Writing a site like this is in one sense an exercise in idealistic cognitive dissonance. No matter how often the opposite turns out to be the case, you always sort of hope, deep down, that if you highlight someone’s occasional failings in a calm and factual manner they’ll say “Oh well, that’s a fair cop”, and even if they don’t change their ways they’ll at least acknowledge the validity of legitimate, honest criticism.
But as we say, it rarely turns out that way. Last night we picked up on what was at heart a fairly minor semantic quibble with high-profile Scottish-politics commentator David Torrance, arising from the evening’s edition of Scotland Tonight. He got in touch with us on Twitter almost immediately to object in rather strong terms to our views, and an exchange went on until around 2am when everyone seemingly went to bed.
We thought no more of it, although we hoped this morning that there might be some answers to some questions that Mr Torrance had explicitly invited during the debate. Instead, to our surprise (we know, still) and dismay, not only were none to be found, but the entire discussion – at his end, anyway – had completely vanished.
Well, sort of vanished, of course. We might be idealistic but we’re not stupid, and if there’s anything we’ve learned about the internet it’s that people like to try to delete their trails when they’ve done something they’re embarrassed about. Another thing we’ve learned is that it almost never works.
So for the sake of posterity, here’s what David Torrance – a vociferous critic of online rudeness in the Scottish political sphere – said to us on Twitter last night that he doesn’t want anyone to know about any more.
(We’ve corrected the odd Twitspeak abbreviation for readability, but changed nothing else. As Twitter conversations are multi-threaded, we’ve done our best to get comments all in the right order. You can see the unedited original tweets here.)
DAVID TORRANCE: You’ve outdone yourself in terms of paranoid ramblings. Definition of ‘majority’ in electoral terms widely understood except by you.
WINGS OVER SCOTLAND: Except the referendum isn’t an election, is it? Who wins if there are two Yes votes and one No vote? People who don’t know either pick a side or stay home. Side that gets the most votes has a “majority” by definition.
DT: Um, that would make a 2-to-1 victory for ‘yes’. You can’t strip out don’t knows in a referendum, thus no one in UK polling does.
WOS: Of course you can, because that’s what happens in the actual vote.
DT: Anyway enough, as a pal once said: you can’t shout logic at a maniac & expect to win the argument. Happy (deranged) blogging.
WOS: Not quite sure why believing in basic X>Y arithmetic makes one a “deranged maniac”, but as you like.
DT: Oh, mustn’t have made myself clear: I meant generally.
WOS: ZING! Must be a lot of deranged maniacs in Scotland, then. But as a Tory I imagine you think that already.
DT: No, you’re the deranged maniac, who (ironically) gives your own side a bad name; you’d need self-awareness to appreciate that.
WOS: I’m aware of soaring readership figures, but they’re probably all psycho nutjobs too, I suppose. Gnite.
DT: And don’t you think labelling me a ‘Tory’ & using a (rather good) old pic to illustrate your blog is a bit puerile?
WOS: You are, aren’t you? I don’t think it’s anything to be ashamed of, even though I’m at the opposite end. And there aren’t any better landscape pics. Feel free to send one over if you’d prefer it.
DT: By any measurement – voting habits, political beliefs & party membership – I’m not, and here’s you claiming to be ‘factual’.
WOS: Happy to stand corrected, merely the impression I’ve arrived at from everything I’ve seen you say.
DT: Such as? You’ll be referring, of course, to all the articles I’ve written slagging off the Scottish Tory Party (of which there are many).
WOS: Well, the fact you write prominently on the very Tory ThinkScotland seems a pointer. Ian Smart slags off Labour frequently too, and Jim Sillars the SNP. [Making the obvious point that someone can criticise a party while still being a member, voter or supporter of it.]
DT: I’ve written several articles for newsnetscotland too, so not sure what your point is.
[We could only locate this one, though NNS has no search facility or author pages so there may be others we haven’t found.]
WOS: My point, simply enough, is that the impression I’ve personally formed is that you lean towards the Conservatives. I make no claims of a scientific basis, merely a view formed over many months.
DT: And if it’s nothing to be ashamed of, why did your pejorative use of the term & picture feature so prominently in your blog?
WOS: “Pejorative”? In what sense? Mentioned it once, in the phrase “Tory commentator David Torrance”, which doesn’t seem to fit [that description].”
DT: To imply political bias/allegiance in a commentator is generally pejorative.
WOS: I’ve repeatedly said on the site that there’s nothing wrong with commentators having allegiances. They’re people too. I’d find it a lot weirder and be a lot more mistrustful if they didn’t.
