Thursday, 27 September 2012

Willie Rennie must provide evidence of SNP-English Democrats link


In his speech to federal conference this week Scottish Lib Dem leader Willie Rennie made quite a startling claim.

He said:

“We’ve already heard from some English nationalists that they want Scotland out.  They don’t value our United Kingdom. These are the allies of Alex Salmond’s SNP in their fight to break up Britain. They are working together, attending each other’s conferences and sharing ideas.”

That is a huge accusation to make and naturally I began asking questions.

A member of staff soon alerted me to the “facts”.  A singular MP, namely Angus MacNeil, attended a conference of the English Democrats five years ago.  That MP is also alleged to have retweeted 11 tweets originating with the English Democrats between October 2011 and February 2012.

Firstly, let me deal with this ludicrous idea that you are what you retweet.  I personally retweet plenty I find of interest, even if I disagree with the point being made.  I retweet statements made by the Tories, the SNP, Labour, the Green Party, UKIP...even, on occasion, the BNP.  It doesn’t make me sympathetic.  It doesn’t even mean I am in any way “sharing ideas”, other than bringing what is already on the most public of public forums to the attention of my twitter followers. 

I have tried to locate these tweets to discover something of their nature and context.  Unfortunately I cannot either locate them or find anyone who can.  This last point is quite concerning.  I would have imagined that any party leader making a speech at a national conference would take efforts to ensure that claims he makes are backed up. 

There appears to be no blog or other online record in which these tweets are repeated verbatim.  Therefore, it is unreasonable to make suggestions about the significance of Angus’s retweets.  Until someone can reproduce for me these tweets and demonstrate categorically that they show the SNP MP to be endorsing the English Democrats’ less savoury policies, I refuse to accept that anything improper has occurred.

In fact, given that the English Democrats support both Scottish independence and the creation of an English parliament (both causes towards which I have sympathies) it is perfectly possible that I may have retweeted either those same tweets or others written by members of the English Democrats.  I for one do not check the profile of every writer of every comment I retweet.

It is true that Angus MacNeil attended an English Democrats conference.  That is not necessarily unusual, in that the party at the time (five years ago) was relatively unheard of and were most notable for being part of the CEP (Campaign for an English Parliament).  In fact, at that time I’m not even sure some of the policies for which they are now renowned had even been formulated.  What is odd is that Angus appears to have spoken at this event .

That is something that I would not personally do, but that is in 2012 when the realities of what the English Democrats stand for are more widely recognised.  I’d like to know why Mr MacNeil was willing to speak at this conference, but again I’m not willing to take this in itself as evidence of “sharing ideas” or of this party being an “ally of Alex Salmond”.

What has also transpired is that this claim seems to have its basis in something written on a blog maintained by an English Democrats activist, Robin Tilbrook.  I’m quite annoyed at Robin actually for reproducing a picture of Willie on his blog without having the courtesy to credit me as the photographer, but that’s a separate issue.  The post in question is basically an attack on Plaid Cymru, which he feels should have been more supportive in causes such as the English Constitutional Convention and CEP.  About the SNP, he says this:
“[we have] friendly relations with the Scottish National Party.”

That sounds interesting, so I read on:

“ We have been pleased to welcome the SNP’s Angus MacNeil MP to speak at a recent Annual Party Conference and our Vice Chairman was welcomed by leaders of the SNP in Edinburgh and her hand was shaken, during a BBC Newsnight programme, by Alex Salmond.”

And that, my friends is that.  That is the entire case on which Willie Rennie’s argument stands: some English Democrat propaganda, attempting to glean some undeserved respectability by associating itself with Alex Salmond and his party.  There is no evidence, as Willie Rennie suggests, that English Democrats are invited to SNP conferences and are sharing ideas at leadership – or indeed any other – level.  There is no alliance, no proof of “working together” collaboratively.  As for the English Democrats’ Vice-chair shaking hands with SNP leaders – this was in an entirely unofficial capacity and on Newsnight.  On the few occasions I’ve been interviewed or debated in a public forum I’ve always been courteous to others talking part.  Suggesting this was some kind of official welcome or extension of friendship on the part of Alex Salmond towards the English Democrats is stretching credibility to breaking point.

