Saturday, 18 July 2020

Fact Checking a Fact Check

The National today published a 1,000 article rather hilariously labelled as a "Fact Check" which amounted to little more than a personal attack against me. The entire piece is predicated on their view that issuing a clarification is "being forced to eat your words" - it's a sorry state of affairs when a blogger has more journalistic integrity than a publication claiming to be a national newspaper. Despite taking all those words merely to demonstrate their own failure to grasp the basic facts of the matter, they boldly conclude: "Chokkablog gets it spectacularly wrong".

Well allow me to retort.


I wrote some tweets and a blog complaining about Kate Forbes' attempts to seek grievance by suggesting that Rishi Sunak's "Plan for Jobs" £30bn pandemic support was worth only £21m to Scotland.

My main complaint was that she was mithering about funds the Scottish Government was receiving, cynically expecting independence supporters to read that as being all the support that Scotland was receiving. You might be thinking only a knuckle-dragging grievance-junky would make such a mistake. Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you the National's front page splash yesterday:

For the avoidance of any doubt: the claim that "Scotland only gets £21m from '£30bn'" is absolutely and unequivocally false. Rememember: this is the paper which is claiming to be publishing a "Fact Check" on this topic!

Here is what the IFS actually said: "Of course, Scotland as a nation will receive much more – UK-wide measures like the Job Retention Bonus, Kickstart Scheme and VAT cut could amount to around £1 billion of genuinely new money for Scottish businesses, jobseekers and consumers. And the Scottish Government itself will receive over £700 million as a result of other funding confirmed in the Summer Economic Update"

I also questioned the veracity of the £21m number itself, even as the figure the Scottish Government would get "of the £30bn". As is always the way with my blog, I laid out the audit-trail of information I was able to find, explained my reasoning and was clear about what I could and could not show.

I concluded: "To be clear: I don't know what the Barnett Consequentials are on the £30bn figure, but I do know the correct denominator for the calculation is certainly not £30bn* and I would be amazed if the correct numerator was as low as £21m"

* as that includes funds spent directly in Scotland, not via the Scottish Government

I was completely clear about the basis of my judgement and - as it happens - I was right.

Again looking at what the IFS actually said: "the Scottish Government will get far more than £21 million. Because stamp duty is devolved to Scotland it will get much more than that [..] Exactly how much is not yet clear [..] but initial estimates published by the OBR this week suggest it could amount to around £120 million spread over this year and next"

So why did I apologise?

I apologised because in my blog I referenced a statement made by the IFS as support for my conclusions and - emboldended by the IFS spokeperson being quoted as saying the £21m was "not true" - I said "far fewer people will take the time to understand the complicated truth than accept the simple lie".

When the IFS issued a subsequent statement (the one I quote above) highlighting that they had - like me - not realised how much of the £30bn was recycled money, I felt it would be wrong for me not to update my blog to reflect that. I also felt, in the light of the revised IFS statement, that I had been overly harsh in suggesting that Kate Forbes' claim was a "lie" and that I should apologise for that - so I did. I also pinned the Tweet making that apology to my Twitter profile, to ensure it was widely seen.

The National "Fact Check"

They offer their readers this "Doorstep answer": "Kevin Hague was forced to eat his words when the independent Institute for Fiscal Studies did the sums again and agreed with the Cabinet Secretary. Hague was forced to apologise."

I wasn't forced to do anything - who on earth do they think did this forcing? In fact what happened is that I had the integrity to ensure that my post was updated to reflect the IFS's own updated statement and I hope the good grace to recognise that I had been overly harsh in my original wording.

I'll skip the National's ad hominem attacks on me and the organisation I chair and try and focus on the odd moments where the National attempts to deal with what I actually wrote. They say: "he accepts at face value the Chancellor’s claim that the Plan for Jobs means £30bn of new money, though there are references in the initial Treasury paper to existing cash pledges being “brought forward”.

It is patently untrue that I accepted £30bn at face value as new money. They're claiming this is a "Fact Check" remember and my exact words were: "Now some of these are described as "accelerating investment" and some are "previously announced" - so it's possible that the Barnett Consequentials relating to them have already been included in previous figures announced". 

The National go on to say: "Suspiciously, despite endless laudatory quotes from Sunak’s Plan for Jobs .."

Far from being endless, there isn't a single "laudatory quote" in my blog (remember, they think this is a "Fact Check") - I merely detail what's in the Plan to explicitly separate out what would be UK-wide and so have no impact on the Scottish Government's budget.

