Blinking for Britain

Alistair Darling has been blinking for Britain in interviews again, as he tries to haul his credibility out of a bottomless pit with a length of string he’s spun out of frayed press releases. The Tory minister’s admission to the Guardian that Westminster’s sterling zone veto is merely a negotiating tactic has left Ali as exposed as transvestite with a 6 o clock shadow and his size 12 feet in his mouth, refusing to believe that people know he’s really a man. A small and discredited man.

Ali clutched his handbag containing all that’s dear to his heart, his Commons expense claim form, the draft chapter in his memoirs where he takes credit for saving the Union, and the invite to the Tory party dinner. With a toss of the hair on his Better Together fright wig he tried to maintain that the pretence was not a pretence. He’s really a 60 year old woman called Brenda who won’t be allowed to use the pound to buy her train ticket to visit her newly foreign grandweans in England. He now insists that in their manifestos for the 2015 General Election the Westminster parties would include a promise to veto any currency zone encompassing an independent Scotland, and accused the yes campaign of clutching at straws. He knows a lot about clutching, and grasping. “We’re not lying!” he lied.

It was entirely predictable that he’d say this. What else is he going to say – “Oops, you caught me. I have in fact been lying from the start.” It might be the truth but they are not words that will ever fall from Ali’s Boots Number 11 painted lips. The no campaign rests upon the plausibility of the currency threat which Ali and his pals have chosen to make the centrepiece of their referendum campaign, a strategy which the media have enthusiastically followed like a wee dug sniffing a trail of pee. All is won or lost on persuading Scots that he’s a man of his word, yet now he sees a future where he’s not the saviour of the Union on a red bench, he’s a disgraced stranger in a strange independent land. The man who conspired with the Tories to damage his country’s prospects, then lied to his own people. I almost feel sorry for him. Almost. Not quite.

Attempting to crowd out the many and varied non-economic arguments for independence has been the core of Ali’s strategy, because he has no answer to these other arguments. And now the currency threat lies shattered and broken like Ali’s dreams of winning the Miss Better Together beauty parade, his hopes of an ermine gown and a coronet becoming as implausibly ridiculous as a BBC news report on the Royal family.

It’s a non-economic argument which is also at the centre of Better Together’s currency credibility, or rather its lack of credibility. The real point is that it doesn’t actually matter who the Tory minister is, and it doesn’t even matter whether he is wrong and Osborne really is prepared to damage the UK economy in a fit of spite.

The damage has been done by the fact that the source of the Guardian’s story is a Tory minister, and an “embarrassingly senior” one at that. A senior Tory minister who does not believe what his own party are saying about Scotland. A senior Tory minister who knows that his party is lying through their back teeth to the Scottish electorate in order to court popularity amongst UKIP leaning voters in the south.

Say what you like about Tory ministers, but they’re not going to admit – even anonymously – to lying if they honestly believed it’s inconceivable that their party might lie. Even if the minister in question knew nothing about the currency veto, which would raise a whole lot of questions by itself, he knows they’ve lied on other topics. He knows they will continue to lie. And so does Alistair.

Which brings us straight to the biggest non-economic argument for independence – how can it be in good for Scotland to be governed by people who will lie to us and damage Scottish interests in order to secure elections in the rest of the UK. Scotland’s interests are not their top priority, we already knew that. Now we know that Scotland’s interests don’t even figure in their calculations, they can be sacrificed to the minor demons of UKIP on the altar of appeasement.

It goes to the very heart of the Union – what sort of Union is Scotland in? We’re constantly told it’s a partnership of equals, that Scotland benefits immensely from throwing in its lot with its neighbours, yet in the corridors of Westminster the bottom line on the balance sheet is that everything belongs to them. It’s their pound, not ours, it’s their army, not ours, it’s their membership of the EU, not ours. After 300 years we’re Better Together with nothing of our own.

Everything that issues from Better Together is based upon the assumption that after Scottish independence Westminster and Westminster alone will be the parliament of the sole successor state. Westminster believes that the Union was not created when the Kingdom of Scotland and the Kingdom of England signed the Treaties of Union. It was England all along. That’s the legal position adopted by the UK Government, that’s the position adopted by Alistair as a route to a red bench and a fur trimmed retirement. Yet it’s not a legal argument that has solid foundations. They only appear solid because no one in the mainstream media has ever examined them. But you don’t need to be a constitutional civil engineer see that they are made of sand and built on fervent wishes. Scotland’s case is strong.

Scotland will not be walking away from the United Kingdom, Scottish independence will bring the Union to an end, and when it ends Scotland will take what Scotland is due – which includes the pound. Otherwise Westminster gets to keep all the debt. That’s the reality that the terrified Alistair doesn’t want to acknowledge. That’s the reality that doesn’t alter even if Westminster keeps calling itself the United Kingdom and keeps using the same flag.

