Here we go again. More rank double standards from the Scottish media. I don’t listen to BBC Scotland at the best of times, and certainly not in the mornings, and most especially not the morning after a pro-independence march and rally when I’m knackered and my ageing bones are aching and my throat is hoarse from shouting above a sound system blasting out music.
Yesterday was a great day. Tens of thousands of independence supporters from all over Scotland came out onto the streets of Glasgow to disprove those who claim that there’s no support for independence and that Scotland doesn’t want another referendum. It was a massive vindication of Scottish independence, and the mass grassroots movement which seeks to attain it.
You might think that the march and rally would have been the big independence topic in the media the following day. Well not really, you’d only think that if you had absolutely no familiarity whatsoever with the media in Scotland and have spent the past couple of decades with your nose stuck in a copy of Hello magazine’s royal wedding special. I am reliably informed that on Good Morning Scotland on Sunday the topic was not the big march and rally for independence in Glasgow the day before. Quelle surprise. It was a gushing soft soap interview with Kezia Dugdale followed by a segment on how dreadful the behaviour of “cybernats” is, and how awful it is that certain pro-independence bloggers are apparently trying to “monetise the Yes movement”. Naturally pro-independence bloggers were not invited onto the programme to put their point of view. Because BBC balance.
No bloggers’ names were given, but I can only assume that I’m one of those pro-independence bloggers who were being complained about by anti-independence journalists who get a very good wage for their writing and commentary. After all, I have the gall and audacity to have a donate button on the blog, and the even greater gall and audacity to do an annual fundraiser. It strikes me as the height of hypocrisy to be criticised for hoping to receive some sort of wage for my work by people who receive a very good – and far more lucrative – wage for doing the exact same work only in support of a different political perspective.
Scottish culture does not like immodesty. We are taught not to blow our own trumpets, to hide our light under a bushel. But I’m going to be immodest here. I’m talented. I do worthwhile work. I work hard. I dedicate myself. If I really wanted to maximise the financial return for my talents and abilities, I can assure you that I wouldn’t spend my time and energy blogging and campaigning full time for Scottish independence. I do this because I believe passionately in it. Blogging for Scottish independence doesn’t make you rich. It’s a precarious and uncertain way to make a living. It opens you to all sorts of personal criticism and abuse.
Unlike most pro-independence bloggers, I am fortunate enough to have a platform in the traditional media with my weekly column in The National. But The National is just one newspaper, the sole independence supporting newspaper in a sea of publications which oppose it. It certainly doesn’t pay enough to allow me to live on what I earn from writing the column. So I blog full time, writing over 1000 words almost every day takes time and effort. I do a weekly podcast. I create shareable online images. I do speaking engagements all over Scotland for which I never ask for nor receive a speaker’s fee.
All the online content that I produce, which now amounts to over 3 million words, is available online for free. Unlike the BBC I don’t charge an annual licence fee and threaten those who don’t pay it with criminal action. Unlike newspapers I don’t take advertising or paid content and hide away behind a paywall so that content is only available to paying subscribers. No one is forced to contribute to this blog, and those who don’t contribute enjoy the same full and unfettered access as those who do. Yet apparently, according to the Scottish media, this is a funding model which is immoral in a way that criminalising a jobless single mother who can’t afford the TV licence fee is not.
I am not rich. I don’t have the financial resources of some of our opponents who can rely upon the overwhelmingly anti-independence media to give them well paid work. I live up a close in an ex-council flat in the East End of Glasgow and drive a small 10 year old car. Supporters of independence in Scotland struggle to get their voices heard in the mainstream. We cannot go cap in hand to rich individuals with titles. We can’t get financial support from right wing corporations. All those avenues are open to our opponents with their newspapers, their dark money, their broadcast media, and their “think tanks” with obscure funding from offshore trusts or donations from big businesses.
Independence supporters rely upon small donations from large numbers of people, and that means that our fundraising efforts must be transparent and obvious in a way that our opponents’ funding is not. It’s very easy to lay claim to the moral high ground about a pro-independence crowdfunder when you can rely upon a pro-British corporation to pay you a nice comfortable middle class salary. Who funds Kezia Dugdale’s cosy new job with a think tank? It’s certainly not as open and transparent as a pro-indy crowdfunder.
Our opponents apparently expect that while they can continue to enjoy their middle class salaries, those of us who oppose them should do so in our spare time, entirely for free. In other words they want opposition to independence to be full time and professional, but support for it to be part time and amateur. They don’t want anyone to devote themselves to working full time for independence, because then they have the field clear for themselves.
All this is part of a narrative which the media in Scotland, politicians opposed to independence, and anti-independence organisations, have been pushing for years. It’s the narrative of the cybernat, the myth that it’s support for independence which uniquely has a problem with bad behaviour. Sadly, that’s a myth that sections of the SNP leadership seem happy to buy into. Now I am not saying that there are no issues, that every single person who voices a pro-independence opinion online does so in a respectful and polite manner. Of course that is not the case. However the media focus in this country is overwhelmingly on the behaviour of the independence movement, even though the actual fascists, the sectarian bigots, the real racists, the real nazis, the holocaust deniers, the islamophobes, are mostly to be found amongst opponents of independence.
I welcome genuine and well meaning attempts to ensure that the independence movement conducts itself respectfully, politely, and honestly. All sensible Yes supporters do. However we must be careful to ensure that those attempts do not play into the hands of our opponents by allowing them to further the anti-independence narrative that it’s only the independence movement which has a problem here. There was a clear strategy on the part of our opponents in 2014 to demonise independence supporters as a means of attempting to ensure that undecided voters or soft no leaning voters would not engage with arguments for independence. That was the usefulness of the cybernat scare. It doesn’t help the cause of Yes to do Better Together’s job for it.
As the last remaining shreds of a positive case for remaining a part of the UK have been destroyed by Brexit and the arrogance of Westminster Conservatives, in their desperation opponents of independence are going to redouble their efforts to demonise independence supporters and campaigners. That means that if we are to talk about poor behaviour online, we must ensure that it is also opponents of independence who are held to account. It is the height of hypocrisy for the media to further a narrative that the SNP and the independence mainstream are responsible for the behaviour of the wilder fringes of the movement, but mainstream opponents of independence have nothing whatsover to do with the very real fascism, intolerance, sectarian bigotry and racism which characterises the wilder fringes of British nationalism. Those who criticise the independence movement must be held to the same standards which they want to hold us to.
So yes, let’s have a proper conversation about behaviour in politics. Let’s stop the comfortable pretence that it’s only one side in Scotland’s constitutional debate that has a problem. That means we also need to talk about the violent fascists, sectarian bigots, and out and out nazis who infest the campaign to oppose Scottish independence.
My new book has just been published by Vagabond Voices. Containing the best articles from The National from 2016 to date. Weighing in at over 350 pages, this is the biggest and best anthology of Wee Gingerisms yet. This collection of pieces covers the increasingly demented Brexit years, and the continuing presence and strength of Scotland’s independence movement.
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