We Need to Talk About Kevin

By Mike Small

It’s a piece so loaded with self-loathing, barely recognised inferiorism and desperate desperate political emptiness it’s hard to approach, but we really do need to talk about Kevin. It’s the latest in a now familiar style of English journalism, albeit this time by a Scot.

It’s difficult to know how to respond to Kevin McKenna’s weekend piece of writing in the Observer ‘If We Buy Taransay We Can Save the Union’ (Sun June 5 2011). It’s certainly a nadir for the Observer / Guardian newspaper and a departure into a form of Uncle Tom journalism for the writer.

Commenting on the voices of some of England’s so called liberal commentators Gerry Hassan has noted that ‘There is amongst some a tangible anger about Scotland’. There is indeed. The last few weeks has seen a deluge of inanity and absurdity (Scottish Labour’s Bay City Rollers homage here has got to be amongst the absurdity bundle) with Hugh Henry and Eddie Barnes complaining of an elected dictatorship. As Chomsky would have it – there’s nothing politicians hate more than democracy.

Without wanting to require reader to have to download a guide to semiotics, it’s worth deconstructing Kevin’s latest ‘polemic’. The article starts with a premise and a hook but one or two paragraphs in he loses the plot and just descends into a form of freeform unionist havering. You have to seriously wonder about the quality control in the Gruniad and whether any editor cast an eye over this article.

In the first paragraph he wonders why the new SNP government didn’t adopt the policies of the defeated Labour Party before rubbishing the idea of tackling sectarianism, the legal dispute that is raging in the UK and efforts to reform and make use of digital media (all of which are ‘absurd’ we are told). Then McKenna complains bitterly: “…we are being asked to get accustomed to the prospect of five years in the most unaccountable parliament in the western hemisphere. In a very small chamber of 129 MSPs, 69 belong to the SNP. Of the other three main parties, two are effectively leaderless and will be for some time and the other – the Lib Dems – has chosen a leader of whose existence many members were unaware last month. “This does seem a troubling prospect but it’s one that appears to be the inevitable result of the electoral process. I’m not sure what alternative is being put forward but at least at this point we are still in the safe hands of a former editor of the Daily Mail in Scotland.  A tabloid hack, no doubt, but still a vaguely coherent one.

Poor Kevin is about to go off the rails. “Nor is there even an awkward squad in the SNP who occasionally may make life difficult for Alex Salmond. Instead, every single one of them thinks that the first minister walks on water and has the power to heal sick children.”

Just before the election the Scotsman (rather hopefully) splashed across the front page a piece about Chris Harvie MSP, and just after a piece about Pat Kane, and Scotland on Sunday never ceases in trotting out Jim Sillars as a sort of wrecking ball. All are  (for completely different reasons) outspoken, highly critical thinkers prominent in the nationalist movement. Awkward squad you say? One thing this nation ISN’T short of is awkward squad.

Next McKenna just disappears off in an unfunny and unthinking rant about Taransay that, if exposed to a shrink would fill a dossier on the things Kevin hates about himself and his country (in no particular order): the highlands, progressive politics, immigrants, ecologists, democracy, you name it he hates it. As someone commented: “Yet another laughable article which, if written by anyone who wasn’t Scottish, would rightly be considered racist.”

Or, as another put it: “Could this be the worst article ever published on CiF?” I think it could, not because I disagree with it but because it is so utterly thoughtless unfunny and slightly deranged. Still, if this and the tragi-comic Labour Hame are the best the organised opposition can do then all is good in the world.

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46 replies

  1. Give them enough rope and see the Union hang.

  2. My goodness, let’s hear it for free speech. This is a new low. Is no one to be permitted to criticise the SNP, Salmond or have a different view on independence other than a pro-independence view?

    Please note, I voted SNP, but I’m alarmed by the tone of this article. Trashing other journalists for simply not agreeing with your own political views is unprofessional and it is in my view also sinister. Apart from that the article involved here was a tongue in cheek piece which I, as a person who voted SNP, actually found hilarious. I think, frankly, that Salmond, if he read it, probably chuckled too.

