The Spirit of the 45 Rebellion: Continuing the Inclusiveness

Saturday was a very late start for me – the product of an inconveniently late Friday night until 4am, when I knew that I had (for one last time) to be at the Marchmont stall for 11 the following morning. Instead, I woke at half eleven, groaned, rolled out of bed, and was at the bus stop just after midday – but some bizarre bus delays (I choose to blame the Edinburgh trams…for no good reason) meant that all trace of the stall was gone by the time I reached the Meadows just before 1pm. It was disappointing to miss it (even before I heard about the quantity of cakes that had been on offer) as it was an opportunity for a last ‘thank you’ party for those who had helped at the Marchmont Stall over the year (and sometimes longer), with the table covered this time not with leaflets, badges and stickers, but instead with membership registration forms for the Scottish Socialist Party, the Green Party and the SNP.

This idea, to offer people the membership forms if they wanted to sustain their political engagement, had been conceived on Tuesday night at the mobbed meeting in the Argyll Bar cellar – and of course that was long before the true scale of the post-result membership expansion had become clear: all the Yes political parties had doubled in size. But we all know about gym memberships – you pay your membership fee and sign up, then feel morally vindicated that ‘you could’ participate if you got the time, but will probably not do so for several years. As much as many of these people had been non-party Yes activists like myself, is there not a danger that these new recruits are just padding?

Well, later in the afternoon on Saturday I went to the Newington Yes Shop, for (another) ‘thank you’ party. A variety of Yes activists (over 40 at any one time) crowding into the tiny shop for a last gathering. (Fortunately I arrived a little less late for that event – sandwiches, if not cakes, were consumed aplenty.) It was anything but a wake. There I talked with Sally and Alison of the Greens/English Scots for Yes, and asked how things had been going: they had had their regular Green Party meeting on the Thursday night, where they normally had about 35 people turning up. Instead, they had had to move to a larger venue…and even then there was not enough room for the more than 400 people that had come along. So these new party members (as someone said ‘it is unlikely that they believe in ‘No’ if they just joined the Greens) seem to have got past the first ‘gym membership’ stage: they have actually gone along and tried out the weights.

But the SNP’s gain in membership since the announcement of the result has, of course, eclipsed everything. On the day of the Referendum, they had 25,000 members – which meant that at that point they already had more members than all the Scottish political party memberships combined. But SINCE the result was announced, an additional 40,000+ members have pushed them over 69,000, making them larger than the whole UK-wide LibDem party membership – so the SNP is now the third largest UK political party.

There is a sense of agitation since the 19th September, a rising power, looking for a new direction and outlet – but will it find one in time, before it starts to dissipate? In addition to the two events on Saturday that I had known about, there had apparently been a further one, spontaneously organised through Twitter (damn it, I’m probably going to have to get on that last social media horse after all…): between 1 and 3pm a party of a couple of thousand had taken place outside Holyrood. As has become standard, a wag observed ‘The BBC – of course – were not in attendance.’ And part of that disillusionment is manifesting in the surge to consolidate the pro-Indy social media (including the wonderful Dateline Scotland – see them on YouTube) as permanent fixtures, with crowd-funding activities that no doubt bring a warm glow to the heart of Wings Over Scotland’s Stuart Campbell. asa variation on Jello Biafra, Don’t Bemoan the Media – OWN the Media.

The media are an important component in providing an environment within which the Yes attitude and philosophy can thrive – the only newspaper to come out for Yes, the Sunday Herald, has just this weekend reported that their sales are up 111% on last year, in sharp contrast to all other newsprint. (The historian Tom Nairn once said “Scotland will never be free until the last minister is strangled by the last copy of the Sunday Post.” – so it is perhaps unsurprising that this publication was one of only three – with the Scotsman and the Financial Times – that actually came out in open support of a No vote..and it is somewhat bitterly appropriate that this week it is celebrating a century in print.) So alternative media outlets are required to help sustain and grow that community – it would be hard to maintain a Yes perspective against the grinding day-to-day onslaught of BBC Scotland’s Winston Smith-type output. But within these media, there has to be a direction – short-term realisable objectives. Clearly, the Daily Record’s front page ‘Vow’ of the three Westminster leaders for ‘more powers’ for Scotland two days before the Referendum, fell apart within 24 hours of the result being declared, and there needs to be a regular holding to account for each date that fails on Gordon Brown’s ‘exciting timetable’. Also, there is a gearing up towards the Westminster general election…but that is almost 9 months away, and that is a long time to sustain people’s energy or anger at betrayal.

