Tuesday, 22 November 2016

Defacing the Facts: SNP MP Paul Monaghan

[The text of this article appeared in the Daily Record on 23/11/2016]

The problem with political debate in Scotland is not that people aren’t well informed, it’s that the SNP ensure they’re very well misinformed.

It’s not a sophisticated strategy, but it seems to be an effective one. By using Twitter, official party representatives can basically get away with saying whatever they like by avoiding having to deal with pesky journalists who tend to like to check facts before they report them. On social media, complete lies can be read by tens of thousands of people before they’re exposed and debunked, by which time it’s too late. People seeking to give themselves permission to ignore awkward facts have been satisfied and the tweeter’s mission is accomplished.

Take the example of the Scottish Government’s own GERS figures. When these showed Scotland’s economy being a positive contributor to the UK, they were rightly quoted by the SNP as authoritative statistics. Since the figures started showing Scotland effectively receiving cash from the rest of the UK (roughly £1,700 for every man woman and child in Scotland last year1) the figures have instead been cynically and systematically undermined.

The SNP and their social media mouth-pieces have been so successful with their campaign of misinformation that, whenever GERS figures are debated now, the following points have to be endlessly repeated: there’s no missing whisky duty, there’s no missing export income, the figures aren’t affected by corporate head-office locations, London infrastructure costs aren’t allocated to Scotland and the figures are not guesswork compiled by HM Treasury, they’re qualified National Statistics compiled and published by the Scottish Government2.

The problem, of course, is that those who want the comfort of not facing economic reality simply choose not to listen to those who patiently debunk the myths. In a world where many proudly proclaim themselves to be climate change deniers, in Scotland we now have a growing army of GERS deniers.

But this strategy of spreading misinformation through social media isn’t limited to falsely undermining the GERS figures.

Last week many of SNP MP Paul Monaghan’s 15,600 twitter followers were eagerly retweeting this message of his: “Interesting UK Gov reply today on question of proportion of Scottish exports to RUK [rest of the UK] destined for EU. They don't know. My figures suggest 75%.

He went on to make clear that he was referring to exports “passing through rUK on route to EU. The implication is our exports are not attributed to Scotland.”

Now anybody with even a passing understanding of Scotland’s economy or the way our export statistics are calculated will know he’s making an extremely cack-handed attempt to mislead people here.

Export statistics are gathered based on the customer’s location3, so goods exported to the EU through an English port or freight-forwarder will correctly be recorded as EU exports (not rUK exports as Monaghan implies).

It’s also worth pointing out that no competent Scottish business would sell goods to an English customer for that customer to simply sell on to the EU without adding value. Factor in the knowledge that 56% of Scottish exports to the rest of the UK are services not physical goods4 and it’s clear that Monaghan’s 75% figure is complete balderdash5.

Of course it’s obvious why an SNP MP would want to falsely suggest that Scottish export figures to the UK are over-stated and those to the EU under-stated. One of the gaping holes in the SNP’s argument for Brexit as an independence trigger is the fact that Scotland sells more than four times as much to the rest of the UK as we do to the EU3. This means - if Brexit does turn out to mean UK/EU trade barriers exist - Scotland would risk damaging four times as much trade by ending up on the EU rather than the UK side of any such barriers.

So faced with a clear logical flaw in their argument, this SNP MP resorts to the tried and tested strategy of misrepresenting the facts and spreading misunderstanding. Unfortunately for Mr Monaghan, in doing so he exposes an embarrassing level of ignorance for all to see. Apart from showing that he doesn’t understand how export trade statistics work, he also shows he hasn’t even managed to read his own Government’s publication on the topic.

On Twitter he went on to say “the UK Gov told me today just 44% of Scottish manufacturing exports are to the rest of the UK”.

Well yes, they would have told him that by looking at the Scottish Government’s own “Export Statistics 2014” report where that information is found. If Monaghan had bothered to read this himself he would also have known that “just 44%” of Scotland’s manufacturing exports going to rUK is still 1.7 times more than go to the EU4.

You have to wonder: if independence is really such a good idea for Scotland’s economy, why do its supporters so consistently try to mislead us about the facts?


1. for the simplest explanation of this, see The £9bn Fiscal Transfer

2. if anybody still doubts any of these facts, please see this blog post > GERS Deniers

3. see official Scottish Government website here which explains "Export Statistics Scotland (ESS) is based on the Global Connections Survey". I have filled in these forms so I know, but see actual form here and note wording of question 6;

4. These two simple tables provide an audit-trail between the figures in specified tables in the Export Statistics Scotland 2014 publication and the percentages and relative figures used in this blog (highlighted). The minor inconsistency in the tables included in the pdf were not significant enough to send me to the supporting excel tables.