    The abuse hurled at McKenna on that thread by certain nationalists was quite disgusting. These are not the sort of people who will win friends for the SNP in the days and months to come. That is not a good thing. For heaven’s sake chill out and go and find your sense of humour. Ask Salmond, he possesses one.

    You guys are always on about the “freedom of the press”. It seems some sections aren’t keen on that these days? Worrying times indeed. If you are a journalist Mr Small you are a disgrace to your profession and to the principle of free speech.

  3. It’s difficult to know how to react to the McKenna piece, which left me, well, speechless to be honest. The embodiment of the Scottish cringe in a few hundred words of “we’re not worthy-ness”. However McKenna’s meltdown has arguably been eclipsed by the launch of Labour Hame, a kilted version of Labour List, complete with tartan trim. It has its place, since Labour List was devoid of any meaningful content during the run up to the recent election, but surely Scotland deserves something better than a retread that looks like a 1970s Broons annual?

  4. I’m flabbergasted, and embarrassed for him: what a terrible and desperate piece of journalism.

  5. “Still, if this and the tragi-comic Labour Hame are the best the organised opposition can do then all is good in the world. ”

    Think of it from another angle. If the best pro-independence and pro-SNP publications like BC can do is publish vicious articles like this attacking fellow journalists for merely daring to hold a different view I’d say we’re in big trouble too. Please, please think of the message you’re sending out. What hope for free speech in an independent Scotland if, even during the debate we aren’t going to allow anyone to have a different view?

    • Jo, it’s not for having a different view. It’s for vapidity, bitterness and knee-jerk reactionary hack-writing. There are many brilliant, intellectual, considered writers who oppose the SNP on some or many points, but some guy from the Mail is not one of them.

      • No, its for having a different view. I do not agree with Kevin McKenna’s views sometimes. But I have also seen articles he has written complimenting Salmond for his leadership qualities. Indeed, I believe I read one where he said there was no one to touch Salmond in the UK politically . If we are democrats then we should uphold the right of free speech. We cannot pick and choose. We either support free speech or we don’t. I do not doubt this article will be picked up in the mainstream media and used against the SNP, despite the fact that the SNP has never operated like this.

      • Jo, where is anyone denying Mr. McKenna’s right to his opinion? Where is anybody trying to deny him his right to write about it? His right to freedom is the same as our right to criticise. Nobody’s hacked the Grauniad to delete the article. We’re not sending him abusive emails or attacking him, or sending him bullets in the post.

        Criticism is an important part of debate, and debate is ill served of people just write up their opinions in isolation.

    • Fair enough, but the point is that this isn’t an article attacking a fellow journalist for holding a different view, it’s an article attacking a fellow journalist for being no’ very good. But I’m sure Mike Small is more than capable of defending his motives in writing the piece above.

      In the meantime, any rational supporter of either side surely must want a better quality of debate from the Unionist camp.

      • I think Mike Small’s motives are clear. I doubt Alex Salmond or the average, decent, SNP supporter will approve of them. This is not the way to go. It will backfire bigtime.

  6. The McKenna piece is painful to view, like watching someone having a nervous breakdown.

    As for LabourHame, my first thoughts were, jings, crivvens, help ma boab, The Broons have gone into politics, so this is what a throwback to the 1950s looks like on the interweb thingy.

    My second thought was: is LabourHame destined to be the unloved spinster of the Scottish blogosphere? – by the looks of things, more po-faced Norah Batty than free-spirited Jean Brodie.

    Never mind your deconstructionist fancy footwork and that semiotics malarkey, shouldn’t we apply some reverse psychology here? Think of the old Bob Monkhouse joke: when I was a child I told people I wanted to be a comedian. Everybody laughed. They’re not laughing now.

  7. read the article.only question i need ask is where he heard the word gubbed?

  8. McKenna has long been the primary Anglo exponent of the Scottish cringe. He seems to have replaced hapless Euan Ferguson as the GMG’s Jock houseboy.
    There seems to be an inverse braindrain with Scottish journos. Can’t think of a decent one working in London right now. Very well: leave them to it. There’s work for us to do up here.
    re: Labour Hame… this bit of shortbread tin tartanry is too funny! If Scottish Labour keeps self-torpedoing like this, it’s looking good for real cultural renewal in Scotland.

