InSturgeoncy 2: Watch Any Good Telly Last Night?

Well, how was your night? An early one? Or did you stay up to watch ITV?

I confess that I had to wait and start to see the reports coming in this morning. So I have been (alternately) smiling and laughing throughout the day – with maybe the odd attempt to stifle tears pricking in the eyes with pride, relief, joy…whatever.

You see, apparently Nicola did quite well last night on the live Leaders’ Debate. Up there with Cameron (Conservative, Prime Minister), Miliband (Labour), Clegg (LibDem, Deputy Prime Minister), Nigel Farage (UKIP), Leanne Wood (Plaid Cymru), Natalie Bennett (Greens)…she apparently did ‘no’ bad’.

The first report that I saw quoted the after show ‘whowunnit?’ polls, with the average of the three main polls (YouGov, ComRes, Guardian/ICM) showing: Sturgeon 21.7%, Cameron 21.0%, Miliband 20.3%, Farage 20.0%, Clegg 9.3%, Bennett 4.3%, Wood 2.7%. Yep – Sturgeon not just beating out the PM, but all the other Westminster party leaders.

That does not mean it was universal – and, indeed, one has to wonder about the difference in the results between the three polls (shades of that mysterious ‘emphatic win for Darling’ first poll that very few people seem to have witnessed on television): ComRes gave victory to Cameron/Miliband/Farage, the Guardian/ICM gave it to Miliband…but YouGov so emphatically gave it to Sturgeon (28%, with Farage 20%, Cameron on 18, Miliband 15, Clegg 10, Green 5, Leanne 4%), and Nicola did well enough in the others, that she still came out on top over the three polls.

The Daily Telegraph also conducted a satisfaction poll, which gave the top places to the three female leaders.

As someone who did not see the debate (the ITV feed to Beijing must have been down), I was particularly interested by analysis conducted by IPSOS-MORI throughout the actual television programme, noting levels of boos and cheers for each candidate over the two hours. The graph is very pretty – and there is a spiky gold line riding high above all the rest from within ten minutes of the start: Nicola Sturgeon obtained 83% cheers and 17% boos, winning hands-down in both those categories (Leanne Wood and Natalie Bennett nearly tied next on 65/35 and 64/36 respectively, with Cameron a clear last on 31/69 – he must be regretting coming out so emphatically to state that he would ‘refuse to work with the SNP’ during the week – gosh, we’re real hurt by that, Dave). What interests me most about the IPSOS-MORI figures, is a consensus between those in the studio, and those polled outside the studio, in terms of how well Nicola comported herself and got the point across. And maybe how much the more general UK public started to understand a little bit about what the ‘Caledonian Spring’ had REALLY been about. In that sense, it is quite telling that another UK-wide poll – Opinium, for The Observer – found 20% of respondents believed Nicola Sturgeon won the debate, compared to 17% David Cameron and 15% Ed Miliband. She was judged to have performed well by 63% of respondents – a higher percentage than for any of the other leaders, and exceeded expectations to a greater degree (51%) than any other leader.

‘Exceeded expectations’ is perhaps the key phrase from Opinium: I don’t want to read too much into the slew of Tweets flying around afterwards (if you want a laugh, then you can go to worse places on your browser than Wings Over Scotland and look up their ‘New Friends’ sample – some crackers in there…) – but they seem to agree with the polls and studio analysis…that basically UK audiences ‘got’ what she was saying. And the myth in the press of the mad-eyed nationalists that eat the first-born from the wrong side of Berwick was left hopelessly exposed for the nonsense that it was. The ‘Othering’ of Scotland, which was so prevalent during the ‘Better Together – as long as you remember your place’ Campaign, has restarted with a vengeance as the polls surge in support for the SNP this year. Not just some of the ignorant (and overtly sexist) portrayals of Nicola, but the presentation of the electoral preferences of this ‘beloved part of the Union’ as making it an alien force to be defeated at all costs – with one misguided journalist even going as far as invoking Enoch Powell’s infamous ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech, making it clear that however much they said they did not want us to BECOME foreigners during the Referendum campaign – to them, we already very much are.