When the Soviet Union collapsed in the early 90s, Russia became the sole successor state, and Russia took on all the national debt and inherited the USSR’s seat on the UN Security Council. But this only happened because the other Soviet republics agreed to it. Westminster is assuming that after a yes vote, it can accede to the status of sole successor state, that all other states will accept this unquestioningly and Scotland can’t challenge it. But they want us to take on the debt anyway, even though it is in Westminster’s name, even though there are no financial institutions possessing government bonds saying, “IOU squillions of quid, xx Scotland”.

Think again. Scotland could internationalise the dispute. As a sovereign state we don’t need Westminster’s permission to make our own approaches to other states and governments. There are a number of routes by which the government of an independent Scotland, or even a private Scottish citizen, could mount a challenge to Westminster’s claim to sole successor status. And that’s without considering whether other states will refuse to recognise Westminster’s claim for reasons of their own.

The opportunistic Putin or the Chinese government would happily grasp the opportunity to block the rUK’s seat on the UN Security Council if Scotland were to raise objections to the seat being occupied by a Foreign Office bum. Russia and China have no interest in fighting Scotland’s corner, but they do have a big interest in reducing the influence of Western powers. Does Westminster want to risk giving them the chance? It seems they do.

The European Courts would also provide a venue for the airing of Scottish legal complaints. The Scottish Government could challenge Westminster’s claim to be sole successor state and sole inheritor of the UK’s EU membership. Any Scottish citizen who was affected by Westminster’s purloining of sole successor state status could mount a legal challenge, arguing that their rights as a European citizen were being breached.

And while all this was going on, Westminster would be faced with EU partners on one side who wanted a quick and speedy resolution, while facing down Nigel Farage on the other. It’s an uncomfortable bed they are making for themselves.

That’s what Alistair is desperate to avoid. He’s desperate to avoid his own constituents and his own country having the power to fight their own corner, to make their own decisions. He’s desperate to avoid a retirement spent in ignominy. But it’s too late. The truth is out and Better Together’s flushed face is busted, their threats exposed.

Blink your way out of that one Alistair.

 

There is nothing that you could ever say to me now that I could ever believe

On the weekend when Project Fear ought to have been gloating about a plummeting yes vote after Osborne’s currency veto, Barroso’s intervention on the EU, and the announcement of Labour’s devo proposals, they are instead searching for the Tory minister who crapped all over a stumbling no campaign and destroyed what little credibility they have left. Well I say stumbling. Like when you stumble off the edge of a 300 foot cliff onto the jagged rocks below. The last couple of weeks couldn’t have been worse for them.

Labour is sinking into the quagmire of devo proposals that not even their own front bench can understand, the arguments and recriminations have barely started. The party’s UK poll lead over the Tories has shrunk to 1%, making it unlikely that they will form the next government, so their devo-nothing proposals are not even likely to get as far as being eviscerated in Westminster committee hearings. Johann has gone back into hiding, leaving Jackie Baillie to attack Alicsammin at FMQs for “standing shoulder to shoulder with the Tories” only for him to helpfully point out that Labour sits down and dines with them. Jackie is going to be a speaker at a Cowal Conservatives lunch.

The Lib Dem conference was notable only for the fact that a couple of leading party members announced their intention to vote yes while the Lib Dems continue to plummet in the polls. The European elections are looming, and the anti-Scottish UKIP looks set to do well, giving voters in the referendum another reason to reject Westminster politics.

Yes campaigners have been chuckling away all weekend at the self-inflected wounds of Better Together. Schadenfreude is the evil twin of a good laugh, it is wrong to take pleasure in the misfortunes of others. Fortunately there is a special dispensation when the misfortune is suffered by people who have engaged in underhand and deceitful behaviour, only to learn a very hard lesson in Buddhist philosophy. Project Fear’s bad karma ran over their currency dogma and Danny Alexander’s annoying wee yap lies pancake shaped on the A9.

Translated from the original Pali, the law of karma says that if you spend your days throwing turds, everything you touch will get covered in crap. Following the news that even a Tory minister doesn’t believe Osborne’s sterling threat, Better Together makes the lavvy in a dysentry ward look hygienic.

The currency threat formed the centrepiece of Project Fear, the big scary story that all the other little scare stories hang from like dangleberries on an unwiped arse. It lived up to Better Together’s expectations in one important respect. They wanted a game-changer, and it was. It just didn’t change things in their preferred direction.