    • And that is your opinion Luke and no doubt it will be fine with Mr Small. That’s because you are on the same side as him so you can say what you like. You will note that in your comment you made some negative comments about McKenna but that will be ok with Mr Small because McKenna is a “Unionist” so anything goes. But McKenna expressing his own views is not acceptable. See the irony here? You should, because ultimately it will sail out into the mainstream media and damage the SNP!

  9. Another question: I’m hearing this “self-loathing” phrase being uttered more and more by nationalists. Is that the strategy then? To say to anyone who isn’t in favour of independence that they hate themselves, they hate Scotland? Is that it? How insulting is that? Please get some new catch phrases: the “self-loathing” one is grossly offensive and has no place in a mature debate about our future. If BC people think labelling Scots who aren’t sure yet or who don’t want independence “self-loathers” then I think you are the people who have lost the plot and I think the good work done in the last four years will all have been for nothing. You have a responsibility to behave responsibly. How’s that for a new catch-phrase?

    Some of you need to get a grip. Salmond did not win a second term with such a strategy. He connected with Scots as Scots and took it from there. He dropped the labels obsession. I really think this article on BC today will do great damage. It was utterly reckless to publish it.

    • No, not everybody who opposes independence is a self-loather. Some, however, seem to exemplify this, McKenna to the point of parody. I don’t think anyone would accuse Iain MacWhirter or Tom Devine of self-loathing, but then they don’t write the same awful, cringing drivel that McKenna does.

      • You have failed to justify the use of the phrase “self-loathing” towards someone who simply doesn’t share our views on independence. It is an offensive phrase and one which is completely inappropriate.

      • I’m waiting on a definition of “self-loather” in relation to a person who isn’t in favour of independence? Why would we have the right to level such a charge at anyone? Explain.

  10. Bella Caledonia urges us to “support the alternative press in Scotland”. Let’s consider that proposition. We might agree that the mainstream media is supportive of the Union and is biased. We, rightly, say that is wrong. If Bella Caledonia’s answer is to apply the same principle in reverse I say that is no answer at all. If Salmond and the SNP can cope by addressing Scots as Scots and get their point across without employing labels such as “Unionist”, why can’t Bella Caledonia? Are their journalists not clever enough? This piece today risks not just upsetting “unionists”: it also offends decent SNP supporters who want a mature debate. I think Salmond wants that too.

  11. “An Duine Gruamach says:
    June 6, 2011 at 10:29 pm
    Jo, where is anyone denying Mr. McKenna’s right to his opinion? Where is anybody trying to deny him his right to write about it? His right to freedom is the same as our right to criticise. Nobody’s hacked the Grauniad to delete the article. We’re not sending him abusive emails or attacking him, or sending him bullets in the post.”

    This entire article denies McKenna his right to an opinion. It has publicly trashed him as a journalist. It has crossed a line. Sadly, when the MSM pick up on the attack it is the SNP who will pay the price not the irresponsible people who edit Bella Caledonia! Because what they have done they did without SNP approval. This is their strategy, not the SNP’s. And that makes me very angry.

  12. Mike Small quotes a comment from the thread leading from McKenna’s article:

    “Could this be the worst article ever published on CiF”

    I would ask, is Mike Small’s article the worst ever on Bella Caledonia? And will the fallout from the move to attack, in very personal terms, certain journalists backfire on the SNP? And if it does, will those who edit Bella Caledonia apologise for their recklessness and take full responsibility for the consequences?

    • Get a grip Jo. MacKenna has written an unfunny and offensive article in a well-respected and ‘liberal’ national newspaper – his denigration of well-overdue attempts to rid Scotland of its sectarian shame is shameful. Mike Small has published his response in a political blog. There’s no comparison. No-one’s right to freedom of speech is being infringed.

      If you’re so outraged, then do your own blog to support him. In fact, you virtually have given your number of replies here.

      Apart from his cheap jibe at anti-sectarian efforts (would he say the same of anti-Semitism or anti-racist legislation?), I think that if this is the level of Unionist ‘argument’ then let it be heard. We saw what happened to the equally negative Labour Party in Scotland last month.

      Like I said, give ‘em enough rope.

  13. Jo, have you heard of Spew’s Law? It’s an interweb thing where the quantity of posts made by an individual is in inverse proportion to the support they receive.

