Did you see Reporting Scotland on Tuesday evening? It featured an item on the Holyrood election campaign. One of the parties contesting the election had launched its manifesto. The party was RISE.
I’d wager most people watching the flagship news programme hadn’t a clue what or who this group was … and for good reason. RISE has never contested an election – local or national. The party has no elected representatives. With a little over two weeks to go until polling day it is barely registering in opinion polls.
Yet here it was, gaffe ridden manifesto and all, being treated as though it was a major player in Scottish politics. The Reporting Scotland item marked the media zenith for a group of radical socialists and opportunistic referendum personalities.
It’s been a good three days for RISE. It began on Sunday when an article appeared in the Sunday Herald. According to the newspaper, respected psephologist Professor John Curtice had “advised” pro-independence voters to switch from SNP to Scottish Greens or RISE on the regional list ballot in May.
The academic had authored a report, commissioned by the Electoral Reform Society, in which he had looked at the possibility tactical voting could influence the outcome of the Scottish election. When some reviewed the report, it emerged Curtice had said no such thing, but the Sunday Herald claim was off and running before the truth emerged. A later denial from the academic, after he was questioned by Wings Over Scotland editor Stuart Campbell, appeared all too late to make a difference.
The timing of Curtice’s report – which received significant main stream media coverage – was ‘fortuitous’ for RISE. The fledgling party has based most of its campaign strategy on splitting the nationalist vote by presenting tactical voting as viable. According to RISE and its supporters, Nicola Sturgeon’s party will be so successful in the constituency vote that any regional list votes for the SNP will be wasted.
The claim is hogwash. Tactical voting is as reliable as a blindfolded drunk firing a dart – there’s no guarantee you’ll hit the target and there is a good chance you’ll cause unintentional damage. But RISE benefited from two days worth of media coverage before its manifesto launch.
In January this year I wrote an article for Newsnet in which I argued that voting for the so-called ‘Left Alliance’ also known as RISE wouldn’t help independence.
In the article I said the following:
“Creating a new party is one thing, it is quite another to raise its public awareness and to convince that same public to vote for it. RISE has benefited from generous coverage from the online sites Bella Caledonia and Common Space.”
RISE of course was already targeting the SNP. The strategy was two-fold, attack the SNP for being timid, whilst simultaneously claiming a List vote for the nationalists was ‘wasted’.
“The SNP has no shortage of opponents. Another political party – especially one born out of the Yes campaign – lobbing grenades at it isn’t the best way to defeat a Unionist movement now on its knees. It is though guaranteed to pique the interest of a pro-Union media on the lookout for anything that might nibble at the heels of the SNP in the run-up to May. Weaken the Nats and you always weaken the independence movement.”
The pro-Union media has embraced RISE and no wonder – the fledgling group offers the possibility of a win-win situation with no possible downside.
Even if RISE fails to get an MSP elected, it will erode the vote of the SNP and of course the Scottish Greens. BBC Scotland gave the outfit top billing on its Scottish Election page on Tuesday.
The Herald and The Scotsman haven’t been slow to see the opportunities offered by the group which aims to split the pro-independence vote. The Herald, through Tom Gordon, has provided a ready platform for RISE, publishing a series of articles beneficial to the group.
Even the ultra-Unionist right-wing Mail on Sunday has been granted an interview with RISE’s Glasgow candidate Cat Boyd. Boyd claimed not to have known she was talking to a Mail on Sunday journalist because she “didn’t hear him right”.
Those behind RISE appear not to appreciate the gift they are to the pro-Union media. There’s a delusion running through the alliance that seems impervious to argument. Even their ‘new media’ backers fail to grasp the idiocy of setting up a new party which will rely on taking votes from established pro-independence parties in order to succeed.
When I published my article back in January warning of the dangers to the independence movement of RISE, I was attacked by Mike Small of Bella Caledonia. One of the lines of attack chosen by Small was indicative of the inability of RISE backers to see the dangers inherent in a group which relies on splitting the pro-independence vote.
“G.A. Ponsonby seems confused. Is RISE a marginal irrelevance of marginal wannabies surviving only because of its media allies, or a dire threat to the indy dream? He can’t seem to decide.”
Small, in his anger, exaggerated my point but still couldn’t see it. RISE isn’t a “dire threat” but it is a threat. All polls currently suggest that RISE is indeed an irrelevance in that it isn’t registering anywhere near enough support to win a Holyrood seat. Despite this electoral irrelevance though, it still poses a threat to other pro-independence parties. RISE may well take votes from the SNP and the Scottish Greens to the extent that it leads to one less pro-independence MSP at Holyrood. Small’s devotion to RISE meant that he was unable to see that irrelevance and threat are not mutually exclusive.
RISE also poses another as yet unseen threat. What happens after May? If, as I hope, the SNP achieve a majority at Holyrood then the debate can genuinely turn to the constitution and a possible second referendum. Nicola Sturgeon has already signalled her intention to push for a second independence referendum if polls swing in favour of Yes or there is a material change.
But what of RISE and the other so-called ‘radicals’? I fear the discord they have sown in this election campaign will seep into any future Yes campaign. Why is that? Let me take you back to the days just prior to the independence referendum.
