A jarring disconnect

bbc_union_at_any_costI realise that Alex Salmond is being politic when he says that the situation has “seemingly been resolved“. But, of course, it hasn’t. The Wings Over Scotland YouTube channel may have been restored but, at the time of writing, Peter Curran’s channel has not. To the very limited extent that the process by which these channels were targeted has been explained, it appears that it was the same in both both cases. So, why has one been restored and the other not?

Could it have anything to do with the fact that Wings Over Scotland has a higher public profile? Or is it just another instance of incompetence on the part of BBC management? Did they think, by backing down on Wings Over Scotland, they’d done the minimum necessary to placate an extremely irate public? Or did the just forget about the other channel they’d targeted?

All of which amounts to no more than a wee sampling of the questions that remain to be answered by the BBC. From where I’m standing – and I suspect I’m far from alone in this – two possible explanations present themselves. Either this was a politically motivated action launched by the BBC on its own initiative; or it was a politically motivated action launched by the BBC at the behest of some third party. The circumstances make it impossible to plausibly deny the political motivation. To even attempt such a denial would only further damage what little credibility the BBC retains in Scotland.

The key questions here relate to who within the BBC makes these decisions and on what authority. It is important not to get carried away with conspiracy theories. It seems highly unlikely that there is, within the ranks of BBC bureaucracy, a coordinated and continuing plot to undermine Scotland’s independence campaign. Not least because there is so little reason to believe that there is, within the ranks of BBC bureaucracy, anybody capable of managing such a complex long-term project.

It is, in fact, easier to believe that it is all an accident. At least in the sense that there is no planning of particulars or consideration of consequences. No great conspiracy is necessary to explain the BBC’s behaviour in what we must bear in mind is merely a highly visible example of the kind of political bias that has been so much part of the media landscape in Scotland for so long that the general public had ceased to notice it. It is precisely because people such as Peter Curran and Stu Campbell throw a spotlight on the bias that they have been targeted. And, make no mistake, more would have followed if the BBC and/or the ‘third party’ had got away with it.

This political bias is not – or, at least, is not necessarily – a sign of some carefully orchestrated plan to counter Scotland’s independence movement. Rather, it is a symptom of an ethos in which the structures, systems and processes of the British state are unquestioningly assumed to be the norm. ‘British’ is the standard by which all things are judged. Anything perceived as challenging this unexamined assumption of British superiority is automatically and unthinkingly regarded as being outwith the realm of ‘normal’ politics. The customary rules don’t apply. There is a pervasive attitude that it’s only those uppity Jocks, so it doesn’t matter.

This attitude isn’t confined to the BBC. It infects the entire British establishment. It can be seen in the treatment of SNP MPs at Westminster. It can be seen in the contempt shown by the British political elite for the Scottish Parliament. It can be seen in the way the British parties squatting in the Scottish Parliament constantly seek to denigrate Scotland.

It can be seen in the behaviour of the British media – and the BBC in particular.

Who made the decision to have those two YouTube channels taken down? Almost certainly some anonymous and insignificant BBC functionary. On what authority? None was needed. These sites being something to do with Scottish (non-British) politics, it was simply taken for granted that it would be acceptable, if not expected. Normal constraints and considerations didn’t apply. Such is the ethos that prevails within the BBC.

There is a massive and jarring disconnect here. In Scotland, the concept of independence has been normalised. In the BBC, it never can be. The big question, therefore, is this – how can the BBC possibly serve an audience in Scotland when it is so evidently inherently incapable of relating to that audience?


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A can of worms

alex_salmondThat someone as prominent as Alex Salmond has elected to intervene in what I wearily suppose will shortly be dubbed the ‘Wingsgate’ scandal, is quite significant. If nothing else, it serves to demonstrate just how important alternative media have become.

His intervention is doubly significant for the fact that, as well as concisely stating the points that the BBC must respond to in relation to its evidently selective and seemingly ill-founded copyright infringement complaint against Wings Over Scotland, Mr Salmond has broadened the issue to include the rights of persons appearing in the excerpts which have been removed from the public domain due to the BBC’s action. And he has introduced the further matter of the BBC’s apparent failure to remove material which has been found to be in breach of its own guidelines.

It looks increasingly like the corporation has opened a very large can of worms here. And that this can of worms may well keep on getting bigger as the ‘Wingsgate’ affair becomes a vehicle for other long-festering grievances against the BBC. This is the sort of thing which can lead to demands for some kind of public inquiry as a plethora of issues previously dismissed as trivial and/or exceptional are resurrected and tagged onto or rolled into the one which has sufficient mass and momentum to carry them.

That the BBC has got itself into this situation amply demonstrates the dumb arrogance of unaccountable power. Anyone with so much as the tip of their smallest finger on the pulse of Scottish politics could have predicted the furore which would ensue from closing down the Wings Over Scotland YouTube channel. Either the BBC was aware of the hornets’ nest that it was poking and simply didn’t care, or it was allowing decisions to be made by people lacking even a basic awareness of what they were dealing with. Whichever it was, it looks like an appalling failure of management.