And there does seem to be some anger and disappointment – most particularly from No voters. There has been a surprising number of encounters with what are being referred to as ‘hangover Nos’ – they vote No then the next day they feel sick and realise with the victory that it was not the result that they wanted and that they have done the wrong thing (sometimes even before ‘The Vow’ started to come apart at the seams). Frustrating though that may be for those of us who wanted a Yes and therefore voted Yes (as opposed to No – there is a clue in there), we have to build something that includes them for the future. Going down the Referendum line, we need almost another 5% in order to win – and beginning with hangover Nos and incorporating them is a good place to start.

Back to Sally at the Newington Yes Shop: she is fingering her ‘45’ badge, saying she is not so comfortable with it – she had originally been very glad to have that badge of identity as being part of the 45%, but now feels that it was like a stage in grieving, and now it is time to move on. For one thing, she felt that the ‘45’ identity alienates those who did not vote Yes but want to be part of the future of the group that did. We agreed ‘45+’ might be much better (if less catchy and punchy), and maybe that was the way to go. It is a fair point – the branding of the post-Referendum Yes identity has to be done carefully, and as inclusively as possible. As I wrote before on an earlier post, some of the No voters (many of whom were taken in by the Daily Record) just don’t know they are Yes voters yet – and a taste of that post-1979 disillusionment will do them a world of good.

Towards the end of the party at the Newington Yes Shop, I was stunned to see a familiar figure on the far side of the room: my old friend (former Scottish History Professor at the University of Edinburgh) Owen Dudley Edwards. Back when I was president at the students’ union in Edinburgh, Owen and I had gone on anti poll tax demonstrations, where he had shared some of his personal stories about Gore Vidal and many others (see also my earlier Jim Sillars post for his perspective on possible routes to independence). To my great and pleasant surprise, he had apparently been regularly staffing the Newington Yes Shop, just as I had regularly been staffing the Marchmont stall (albeit in my case for only the last couple of months, during my 50 Days).

Suddenly, it all fell into place – Irene on the Marchmont stall had turned up one day wearing a ‘Scottish Academics for Yes’ design t-shirt, which I was very keen to acquire a copy of. The next day she came back from the Newington Shop bearing one for me, and said she had asked an academic there if it was Ok for her to wear such a t-shirt, as she was not an academic herself. The academic in question had replied that of course it was OK: just because one wore a Black Sabbath t-shirt, did not mean you were a member of the band. Suddenly, the wit of that academic’s response – even though we had not spoken for some twenty years – was recognisable as pure, unadulterated Owen.

I asked him about attacks on the Newington Yes Shop, and he told me of the ‘Nazi’ graffiti that had been sprayed upon it from its opening day. As we talked, and the wine flowed, there had been some intermittent flute music, prior to an acapella rendition of Hamish Henderson’s 1960 Writers Against Apartheid protest song ‘Freedom Come All Ye’ (which seems to be emerging as the post-Referendum Yes anthem, after its international tour de force by the South African soprano Pumeza Matshikiza at the Commonwealth Games Opening Ceremony a couple of months ago). After a lull, the music started up again with a piper, and Owen made to leave, but grabbed my forearm as I was turning away and pulled me close so that I could hear his words over the bagpipes: “I’m SO glad you’re involved in this.”

I was touched, and genuinely felt the same to hear that he had been involved so deeply in the campaign – but instead of reciprocating, I said only one thing as a farewell.

 

“Owen, I wouldn’t be anywhere else.”

