Holding the Line: ‘That Scottish Film’…

So, there is….’that Scottish film’. You know the one – with the Australian/American? With the woefully inaccurate blue and white paint on his face? It always gets brought up by No voting Labour in Scotland people – people who have seen the Mel Gibson film too many times, that’s all, just nonsensical emotion and sentiment (pot and kettle now, No campaign!!). This is despite the release of the film in 1995 coinciding with the greatest drop in membership for the SNP – not a rise at all – so this film can hardly be accused of galvanising people into campaigning for independence. That is the real ‘Braveheart Myth’.

Maybe there are a lot of reasons why that film would not do such a thing. For one, most people with a smattering of knowledge knew about its inaccuracy. I sat in the cinema when the caption came up for ‘The Battle of Stirling’ and thought – ‘but it was Stirling BRIDGE’ – and then, as it became evident that there was not even going to be a river (let alone a bridge) and therefore no representation of Wallace’s military genius in recreating Thermopylae in order to defeat numerical superiority… blank disbelief.

I know this was not the same experience for everybody. A lot of my colleagues have said that they had absolutely zero Scottish history taught to them at school – yesterday one said that the only thing they learned about Bruce was that he was in a cave (for reasons unclear) and inspired by a spider to ‘try try again’…for something (also unclear). End of. For my part, I was at a public school (George Heriot’s, even), and we had stories of Bruce, Douglas and Wallace all taught to us – ‘History for Young Scots’, the book may have been in primary school. Perhaps the state schools had a less liberal attitude – certainly the accounts of my colleagues would suggest an attempt to airbrush pretty much anything pre-Union from the education system…but I cannot directly comment on that. Suffice to say that those history lessons informed me when I sat through that film, ticking off the errors as they came. (And let’s not even go to the research from four years ago that indicates that the story of Wallace and his band was the likely inspiration for the Robin Hood myth – and on that basis, ‘Prince of Thieves’ is an even more inaccurate retelling of the Wallace story. 😉 )

I remember, also, how much that film irritated the Establishment. I watched the Oscars live, as Barry Norman ignored the film and director both being up for Best Picture – and bristling with annoyed contempt when the result was announced. Personally, I think that they could not see past their own prejudices to assess the film independently. At the end I remember turning to my English girlfriend (whose ancestors ran with Wallace in Elderslie) who had enjoyed the film, and started to recount the historical inaccuracies in the film…but there was one thing that I could not escape. Some of the most stirring moments…were absolutely on the money, in terms of conveying my own personal sense of who I was. The arc of the emotion, or the spirit of the film, ‘felt’ right, despite the morass of errors.

From a dramatic perspective, one of the tightest (leaving aside Gibson’s ‘eve of battle’ speech on horseback) was when he held back his army from rushing into combat, and throwing away their advantage. Remember the line – you will if you’ve seen it: “Hold…hold…hold…” It is genuinely thrilling, and has entered popular culture as a conversational meme.

I thought of this a couple of days ago, when Nicola Sturgeon tweeted – standby, they are going to throw everything at us in the next 7 days. If the following 48 hours were anything to go by, she was dead right. As comedic as the ‘3 wise men’ running up to Scotland was, with Norman Smith standing in London with a face like he swallowed a wasp, having laughingly dismissed the campaign some months ago, the resurrection of the old plugged scare stories of price rises in supermarkets (ably illustrated by Dateline Scotland Episode 7), mortgage rises, and tired financial exits have been wearing indeed. The onslaught of the last days has only increased – but the peak incident was at an international news conference, where Alex Salmond responded to declarations from RBS, Lloyds and others by reading the full letter from RBS, and making clear that undertakings of no job movements or losses had been made to staff. As this was in response to a somewhat patronising Nick Robinson question, Alex then went on to break the story of the Treasury briefing journalists on market-sensitive information, to the applause of the assembled international media. The 8 minute video did the rounds from the BBC News Channel live broadcast, with a variety of comments relating to how Alex’s reply had handed Nick’s – well, let’s politely say ‘rear end’ – back to him on a plate.

Fast forward to the 6 o’clock news – and by magic transformation, not only is Nick’s heckling cut out, but he states that Alex “didn’t answer” the question. Wait, what? Even though it was broadcast on the BBC News Channel, for all to see? Also appearing yesterday was the Pistorius trial judgement (part 1 of 2), where he was determined to be not guilty of murder. If Nick Robinson was reporting that in the evening, would Oscar similarly have been convicted of premeditated murder, via Nick’s ‘Magic News Editing Suite’? This is into ‘implausible deniability’, when your own TV station has broadcast the answer in full that you so determinedly say did not happen – this is not via someone’s amateur camera phone coverage in the audience, later shakily uploaded to YouTube – this was the BBC’s own Political Editor ignoring himself being broadcast live on the BBC News Channel only six hours earlier.

Maybe Nick never exactly floated my boat – he was clearly noone to give time of day to the idea of independence, but then most of the London media pack are like that – but to move from supercilious dismissal to outright deception like this was quite striking. Until perhaps one looks into his background.

President of the Conservative Party Youth Group? President of the Oxford University Conservative Association? Founder member of Macclesfield Young Conservatives? Young Conservatives National Advisory Committee member? Chairman of the National Young Conservatives? Really, BBC??!? Political Editor under a Conservative-controlled government???! With his selective memory, Nick should clearly have gone into politics at Westminster, where he might well have soared.

Of course, Nicola is right. This is just the beginning – kitchen sinks and copper pipes from the wall will be ripped out and hurled over the next days. And we are still waiting for the well-nigh inevitable faux terrorist stunt in the last 48 hours of the campaign.

Are they skilled enough in their deception in the last days to get away with it? They have botched a lot of things over the past months – years – perhaps due to complacency from their dominance of the airwaves…but if they get it ‘right’ now, it could perhaps make the difference. Perhaps the key question is, how many people have already learned not to trust the BBC, or even the other media? Have they discredited themselves ‘enough’ to drop the ball at this late stage?

And Nicola said: Hold…Hold…


“The onslaught of scare campaigns would make Dick Cheney blush.” (Peter Macleod in the Sydney Morning Herald)

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