Monday, 30 March 2009
In the interests of fairness and balance, I will open up with a (very) condensed summary of the "Diomhair" show's claims, and leave the comments for later. If I've missed something out, let me know.
1) Back in the 1940s and 50s, MI5 and Special Branch kept an eye on the SNP and wider Nationalist movement.
2) In 1947, 2 million people signed the "National Covenant" - a petition asking for some sort of devolution / home rule - but nothing really happened until the mid-70s.
3) At the time of the Queen's coronation in 1953, there was Civil Service concern over the political sensitivity of making any use of the Scottish Crown and regalia.
4) At around the same time, a few bombs went off in post-boxes. In Edinburgh 4 young Nats were arrested and convicted for related crimes. It was acknowledged at the time that they had been supplied with dummy explosives by the police, and it seems that the main prosecution witness (a John Cullen) may have been a police provocateur.
5) As the first attempt at devolution approached in the 1970s, various Civil Servants noted concerns about the possible impact on the rest of the UK, especially regarding oil revenues. Various options were suggested, including altering the Scotland-England maritime border, and/or encouraging the Orkneys and Shetlands to detach themselves from Scotland.
6) The UK government kept secret the amount of oil in the North Sea and the associated possible economic benefits; in particular, it suppressed the "McCrone Report".
Now for the review and response.
This programme displayed a truly shocking lack of context and balance. Nowhere was there an attempt to put its points against the background of all the other political and economic stuff which was happening; instead, just a pure presentation of Nat gripe after Nat gripe.
The only person interviewed who had participated in any of the events described was Gavin McCrone. There was no attempt to interview any one else "official" (and no disclaimer saying that any such interviews had been sought). Other than the presenter, four individuals were interviewed: an Edinburgh ex-copper, a "solicitor", one of the Stone of Destiny abductors and some other old buffer. Their main qualification for being interviewed seemed to be that they spoke Gaelic. OK, it was a Gaelic medium show, but this seemed to be restricting the interviews just a tiny bit.
The English subtitles were awful: poor grammar and punctuation, and when the presenter switched to English the subtitles did not match what he was saying.
Now for the point-by-point review and response:
1) Good. It's MI5 and Special Branch's job to keep an eye on fringe groups, and it is clear that the Nationalist movement did and does include some nutters. I hope and expect they're still keeping a discreet eye on some of them.
2) The "National Covenant" does sound impressive, but the thing with petitions and referenda is that you can always get people to sign up for something if you word it right.
However, this is one of the clearest examples of the programme not putting things into context. The Attlee Government had quite a few things on its plate in the late 40s: building the NHS and social security, the worst winter on record, Indian independence, disastrous finances, the Berlin Airlift, the Cold War, etc etc.
The programme tries to make something out of Attlee's declining to meet John McCormick (SNP leader and leading Covenant advocate) when he attended the Cowal Gathering in August 1950. Well, the Korean War had broken out in June 1950 and it might be thought that Clem had a few other things on his mind. However, none of this background was referred to by this supposed "documentary".
The facts are that the heat went out of the home rule issue for a good 20 years after 1950. People had more important stuff to worry about.
3) Yawn. Who cares which baubles are used in the Coronation?
OK, I'll bite a little because I do like this history stuff.
First, let us note that the Scottish sceptre and sword are considered to be too fragile to be used in any case.
Secondly, the Coronation ceremony already uses two crowns - the Crown of St Edward for the actual crowning itself, and the Imperial State Crown for the exit from the Abbey and return to Buck House. It's a bit difficult to see how you could work in a third crown.
The Scottish crown is older (by around 160 years) than the St Edward, but - frankly - by comparison it looks dull. The problem with substituting it for the Imperial State is that it is 80% heavier - the point of the Imperial State is that it is the "working" crown which can be worn for extended periods and is used for run-of-the-mill occasions like the opening of Parliament. So while it might be nice for the Scottish crown to be used, there are a few practical reasons for it not to happen.
And to return to the start, who cares?
4) Mildly interesting. It certainly looks to be true that this case - involving a sting where the police supplied the incriminating material - would never have made it to court today. But it also seems that our 4 brave Nat lads, on being given the dummy HE, responded with "Great! We can do St Andrews House!" Too bad, chums. Lucky you only got a year.
5) We can summarise this as "35 years ago, various Civil Servants suggested various things which never happened." Remember the phrase "Civil Servants advise, Ministers decide"?
As someone who periodically uses the National Archives at Kew, I am well aware that all sorts of weird and wacky options get suggested by Civil Servants, advisers, backbenchers, and so on. Most die the moment they are written. Some are meant to. Big deal.
The bias of the programme was also illustrated by the graphical sequence they used to illustrate this. The former maritime boundary - set up by nothing more exalted than a 1968 statutory instrument, and running east-west at 55deg50' N - was described as "accepted". Accepted by whom, other than the UK parliament, we ask? The answer is, of course, nobody.
Then the graphic purported to show the effect of the suggestion to re-align it to run north-east. Only the line was shown turning well beyond north-east, to exaggerate the effect. Pathetic.
6) Well, we've done this one in previous posts.
McCrone myth refuted
BBC Alba repeats Nat lies
There is little to add to that. It is difficult to "lie about" or "cover up" facts (actually forecasts) which were made public, in Parliament, in 1974/75. Either the programme-makers did no research or consciously chose to repeat and perpetuate falsehoods.
The only interesting aspect is Gavin McCrone's comments that he wrote his paper consciously to shake things up within Whitehall; to make the point that politically, Scotland had to see demonstrable benefits flowing from the North Sea. And the record shows that exactly that happened; the disappointment is that it's all flowing into a bloated public sector which doesn't seem that much more effective than the one in the rest of the UK.
