The 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.