Part of me (a small one) is slightly saddened by even the possibility of this renaissance in how the SNP might be viewed down south. It is such a shame that Alex (the outstanding politician of his generation in the UK, bar none – IMHO) did not get the chance to experience it, rather than his most worthy successor. However, that is politics. Maybe he can be somewhat rehabilitated by Nicola’s reflected glory…

And more than slaying some demons that infest the xenophobic media down south, I think it is possible that some progressives last night – particularly down south – might just have started to realize that maybe there IS a way to get an opposition that stands for something worthwhile – that there IS a party that can get enough influence in the forthcoming elections that remembers what Labour used to stand for…that might be able to remind Labour of what it used to stand for, too.

For years before the Referendum, I read plenty of articles that said that Scots were the smartest electorate in Europe, because of how they voted between councils and Westminster…and, latterly, Holyrood. That all seemed to look somewhat pale after the even greater electoral literacy of the Referendum…but if, in particular, the voters in England can see a ‘deal’, provided they vote Labour, and we’ll give them the SNP, then we might have ‘game on’ for May.

If they want to see ‘LabourMax’ (as opposed to ConnyLabour) – then we look awfully like by-and-large refusing to vote for them in Scotland, as long as they vote for Labour in England, giving what seems to be the increasingly preferred option of the Labour-SNP Deal.

What do you say? ‘GameChanger’?

Oh, and not only was what Nicola saying apparently resonating with the general UK audience – the SNP reported 1,200 new members signed up during the broadcast of the programme. Not bad for two hours work, Nicks.

So, if my anxiety attack over the weekend’s conference events was my ‘First Referendum Debate’ wobble, maybe last night brought the equivalent of my ‘Second Referendum Debate’ confidence surge. Although that scenario was always going to be a tug of war backwards and forwards all the way up to Referendum Day, last night was the one opportunity that the electorate outside Scotland are going to get to see Nicola on a par with her Westminster peers.

No’ bad, hen – no’ bad.


“The party which can muster the most support in the House of Commons will get first crack at forming a government. That doesn’t mean the largest single party – it means the largest single posse.” (Lesley Riddoch, 26/3/2015)


Engagement?: Make It So…

I recently read Lesley Riddoch expressing frustration at the lack of a spark regarding this general election, and that it did not seem to have captured the electorate’s imagination. She quoted a poll in early February for TNS, suggesting that only 64% of Scots were likely to vote, which was not only close to the 2010 figures, but also meant that three quarters of a million people that voted in the Referendum (where there was an 84.5% turnout) were simply not going to vote. She rightly mourned what seemed to be a loss of engagement – even in terms of electoral communications, Ashcroft’s poll in the first week of February showed that only 13% of voters had heard from the SNP, and only 9% from Labour. To be fair, Labour have a small problem with declining membership and active supporters…so it was perhaps no surprise that by the start of March they had to resort to sending out their big glossy leaflets and paying the Royal Mail to deliver them for them. Its probably more expensive now it has been privatized – perhaps Labour are regretting proposing that privatization, just before they left government in 2010, as they did not anticipate their supply of ‘boots on the ground’ drying up so fast…

However, her fears may have been premature, as subsequent polls have indicated a gear shift in the electorate, and clear water opening up between Scots’ intention to use their franchise, as against the rest of the UK.

The Hansard Society’s annual Audit of Political Engagement found Scots by far the most politically active in the UK: 62% (13% above the UK average) describe themselves as at least fairly interested in politics, 39% describe themselves as a strong supporter of a political party, 44% (32% UK average) believe they can make a difference to the way the country is run…and Scots are also more likely to say that the current political system needs “a great deal of improvement” than anywhere else in the UK. So ‘we’re no’ happy’ – nothing new there, some might say – but the headline figure is that 72% are likely to vote in the General Election in May…compared with the 49% UK average.

A ‘rogue poll’, as former Scottish Labour leader Ian Gray might say? Well, a new study of 7,000 voters by the University of Edinburgh showed an ongoing sense of political engagement in Scotland, with 76% of Scots likely to vote in the General Election – more than 10% greater than any other territory in the UK. So apparently we are coming to the party after all…although still almost 10% down on the Referendum turnout – so far.