    Incidentally, if McKenna chooses to write such provocative nonsense he does so because he WANTS to provoke a reaction. In this case he succeeded. Now people are talking about Kevin. Mission accomplished. So what’s the problem?

    KW

    • I’m very sorry. I wasn’t aware I had to post here in accordance with an agreed script or that I was required to stop posting if no one agreed with me. You really should make that clear to people before they post. Clearly my views are not welcome even if I vote SNP and feel deeply uncomfortable with this particular article and with this sort of approach. Among my views I at least have space for that old (much loved in the media once upon a time) principle “I may not agree with you but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

      Regardless of what people of other political persuasions are saying by indulging in character assassination of fellow journalists yourself I believe that your publication loses dignity and perhaps even credibility. BC isn’t a cheap Comments thread where, sadly, anything goes in some places, it is a professional publication and so I expect higher standards. I will repeat, I do not think such conduct will be welcomed by the SNP as a Party. They rose above what you call “provocation” and just got on with it and stuck to the job in hand. Salmond knows people look for reactions but he rarely indulges them. I think that’s the dignified way and the proper way. It is also effective.

      Again I’m so sorry if the number of replies I have posted here is unacceptable. As I said earlier I had no idea about these rules on only continuing to post if people agree with you.

      Tocasaid…….this was not about “supporting” McKenna. I expressed disappointment that BC has chosen to go such a route. I thought it was cheap, unprofessional and dangerous. I remain of that view. I was urging caution. If I’m not allowed to say that here, even as an SNP supporter myself, I will withdraw. No need to start my own blog simply because I very often post more than once on some subjects: on the blogs where I post people often post frequently on various issues. Its actually quite common.

      Vronsky, thanks for your contribution too. There are many Scottish journalists who are scathing of the SNP period. What should we do? Take them one at a time and devote an article to each of them where we trash them? Why not just ignore them and produce a more interesting and worthwhile debate instead about something that actually matters? Why not rise above it? I think its bizarre that you feel better for having had a go at me when we both clearly vote for the same Party and when all I have done is suggest the dignfied route is the most effective way and that using vile phrases like “self-loather” towards a person who doesn’t agree with us (yet) isn’t the best way to win him around? Sorry, I’m asking questions when there is no point if I’ve not to post because a majority here don’t agree with me.

      One request to all : I have said I will withdraw so please don’t start trashing me after I’ve left you all in peace. That would be really very unfair indeed.

  14. Where have you been? This sort of writing about Scotland has been McKenna’s principle stock in trade for years now. It sells very well south of the border, being precisely what many of them acually believe, epecially around the Guardian and Observer. Think about that for a moment – what seems to us a spluttering fantasy is the received wisdom in polite circles in London. Scary. Awkard for them to say it, though – racism an’ that – so it has to come from a Scot.

    Thanks to Jo G for getting the dust off my scroll wheel.

  15. There’ll be no apology Jo – there’s absolutely nothing to apologise for. We publish a mixture of polemic, opinion, news, features, interviews and longer essays. This article is fair comment about a piece in a ‘national’ newspaper – one of a recent series – which forms part of a backlash against the democratic result of our election.

    Mr McKenna is entitled to his views – and to express them in poorly written artciles whenever he likes, as I’m sure he will. Bella Caledonia has invited and commissioned articles by writers across the political spectrum and from many political parties in the past and will continue to do so.

    The use of self-loathing is entirely appropriate and is part of a wider phenomena in which you internalise shame of your own culture, people, history and prospects. It’s not new.

    Bella favours laying out positive ideas for the future but occasionally we will take on high profile journalists penning abusive material and respond against it.

    • I simply must reply to that.

      I didn’t ask for an apology.

      The use of the phrase “self-loathing” in the run up to a referendum on independence, to describe those who either haven’t made up their minds yet or who don’t agree with us will cost the SNP yes votes. Bigtime. It is a vile phrase. I believe many in the SNP would agree with that view. Salmond did not win another term using phrases like that: he won it by addressing Scots as Scots and addressing the Scottish people in their many shapes and forms. I will leave you all in peace now.

      • Jo – your comments are welcome here as all critical voices are. We are not seeking consensus.