We now learn the currency threat was the invention of Alistair Darling, who was one of the main players presiding over the last Labour government’s economic implosion, and a Scots Tory advisor called Andrew Dunlop who had a big hand in that other Westminster success story, the Poll Tax. They’re Proud Scots but. They’re only trying to threaten, bully and scare Scots shitless because they love us so much. They call it tough love, the rest of the world calls it abuse. If Westminster was a parent, social services would have swept down and taken Scotland into the safety of a foster home.

Tory backbenchers are beelin that a former Labour Chancellor is influencing Tory Treasury policy. It’s not that they have any greater understanding of the nature of the Scottish debate, they’re just annoyed that they didn’t get the chance to screw Scotland over first. But the cracks in the no campaign’s fragile façade are now wide open, exposing the nasty germs on the dirty toilet seat they want Scotland to sit on.

The Secretary of State for Scare Stories has had a busy weekend on janitorial duties, rushing from tv studio to tv studio with a bottle of Osborne own brand mind bleach and doing an impression of bog paper, denying that the leak came from anyone important and the person doesn’t know what they’re talking about anyway. The problem is that the person he’s talking about is a senior Tory minister. Better Together’s defence of their discredited currency threat rests on persuading Scotland that Coalition ministers don’t know what they’re talking about, which we had kinda already figured out for ourselves.

Demonstrating only that there may be some truth in the theory of nominative determinism, Karmamightkill delivered the message with the look of a man who knew that his excuses were on a par with “the dog ate my homework”, only with less chance of being believed by the teacher. Although to be fair, that’s the look he’s always got, but now he’s covered with suspicious brown stains as well.

It’s too late. From now on in, every claim from Project Fear, every scare, every threat, can be countered by pointing out that even their own inner circle don’t believe them, so why should anyone else. Scotland switched off when the threat was first made, and with every attempt to retrieve the situation, Alistair has only made it worse. Karma has killed.

You can only lie to people so often before they stop listening. The leading lights of the naw campaign ought to understand that better than most. Gordon Brown’s words to Tony Blair in 2004 have come back to haunt the Better Together campaign, and will set the tone from now until September.

“There is nothing that you could ever say to me now that I could ever believe.”

 

Truth and consequences

According to the Guardian, a UK Government minister who the paper claims would play a major role in negotiations following a yes vote – so not Danny Alexander or Alistair Carmichael then – has admitted that a currency union would happen. According to some reports, the person in question is an “uncomfortably senior Tory”.  Which rules out Vince Cable, who would otherwise be the likely suspect.

The truth is it doesn’t really matter. What matters is that our Westminster masters are beginning to realise that the independence campaign is not drowning under a tsunami wave of scare stories. Scotland has learned how to surf. The more they throw in, the higher yes rises.

It was another lost in translation problem with the Scottish vernacular, the UK Government didn’t understand at first that when Scotland responded to Osborne’s threat with “aye, that will be right”, we were not in fact agreeing with him. The penny has now dropped, along with Better Together’s poll ratings. Meanwhile the independence campaign keeps surfing higher.

The minister even admitted what many north of the Border have been saying for a while, that the no to a currency union is a tactic in the referendum campaign, but after a yes vote everything changes and there will be less of the foot-stamping petulance and more of the reasonable discussion on matters of mutual interest. He hinted that Westminster might be willing to enter a currency union, but only if Scotland will negotiate on, say, Trident removal. Which is bound to provoke another “aye, that will be right” from a considerable section of the Scottish populace. Getting rid of the weapons of mass destruction sitting 20 miles from Scotland’s largest population centre is a moral question. A currency union is a matter of money. I know which is more important because I’m not a Tory MP.

But the main point is that Better Together’s currency claims have been debunked, not by a pro-indy blogger, not by an economist, not even by a rogue backbencher. They were debunked by a UK Government minister at the very heart of the anti-independence campaign. Better Together has been sowing a minefield of lies. With a few words in the shell-like of a Guardian journalist who isn’t Severin Carrell, the anonymous minister deliberately trod on the biggest landmine in Project Fear’s armoury. The damage limitation squad was rapidly deployed, but the corpse of the currency threat has exploded into a pink mist. There’s nothing left to put back together.

Of course that hasn’t stopped Better Together’s bitter enders from trying. It’s just people being emotional, as Alistair Carmichael was trotted out to blubber, and as one insider said to the Guardian’s reporter:

“We went early with the currency union announcement in the hope that a rational, rather than an emotional, judgment will prevail among voters,” one Better Together source said. “But people have got to believe we mean it.”

And there’s their problem right there. People don’t believe Better Together on the currency, nor about anything much else. They’ve been caught out too many times in the past. These are the people who brought us the economic crisis, the war in Iraq, the expenses scandal, the lack of accountability in just about every UK institution you care to mention, and on and bloody on… You’d think they’d have realised that their credibility tanks contained nothing but a nasty smell.

