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Damning with praise

Posted on January 15, 2013 by

Tory commentator* David Torrance was a little mean about us on Twitter last night, but we won’t hold it against him. As a ubiquitous cross-media Scottish pundit, though, we’re a bit more concerned about his journalistic diligence and grasp of arithmetic.

The bespectacled biographer appeared on the evening’s edition of Scotland Tonight, and tweeted a question about the preceding interview with Blair Jenkins, in which the Yes campaign chief had claimed to recall opinion polls in recent years showing a majority for independence. Helpfully, we sent over a link, annotated with details of several that fitted the criterion of a higher Yes vote than No vote.

But it turns out that according to Mr Torrance, getting more votes than the only other option in a two-choice referendum doesn’t count as a win.

The problem was that only one of the examples we cited showed support for independence over 50%, rather than simply being higher than opposition to it. But of course, you can’t vote Don’t Know in a referendum. If people don’t know they don’t vote, and if they don’t vote their views aren’t counted. If only three people turn out in autumn 2014 and two of them vote Yes, that’s still a majority and you still win, because anything else is a ridiculous affront to the simplest principles of democracy.

It’s not a complicated argument, but Mr Torrance continued to dispute it with people far more distinguished than ourselves (having initially denied the one outright-majority poll, from 2006, existed at all), which we found odd and a little discomfiting. You’d expect a professional political commentator to be able to grasp the difference between a multi-party election (which has the possibility of a plurality) and a Yes/No referendum (which doesn’t), but it seemed to keep escaping him.

Curious, we had a look a little further back on his timeline and found an intriguing exchange from the previous evening. During a discussion involving the Labour For Independence group and our dear old pal Duncan Hothersall, a Green activist had revealed some polling data about Labour members which we’d covered way back in December 2011, as well as another poll analysed by Lallands Peat Worrier in summer 2012, both of which showed that roughly 20% of Labour voters support independence.

(A proportion that until that point Hothersall had been ridiculing as preposterous.)

Torrance’s reply was “Finally some evidence!”, which seemed a curious thing to say, given that he’s a political analyst/journalist, the data had been in the public domain for 15 and six months respectively, and Ipsos MORI and YouGov (who conducted and published the two polls in question) aren’t exactly obscure sources.

Sadly we couldn’t conduct a direct Twitter conversation about any of this with him, because David suddenly blocked us many months ago, just after a perfectly pleasant chat about Mrs Thatcher and without a cross word having been exchanged. Only as a result of Monday evening’s events did we finally find out that our crime was apparently being “tiresome and a little bit obsessive”.

But as that seems to mean “doing your research properly and knowing what you’re talking about even when you’re not being paid for it”, it’s an insult we’ll wear with pride.


*Mr Torrance contacted Wings Over Scotland on Twitter within minutes of the publication of this article, expressing his anger at this description, which he claimed to regard as a personal slur. (Although in making the complaint he did also throw out terms like “paranoid”, “deranged” and “maniac”, which seemed perhaps a wee smidge hypocritical.) Nevertheless, while it remains our honest personal impression of his political views, formed over many months, we’re happy to note here in the interests of fairness that Mr Torrance emphatically denies any such preferences.

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41 to “Damning with praise”

  1. Castle Rock says:

    You can clearly look after yourself so you don’t need me to back you up but I do find it odd that he was the one who was being fairly unpleasant and abusive when you were making factual and straightforward comments.

    It does get pretty tiresome listening to people decry independence supporters for being abusive when they are clearly nothing of the kind, some people really need to take a step back and have a long hard look at their own actions.


  2. Rev. Stuart Campbell says:

    I was genuinely surprised and disappointed. I’d rather hoped the blocking had been some kind of error – as I said, I’d never had an argument with him and the last conversation we had was extremely civil and interesting. He even sent me a chapter of his book on Thatcher. I don’t recall saying anything unpleasant about him on WingsLand. So I’ve honestly no idea why he’s now so apparently bitter, and a bit sad about it.

  3. Oldnat says:

    You may be a “paranoid deranged maniac”, but far saner than the Unionist “paranoid deranged maniacs”,

    Alternatively, describing anyone in such terms is somewhat distasteful. 

  4. blunttrauma says:

    Glad I don’t follow David Torrance.

  5. Chic McGregor says:

    We (Independence First) compiled a list of all the poll results of the type with a YES/NO answer to independence up to 2006.  There were a few thereafter as well but then the proposed question about ‘Negotiating with Westminster’ appeared in the SNP manifesto and pollsters switched to that (with an approx 5-10% drop compared to the YES to indy option).

