Freelance, ‘self-styled’ (his phrase) biographer, David Torrance, is one of those media people who rise without trace. One day a lowly reporter for Scottish Television, the next pontificating everywhere about Scotland’s natural home being United Kingdom, and writing unofficial biographies. He squanders a lot of column inches trying to prove Scotland is a lot like England, which is an odd occupation when so many English claim Scots eat, sleep, talk, and hold politics diametrically opposed to England.
Torrance’s readers will be aware that whenever his sensitive antennae pick up a phrase that might be critical of SNP he never fails to exploit it. He pops up regularly to remind us anything a Scottish National Party administration creates for Scotland’s economic and social welfare is fundamentally, irretrievably bad, often very bad.
There’s tidy repetition in his chosen targets, but he often misses his own point, making his columns easy to ignore. For the most part, the stunning irrationality of his inferences render comment superfluous.
So far, he has very little to teach us. His prose is devoid of humour or entertainment, unless he’s being unconsciously stupid, which is a lot of the time, such as when on a Scotland 2016 politics show he espoused the view Sarah Palin endorsing Donald Trump to be a refreshing participator on the US political stage.
Declaring an interest
Before I knew Torrance existed I bought his biography of Salmond, a dry, uninspiring cut and paste job. I was disappointed, assuming it to be an official biography. Salmond has since explained Torrance doesn’t know him one bit, something of a disadvantage when writing a book about an important individual’s life.
Secondly, I tweeted my opinion that Torrance’s writing is anodyne and often vapid. Picking up the remark he blocked me in an instant … before I had time to say hello.
Publishing opinion for public consumption carries with it considerable risk. Today, risk is magnified a hundred times. The perpetually indignant brigade are always alert. If someone doesn’t agree with your views the internet is there for them to let you know where you have erred. And the world can read it.
In the past writing a complaint was a serious thing. A letter to a newspaper’s editor took a lot of thought and time, half-a-day to compose, plus a walk to the nearest post box; today a quick-fire, short-form tweet is ejected in seconds, poor punctuation included.
For Torrance to be so sensitive as to block a single, short comment, a supposedly mature, experienced journalist, is a sure sign he is no democrat. Indeed, a great deal of his literary output is one of cold, calculated innuendo brooking no criticism.
But unlike some of his foghorn newspaper colleagues he is not a bully. He is, however, manipulative and insistent.
A hackery of equals
Does his studied casual television manner, open-necked Tee-shirt or jersey, (suit and tie retained only for admiring Tory types) and strict architectural hair style belie a good nature? The jury is still out. He does, however, practice bitchiness calculated to injure.
Though any of his articles will do, let’s take apart one of his recent newspaper columns in which Torrance fabricates and fulminates. And incidentally, it’s only a fragment of his column, the rest is mostly what one might expect from quick-study journalism. On the surface the article appears to be a plea for tolerance for poorly paid journalists. A second glance reveals it a piece of right-wing motivated agenda – blaming the SNP for the public’s current distaste for his trade.
For clever humour Torrance has no aptitude, so he relies on an epigram to begin his article coined by playwright Tom Stoppard, the one about the ‘media’ sounding like a spiritual group. Stoppard is a Czech-born writer well qualified to spot a collapse in ethics of the Fourth Estate. Unlike Torrance, Stoppard has concerned himself all his working life with themes of human rights, censorship and political freedom. He would be intrigued by Torrance’s acrobatic use of linguistics. Here is Torrance thinking hackery is Thackeray:
“When I started out 15 years ago journalists were certainly unloved, but now hatred of the “mainstream media” unites certain Scottish Nationalists, Corbynistas and supporters of Donald Trump.”
There, in a short opening paragraph, Torrance gives us his entire technique: innuendo and smear by association, plus a complete absence of evidence to support his assertion.
He implants an exaggeration and a louche link in the mind of his readers. The ‘certain’ Scottish nationalists he refers to are not identified. And non-nationalists who want greater powers for Scotland are not included in Torrance’s imaginary black book.
