Then what?

sunday_politicsI rarely watch the BBC’s Sunday Politics Scotland show. It is presented by Sarah Smith and Gordon Brewer. But that’s not the only reason I don’t watch it. The thing is, I don’t need to. I always know – with an adequate degree of certainty – what it will be about. I know, because I understand what is the function of the programme. It’s function is to lend the authority of the state broadcaster to whatever stories the print media has been peddling over the preceding week. In that respect, Sunday Politics Scotland is no more than a weekend version of BBC Scotland’s daily news and current affairs output. All are there merely to stamp the latest British Nationalist propaganda with the imprimatur of an institution which is able to exploit the residual respect afforded to what was once the most respected news organisation in the world.

The stories which these programmes seek to furnish with a veneer of credibility fall broadly into three categories –

  • SNP: Spawn of Beelzebub? Or imps of Satan?
  • Crisis threatens [insert name of Scottish institution or public service]!
  • Scotland: Hellhole? Or cesspit?

Whether it’s distributing incendiary baby boxes or denying jakies the gut-rot they crave, the SNP is always wrong. Whether it’s NHS Scotland or Police Scotland or anything else that might be somehow associated with Scotland, it’s a day away from total collapse, and has been since the hated SNP forced their way into government by the devious ploy of persuading people to vote for them time after time. Whether it’s potholes or potheads, Scotland is the worst. You know the sort of thing I mean. The papers are filled with it every day. A persistent current of nasty negativity, deliberate distortion and downright dishonesty.

The BBC’s role is to bring an air of gravitas to all of this. We’re all supposed to take it seriously because it was on the Beeb. All too many do just that. Because it’s TV (and radio) where time is a major constraint, what the BBC serves up is a distillation of the bile, bunkum and bullshit fed to us by the print media. A short, sharp jolt of extra-strong lies. Where the press is the hose spraying us with propaganda, TV is the hypodermic injecting it straight into the brain.

So, I don’t bother watching the likes of the Sunday Politics Scotland. If I’ve been following the news cycle, I can pretty much predict what will be on the programme. And I can be quite certain about how it will be presented.

The people, too, will be familiar types. Mostly British politicians peddling the promises and platitudes and pieties and slogans and soundbites and sophisms which are their stock-in-trade. They will point fingers of blame at one another as each denounces policies and actions they only lately espoused and will later embrace again whilst being ‘very clear’ that they have never/always favoured those policies and actions – delete as appropriate. They will condemn failures and weakness and incompetence and corruption until it seems that all is failure; all is weakness; all is incompetence; all is corruption.

They will offer alternatives that always turn out to be indistinguishable from the other alternatives. They will talk of new directions, but always it’s the same destination. They will dance the dance of faux rivalry. They will perform the familiar ritual. They will go through the well-practiced motions.

In a supporting role, the ‘experts’ are there to present selected facts with an air of scientific certainty that is supposed to be reassuring. Their task is to give an impression of order and control. The solidity of statistics and research is offered as a remedy for the rambling rhetoric of politicians.

Then there are the pundits and commentators who are brought on to interpret it all for the benefit of viewers assumed to be afflicted by the intellectual equivalent of dental caries brought on by a syrupy diet of sport, soaps and celebs.

The journalists tend to stick dutifully to a cosy consensus defined by the London-centric corporate media. They don’t see it as their job to challenge the narrative of established power. They don’t ask awkward questions. They don’t offer insightful analysis. They are as immersed in the British political system as the politicians. They are as much a part of the British establishment. They are as embedded in the structures of power, privilege and patronage which define the British state.

Other than the ‘political correspondents’ of approved publications, the talking heads seem to be drawn at random from a pool of people whose qualifications are never quite clear. Katharine Mary Grant, better known as Katie, seems typical.  Her credentials as a commentator on Scottish politics appear to consist of being a minor member of the British aristocracy who has written some children’s books and penned opinion pieces for various organs representing the more rabid and ranty fringes of right-wing British politics.

Ms Grant gives the impression of having breakfasted well on generous helpings of Smugabix. She oozes the assured, self-righteous pomposity that comes from a life of easy advantage and an absolute conviction of British exceptionalism. She is there to comment on things that she cannot possibly comprehend. It is this lack of comprehension which qualifies her to appear on the BBC’s Sunday Politics Scotland show. She is able to present the British establishment perspective untainted by any awareness of the reality and unsullied by any relevant experience. Being wrapped in the cocoon of a prestigious BBC current affairs programme is supposed to normalise this perspective.

180505_marchI didn’t watch the edition of Sunday Politics Scotland on which Katie Grant appeared recently. I am, however, reliably informed that, delivering her haughtily disdainful verdict on the the All Under One Banner march in Glasgow the previous day (Saturday 5 May), she posed a question which should probably be read with a tone of sneering incredulity.

