If you wanted a lesson in why so many people are losing faith in the traditional media and instead turning to alternatives, you only need to have a wee look at the headlines in the Scottish press and television news in their over-excited attempts to make out that a party which had come a very distant second had in fact beaten a party which had won 155 more seats. Moreover that second party had based its entire campaign on defeating the larger party, and it failed to make any impression at all on the larger party’s share of the vote or the number of seats it won. Despite all that, the loser won, at least according to the Scottish press.
The whole point of the Single Transferrable Vote electoral system is that parties end up with a number of seats which is a fairly close approximation to their share of the popular vote. In last week’s council elections, the Conservatives ended up with just 22.5% of the available seats, which is a fairly accurate representation of the proportion of the vote which the Tories achieved. The Tories did make significant gains, but they did so at the expense of Labour, another party which had fought its entire campaign on the basis of defeating the SNP. The SNP itself sailed on unaffected by what was nothing more than a realignment of the Unionist vote.
The BBC did its best to paint Ruth Davidson’s Tories as the winners, lauding her party’s gains and insisting repeatedly that the SNP was seven seats down on its total from the previous council elections in 2012. In 2012 the SNP had won 425 council seats, in 2017 they won 431. In most universes where simple arithmetic is practised, which is clearly not a universe which includes Pacific Quay, 431 is a bigger number than 425. But the BBC weren’t comparing the SNP’s 2017 results with the actual results of the 2012 local elections, instead they decided to compare them with a “notional” election result which hadn’t taken place in our universe in 2012, it only took place in Pacific Quay’s special arithmetical universe.
This is a great new tactic which could be employed in lots of inventive ways. The Tories would be notionally the most popular politicians in Scotland if it wasn’t for the fact that over three quarters of the Scottish population wouldn’t pee on a Tory if they were on fire. Glasgow Labour notionally saved all its seats and made substantial gains in Frank McAveety’s head. Wullie Rennie is notionally capable and competent, at least when he’s driving the bus to Kelty. If I had a tank and a tendency to shout No! at every opportunity I’d notionally be Ruth Davidson. And if the BBC was funded by the Scottish public it would notionally not display such an obvious Unionist bias. Oh wait.
The onslaught on truth was so overwhelming that one confused guest on the BBC review of the papers actually thought that the Conservatives had taken Glasgow. Just in case you’re wondering, they didn’t. The Tories in Glasgow got eight seats on Glasgow council, which is eight too many, but it’s still only 9.4% of the total. There are 85 council seats in Glasgow. The fact that a sane and apparently reasonable woman thought, even briefly, that the Conservatives had taken Glasgow council has a great deal to do with the one sided and shamelessly biased way in which this election was reported.
For the interests of clarity, I’m not actually objecting to bias. I am biased. I am shamelessly and openly biased. Bias is what I do. I’m a supporter of Scottish independence, and a campaigner for Scottish independence, and what I write is reflected through that prism. But I make no bones about my bias. My bias is open and honest. I wear my bias on my sleeve, and that means that readers can interpret my words honestly and with clarity. What is insidious, what is objectionable, what is dishonest, is presenting a biased account of a news story and pretending that you are neutral, objective and unbiased.
Quite what anyone who voted Tory in Glasgow thought they were going to achieve by gaining a Conservative councillor is another question. Tell them that you think there ought to be more dog mess collection bins in your local park and they’ll send you a leaflet saying that dog crap sends a message to Nicola Sturgeon that Scotland doesn’t want another referendum. Tell them that you think there should be more regular litter collections and street cleaning and you’ll get a leaflet saying “Scotland said No and we meant it!” with a picture of a grinning Ruth Davidson sitting on a donkey. That would be the Tory councillor for Shettleston.
More seriously, just what use is a Tory councillor going to be to you if you approach them for help because you’ve had your benefits sanctioned or your mobility car has been taken away or you’re a young person who can’t afford accommodation because you’re no longer entitled to housing benefit. Those things happen because of Conservative policies, policies which assail and assault those very working class communities which returned a handful of Tory councillors. But hey, they have a fleg and can be proud of the royal family. And you can wrap yourself up in that fleg when you’re queueing on the doorstep of the foodbank you have to go to in order to feed your weans even though you’re in full time employment. Working class Scots voting Tory is like voting for amputation because you stubbed your toe.
I’m struggling to remember another election which was reported in such a shameless and nakedly partisan manner. Every loser wins as far as the British press is concerned, at least when that loser is a Scottish Tory. This is a foretaste of what we’re in for should the Tories make some small gains in Scotland in June’s General Election. It’s a sign of the desperation of the British establishment to avoid a second Scottish independence referendum, and the reason they are so desperate to avoid one is because they know that they’ll lose it. The hysteria with which the British press reacted to the Tories in Scotland making gains at the expense of the other main Unionist party is a sign of the weakness of the Unionist cause, and a sign of the strength of the independence movement.
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