  6. JR Tomlin says:

    There is a tendency amongst the Unionists to descend to schoolyard name-calling that is truly disturbing. This is a fair example of that. It honestly does them no good in managing to look sane to an outsider such as I am. Unfortunately Mr. Torrance shows evidence of having joined the “if I can’t win, I’ll call you names” fraternity.

    Seriously, he was insulted because you called him a Tory? Well, I know some Scots for whom those would be fighting words.  

  7. pmcrek says:

    Basically he’s lashing out with ad hominem because he knows he has made a rather public mistake.

  8. Keef says:

    “if you had pic looking confused with an abacus I’d be happy to run that”

    Still smiling at that retort Stu.

    “up there for thinking …. Down there fordancing” as my dad would say.


    A deranged maniac. (perhaps a by product of 300 years of having my countries decisions being made for her by some faceless mandarin in Whitehall).

  9. Macart says:

    He’s heard of Google, right? 🙂

    As for the personal insult, I’m with Oldnat.

  10. Keef says:

    Hilarious news in the hootsmon re: Moore playing hardball in the negotiation phase of independence. Rare praise for the hootsmon for highlighting the severe backtracking and an extreme case of schadenfreude to see that the Sec. of state for Scotland has been put straight as to what his role will be after the yes vote – basically he’ll be redundant as I said yesterday.

    Just goes to show- you don’t need a long neck to look like a goose.


  11. djwomble says:

    Young Mr T used to engage with me in pleasant twitter exchanges. We had been following each other for some time. I just discovered last week I’d been blocked by him; my first blocking. My crime? I criticized a new Dundee Uni think tank for appointing Mr T as an “independent” executive. I suspect young Mr T has his career in mind when he pretends not to be a Tory.

  12. Iain says:

    Yet more clear evidence that commentators & journalists of even a slightly Unionist hue (which they’d no doubt define as fearless scepticism and a deep desire to speak truth to power, albeit only that wielded by the SNP) are absurdly touchy; ironic since this is usally one of the first brickbats chucked at ‘prickly’ nats. I guess there’s a lot of sublimated rage and fear going on as they see the institutions which they’ve hung their careers on being shoogled down to the foundations.

  13. Tearlach says:

    O/T, but Roy Greenslade’s blog in the Guardian is all about the decline in Scottish Newspaper sales (in a gosh – wow – when did this happen sort of way).

    Comments are open….   

  14. Seasick Dave says:

    I wonder which way he will be voting?

    Maybe he could illuminate us with his thoughts.

  15. BigCheese says:

    Off topic, apologies! Michael McCann Labour MP for East Kilbride area has an online survey that asks some slightly misleading questions. It would be worth as many as possible sharing our opinions with him as he hasn’t restricted it to constituents. I was amused to see many questions starting ‘Do you agree…’.

    He has promised to publish the responses in Feb. Get in there!!!

  16. Aplinal says:

    @Big Cheese
    Hmmm.  Quite odd.  It is possible for anyone to complete the survey, which seems odd as this is supposed to be a constituency survey.  I wonder of the same rules applied in the past.  I also looked at the last survey in July 2012 which was interesting.
    Lots of older contributors, 36% of total were over 60 yoa
    56% female, who have been shown to be more “conservative” about independence
    And then the contradictions.  Asked about the present government, which I assume means Westminster:
    73% felt they were worse off; 79% felt everyone was worse off; 81% felt it would get even worse; BUT
    65% felt the UK was better together!!!
    Something does not compute, at least in my mind it doesn’t.   s_s I need you!

  17. Doug Daniel says:

    I dunno Stu, I’ve just had a look at your Twitter feed, and it appears you’ve been conducting some one-sided debate with David, and talking to yourself on Twitter is always a bad sign.

    Unless… No, it’s unthinkable… He’s deleted some offending tweets? 

  18. Bella says:

    I think this is a symptom of journalists mistaken belief that they are working on some higher level than others. It comes from insecurity.

  19. Rev. Stuart Campbell says:

    “I dunno Stu, I’ve just had a look at your Twitter feed, and it appears you’ve been conducting some one-sided debate with David, and talking to yourself on Twitter is always a bad sign. Unless… No, it’s unthinkable… He’s deleted some offending tweets?”

    Heavens above. Now I wish I’d been wary enough to save them all in case of such an eventuality. If only, eh?


  20. Doug Daniel says:

    “Heavens above. Now I wish I’d been wary enough to save them all in case of such an eventuality. If only, eh?”

    Surely only a paranoid, obsessive maniac would do such a thing? 😛 

  21. bigbuachaille says:

    I tweeted this link to the New Statesman to D Torrance’s request. No acknowledgement.

