An alien force

bbc_union_at_any_costWE REJECT CRITICISM

That could be BBC Scotland’s strapline. It could almost be their mission statement. It certainly reflects the British state broadcaster’s smugly complacent attitude to criticism, as will be testified by anyone who has experienced the corporation’s arrogantly dismissive attitude to complaints.

All of which is reminiscent of the current debate about the accountability of the media and journalists’ insistence that they are not answerable to any external authority, least of all the consumers of their product. Just as the principle of press freedom is used a stick with which to beat any who criticise journalists, so the principle of the independence of public service broadcasting has been fashioned into a shield to deflect criticism of broadcasters.

This is what happens. All institutions created by and for fallible humans are bound to be imperfect. Organisations will tend to evolve to serve their own existence and convenience rather than the purpose for which they were founded. Professional groups will tend to become self-serving elites more concerned with the preservation of their status than with adherence to codes. That’s just the way people are. That’s just human nature.

Against this tendency to corruption are set such things as effective management, state regulation and market forces. We hope and intend that the managers of organisations will keep them focused on their purpose. We hope and intend that state regulation will prevent abuses. We hope and intend that consumer power will serve as a corrective to failures elsewhere.

But what happens when incompetent management is allowed to persist because they have become accountable only to themselves? What happens when a lack of political will saps regulation of its power? What happens when organisations are shielded from both public opinion and consumer power either by corporate wealth or the funding system which is meant to ensure their independence from political and commercial interests?

What happens is that we get the inadequacy and imbalance which characterises the media in Scotland today. We get a public service broadcaster which is woefully unfit for Scotland’s purpose. We get newspapers that simply don’t relate to Scotland.

We get media which are impervious to criticism and incapable of change.

We get British media lurking in Scotland like an alien force.

It is impossible to neglect the parallel with the British political parties squatting in the Scottish Parliament like a cuckoo in the nest of our democracy.


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Freedom from the press

mediaThere is a curious contradiction in Carolyn Leckie’s argument. On the one hand, she appears to recognise that the British mainstream media is inherently biased in favour of the British establishment of which it is a part. On the other, she urges us to “get across our arguments in a clear, friendly factual, positive way” using the same mainstream media. Either she doesn’t understand that fundamental aim of Scotland’s independence cause is to break the British state, or she doesn’t understand that the fundamental purpose of the British media is the preservation very structures of power, privilege and patronage which the independence movement opposes.

In one breath Carolyn seems to be saying that we should just accept the fact that the British media is not inclined to give the independence movement a fair hearing and an honest representation. In the next, she seems to be hoping that they will do just that if only we’re nice to them and present our case in a manner so devoid of assertiveness and passion that even a delicate creature such as Sunday Herald editor Neil Mackay won’t feel he’s being pressured – or attacked.

If Carolyn Leckie is saying that “attacking” the British media is futile, then I would probably agree with her. It is pointless to expect that the independence cause will be treated by the British establishment as anything other than the threat that it is. But this misses the point. It’s not about whether we should attack the media, but whether the media should be exempt from attack.

And for ‘attack’ here we should read ‘criticism’. Terms such as ‘attack’ and ‘hatred’ are labels which the media attach to criticism in order to divert from and avoid answering that criticism. To whatever extent it my be fair to characterise some of the criticism of the media as aggressive, that doesn’t alter the fact that much – perhaps most – of that criticism is perfectly reasonable and justifiable. By focusing exclusively on the aggression, journalists distract attention from the reasonable and justifiable points and, not at all incidentally, present themselves as victims.

It’s a question of accountability. Journalists such as Neil Mackay insist that they are a special category and should only be accountable to a professional code which, unfortunately, all too many journalist seem all too willing to disregard or flout. Others, myself included, maintain that journalists merely provide a service and produce a product and that, like anyone else who offers a service or product, they are ultimately answerable to the consumer.

With something that looks worryingly akin to complacency, Carolyn points out that,

The state-controlled media did not stop apartheid being overthrown in South Africa. Nor did Pravda prevent the collapse of the Soviet Union.