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The Revolution will NOT be Televised: How BBC Scotland became McFox News

One of my favourite sessions in the Edinburgh Fringe’s ‘All Back to Bowie’s’ thread, was the one concerning the media in Scotland. Iain McWhirter and Peter Arnott with a representative from National Collective, and a provocation by former BBC Scotland and Good Morning Scotland anchorman Derek Bateman, all of whom rejected the idea of overt bias by the BBC, but bemoaned the top-down London-dominated mindset in BBC Scotland, and the way that the BBC received its agenda directly from the (again, London-dominated) press, especially at a time when 25% of its journalists (mainly from News and Current Affairs) had been axed from BBC Scotland over the preceding two years, contributing to a “cultural helplessness in our media”. Derek is a staunch defender of the BBC from accusations of ‘bias’, although he does blast its Head of News for not realising the political landscape had moved in both 2007 and 2011. So, at the same time as a majority of us had decided that we trusted Holyrood more than Westminster, BBC Scotland was still trying to decide whether it was “Strathclyde Region renewed, or a Mini-Me Westminster” (as Bateman put it),  regarding Holyrood as Billy Connolly’s ‘wee pretendy parliament’ – and thus already moving away from its audience.

I myself came to my slightly more cynical position a while back: it was probably around two years ago that I made the contentious comparison of the BBC in Scotland with Fox News.  I had just seen BBC Scotland’s determined presentation of the local council results, and noted the stark focus of the BBC in treating the Glasgow Council results as exceptions to their otherwise standard rule of assessing a gain in comparison to the previous council election.  This was in striking contrast to the coverage of the other channels. Glasgow, as you may recall, had a series of individuals that defected from Labour after being in post for some years, nearly wresting control away from the council’s Labour group.  The BBC decided that these positions were ‘Labour wins’ – despite the fact that Labour had those positions in the previous council, thus making them ‘Labour Holds’, as opposed to ‘wins’ from independents (with a small ‘i’).  The variance of this assessment was something that I found quite shocking, as it was not being extended to other council posts that had had by-elections – and had the effect of reducing the SNP’s tally of gains relative to Labour, on a night when the SNP won the popular vote in the council elections for the first time ever.

After such an inauspicious beginning, I started to look more critically at the BBC’s coverage, and started to see more and more similarities with a certain US TV station.  You see, for some time, I had followed the FaceBook page ‘We Survived Bush, You’ll Survive Obama’, and had picked up on a lot of techniques used to try and discredit an administration not favoured by a particular broadcaster.  You know the sort of thing – not just failing to report ‘good news’ stories, but also reporting everything in a negative context. So Obama drinking a Pepsi becomes an attack on Coca Cola, Obama getting caught in the rain becomes a squandering of water during a drought…that kind of thing.  I was surprised how easy it became to spot similar stories on BBC Scotland – even down to new figures showing that the jobless figures were dropping faster than the rest of the UK, when the story became uniquely not about that, but about zero hours contracts (as though they only happened in Scotland) instead.

So, yes – I confess that, around this time, I started to refer to BBC Scotland news as McFox News, similarly dedicated to traducing the government of the day, regardless of the news. In this regard, it is interesting to note that Freedom of Information requests to NHS Boards in Scotland had increased by almost 700% from Labour’s last year in power at Holyrood to the SNP taking power there in 2007. BBC Scotland’s Eleanor Bradford has been conspicuous in the reporting of stories attacking the NHS in Scotland, and the FoI requests increase would seem to suggest that the broadcaster was fishing for ‘bad news’ stories in an attempt to undermine confidence in both the Scottish Government run by an SNP administration and the Scottish health service.

I would have to admit that I have a little bit of experience in this realm, as I do a lot of work in China, a country where the control of broadcasting is so effective that for most citizens the Tiananmen Square massacre of June 1989 never actually happened. Of course, it is hard to make an argument comparing the Chinese state broadcaster (called – without a trace of irony – ‘CCTV’) to the BBC – but I confess that my illusions about good old ‘Auntie Beeb’ (as I was raised to understand it to be), started to fall away a couple of years ago. In this context, little things such as online comments being closed down on BBC Scotland political and economics stories on its website, yet being completely open on the BBC websites for England, Wales and Northern Ireland, started to take on a different complexion.