In a referendum where the central question for the Unionist campaign is “does Scotland want to give Westminster another chance”, the low esteem in which the public hold the political classes demanded their truth and candour from the beginning. It required the renegotiation of public trust. It meant listening and learning. And if they’d done that they’d have realised that they should have snapped up the offer of a question on the ballot about enhanced devolution, and come up with a credible and meaningful proposal. We’d be in a whole different campaign, and Alistair Darling wouldn’t be knotting his distinctive eyebrows.

Instead we got a promise to conduct a positive campaign followed by a barrage of fear and scares. The entire premise of the Better Together campaign strategy is itself a lie. Disnae bode well for the rebuilding of public trust does it. And now one of their insiders has more or less admitted they’ve been lying on the currency all along.

Better Together is paying the price for relying on lies as a campaigning tool, even when you can trust a friendly media which won’t probe too far into uncomfortable questions – at least if you can maintain a semblance of keeping a lid on things.

It starts off with a promise to be truthful. But then you tell a little lie. Then you have to tell a big lie to keep the wee lie sounding plausible. Then the lies run away with you and you begin to sense that people don’t believe you any more. So you tell a really big lie, or three. Yet this only causes people to doubt you even more. And so the lies grow more colourful and fantastic and contrived. By this time you have lost track of your lies and no longer know what’s the truth and what’s the lie. As the contradictions slam into one another like Eric Joyce in a House of Commons bar, in your panic you end up exposing your own lies, and your stories lie shattered around your feet amidst the wreckage you’ve created from the lives around you.

By this time you’re left with as much credibility as a devolution proposal from Johann Lamont. And even a friendly media finds it difficult to ignore, because now their credibility is on the line too.

Like many gay men of my generation, I spent quite some time in the closet. My straight friends and family didn’t know I was gay. For much of my 20s I lived a double life and got very good at lying. I know a lot about lying. And I know that lying takes its toll. There’s a heavy price to pay for lying, even if you’re not found out. When you spend your life trying to pretend to be something you are not, you lose sight of everything that has real meaning and value. Which is why one day I woke up and something just snapped. I thought “och fuck this”, and came out and started living truthfully. It was the best decision I ever made.

Westminster lives a lie, a not very important European power trying to cling on to former glories, pretending the Union is something it is not. They’ve lost sight of everything that has real meaning and value, and can’t tell the difference between truth and lies any more. And the lives that suffer the consequences are mine and yours and the disabled auld guy along the street, the lassie on the zero hours contract waiting by the phone as the electric meter counts down to cold, the lad who can’t find a job and has to think about leaving.

I was much better at lying than Better Together, because I never got found out. They’ve been found out. And I fervently hope that come the 18th of September, Scotland will wake up, muse on the condition that this country is in, and think “och fuck this” and vote yes.

Then Scotland can live truthfully.

 

Thrilling with Nick

This weekend it’s the Lib Dems’ Scottish conference. Had anyone noticed? Does Scotland care? At least these questions have answers, which are “damn few” and “dae we feck” respectively. And these are also the answers to the questions “Who’s going to vote Lib Dem?” and “Does Scotland trust any promise made by Nick Clegg?” There is however no answer to the question – where is this positive case for the Union then hmm?

Fresh from getting his arse kicked by Nigel the Bawbag of UKIP in a debate about Europe, Nick Clegg’s speech to the conference will be used to make a call for a positive and “thrilling” case for remaining in the UK. The Lib Dems and thrilling are not two concepts which are usually found in the same sentence, and most people will be struggling to comprehend what a thrill from a Lib Dem might consist of. Perhaps using Danny Alexander as a human cannonball and shooting him over the Thames would do it. Especially without a safety net. Danny’s made it his career to rip up the safety net for the poor and low paid, so it would only be fair.

Not that Nick’s making a positive case for the Union himself mind, he’s just asking someone else, anyone else, to do it – even Nigel the Bawbag would do. But the only public figure that’s attempted it recently is Kermit the Frog, and his heart wasn’t really in it. And I’m not even going to make the obvious joke about how it’s only a muppet that will speak up for the Union. Only I just did. But if Nick can say one thing and then do the exact opposite, it’s only fair if we can too. So aye Nick – I‘m going to make a solemn vow to vote no, and will trot along to a university and sign it in front of a load of students.