While this is true at a woefully superficial level, it fails to acknowledge that the media were an important part of the apparatus by which these oppressive regimes were maintained for decades. It fails to recognise that breaking the media’s grip on people’s minds was an important – perhaps crucial – part of the process which ended apartheid and brought down the Soviet Union. Would anything have changed, or changed so soon or so quickly, if the version of reality promulgated by establishment media was not challenged?

The pious wee lecture with which Carolyn Leckie ends her piece is irritatingly familiar. A small but growing part of my “righteous anger” is reserved for those who suggest I’m not entitled to my righteous anger. I reserve the right to be significantly irked by the insinuation that it is those challenging the media who fear debate and dialogue when it is others – not least some journalists – who are seeking to shut down debate and discourage dialogue.

The clue is in the words, Carolyn. Righteous anger! There are things that should provoke us to anger. There are things to which we should strenuously object. There are things which must be protested loudly and opposed vigorously. And each of us must do so in the manner which we deem appropriate. Each of us should express our anger as we see fit, limited only by what is legally permissible . Only the causes of righteous anger benefit from our response to it being constrained by an etiquette authored by the objects of our righteous anger.

Challenging and criticising the media is essential to a healthy democracy and a necessary part of any political struggle. Journalists do not get to declare themselves an elite immune from public scrutiny. Notwithstanding the spluttering outrage of some journalists at the very idea, the media will be answerable to the consumers of its messages.


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The impossible dream

fantasyKevin Pringle, a man who knows whereof he speaks, confirms in his final verdict on the feasibility and likelihood of a federal UK what many of us have been saying for a very long time,

I think that independence is more realistic.

The reason is simple. The things Kevin Pringle rightly identifies as the basic (minimum?) conditions for an acceptable – and therefore potentially viable – federal Britain are the stuff of fantasy politics.

Written constitution? No chance!

Economic policy that works for all the nations and regions? Unimaginable!

Divested of post-imperial pretensions? Don’t be silly!

All of this, together with anything else that so much as resembles modern democracy, is anathema to the ruling elites of the British state. Talk of imposing a working federal arrangement on the British state makes about as much sense as talk of squeezing me into a tutu and having me perform with Scottish Ballet.

And there’s another problem, quite apart from the fact that federalism and the structures of power, privilege and patronage which define the British state are mutually exclusive forms. For a federal arrangement to be feasible it would not only have to be fair and equitable, it would have to be seen to be fair and equitable. Which means that the negotiation of the arrangement would have to be seen to be fair and equitable. Which, in turn, could only be the case if all the parties involved participated in those negotiations on the basis of parity of power, equality of status and mutual respect. Which, to close the circle, could only be possible if those parties to the negotiations were already independent nations.

Independence precedes and is a prerequisite for the negotiation of any constitutional arrangement which involves the ceding or pooling of sovereignty. Only independence permits the full exercise of sovereignty which provides the rightful authority to cede or pool sovereignty.

Federalism cannot proceed from the British state any more than pea and ham soup can proceed ‘fae a chicken’.

Independence is, not only more realistic, but essential and inevitable. Any constitutional arrangement which succeeds in terms of the imperatives, aims and objectives of the British state necessarily fails in terms of the needs, priorities and aspirations of Scotland’s people. It is not remotely possible that negotiation of a new constitutional settlement could command the confidence of Scotland’s people other than in the wake of the dissolution of the Union.

The now ritualised espousing of federalism by British Labour in Scotland (BLiS) is not a case of them genuinely exploring constitutional options. It is a case of them striving for relevance in a political environment where absolute commitment to the preservation of the British state is increasingly regarded as an untenable oddity.


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A minimum of respect

then_whatMhairi Black observes that, when the ‘lead not leave’ platitude was being peddled, some people “maybe even believed that the UK Government would make a considered effort to take the Scottish view into account”. It should also be noted that some didn’t believe it, but didn’t care. They have important things to think about; like TV soaps, football matches and royal weddings. They can’t be expected to concern themselves with trivial matters such as the destruction of Scotland’s democracy.