DT: Your use of that pic underlined that general aim.
WOS: These were the options.
DT: They all look reasonable to me. Except the ones that aren’t me, obviously. [Around this point someone else interjects that the shot of Torrance with Thatcher and Major is “a smashing picture”. Torrance replies “Indeed it is. I regularly use it to annoy left-wing friends on Facebook.”]
WOS: But you like the one I used. “Rather good”, you said. And it’s landscape. So what’s the problem?
DT: It had absolutely nothing to do with the content of your blog.
WOS: If you have any pictures of you looking confused with an abacus, I’d be happy to run them. The blog was about you and it’s a picture of you. That’s a connection. I like having a picture in a post.
DT: That’s an incredibly feeble argument but then, as I said, you’re a little bit nuts.
WOS: Having a picture of the subject of an article is a “feeble” justification? Er, okay.
DT: I’ve tried to reblock you but can’t. G’nite.
WOS: Then feel free to just ignore me. I shan’t bother you again. I’m genuinely disappointed and baffled that you’re so angry. But mostly disappointed that you’re sticking to your absurd line that most votes in a 2-choice referendum isn’t a majority.
DT: When did I say that? I was only ever talking about polling – you’ve erroneously conflated the two.
WOS: Define “erroneously”. As there will be no Don’t Knows, the polls show which side will win, and therefore have the majority. And just by the by, I’ve added a footnote to the article noting that you object to the description “Tory”. Fair-minded, me. Even to people hurling abuse at me with piqued abandon.
DT: You could also correct the part of the blog which claims I said something I didn’t. And remove the irrelevant picture. I didn’t assert what you just claimed I did; I was only ever talking about Indy polling, not the [referendum] itself. Sigh.
WOS: Which part would that be?
DT: I never disputed that more yes than no votes in the [referendum] wouldn’t constitute a majority.I was talking about opinion polls.
WOS: My interpretation of what you said respectfully differs. But then, I’m a paranoid deranged maniac.
DT: It’s not a matter of interpretation, it’s about what I did & did not say. And you consider your blog responsible & accurate?
WOS: That assertion rests on a non-definitive interpretation of the word “majority”. As far as I’m concerned, a poll showing more Yes votes than No votes in a referendum with only two choices is a majority. Your alternative view is also legitimate, but somewhat hairsplitty.
DT: [Are you] not embarrassed to have written blog based on a misrepresentation of my argument & undermined it with puerile language & use of pix?
WOS: Still waiting to hear what the “puerile” or “pejorative” language was, or why you want a picture you like removed. But, y’know, shall I start scouring your work for things I consider inaccurate or misrepresentation? Or would that be the action of a tiresome obsessive?
DT: Yes, and I’ll fess up when they (genuinely) are inaccurate or misleading, something you seem incapable of doing.
WOS: Okay then, but we could be here a while. (And clearly I’m not – I’ve added your refutation, while retaining it as my personal impression.)
[At this point we essentially stuck a pin in Mr Torrance’s work, alighting on a piece from ThinkScotland about last year’s fuss around EU membership.]
DT: And that’s inaccurate how?
WOS: What Salmond actually said in that interview was “Yes, [+qualifier]”. You’ve ignored the qualifier and called him a liar.
DT: Pretty feeble. And I called no one a ‘liar’ – that’s the sort of word people like you use.
WOS: You said that he said yes but meant no. What would that be but a lie?
“Desperate not to be labelled a “cutter Salmond presented a reduction in further education college funding as a modest rise.” A clear implication that he did it deliberately, rather than reading figures provided in error in good faith. Which is a much more likely explanation, given the certainty of detection and embarrassing apology. But you presented that as a deliberate act, in a piece called “Salmond’s fickle relationship with the truth.” Fair?
[Six hours later, not directed at us]
DT: Twitter seems to have unblocked everyone I’ve blocked (with good reason), but they still show up as ‘blocked’. Any advice on how to rectify?
By that point, Torrance had deleted every one of the tweets to us recorded above. It seems fair to assume that he’s not, despite explicitly inviting it, going to respond to the challenge of his inaccurately misrepresenting what Alex Salmond said about the EU, or tell us whether it’s more puerile to talk about “cleaning up First Ministerial mess with a political pooper-scooper” than it is to publish a mildly amusing picture of someone in an article about them.
To be honest, after he went silent at 2am we expected that, and we’d have let the matter drop. But when people suddenly try to pretend something didn’t happen at all, especially when they’ve accused us of all sorts of unprofessionalism and hypocrisy in the process, we’d rather keep the records correct.