Movement politics v professional politics

Over 1000 people protest at BBC news bias

Over 1000 people protest at BBC news bias

by Alistair Davidson

On Sunday, over a thousand ordinary citizens demonstrated outside BBC Scotland against its perceived bias when reporting on the Scottish independence referendum. There can be no doubt that this is a major rupture in Scottish political life – the BBC has until recently been very well-regarded by most Scots, but has been plunged into crisis by contradictions between its role as British state broadcaster and the need to be neutral, and to be seen as neutral, in the referendum.

There has been extensive discussion on Twitter about the effectiveness or otherwise of the demonstration. Some leading Yes campaigners have come out against it, saying that it interrupted their planned PR schedule, and that time would be better spent knocking doors. Some journalists have expressed concern about facing this kind of pressure, and pointed out that no professional PR person would recommend such an action, which after all could alienate any allies at the BBC, and could be seen as an expression of weakness by the campaign.

These views, while superficially correct, are a huge mistake likely caused by inexperience. The larger part of the demonstrators, to be sure, lack experience of professional politics – but Yes HQ and Scottish journalists lack experience of movement politics. Professional politics are a neat affair, not always polite, but high-pressure, based on personal relationships and unwritten rules. Professional politics in Scotland is conditioned by private schools and University debating societies. It is conducted in committee rooms and over working lunches more often than in public meetings or democratic bodies.

Movement politics is very different. It too structures itself around individual relationships, but its tools are the mass meeting, the mass demonstration, and its own unorthodox, unauthorised press. Where professional politicians seeks to maintain relationships between power-brokers even in the face of short-term tensions, movements of ordinary citizens have to rely on demonstrating their power through sheer numbers and raw political pressure. Ordinary citizens have neither the wealth nor the connections to create change in any other way.

Perhaps the politicians, spin doctors and journalists think the referendum should be as staid and lifeless as our election campaigns have become. Perhaps they worry what will be said about them at gatherings of their social equals, or fear burning bridges that they will need intact after the vote. Large, loosely coordinated movements don’t worry about that. They are propelled forward by the passion of their members.

A mass movement cannot be managed as though it were a disciplined political party. The referendum has galvanised untold thousands into taking political action. Both of my parents have become political activists for the first time in their lives. Recently I met a man, a recovering addict in Possil, who had not voted since the Poll Tax but was highly informed and relishing September’s vote. The thousands of new activists have different expectations to the professionals and the committee-sitters. They don’t see themselves as representatives of the Official Yes Campaign ™, they see themselves as citizens. They feel that the BBC has betrayed its duty to them as citizens to provide neutral coverage, and they are going to express that sense of betrayal no matter what the PR handbooks say.

Yes HQ made a serious mistake in not hiring any community organisers. An organiser’s job is to put themselves at the service of a movement (the professional jargon calls organisers “staff” and ordinary movement members “leaders”), to develop and maintain relationships with people who take on leading roles, and to encourage new activists to become involved in leadership and planning. This kind of organic connection to a movement helps to smooth over clashes with the careful plans of the political strategists. That it would also pose a direct threat to the easy stranglehold of Committee Scotland on political power in this country scares some on both side of the referendum divide.

It is very important that the Yes movement maintains a strong and united front, even in the face of apparent provocations from our own side. Only united campaigns win. Those arguing on Twitter from both points of view should consider that fact very carefully indeed.

People in senior positions should be especially aware of the need for unity, as they carry special responsibilities. Nobody paid by the Yes campaign, or elevated to senior position by dint of reputation and audience, should attack any other part of the Yes movement. When senior people or official organisations distance themselves from other parts of the Yes movement, it looks weaker than any demonstration ever could, and only invites further attacks.

It would be a genuinely great thing to school the broad Yes movement in professional-level political strategy, but there is little time left, and with no professional organisers employed there is in any event no-one who could do the job.

Senior and prominent Yes campaigners are just going to have to get used to being at the head of a movement, and not in charge of a party. That means standing by your people, even when they go a bit off-message.

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46 replies

  1. What I can’t understand is why Scots continue to pay the licence fee. A mass binning of the box would soon bring them to their senses.