Others were fully aware of the deception, but fully approved of it. Applauded it. Celebrated it. Scotland’s great tragedy is that it is home to a significant minority who rejoice in Scotland being demeaned and denigrated and diminished. It is a fundamental tenet of British Nationalist ideology that Scotland must be less if that is what is required in order that the British state may be more.

British Nationalists were never taken in by the ‘lead not leave’ plea because they regard the very idea of Scotland having any kind of lead role as unthinkable and faintly ridiculous. Belief in the primacy of the British ruling elites precludes Scotland being anything other than subordinate. Their can be no parity of status where one party is presumed to be ‘naturally’ preeminent.

For British Nationalists, who make up between 10 and 20 percent of the electorate, Scotland’s prosperity and dignity are things to be thoughtlessly sacrificed for the greater glory of the British state. They see nothing wrong in a requirement for consent that presumes consent to have been granted because they cannot conceive of circumstances in which it would be right to withhold consent from the British political elite.

They see nothing wrong in misleading, deceiving and lying to the people of Scotland in order to preserve their precious Union. On the contrary, they take great pride in doing so effectively. Liars and frauds are elevated to the status of heroes if their chicanery has been practised in the name of the British state.

No doubt people did believe that the British government would “make a considered effort to take the Scottish view into account”. But why would that be acceptable to anyone other than the British Nationalist fanatics just described? Why should the people of Scotland have to rely on a government they decisively rejected making an effort to consider their views?

Why would anyone with a modicum of respect for democracy and themselves accept anything less than that they be governed by people who take their views into account as a matter of course? Isn’t that a minimum requirement of any government? Isn’t it the very least that we’re entitled to expect?

Isn’t it about time we demanded that minimum?


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Three of the best

depute_leader_candidatesOnce again, SNP members have been faced with the difficult task of choosing among candidates of the highest calibre. Whoever wins, the contest has proved yet again that the SNP has a wealth of talent at its disposal. It has also demonstrated the strength of the party’s internal democracy. The manner in which these contests are conducted is a credit to the party and to the distinctive political culture which the British state is determined to eradicate.

My approach to differentiating the three candidates involved focusing, not only on the personal qualities and abilities of the individuals, but also on the fit between those attributes and the role of Depute Leader as I understand it. I was also mindful of the role(s) currently being filled by the candidates and how this might be affected by being elected.

My conclusion was that Julie Hepburn is the candidate best suited to the role of Depute Leader.

To some extent, this choice was influenced by the fact that I am persuaded that both Chris McEleny and Keith Brown have much to offer in other ways. And that being Depute Leader might actually limit them unduly. I see Keith as a projects man. His talents are best deployed if he has a sort of ‘roving commission’ to step into situation where strong leadership and effective management skills are required.

Chris, I’d like to see leading moves to secure (or restore?) strong representation for local government within the party as part of the wider reorganisation that is ongoing – even if only slowly.

Most importantly, however, I am firmly convinced that Julie is best qualified and most capable in relation to what I consider the three most important aspects of the Depute Leader role at this critical time for the SNP and the independence project. Without going into detail, these relate to –

  • Connecting (networking) the branches and groups within the party.
  • Connecting the membership with the party leadership.
  • Connecting the party with the wider independence movement.

Whoever wins, these must be their priorities. I’m sure each of the candidates would bring something to the role of Depute Leader. I am certain that Julie would bring something extra.


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The death of truth

Just thought I’d drop this into the current discussion about the condition of media and journalism in Scotland and elsewhere. It’s an extract from an article titled The death of truth which first appeared in the March 2017 issue of iScot Magazine.

Isn’t there an irony – delicious or distasteful according to personal taste – in the fact that the propagators of fake news are elevating themselves to the status of noble heroes defending their right to propagate fake news against a politically-motivated onslaught that deploys fake news as one of its principal weapons?