We can be kind, and let Nick off from providing a “thrilling” case for the Union, a positive case would suffice. We’ve already seen what the UK has on offer in terms of emotional excitement, there’s the edge of yer seat tension of a televisual diet of Great British Scone Baking and Great British Macrame competitions, the soap opera of Willnkate, the drama of near constant wars in far off lands, the tasteless celebrations of the start of a world war, and the vertiginous thrill of plunging towards economic ruin every time the UK’s cycle of London property booms hits bust. And a tiny number get very very rich, which is extremely exciting for them, while millions struggle in poverty and low pay, which is also extremely exciting but not in a good way. These are thrills which most people, whether living in Scotland or outwith Scotland, could do without.

Charlie Kennedy and David Steele, Nick’s predecessors as leader of the Lib Dems, made a similar call the other week. But they didn’t make the positive case themselves either. Unionist politicians are like schoolweans who haven’t done their homework, each pushing someone else to the front of the queue to see the teacher while they desperately jot crib notes on their shirt cuffs. But all they can think to scribble down is “Mummy, help me” and the recipe for Mary Berry’s jam sponge cake they saw the previous evening on the Great British Bake Off. Sadly the tuck shop is out of jam, and has been as long as anyone can remember.

Since they don’t have a real positive case, Unionist politicians have been reduced to claiming that threats and scare stories count. They are well versed in telling us that black is white, up is down, and austerity is economic success, so it’s not too much of a stretch to make out that the claim that an independent Scotland would be a bankrupt basket case is actually a glowing recommendation of the benefits of Westminster rule. This is why any speech in which a Unionist sets out to make the positive case for the Union ends up in a litany of scare stories from the Project Fear song book.

But Cleggie wants Better Together to set out proof that Scotland “will have new and exciting opportunities if they vote against independence”. That would be a new opportunity like a zero-hours contract, or the excitement of waiting to see if ATOS have rejected your claim for disability benefits. Then there’s the thrilling excitement of going off and making a new life down in London or further afield because there’s no work back home. UK elections are also far more exciting than anything an independent Scotland could offer. In an independent Scotland the people will, boringly and predictably, get the government they vote for, only the Union can offer the high-stakes risk and thrill of gambling your future on the voting decisions of people who think that Nigel the Bawbag is worth listening to. Pity the odds are stacked against us then. In Westminster the bawbags always win.

The Tories, the Lib Dems, and Labour all promise the same thrills, the same circus of victims being devoured by the ravenous beasts of the City of London. So aye, the Union is dead thrilling, destruction and devastation often is when you’re viewing it in safety from a political sinecure. Roman Emperors were experts in providing thrills too. But I don’t want thrills from my government. I want decent government and accountability. I want political parties which make manifesto commitments that they keep. Cleggie isn’t going to give us that, and neither are any of the rest of them. Under Westminster, there’s bugger all we can do about it.

So no Nick. The thrill of the Union has long gone. And very shortly, so will you. There is no positive case for the Union. If there was we’d have heard it a long time ago. All you have to offer are scare stories and threats dressed up in lies. We’ve had enough of them, we’ve had enough of you. In September we can wave bye bye to you, to Danny, and to Nigel the Bawbag. You won’t be missed.

 

Failing in an obligation

The digital paint job on the Subway train seemed to go down well – although some confused people believed that Stu at Wings Over Scotland had actually had the trains repainted … Which isn’t such a bad idea, come to think of it, after all if you’re going to advertise on a train – advertise on the whole train … But thanks to everyone who popped in and visited the Dug’s wee blog, yesterday the site broke its (modest) viewing statistics record and there were over 3500 page views. Which isn’t too shabby at all, considering I’ve not repainted any real Subway trains. (Yet.  I’m hoping to make a working model.  And I really will paint it in WoS livery.  Just because.)

But it’s another illustration of the thrust of yesterday’s blog piece. When a wee blog written by some random punter and a mongrel dug in Glasgow with a lower public profile than an extra in a Kwik Fit advert can gain such a readership – purely by word of mouth and without advertising or publicity – it proves yet again that there is an enormous appetite for pro-independence and Scotland centred commentary which the Scottish mainstream media is not feeding.

Because it can only mean either that there is a breadth and depth of opinion in Scotland that our media is not reflecting, or that our media is of such utter craposity that thousands of people find it preferable to seek out the amateur rantings of a full time carer than to read the offerings of highly paid professionals. Neither possibility shows the Scottish media in a good light. Both ought to tell them that they’re not doing their job properly.

I’m not taking another pop at individual journalists. Well, except Alan Cochrane – why is that guy employed? The Telegraph could save itself a fortune if it just printed “I hate Alicsammin” over and over again instead of paying him to write. What does he add to any debate apart from that? When Jack Nicolson wrote the same thing over and over again in The Shining, we at least got a proper horror story out of it. Cochrane’s scaring no one, except possibly himself. It’s a genuine mystery. Does he have secret photos proving the owner of the Telegraph is really an alien lizard dressed in a human skin or something?