I've personally shaken Alex Salmond's hand.  What does that prove?  I'd be interested in seeing the relevant episode of Newsnight (again, if this evidenced any kind of relationship between the two parties I'd have imagined it would have been seized upon some time ago).  

This story – or, rather, this allegation – has in fact no credibility whatsoever.  If these tweets were so offensive, and Angus’s apparent support so controversial, why was nothing made of them at the time?  Also, why does attendance at a conference five years ago take so long to become news? 

What I am disappointed in is that this “news” was not broken by a Lib Dem blogger or even Better Together.  It emanates from the very top of our party, in a speech given by the leader and supported by his staff.  In a misguided quest to blacken the name of the SNP and portray them as extremists (a word Willie Rennie used elsewhere in his speech), Rennie also gives undue credibility to English Democrats and their rather ludicrous propaganda.  That the source for his information is a barely credible blog is simply mindblowing.  What leader of any political party makes this kind of accusation without having evidence to hand? 

Even Tony Blair had his dossiers, however dodgy.

Willie Rennie, after making this claim so publicly, now needs to produce the evidence to back it up.  On the evidence produced so far, the English Democrats are no more allies of the SNP than I am a supporter of the Labour Party, whose conference I am attending on Sunday.  I am offended, not merely because the party strategy appears unchanged since that ridiculous smear cartoon last November, but because it is the leader himself that saw fit to make the disgraceful link between the SNP and extreme English nationalism without ensuring that he had sufficient evidence on which to base it.

What this incident has done is to further undermine my faith in our party leadership.  In so many ways I like Willie Rennie, but I cannot and will not continue to support any leader who is willing to make extraordinary claims on the flimsiest of evidence.  His argument appears intellectually unsustainable and doesn't deserve my respect - or anyone else's for that matter.

So please, Mr Rennie, show us the hard, definitive, indelible evidence that the SNP are in cahoots with the English Democrats.   Let us see these offending tweets.  Tell us when English Democrat representatives have met with senior SNP members.  Explain exactly what you mean when you refer to “allies” and “working together”.  You have to provide this evidence because your personal credibility now depends on it.

And, if you can’t do that, please issue an apology to Mr MacNeil.  And then to your party for misleading its conference.  

17 comments:

DougtheDug said...

I'm a bit surprised that Angus MacNeil went to an English Democrat conference but that at that time in 2007 they were still outwardly respectable and had strong links to the Campaign for an English Parliament so I suppose it made sense if the creation of an English parliament was looked on as a good thing for Scotland.

Since then the civic nationalists in the EDP who wanted to create a party in the style of the SNP have fled and have been replaced by ex-BNP members.

Once bitten twice shy for Angus as he never went back but he should have done a little more research into the EDP before he went. Even then there were rumblings about its links to some of the more right wing elements in England.

Andrew said...

Well of course Angus should have done some more research. I can't believe he was there at all, but five years ago the EDs were not as well known as they are now. They certainly masqueraded as a respectable "patriotic party". As you also add, the character of that party has also changed in the intervening years.

But while I think Angus was unwise to have attended and spoken at this conference, this is far from evidence of the kind of relationship alleged by Willie.

tris said...

I too would like this cleared up. I was a bit taken aback when I read about it on the blog one of your fellow Liberals.

I can't imagine why they would be welcome at SNP conferences. However, what happened 5 years ago, when the EDF was little known, and seemed to be wanting the same thing for England as the SNP wants for Scotland, perhaps Angus was on a fact finding trip.

I'd like to know what the tweets said.

If the SNP does have some links with EDF, or course I, and most, if not all other members, would want to know.

From what I can see their goal may have something in common with ours but their means of achieving it is very different.

At this point I'd like to own up to, despite being firmly on the left of the political spectrum, having had a long chat with Annabel Goldie and having shaken her hand. I'd further say that I found her charming, entertaining and extremely intelligent.

An Duine Gruamach said...

And even then, without knowing what MacNeil actually said, it's impossible to make any kind of condemnation for his doing so.