    • It would simply result in headlines like ‘Nationalists Encourage Criminal Campaign’ – with only the word ‘campaign’ being the truth.
      I cancelled my license DD months ago, but if I’d done that as the result of a ‘call to arms’ then the media would have simply used that to demonise us even more.
      As I keep saying, they still control information for over a million people in Scotland, and they are people who vote.

      Let’s be honest, the media has managed to convince millions that YesScotland and every other pro-independence group is controlled by the SNP, and that all-powerful super villain Alex Salmond controls ….. everything.

      We might be passionate, committed, and genuine in our pursuit of a genuinely democratic and inclusive Scotland – but Better Together has employed the services of high-powered and effective spin doctors who have a supportive media at their fingertips.

      We need to do more, and I suggest (again) that every time an SNP politician sees a microphone the first thing they say is ‘the SNP is NOT Yes Scotland ….’, and then inform whoever is listening what Yes Scotland, RiC, LfI, BfS, SSP, and all the others actually are.
      The media refuses to even mention Yes Scotland and the wider movement, and that’s deliberate.

      SNP politicians take note – we get a Yes result first – and THEN we talk about party policy !!

      • Adam – I’m not sure I agree. You can easily have a grassroots campaign regarding the licence fee without accusations that you are encouraging criminal behaviour. Such a campaign could be along the lines – ‘boycott the BBC by giving up your TV’. I haven’t paid a licence fee for about 10 years and have no intention of ever giving money to the BBC again until it is the SBC.
        There is only one way to seriously bring the BBC to its senses and that is through a mass boycott and that can easily be within the law. If you don’t have a TV – you don’t have to pay a licence fee.

      • I wouldn’t worry about how or why the No campaign will demonise us as they will demonise us whether they have a genuine cause to or not. Best to be condemned for something you did do rather than something you didn’t.
        Don’t allow the tail of the No campaign to wag the dog of the Yes campaign simply because they can shout louder across the media. The No campaign are failing badly to connect at ground level and its there not the media where the real battle is for the yes campaign. It is on the ground where we shout the loudest.

  2. In complete agreement with this.

  3. I don’t see that a demonstration of this kind is ‘off-message’. The BBC’s routine bias on almost all important matters (documented by the Glasgow Media Group in their “Bad News from Israel”, for example) should have been subjected to this kind of protest a long time ago, since its executives simply brush off or ignore complaints. We should find the numbers of demonstrators impressive – another sign of large numbers of people waking up to the reality of the incestuous and dangerous relationship between politics, media, banking and finance, and big business. I’m heartened by this protest.

  4. Couldnt agree more. The Yes movement is not the same as the official Yes campaign.
    It is the Yes movement who are doing all the REAL work on a daily basis and who are actually working, and when we win, it will be despite the straightjacket which the official campaign sometimes like to fit us in to. (they know my views!)
    Bella, Wings etc are doing a fantastic job, so keep up the good work!
    We ARE going to win.

  5. The media is driving the ‘No’ campaign, and we just have to look at how the media covered Sunday’s protest.
    The Herald – now central to the Better Together campaign – had Magnus Gardham parroting the BBC’s ‘350’ estimate, but most of his article consisted of quotes from unionist politicians like Jim Murphy, with Murphy as usual ranting about ‘nationalists’.
    On Sunday evening children who attended the protest were likened to ‘the Hitler Youth’ by a Scottish Labour Westminster candidate – yet I can’t find a single MSM outlet reporting that shocker.
    Instead we have even more ‘outrage’ from the Herald relating to ‘cybernat abuse’ from people like Rory Bremner.
    Another story about the ‘abuse’ of Professor Tomkins during a Holyrood Committee hearing, with Tomkins being invited to give evidence to Ian Davidson’s SAC (no mention of the abuse Davidson and his pitbulls have thrown at pro-Yes supporters appearing before HIS committee of course).
    The lead story is the ‘shocker’ of the latest YouGov poll showing support for Yes ‘falling away’ with the usual quotes from John Curtice (but still no reference to his appointment as a ‘Fellow’ advising the Westminster-funded IFS ‘Scotland and UK’ project – 7 Fellows in total, costing £1.4 million).

    No media outlet has challenged the outrageous figure of 35,000 at the Armed Forces day event in Stirling either.

