The veteran BBC presenter Andrew Marr has spoken out against Scottish independence, claiming that it would be “rotten” for ordinary working people and would cause an “angry, rancorous” separation from the rest of the UK. If you are at all surprised that one of the BBC’s former senior political editors was a dyed in the wool unionist who parrots the tropes of the British nationalist parties, just wait until you find out that the Pope believes in god and that bright orange is not actually Donald Trump’s natural skin colour.
Of course Marr is a unionist. The BBC, where he had a very long and successful career, is an institutionally British nationalist organisation which thinks it is not political to force feed us a diet of royalist sycophancy and whose idea of balance when the topic of Scottish independence is being discussed is to have one person from the SNP against one each from the Tories, Labour and the Lib Dems, and that SNP representative is all too often not physically present, but appearing via a shonky video link from Dundee, a city which according to an infamous edition of Question Time broadcast from the city, is predominantly inhabited by Brexit supporting Tories with posh English accents.
For the BBC framing the independence debate in this way achieves a number of anti-independence goals while still allowing the BBC to claim that it is unbiased. By featuring representatives from the four main parties it ensures that pro-independence voices are outnumbered three to one in what is essentially a binary debate. It also frames the debate as a party political debate and not as a Scottish national debate. It identifies the cause of independence as the cause of the SNP, while portraying opposition to independence as a cross-party cause. This plays into the British nationalist narrative of the issue of independence being divisive, and encourages the mistaken belief that support for independence equates to support for the SNP. It conveniently sidelines and marginalises those in Scotland who believe in independence but who for one reason or another do not support the SNP.
The BBC is very much aware of itself as the last major publicly owned British institution, after the Conservative privatisations of the 1980s and 1990s, apart from the Westminster Parliament itself the BBC is one third of the unholy trinity of the armed services and the monarchy which are the only institutional forces that remain to create and foster a sense of a British identity. You are not going to have the career that Marr had at the BBC if you do not fully subscribe to the British nationalism which infuses and defines the Corporation.
This is not Marr’s first intervention on the side of opposition to independence. In2013, during the run up to the first referendum in 2014, Marr told an audience at the Edinburgh Book Festival that he was very worried by the “tone” of the Scottish independence debate, claiming that it was defined by a toxic anglophobia, saying : “There is very strong anti-English feeling and everybody knows it, there always has been.” All this told us, other than Marr’s instinctive British nationalism, is that his understanding of the Scottish independence debate is mired in the 1970s. Judging from his most recent comments, that is pretty much still where it remains. Admittedly there has been some progress of sorts. Marr admits that he understands the anger and frustration that so many people in Scotland feel, saying : “I do get that people in Scotland are outraged. Nobody here voted for Boris Johnson or for Dominic Raab or Liz Truss, or that lot. You didn’t vote for Brexit. So things have been imposed on Scotland and I can absolutely understand the annoyance.”
However he remains unconvinced by the case for independence so essentially he is giving Scotland the exact same message as the arrogantly patrician Conservative Governor General Alister Jack, it doesn’t really matter if Scotland doesn’t like what the Conservatives are imposing on it, you can suck it up.
Back in 2013 when Marr made his remarks about Scotland’s supposedly toxic anglophobia, many people in Scotland were still prepared to give the BBC and the British media in general the benefit of the doubt and hope that they would treat the Scottish independence debate impartially and fairly. Those hopes were well and truly smashed during the 2014 campaign and by everything that has happened since.
It is now beyond any doubt that the BBC will not be an impartial observer of and reporter on the independence campaign in this second referendum which lies ahead but rather, along with the explicitly anti-independence print media, it will be an active and enthusiastic participant in the independence campaign on the anti-independence side. The BBC is going to behave in this second campaign exactly as it behaved the first time around. It is clear that it has already dusted off the BBC British nationalist playbook from 2014. Following the publication of the first in the Scottish government’s series of papers making a fresh case for an independent Scotland, the BBC has focused almost exclusively on the lawfulness of another referendum should Johnson withhold a Section 30 order. It has paid very little attention to the substance of the paper, comparing Scotland’s performance as a part of the UK with that of a range of similar Northern European nations, a comparison which proves that Westminster is holding Scotland back and preventing it from achieving its full potential. The agenda of the BBC in response to the publication of the paper is very much that of the anti-independence parties.
What the BBC has carefully avoided is any discussion of what it would mean for the character and nature of this supposed union and for democracy in Scotland if the anti-independence parties resort to the courts or to appeals to Boris Johnson in order to veto the democratic right of the people of Scotland to determine for themselves the form of government best suited to their needs.
The BBC is not a reporter on Scotland’s constitutional debate but a participant in it. An organisation whose charter dictates that its role is to “contribute to the social cohesion and well being of the United Kingdom” is institutionally incapable of reporting objectively and fairly on a debate in which a part of the United Kingdom weighs up whether it wishes to continue being a part of the United Kingdom.
As we enter a second independence referendum campaign it is vital that the independence movement develops and builds upon its alternative means of reaching out to the people of this country. The British nationalists will not be as complacent this time around as they were in the early stages of the 2014 campaign. This time they know that they could lose, and they know that they have destroyed most of their strongest arguments and claims from the first referendum campaign. Our job is to make sure that the people of Scotland know it too. We need to be our own media, the media that we need. As yer maw always telt ye, if ye want something done, ye need tae dae it yersel.
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