Where have honest journalists gone?
Journalists of high reputation were once valued. The BBC had a score of long-serving, respected chief correspondents whom one took for granted spoke truth from first-hand experience. I can think of Scotland’s own Ludovic Kennedy, and London-born James Cameron, and the also photo journalist, Don McCullin, following in the tradition of the great US civil war photographer, Alexander Gardener, men of boundless humanity, energy and erudition.
Few remain, and some might argue they are not needed, the result of a smarter readership, and truth communicated by social sites and Twitter. Courageously outspoken John Pilger is one survivor. Torrance will never make the grade as a Pilger acolyte. He’s too busy being destructive. He is not concerned with individual happiness.
What we have today are shallow ill-informed pundits, people I term knee-jerk nobodies, reflex unionists, wet behind the ears trainees, ever-ready with a cliché and a quip.
Not Trump again
Torrance connects Trump with the SNP, another attempt at smear. It’s on record Union Jack McConnell, Labour’s First Minister, was the person who flew to New York to schmooze Trump, and invite him to buy a chunk of Scotland. That left Salmond between a rock and a hard place.
Salmond’s constituents in Aberdeenshire were crying out for job creation, part and parcel of a politician’s duties. Trump promised lots of jobs, Salmond welcomed jobs to his area, but in the event Trump never fulfilled that promise.
Being openly wary of Trump and his reputation is useless. How do you announce an entrepreneur is a blow hard and bully without getting sued? Torrance ignores nuance and fact and goes for the smear. Salmond and Trump are one and the same to him, a summation that exposes the shallowness of his ‘research’ for unofficial biographies.
The BBC is not biased
Torrance praises and then belittles Christopher Silver’s book, ‘Demanding Democracy – the Case for a Scottish Media.’ He maintains that the BBC is not, was not, biased in favour of Union priorities during the Referendum, yet evidence is stacked high for all to see that the BBC did its best to stimulate doubt in the case for independence regained.
And he is oblivious of the two great examples of BBC censorship, the brutal firing of director generals who wanted more autonomy for Scottish broadcasting, and a fairer share of broadcasting hours. They were Alastair Hetherington, and Alasdair Milne.
Nor does Torrance take cognisance of the number of BBC journalists in the pay of MI5 and MI6. They are not there to advance the cause of Scotland’s self-determination!
Recklessly, he goes so far as to berate former BBC staffer Derek Bateman for castigating Nicola Sturgeon when she presented her ideas of a free press to members of the Fourth Estate. And Bateman wonders why Sturgeon does not mix with members of social sites, a valid enquiry, such as Wings Over Scotland, Bella Caledonia, or Buzzfeed. (I’m told she reads Grouse Beater!) Here is an instance where Torrance insinuates Sturgeon is wary of anything approaching robust organised support for self-determination, a caution Torrance normally encourages.
Attending the SNP’s conference that Bateman refers, Torrance says, “We got picked on, but we took it on the chin.” He then spends a few hundred words explaining how sensitive he is to taking it on the chin.
Bateman is pro-independence. Where does Torrance stand? He describes himself as a federalist of sorts. The one party that has gotten closest to his ideal he briefs against. It’s SNP bad all the way for Torrance.
Neutral is not passive
Torrance’s article goes on to argue that independence supporters are unwilling (my description) to see newspapers as anything but anti-SNP government. He maintains the opposite, that they publish articles pro and-anti about independence. This is ingenuous in the extreme.
Only the Guardian published a list of democratic structures missing from Scotland’s politics, but refrained from explaining why their omission is detrimental to citizen’s rights, and Scotland’s economy. And every single editorial ran any number of warnings against what they erroneously and deliberately called ‘separation.’
People seeking autonomy were dubbed gullible or evil. The tabloids were brutal in their attacks, broadsheets more sophisticated. Indeed, they sustain those attacks now, recycling fabrications and black propaganda, almost certainly in fear of the gathering support for independence now that the electorate can see how they have been truly hoodwinked into believing Westminster promises of honey tomorrow if they voted No.