  16. McKenna is the journalist who thinks that “numerology” is a synonym for “the numbers”…and that drinking Buckfast is funny as I recall….I’ve never understood how he gets a gig at The Guardian every week…there are plenty of pro-Union writers out there, but McKenna is a pretty bad under any criteria…

    His weekly mission at CIF seems to be to provoke, and I guess that is because he has nothing interesting to say about Scotland. There is so much interesting writing about Scotland these days, it’s a real shame that The Guardian turn to McKenna. Certainly, there are plenty of pro-Unionist writers who write better and engage with the debate, which is their duty as members of the fourth estate given the way Scotland is voting. And that’s the thing about McKenna. His contempt is such that he refuses even to seriously address what is going on in Scotland. He is glib to the point of being mildly offesive.

    I imagine Kevin is a big hit at metropolitan dinner parties, him and the Scottish cringe he carries about with him wherever he goes…another Scottish stooge in London, and nothing more.

  17. Jo Greenhorn,

    I have come late to this thread, having only just read through it. I am astonished that you think fair comment on an opinion piece in the Guardian would have the slightest impact on anything much. Or that it is somehow wrong. One of the main points about blogs is to democratise opinion and not simply accept what opinion formers try to impose. Or did you miss that bit?

    You have certainly got your dander up. Could you explain to me why Kevin McKenna’s Comment is Free piece should not be criticized? Yours is a fascinating new idea for web self censorship.

  18. As a dedicated reader of the Observer I have to say I was disgusted but not surprised with McKenna’s piece. It was however consistent with most of the embarrassing garbage that he writes. This was so bad I am actually considering stopping purchasing the paper – adding to decisions I have already made some time ago about The Scotsman and Scotland on Sunday. I had expected more from the Observer and have tended to make allowances for their using McKenna. It illustrates how even they are unable to write about Scotland in a balanced fashion.
    As someone who has spent nearly forty years in England often trying to correct inappropriate perceptions of Scotland it is journalists ( or cringe merchants) of his ilk who do us most damage. Well done Bella Caledonia. Keep up the good work as we have little MSM left who are capable of dealing with Scotland. Whether their vitriol will do the ’cause’ of independence good or ill articles of this sort will cetainly do nothing for Scottish/Anglo relations!

  19. Not sure about the use of the term “English” journalism (even on a scot) presumbaly as a substitute for something like rubbish, ill-informed, desperate etc. It takes the debate down the wrong road, is “Scottish” journalism good journalism? I read the article and was just left bemused, don’t sweat it and focus on the positive arguements that matter

    • Simply meant English journalism as media published in an English-based paper.

      Believe me ‘Scottish’ journalism is often rank rotten as well!

      As for ‘focus on the positive arguements that matter’, that seems like good advice…

  20. Dearie me, a phrase I often use when commenting on Mr McKenna’s articles.

    Why is Mr McKenna thought of and actually ridiculed. This is the man who extolled Iain Gray’s virtues, particularly the one of not running from a fight. We saw how that one turned out. Having had his side comprehensively rejected by the Scottish electorate, how does he comport himself?

    “This is what Scots really want, Mr Salmond”

    Other articles inlude
    “The SNP mustn’t waste time on Seperatism”

    The ever hilarious
    “Scottish critics shouldn’t write off George Galloway”

    and the less than insightful, or accurate

    “Is there any difference between Labour and the Nats”

    Every week he serves up a very silly article. When he puts up inanity, then he deserves ridicule for it.

    The Guardian/Observer put up many articles promoting a Labour POV on Scots politics, better than the “never heard of Scotland attitude of the Independent I suppose”. They are biased but allow us the opportunity to call them on it. As an example of the ridiculous position the Guardian has got it in I would ask you to look at this map of the seats post the 2011 election

    http://www.snpdoonhamers.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/05/scotland-political-map.png

    You see all those yellow SNP bits? Right. In the version the Guardian printed, all those yellow bits were printed blue, a slightly less than Tory blue, but blue nonetheless.

    You have posted many times, saying that SNP people are being too vociferous. With such a poor representation of our POV in the press I am sorry, we are entitled.