This higher likelihood to vote was shown across the demographics, most strikingly with 65% of 18-19 year olds likely to vote (compared to only 34% in England), and more 18-24 year olds planning to vote in Scotland compared to England – and that has to be a result of the way the Referendum engaged younger adults for the first time, with 16 and 17 year olds (some of the latter will of course now be turning 18 in time for this vote) voting in higher proportions than any other under 35 group last September. And this is not some idle dabbling – there are current issues that directly concern their immediate future: youth unemployment is a pan-European problem standing at 22.9% of under 25s (17.6% for the UK, 15.9% for Scotland). Tellingly, another University of Edinburgh survey asked young people which political party they felt closest to, and the results were: SNP 28%, Greens 14%, Conservatives 8%, Labour 8%…and LibDems 0%. This last figure may seem shocking – the LibDems were always the student progressive party…and yet, as Patrick Harvie suggested, this emphatic vote of no confidence from what used to be one of their electoral strongholds, is probably a direct result of their volte face on tuition fees. Reap the whirlwind…

In the context of youth engagement, it is worth noting that – without a whiff of self-awareness or irony – the second largest unelected legislative body in the world, the House of Lords, recently criticised the legal amendment from the House of Commons in the wake of the Smith Commission to allow 16 and 17 year olds to vote in next year’s Holyrood elections. Their concerns (as they wailed and gnashed their teeth that it was not a new bill that they could block and send back repeatedly until the Commons just gave up) were that it might cause 16 and 17 year olds in the rest of the UK to get ideas. Yup – that’s kind of the idea – and has been the idea behind everything the Scottish Government has tried to do since 2007, in acting as a beacon of showing that There Is Another Way in the UK.

Let’s rerun some of the arguments one more time for extending the franchise to 16 and 17 year olds: they can get married; they can be taxed – but cannot vote for the tax policies that they want; can live independently – but have no say over housing policy; many are in Full Time Education – but have no control over the education system; can join the armed forces – though the UK is criticised for this internationally – but have no voice on defence or foreign affairs. The double standards of then denying them the vote, when so much is being taken from them (and that is not talking about the welfare cuts that are removing their independence) – and by unelected out-of-touch peers of the realm – is a stunningly gross hypocrisy.

Perhaps one of the factors that was giving ‘Their Esteemed Ermined Majesties’ pause for thought, was the large scale support for both the SNP and independence amongst those emergent voters – ‘Generation Yes’ is perhaps growing up a little too fast into the franchise for them.
“Could you tell me how you think the strategy of piecemeal devolution in Scotland in order to kill nationalism stone dead is going?” (Michael Forsyth in House of Lords, 10/3/2015)

Jim, Margo and Me: Starstruck, and Holding on for Three More Years

I was talking to Jim Sillars this week….would be a great way to start a blogpost – but a little context might be better rather than a fraudulent attempt at name-dropping. 🙂

I first had contact with Jim when he was Glasgow Govan MP, and I was working for the University of Edinburgh Students’ Representative Council. Within the SRC there was what was called the ‘External Committee’ – basically it was the political section, for international or more national political issues, so we organized campaigns against student loans as well as apartheid. A standard fixture was ‘International Week’, where something ill-defined (largely whatever the External Convenor wanted it to be – if they wanted it to happen at all) could be organized by the External Committee for a given week. As I have written before, I had become particularly politically aware around 1988 with the twentieth anniversary programmes on Channel 4 dealing with the Prague Spring, Danny Cohn-Bendit in Paris, and other related issues – which subsequently fed into my interest in Croatian self-determination. So I wanted to hold an International Week that would reflect these interests, and I arranged a variety of speakers to talk about different political aspects – including some active for the campaign for Ukrainian independence. I saw Scottish independence very much in the context of these political events, so having seen Jim Sillars speak at the University before, during which he talked about the idea that devolution had never been a road to independence for any nation (see earlier post on Sillars, Synergy…), I saw it as an opportunity to subversively place Scottish independence within an International Week agenda, and had received his agreement to speak during the week of events.

It was summer 1990, and with only a few days to go to International Week, I took a call in the office. It was Jim, saying that he was going to have to cancel his talk, because Westminster had been recalled due to the imminent Gulf War, and as SNP foreign affairs spokesperson, he really had to be present that night for the debate. I laughed at the idea that a puny little Students’ Representative Council talk might even hope to compete with such a matter, and told him that of course I understood, and wished him luck in the debate. We did not reschedule, and did not speak again.