Better then Bell
His grand conceit is to suggest that the late Ian Bell wrote ‘beautiful’ prose not because he believed in independence “but because he could”. He never met the man, a counterproductive habit Torrance has when trying to provide insight into an individual. Torrance does his best to separate Bell from his socialist ideals. “When he was wrong he was eloquently wrong.” Which is to say, when he was wrong he was never clumsily wrong.
Torrance attempts to place himself above Bell as a writer and communicator. Bell did not write his articles in a vacuum. Some injustice or other caught his attention. It was precisely because Bell was motivated by the omissions in Scotland’s democratic structures, institutions, and civil rights, that drew out of him his best work.
Dehumanising idiots and fools
I concede I share Torrance’s abhorrence of an extreme attitude that says the media is so bereft of honesty it should be wiped out. But they bring opprobrium upon themselves.
I wish editors were not so craven as to do the dirty work of their baron-like empire owners. I want them better at choosing journalists of integrity. But their standards are bargain basement. They choose the second-rate and the nonentity. They revel in the mediocre. And the plain lie. Torrance is a good example of the breed.
I am uncomfortable to see Unionists dehumanised by calling them ‘Yoons’, a term not dissimilar to Vietnamese freedom fighters reduced to ‘Gooks’, or the press calling internet democracy supporters ‘cybernazis.’ But I do not see why lies and falsehoods promoted daily by the mainstream media should not be illuminated and condemned.
Abusing ‘free’ speech
Without dissent liberty is chained. But freedom of expression is open to abuse. In a civilised society journalists must be accountable to somebody for their actions and accusations, the same as the rest of us. So far, they have refused to be accountable to anybody but their own masters.
Torrance has every right to be heard. To quote Noam Chomsky, if we do not believe in hearing the opinions of our opponents, we do not believe in democracy at all. Nonetheless, Torrance has a well defined agenda: careful to deflect or suffocate in irrelevancies any attempt to define or explain the long-endured democratic omissions in Scotland’s political structures, institutions, constitution, and civil rights.
Independence is the magic pill – not
He reiterates the hoary cliché that independence is not a panacea. To my certain knowledge neither the SNP nor any supporter has ever claimed that as magic dust, a guaranteed result of regaining independence. It’s a slogan dreamt up by a right-wing think tank keen to denigrate self-determination by making it appear naïve.
What independence offers is a guarantee of sovereignty, an opportunity to shape a society where the citizen has a real say in the democratic process, and is not subject to the whims of a more powerful neighbour state, their lives governed by the interests of big business, or the power elite, nor left to representation by English proxy, nationally and internally.
Torrance’s exercises against progressive ideals are a model of the genre.
More attention than he deserves
More recently Torrance reported Nicola Sturgeon intended to put “a more realistic case” to the public for a currency under independence. More than what?
Sturgeon actually said, she would put a “realistic argument” before the public, meaning she will do her homework. There was no mention of ‘more.’ Torrance writes biographies. He constructs sentences. He knows how to make meaning clear or ambiguous. Torrance adds ‘more’ to imply Sturgeon is criticising Salmond, as if she is quietly accusing Salmond of presenting a weak, ill-considered case for sharing the pound. You will find that sleight of hand in all Torrance’s critiques of the SNP.
Torrance’s efforts have nothing to do with free expression, neutrality, balance or contrarian opinion. Those who frequent ultra-Right defamation sites will be comfortable with his flights of fancy. His book, ‘Thatcherism in a Cold Climate‘ is one long apologist’s lament for the fractured Union.
He signs his unofficial ‘biographies’ – mostly culled from right-wing newspapers – “David Torrance, Hackney, London.” Maybe it’s an issue of personal safety.
David Torrance is an unashamed right-wing partisan pamphleteer. By disparaging and disregarding profoundly needed constitutional change he is also an opponent of elementary civil rights. In that regard, Daniel Defoe would happily invite him for tea to exchange notes and techniques, and who knows, perhaps a Tee-shirt or two.
© Grouse Beater