Macdonell’s Failed Smear Story


On Sunday 7 December 2014, the Mail on Sunday ran a front page splash “Storm as SNP refuses to hand over money to fund royals – Sturgeon’s £2m Cash Grab from the Queen”. Hamish Macdonell, in “an exclusive” opens by claiming that the Queen “is set to lose funding worth millions of pounds a year thanks to a republican snub by Nicola Sturgeon’s SNP Government.” He goes to claim that “the SNP is planning to reap the financial benefits of the new deal – whilst refusing to hand across the money to fund the Monarchy”.

Having a long-standing interest in the Crown Estate and the strange circumstances in which, in 2011, the Sovereign Grant Bill had been rushed through Parliament , I knew this story made no sense for the simple reason that responsibility for the financing of the Royal Family is a reserved matter and that there are no proposals to change this state of affairs.

The story was then regurgitated by Hamish in the Spectator blog with even more extravagant claims such as “Scotland will simply be taking the money that currently goes to pay for the Royal Family and spending it on whatever it likes”, that the refusal to hand the money over was a “snub” designed to appeal to SNP members who “still harbour grievances over the referendum”.

By this point a number of journalists who were interested in following up the story contacted me. I told them that there were no proposals to devolve responsibility for financing the Royal Family and that the entire story appeared to be what I described in my blog as “a dung heap of unadulterated, fabricated crap”.

The plain facts are that the Crown Estate revenues do not finance the Royal Family but merely provide a benchmark against which the Sovereign Grant is calculated (using an initial figure of 15%), that the matter is reserved to Westminster, and that the Smith Commission (which recommended devolution of the Crown Estate) had correctly noted that “responsibility for financing the Sovereign grant will need to reflect this revised settlement for the Crown Estate.”

Mr Macdonell then published another Spectator blog (is he paid for each one?) in which he remarks upon the excitement his column had provoked and argues that the Scottish Government is at fault for providing confusing answers to his questions.

The entire story is based upon a question that Mr Macdonell asked the Scottish Government – will it be sending a cheque south to help pay for the Royal Family? “No”, was the reply for the simple reason that funding for the Royal Family is a reserved matter and is paid out of general taxation – a point which, if Mr Macdonell had read Section 1 of the Sovereign Grant Act would have been immediately obvious. Had he read Section 7, he would also have learnt that the 15% is due for review in April 2016 and every 5 years thereafter. A sensible reading of this suggests an uprating of the 15% to correct the reduced Crown Estate revenues flowing to the Treasury after devolution of the Scottish Crown Estate.

I am very content with a probing, inquiring and critical press. A legitimate question exists over how any adjustment to the Sovereign Grant will be made. But instead of an intelligent exploration of such matters, the question is turned on its head and the Scottish Government is in the dock for refusing to do something that it has no responsibility or obligation for in the first place.

What next? Why is Nicola Sturgeon grabbing cash from the pensioners of Birmingham or refusing to pay for the dock redevelopments in Belfast?

This story is a wilful misrepresentation of the facts. A front page splash is concocted days before the First Minister is due to meet the Queen. It is a thinly-disguised smear on Nicola Sturgeon as a republican extremist who grabs £2 million of cash and snubs Her Majesty.

When challenged on the story, Mr Macdonell is afforded another Spectator column in which he pretends that the fuss is all due to a lack of clarity from the Scottish Government and I am portrayed as an “SNP sympathiser” (I am a member of the Scottish Green Party).

To many people, this is all rather unremarkable. The print media is biased and the Daily Mail in particular has form. But Scottish journalists do not need to agree to undertake whatever agenda the Daily Mail is pursuing here. They could, instead, confine their legitimate opinions to an opinion column. But by their complicity in fabricated news stories, they do themselves no credit.

Alan Cochrane reveals in his diary of the referendum campaign that, when asked by Alistair Darling to spike an unhelpful column, he happily did so. “He’s in charge after all. It’s not really good journalism but what the hell does journalism matter?”, he writes.

What the hell indeed.

Comments (23)

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  1. coinneach says:

    How is it a “failed” smear story?
    Probably done its job quite well, confirming beliefs to those who like their beliefs confirmed, and therefore buy the Mail every day.
    Nothing to do with the truth, really.
    Will it publish an apology?
    Don’t hold your breath, Lord Levison

  2. As a republican, I’d be quite happy with this. I imagine a number of No voters are also republicans.

    I also liked the juxtaposition on the newspaper’s front page. The story beside it was Kate’s £32,000 lunch date. 🙂

    1. stephanie callaghan says:

      Yeh, was just thinking that £2m could have paid for 6 of kate’s lunch dates…..

  3. Pity it is not true.
    A lot of us would be happy for our government to ‘spend it on whatever it likes’ rather than sending to Buck House.

  4. Denis says:

    Well, Rab said it – ”Sic a parcel o’ rogues in a nation”. And Scotland may have a bigger ‘parcel’ than many.

    Scotland with many of its people in poverty from a government they didn’t elect (again), has the right to withhold its money from the richest woman in the world who calls herself Elizabeth II.