The real problem is structural. That structure is the regulatory framework created by and imposed by Westminster.

The UK has few specific restrictions on print media ownership. UK media ownership is regulated pretty much like the ownership of any other private concern, at least in theory the UK Government will intervene to ensure market competition and avoid the formation of monopolies. But as the Leveson Enquire pointed out, the undue concentration of influence in the media is not the same as a commercial monopoly. The UK regulatory system does nothing to ensure that the media reflects the breadth of opinion across the UK.

Scottish opinion gets a double whammy under this set up. We have a media which operates in a nation with a distinctive political culture, but which operates under a regulatory framework concerned primarily with ensuring a minimum degree of market competition across the UK as a whole. The regulatory framework is not overly concerned with ensuring that the range of UK opinions is represented, the range of Scottish opinion has no chance. This is how we have ended up with 37 newspapers of which only a handful are Scottish owned, and not one of which openly supports an opinion held a large and significant segment of the Scottish population.

The media is not just another commercial interest. It is vital to the functioning of a democracy. You cannot have a functioning democracy without a free and representative press. The problem is that the UK Government has interpreted the “free” part as “free market”. If you subscribe to the neoliberal dogma beloved of Westminster that the market always responds to need, then you’ll believe that the question of ensuring that a free market media is also representative does not arise. The clear and evident lack of balance in the Scottish media proves how misguided that view is.

The Leveson Enquiry was going to reform the media and prevent abuses. Ask the independence supporters who were harrassed by the Daily Mail how that’s working out. Shortly after Leveson published his findings, the organisation Media Reform published its own study, examining the differences between the market driven approach to media regulation found in the UK, and the approaches in other modern democracies. All of them had systems and regulations in place to ensure balance in the media and many have rules to prevent too large a proportion of the media being owned outside the country. The UK relies on the Culture Secretary not getting too pally with media barons.

Remember that shortly before the News of the World became the news of the world, its owner Rupert Murdoch was bidding to take over majority control of Sky News, which threatened to turn an already conservative outlet into a foaming mouthed Great British offshoot of the US Fox News. It was only the emergence of the hacking scandal which prevented it. That’s not proof that a regulatory system is working. It’s proof that it’s broken.

Interestingly, Media Reform’s report notes that the European Court of Human Rights has ruled that states are under a positive obligation to ensure that “the public has access through television and radio to… a range of opinion and comment, reflecting inter alia the diversity of political outlook within the country.”

Clearly the UK Government is failing to meet this obligation to the Scottish public, and it’s possible that a case could be made that our human rights were being breached. Because it’s not good enough to ensure that opposing parties must be alloted equal time for a month or so leading up to a vote when the background music is biased one way and the period of purdah has been preceded by a two year long orchestrated assault on what’s being portrayed as the forces of Eckness.

Reform of Scotland’s media does not figure as a distant blip of the radar of the Unionist parties. Labour specifically ruled out the devolution of broadcasting in its review of the powers it doesn’t want Holyrood to have. (Weird how they are capable of being extremely clear in the powers they won’t let Holyrood have, but tie themselves in semantic knots trying to explain the non-powers they will let it have, isn’t it.) No Unionist party is about to introduce legislation to ensure that a significant proportion of Scotland’s print media outlets are owned and controlled within Scotland. None of them have the slightest interest in ensuring that the breadth of Scottish opinion is represented, because there’s a large segment of Scottish opinion saying things they don’t want to hear.

Saying things that powerful politicians don’t want to hear is the media’s job. In Scotland, the real power lies with Westminster. Scotland’s media is not speaking truth unto that power. They’re its mouthpiece.

Scotland needs an independent and politically diverse media, which properly represents how this nation really is, with all its positivities and all its faults. We need a media which is not afraid to challenge those in power. A written Scottish constitution spelling out the “positive obligation of the state to ensure that the public has access through television and radio to… a range of opinion and comment, reflecting inter alia the diversity of political outlook within the country” would be a good starting point.

You already know what I’ll say next. But I’ll say it anyway. We’ll only stand a chance of getting that if we vote yes in September.

 

Catching the independence train

independencetrainThe Guardian’s Scotlandshire parish reporter, Severin Carrell, has reportedly made a number of tweets claiming that a Wings Over Scotland advert which was pulled from appearing on the Glasgow Subway was an “attack” on the Scottish media. The basis for Severin’s claim was that the advert included the facts that of the 37 daily newspapers in Scotland, not one supports independence, only 5 are owned in Scotland, and said that if readers wanted an alternative view they should log onto Wings.

Severin seems to be confused about the difference between “a statement of fact” and an “attack”. So let’s illustrate the difference.