5. When challenged to back-up his assertions Mr Monaghan claimed unspecified "academic research" and blocked me - at the time of writing he has still not offered further support for "his figures" which he ridiculously claims "suggest 75%" for rUK exports "destined for the EU"


Alastair McIntyre said...

I wonder if this is why the SNP have done such a poor job of looking after our Education as the dumber that Scots are the more they are likely to just accept what the SNP tells them.

I got a reply some years ago from Nicola Sturgeon saying that the EU was our largest export market. I decided to check the official figures and found that we certainly export far more to the rUK than we did to the EU excluding rUK.

So while she told the truth she clearly didn't add a rider on where our exports were going. That was when I decided to look far more closely at any claims from the SNP.

This was where on checking more of their claims I found your Blog and have been a regular reader ever since. So keep up the good work Kevin.

Anonymous said...

I got as far as 'avoiding having to deal with pesky journalists who tend to like to check facts before they report them' and skipped the rest.

'who tend to check facts'

Go and read https://www.currentaffairs.org/2016/11/why-journalists-love-twitter

Kevin Hague said...

well that's a shame "anonymous", because if you'd read further you'd have understood that I *have* checked the facts - your apparent willingness to swallow unmediated drivel from the SNP suggests you're not exactly interested in facts.

The point of the article you link to of course applies x10 to politicians ... which you'd know if only you'd been able to struggle through all of 800 words in this piece.

Drew said...

Not everyone believes it is possible to measure an accurate value of goods and services that are cross border between England and Scotland.

From today's Herald:

'economists have cautioned against relying on estimates suggesting that Scotland exports four times more to the UK than to the EU.

Professor David Bell of Stirling University said: "It is not good to see politicians bandying around slogans based on these numbers."

There is no official measure of goods crossing the English-Scottish border and, Prof Bell said, it would be "doubly difficult" to calculate exports and imports of services.'

Drew said...

The document you refer to: Export Statistics Scotland 2014 itself applies the heavy caveat in reference to the chapter on 'exports to the rest of the UK':

'Rest of UK export estimates should be treated with caution. It is more difficult to ascertain the final destination of sales within the UK as companies have no statutory requirement to collate financial information below UK leveI. Furthermore, particular sectors face challenges in determining what constitutes an ‘export’. In an Intra-UK situation, this is particularly the case in the service sector where output is harder to quantify and the residence of the final consumer may be less clear.'

For the purpose of balance or not to mislead readers, it might be worth adding this note of caution when you use the phrase: 'the fact that Scotland sells more than four times as much to the rest of the UK as we do to the EU'

Kevin Hague said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kevin Hague said...


You're right that the figures require some caveat.

The Scottish Government and its ministers do however assert those figures as fact (as indeed Monaghan does when HM Treasury tells him what the Scottish Government figures show) - so I think it's rhetorically acceptable for me to do the same (if every figure quoted carried every caveat applicable a/ you'd get nothing useful into and 800 word article and b/nobody would read it).

The question you have to ask is: is there likely to be a systematic error? In fact (speaking as somebody who has filled out these forms) my view is it's far more likely that sales to the UK are missed than those to the EU (most EU sales will be in Euros so easy to track, whereas intra-UK figures harder to track and therefore easier to miss).

Thanks for pointing that out

Drew said...

Appreciate for reasons of brevity you can't make a full disclaimer every time you make the 4x UK exports than EU claim but for accuracy it might be more appropriate to use the words 'estimated' or 'approximate'. The use of the word fact implies 'beyond question'.

Just because politicians or the Scottish Government make assumptions, I don't think it makes any sense to repeat them to prove your own point,, especially when your main argument is about misinformation.

Agreeing with government statistics then arguing they are spreading lies is a tad nonsensical is it not?

The Scottish Government can either be relied upon for statistics or they can't. I don't think you can have it both ways on this one.

Unknown said...

I must admit it is always disconcerting when we have the accusations of misleading...which in reality is from both sides.. and it can be argued both ways
My contention has always been....long before the referendum and recent rise of the SNP in votes and popularity...is that I totally distrust Westminster and just about anything that comes from it.