At this time, it became hard not to consider the accusation that far from being the arbiter of peace, harmony and democracy, the BBC was actually acting very much as a state broadcaster under much more obviously repressive regimes.  In this context, the explosion of television programmes with ‘Britain’ or ‘British’ in the title since the SNP majority government was elected in 2011, is quite startling. This list represents (not exhaustive – at the end of this piece) only those shown in the first months of 2014 – and it is interesting to reflect how many such programmes existed before 2011 – can you remember any of these being broadcast before then?

Of course it could be ENTIRELY coincidental, but the fact that most of them are subsequent (rather than in the run-up to) the London 2012 Olympics is perhaps revealing: one could, perhaps cynically, review them as a policy by the BBC designed to submerge Scottish (and other) identities within an aggressively-promoted ‘Brand Britain’. I did see one commentator opine that perhaps in the past the BBC had had a policy to avoid this sort of thing, in order not to push Scots and others into feeling alienated, and was now heavily overcompensating for this in a ‘mass rebranding’ exercise, as the BBC had realised that this strategy had not worked?

All of these are (comparatively) subtle ways of subliminally attempting to alter people’s identity perception – and would certainly tie in with more overt acts to suppress the Scottish identity in other aspects, e.g. Red Arrows at the Commonwealth Games Opening Ceremony being blocked from flying blue and white (as they have done before at Scottish events), the decision to host Armed Forces Day on the same weekend and in the same town as the 700th Bannockburn anniversary (unusual, as noted elsewhere, given that Armed Forces Day was last held in Scotland a mere 4 years ago). These are all trappings of the Age of Empire, which have been ramped up in the run-up to the Referendum, and some of which were evident during the Commonwealth Games (as I have noted elsewhere).

In this context, it is of little surprise that alternative podcasts such as Referendum TV (anchored by McWhirter and Riddoch, amongst others), Bateman Broadcasting (by Derek) or even DateLine Scotland have sprung up, to fill the empty niche of referendum-related broadcasting, and compensate for the dearth of programming from BBC Scotland at this critical time. So, yes – all of the above is why I was one of ‘those people’ demonstrating outside the BBC at Pacific Quay during the Commonwealth Games, and singing along to the wonderful Queen parody ‘BBC Blah Blah’ (check out ‘Yew Choob’ on YouTube).  At just over 1,200 people (we each had to take a unique number, in order to counter the BBC’s previous underreporting of our numbers), we were not a huge contingent – but we at least matched the numbers that turned up that same weekend to the free Armed Forces Day event in Stirling.

I would close with a line akin to ‘BBC Scotland ignores this trend at its peril’, but by this stage, I think that BBC Scotland frankly understands too little to care – as it perhaps always has, ever since devolution.

 

 “Don’t bemoan the media. Be the media.” (Jello Biafra)

List of BBC TV programmes in the first half of 2014 with either the words ‘Britain’ or ‘British’ in the title:

The Great British Year

Britain’s Empty Homes

The Great British Bake-Off

Harrow: A Very British School (Sky 1)
Martin Clunes: Islands of Britain
Full Throttle: The Glory Days of British Motorbikes
Great British Railway Journeys
Up All Night: Britain on Call
Britain’s Funniest Comedy Characters
Fool Britannia
Britain’s Secret Treasures
Britain and the Sea
Fake Britain
Britain’s Secret Terror Force: A Panorama Special
A History of Britain in Numbers
A Great British Christmas with Sarah Beeney (CH4)
Shipwrecks: Britain’s Sunken History (
BBC4)
Young, British and Broke: The Truth about Payday Loans
Keeping Britain Safe 24/7
Reel History of Britain
Nigel Slater’s Great British Biscuit
Great British Garden Revival
Heston’s Great British Food (CH4)
Great British Sewing Bee Christmas Special (
BBC2)
Britain’s Killer Storms (CH4)
Britain’s Favourite Xmas Songs (CH5)
Pothole Britain – Drivers Beware! (CH5)
Battlefield Britain (
BBC4)
UK’s Best Body (The Active Channel, Sky 281)
The Year Britain Froze (More4)
The Year Britain Flooded (More4)
Sex, Lies, and a Very British Scapegoat (ITV)
Brit Cops: War on Crime
Brit Cops: Law & Disorder
Brit Cops: Rapid Response
Brit Cops: Frontline Crime
Boozed Up Brits Abroad (Sky Living)
Great British Ghosts (Drama)
The Ladybird Books Story: How Britain Got The Reading Bug (
BBC4)
Legends: Roy Orbison – The ‘Big O’ in Britain (
BBC4)
Britain’s Hardest (Challenge)
JFK: The Final Visit to Britain (
BBC2)
Britain’s Favourite Christmas Songs (CH5 )
Britain’s Craziest Xmas Lights (CH5)
The British Invasion: Herman’s Hermits (Sky Arts 1)
Sacred Wonders of Britain (
BBC2)
Britain’s Got Talent (ITV)
A Very British Murder with Lucy Worsley (
BBC4)
The Hidden World of Britain’s Immigrants (
BBC2)
Battered Britain: Storms, Tides and Floods
Fred Dibnah’s Made in Britain
Ade in Britain (STV)
Britain’s Great War (
BBC1)
Gibraltar: Britain in the Sun (CH5)
ACI: Britain’s Worst Crash (National Geographic)
Hidden Histories: Britain’s Oldest Family Businesses
Britain’s Best Bakery (STV)
Benefits Britain: The Bedroom Tax (CH4)
The Boats That Built Britain (
BBC4)
Kidnapped; Betrayed by Britain? – Panorama (
BBC1)
Britain’s Bronze Age Mummies: A Time Team Special (CH4)
Hungry Britain – Panorama (
BBC1)
I Never Knew That About Britain (STV)
Permission Impossible: Britain’s Planners (
BBC2)
Pop Charts Britannia: 60 Years of the Top 10 (
BBC4)
Britain on Film (
BBC4)
The Nature of Britain (
BBC2)
The British (Sky Atlantic)
A Very British Renaissance (
BBC2)
Border Country: The Story of Britain’s Lost Middleland (
BBC2)
Rule Britannia! Music, Mischief and Morals in the 18th Century (
BBC4)
British Touring Car Championship Live (
BBC4)
Jet! When
Britain Ruled the Skies (BBC4)
Great British Menu (
BBC2)
The Battle for
Britain’s Breakfast (BBC2)

SmartMouth, and the Politicisation of the ‘Friendly Games’

I confess that, entering 2014, I had five main fears about negative actions that I could see happening that would jeopardise a ‘yes’ vote happening. The first was what the Labour Party’s ‘devomax’ offer might be – if they had put something robust forward, they could really have compromised the Yes voters who were more naturally DevoMax supporters. As it turned out, the proposals (dubbed ‘DevoNano’ to reflect their boldness, or lack thereof) threatened nothing of the sort – indeed, they allowed the Conservative Party to bizarrely occupy the territory of being the Party of Devolution, simply because their proposals added Air Passenger Duty to their mix and thus seemed to be presenting a far better offer (regardless of how unlikely it actually is to come to pass).

Then, there was a series of British events that had the potential to be hijacked to aggressively promote an ‘Empire’ narrative, and wrench people’s view of their own identity back towards some dated mythical post-war dream: Armed Forces Day was one – being held yet again in Scotland (twice in the last 4 years), and booked by Stirling Council so as to be in direct conflict with the Bannockburn 700 year commemoration event over the 28th/29th June weekend. Again, this does not seem to have manifested, with photograph-derived head-counts indicating a maximum of 1,200 attending the AFD free event (the same as attended the BBC bias protest outside Pacific Quay that same weekend), in comparison with three sold-out 3,000 each reenactments which demonstrates that a minimum of 9,000 were present on the day for the sold-out ticketed Bannockburn Live event. The third British event on my radar was the Great War commemorations (again, oddly launched in Scotland), which do not seem to have had any great effect either way.

But the fourth was the potential hijacking of the Commonwealth Games as a somehow ‘British’ rather than Scottish event. It didn’t start well – outside the opening ceremony, the ‘No’ campaign’s standard double-sided Union/saltire hand flags were being handed out (despite the fact that no Union flags were supposed to be flying, as it was not a competing nation), and saltires with the word ‘Yes’ were being removed and their carriers ejected. The opening ceremony itself featured the presence (in a slightly cringeworthy image from the seventies of Scotland) of some noted ‘No’ supporters, in the form of the remarkable product placement for Tunnock’s teacakes, and John Barrowman. I did wonder if maybe Karen Dunbar had also come out for ‘No’, given her presence, but the presence in a poster of one of her characters next to a Better Together flier with her scent-related catchphrase has reassured me somewhat on that matter.