  22. Bruce Hosie says:

    Torrence is an apologist for the system that he makes his money from. I can’t remember any decent contribution he has made to the debate. No time for him at all.

  23. Bill Fraser says:

    I got barred too, I think it was for pointing out that he was a right wing ex advisor to David Mundell

  24. Midgehunter says:

    Does anybody really take Torrance for serious – come on..!
    The man is nothing more than a predendy right-wing intellectual caught between Maggie (the hammer of the handbags) and Major’s underpants.
    Scratch the surface of his bureaucratic mindset and out pops the real face of bitterness.

    Move on and forget him, he’s got nothing to say of importance.

  25. tartanfever says:

    So majorities have to be over 50% to count in Torrance-world. This could prove a very handy statistic in the months to come when replying to him.

  26. Bill C says:

    It’s fairly obvious that Mr. Torrance, like many unionists, is concerned at the way the referendum debate is going. The fact that Wings over Scotland is making a major contribution to the YES campaign, is just adding to his irritation.

  27. Ipso Facto says:

    I was also blocked by the inestimable Mr Torrance. Though to be fair, It came after I commented (in good humour, I though anyway) that his union jack ipod dock might be a little lacking in taste. Not the thickest of skins. 

    Kind of ironic really, but the one thing that gives weight to the argument that Scotland is incapable of running it’s own affairs is the Scottish mainstream media, and it’s frankly farcical array of ‘political commentators, editors, experts ‘ etc. It’s embarrassing.

  28. Bill Fraser says:

    The annoying thing is that he is presented as an unbiased commentator, when clearly he is not.

  29. Chic McGregor says:

    For some reason the direct links to photobucket do not seem to work correctly from this site, they take you to the home page.  But it seems if you cut and paste into the address bar it takes you directly to the graphic I gave above.  So try that if it did not work for you.

  30. james morton says:

    It’s a theme i have picked up from Torrance before. He will point to the low turn out of the 2011 election, leaving the question hanging in the air so to speak. If somehow the sheer number of abstainers or no votes renders the result worthless.

    The problem with this silent non-voting element of the electorate is that in not voting, they are infact accepting the result of the vote – regardless of their politcial inclinations. Now thats alright if your vote share is enough to carry you through. It gets worrisome when your vote share not only seems to shrinking but filling the ranks of the don’t know wing, and your opponent seems to be static or increasing. Torrance, like many other pro-union commentators have realised that this is whats happening to the Better together campaign. He has commented at length about how the polls seemed to be static, and clearly took comfort from this. Now its clear its weighing on his mind.

    I did note the David is now saying that somehow a low turn out, even if broadly supporting indy, is illegitimate because of the low turn out (as he sees it – the don’t knows staying at home). Of course it would be unkind and even gauche to point out that something similar happened in 2010 in the GE and happens quite often in other countries – including the US.

    I think he is beginning to realise that the No camp should have pressed for a second question. Expect more in this vein from other pro-union commentators as we move forward into 2013.

  31. scottish_skier says:


    Watch when pasting links here. A blank space is often added on the end for some reason and messes up the link. Try now: 

  32. Dal Riata says:

    It’s just another example of pro-Union journalists being very tetchy and ‘outraged’ when found out to be no more than propagandists for their ’cause’ – especially when it comes from what they like to think of as the common-or-garden ‘blogerati’!

    Some of these so-called journalists are so up themselves – being ‘proper journalists’, and working for the MSM and all! – that being outed for deliberate manipulating of facts, misinformation, outright lies, etc. by someone such as a ‘mere ‘blogger”  brings forth replies – if there are any – which are full of contempt and accusations of ‘abuse’, ‘dishonesty’, or any other such forms of put-down. They just don’t like it up’em, basically!

  33. scottish_skier says:

    Och pants, didn’t work again. don’t know what’s up.

  34. Morag says:

    I think Torrance was fully expecting the SNP 2007 government to be a one-term phenomenon, and when it ended that would signal the end of Salmond’s career.  I think that’s the reason for the 2010 biography – it was going to sum up his subject and leave him with his career ending as all political careers are said to do.

    I think May 2011 gave him the fright of his life.  He did a very good job on the second edition of the book, but he left in one telling little sentence, where he described Salmond as a failure on the grounds of his alleged inability to attract majority support for independence.

    I took him to task for this in my email, pointing out that we were (then) well over two years from the referendum, and to dismiss Salmond as a failure while the race was still very much on and actually he was looking good, was unwise to say the least.  I got the impression that was a sentence that might have slipped past him in the revisionist editing for the post-landslide 2011 edition.

