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Tuesday 19 March : A Buzz Round the Media with Honey McBee



The Day of the Shackle…

The Sun’s headline over Saturday’s article on Scotland’s answer to Leveson says it all. Lord McCluskey and his group of Merry Men – and Ruth Wishart – have considered the original and now offer advice and recommendations as to the most appropriate means of achieving statutory underpinning in Scotland”. With the Royal Charter being agreed by main parties at Westminster in the early hours of yesterday morning (but still some doubt over any statutory underpinning) , maybe Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson is right when she says McCluskey would give Scotland “some of the most draconian press controls in the western world”. 

Davidson thinks this is part of a plot to control press reporting on the referendum – certainly fellow Conservative Brian Monteith in yesterday’s Scotsman thinks it is Nationalist politicking – Why it should be necessary to have a separate Scottish regulator, when Scottish publishers have more titles in the rest of the UK than at home and many UK publishers also have titles in Scotland, has not been adequately explained. Unless of course our Nationalist government has to invent differences to help justify its narrative that Scotland needs to separate its institutions from those of the rest of Britain.”

Judge for yourself. The main report – Expert Group on the Leveson Report in Scotland is available here on the Scottish Government’s website. There’s a brief Executive Summary for those who are time-poor. 

Ian Bell in Saturday’s Herald also wrote of ‘shackling’ the press, and queries why the original Leveson inquiry was necessary in the first place – there is no doubt that some journalists took part in hacking and corruption  - but these are already subject to criminal law, and punishable in the courts. This, indeed, has been happening.   Leveson, concluded Bell, was necessary because politicians felt it to be so – Westminster manouevring over Leveson is one good reason why politicians should not be in the business of press regulation. Self-interest is the motivating force on all sides … who, by the way, will choose these regulators if Mr Miliband has his way? Who will then select the individuals who will certify the work of regulation? I can guess”.

Melanie Phillips in yesterday’s Daily Mail let fly at the left and the “hate-filled humbug and hypocrisy” of Hacked Off – these people demand full transparency of connections between the Press and politicians — and yet refuse to give details of their own funding or contacts with MPs… a document leaked at the weekend has revealed how they have secretly targeted Tory MPs ‘who want to bring David Cameron down…it also turns out that Hacked Off has been advised by BBM, a lobbyist firm set up by two of Tony Blair’s former campaign chiefs”.

Revenge for the revelations of MP’s expenses is sweet – certainly Polly Toynbee in Saturday’s Guardian thought politicians have a chance to hit back at the Murdochs and the Barclays of the world. – British politicians, the servants of press barons for too long, have a unique chance to unite and assert democratic values”.

Alan Cochrane in Saturday’s Telegraph said the Scottish press expected a kicking – but what McCluskey proposes fair takes the breath away – we are on track to get a draconian set of curbs and controls that will include what will effectively be a compulsory licensing system for newspapers, as well as social media, and not one, but two, supervisory bodies, the senior of which will be backed by legislation … it is not just the meat of the McCluskey report that has surprised everyone, it is the practicalities of the thing. It demands total compliance… from national and weekly newspapers right down to the Tweets and blogs on the internet. How all of the latter will be policed is beyond this observer but of far more importance is does Scotland need, or want, a separate system of regulation from that in the rest of the UK?   And if there is no statutory regulation south of the Border, asked Cochrane, will we still have it in Scotland – and if so, who will pay for it, when the press we have is already struggling to stay afloat?

In a special edition of the Scottish Review yesterday, editor Kenneth Roy claims to have seen it coming… A few months ago, when press regulation was unexpectedly revealed as a devolved matter, Alex Salmond set up an 'expert group' (so-called) under Lord McCluskey's chairmanship to come forward with a scheme for enacting the Leveson recommendations in Scotland. My instinctive reaction when I heard that McCluskey was heading it was to groan. Only one person in Scotland might have produced a worse result than Tweedledee McCluskey, and that would have been his fellow advocate, Tweedledum Fraser. I duly predicted at the time that, with Tweedledee running the show, it was bound to end in tears. It has ended in tears.”  Roy then outlines the consequences of his considered decision that, if required to do so, the Scottish Review will refuse to register. Is McCluskey, he goes on to ask, what we can expect from an independent Scotland?