The history of deceit and lies from Westminster for years is atrocious in my view.
From revelations by well admired politicians such as Tony Benn for example on how the people are intentionally misinformed and lied to by Westminster Governments.

Given all of the history in that area, I have never placed any credence on GERS, or any of the structure imposed on the peoples of Scotland, the voting system for example is one which Westminster has consistently rejected because they claim anything other than first past the post leads to weak Government....yet the Holyrood structure is proposed as good enough for the people of Scotland.

Would welcome any discussion on this.


Kevin Hague said...

Honestly Drew is that what all this boils down to?

SNP MP Paul Monaghan attempts an outrageous and blatant misdirection which is now echoing around social media exactly as intended - and the issue you find worthy of multiple comments on this blog post is that I didn't place a caveat on the actual figures the Scottish Government publishes?

You then take the hilariously ridiculous step of drawing equivalence between Scottish Government's published data (a certified National Statistics publication with clearly explained methodology, sources and caveats) and the obviously completely made up figure from Monaghan (who runs away when asked to offer some justification for "his numbers").

To suggest I'm inconsistent to pay attention to one if I don't also believe the other is - not to put too fine a point on it Drew - rank fucking stupidity on your part.

I won't publish any more comments from you on this unless you make a new and substantive point.

Kevin Hague said...

David - if your starting point is you've "never placed any credence on GERS" then there's no worthwhile discussion to be had.

GERS isn't the be-all and end-all - but if you can't even accept it as a starting position from which to understand what independence might mean there is no rational foundation for discussion.

Drew said...

I apologise Kevin if I have upset you.

I have deliberately avoided commenting specifically on your dispute with the MP because I'm not on Twitter anymore, so I don't know what you have both said to each other or how much this has escalated.

In a previous life as a journalist there are a couple of phrases you have used in your comments here that give me cause for concern.

You can accuse the Scottish Government or the SNP as a political party of virtually anything you want because they are such large organisations that no one person could be said to the intended target.

However when you accuse an individual or small group of individuals of doing something, it can lead to action in the courts. The burden of proof is then on the defendant in a defamation case.

As requested, I'll happily make a new point. Why do you frequently only reference exports when discussing the possibility of a hard border with England?

According to Scottish Government figures from January 2014, the rest of the UK sold £62.7bn in goods and services to Scotland showing we are a net importer of goods. That's tens of billions of pounds that English based firms rely on Scotland for.

Not to mention the numerous English based companies and multinational firms with a UK subsidiary based in England that own land, assets and capital in Scotland and make substancial profits from Scottish consumers.

Do you really think the UK Government would sacrifice slowing down their own economic output further after Brexit, in the unlikely event of an independent Scotland, to erect a hard border?

Kevin Hague said...


You either believe there will be UK/EU trade barriers or you don't.

I presume you do. I presume that's one of the reasons why you - like I - think Brexit is a bad idea. I presume that's one of the reasons why you think its an indy trigger, because Brexit will cause trade barriers to exist between us and the EU if we remain in the UK. I presume you expect iScotland to join the EU. In which case we'd be facing the same trade barriers serving the UK as the UK will face serving the EU - that's how trade barriers work; we'd have a UK/EU trade barrier between us and a market we export (probably far more than) 4x as much to than we do the EU.

You could make all of the arguments you make about UK/Scotland with rUK/mainland Europe - you can hardly suggest "they wouldn't do that" when, as a country, we just have.

It's almost as if you haven't even begun to think this through - I have probably presumed too much because it's hard to divine a coherent argument from your increasingly tedious comments - but here I will draw a line.


Drew said...

Okay, my final word too to answer your points and then I'll stop. Again, I apologise if you think I'm tedious however I enjoy debating with someone of your knowledge and insight.

I do indeed think Brexit is a bad idea but I'm at first a realist and a pragmatist.

I don't think Brexit makes indy more likely. In fact I think it makes it less likely. Nobody is in the mood for any more economic and diplomatic uncertainty.

I think in the unlikely event of Scotland becoming independent, Spain and possibly others, would veto our membership of the EU. At best we could hope for it EFTA membership but even then it's not cut and dry.

I think the UK Government and Irish Government will move heaven and earth to protect the Common Travel Area between Ireland and the UK after Brexit to keep the peace procress intact and uphold the Good Friday Agreement. Given Ireland is still in the EU I think this will be tough and there are many hurdles to overcome. But it is so important, it can and must be done.