I came very close to meeting his wife once – but suffered from a ‘fanboy paralysis’ which I deeply regret. It was the week after the first Yes September Rally, in Princes Street Gardens in 2012. I was working in the Scottish Parliament (long boring story about paving stones and fossil fish, believe it or not) and was just exiting the private area back into the public lobby, when I realised that there was a figure following me. As I made way for her and held the door, I realized it was the legend that is Margo MacDonald. I had this surge inside me – I wanted to tell her how much I had loved her speech the previous week, where she had urged people to just each convince one other person to become Yes (she also noted Frankie Boyle’s alternative message, that each person should convince 10,000 people…), and we would win this at a trot, how she had talked about the importance of everyone living together afterwards no matter the result, and how nice it was to be on “the side of the angels” for a change. But I completely dried up – nothing came out. As she walked past, she looked up at me from the walking sticks, and I saw this gentle smile cross her face. She could see my expression, and I fancy that she saw exactly what I was going through. The moment passed.

Fast forward to this week, and I was walking up North Bridge, when I recognised a figure standing outside the former ‘Scotsman’ offices. I nodded and smiled at him as I walked past, knowing that he would get a lot of such contact, and made to keep walking, rather than take up any of his time. And then I stopped. I had spoken to Jim Sillars before on a 1 to 1 basis – maybe that entitled me to approach him again. (And I know I was thinking of that much regretted missed moment with Margo.)

I walked back to him, apologising for the intrusion, and gave a cursory summary of where he would not remember me from, almost 25 years earlier. I asked him if he still believed that devolution was not a viable route to independence, and he averred that he did – perhaps, in a way, the No vote had vindicated his position entirely. We talked briefly about the prospects for independence, and – like so many others – he hinted that there might be a chance for a rerun of the referendum in around three years time. “They’ve given so many hostages to fortune”, he said – that it will be more difficult to fob off the people of Scotland with not delivering, I interjected? He agreed, and I was about to question him further, when his lunch appointment showed up, and so I excused myself and left.

And there I felt such a strange upwelling of emotion as I walked away up towards South Bridge – a combination of the bitter regret about not speaking to Margo, a sense of wanting to express my regret in some way that maybe ‘we’ let her down…all mixed in with a final emergence of sadness about the result. There I was in my last post, proclaiming to have not had the obligatory ‘wee greet’ after the Referendum result, and no sooner had I posted it than…..well. That was definitely the closest that I have come since the 18th.

But, more interestingly, Jim had moved so much further on than I had. He is part of the movement going forward over these next 6 months – part of the group that Westminster seems keen to nervously urge to ‘forget about independence’, just as SNP membership goes over 80,000, and the Hope Over Fear Rally takes place in Glasgow today.
As has been said by so many, we have three years to a possible rerun, to try and turn around the ‘Conditional Nos’, and avoid repeating the same defeat. We cannot expect ‘No’ to run as execrable a campaign the second time around – we can’t be so lucky – or they be so arrogant – twice.

I remember watching the leaves start to heavily fall on the morning of the vote as I stood outside a polling station – a Caledonian Autumn may have come, but there is a chance that maybe Spring will come again soon, even if we are just about to head into a bitter winter.


“We’ve got one more chance” (Jim Sillars, October 2014)

A Binary Mess of a Decision: Salmond’s Trust & The Social Media War

It’s a funny thing about politics – you cast a vote in secret, and it is up to you whether you disclose it afterwards. So how does this work differently in a referendum? Well, in a multi-party election, its fairly easy for uncertainty of ‘actual choice’ to play a role: even if you know someone well enough to know their political views, a comfortable region of doubt still usually exists – perhaps their clearly articulated political viewpoints are still nebulous or ill-defined enough localized to 2 or 3 different political parties. Let’s face it, even when some people used to say they were for an independent Scotland, it was quite often the case that that statement would be ‘suffaced’ (like a preface is to a prefix, so a sufface is to a suffix 🙂 ) by ‘but I don’t trust the SNP’. I can remember Magnus Linklater’s poll in the Scotsman at the time of the 1992 election which said something very similar, with over 50% wanting independence, but political support for the one party wanting to deliver that objective at less than half that figure. So party political votes cannot be clearly mapped on to personal beliefs in a clear way – and you might well be left suspecting that dear Aunt Jessie might have voted for the Conservatives with her unusually ‘traditional’ view on immigration, but could not be 100% certain – especially if tactical voting came into play.