However, all may not be lost.  Eddie Barnes in yesterday’s Scotsman thought it unlikely that McCluskey’s recommendations would be implemented to the letter. The SNP are ‘wary’ of making regulation mandatory, said Barnes, as a step too far beyond Leveson.  Lawyers have warned that such a move could be open to challenge in the European Court of Human Rights, “which enshrines the right to free speech”


So, farewell then, Orkney and Shetland?

News that the Northern and Western Isles are considering their position within Scotland, whatever the result of the 2014 referendum, provoked comment from Lesley Riddoch in yesterday’s Scotsman. She saw it as the Shetlanders limbering up ahead of a visit by John Swinney, and the anticipated announcement of the date of the referendum. -  since the Northern Isles are Scotland’s offshore energy capital (in oil, gas and marine renewables) rumbles of discontent carry weight. But are these mere rumbles, what do they mean and are they being deliberately magnified? The last question is the easiest. Of course they are”.   

This could be also, thought Riddoch, a question of politicking on the part of local MSP Tavish Scott, putting a well-aimed spoke in the wheels of the Yes campaign.  But other councils are also rumbling about central control from Edinburgh – could Orkney and Shetland lead the way?  Does the central belt really care? Maybe, suggests Riddoch, the rest of Scotland should take a closer look at what drives a desire for greater freedom, and the confidence that they could go it alone.  

Severin Carroll in yesterday’s Guardian  said the councils “are investigating plans to model themselves on the Isle of Man, the Channel Islands or the Falklands, which are crown dependencies and largely independent from the UK government, or to mimic the self-rule deal struck by the Faroe Islands with Denmark in 1948”.  Above all islanders fear being subsumed into a greater unit right across the Highland region. Scott says both Labour and the SNP are centralising parties and feel there is a need for structural reform. The Convener of Shetland Council says "There's no point in Westminster devolving powers to Edinburgh if they are going to stop in Edinburgh. When you're 300 miles from Edinburgh, or 700 from London, at those kind of distances, Edinburgh feels as remote as London…"  


Wind is free, independence could cost money…

Scotland could lose out when it comes to exporting our ‘green’ energy if the proposed North Sea power line between Peterhead and western Norway is cancelled.  Steven Vass in the Sunday Herald’s business section reported that the Norwegian government is planning to put all Norway’s interconnector projects in the hands of the state-controlled Statnett. Should Statnett thus acquire a stake in the current consortium, North Connect, it may decide Norway’s priorities lie elsewhere – perhaps in the link with Northumberland. This, says Vass, would increase England’s already good energy export potential, especially if Scotland becomes independent.  It would, he says, give England access to Scandinavia’s hydroelectricity resources for pumped storage, which is the only commercially viable means of storing electricity.

Better Together says this only shows how Scotland benefits from being part of the UK. Shadow Energy Minister Tom Greatrex  warns in yesterday’s Herald that rUK’s government could look elsewhere to supplement its energy needs. The Herald’s political editor Michael Settle says the Scottish Government has consistently maintained the UK not only "needs Scotland's electricity to meet its own renewables targets, but also to help keep the lights on south of the Border". However, Mr Greatrex says this is "based on assertion rooted in assumption" – and is plain wrong. 

This is echoed by his boss, Energy Minister Ed Davey in Edinburgh – it’ll not only cost the Scottish consumer more, Scotland will have to compete with Ireland and Norway to supply cheap energy to rUK. Not unnaturally, Yes Scotland disagrees. Stan Blackley, the campaign’s Deputy Director of Communities says with more power over its energy resources, Scotland could work wonders.  So, once again, you pays your money…


Hands up, who wants a by-election? 

Oh, dear. The good burghers of Falkirk will be regretting their decision to elect Eric Joyce as their MP after his brawling on Thursday night in the Commons Sports and Social Club bar – a year after he was arrested for a similar offence.  Some people never learn, and it seems Mr Joyce is one of them. Eyewitnesses report that the MP was already ‘agitated’ when he entered the bar. When he was stopped from taking his drink outside to a smoking area, he indulged in a spot of wrestling with the boys in blue. Then, having been arrested for that, he was re-arrested on suspicion of causing actual bodily harm while in custody in Belgravia Police Station (only the best for MPs).