Using the existing British-Irish Council as part of the Belfast Agreement, the UK and Ireland will create a framework along the Nordic Council model with shared diplomatic, economic (including protecting freedom of movement between North and South) and security agreements.

In the unlikely event of Scottish independence, I think an indy Scotland would join this set up too because I think England needs Scottish trade and business as much as need them, both for the companies they have with retail outlets and offices here and as an export and consumer market.

I also think England needs Scotland as a strategic and geo-political partner because of the threat posed by Russia in the North Atlantic region. The MOD will not want to give up the early warning radar systems and response units based in Scotland.

Trident is a big factor too. The deep underground storage bunker storing the nuclear warheads and loading bay at Coulport took 13 years to develop and complete. In the event of indy, the UK Government would need a lease deal for the facility at Loch Long. The submarines could be moved but you can't move rocky mountains with underground caverns.

Part of the lease deal would involve keeping the border open to allow naval personnel and maintenance conveys ease of access to Scotland, to and from the AWE in Berkshire. You can't have trucks with hazardous nuclear material sitting waiting in long queues at Gretna Green at customs controls, it would be a major security threat from the risk of terrorism.

I think Unionists should spend a lot more time discussing the benefits of Scotland to the Union than what we bring to it. They spend too much time talking about why Scotland needs the UK and not enough on why the UK needs Scotland, which my family and friends in England think sounds a bit selfish and greedy.

By showing the importance of Scotland to the UK, you could also instill pride in our fellow countryman, rather than make people feel we are subsidy junkies. That could match the passion and emotion on the Nationalist side.

David GREEN said...

I think we are seeing a widespread incidence of Post-Oil Stress Disorder (POSD). Looking back to the 2014 referendum, the SNP independence case was always largely a push to grab economic resources, in this case, oil. Oil was such a large, and largely unexpected resource, that it seems inevitable with hindsight that a body, such as the SNP, would start to link oil and nationalism. It was very similar to the copper grab by Katanga, post-decolonization of the Congo, and Catalonia wants to try the same trick in Spain.

So, the SNP grew on the back of the claim "It's our oil". It almost certainly wasn't Scottish oil in international law, but the idea was powerful enough to sweep the SNP to its current position. We can see now that the referendum in 2014 was one of several around the world in which reason was pitched against emotion. The Quebec vote was a fore-runner, and Brexit and the US Presidential election have followed. The SNP was confused as to whether to run a campaign based on reason or emotion, so it had a bit of both; elements of reason (the economic case for keeping the pound, for example), but elements of pure fancy as well. The oil case, in particular, was never as rosy as Salmond made out, but was vaguely plausible in 2014 to some minds. Again, Quebec was an interesting fore-runner. The Canadian Government improved its economic case for unity with a shower of benefits from Ottawa, and Quebec independence was narrowly defeated.

Fast forward two years from the Scottish independence referendum and we can see that the rational arguments in Brexit and the US Presidential election were not enough to defeat the very powerful emotional arguments in play. It is not that they were useless; they gained the popular vote in the US, and nearly won the UK referendum. It was that that the more emotional arguments were much more in play than were thought possible, and no-one was helped by the incredibly inaccurate polling that took place. Seen in that light, your voice, Kevin, is one of reason in a SNP world that wants to drive the propaganda of dreams, albeit by lying heavily. Viewed from a distance, it is an heroic struggle, but one I hope you feel you can sustain.

Objectively, the arguments for Scottish independence post-Brexit are harder to make on rational economic grounds. Not only does Barnett disappear with independence, but there is the risk of a hard border with Scotland's largest trading partner (and the only country with a land border with Scotland). Oil has largely gone as a net revenue earner for Scotland, partly because of the rise in decommissioning costs. So, the lies and half-truths that were always part of the SNP stock in trade have been ramped up to compensate for the deteriorating economic climate in Scotland. Mike Russell, for example, has the gall (and stupidity) to tell the EU in Brussels that 5 million Scots voted for Remain. A complete lie, of course, as was pointed out by Tom Peterkin in the Scotsman; there aren't 5 million Scottish voters, and of those that did vote, 40%, including senior members of the SNP, voted for Brexit. Then there was Russell's misleading "discussions" with the Spanish Government. When the Spanish Government was contacted, it apparently denied any discussions had taken place. We have Hosie trying to confuse the Scots about exports to the EU (net of exports to rUK or not?) So, Monaghan playing fast-and-loose with the facts is absolutely par for the course. A typical Wings Over Scotland/ Joan McAlpine performance. It presumably helps to keep the rabble onside.