Andrew said...

An Duine Gruamach - Agreed. We simply have no idea what he said or why he was there.

Tris - I too met Annabel (being her Lib Dem opponent in the 2011 election). I found her to be just as you described. That in itself says everything about Annabel as a person and absolutely nothing about my political sympathies.

I can understand why Angus MAY have been there, especially if he was interested in the (then) developing campaign for and English Parliament or the English Constitutional Convention which the EDs supported. I would be interested Angus's explanation, but ultimately it's Willie Rennie that made the accusation (openly on national TV) and he really does have to explain how he's arrived at such a startling conclusion.

Like you, I feel strongly that this does need clearing up. As a Lib Dem, I fear our conference has been mislead - and that's not something a party leader should be guilty of.

englishpassport.org said...

The Englsh Democrats are a logical and respectable party. Only the Liberal Democrats could twist the English Democrats manifesto to be anything other then it is.

228 English Homes in Wales were fired bombed by Plaid Cymru - now that is extreme !!!!!!!!

RevStu said...

Those devastating tweets in full:

—————————————–

16 February 2012
English Democrats @EnglishVoice
Cameron hints at further devolved powers to Scotland should they vote to remain in the Union…as for the English, not a word was heard!
Retweeted by AngusBMacNeilMP
2:31 PM – 16 Feb 12 via Facebook • Details

—————————————–

English Democrats @EnglishVoice
Scottish independence would be good for Liverpool, Alex Salmond says in Roscoe lecture – Liverpool L http://fb.me/16vSaFf1n
Retweeted by AngusBMacNeilMP
9:28 AM – 15 Feb 12 via Facebook • Details

—————————————–

English Democrats @EnglishVoice
Congratulations to the English Darts team who have just won the Darts World Cup
Retweeted by AngusBMacNeilMP
10:35 PM – 5 Feb 12 via Facebook • Details

—————————————–

18th January 2012
English Democrats @EnglishVoice 13h
‘NO’ to Scots MPs Voting on English Matters http://fb.me/xNlGm8qN
Retweeted by AngusBMacNeilMP

—————————————–

16th January 2012
English Democrats @EnglishVoice 16 Jan
Amid the talk of Scottish independence, it’s now time to answer the English Question – Telegraph http://fb.me/12FpaNnge
Retweeted by AngusBMacNeilMP

—————————————–

14th October 2011
EnglishVoice English Democrats
by AngusMacNeilMP
OFGEM reports that energy suppliers profits have risen from £15 per customer in June to £125 today…the energy… http://fb.me/KujmFf3x
2 hours ago

—————————————–

13th October 2011
EnglishVoice English Democrats
by AngusMacNeilMP
As Alex Salmond warned only last year, voting for one of the LibLabCons will destroy the English Health Service. http://fb.me/FoExxTLY

—————————————–

11th October 2011
EnglishVoice English Democrats
by AngusMacNeilMP
Scottish independence will reinforce our social union http://fb.me/11BKPEM5h

—————————————–

10th October 2011
EnglishVoice English Democrats
by AngusMacNeilMP
Alex Salmond: The days of Tory PMs telling Scotland what to do are over http://fb.me/1gwUEwujV

—————————————–

3rd October 2011
EnglishVoice English Democrats
by AngusMacNeilMP
Brian Monteith: Scots unlikely to care much about conference – Scotsman.com http://fb.me/LUzDCT4C

—————————————–

3rd October 2011
EnglishVoice English Democrats
by AngusMacNeilMP
“If printing money (quantitative easing) produced wealth then counterfeiting wouldn’t be illegal”

Anthony Little said...

Tweets now in the public domain. See Wings over Scotland here.

http://wingsland.podgamer.com/willie-rennie-suicide-bomber/#comment-67926

they are, surprise surprise, completely innocuous! What is a once radical and progressive party like the "Liberal" now doing as cannon-fodder for the Lab/Con alliance?

Andrew said...

englishpassport.com - Well, you're certainly not the BNP. I have to admit to not sharing the English Democrats' political philosophy but I'm not going to resort to labelling you "extremist". Words like that help nobody.