They then rather neatly highlight my transparent honesty (don't forget they claim I'm doing this "suspiciously"): "... Hague actually avoids giving exact numbers for what he considers to be the correct Barnett consequentials. In fact, he admits: “I don’t know what the Barnett consequentials are on the £30bn figure”. How then can he criticise Kate Forbes?"

The problem here is that the author of the National's "Fact Check" clearly has no understanding of how an analytical audit trail works, or why admitting that you don't have the information to be able to calculate or recreate a specific figure is not "suspicious", it's transparent and honest. It is precisely because I am being very careful to avoid misleading readers of my blog that I feel I can criticise Kate Forbes.

The National continue: "Instead, Hague quotes an analysis written on the day of the Chancellor’s statement, by Peter Phillips of the independent Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS). Here Philips rejects the Cabinet Secretary’s figure of £21m in Barnett consequentials as simply “not true”. Unfortunately for Hague, a week later Phillips completely reversed his judgement, explicitly exonerating Forbes."

It's not "instead" and it was an interview quote not an "an analyis", but yes I referenced an IFS quote in support of my conclusion - which is why when they issued a clarification I updated my blog.  It's also obvious to anybody who reads what the IFS actually wrote that, while mainly complaining about Sunak's misleading presentation of the figures, they were not "explicitly exonerating Forbes". They were recognising that the £21m was a valid number under a specific definition (Barnett Consequentials of newly announced spend) but also that it is not even all of the money the Scottish Government "get" as a result of newly announced spend ("Because stamp duty is devolved to Scotland it will get much more than that").

The National's Conclusion is actually - unintentionally I'm sure - rather flattering: "KEVIN Hague was quick to reword his original blog (yesterday). He also apologised for essentially calling her a liar. But in his reworked blog post, there remains the implication that Forbes was manufacturing grievance for political ends. Buried deep in the small print of the revised blog, Hague makes a grudging admission regarding his earlier erroneous criticisms of the Cabinet Secretary’s integrity: “... it’s only fair to highlight that her figure is more justifiable than my original wording implies.”

"Buried deep in the small print" amuses me, given there is no small print, it's the conclusion of the blog and I screen-capped, tweeted and pinned the apology - but whatever. Apart from that nonsense I'm pretty happy with the rest of their summary to be honest. Only a single-issue propaganda sheet with no journalisic integrity or interest in factual accuracy would see the act of clarifying and apologising as a bad thing - and my suggestion that she was manufacturing grievance for political ends is vindicated by the National's own headline on Friday, so I guess I should thank them for that!

Now, while it's always super fun to start the weekend defending yourself against a hit-piece in a national newspaper, I really do have better things to be doing with my time.


Anonymous said...

Great post, Kevin.

I keep a close eye on the constitutional debate in Scotland and was watching this debate with interest to see if people were right to be gleefully tweeting that you'd got it wrong, such as the MSP Keith Brown.

The fact the National "newspaper" used a headline which is exactly as Kate Forbes and the SNP wanted it to be taken as proves your point. They really have no shame at all. It's a fanzine and no more.

The other day, Mike Russell was on Radio Scotland accusing the UK Gov of lying but where was his apology when he was recently found to have lied when saying that Scotland gives more to the UK than we get back?

I'm pretty open minded to independence. If I thought it would be good for my family and I, I would vote for it. What I cannot tolerate is cheap political point scoring and outright lies by either side and I'm noticing it far more on the "Yes" side.

If they were honest, I'd be more likely to listen and trust them but they're clearly out to deceive. If it ever happens and they get found out, I hope they remember who warned them it wasn't all as they were promised.

Anonymous said...

If only the National would make such an effort to Fact Check other Blogs, I wonder if there is a reason that they don't actually do that ?

Jane Doe said...

Anonymous Anonymous said...18 July 2020 at 04:21

"The other day, Mike Russell was on Radio Scotland accusing the UK Gov of lying but where was his apology when he was recently found to have lied when saying that Scotland gives more to the UK than we get back?"
The SNP never apologise for anything they deliberately deceive with
We can also see that with Ian Blackford
and also Kate Forbes previously

The SNP are inveterate liars and deceivers because the whole Nationalist project is based on nothing but deliberate full on deceit of the Scottish Nation.

"I'm pretty open minded to independence. If I thought it would be good for my family and I, I would vote for it. What I cannot tolerate is cheap political point scoring and outright lies by either side and I'm noticing it far more on the "Yes" side"

How about looking at some "outright data" instead of lies and all linked to Scot Gov's own actual Data ?

There are plenty of other good unbiased sources of data around too

Anonymous said...

The man o independent mind, he looks and laughs at a’ that.