Andrew Veitch said...

@David Green An interesting exercise is to graph support for independence and the Scottish deficit. An economist would expect support for independence to go down as the subsidy from England has increased but the reverse is actually the case.

There is of course the argument that the GERS deficit shouldn't really influence your decision after all it doesn't make sense to support Scottish independence in years when our economy is doing better than England's but be against it in years when England is doing better than us.

But I do think that the Unionist camp should be very careful about basing the argument entirely on economics. I was at a business dinner recently and somebody told me they were embarrassed and ashamed to be British but the economic case for the union was inarguable. This doesn't a very solid basis for a country to me.

Kevin Hague said...


Speaking personally I don't think the case for union rests on economics. The reason why the debate is stalled on this point - at least for some of us - is because that nationalist side refuse to be honest about the economic starting conditions. For me that creates a hurdle to any further debate - when your interlocutor denies basic facts, it's quite hard to carry forward the debate into (arguably) more interesting territory


David GREEN said...

I disagree with you Kevin. I think the case for union is primarily economic. My guess is that perhaps 35% of Scots are diehard Seps. Sturgeon needs another 20% for her popular majority and these 20% are floaters in varying degree. And the factors they take into account are the economic effects on their lives and those of their families of Union or independence. In my view, the SNP knows only too well the sensitivity of this grouping to the economic downsides to independence. They therefore have to be minimized. And since you and I, Kevin, both believe the downsides to be real and substantial, the only way out is to ignore the data, spread half-truths, and lie. My guess is that if the SNP woke up one morning and said that Kevin Hague had been right all along about the sums, the all-important group of floating voters that the SNP needs for independence would quietly melt away. That's why the SNP is so conflicted internally. For example, some 64% of Scottish voters apparently want to keep sterling, making it an obvious policy for the SNP to adopt. Keeping sterling almost certainly represents the rational economic solution for Scotland because it stays in an optimal currency area. However, it is broadly incompatible with independence. But if Scotland floated its own currency, it would be hammered under the current budget deficits of the SNP. The SNP austerity needed to address the deficit would be eye-watering. No wonder the SNP wants to keep rational economic debate at bay.

Drew said...

I'm curious to know what are the non-economic reasons for the Union?

The most important aspect to consider is security. For the most part, the UK has not been able guarantee security of its citizens over the last 100 years on its own from external threats, without the help of America.

American and Russian involvement in both World Wars were crucial to the overall chances of success. Not to diminish their importance but the two most famous British victories in the second World War were defensive manoeuvres, the Battle of Britain and Dunkirk. And a Nazi invasion was basically prevented by the fact we don't share a land border with central Europe.

NATO would not be as nearly as effective a deterrent without America, both during the Cold War and now, during the new threat posed by Russia.

Unless you work in international finance and are looking for a British owned overseas tax haven, our global interests are not quite what they were in the days of Empire.

No doubt someone will mention shared history, language, values and culture but that also applies to America, Canada, Australia and Ireland among others.

My family and friends that have left Scotland have gone to America, Canada and Australia more than they have elsewhere in the UK.

While the BBC and UK commerical broadcasters still do a good job in terms of promoting a shared British culture, in reality America has a big impact on our popular culture in terms of music, film and TV.

Sky, Apple, Amazon, Netflix and Spotify have completely changed entertainment and leisure in the UK and will continue to do so in the next decades.

And arguably American influence extends to our other shopping habits like clothes, video games and lifestyle too.

While our culinary tastes are global with Asian, Italian and French food probably as popular now as traditional British dishes.

Keith Macdonald said...

There is a lot of good stuff here about the Scottish economy which needs to much more widely appreciated if we are to vote again on Scotland's membership of the UK. Can I make a point about another issue which I think is also very important.

You end by questioning the SNP's real confidence in "independence" and it is that word that I want to question. The nationalists love it because it has an overwhelmingly positive connation in everyday language. They never qualify it by outlining how it would work in the context of Scotland. They never specify on what issues Scotland might be or become "independent" (able to make its own decisions entirely free of external constraint).

For example Scotland is already independent on education (we are not worried by Theresa May's grammar schools but we could never control our own climate. In 2014 , although we voted on "independence" we were to remain part of an economic union with the UK.

The use of the unqualified term enables the nationalists to suggest to all sorts of people with different aims that leaving the UK will meet their needs. It avoids the need for specifics. This tends to make the debate more of slanging match.