The Referendum is different. Apart from not being about any politician or party, it is a simple Yes or No. Binary decision. So in a broad sense, it is much harder to hide your reactions to a variety of issues, and not give away which way you’re inclining in your vote, when there are only two options – and that is with uncertainty in the casting, before knowing the result. It will be even easier to tell afterwards – the response will be a link between your beliefs and whether your vote was on the winning side or not.

So even if you don’t raise the issue with others – you can get a sense fairly quickly, in any long period with a colleague conversing on anything else. Even with the big switch over the weekend, when everything seemed to step up a gear, you could have a good idea from people’s various levels of tension.

To be fair, many ‘No’ voters (from experience on the stall) seem easy to spot: their refusal to think or engage with the question that has been so marginalised for so long pushes them swiftly into the open, and as the tide of Yes support rises around their feet, that stuttering confusion as incoherence rises along with incredulity leads to only one response:”…just….No!!!”. A lot of this inarticulacy – often coupled with an insistence that this is not something that will be discussed – comes from the last decades of marginalization of the idea of Scottish independence as merely a joke commodity. Surprisingly, this has dictated much of the press coverage since the SNP majority, which has been (until a few weeks ago) fairly universally condemnatory and abusive of anyone contemplating Yes…and most especially of that First Minister.

As others have noted before, this is a somewhat bizarre approach. As much as personalizing a campaign makes it easier to pretend it is one person and thus easier to discredit, the one person that they have chosen does remarkable public satisfaction and trust ratings.

Yesterday I mentioned how so crude a metric as his ‘FaceBook likes’ were soaring in the last 3 weeks. Better Together would no doubt say that this was no doubt the CyberNats, well-trained members of the SNP machine, all-powerful as mythical creatures tend to be – yet the membership of the SNP party (although easily the largest in Scotland) is only around 25,000. Alex is today on 57,145, Nicola on 39,071, John Swinney on 10,527. In August last year, a poll examined how much the public (regardless of whether or not they agreed with the individuals concerned) felt that they were acting in the best interests of Scotland.
On the Yes side: Alex Salmond +15, Nicola Sturgeon +12, Patrick Harvie -14
On the No side: Alistair Darling -11, Willie Rennie -13, Anas Sarwar -18, Ruth Davidson -18, Johann Lamont -19, Michael Moore -20, David Cameron -42

The same poll asked which of these the public believed were telling the truth about independence. On the Yes side: Alex Salmond (-3), Nicola Sturgeon (-5), Dennis Canavan (-19), Blair Jenkins (-31)
On the No side: Alistair Darling (-27), Michael Moore (-43), Anas Sarwar (-47), Blair McDougall (-62)
On this basis, the combined net trust ratings were Yes -58, No -179, making the No campaign slightly over three times as distrusted as Yes.

The following month, September 2013, another poll looked at the satisfaction ratings of the four party leaders: Alex Salmond: Overall rating +11; David Cameron: Overall rating -45; Ed Miliband: Overall rating -46; Nick Clegg: Overall rating -53

As a leader midway through second term leading government, those are remarkable satisfaction and trust ratings, in comparable terms, given that the No campaign has decided to try and focus their attention on identifying the campaign solely with him and noone else.

As in the creation of a single isolated personality, so for the pretense that there is only one group in Yes. But that is one of the things that I like about ‘Yes’ – it is a truly broad umbrella, with all sorts of groups contained within it. I like the breadth of ‘Yes’, and the wide-ranging skillset of its diverse supporters. Like Business for Scotland. I confess at the opening show of the Willie Macrae play last month at the Edinburgh Festival, I found myself behind Michelle Thomson, the Managing Director of Business for Scotland in the queue – then had the embarrassment of experiencing a ‘fanboy crisis’. I blustered an apology at the end of the performance, explaining that it was a little weird for me, as I had been watching her on YouTube the previous night. Right, so THAT went well, then….

