable venue for fishermen’s leaders who are the most enthusiastic supporters of leaving the EU and the shackles of the Commons Fisheries Policy.

They see fishing as the Brexit poster boy, with only a few months of transition out of the CFP after the UK’s March 2019 departure.

That’s to be followed by talks around a “grown-up” table that December to decide who gets access to the British fishing grounds. 

They don’t doubt the UK government will deliver on this. Everyone is aware of the “political dynamics” as Bertie Armstrong of the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation puts it diplomatically.

That’s shorthand for eight of your Tory MPs in Scotland were elected on the back of Brexit-voting fishing communities, Mrs May.

Any sniff of betrayal and you can kiss goodbye to a Tory majority and see the SNP racing back in the North East faster than a grey seal can swallow a half ton of haddock.

Fishing is only 0.1 per cent of the UK’s economy but is an important symbol of taking back control, to borrow a phrase.

Fishing leaders anticipate a last-minute Brussels ambush in Brexit negotiations to demand continued access to UK waters for EU fleets as the price for a wider trade deal.

Fishermen are having none of that and the UK government is in delicate position, my shorthand for when fishermen have a hold of politicians by the, er, gills.

The guildmen serving breakfast assure us that by controlling UK waters there will be fish for all. 

What they mean is a bigger share of the fish stocks for the cartel of supermarket-sized trawlers that prowl UK seas.

The bizarre quota system of fishing has succeeded only in concentrating catching power in the hands of fewer and fewer powerful fishing interests and family businesses which deploy ever more efficient ships to hoover up the seas.  

For all their talk of reviving Britain’s coastal communities fishing organisations show no willingness to loosen the grip the big boys have on the quota. 
Any Scottish politician serious about preventing a Brexit “power grab” should stand ready to challenge big fishing interests.

If Brexit means Brexit there should be a UK-wide strategy to revive small and medium scale operations from the Telford harbours and towns long ago left behind by the super-trawlers.

It will mean taking some of the power, and some of the profit, away from the big boys in the guild hall.

Over to you Ian Duncan, Michael Gove, Fergus Ewing and any MP and MSP with a coastal constituency.   

Sùil Eile air Eòrpa aig còig air fhichead

Sùil Eile bhon an Daily Record

Chuir cuideigin nam chuimnhe gun robh an còigeamh sreath thar fhichead de dh’Eòrpa a’ tòiseachadh air an t-seachdain seo.

Deagh naidheachd dhan phrògram as bunasaiche a thàinig à leudachadh telebhisean na Gàidhlig.

Droch naidheachd dhuinne a bha an-sàs anns a’ chiad sreath.

Mar a bhiodh na cailleachan a’ cantainn mun telebhisean, cha robh an internet againn an uair sin.

Agus mealaibh uile ur naidheachd, sgioba 2.0 aig Eòrpa, a tha air duais Bafta a bhuannachadh an aghaidh phrògraman làidir anns a’ chànan eile.

Tha iarrtas ann a-nis gum bi tionndadh Beurla de dh’Eòrpa air a dhèanamh airson uair a thìde as ùr de phrògraman naidheachdan a tha gu bhith aig BBC Scotland an ath-bhliadhna.

‘S e buille bàis a bhiodh an sin dhan phrògram Gàidhlig. 

A’ chiad riaghailt airson craoladh na Gàidhlig, ‘s e bhith a’ cruthachadh sgeulachdan nach fhaic sibh anns a’ Bheurla.

Rudeigin cho luachmhor ri Eòrpa, bu chòir a ghlèidheadh.

Chan eil an t-airgead ann airson a bhith mar sgafallachd airson seirbheas Beurla, a bhios mar sgimilear a dh’itheas am biadh bhon a’ bhòrd.

English translation

Someone reminded me that the 25th series of Eorpa was starting this week.
Great news for the most original programme that came out of the expansion of Gaelic television.
Terrible news for those of us who were involved in the first series.
As the grannies used to say about the televisison, we didn’t have the internet then.
And congratulations to the Eorpa 2.0 team who won a Bafta prize against strong programmes in the other language.
There’s a demand now for an English version of Eorpa for a the new, hour-long news programme that BBC Scotland is launching next year.
That will be the death knell of the Gaelic programme.
The first rule of Gaelic broadcasting is to create stories that you do not see in English.
Something as valuable as Eorpa, it should be preserved.
The funding is not there to be a scaffold for an English service, which will be like a freeloader eating food from the table.