By the end of the Games, it seemed that – if any – then ‘Yes’ had probably seen the more positive upswing from the event. Comments on the way that Scottish athletes were supported in their training by ‘Team GB’ fell apart under analysis that showed how many Scots had to leave Scotland in order to access adequate training facilities. But that did not stop some from trying to portray the Games as a series of crushing ‘blows to Salmond’ (or ‘blowjobs’, as Ian McWhirter describes them) – well, one commentator in particular. Ian Smart (named without a trace of irony) is a former Law Society president, and regular Labour pundit on the BBC. His tweets are entering popular culture as a benchmark for vileness, and the prism with which he views the world seems congruent with the Labour Party’s sudden oft-repeated ‘problems with foreigners’. Thus he was keen to present the applauding of competitors from England as a sign of ‘British before Scottish’ identity, rather than Scots being more than happy to support friends and neighbours; his previous tweets referring to ‘poles and pakis’ as inevitable victims in some imagined future independent Scotland were sadly concurrent with his narrative of how impressive it was that Scots were cheering ‘black lassies from England’. Rather than acknowledging that this is part of the face of modern Scotland’s civic nationalism, he insists that this behaviour can only indicate a subsumation of the Scottish identity into that Greater British one – not realizing that his singling out of ‘poles’ and ‘pakis’ in those specific terms says more about his own fundamental personal endemic racism, than the people that he is commenting on. In his desperation to attack his mortal enemy (that’ll probably be the First Minister, I’m guessing), he fails to realise that he is the racist. Like the hero of Richard Matheson’s novel ‘I am Legend’, he utterly fails to recognise that he has become the monster that he thinks he is protecting others from. (For more on Ian Smart’s rants, see his brother’s blog- http://www.citizensmart.net/blog/ma-brother-ian-smart-time-to-act-johann )

UKIP came 4th in the Euro elections in Scotland, narrowly stealing a seat from both the SNP and the Greens, and much was made of it supposedly indicating that Scotland was ‘just as intolerant’ as the rest of the UK. It is, however, worth remembering that in the 2009 European elections, UKIP got 16.5% of the vote in the UK as a whole, and 5.2% in Scotland – a gap of 11.3%. In this year’s election the tallies were 27.5% in the UK and 10.5% in Scotland – a gap of 17%. With less than 3.5% of the total Scottish electorate voting for them (and let’s face it that as a core protest vote, UKIP voters would be highly incentivised to turn out for that European vote, so there probably were not many stay-at-homes for UKIP that day), the political gap as far as UKIP is concerned between Scotland and the rest of the UK increased by around 50%. In the context of UKIP in Scotland, it is hard to know where they go from here: they had blanket BBC coverage, four times that given to the sitting party in government in Scotland (despite having only got 5.2% of the vote at the previous election), and only managed to obtain 10.5% of the votes cast. In this context, should we perhaps be more surprised that it was only a mere 3.5% of the electorate that were influenced to vote for them?

I’ll say again, UKIP came 4th in the Euro elections in Scotland, in stark contrast to their first place ranking south of the border, and they came 4th for a reason. And it is unlikely that that reason was because the people in Scotland saw themselves as ‘more British than Scottish’. It is more likely that people in Scotland simply saw themselves as less xenophobic than voting UKIP required.

Oh, and what was my fifth fear for 2014? Oh, fraudulent postal voting to steal a ‘No’. I have no idea how much this might be an urban myth, in terms of Glenrothes 2008 or others, but the idea of how easy it genuinely appears to be to obtain postal votes (and the ghosts of last year’s Grangemouth scandal loom, in terms of people being signed up without their knowledge for absentee ballots) does still concern me…in fact I think it may be the only way that a ‘No’ vote can now win.

 

“Voting Yes doesn’t make you a …nationalist, it makes you a democrat.” (Colin Fox, Scottish Socialist Party)