Or there is also National Collective, whose creatives I have referred to elsewhere, and not forgetting Radical Independence, Women for Independence, Academics for Yes, NHS for Yes, Disabled for Yes, Wealthy Nation…And yet many of these groups are barely referred to at all during Referendum coverage. Because, as in the same way as ‘Yes’ has to be solely identified with Salmond (see ‘Conflation and Personalisation’, elsewhere on this Blog) following the strategy highlighted by Professor John Robertson’s research (University of the West of Scotland) on media bias, so all groups must merely be ‘SNP fronts’ – which of course is hilarious in the context of the stooge Astroturf organizations (see ‘Fake Plastic Grass Roots’ elsewhere on this blog) parachuted in to try and give the ‘No’ campaign a veneer of credibility. That same ‘personalising’ strategy that eliminates the ‘Yes’ movement and the grassroots campaign in favour of leaving Alex Salmond as somehow the only person in Scotland that wants this to happen, also airbrushes every other group out, eliminating the broad umbrella or ‘kirk’ of ‘Yes’, in favour of painting it solely as the SNP – and nobody else. That way it shuts down and denies any discussion of this being a ‘popular’ movement – one born of and sustained by the people, with whom sovereignty is retained.

And yet still the Yes support has risen. Almost as though people are finding the guidance on ‘who to trust’ from elsewhere. Perhaps from themselves. Out there, exploring on the Internet. Using Social Media: becoming the Caledonian version of the Arab Spring. Ignoring the media machinery for the state. Against all the odds.

IF we manage it.


“If Scotland becomes independent, it will be despite the efforts of almost the entire UK establishment. It will be because social media has defeated the corporate media. It will be a victory for citizens over the Westminster machine, for shoes over helicopters. It will show that a sufficiently inspiring idea can cut through bribes and blackmail, through threats and fear-mongering. That hope, marginalised at first, can spread across a nation, defying all attempts to suppress it. That you can be hated by the Daily Mail and still have a chance of winning.” (George Monbiot)

Conflation and Personalisation: The Deliberate Blurring of the Leadership of the Yes Campaign

One woman that I spoke to during the mass canvas the other Saturday surprised me when she expressed the hope that the forthcoming debate on the Tuesday on STV would provide more information. Two hours of live television might produce spectacle – but I would have been somewhat surprised if it had produced much information at all.

Fair enough – I may have a slightly different threshold for ‘more information’ than many: by a brief skim through my mailbox, I can see that I have read over 2,000 articles on the Referendum in the last 18 months. To me, the debate was Salmond settling for Cameron’s stooge – possibly a tactical mistake, as it blurred the leadership question in the way that ‘No’ had been trying to do for a while.

On the first hand, the case for Yes rests on Westminster’s mismanagement and different political direction to Scotland’s – and on that basis, the First Minister of the Scottish Government holding the Prime Minister of the Westminster Government to account, and questioning what the case for Scotland staying in the Union was, by asking the leader of that political Union directly, does not seem unreasonable. Cameron has paid lip-service to the idea that it was ‘for the people of Scotland to decide’, at the same time as cabinet ministers were regularly parachuted in for one day missions in Scotland before running away again, and more and more money was sunk into Whitehall producing reports and distributing leaflets to every home. So his intervention and controlling hand has been clear in the campaign, even as much as he avoids direct debate.

But secondly – and perhaps more critically – Alistair Darling, as Chair of the No campaign, should technically only be debating his opposite number in Yes – Dennis Canavan, the Chair of Yes. But No has tried hard to avoid that, as they want to make the Referendum solely about Alex Salmond. This is very much part of the No strategy to (echoed by the media) personalise ‘Independence’ as a solely Salmond (or SNP) issue, to thus try to ignore the wide variety of organisations coming out in support of independence as a way of seeking social justice and a better society for the people in Scotland that cannot be achieved through Westminster. This process deliberately ignores a broader political coalition, and attempts to marginalize the movement as narrow and minority-led. Once Salmond becomes perceived as the face of the Yes campaign (instead of Chief Executive Blair Jenkins or Chair Dennis Canavan), and bodies such as The Common Weal, Business for Scotland, National Collective, Wealthy Nation (and of course the mythical ‘CyberGnats’) can all be ignored or bizarrely (paranoiacally?) portrayed as ‘front organisations’ for the SNP, then Yes becomes a single man to target – which is much easier than the broader target of a nation’s collective aspirations, or a dissatisfaction with the current system of government. Because – as we have all heard at least one person say, as a reason for voting ‘No’ – “Ah hate that Alex Salmond.”

