Old media and new media spoke with one voice in Scotland today:
But for once it was the dead-tree press that held the moral high ground.
Labour MSP James Kelly today published all the responses to his consultation on the repeal of the Offensive Behaviour (Football) Act, which poll after poll has consistently shown as one of the most overwhelmingly and universally popular pieces of legislation ever to be enacted in Scotland, uniting voters in support across party lines and every possible demographic line.
Readers may perhaps be less than entirely astonished to find that Kelly’s survey was an embarrassing mess. This was our favourite question:
That’s actually three questions rolled into one, two of which contradict each other, to which hapless participants were offered the reply options “Yes” or “No” – or the only answer that anyone could actually give honestly, “Unsure”.
(A functionally-identical question would be “Do you like fruit? If so, would you like a banana, or would you like an apple? Yes or No?”)
Respondents were entirely self-selecting, unfiltered and unweighted, giving the survey roughly the same amount of scientific validity as there’d be if this website decided to conduct a Twitter poll on independence. (There’s something of a theme to the groups who sent in submissions. See if you can spot it.)
In fairness, many of the responses were considered and enlightening, offering many thought-provoking arguments and observations. Here are the first two we clicked on genuinely at random from the 3000-plus individual PDFs on the website, which take diametrically opposing positions and make their cases strongly:
It’s fabulous stuff. “I oppose the law, but I have no idea what the advantages or disadvantages of repealing it would be, I have no idea what should be done instead to combat sectarianism, and I have no opinion on threatening communications. I just want to sing about Fenian blood and Derry’s walls.”
Some went into more detail, of course.
A plea for the cherished human right to express hate by singing, there.
But we digress (although it’s perhaps worth pointing out that the survey’s respondents were also keen to repeal the part of the law against sending individuals direct threats, an altogether uglier form of “free speech” which we suspect will be hastily glossed over by the Act’s opponents).
The more interesting thing was to note that while the Daily Record made Kelly’s meaningless dossier of bigot’s grievances its front-page lead, it at least didn’t pretend that it was something it wasn’t. The careful wording made no spurious claims – it’s technically true to say that “thousands of fans” backed repeal. Specifically, just over TWO thousand.
While highly misleading, it’s also not strictly inaccurate to describe the Act as the “hated Offensive Behavious law”. It only takes one person to hate something for it to be hated, after all.
But for a cover splash the Record’s tone and coverage seemed rather reluctant. The story got just 337 words in total, of which more than half (181) were quotes, and other than a highly dubious use of “massive public support” in the opening paragraph, reads like the absolute bare minimum the Labour-friendly paper thought it could get away with on a slow news day.
Common Space, however, went into full propaganda-foghorn mode, headlining their piece with the wildly inaccurate claim that “Over 70% of Scots want to scrap offensive behaviour law”.
Since 3,248 (the total number of respondents) is not 70% of the population and the survey wasn’t in any way demographically balanced in order to allow that number to be extrapolated to represent the entire nation (as a properly selected and weighted poll by a real polling company can be), that’s a blatantly false assertion.
And where the Record had split its 181 words of quotes fairly equally between Kelly (104) and a Scottish Government spokesman (77), Common Space didn’t trouble itself with any such balance, quoting more of Kelly’s press release than the Record had (122 words) but not bothering to give the Scottish Government a single word of reply.
We expect the broadcast media to cover the story at considerable length tonight, which would be unjustifiable in itself. (Although it may hold off until Wednesday, when a symbolic vote will take place in the Holyrood chamber that the SNP may well lose.)
What’s more disappointing is that on this subject, their supposed scrutineers are in fact even less trustworthy.