It looks like a body that wants one thing. But if they ever got that thing then what would happen?

Interesting and informative as it might be to dissect and analyse this comment in some detail, I’m going to focus on the bit where she asks, presumably with an air of snide perplexity, “then what would happen?”. This is notable, not because of the dumb but proud incomprehension in the face of a massive exercise in popular democracy – as noted earlier, if Katie Grant was capable of understanding the motives and aspirations of those participating in the march she’d be useless for the BBC’s purposes – but because it is a question neither she nor any other representative of the British establishment would think to ask of the British Nationalist ‘One Nation’ project.

If that project progresses, what then? What constitutes success? What is the end-state that British Nationalists are aiming for?

We know what is the purpose and intent of this ‘One Nation’ project. We know that the British state is driven by an imperative to lock Scotland into a political union unilaterally reformed to better serve the British ruling elites. We know that they want to undo a devolution experiment which, from their perspective, has gone disastrously wrong.

We know that they want to deny Scotland’s democratic right of self-determination.

We know that they want to emasculate the Scottish Parliament.

We know that they want to dismantle Scotland’s democratic institutions.

We know that they want to prepare Scotland’s public services for sale to profiteering corporations.

We know that they want to prevent Scotland’s land and resources being taken out of the hands of grasping individuals and exploitative businesses and used for the benefit of the many.

But then what happens?

Do they suppose that the people of Scotland will meekly submit to their democratic rights being denied?

Do they imagine the people of Scotland won’t defend the only Parliament that they elect?

Do they think the people of Scotland will quietly tolerate the transfer of powers to an unelected shadow government accountable only to the British executive?

Have they even considered how the people of Scotland might react to the privatisation of precious public services such as NHS Scotland?

Have they envisaged the response when Scotland’s people are overruled on the issue of fracking just as we were on the matter of EU membership?

Suppose they proceed with their plan to absorb Scotland into ‘Greater England’, then what?

Do they really think Scotland’s independence campaign can be utterly vanquished?

Do they seriously suppose the Yes movement can be crushed out of existence?

Do they imagine the aspirations of Scotland’s people will simply evaporate?

Something close to half Scotland’s people want independence. Many more are at least content with devolution. Only a relatively tiny minority favour the anti-democratic British Nationalist project. Suppose the British state persists in pandering to that minority while contemptuously disregarding the rest, then what?


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Not settling for less

bbc_union_at_any_costIt’s like being promised a new house only to find that what you’re actually getting is a garden shed. Not a top-of-the-range garden shed, but the smallest, cheapest, flimsiest, most low-spec garden shed on the market. It looks great in the brochure. But the one you’re getting isn’t painted. And, if you look closely just below that image in microscopic lettering are the words “Not shown actual size”. The attractive young lady in the bikini pictured gazing up in delighted wonder at the imposing edifice is actually only four foot three inches tall. You feel disappointed. You feel cheated. You feel Scottish.

Even if you don’t fully comprehend all the stuff about budgets and production costs and all the jargon of the TV industry, it’s easy to understand the difference between standard definition (SD) and high definition (HD). Anybody who has a fairly modern TV can appreciate the fact that HD is very much better than SD. For most of us, I suspect, HD is now the standard. It’s what we expect. SD actually stands for sub-standard definition. What the BBC is offering us is sub-standard. That crappy wee garden shed isn’t even made out of real wood.

But there’s more! Belatedly realising that the uppityness of the Jocks has now reached such a level that the ingrates decline to be fobbed-off with factory rejects, the BBC amended its offer. On 14 March 2018, Chris Roswell (Head of Regulation & Economics – a BBC title if ever I heard one) wrote to Ofcom (PDF) advising that the new BBC Scotland channel would only be broadcast in sub-standard definition part of the time. The great news was that the BBC had graciously deigned to provide the quality of picture viewers in Scotland pay for a few hours in the evening. The letter was (not really) signed, yours in anticipation of some grateful forelock-tugging from those pestilential provincials.

It has to be said that Mr Roswell (HoRE) took some of the shine off this grand new offering when he gleefully proclaimed that it didn’t involve spending any more of Scottish licence fee-payers’ money in Scotland. Due to “recent technology changes” the shabby little garden shed could be equipped with the luxury of a fourth wall (part-time only) at no additional cost.

We’re told nothing about the nature of those “technology changes”, and whether they are anything to do with the fact that the HD for the new BBC Scotland channel is being provided by taking it from the children’s channel, CBBC (in Scotland only). Will we, I wonder, be able to truly enjoy that glorious HD knowing it’s been stolen from our own bairns?