This perceived approach was to a degree confirmed by the academic study of broadcasting bias in referendum coverage on BBC and STV, by the University of the West of Scotland’s Professor John Robertson (MediaLens carries a summary report). A particular strategy that he noted was
‘the conflation of the First Minister’s wishes with the YES campaign seems a classic case of undermining ideas by association with clownish portrayal of leading actors [in the campaign].’
He recalled that this skewing of the coverage was reminiscent of the way that the corporate media demonised previous Labour Party leaders Neil Kinnock and Michael Foot, as well as miners’ leader Arthur Scargill.

In terms of this agenda setting by a media following one side’s narrative, it is perhaps interesting to note Noam Chomsky’s comments relating to ‘Manufacturing Consent’, and the need for citizens to take two specific actions in order to break free of this form of control. Chomsky asserts that in order to break free of Media Control and Agenda Setting, citizens must take 2 actions:
1. They must seek out information from Alternative Media (media outside the mainstream and usually having a particular point of view).
2. They must move toward change by becoming engaged in community action – because people can use their ordinary intelligence to make changes in their lives and communities. Grassroots movements begin there.

When I first came across this a day or two ago (I confess I had never read anything of Noam’s beforehand – noting only his presence as an achievement in some computer games – although I had noted with passing interest that he had come out in support of ‘Yes’), I could not believe how coincident these two actions were with what the Yes campaign has already achieved: the outbreak of citizen journalism, alternative news sites, alternative media broadcasts as part of the campaign external to Yes Scotland certainly fulfils action 1, and the grassroots movement that has taken over from the previous centralised Yes Scotland campaign has wonderfully fulfilled action 2.

The BBC (and to a lesser extent STV) has been shown to be demonstrably biased through academic research, in particular noting the one-sided and classical tactic of personalisation to try and undermine a political movement. Further actions such as ignoring (suppressing?) Yes campaign releases, except through the filter of the No campaign, has created the dissatisfied and restless environment for the rise of ‘citizen journalism’, using online resources and social media, in a way that is truly reminiscent of the Arab Spring (perhaps a ‘Caledonian Spring’, if someone is looking for a title for one of the innumerable books that will inevitably arise in the wake of this Referendum?).

David Hume asserted some 250 years ago that power always rests with the people, but they don’t use it because they are oppressed or manipulated. It remains to be seen whether the people of Scotland have heeded Hume’s warning and fulfilled Chomsky’s prescription for freeing themselves from manipulative media, in time to objectively judge their choice on the 18th September.


“There is a reason there is no genuine grassroots movement for No, and there’s a reason Yes has seen an explosion in people power.” (Hamish Gibson, National Collective)

Caledonian Spring: a way forward, or ‘bottling’ it?

So – again – I have to confess that somebody else came up with the idea of the ‘Caledonian Spring’, to parallel the Arab Spring, over a year ago, so my apologies for shamelessly lifting it.  And it is more than just something that sounds like bottled water, it represents a migration of the public away from the mainstream media or ‘MSM’ as it is often abbreviated to: the creation of a vibrant, online, social media, mirroring moves away from the state broadcasters during the Arab Spring throughout North Africa. This disillusionment comes from a number of sources – a BBC that noted that there was no requirement for it to be impartial until the official campaign period started, a sense that perhaps not everything was being reported objectively, and a feeling (commented on a few times by BBC Scotland broadcaster Derek Bateman) that perhaps much of the news was being viewed through the selective filter of the prism of Labour in Scotland.  In a response to the first academic study demonstrating bias in the BBC and STV coverage of the Referendum, one BBC Scotland executive dismissed the idea that independence should be treated as a normal option, as the Union had been in place for over 300 years and therefore surely this was the only ‘normal’ choice? Against a background of declining newspaper sales across Scotland, one survey showed 35 (amongst No voters)-45(amongst Yes voters)% of people trusted online sources more than TV, radio, press or official representatives of either campaigns.

