This week’s Sunday newspapers in Scotland were all devoted the serious issues which assail the country. There’s the utter disarray and confusion about Brexit in which both the Conservatives and Labour are mired as the clock is ticking and time is running out to reach a position that the EU will consent to. There’s the shameful way in which Theresa May has lied to and deceived Remainer Tory MPs and her constant attempts to avoid and evade the scrutiny of that parliament we’re always being told is sovereign. There’s the naked contempt with which Scotland’s devolution settlement is being treated by the Westminster government. There’s the sneering, the catcalls, the abuse from the Tory backbenches at the very idea that Scotland should demand to be heard, like Roman patricians booing barbarians offered for sacrifice in the gladitorial ring. There’s the replacement of the respect agenda with spite and malice. There’s the incredulity from the Brexicommetariat British press that Scotland should even imagine that it’s anything other than a region of a Greater England. There’s David Mundell’s unilateral rewriting of the Sewel Convention and his insistance that Scotland isn’t a partner but a part – and a bit part at that. There’s the surge in support for the SNP and the party’s new determination to play hardball. There’s the Vow being finally killed off and buried by the man who wrote it. There’s the full blown constitutional crisis in which we now find ourselves, and the new energy and enthusiasm which is animating the Yes movement.
Oh no, wait. They scarcely mentioned any of that at all. There are far more important issues for the people of Scotland according to our totally representative media – which is representative of Scottish opinion in the exact same way that Theresa May is. Take for example the Sun’s Scottish edition, the website of the most selling newspaper in Scotland leads on the vital news that Katie Price was in Glasgow for a night on the tiles with her new man. Clearly, the entertainment arrangements of a minor sleb are far more significant to the population than the certainty that Brexit will destroy the devolution settlement, fundamentally undermine the ability of the Scottish parliament to act as a bulwark against Westminster, and the increasing likelihood that Brexit is going to destroy jobs, livelihoods, and civil and employment rights. Way to go, Scottish press.
Naturally the fate of the Glasgow School of Art occupied much of the press’s attention this weekend. The word iconic is overused, but can fairly be applied to a building of global architectural significance. The fact that it appears that the building has been gutted and destroyed in a major fire just a few short years after the previous fire, and reports are that there were no sprinklers in place in the building despite that previous fire, is a tragedy for Scotland and Glasgow and a potential scandal in the making. Given the importance of the building to Glasgow and to Scotland, and the devastating fire that broke out a few short years ago, the School of Art ought to have been the safest building in the city. It’s only right and proper that this story should be given prominence in the media, but hey, Scottish press people, we’re capable of multitasking. Why aren’t you?
But it’s not just one historic edifice which burned to the ground this week. The edifice of Westminster rule in Scotland, the justifications Westminster gave to Scotland for remaining a part of the UK, the great British constitutional alternative to independence, the pretence that the UK could be a state that challenges inequalities and injustice instead of fostering them, they were consigned to the ashes this week too, and the gleeful arsonists were those who claim to love Britain. While the Tories burned down the house, Labour wrung its hands and did nothing, preferring to indulge itself in its own party game playing rather than get behind any motions that could actually lead to a defeat for Theresa May. They are as much a protection and defence for Scotland as an empty water bucket in the School of Art.
Ever since the Westminster power grab was first threatened, all we’ve heard from a succession of talking heads is that only talking heads are interested in an arcane constitutional wrangle. Who is really interested in arguments about food labelling eh? It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. It’s a bit like telling people that Brexit is only about customs and excise forms and obscure measures about product safety regulations and then claiming that no one really cares that much. If the Scottish press had done more to explain the implications, then there would be considerably more public interest than there has been to date. However if they had explained the implications then people might start questioning whether Scotland’s interests really can be protected within the framework of the UK, and if you’re an anti-independence newspaper that would never do.
But this isn’t really about food labelling. It’s about the power relationship between Westminster and Holyrood. It’s about the undermining and dissolution of the devolution settlement that was presented to the people of Scotland as our great safeguard against the predations of a Tory government we didn’t vote for. It’s about the transformation of Brexit Britain into a unitary state in which the British government gives itself a free hand to overrule Holyrood whenever it sees fit. It’s about the reversal of devolution despite promises that it would be strengthened.
It took the drama of the SNP walkout to force any of this into the media agenda. It was happening anyway, and had the Speaker of the Commons not decided to bar Ian Blackford causing the rest of the SNP MPs to march out in solidarity, the Scottish media would have filled this week’s press with stories about Katie Price and building fires and would still be telling us that no one is interested in food labelling. But this weekend we’re back to business as usual. Nothing to see here Scotland. Oh look, there’s Katie Price with a smouldering squirrel.
The attempts of the British media in Scotland this weekend to return to quiescent business as usual only serve to illustrate that the most important role of the grassroots independence movement over the coming weeks and months will be to take the message of independence out into our streets and our communities, to speak to undecided people within our own families and circles of friends, to encourage and support those former no voters who have now come over to our side, and to persuade those who formerly supported independence but have drifted away to come back to Scotland’s cause. We need to tell people what Scotland can achieve. We need to warn people that remaining in the UK means worse prospects, worse jobs, worse public services. We cannot rely on the media, we have to do this ourselves. We have the commitment, we have the numbers, we have the will. We can do this. And we will. We can leave Katie Price and the smouldering squirrel to the British media in Scotland, but we’re the ones telling the real story.
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