…you probably write for the Express.
Yesterday we posted a couple of tweets observing the fact that the Scottish media had conspicuously ignored the phenomenon that is The Wee Blue Book. (We’d have made more of the total blanking had we been even a little bit surprised.)
Despite having extensively reported almost every other document published about the referendum debate (such as Sir Tom Hunter’s almost-impenetrable digital-only effort), the press saw nothing at all newsworthy about a 72-page book that’s been downloaded over 400,000 times online and which a small team of complete amateurs had managed to fund, print and distribute more than 250,000 physical copies of in a matter of days, with demand still far outstripping supply.
But it turned out we were being a little unfair.
Because an alert reader pointed out today that we’d actually missed a feature in last weekend’s Scottish Sunday Express – one penned by its actual honest-to-goodness editor, no less. And said reader was kind enough to send it to us.
A book of errors is a new gospel
IT USED to be only Jehovah’s Witnesses who would turn up at your door and attempt to “convert” you.
Now, sadly, it seems that thousands of people are at it. All over Scotland, a new breed of zealot is rushing around, clutching leaflets and other literature based on halfbaked theories, trying to persuade others to share their faith.
Yes. It’s sad that people engage actively and enthusiastically with politics.
Yet these modern-day evangelists are not religious - in fact, most are probably atheist/humanist/Jedi knight. Rather they are independence supporters, many of whom view it as their mission in life to win over new believers.
They leap out of bed in the morning with a messianic zeal, eager to persuade undecided or even - the Holy Grail - No voters to put their tick in the Yes box come September 18.
After each successful “conversion”, these political preachers rush to Twitter and Facebook to boast about their achievement - although I wonder how many folk have agreed with them merely to get some peace.
Most also turn to the Internet to back up their assertions about independence, despite the fact that online research can “prove” anything from the existence of aliens to the staging of 9/11 with giant mirrors.
However, the main weapon in their armoury is not the Scottish Government’s white paper on independence, or serious contributions from free-thinking nationalists such as Jim Sillars or Dennis Canavan. It is a wee blue book.
The Wee Blue Book has been produced by the website Wings Over Scotland, a controversial and outspoken politics blog that was even disowned by Yes Scotland a few months ago.
It is run by a former video game journalist called Stuart Campbell, a Scot who has lived in Bath for many years.
Wings Over Scotland is very good at mobilising its followers and highlighting online blunders by Unionists – such as last week pointing out a celebratory “champagne breakfast” planned by Scottish Conservatives in Dumfries on the morning of September 19.
HOWEVER, Wings Over Scotland is not a newsgathering operation. Mr Campbell – who styles himself “Reverend” – does not interview politicians, economists or business people and does not attend press conferences or debates at Westminster or Holyrood.
Well, they’re a long way from Bath. But we weren’t aware that there was a shortage of outlets interviewing politicians, economists or businesspeople. That angle seems to be covered more than adequately already. (Also, didn’t you say we weren’t religious?)
The website admits as much, describing its output as largely “commentary and analysis” - and yet a significant number of people appear to be using this one man’s personal opinion to decide how to vote in the referendum.
No, what they’re using are the facts. We’re just the messenger. It’s a quite appalling and condescending slur on half the population of Scotland to suggest that they’d vote Yes just because some idiot with a website told them to. People change their minds on the basis of evidence, and we provide sources for all of ours so that people can check it for themselves. It’s a crazy idea, newspapers might want to try it out sometime.
I downloaded a free copy of The Wee Blue Book last week and, while its breezy, knockabout style is easy to follow, it contains several glaring mistakes and contradictions.
For example, there is an admission that Scotland receives more UK public spending (£64.5billion in 2011/12) than we generate in tax (£57billion in 2011/12). But in the very same chapter, the book claims that “Scotland subsidises the UK by billions of pounds every year”.
That’s not a contradiction at all. We explain it very clearly in the book – Scotland contributes more than its proportionate share to the UK’s coffers, and the “extra spending” is in fact debt taken out by Westminster in Scotland’s name, which Scotland has to pay back. Indeed, Scotland has to pay back a disproportionately high share of UK debt, so it gets hit twice – and then the UK uses the resulting financial damage to suggest that Scotland is too poor to look after itself. Cunning.
It’s perfectly possible (indeed, almost universal) for one partner to contribute more to the household finances than the other, yet for the family as a whole still to be in debt.
It also states: “The No campaign’s most repeated scare story is that an independent Scotland wouldn’t be able to keep the UK pound. This is a categorical lie.”
Well, yes, it would be if anybody at Westminster had ever said Scotland couldn’t keep the pound - the issue at stake is whether there would be a currency union, an option that has been ruled out by all three main UK parties.
Um, no. Nice try, but the No campaign most certainly HAS said that Scotland couldn’t keep the pound AT ALL, absolutely explicitly, a great many times. We conveniently documented some of them less than a fortnight ago. (That “evidence” thing again.)
The book also borrows the SNP’s current scare story du jour and warns that “if” the NHS in England were to be fully privatised, it would wipe out the devolved health budget in Scotland – “if” being the key word. The health budget in England is, in fact, ringfenced and has been rising year on year.
Except that it hasn’t. As it happened we’d disproved that claim the very same day, with the assistance of the Telegraph – a publication which we think even the Express would struggle to describe as a hotbed of separatist zealotry and Jedi knights.
ANOTHER ludicrous assertion is the claim that “modern-day Scotland is a country entirely without military enemies”. Eh? Does Rev Campbell really think that al Qaeda or Isis distinguishes between Scotland and the rest of the UK? And if we are to be a member of Nato, then surely we will have the same common enemies as the rest of our allies?
“Military” enemies, you dimwit. The word’s there for a reason. Al-Qaeda and Isis are, at best, paramilitary. They have no air force, no navy, no divisions, no battalions, no tanks, no helicopters and no warships. They’re well-equipped terrorists, and you can’t beat terrorists with armies. (Not that the UK ever learns the lesson and stops trying.)
And lots of countries are NATO members without attracting the anger of terrorists in the way the UK does. It was, after all, the former head of MI5, not us, who said that UK foreign policy – not NATO’s, specifically the UK’s – “substantially” increased the risk of terrorist attack. If Scotland doesn’t share UK foreign policy, it doesn’t have to share the same enemies, even if it’s in NATO.
I could go on, but I think I hear somebody at the door. Ah yes, it’s Uncle Archie with his copy of The Wee Blue Book, here to attempt another “conversion”.
What was it Billy Connolly said was the best way to get rid of Jehovah’s Witnesses? “I am stark naked, and I am opening the door in five, four, three…”
Blah blah. So there isn’t in fact a single “glaring mistake” that’s been identified by the article, nor a “contradiction” either. But still, it’s flattering that they sent their top man for the job. Even if that’s not, in the Express’s case, a very high bar to clear.