    And of course, those ordinary men and women who were at Pacific Quay are being labelled ‘bullies’ who are challenging the freedom of the press.

    The media controls information, and there are a million or more people in Scotland who DON’T use the internet – they get their information from TV, radio, and newspapers – all entities that support the union.

    I don’t know how we counter this Orwellian situation that is quickly pushing genuine democracy into the black hole of history.

    • We counter the misinformation by using the truth provided in this and other blogs to help convince UNDs on the doorstep and in the street.

  6. Great blog post! I tried to express something similar on Arc of Prosperity last night (http://bellacaledonia.org.uk/2014/07/01/movement-politics-v-professional-politics/), but your point about the lack of community organisers if very important, and I hadn’t thought of that.

  7. Looking at the article I can understand why it was felt to be a distraction. But when I went along on Sunday I wasn’t there as a Yes supporter or a voter, I just went as me, annoyed that I get lied to by BBC News which I used to have at least SOME respect for. Despite their wishy washy reporting of Sunday they are aware that we’re onto them and for every one person who turned out on Sunday, there’s at least another five who feel the same.

    • Gary

      “there’s at least another five who feel the same.”

      I think you mean five hundred.Don’t meet many who think the media isn’t biased.

  8. The active democratic participation of ordinary people in this movement is critical. Ultimately this in itself will make Scotland a better place to live. Our political leaders must not try to contain or harness the movement and ordinary citizens must reject any attempts to do so. Of course it is messy and in some respects vulnerable. It is the proper function of those who have the experience and know how to deal with the political system to use their skills to defend the right of the people to protest and to be heard. That is democracy.

  9. yes agree with all the contributors and a important message in the post about unity that little stamp your feet bit involving wings should have never seen the light of day wings are day any daily a source of information there is no where else this doesn’t include bella ha ha to find most of the stuff uncovered and rather attacking them the official campaign should be well and truly behind them and to do it in public dear dear big no no doing that! lets hope all concerned have learned from that little lets call it a hiccup episode and not be diverted from the job in hand argue after our main aim is accomplished anything else is just a side show for the dark side to jump on assisted by our friends in the media just a thought

  10. “Perhaps the politicians, spin doctors and journalists think the referendum should be as staid and lifeless as our election campaigns have become. Perhaps they worry what will be said about them at gatherings of their social equals, or fear burning bridges that they will need intact after the vote.”

    They worry because their power to influence people has waned. No-one listens to them any longer. As soon as their misinformation is public knowledge it is attacked on social media and the Inet.

    And I wholeheartedly agree that no-one at the head of the YES campaign(s) should be condescending to any other YES supporters, no matter what their personal feelings are. We all support in our own way. Disunited we will lose.

    And re the BBC demo. Very odd (and comforting) that for the first time shortly after the demo, the BBC actually acknowledged there was one. Cause and effect?

  11. The BBC, The Scotsman and to a lesser degree The (Monday to Saturday) Herald, are showing definite pro-Unionist bias; not certainly as obvious (or ill-informed) as the Mail, Telegraph and Times, but, still bias.

    Just this morning I picked-up three red cards in short order from The Herald. Apparently it is ok for a prominent, English-based No supporter to call Alex Slamond all sorts of names, while proudly publicising the fact that he, the NO supporter, is an Officer of the most excellent Order of the British Empire.

    But, I am not allowed to refer to him as OBE-Wan – even though he’s the only wan, regularly on the referendum threads, who glories in being OBE.

    But, then, I am a self-confessed Yes voter.

    • Does that arrogant OBE live in Woking, Surrey, by any chance? If it’s the bloke I’m thinking of, he’s a right eejit (and extremely unpleasant), if his posts I’ve seen are anything to go by.

  12. I’m glad the Yes campaign didn’t hire organisers and leaders.

  13. I think the movement now has a life of it’s own. It is like a flock of starlings moving together (each starling being a local YES group). Somehow people from very different social and political backgrounds are working towards a common aim – a fairer Scotland.

    However the flock is not going to “go away” on the 19th. September. This is a new movement which will continue to monitor and demand change (regardless of the referendum outcome).

    Any political party who thinks it will all go back to party politics is mistaken. A sleeping population has awakened. The blogs I share with Greens / Scottish Socialists / RIC / “Real Labour” / SNP etc will remain. We now know that we have much more in common than the cosy political compromises that existed before.