Am I the only one struck by the apparent effort the BBC puts into avoiding viewers in Scotland with the services we pay for? It’s almost as in there was something in the corporation’s charter about ensuring Scotland is always relatively worse off. The attitude seems to be that the BBC may grudgingly make some kind of gesture if we make a big enough fuss, but on no account must this amount to anything approximating the kind of public service broadcasting provision a real nation might enjoy.

It’s not about the money. We know that licence fee revenues raised in Scotland are sufficient to pay for a full broadcasting service. It’s as if the service provided by the British state broadcaster is being purposefully curtailed and diminished. It’s as if we are being deliberately short-changed. And not necessarily or entirely for financial reasons.

We swim in a media sea. We are immersed in it. There is no part of our lives that is not touched by the media. We view the world and ourselves through a media lens. Increasingly, we interact with others only through media. Our culture evolves in and is conveyed by the media. Our political discourse conforms to the demands of the media. It is baffling that people scoff at the idea of media studies as a ‘serious’ academic subject when the media looms so massively in all our lives. We live in a world made of media. So it stands to reason that established power will seek to control the media. And to use the media as a means of control.

Whether anyone in the BBC would admit it, or even be aware of it, that is what lies behind the extraordinary effort to detract from broadcasting in Scotland – even as they try to look as if they’re providing shiny new services. The British state requires that Scotland must be less than it might be. Therefore, the media in Scotland must be less than it might be. It is not a question of resources. The BBC’s stranglehold on Scotland’s media is both practical and symbolic. In practical terms, it prevents Scotland from either perceiving or presenting itself in they way we would choose were we permitted to do so. Symbolically, the BBC’s dominance of Scotland’s media represents the supremacy of the British state; while the paucity of the service provided by the BBC reinforces Scotland’s subordinate status within the UK.

Some in Scotland are content to settle for a dilapidated garden shed, so long as it has a Union flag flying above it. Others want the house we’re paying for.


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The options

procrastinationI am aware that many in the SNP and the wider Yes movement want this debate about the timing of a new independence referendum to just stop. Pete Wishart may be one of those who wish it had never started. Or so it would seem from his flat refusal to answer questions about his own highly controversial position or to engage in any way with those responding to his call for indefinite postponement of the referendum. On Twitter, there has been a steady drip of people urging an end to the discussion. Apparently, we’re not supposed to entertain any difference of opinion. Pretty much everybody agrees that timing of the referendum is critical. So critical that we must avoid talking about it. No, I don’t get it either.

Personally, I’m glad the issue has come to the fore. Unlike Pete Wishart, I am more than happy to have an open and frank debate. I don’t see how this debate might be avoided. It’s the elephant in the room. And it’s not easy to sweep an elephant under the carpet. If the discussion gets heated, that’s a measure of its importance. It’s not a reason for closing down the debate, as some wish to do.

If people don’t want to participate in the debate, that’s OK. But don’t tell me or anybody else that we should shut up about the matter just because it makes you uncomfortable. Your comfort is not my concern. And don’t tell me or anybody else to shut up because the debate is ‘damaging the Yes movement’. If the Yes movement isn’t robust and resilient enough to cope with vigorous debate than it’s unlikely to be fit to go up against the might of the British state.

Discussion of the timing of the referendum has been valuable, not least on account of the way it has revealed the attitudes of some of our elected representatives. The British parties, needless to say, have no role in the debate. We are all aware of British Nationalists’ fervent, anti-democratic opposition to the exercise of Scotland’s right of self-determination.

We can safely discount the British politicians who exhibit such disdain for democracy, not to mention contempt for the people of Scotland and their Parliament. But what of the others?

Pete Wishart has nailed his colours unequivocally to the spectral mast of a ghost ship called ‘Optimum Time’. Others, such as Chris McEleny, have exhibited a greater sense of urgency. Which, to be frank, was hardly difficult. Now we have Keith Brown, who seems to be telling us that it doesn’t matter how urgent the situation may be, the SNP isn’t ready. Here’s a senior figure in Scotland’s independence party; the de facto political arm of the independence movement, telling us that putting a timescale on the referendum is the wrong priority. Groping for a term to apply to that attitude, the (printable) one that comes most readily to mind is ’lackadaisical’.

It seems Keith Brown expects the tides and currents of politics to cease and desist while the SNP gets its act together. Which makes him a bit of a Cnut. (Note to historians: Cut me some slack, eh! It’s a good line.)

The most sensible comment I’ve heard so far from any SNP politician is Angus MacNeil’s observation.

Some people think you can only ever have two referendums ever. And when you’ve got that into your heads, then you become afraid of having it in case you lose it.

