Ian Jack writes like he’s a character in the movie Alien, who knows that at any moment an evil monster is going to burst out of their stomach, slaughtering them in a gruesome explosion of intestines and gore, and unleashing havoc on the world. In the meantime he’s going to reminisce about how much better everything was in the sixties when people still trusted the Labour party and the mainstream media. It’s the Guardian’s version of Francis Gay going seven days hard with largactil.
On Friday, feeling quite cheery after successfully de-minging the toilet – although that may have been in part due to the fumes – I chanced upon Ian’s musings upon the woe that awaits Scotland if its media continues to decline. It was my own fault for clicking on the link. It’s like inviting someone to your birthday party because you’d feel guilty if you didn’t, even though you know they’re only going to bend your ear for hours with graphic details of their last hospital visit. One that involved toenails.
Ian was worried about the dire state of the Scottish media. It’s become so enfeebled that it’s no longer capable of holding the powers that be to account. Ian thinks this could be a terrible problem in an independent Scotland, and we’d be at risk of turning into a one party state with a media that cowers in terror before an all-powerful Alicsammin.
Mind you, it’s a terrible problem just now, where we have a media – including a state broadcaster we are legally obliged to pay for – which willingly swallows Better Together’s line along with its hook and sinker, all with the aim of crapping all over the yes campaign from a great height. You only have to look at the aclarity with which the nodding doos of the Scottish media gobbled up the claims of the Vote Nob Orders non-campaign like a flock of rats with wings, without undertaking even the most cursory investigation of whether this new grassroots movement did what it said on its box of expensive Eezy-Lawn genetically modified seeds. Ian’s own paper is one of the most enthusiastic Better Together seed peckers, and he doesn’t appear averse to a bit of ornamental insta-lawn himself.
Print newspapers everywhere are in crisis. Sales are falling as the traditional media struggle to evolve a business model to keep them afloat in an era of mass digital communication where people are decreasingly likely to pay for their information. The problems of the Scottish media are not unique. However the media crisis is more acute in Scotland, the disconnect between the traditional media and public opinion has been exposed by a referendum campaign which has highlighted the media’s role in the manipulation of information for the benefit of the established order.
As a direct response to this unsustainable state of affairs, Scotland has developed a flourishing new digital media. In fact, we have the BBC to thank for it. The unknown BBC executive who took the decision to clamp down on public commenting on the broadcaster’s Scottish webpages inadvertently set off a chain of events which have destroyed the BBC’s reputation north of the border. The BBC, and the rest of the Scottish media, are now reaping the long grass of the law of unintended consequences.
Once upon a time, there was a wee corner of the interwebbies called Blether with Brian, although it was always more “A blether while Brian’s away getting the messages”. There were a number of regular below the line commentators, many of whom were far more entertaining and informative than the vast majority of the BBC’s output – and who often grassed up truths that the BBC was reluctant to broadcast. I was one of that merry little band of part time opinionators.
Then there was the Steven Purcell scandal. The leader of Glasgow Cooncil resigned amidst allegations of drug taking, inappropriate contacts with some seriously dodgy people, the bullying and intimidation of council staff and councillors, with even more serious allegations floating around in the background. It was well known at the time that an important part of Stevie boy’s modus operandi was regular meetings in one of Glasgow’s posher restaurants with the movers and shakers of the Scottish media, including, allegedly, executives from Pacific Quay.
Stevie poured a bottle of paraquat all over his carefully cultivated gardens and his cooncil leadership imploded in a shower of cocaine fueled insanity. The BBC’s reponse, along with that of the rest of the Scottish media, was to invite the public to feel sorry for poor wee Stevie’s battle with mental health issues. There was no attempt to investigate the murky goings on which lead to his self-destruction, because that would only have exposed his close contacts with the very people who claim to be the watchdogs of standards in public office. Not least of whom were the executives at Pacific Quay.
Over on Blether with Brian there was a bonfire of the commentary, the BBC’s moderators zealously removed any remark which portrayed the disgraced leader of the cooncil in a less than sympathetic light. The story was clamped down on, and clamped down hard.
In response, a person who used to comment on Blether with Brian woke up one fine morning and decided that if no one else was going to challenge the inadequacies of the Scottish media, he’d do it himself. And so Newsnet Scotland was born. It was the beginnings of Scotland finding a different voice, one that wasn’t controlled and directed by the powers that be. That unsung hero of the Scottish independence campaign was not me, but I offered to help out.
As ma mammy always said, if you want something done you need to do it yourself. We were going to do it ourselves. Without money, without resources. All we had were words.
And look what happened. Newsnet was not alone. Bella Caledonia, and a host of new Scottish bloggers were also sowing the seeds of dissent. The grass started to sprout up beyond the control of BBC gardening. Untamed words fell on the fertile Scottish soil, and it grew a carpet of wildflowers. Now it’s a dense undergrowth of leafy growth, with tall trees and a diverse ecosystem of voices and opinions. Information in the wild, and no amount of mainstream mowing can keep it under control. How’s that for grassroots Acanchi?
I’ve been immensely privileged to witness the contributions that hundreds of ordinary everyday folk have made to the Scottish digital revolution. Ordinary everyday folk with extraordinary and incredible talents, who have passion, skill and a firm belief that Scotland cannot sit back and expect its problems to be solved by those who have created them and fostered their continuation.
It was noticeable that Ian Jack suggested that state funding of newspapers might be the only answer to the shortcomings of the Scottish media. A measure he hinted might lead to a neutered and careful press that is not willing to challenge the establishment – like that’s not what we had before.
However he’s missed the point. Ian’s trapped in the managerial solutions of the Labour party and their press pals. But the Scottish people are doing it for themselves, we no longer need it to be done for us. We have informed and educated ourselves. We’ve built up a huge movement without central control. We’re everywhere. This movement is not going to go away. It’s changed Scotland forever. The days of deference are dead, and the only ones mourning its passing are Jim Murphy and the rest of those who feel threatened by the new Scotland’s confidence.
And that is why I have every confidence that an independent Scotland will be a successful and prosperous nation. We don’t need the self-appointed self-described big boys and girls to do our gardening for us. When we do things ourselves, we can do anything.
And we do it with style.
I’ve just heard that the Sunday Herald tomorrow is to come out as a Yes supporting paper. The dam has burst.