Whenever there’s the slightest whiff of a scandal involving an SNP politician, the Scottish media is all over it like Gordie Broon at a doomsaying convention. The business dealings of the former Edinburgh West MP Michelle Thomson were constantly chewed over by a Scottish media that worried at her like a zombie dug with a bone for months. There were telly interviews with concerned faces who expressed how sad they were. Glenn Campbell was about to fly off to America to do a TV special about how appalled people across the Atlantic were by it all. Yet after months and months of constant snide implications and overt SNPbaddery, it turned out in the end that Michelle had done absolutely nothing wrong. There was a pipsqueak blink and you’d miss it acknowledgement buried away somewhere.
This week the Scottish media has worked itself into a lather over some unpleasant and nasty comments made by the SNP MSP Gillian Martin about trans people in a blog that she wrote many years ago before she was elected. Her promotion to the Scottish cabinet was overturned the moment that the comments came to light. It was quite right that Gillian’s promotion was overturned, but the point here is that she wasn’t even allowed to take up her position. No harm was therefore done, at least at the level of the Scottish Government. That hasn’t stopped the Scottish media ruminating on the entire episode at inordinate length, because, you know, SNPbad. Glenn Campbell might still be off to do a TV special across the Atlantic if he can secure an interview with Caitlyn Jenner.
This is not to excuse poor behaviour by individuals in the SNP. But that’s not the point. The point is that all poor behaviour by political parties should be investigated with equal rigour. Right now the entire Scottish Conservative party is enmeshed in a scandal which is systematic and which potentially goes to the very highest levels of the party. Naturally the bold and brave Scottish media is reacting to the Scottish Conservative dark money scandal with equal aclarity and zeal as they do when an individual SNP politician messes up. Ha! Suuuure it is. The only time that the British nationalist media in Scotland is interested in the Scottish Conservatives is when Ruth Davidson does a cheeky photo-op with a dead fish which mouths the words Scotland doesn’t want another referendum. That dead fish possesses more independence of thought.
Thanks to investigations carried out by the online newspaper The Ferret, we discovered that prior to the General Election, the Scottish Conservatives received some £319,000 in donations from a shady organisation calling itself the Scottish Unionist Association Trust, an organisation which has apparently been bankrolling the Conservatives in Scotland for years. The SUAT has not responded to requests to reveal the source of the donations, and the Scottish media isn’t exactly hounding them on the matter. After all, who really cares about the fact that the Scottish Tories might be using dark money to influence the results of Scottish elections when you can hound an SNP politician who’s already resigned for comments she made in a blog years and years ago.
Over the course of the past few years, election spending by the Scottish Conservatives has soared from the £275,000 that they spent in the 2011 election, to the £978,921 that they spent in 2016. According to Open Democracy, a large part of this money was funnelled through Conservative Central Office in London, much of the rest came through unincorporated organisations and obscure trusts. We don’t actually know who is behind the money, and the great majority of the Scottish media has no apparent interest in finding out.
It’s not coincidental that the electoral gains made by Ruth Davidson’s Scottish Conservatives™ came on the back of Scottish households being flooded by Tory propaganda which is being paid for by murky figures who have not been identified. Who are these people, and what influence are they exerting behind the scenes in Ruth’s party? What do they expect in return for their donations of large amounts of money? We cannot have any confidence that they expect nothing if they can’t or won’t be identified. This is an issue that strikes at the very heart of democracy in Scotland. Not that you’d know that from reading the papers or watching the TV.
The former Vice-Chair of SUAT, a certain Richard Cook, was the same individual who in his capacity as chair of the equally murky Constitutional Research Council, donated £435,000 to the DUP before the EU referendum. This money was used to take out a pro-Brexit advert in the Metro newspaper, a newspaper which isn’t published in Northern Ireland. This came to light thanks to an investigation by BBC Northern Ireland. BBC Scotland, not so much.
Today we discovered that the electoral commission has ruled that the Vote Leave campaign broke electoral rules during the EU referendum because it funnelled a large amount of money to another organisation called BeLeave. There is no transparency in electoral donations in the UK, and that’s a serious problem in a country where there is no written constitution and no effective constitutional separation between the various arms of government.
It’s even worse in a country like Scotland where the overwhelming bulk of the media is not prepared or willing to investigate suspicious goings on within the British establishment in Scotland for fear of stirring up support for independence. The role of the Scottish media isn’t to speak truth unto power, it’s to keep a lid on the independence movement.
I’ve said this before but it bears repeating, even on their own terms pro-British institutions are failing Scotland. They will not defend Scotland’s interests within the UK because they are more concerned about not giving succour to the independence movement. Their failure only underlines the need for Scotland to get out of this dysfunctional state. There’s a lot of discussion about the best time to have another independence referendum, perhaps instead we ought to be talking about the necessary time.
There is serious and credible evidence that the Tories may be buying Scottish elections, but with a few honourable exceptions the overwhelmingly anti-independence Scottish media doesn’t care. The Herald is far more interested in telling us what Jim Sillars thinks about Nicola Sturgeon’s judgement. Which is what it did last week, and the week before, and the week before that. It splashed a story on the front page of its website about an independent councillor from the Western Isles who was reprimanded for failing to declare he held a stake in a family company. Thank the gods he wasn’t an SNP councillor, or it would have been the lead story and would also have occupied most of Reporting Scotland’s time and energy for the next few months. The actual amount of broadcasting time that BBC Scotland has devoted to the Scottish Conservative dark money scandal is approximately the same that they’ve devoted to publicising this blog.
Meanwhile over at the Scotsman, the truly pressing issue of the day is that the SNP forced the Commons to a vote during the England v Colombia fitba match. Boo, and indeed, hoo. Aware that public sympathy for the entertainment opportunities of Conservative MPs is likely to be limited to people who have no functioning conscience, so other Conservative MPs then, the Scotsman mewed that it was really concerned about the staff in the House of Commons who missed the game. Which is the first time in history that anyone has said that they wanted Black Rod to erupt when the guys stuck one in but now he’s been rubbed up the wrong way, at least outside a gay porn movie.
Apparently Tory MPs missing the fitba is far more important than the fate of Scottish democracy. If you wanted an illustration of the moral and intellectual bankruptcy of the British nationalist media in Scotland, there you have it. They don’t shoot. They fail to score. It’s all of Scotland which loses.
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