    Scotland should not recognise this culturally and politically alien upstart. You know why – she is Elizabeth I of Scotland – and of Britain for that matter, I noticed at the Bruce monument at Bannockburn that Scots officials have cravenly ducked the issue by referring to the unveiler of the statue merely as ”Elizabeth”. You know, the one who ”purred” at the No vote.

    Bruce (another alien upstart) himself was of course treacherous like all his class – ” Both Bruce and his father supported Edward I’s invasion of Scotland in 1296, hoping to gain the crown after Balliol’s fall. They were understandably disappointed when Edward proceeded to install himself as king.”

    As an apprentice boilermaker in John Brown’s shipyard in the ’60s, I saw the unusual secrecy over the name of the new liner, revealed at the last moment of the launch as ‘Queen Elizabeth II”. They feared protest and they got away with it because we Scots let them away with it – as we always do. We are not much better than the Quisling writers above.

    It may seem like petty gesture politics but is actually of enormous importance that your Head of State does not recognise your existence. No other country in the world would tolerate this but the Scots.

    We are the ‘parcel o’ rogues” are we not?

    1. Denis says:

      ” for that matter, I noticed ”

      Erratum – should be a full stop instead of a comma after ‘matter’.

  5. Denis says:

    But it’s all in the ”Scottish Daily Mail” (a fate worse than Ebola) so it doesn’t matter does it?

    Donkey’s years ago (70s?) at the time when the Express or the Mail (or some rightwing shitsheet) was shutting its Scottish operation, I was approached by members of its staff asking for solidarity funds. I got kind of tetchy and told the rats that they had booted the balls of the workers in Scotland for so long that they should be ashamed to ask for support from them. One or two were suitably ashamed at the rightness of my comment.

    Sic a parcel o’ rogues, time and time again. Grub Street rules Ya Bass.

  6. Ann Rayner says:

    Noted today’s Scotsman (naturely didn’t buy it) headline “Nicola the first meets Elizabeth II” and they no doubt think they are journalists!

  7. Ken MacColl says:

    Hamish Macdonnell is well recognised to be a consistent journalist; consistently incapable of allowing the facts to get in the way of a rubbish story. Will he go to the wall with the Hootsman? We can but hope.

    1. jivetoaster says:

      I thought he was no longer a Scotsman journo? Wasn’t he involved with the Caledonian Mercury?

      1. He was. I can’t recall that online organ contributing much to our great debate!

  8. Clootie says:

    I look forward to living in a republic. One without unelected peers as part of it’s political structure.

    I don’t think I am alone. Why anyone would accept that you can be born to rule truly baffles me.

    1. gjc says:

      Clootie – you and me both and I suspect thousands, probably millions more like us

  9. MBC says:

    The Better Together smear campaign has never actually disbanded. All this makes me really angry.

    What about asking for a right to reply from the Spectator Andy?

  10. Shaun says:

    Not particularly great journalism, but then it’s the Daily Mail. One thing I noticed throughout the referendum campaign was that the SNP ensured that they were in no way seen as anti-monarchy. Indeed, it’s a debate that, unfortunately in my opinion, we did not even have.

  11. seasickdave says:

    How dare we not fund the Queen in the austere times.
    She has a family to feed too, don’t you know?
    Poor, poor show from the SNP.

  12. gonzalo1 says:

    How many people buy the ‘newspaper’ that publishes this pish? I think the individuals who continually come out with this crap aren’t right in the head.

  13. Liz says:

    I think there are a few landowners sweating it, so I imagine more media smear campaigns are on their way. It is disgusting that these’ landowner’ parasites reap so many subsidies from the state whilst there is so much poverty. Bring on the reform! windmills are so much nicer to look at than tweeted twats running around killing deer.

  14. Fay Kennedy. says:

    These parasites in Westminster are given an item every night on TV in Oz. The royals and their mates the military and church are becoming more powerful every day in the antipodes. What a disgrace in this age to have such an archaic institution in place? Scotland with all your talent and innovation why so reluctant to give these plunderers the heave? I think journalism is obsolete. What the majority of these hacks do cannot be described as journalism.

  15. A. Strachan says:

    I am a very firm believer, this sort of inaccurate and slanderous style of reporting must be brought to task. Reporters must be responsible for what they publish.

    Inaccurate or damaging slurs against not only Governments and political parties but also members of the public and companies etc should all be met with the right to legal repercussion.

    When a reporter posts drivel, such as this, when it is clear and obviously inaccurate and completely incorrect, there should be a right of objection leading to a public prosecution if necessary.

    All too often I read fabricated drivel and nothing is ever done? Enough is enough?

  16. macart763 says:

    They lie and misrepresent in order to spread fear, societal division and misery. Its what politically and corporately compromised media sociopaths do.

  17. I am horrendously disappointed that this was a slanderous smear
    Created by royalist scum for royalist scum, and anyway if we did have principled republican politicians the wouldn’t be able to take office as you are required to swear allegiance to the parasite in chief

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