Severin Carrell bears the same relationship to objectivity as Johann Lamont bears to the Plain English Campaign. His given name is the diminutive of Severus. The most famous Severus in history was the Roman general who invaded Caledonia and laid waste to the natives while insisting the Caledonians would be Better Together with psychotic sibling stabbing despots who wanted to go to war with Persia. Severin apparently feels he’s continuing in the same tradition, albeit in the medium of churnalism – which in terms of its contribution to culture and the edification of the human species is several artistic steps below a panto featuring the Krankies and John Barrowman.

That, Severin, is an attack.

Severin Carrell writes for a newspaper which is opposed to Scottish independence, whose reporting is heavily slanted in favour of the no campaign, and which pays lip service to the opposing argument. Much of the paper’s reportage is penned by people with little knowledge of Scotland and her affairs, and whose offerings are littered with preconceptions and the most elementary errors. Despite the Guardian’s oft made claim to be the voice of the liberal left tradition in these islands, it regularly denigrates – when it’s not ignoring – the only liberal left wing mass political movement anywhere in the UK, the Scottish independence movement. These are facts. They can be verified, they can probably be quantified if you get in touch with Dr John Robertson. These facts may also be construed as an attack, but only if you are uncomfortable with truths being pointed out to you. Which would appear to be the case with Severin, the Scottish media, and the Unionist parties.

I’m not especially interested in attacking Severin Carrell. There is a far larger and more important issue here. Pro-independence news and commentary outlets are being prevented from advertising in public spaces where anti-independence news and commentary outlets regularly appear. Severin does not question the correctness of the decision, which comes after a number of incidents where Better Together has prevented Yes campaigners from appearing at public events because Better Together can’t muster the manpower to appear themselves. He describes the factually truthful statement contained in Wing Over Scotland’s advert as an attack yet refuses to investigate the content of the statement, and the Scottish media refuses to tackle the question of bias or the curious lack of mass popular support for what they keep telling us is the majority position.

This reaction is illustrative of an uncomfortable truth for the Scottish media. The state of Scotland’s media has become a major issue in the independence campaign. It’s not fit for purpose. Scotland is being short changed in the quality and quantity of information it requires in order to function as a representative democracy. Hence the need for sites like WoS and their popularity.  But this creates a distorted perception in the media, where WoS is seen by some as “political” in a way the Unionist offerings of the Guardian or the Daily Mail are not.

Until 40 years or so ago, Scotland was a society where the consensus of opinion was that independence was undesirable. In such a society, pro-independence views were seen as the controversial views of a tiny minority, whereas support for the Union was the norm against which all other constitutional opinions were measured. Scotland has changed, the SNP has been a mainstream party for my entire politically aware lifetime, and I’m getting on a bit. We are less than six months away from an independence referendum, and the vote could go either way. Independence is no longer a fringe point of view. It’s slap bang in the middle of mainstream.

But the mindset of the Scottish media has not changed. It remains locked in step with the Unionist political parties whose patronage was the oil that greased the wheels of the Scottish establishment. The Unionist parties are keen for it to remain this way, and have ensured that the regulation of media ownership and control of broadcasting rests with Westminster. So Unionism remains the media norm. They will publish the occasional pro-independence opinion piece, but it is an exotic fish swimming in the cauld watter of a Unionist stream. The honourable exception is the Sunday Herald, and to a lesser extent its daily stablemate, which have made more efforts than most to enrich the ecosystem.

Unionism is the norm is the mindset which sees no problem with allowing advertising for the obscenely anti-Scottish Daily Mail and the hysterically Unionist Scotsman, but which regards an advert for a pro-independence news and comment outlet as political. It plays right into the hands of Better Together in the middle of a closely fought referendum campaign. It’s the mindset of the Unionist party leadership, and the political commentators who value their access to party contacts. It’s the mindset of people who make a point of telling us how proud they are to be Scottish. But those who possess the mindset will continue to deny that they are biased.

The removal of the adverts, for whatever reason, has backfired spectacularly.  WoS will get a refund for a series of adverts which were not run, and gains massive publicity that no amount of adverts in Glasgow Subway trains could ever hope to have achieved.  Meanwhile it throws the spotlight on attempts to control and suppress the independence debate, and shows many more in Scotland another reason why this country needs changes which aren’t on offer from Westminster.

If Scotland wants a media which is truly representative of the diversity of voices in this country, the Scottish Parliament must be able to regulate media ownership – to ensure that Scottish owned publications can continue to flourish – and have control of broadcasting regulation. And it goes without saying that Scotland requires a Scottish national broadcasting service as a matter of urgency. We are the only autonomous / self-governing / devolved nation which lacks one.