    The greedy will no longer control the “Pressure Groups”. The people will exert the pressure and it will not be driven by profit.

    100 years ago this movement would have been called the Labour Party – a pity that one didn’t last.

    • I just hope you folks in Scotland vote to leave the Divided Kingdom, and the activities of the pro-independence movement in Scotland inspires something similar here in England, something that benefits the people, all the people, rather than the arrogant, complacent political class.

  14. The people taking power and making the decisions absolutely terrifies those “in charge”. Not because we’ll be worse at it, but because their lives end up upside down.

    Consider the links between politicians, spin doctors, media, and access to power and information. Now consider the people not working to that agenda and deciding for themselves what is important and finding out that many others share their opinion. What does that do to the citadels of power that people already occupy? Where is the career path for a party appartchik if politics and the media start working differently?

    A Yes vote has the potential for the entire country to discard an entirely distrusted political system, and its links with and to the media. You think there isn’t going to be resistance from those that system currently works for?

    Final thought is that you can’t on one hand say “look at our fabulous grassroots campaign” then shout about those same people “being off message” when addressing something important to them. The official Yes campaign has in my opinion been almost entirely reactive, defensive, and frankly insipid. It’s the grassroots campaign which has produced by far the better campaign. It’s been the grassroots campaign doing fact checking and getting it out quick enough that the Shocking Naw scaremongering can’t entirely take root. It’s been the grassroots delivering a vision of Scotland which is different to what we have and makes people want to vote for that.

    No-one is getting back in their box after the referendum regardless of the result in my opinion. The politicians and the media who haven’t realised that yet are going to find that out very quickly, and if they don’t they’re rapidly going to be out of a job.

    • Politicians losing their tickets for the gravy train, and having to go out and get real jobs? Can’t allow that, can we?

  15. My main concerns with any of the YES campaigners is the aftermath of a NO vote.
    I am a commited YES voter and most of my frustrations are about the way ALL THE MAINSTREAM MEDIA seem to allow negative news to dominate the agenda.
    I get angry when i hear politicians on the no side purposely make misleading statements,designed to create fear amongst the mainly elderly labour supporters.
    What happens after a no vote when the people of scotland find out that they have been lied to?
    The BBC can say that their hands were tied,the papers can say they backed a no vote,there are no repercussions for them,perhaps maybe their readership may fall but little else.
    However polititians depend on our votes,and there is an election after the referendum,to which they must all face us again.
    I have heard it said that labour will win,others have said leave things as they are,and some dont like the SNP
    The YES side have to work even harder than they need to disputing falsehoods that are carried by the media.
    but my original point was what happens after a no vote,a fire has been started,,a fuse has been lit.
    a feeling amongst everyone i talk to about hope about the future,these people have never before had an interest in politics or the way our country was governed. Can you imagine the disillusionment they will feel and what actions they will take if they think that lies were told just for peoples self interests ?
    Which ever way the vote goes,scotland will be split,and a warning should go out to these politicians,BE CAREFULL ABOUT WHICH GROUPS YOU ALLOW TO JOIN YOUR CAMPAIGN.
    Religeous bigotry is well known in scotland,all religeous groups should be banned from backing any side.
    I know that the winner is 50% +1 but have they thought about 51v49% ? this arguement will never go away until we have independence,all the parties know this.
    Vote yes an let the people of scotland not only govern themselves,but direct the way our country moves in the future.

  16. Reblogged this on Are We Really Better Together? and commented:
    “People in senior positions should be especially aware of the need for unity, as they carry special responsibilities. Nobody paid by the Yes campaign, or elevated to senior position by dint of reputation and audience, should attack any other part of the Yes movement. When senior people or official organisations distance themselves from other parts of the Yes movement, it looks weaker than any demonstration ever could, and only invites further attacks.

    It would be a genuinely great thing to school the broad Yes movement in professional-level political strategy, but there is little time left, and with no professional organisers employed there is in any event no-one who could do the job.

    Senior and prominent Yes campaigners are just going to have to get used to being at the head of a movement, and not in charge of a party. That means standing by your people, even when they go a bit off-message.”

    Here, here.