Thursday, 26 March 2009
Last night I made it to the end of the BBC Alba "documentary" "Diomhair" ("Secrets").
The overall impression is that I have not come across something which made so little effort at impartiality and objectivity since Radio Moscow's "Sidelights on Soviet Life."
However, the content of the first 45 minutes is more or less "ho hum", so I will leave my general review for later.
I'll concentrate on the last 15 minutes or so. The producers clearly thought they were building up to a big climax. Which consisted of.....
....the same old lies about McCrone, straight from the Nat playbook. On this occasion they were stated in more stark terms than usual, which is actually welcome since it makes them easier to debunk. In fact, we've already done it here.
So, at around 48:20, our jolly Gaelic presenter claims:
"The UK government had quite a simple strategy. They wouldn't tell the Scots that the North Sea oil riches were vast."
This is repeated at 52:02:
"The truth about the the amount of oil that lay in the North Sea and the wealth it could create was kept hidden for 35 years."
There is just the tiny problem that the "amount of oil" was announced in Parliament on 23 October 1973 - that's before McCrone ever wrote his paper.
Let's have a look at Hansard:
“HC Deb 23 October 1973 vol 861 cc488-9W 488W
§ Mr. Sillars
asked the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what are his latest estimates of the output from North Sea oil by 1980.
§ Mr. Tom Boardman
The report on production and reserves of oil and gas on the United Kingdom Continental Shelf which I presented to Parliament in May forecast a most likely range of oil production in 1980 of 70 million-100 million tons. Recent discoveries should ensure that the lower end of this range is reached; with further discoveries in the next year or two it should be exceeded.”
And in fact, oil production in 1980 turned out to be 80.5 million tonnes.
The programme also noted that McCrone's paper expected £100m of North Sea tax revenue in 1980, while the SNP claimed it ought to be £800m and, according to McCrone, "if anything this is too low".
Those bothering to read McCrone properly will realise that £100m is the correct figure under the old taxation system, designed in the days of $2/bbl oil and still in operation in early 1974. The SNP were indeed arguing for a more onerous tax system. So were Labour, the important difference being that they got elected and in 1975 introduced it as the new Petroleum Revenue Tax (PRT).
“NORTH SEA OIL (PETROLEUM REVENUE TAX)
HC Deb 25 February 1975 vol 887 cc290-9
The Paymaster-General (Mr. Edmund Dell):
The hon. Member asked for an estimate of revenues on the basis of certain figures of oil production in—I take it—the 1980s. He will understand that in the early years the revenue from North Sea oil will be relatively small but growing fast. In the early 1980s, at a figure of 100 million tons, it should be £2,000 million or £3,000 million. Of course, the higher the production the greater the consequent revenues. However, all figures in this respect must be treated with some caution because they depend, first, on the price of oil and, secondly, on the cost of exploration and development. I therefore suggest to the hon. Gentleman that we wait to see what we get before relying on it too much. “
So, there doesn't seem to have been much of a “secret” here either.
I can only conclude that the intrepid producers of "Diomhair" are guilty either of a failure to discover, by the most basic research, that two of their prize "secrets" were actually a matter of public record, or of a conscious decision to parrot and repeat the brazen falsehoods of the Nats.
Given the content and tone of the rest of the "show" (to which I will return later), I know which explanation I favour.
Tuesday, 24 March 2009
This, it is claimed, provides "proof" of the evil, dastardly machinations of the Unionist establishment against Scotland.
Sounds like just the sort of thing in need of a bit of Mythbusting. So I've sourced a YouTube copy and am going to settle myself down with a pen and notebook to transcribe the claims.
Monday, 16 March 2009
These have centred on FOI disclosures of various never-were policy options suggested by various Civil Servants in 1974-75 in the face of the apparently rampant (but in fact short-lived) SNP surge of the day. As usual, the standard of reporting is dire; it is stated that these suggestions led to a delay in the introduction of the first attempt at devolution, whereas those of us with knowledge of the real world know that in fact Labour made a procedural hash of their first Devolution Bill and had to withdraw it and start again. But, in any case, here is the Times' treatment of the issue. Personally I would summarise it as "Some stuff which didn't happen 35 years ago". Yawn.
The particular thing I want to tackle is contained in this Times graphic. Note the pink east-west maritime border line entitled "Line accepted by UN 1968".
Yes, we have another Nationalist Myth! This is total and unmitigated crap. Dear Reader, the UN has not, does not and will never have any authority over the UK's internal administrative boundaries.
I know exactly how this one came to be. A previous - and now, in terms of internal UK boundaries, entirely superseded and obsolete - 1968 version of the 1987 Civil Jurisdiction Order is "lodged with" the UN and on display at their website.
Why is it there? Convenience, basically, and because the 1968 order gave UK legislative force to the genuine international boundaries which were agreed by treaty when the UK, Norway, Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium etc split up the North Sea.
The fact that it's on a UN website does not imply that the UN has somehow approved or been given any say over the UK's internal administrative boundaries.
Don't believe me? Do have a look at the bottom of the UN webpage:
"The designations employed and the presentation of the material on this site do not imply the expression of any opinion whatsoever on the part of the Secretariat of the United Nations concerning the legal status of any country, territory, city or area or of its authorities, or concerning the delimitation of its frontiers or boundaries."
So we return once again to the message of previous posts on this subject. International bodies have no say on the UK's internal boundaries. And the Acts of Union don't say anything about them either. So the UK Parliament can put those boundaries exactly where it likes.