As for Plaid Cymru's history - I am aware of some of the acts they committed in the 1970s but I'd hope they'd have moved on from that kind of strategy by now. Certainly I'm not going to defend Plaid. The purpose of my piece was to ask Willie Rennie to apologise over the smear, or else produce some evidence of the links he claimed between the SNP and (unspecified) right wing English nationalist groups in his speech.

For what it's worth, as a liberal I also share your vision for an English parliament, albeit for different reasons.

And would you mind crediting me for the photograph you reproduced on your blog?

Andrew said...

RevStu and Anthony Little - agree, there is absolutely nothing in those tweets worthy of being used in the kind of attack on the SNP made by Willie Rennie.

He has misled conference and must apologise.

a.haddow said...

I once shaked the hand of one Tony Blair. Doe's that make me a war criminal?

Anonymous said...

"I once shaked the hand of one Tony Blair. Doe's that make me a war criminal?"

Yes!

Cut your hand off!

Molly said...

I've watched Willie Rennie for more than six years now.

He is first and foremost an uber Clegg-loyalist.

He serves no other function than as an attack dog to smear the SNP.

This dirty politics by Rennie will come back and bite him in the arse.


The Scottish Liberal Democrats should be principled and call for the cancellation of the Trident renewal; support devo-max as set out in the Steel Commission, and cooperate with the SNP to replace the council tax with a progressive local income tax.

tris said...

Andrew:

I'm wondering, a few weeks on from your post, if Rennie ever made any retraction or apologised.

Andrew said...

Tris - quick answer...no.

Andrew said...

I received this e-mail today from Robin Tilbrook of the English Democrats:

Dear Mr Page,

I am sorry to see that I have inadvertently used a picture which I found on the internet which you say you took.

I am curious as to why you have attacked the English Democrats in the non specific but smeary way that you have. I suspect that you and I would not agree on many things and I have no problem with political knockabout but I would ask that you "condescend to particulars".

Yours sincerely

Robin Tilbrook
Chairman,
The English Democrats


My response is as follows:

Dear Robin,

I wasn't aware that I was attacking the English Democrats. I actually thought my piece was an attack on our Scottish leader, if attack it even was. More a criticism of his rather foolish accusations and how he chose to make them.

I made an official complaint about Mr Rennie after his speech, although I have no idea what action was taken.

As for smearing the English Democrats, I think that's a rather odd interpretation. Mr Rennie chose to smear you; I merely refer to "the English Democrats’ less savoury policies". No doubt you find some of our own policies such. I also refer to "some of the policies for which [you] are now renowned" - which are pretty much common knowledge and does not indicate agreement or disagreement with such policies, or in fact whether the views "for which you are renowned" are actually held by the party or simply attributed to it.

Clearly I do not share your political views on some key issues such as the EU and immigration, just as I know Angus McNeil does not. That is not actually the point. The point I was actually making is that Mr McNeil had every right to behave in the way he did and that he should not be associated with your policy commitments because of it. Neither should our leader be attempting to make associations between the SNP and the English Democrats or making lazy attempts to associate you with the worst expressions of English nationalism.

I suggest if you wish to complain about being smeared then you should be directing such complaints to Mr Rennie. I wonder at all that you should see fit to make any kind of comment on my supposed attack on your party given what is already "out there" and that I express agreement with some of your policies (e.g. an English parliament).

From a personal view, I disagree with your party's policy direction, as well I might being a liberal. I would, however, defend our right to express your views and for people of all political persuasions to listen to you, attend your conference or retweet your tweets without being subjected to the kind of smears emanating form Mr Rennie. That of course was the purpose of my piece and I am sorry that you seem unable to recognise this.

In regards the photograph, as a professional photographer I have no concerns about individuals using my photographs but would request an acknowledgement - it's the very least to expect given I make them available for anyone.

Yours sincerely,

Andrew Page

Anonymous said...

Just for the record - Plaid Cymru has never been involved in second home arson incidents in Wales and has consistently condemned such action. The person making those unfounded accusations should apologise. Dafydd Williams