And where is the outcry from self-styled ‘professional’ journalists? Where are the frenzied denunciations of ‘gagging’ and high-minded defences of freedom of expression? Mainstream journalists managed to work themselves into a steaming lather of righteous indignation over perfectly justified criticism of certain members of their cosy little clique. But they are curiously silent in the face of an all too real attack on free speech that is ominously reminiscent of TV stations being closed down by some tyrannical regime.

Perhaps Alex Salmond’s intervention will rouse those somnolent and indolent hacks. But if the evidence of the past is any guide their mercenary ire will directed, not against the BBC, but against Salmond. If these loyal servants of the British state are true to tediously predictable form then we can expect that ‘Wingsgate’ will be spun as the SNP trying to ‘intimidate’ and ‘silence’ the BBC.

It’s all very British.


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Media wars

Wings Over ScotlandThe stuff about the BBC targeting accounts “irrespective of the political views of the infringing YouTube channels” is obvious drivel. But if it’s true that they act on complaints then it would be interesting to know whether the actions against Stu Campbell and Peter Curran were prompted by specific complaints. And even more interesting to discover the source of those complaints.

There is no doubt that the British political elite is seriously concerned about the Yes movement’s continuing dominance in alternative media. A dominance which may even be increasing as production standards improve and as patterns of media consumption change. New technologies are coming online; technical and presentational skills are being developed; funding streams are becoming more reliable, all as the audience for alternative news, analysis and commentary is growing.

As alternative media outlets get better, they get more authoritative. They carry more weight – even as trust in traditional media plummets.

No wonder the British establishment is worried. The old media have long been both its armour and its armoury. They have been the shield protecting the chosen from scrutiny and guilty from accountability. They have been they sword wielded against any who presume to challenge established power. That armour is corroded and cracked. That sword is dull and damaged. The old media simply isn’t as effective as it once was. And the skills required to repair it have been lost to the ravages of corporate ‘rationalisation’.

Power being relative, it stands to reason that, lacking the means to recover the potency of its own propaganda machine, the British establishment will have no choice but to try and diminish the influence of alternative media. The attacks on Stu Campbell and Peter Curran should be viewed in the light of the British state’s imperative to control the flow of information and maintain it’s capacity for manipulating public perceptions.

Shutting down the Wings Over Scotland and Moridura YouTube channels is just the British establishment testing its strength. Once a process is verified and precedents are established, more will follow. As the old media forces falter and fall to the new media guerrillas, the British state mobilises a mercenary army of lawyers.


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Spot the coup!

filthy_handsNews that the Home Office will no longer speak to MSPs about their constituents on immigration matters comes little more than a week after we learned that MSPs are being obstructed from helping constituents with problems claiming benefits. New procedures instituted by the Department for Work & Pensions (DWP) mean that MSPs may no longer contact Job Centre staff directly in an effort to resolve constituents’ problems. Regardless of how urgent the situation, they are now required to submit an enquiry by email and await a written response. Now it has been revealed that the Home Office is refusing to engage with MSPs wishing to discuss immigration issues affecting individuals and families in their constituencies.

In both cases, these new arrangements apply only to MSPs. MPs will not be similarly impeded in their efforts to help members of the public. It is difficult not to see a pattern emerging here. Especially when these recent developments are placed alongside other evidence of the British establishment’s increasing antipathy towards the Scottish Parliament. Take, for example, Ruth Davidson’s endlessly repeated insistence that there is ‘no demand. for a new independence referendum in brazen contempt of a decision taken by the Scottish Parliament.

Or the UK Government’s wilful failure to engage with the Scottish Government over the Brexit process.

Or the high-handed, imperious manner in which the UK government swept away the fundamental principle that powers not specifically reserved to Westminster are devolved.

This goes beyond mere ignorance of or disdain for the devolution settlement. What we are seeing is a purposeful and concerted effort to undermine and delegitimise the Scottish Parliament.

This is not new. Devolved powers over income tax and welfare are little more than a clumsily contrived collection of fiscal and political traps and pitfalls that have only been substantially avoided thanks partly to the artlessness of their construction but mainly to the skill and determination of people such as John Swinney, Derek Mackay and Jeane Freeman. Devolution was never more than a device by which to placate democratic dissent whilst continuing to withhold powers from the Scottish Parliament. Latterly, it was transformed into a political weapon deployed against the SNP, the Scottish Government and now the Scottish Parliament itself.

What is different now is that all pretence has been dropped. The attacks on Scotland’s democratic institutions have become as open and unsubtle as the attacks on Scotland’s public services. The effort to diminish and denigrate the Scottish Parliament is being ratcheted up at the same time as the British state’s presence in Scotland is being enhanced and promoted. There is nether accident nor coincidence in the fact that MSPs are being hampered in the performance of their duties whilst the British state pours resources into building up the ‘UK Government in Scotland’. It is not mere happenstance that the British media is redoubling its efforts to raise the profile of British Nationalist politicians like Ruth Davidson whilst shielding them from proper scrutiny.

This is an assault on Scotland’s democracy. This is an effort aimed at eradicating Scotland’s distinctive political culture. This is the British Nationalist ‘One Nation’ project in action. This is a political coup in progress.


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