    He wants the referendum to be lost and he wants the SNP in general and Salmond in particular to slink away into the shadows with its tail between its legs.  When he could kid himself there was a fair-to-good chance of that happening he was pretty reasonable and professional.  Now it’s looking a lot more serious, I think his true colours are showing.  And they’re red-white-and-blue, but mostly blue.

  35. Chic McGregor says:

    Aye, its a strange one, never had any problems with the direct link on other sites.
    @Dal Riata
    TBF These poll results were well buried and kept hidden even from MSPs.  I read MSP briefings in Holyrood where the ‘independence’ poll results support cited, and described as that, were really for responses to an ‘Independence in Europe’ question and therefore a much lower figure even when in some cases, on the very same survey, asking the very same respondents, the straight independence question was also asked with results as in the table given. i.e. even SNP MSPs were unaware of their existence.

  36. Rev. Stuart Campbell says:

    Chic, Skier: Those links should work now. I have no idea where the phantom spaces come from.

  37. Scotswhahea says:

    ” You’d expect a professional political commentator to be able to grasp the difference between a multi-party election (which has the possibility of a plurality) and a Yes/No referendum (which doesn’t), but it seemed to keep escaping him.

    You would also expect a professional political commentator to be HONEST & UNBIASED, neither applies to mr Torrance.. 

  38. Morag says:

    No, as to the last point, I really wouldn’t.  Just point me to ONE who is.

  39. Peter says:

       There was a famous poll taken after the Great Debate in the Usher hall in 1992 that showed a majority for Independence.  I remember Peter Baxter reading out some news headlines during a NZ V England test match where it got a mention.

       It’s just another of those claims that’s designed to make people think they are stupid. A fair media would highlight the lies but we don’t have one of them.

  40. John Böttcher says:

    David is quite a fine historian, but, alas a very thin skinned wee soul. He really shouldn’t use Twitter. He blocked a friend of mine last year in a very petty manner.

    His background is interesting – ardent left-wing nationalist father, though his own politics are right of centre. I’d describe his political views as socially liberal/economically conservative.

    If Murdo had won the Tory leadership campaign, I suspect Torrance would be top of the list of selected as a “New Right” “Scotland Right” or whatever Murdo would have renamed the C&UP successor party.

    As in all things, Torrance can’t be pigeon-holed politically.

    He is, however, far too sensitive. 

  41. JLT says:

    Finally, a chink of light in the dark. A poll that suggests that the gaps may have closed, and that all polls might be closer than suggested by the media.
    When I take a big step back and look it, I’m not surprised in my own way. Let’s look at the recent news items in the last year.

    1. The Olympics – they were great! Union tub-thumping for all it was worth, but they were great. The only problem is, is that I’m a bit sick of seeing the medal winners continually on TV, either with a Union Jack or flashing their medals. One example is Tom Daly, the high-diver; he got roasted by his coach because he is on a celebrity TV progam and continually doing TV interviews. He’s not taking the job seriously now, and it is overkill. As his coach says, ‘Those Chinese Gold Medal Winners …do you think they’ve stopped their 12 hour training each day to do a celebrity TV show’ – well pointed out, mate!!

    2. The Labour Party / Johann Lamont – this lot have tried to turn the parliament into a 3 ring circus. The only problem is…EVERYONE can see what they are doing, and it ain’t working.

    3. Johann Lamont herself – hurrah!! – By saying she back’s Ed’ ‘Wan Naishun un’ we shoold tax evri-hing’ – well, that has not gone down well with anyone! With her backing Ed, she may have done a Clegg when he infamously said ‘Now, now …of course I won’t back Tuition Fees. That is a terrible thing to introduce’ – Where are the Libs now ….4th behind UKIP!! Johann could be ruing the day she was setup by her boss…

    4. Belfast Riots over the Union Flag – Truly …if this lot are the ‘Flower of the Union’, then it is no surprise that Scots are going, ‘Stuff this, we’re oot o here!!’

    5. Osborne’s Welfare Cuts – Just beginning, and already hacking folk off. Wait till they really dig deep.

    For the SNP, all of the above are literally ‘Own Goals’ to the ‘Better Together’ campaign. and I haven’t said the main one – ‘Scots utterly detest the Tories’. I don’t have to say it, we all know it. The longer this lot are in power, the more the Yes vote grows.
    I really hope the SNP do a brilliant Marketing Campaign once the White Paper comes out. I hope they get all the main points across well, so that when they can finally push that last gasp marketing campaign, that they get a pretty good majority victory (over 60%).

    To the Unionists – Keep it up !!! 

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