For all this, there remains a sense that there is something different about the present morass, as compared with previous morasses. This, it seems to me, is not adequately captured by anything in the currently fashionable journalistic lexicon. Not ‘fake news’. Not ‘post-truth’. Not even ‘anti-truth’ – which, I confess, was the term for which I first reached when seeking to pin down a concept that I found rather elusive.

While researching the term, I encountered some interesting comments from an Indian blogger going by the name, Factorator. Interesting, not least for the fact that they were writing about Indian politics – demonstrating that the phenomena under discussion are by no means exclusive to the West. I am taking the liberty of quoting at length.

Can deliberate and selective subversion of facts, irrespective of the frequency of their occurrence or the severity of their impact, lead to establishing a narrative contrary to reality? Is post-truth actually ‘forced-truth’?

But here’s the real deal. Picture a situation where lies about one side are ceaselessly repeated and inconvenient facts about the other are diligently suppressed. Can this be the potential force-multiplier that opens up a vast, permanent chasm between reality and perception? Can it create an artificial, alternate version of contemporary events suited to the interests of a cartel?

As an observer of Scottish politics and, in particular, the campaign to restore Scotland’s independence, these two paragraphs resonated like some planet-sized bell. I have never read a better description of the British state’s anti-independence propaganda campaign. It could be the mission statement for Better Together/Project Fear.

It also serves as a very adequate summary of a situation that goes well beyond Scotland’s politics and Scotland’s borders. At minimum, it captions US and UK politics with disturbing accuracy.

And yet, I’m still left with this nagging feeling that there is something more. It seems not enough to say that truth is being supplanted. That it is being overwhelmed by a “narrative contrary to reality”. For all its vivid persuasiveness, the concept of a “vast, permanent chasm between reality and perception” is wanting. Possibly because it leaves reality distanced, but intact. And the sense I get is, not of truth being set-aside or distorted or obscured, but of truth being demolished. Obliterated. Eradicated.

Neither ‘post-truth’ nor ‘anti-truth’ do justice to what is going on. We need a new word to refer to the destruction of truth. A word that conveys the uncreation of reality. A word that speaks of the death of truth. The killing of truth. The murder of truth.


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Shall there be a Scottish Parliament?

national_power_grabThere shall be a Scottish Parliament. But only if we are prepared to fight for it.

There shall be a Scottish Parliament. But not if we allow the British political elite to have its way.

There shall be a Scottish Parliament. But we must now decide, as a matter of great urgency whether it is to be a Parliament which exists and functions only by the grace and favour of the British state, or a Parliament which exists by the command of Scotland’s people and functions as the instrument of their democratic will.

This matters. It is important. It is crucial. It matters because the fundamental nature of our Parliament, and the manner in which it operates, reflects and defines what kind of nation Scotland is and what kind of people we are. If we are to be a nation where all political authority derives from the people, we must fight to be that kind of nation. If we, the people of Scotland, are to be sovereign in our own land, we must forcefully affirm and vigorously defend our sovereignty.

The Scottish Parliament is the rock upon which our sovereignty rests. It is the sole guarantor of our democracy. It is the only Parliament with democratic legitimacy in Scotland. It is not just the Scottish Parliament, it is the Parliament of Scotland. It belongs to the people of Scotland.

Only the people of Scotland possess the rightful authority to define and constrain the powers of our Parliament. The British government – unelected by and unaccountable to the people of Scotland – has no such authority. A lawfully established and democratically elected Parliament cannot be subordinate to any external power that is not ultimately answerable to the people of Scotland. The attempt by the British political elite to assert supreme authority over the Scottish Parliament is an assault on democracy. It is an affront to the nation of Scotland. It is an insult to the people of Scotland.

The time has come to choose what kind of people we are and what kind of nation we want Scotland to be. The time has come to decide where power lies now and in the future. Will it lie with a Scottish Parliament serving the needs, priorities and aspirations of the people of Scotland? Or is power to be usurped by faceless, unelected, unaccountable appointees of the British state serving only the structures of power, privilege and patronage which advantage the few at increasing cost to the many?

There shall be a Scottish Parliament. But only if we resolve to make it so.


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