There’s only one way in which Scotland can get the media it deserves, and news and comment outlets with varying editorial positions on constitutional or other questions are treated equally in terms of their access to public spaces. We need to catch the independence train.

 

Finnish off the CBI

According to the CBI, in a recycling of pretty much the same scare story they published last year – see big business is so green. Actually, it’s the same recycled scare story brought out by the CBI before the devolution referendum in 1997, when they warned us that businesses would flee in terror from a devolved Scottish Parlie. Although I’ve not checked, I seem to recall that they made similar warnings in 1979. This time, they’ve added an extra twist of Arctic Cloudberries to the cocktail, claiming that an independent Scotland would have the same influence in the EU as Finland.

And without any apparent sense of irony, or indeed understanding of the current position, they said that like it’s a bad thing. Many of us in Scotland would be delighted if an independent Scotland had the same influence in Europe as Finland, because under the Union Scotland has less influence in the EU than Vanuatu.

Each EU member has the right to apppoint one member of the EU Commission. Commission members are not directly elected, they are selected by national governments. The UK has had 13 members since joining Europe. Finland has had 2. Finland chooses for itself who is going to represent Finland in the EU Commission, Scotland is represented by people chosen by Westminster. Westminster typically uses EU Commission seats as a reward for party hacks, 8 of the UK’s past and present commissioners are Labour, the remaining 5 are Tories. Tony Blair’s former co-conspirator Peter Mandelson was a Commissioner, as was former Tory Cabinet Minister Chris Patten when he wasn’t heading the BBC Trust. So instead of Scotland’s voice being represented in the EU Commission, we got an 8.3% share in Peter Mandelson.

The sole Scottish EU Commissioner was the arch-Unionist and former Shadow Scottish Secretary Bruce Millan, who resigned from the Glasgow Govan seat to take up the post in 1988. The subsequent by-election was won by Jim Sillars for the SNP. Millan was a commissioner until 1995. If anyone wants to argue that Millan would put the interests of Scotland before the interests of Westminster, I’ve got a Squinty Bridge to sell you.

But of course Scotland doesn’t get to exercise its 8.3% timeshare in a Commissioner in its own interests, the Coalition government in Westminster decides that – and it’s not always in Scotland’s interests as happened when Westminster traded away Scottish fishing rights in return for some of the UK’s prized opt-outs. But the CBI would have us believe that 8.3% of Peter Mandelson is a far better means of ensuring that Scotland is heard at an EU level than a Scottish Commissioner. There’s business logic for you, and now you know why the economy went down the pan in 2008.

Incidentally, although Better Together constantly warns us that Scotland won’t get any of these opt outs, because the EU is full of nasty and bitter countries who impose rules blindly, they don’t want to raise the subject of whether the rUK will be able to retain them either. If the rUK is no longer in control of Scotland’s fishing grounds, which were the cod pro quo for its opt outs, then it’s a safe bet that Westminster will be faced with EU partners who are quite keen to revisit the subject. So long UK rebate, and thanks for all the fish.

Despite Scotland having the largest fishing grounds in the EU, and the importance of fisheries to the Scottish economy, Westminster refused to allow Scotland to attend EU discussions on fishery policy, even as an observer. We don’t only lack a voice, we’re not even allowed to witness the discussions held above our heads.

As part of the UK, Scotland has 6 seats in the European Parliament, the same number as Luxembourg (population 537,000) and Malta (population 450,000). Finland, which has a population approximately the same as Scotland, has 13 seats. A Finnish level of representation in the European Parliament would see Scotland more than double its representation in Europe. But this is a bad thing, according to the CBI.

Meanwhile the mantra that Scotland is too small to have any influence is constantly cited, by the same people who are overly fond of quoting Manuel Barosso’s dubious opinions. That would be Manuel Barosso who comes from the small country of Portugal, which presumably isn’t too small to have EU influence.

Scotland isn’t in the driving seat in its dealings with the EU. We’re not even in the back seat safely strapped into a child’s chair. Westminster has Scotland locked in the boot where no one can hear the muffled complaints.

The UK and its institutions are like a middle aged man with a tiny wullie who buys a flashy sports car by way of compensation. Scotland, they scoff, can only afford a boring workaday motor that takes the weans to school and gets you to work and back and may, if you’re lucky, feature in a Star in a Reasonably Priced Car and be reviewed by Jeremy Clarkson. But since Scotland has no interest in sitting at traffic lights next to an American sports car and revving up the engine before racing to Iraq, a serviceable motor would do most Scottish people just fine. Unlike the UK, Scotland is content to be a small European nation – that’s what we are, and we have no interest in pretending to be anything else – unlike some.