Pete Wishart’s afraid of losing because he thinks the country isn’t ready. Keith Brown’s afraid of losing because the SNP’s not ready. I’m afraid of losing because of what will then happen to Scotland. But I’m just as afraid of what will happen to Scotland if we delay the referendum. Because it’s the same fate either way.

The thing that’s missing from comments about timing of the referendum made by SNP politicians is any acknowledgement of what the British government is likely to be doing while we procrastinate. We have British politicians openly talking about unilaterally rewriting the devolution settlement and powers being stripped from the Scottish Parliament with the threat of further rolling back of devolution. We hear them state their intention to impose “UK-wide common frameworks” that only the terminally naive suppose will be limited to the likes of food standards and animal welfare – although that would be bad enough.

We are told that, in the new ‘One Nation’ British state, “discrepancies” across the four nations will not be tolerated.

We are warned that the British political elite will not allow anything to damage their “precious, precious Union”.

Even if we couldn’t work it out for ourselves, we are now being explicitly told what fate awaits Scotland if the monstrous ‘One Nation’ British Nationalist project is not halted.

And yet our politicians seem oblivious. Not once have I heard any of them address this threat to Scotland’s democracy. I have been deeply immersed in the debate about when we should hold the referendum. I have yet to find any Postponer who is willing to even acknowledge that the British government will be doing something while the SNP sorts out it’s internal organisation and Pete Wishart waits for a burning bush to tell him of the coming ‘Optimum Time’. (Note to Biblical scholars: Give me a break, eh! It’s a nice image.)

It’s as if, in the scenarios they consider, the British government ceases to exist. The British political elite is simply disregarded. The British state’s pressing imperative to lock Scotland into a ‘reformed’ Union is just ignored. The ongoing ‘One Nation’ British Nationalist project isn’t a factor. It doesn’t figure in the Postponers’ calculations when they’re considering timing of the new referendum.

Caution may be advisable in certain circumstances. Nobody can sensibly contest the fact that the SNP’s ‘gradualist’ strategy has been successful to date. But the gradual approach has no defined end-point – unless and until you create one. At some juncture, you have to make the final leap. You have to do something bold. You have to act.

All this talk of waiting for ‘optimal conditions’ to spontaneously emerge from the political ether and stopping the political roller-coaster so the SNP can change it’s underpants totally misses the point. The choice is not between going now (September) and losing, or going at some later date (defined only vaguely or not at all) and winning. The choice is between the absolute certainty of the British Nationalist project relentlessly eroding Scotland’s democracy at an accelerating pace, or the possibility of stopping that project in it’s tracks before it can do irreversible damage.

Of course, it’s just a possibility. But it’s the only chance we have. There’s a good reason the Postponers are reluctant to discuss their alternative plan for stopping, or even slowing, the British Nationalist juggernaut. They don’t have one!


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Killing trust

Anger after Reporting Scotland misrepresents First Minister’s Brexit comments

bbc_union_at_any_costAm I angry about the latest instance of blatant dishonesty from BBC Scotland? Of course I am! Not to be offended by lies is unnatural. And brazen falsehoods are very much worse when they are presented as news reporting by an organisation which purports to be the nation’s public service broadcaster. But, as much as I am outraged by such lies, I am also content that, in its arrogance, the BBC is surely destroying the very authority which makes it such a crucial component of the British state’s propaganda machinery.

That authority is inherited, rather than deserved. It is the fading echo of a time when the BBC enjoyed a thoroughly-earned reputation as the world’s foremost news-gathering organisation. That the BBC is trusted at all today is solely explained by the fact that it was so completely trusted for so much of the history of broadcasting. That trust was so profound, for so long, that it is ingrained in our culture. Confidence in the BBC’s news reporting is almost part of our DNA. It is actually difficult to destroy that kind of trust. But BBC is managing to do so.

Or, to be more accurate, it is being managed to do so. Because the culture of casual dishonesty that allows Reporting Scotland to so gratuitously misrepresent the First Minister’s words is entirely a consequence of incompetent management.

It is the management of a news organisation which is responsible for creating and maintaining the operational ethos. It is management which sets the standard. It is management which is charged with formulating and applying the framework of rules and guidance which keep the organisation true to its purpose. The management at BBC Scotland has failed. It has failed abysmally. It has failed in truly spectacular fashion.

Counterintuitively, this may be a good thing. Were this failure more subtle, there might be some doubt about it. It might be deniable. But the dishonesty has now become so brazen; the lies and distortions so transparent; the propagandising on behalf of the British state so audacious, that it cannot possibly be either dismissed or defended.

The BBC is destroying itself. Although this too will doubtless be blamed on Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP.


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