  21. The SNP do think Salmond walks on water.

    He does. Why do I say that? I say that because he lives in a hard, scrutinising school, the school of SNP supporters. He lives or dies (metaphorically speaking) on the results he obtains.

    Should he be below par, he’ll be replaced. I say this, knowing he isn’t; It’s true all the same. He’s the best there is; better than the Westies; better than the Scottish Brit nats; better than all his opponents.

    He took the SNP up from the lowest of lows (really, really low) to the professional Scottish powerhouse it is today.

    Should we lose the referendum then the SNP becomes but a political party and no longer a movement.

    Salmond knows this.

    At least the SNP is a smart party, smart in a way the Brit nats wish they were and the Westies haven’t been since… you decide.

    I hope we win.

  22. While I am quite happy wth the concept of “Unionist self-loathers” – y’know, walks like a duck, quacks like a duck – I have some sympathy for Jo G’s point, albeit it didn’t need all that repetition. Yes, Mr McKenna is wrong, and in a strange psychological place, but we should be fairly relaxed about it, and relaxed about the Guardian/Observer publishing this kind of thing. What we should not be relaxed about is the fact that this appears to be the only kind of thing the Guardian/Observer publishes about Scotland, which contributes to our nearest neighbours’ condition of ludicrous ignorance and prejudice. As such it does no-one any good at all.

  23. “With such a poor representation of our POV in the press I am sorry, we are entitled.”

    I agree. This is why websites such as Bella Caledonia are so important. I’m disturbed by the MSM’s attitude to Scotland – not just in England but in Scotland (which is even worse). I expected a backlash but not the sheer venom and false reporting from supposedly left-leaning, progressive media outlets – which is how The Guardian portrays itself.

  24. From something I wrote on the subject of “elected dictatorship” -

    The idea that Scotland would reject one oppressive government and replace it with another is laughable. And, even if Henry’s most paranoid fear came true, so what? Dictatorship of the proletariat is no dictatorship at all. In actuality, there’s another word for it: democracy.

    And what evidence does he offer for the impending Scottish totalitarian state? That he thinks Alex Salmond got to talk too much in parliament.

    The rest: http://dogobarrygraham.blogspot.com/2011/06/labour-party-fears-scottish-democracy.html

  25. Incidentally, I’m not sure Kevin McKenna’s stuff is in the print editions furth of Scotland

  26. Steve,
    I suspect you are right. Pages in the Observer that are inserts for Scotland tend to have SCO in the top left hand corner. Our hero appears to be simply winding us up.

  27. Per Mr. McKenna and a minority of the posts on this thread

    “Comment is always free. Thought is a rare commodity.”

  28. The Gaurdian is running a piece today about why the Daily Record deserves to go down the tubes. According to the author Trinity Mirror are running the DR as a charitable institution (missing the reality that the DR remains, for some reason, highly profitable) and the cuts are a ‘sensible’ action by Trinity Mirror leaving the DR as the Mirror (Manchester variant) with occasional Scottish bits.

    That is the London view.

    Now, personally, I would not use the Daily Retard to wipe my dog’s butt. Its unthinking loyalty to Labour in Scotland and the unsubstantiated rubbish it has printed as political fact, rather than a Labour press release, I do see a need for a paper, actually produced in Scotland that puts up some sort of opposition to Murdoch’s ‘Scottish Sun’.

    As for self loathing; Carol Craig points out in ‘Scotland – a Crisis of Confidence’ that the Scottish sense of self loathing is a function of 300 years of being treated as a defacto ‘colony’ of Westminster which journalists like McKenna are only too happy to tap into.

  29. McKenna has become a parody of himself.
    Cavorting around like some Scotch Fool with 3 bells on his hat for the amusement of his sniggering Guardian audience makes him quite pathetic really.
    They are laughing AT you Kevin, we all are, with the exception of the reference to immigration which was quite sinister and deeply worrying.

Trackbacks

  1. Postcolonial Melancholia, or English Anger |
  2. Kevin McKenna: I wrote a piece on Scottish independence and hit ‘send’. Then the floodgates opened | My Media Guru
  3. Kevin McKenna: I wrote a piece on Scottish independence and hit 'send'. Then the floodgates opened | Latest News ChannelLatest News Channel

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