Saturday’s Scotsman quotes his predecessor, Denis Canavan suggesting it was time for Mr Joyce to take his leave of Falkirk - “It’s sad for the people of Falkirk who do not deserve this. Eric Joyce has brought Falkirk into disrepute and people should be given the choice to elect an MP who’s capable of representing them …they don’t think he’s fit to do the job or capable of sorting out their problems. He should do the decent thing and step down”.  Mr Joyce had a majority of almost 8,000 in the 2010 General Election, but the SNP holds Falkirk at Holyrood.

It was, incidentally, Karaoke night in the bar, which is mind-boggling enough, but there is another point to be made in this sorry tale.  A number of correspondents to yesterday’s Telegraph were querying the need for alcohol in the bars of the Palace of Westminster to be subsidised by the taxpayer. It is, first and foremost, a place of work for MPs – and what organisation, other than Parliament, asked one letter writer, subsidises alcohol for its employees?  What’s wrong with tea, asked another.  Quite. 


God and Mammon…

In what appears to be rolling a stone uphill, Phillip Booth of the Institute of Economic Affairs suggested in Friday’s City AM  that the election of Pope Francis was of importance to the City. The new Pope’s belief in social justice, thinks Booth, does not necessarily make him a social democrat – “the fact that Pope Francis cares deeply about the poor does not necessarily mean that he believes in a big state. In fact, he believes that government should create the conditions in which the poor can flourish. This is quite different from the social democrat view that sees the state as having a huge role in redistributing income and controlling the lives of the people”.   

Mr Booth is hoping for reform of the Catholic Justice and Peace Commission – “if the pope is silent, the Justice and Peace Commission tends to speak up. This is a Church body that called for a worldwide bailout fund for megabanks, and that keeps talking about widening inequality at a time when the world’s poor are getting better off at a rate never seen before – largely due to globalisation”.  We merely offer Mr Booth’s thoughts for your consideration.

As we do with this comment from the Editor of Spiked, Brendan O’Neill – “Observers seem peeved that Pope Francis is anti-abortion, anti-gay marriage and not a massive fan of female equality. What did they think would happen: a Liberace-looking pope would appear on that balcony and gab about women’s lib while showering the faithful in St Peter’s Square with condoms? Angst about the Vatican’s archaic beliefs has crossed the line from criticising church doctrine - which everyone must be free to do - to alarm that there exists an institution which refuses to embrace modern orthodoxies. As one observer said of Benedict XVI’s Vatican: it foolishly stood against a ‘tremendous tsunami of modern tolerance [surging] forward to swamp rotten structures’. In a striking role reversal, it’s now anti-Catholics who harangue the Vatican for daring to believe deviant things”.


Textile Fibre Names and Related Labelling and Marking of the Fibre Composition of Textile Products. 

No, we neither, but it’s a little directive (1007/2011) from – you guessed it – the EU, coming into force next year. As the Daily Mail patiently explained to its readers, in plain English it means that any item of clothing has to be labelled in the language of the country it’s being sold in. And because clothing is now usually sold Europe-wide, that means the once- little label that tells you what your t-shirt is made from, where it was made and how to wash it is about to get longer. And longer.  And longer, as it carries the information in 23 languages. You may have noticed that some retailers are already attempting to comply, as they fear items of clothing made now could still be on the shelves when the directive comes into force.

And no, it’s not yet April 1st.


And finally…

It’s Budget Day on Wednesday.   Are you up to speed? Will you be ahead of the endless commentaries on the effect of the inevitable penny on a packet of cigarettes, a pint of beer and a litre of petrol?  (only a penny – thank goodness for that – ed) You can test your knowledge and beat the Chancellor at his own game with the TaxPayers’ Alliance fiscal quiz.

And a YouGov survey reveals that more Britons believe the Moon landings were faked than think that taxes are too low.  So you are not alone out there. Remember that on Wednesday. We’re all in this together.



Honey McBee will be buzzing elsewhere next week, but wishes all Scot-Buzz aficionados a very Happy Easter. May the Easter Bunny bring you enough chocolate to re-float the economy…