Scotland’s opposition parties are chronically unable to raise their intellectual capacity above click-bait politics. In that they are well supported by Scotland’s pitiful right-wing press. As far as both are concerned, Scotland must remain ‘owned’ and therefore kept politically immature, so they reduce everything to schoolboy chants and jeering.
We have an elected administration that proposes joint solutions between political parties to Scotland’s ills and an opposition that treats invitations to work together as a ball to be batted as far away as possible, preferably to Westminster.
If the press was neutral and fair-minded it would exhort opposition parties to stop playing silly buggers, and join forces with the elected administration. They won’t, of course, because anything that makes Scotland a better place puts another nail in the coffin of a mortally disunited United Kingdom.
Mark Twain said that “it is by the goodness of God that in our country we have those three unspeakably precious things: freedom of speech, freedom of conscience, and the prudence never to practice either of them.” That maxim sums up pretty well Scotland’s right-wing newspapers, with the exception of the small-circulation National, the only one to support self-governance without caveat.
The price of integrity
Our journalists argue they are only doing their job. But whose job is it they are doing? Scotland’s press speaks on behalf of Westminster orthodoxy, invariably conformist, authoritarian, and neo-liberal. The owners of our newspapers thrive on that disastrous – for us – ideology, therefore we should not be surprised that they expect their editors to do all they can to protect their interests.
Subordination to the prevailing orthodoxy has consequences. It means you turn a blind eye to injustice. The press condones brutal changes in Britain’s “over-stressed” welfare system. Meanwhile, people are committing suicide, the basis of their support withdrawn.
It is hard to find the press demanding to know why the government extols the efficacy of privatisation of the English NHS when the partly-privatised NHS in England and Wales is in such a bad state. Scotland’s NHS is in a far better state, but the press won’t draw attention to it in case it is seen praising the SNP. Instead, it publishes Tory and Labour press releases full of phony wailing and gnashing of teeth for a phantom SNHS ‘crisis’.
Scotland’s profound lack of political choice is dismissed as “grievance politics”. Powers requested are blocked by Westminster parties and nary a newspaper expresses anger.
The list of errors and omissions increases
We are expected to be happy buying goods and produce with a Union Jack plastered on it though grown or made in Scotland. How do newspapers manage to contrive ‘holding to account’ triumphs like the Queensferry Crossing bridge? Yet they did manage to sour its successful completion by employing the most trite carping.
The Sunday Herald is proud of its journalism. For example, it professes to be pro-independence yet always seems uncomfortable supporting it. It condemned the Iraq war. This is odd. The press advocates we should only fight smart wars that are successful invasions even when it is plain they are international crimes. But if the invasion is a disaster, such as Iraq, feel free to criticise it.
Examples of the press indulging in mind control are too numerous to list here.
Demonizing the innocent
Another familiar aspect of subordination to fashionable orthodoxy is the casual demonization of official enemies. The SNP, the only party fighting Scotland’s corner, is vilified as a matter of course. It is Public Enemy Number One.
Attack is undertaken in subtle ways. We are told it isn’t safe to have Nicola Sturgeon so popular, held in high regard by the electorate as trustworthy. The press contends the more popular she is, the worse will be the policies she implements. It matters not a jot to the press her party has been elected by huge majorities to follow its manifesto as far as it can, and that includes organising a second referendum should England drag Scotland out of the European Union.
In spite of all their claims to the contrary, the Scottish press do not hold to account Westminster’s unacceptable interventionism in Scotland’s affairs, but they are quick to belittle SNP’s attempts to halt that interference, or alleviate excessive policies unwanted by the people of Scotland.
Blowing in the wind
The answer is glaringly obvious: Scotland should keep all it earns to implement and fund its own policies. You won’t see a newspaper columnist or editor suggest that, or cry foul when the UK Treasury reduces Scotland’s grant. A wealthy Scotland is a dangerous Scotland.
We see how trivial our press can be when it picks up a third-rate politician’s protest over the alleged lampooning of one of their cheerleading press hacks in a party political broadcast, and plasters it over their front pages. The great cartoonist Hogarth, the grandfather of political satire, would enjoy a belly laugh at their antics.
Parody can only affect a journalist’s perception of their self-esteem, not the freedom of the press. But that’s how Scotland’s right-wing press pack will argue anything that appears to question their judgement – any attack on staff is an attack on press freedom.
A free press
A free press is an independent press. Scotland’s press is not independent.
That alone shackles how it can respond to rights and wrongs. A truly independent press isn’t subordinate to power and authority. And that includes the JK Rowlings of this world and BBC Scotland’s flaky news department, filled with ex-Scottish newspaper journalists and governed by BBC London.
BBC Scotland news bases much of its output on what the press of the day thinks is important, following up broadcasts by inviting the same press hacks with the same limited vision to comment on what the press is reporting that day, a neat family circle.
Commentators who think the BBC is a hotbed of radicals and anarchists need their heads examined for any sign of intelligence.
The press’s media
The BBC was shaped by a Scotsman on the make, John Reith, later Lord Reith, a man desperately keen to be invited to Churchill’s Tory cabinet. Like Gordon Brown a son of the manse, Reith found it difficult to relate to people. Churchill didn’t trust him. He never offered him high office.
Reith moulded the BBC in his own image, authoritarian and pro-establishment. It remains that way with only a shake up of its moral ethics in these last years. Please be advised: BBC Scotland pays homage to British orthodoxy daily.
Higher standards or die
If the Scottish press and its broadcasting outlets BBC and STV had any real integrity, any scruples beyond keeping an eye on their contracts and salaries and advertisers happy they would jettison Westminster orthodoxy to the seas.
If Scotland’s press want to help create a free and democratic society it better begin participating now before their newspapers collapse for lack of readers, held in contempt, supplanted by the Internet. Time and our tolerance are fast running out.
NOTE This is a companion piece to ‘The Shame of the Press’: https://wp.me/p4fd9j-dC