This move away from mainstream media sources comes in parallel with a move away from trust in Westminster.  In the June 2012 Social Attitudes Survey, participants were asked who they trusted to act in Scotland’s interests, with 71% (up 10 from 2010) saying Holyrood as opposed to 18% (down from 35 in 2007) plumping for Westminster. Polls of political leaders tell a similar story, with one survey in September 2013 giving the three Westminster leaders all a minus rating for satisfaction, ranging from -46 to -53 from Cameron to Clegg (with Milliband in between) and +11 for Alex Salmond, who has been both leader and in government for considerably longer than the three Westminster leaders.

One reason for this apparent disillusionment might be the revelation of the McCrone Report of 1974. Commissioned in 1973 by the Heath government, it looked into the economic implications for Scotland, in the wake of North Sea oil discovery and exploitation. Completed in January 1974, just before the February general election recorded the SNP getting 30% of the Scottish vote, with Labour’s Harold Wilson getting a hung parliament. A year later, the Report was still being discussed in terms of Scotland becoming the “Kuwait of the western world”, and it was decided to bury the report, in case it provided ammunition for the SNP to continue to rise under the slogan ‘It’s Scotland’s Oil’.  Successive governments at Westminster continued to keep the report secret, until in 2005, the first year that the legislation was fully operational, a Freedom of Information request revealed the existence of the McCrone Report. Perhaps the most surprising aspect for many, was the willingness of all governments, whether Labour or Conservative, to suppress information that would have allowed people in Scotland to make an informed decision on what would be best for their future.  Perhaps it might be expected for the Conservatives to have maintained a secrecy around such information, but that even a seventies Labour government appeared to have no compunction about placing it under wraps, not only surprised many, but perhaps exposed how much they were governed by their self-interest as a political party in Scotland.

Once you see that this is how this ‘family of nations’, this ‘equal partnership’, really regards one section as being a child nation who are either (uniquely) incapable of making such decisions for themselves, or who simply should not be allowed to make such decisions, then you start to realize that perhaps the democracy of Westminster has been failing many of us for some time.  If Conservatives really cared about their political representation, then they would have worked hard to make the party relevant to the people of Scotland throughout the eighties and nineties, as the numbers of their representatives declined.  But in fact the reverse has happened.  They have been content to remain a ‘toxic brand’ – because strategically they have absolutely no need to ‘win Scotland’ in order to get elected at Westminster.  The 139 MPs in the SE of England are what matters to win them the election – and in that scenario, Scotland will always be surplus to requirements, and thus expendable in terms of policies.  What is more depressing is that Labour has very much followed that lead, as soon as it started taking Scottish support for its MPs (and MSPs) for granted, and started chasing those same votes in the SE of England in order to take power in Westminster – whilst at the same time deploying the myth of Scottish political support being essential to get them into Downing Street (where they seem to have done precious little for their constituents in Scotland once they got there – but that is a separate issue). But the truth is that that has actually only happened very rarely: Scottish votes have (marginally) changed the complexion of the ruling Westminster Government for a grand total of 26 months (over two shortlived governments) since the end of the second world war, up until the 2010 general election, when they prevented an overall Conservative majority (but it is a little unclear whether that has really made much of a practical difference to the policies of the coalition government) – in other words, the Scottish vote in Westminster is no ‘kingmaker’.

And that is without dealing with our declining influence: from the peak of 79 Scottish MPs in 1983, the current representation is 59, and after the full implementation of Calman, this will fall to 52 in 2015 (some have also speculated on a further fall if the Barnett Formula goes) making Scotland’s democratic impact on Westminster even more peripheral:  Scotland’s opinions become even more irrelevant, its political needs an afterthought – and certainly not a priority.  And in the context of a post-referendum backlash, with representatives of elsewhere in the UK crying for the stripping of even the reduced financial return (although above average for the UK, it is still a net loss for Scotland, given Scotland’s much higher contribution to UK taxes per head, than the rest of the UK, save only for London and the SE) that Scotland currently receives, then that sets a really unpleasant tone for what comes after.

“What sort of disrespect would we be showing to English voters if we said it doesn’t matter if you didn’t vote for a Labour government – you’re getting one anyway? That would simply create a disjuncture between the governed and the governing, the reverse of and many times greater than the one we see in Scotland now.” (Tommy Sheppard, former assistant secretary-general of the Scottish Labour Party under Jack McConnell)