Towards the end of the referendum campaign I recall attending an event at the Arches in Glasgow. It was, I believe, organised by the Common Weal, which was an organisation created by Robin McAlpine after he left the Jimmy Reid Foundation. I attended the event with a colleague from Newsnet Scotland.
The event featured representatives from a variety of groups including Radical Independence and Women for Independence. There were also several speakers, one of which was McAlpine himself.
In his speech, Robin spoke of a need to create a new alternative media outlet. The new outlet would, he said, contain news and views that reflected the new socially fair independent Scotland we all yearned for. The Common Weal creator also signalled a desire to see the creation of a new political party. One that would challenge the SNP if it didn’t deliver on radical pledges made during the referendum campaign.
The speech was of course anticipating a Yes vote in the referendum. McAlpine’s ideas made sense in that context. The three Unionist parties would be in no position to challenge a triumphant Salmond and the Scottish Greens too weak. A dominant SNP in a post-Yes Scotland had to be kept honest.
Two days before the referendum Robin McAlpine was a little more forthcoming. In an online Q/A he said:
“The Greens are admirable but need to work hard if they want to be a serious threat to government and not a handful of MSPs in the corner. So SNP is best placed to Be Good. Will they? There will have to be a lot done to convince me. What I can promise is that there are more than enough people ready to intervene in politics if someone doesn’t live up to this movement’s hopes.”
“…Once again, I am categorically not ruling out a very major electoral intervention if the SNP lets us down. I simply will not vote for a corporation tax cut or a UK-wide privatised energy market. Indeed, I’ll be campaigning against it with all my might. If the SNP does what it usually does (leadership disappear into a room and decide it’s doing it anyway) then I’ll look elsewhere. If the Greens look like they could be coalition-makers, that might convince me. If not, we need something.”
Yes didn’t win of course, but McAlpine went on to create Common Space after the referendum. Whether by coincidence or intention, RISE followed not long after. It wasn’t long before Common Space began promoting the new ‘radical’ party. The outlet will readily reproduce main stream media spin if it helps promote the idea of a timid SNP.
The headline above [and much of the article itself] was based on an article from the Herald newspaper shown below.
The Common Space article also included references to the discredited claims published by the Sunday Herald regarding the report on tactical voting by Professor John Curtice.
RISE to where?
So Robin McAlpine’s stated wishes prior to the referendum have come to pass without independence having been achieved. The radicals – with a little help from the pro-Union media machine – are on the move. But to where?
Having established their own media outlet in Common Space [ably backed by Bella Caledonia] and their own radical party in RISE, where next for the radicals? I fear they are planning to establish their own version of the Yes campaign, and it too will see sniping at the SNP as a legitimate tactic.
On February 20th this year Robin McAlpine gave a speech at a Radical Independence event. Part of his speech spoke of resurrecting the Yes campaign – an excellent idea.
The Common Weal director said the following:
“I don’t want to give too much away because we’re still in the middle of making sure it’s all going to work, but we need a forum for bringing everybody back together again.
“Earlier this year there was some tentative initial talks with the main people who were organising the Scottish Independence Convention, and we’re more or less at the point now where a new constitution is agreed which will enable it to become a stakeholder organisation which vcan bring together all the parties and all the groups who are campaigning for independence.
“We hope that we’ll be able to get that together – talks are happening with the SNP I think to make sure they’re on board because we need that – and if we can do that after the Scottish Elections we can announce properly the launch of a forum which brings RIC, the grassroots campaigns, Women for Independence, the political parties and others back together again.”
Leaving aside the fact he couldn’t even confirm if the SNP had been consulted, my alarm bells went off when he added the following:
“So keep fighting, keep fighting and keep the pressure on the SNP, because it’s going to be an SNP government, to be better than their instincts sometimes want them to be. Take more chances than they might naturally want to take. And in that, yes stamp your feet and bare your teeth and say come on, more now.”
McAlpine’s plan to resurrect the Yes campaign is one we would all sign up to, I know I would. But a campaign that simultaneously hands the pro-Union media a stick with which to beat the SNP would be political suicide and would doom the independence movement to petty in-fighting. Any future Yes campaign that allowed party politicking from the radical left would be suicidal.
Strip out the SSP from RISE and what you are left with is a bunch of pseudo-intellectual, mainly University types who came to prominence solely because of the independence referendum. A few are using their referendum profile to pursue media/political careers. Most are strategically naïve but strong on self-confidence and belief – a very dangerous mix.
If opinion polls are replicated on polling day, there won’t be any RISE MSPs at Holyrood. But the fallout from their idiotic and divisive election campaign will hang in the air like a bad smell. So too will their bitterness.
They’ve tasted influence and they like it. Pro-Union newspapers like the Record and Herald have indicated a willingness to headline any anti-SNP gripe and stand ready to accommodate more. BBC Scotland will jump at the chance to have a predictably anti-SNP pundit review newspapers or appear on a panel.
If you want a glimpse at what RISE and its backers are on their way to becoming, you need look no further than their most high profile supporter – Jim Sillars. The Unionist media love Jim because his bitterness towards the SNP is stronger than his ability to exercise restraint and discipline.
RISE are a problem for the independence movement. They will remain a problem for as long as they receive glowing admiration from sites such as Bella Caledonia and Common Space and the ‘personalities’ that orbit the BC/CS twin suns. Whether Yes supporters continue to fund these websites remains to be seen.Views: 13560
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