Sunday 5 November 2017

Cui bono, and what happens now to Brexit?

From my Daily Record column on Friday

Who benefits? Always the key question when a crime or a political crisis takes place.

Well, obviously Gavin Williamson is the winner of the “Pestminster” sexual harassment scandal.

In a moment of catastrophe the ambitious Tory chief whip, who has risen from nowhere in seven years, recommended himself for the more powerful job of UK Defence Secretary.

Theresa May is such a weak Prime Minister that she could only accept his support. Older ambitious men in cabinet, appalled at his audacity, cannot contain their jealousy. That’s the men. 

Women may have won,  that's a qualified result because cleaning out the political stable, as Ruth Davidson put it, of dirty old men who feel entitled to take advantage of younger women does not end sexual harassment. 

When the spin out from the grotesque Harvey Weinstein allegations collided with the world of British politics a serious problem was in danger of being reduced to gossipy tittle-tattle about knee-touching.

It took the grave claims by Labour activist Bex Bailey of a covered-up rape to underscore what is at stake. We might be at a turning point in public life, but the fight for equality and against sexual harassment will be a constant battleground.

The opposition are surely winners, if they have the strength of will to seize the prize. 

Yes, the PM is weakened, but Brexit, the issue that defines our political destiny steams on, dented but not derailed - yet. 

The big news of Michael Fallon’s resignation overshadowed two important developments in the Brexit debate on Wednesday.

Firstly, the opposition managed to force a vote that ought to bind the government into revealing the impact assessment of Brexit on 58 sectors of the economy.

The statistics, if they are redacted they will be leaked, will spell out the devastating effect of this act of national self-sabotage. Some minds may be changed.

The same day the Electoral Commission announced it was opening an investigation into Aaron Banks, the millionaire funder of UKIP and the Leave.EU campaign. 

Russia clearly attempted to manipulate the results of the US and French presidential elections. Why on earth would it not seek to diminish one of the world’s leading nuclear powers and undermine the 
European trading bloc by interfering with the Brexit referendum?

Following the Leaver loot might lead all the way to Moscow, but whether Russian propagandists slewed the Brexit result is now almost academic.

There is a sense of resignation across the UK that Brexit will now happen, when the time is opportune to stop it. 

Theresa May’s government is beginning to resemble John Major’s, but that government limped on for five year stabbing itself into incompetence.

May’s is unravelling quicker, but  there is no sign of Labour derailing the Brexit process.

Keir Starmer shows signs of being able to do it, the SNP would willingly join in the act, Corbyn is the drag anchor. 

The Tories are in a bloody mess but that is no guarantee that Corbyn's Labour party can win.

But to recall Tony Blair, if they can’t take this lot apart in the next few years they shouldn’t be in the business of politics at all.

Catalonia makes me grateful for David Cameron

El Mundo editorial the morning after Catalan parliament declaration

There can’t be many good weeks to be David Cameron, the worst Prime Minister Britain had in modern times.

But last weekend, as I tried to unknot the constitutional mare’s nest of Catalonia, I actually felt grateful for his premiership.

The Catalan declaration of UDI has little effect on the Scottish independence debate, but imagine what would be happening now had Cameron not staged the 2014 referendum here.

Had Scotland not voted three years ago Nicola Sturgeon would be under crazy pressure from hard-core nationalists to follow through on the Catalan example.

They staged an illegal referendum, violently opposed by the Spanish state, and declared independence on the back of a 92 per cent yes vote on a 43 per cent turn out. Now their leaders are in court or residing in Belgium and the ugly mess is heading to a December election.

Some SNP MSPs are dancing in the streets at the Catalan crisis, though Sturgeon is canny enough to keep her distance.

I was in Mallorca last week, the Catalan island has a relationship with Barcelona akin to Shetland’s regard for Edinburgh.

They weren’t dancing there, and anyone celebrating the breakaway Catalan republic should be careful what they wish for.

Those making the most capital out of Catalan crisis are Europe’s far-right nationalists, people most SNP supporters would run a mile from. 

I remember years ago trying to make a programme about the legacy of the Spanish civil war and discovering, in my naivety, that an event celebrated as a great socialist struggle by Scots was regarded as a tragic, embarrassing taboo by Spaniards.

It was an early lesson in not assuming you can inhabit other people’s histories or political skin.  

As I have said before the only parallel that can be drawn between Scotland and Catalonia is that we had a legally agreed referendum and settled the issue. Not forever, perhaps, but for now, with a vote and and undisputed result.