    • No it would not be a great thing to be schooled in professional politics.
      Look at them!

      Just look at them. Listen to them. They send you to sleep faster than the most droning boring lecturer that ever walked this earth.

      You want to be like them? On you go.

      I’d rather sleep on a brillo pad for a year.

  17. Hi All
    For my own reasons I don’t watch TV and every couple of years I get grief about not having a licence……..it’s that time again!
    However, I have noted a hardened line this month………I need to let someone into my flat to assure them etc
    Has there been a revised view re Scotland in view of recent concerns about BBC Scotland?
    Has anyone who has stopped paying recently because of bias getting heavy pressure?

    • I recently cancelled my licence. Over the last few years I have watched less and less broadcast tv so it hasn’t been difficult to give up completely. If I do want to watch something I can use one of the channels catch-up services.

      I haven’t yet had anyone at my door to check I don’t watch broadcast tv so I don’t know what they will ask or what I can do to prove my “innocence”. I have a TV connected to an xbox and a DVD player and a computer with a broadband connection. So just like 99% percent of the population I have the technology to watch broadcast television (on my TV or computer) – but I don’t.

      I certainly won’t be letting anyone into my flat. As far as I am aware they have no legal right to enter your home – they are probably employees of a private company that has been paid by the BBC to carry out the check.

    • I recently cancelled my licence. Over the last few years I have watched less and less broadcast tv so it hasn’t been difficult to give up completely. If I do want to watch something I can use one of the channels catch-up services.

      I haven’t yet had anyone at my door to check I don’t watch broadcast tv so I don’t know what they will ask or what I can do to prove my “innocence”. I have a TV connected to an xbox and a DVD player and a computer with a broadband connection. So just like 99% percent of the population I have the technology to watch broadcast television (on my TV or computer) – but I don’t.

      I certainly won’t be letting anyone into my flat. As far as I am aware they have no legal right to enter your home – they are probably employees of a private company that has been paid by the BBC to carry out the check.

  18. there are too many harbouring ingenuous notions about the nature of the BritState’s official broadcaster. being fair to us “subversives” is not in the remit.

  19. I had those same “what’s this actually going to achieve? Wouldn’t it be more effective to go canvassing instead? Isn’t it a bit late in the day to protest against BBC bias?” thoughts ahead of the previous demo, but the numbers turning up changed my mind. The turnout for the latest one looked quite incredible – 350 folk my arse.

    But even before I changed my mind, the idea of telling folk off for doing something in case it gave the MSM/No campaign ammunition against us would have been unthinkable. It’s the same tired excuse people use to try and turn fellow campaigners they don’t agree with into “persona non grata”. The same unthinking reasoning that ignores the fact that an opponent like the UK establishment will ALWAYS find something to use against you. And perhaps most importantly, if we’re serious about this being about bringing power back to the people of Scotland, then how can people gathering to harness the power of numbers to protest something they see as being fundamentally wrong be a bad thing?

    The reactions of non-BBC journos was most telling.

    • I agree totally with what you say, Doug. Do you think this may be the difference between those involved in political parties, and those who have come to the movement and been enthused by the ideal of self-directed groups and individuals using their own time and money to do what is important to them?

  20. Great article, personally I thought it was about time people stood up to the bias, I don’t think it’ll make a fig of a difference unfortunately, the now desperate need to deflect from what is happening with lies and distortions are just a reflection of what has gone before. One conversation at a time , if we all convert just one no voter we win !

  21. Whatever the BBC, the msm and the British political parties do is self-defeating. All they understand is how to be authoritarian and dishonest in what they do – that is how they have achieved and maintained their positions up to now. When we speak out and expose their behaviour it is evidence of their failure to maintain control. Their smears reflect who they are. Keep protesting and treat any response other than a positive one with the contempt is deserves. At the same time let us all accept that the formal side of the campaign may have to operate differently. They have done a brilliant job in setting up this opportunity for Scotland and I have no doubt they will deal with their job in the best possible way right up to the eighteenth.

  22. Political power, it was once said, comes from the barrel of a gun. A rather bleak assessment. However, any worthwhile democratic or social change has not come by ticking a box. Might we now be in the process of learning what European citizens and others have learnt by ways much harder than ours that systems that do not listen, that lie to their citizens, that manipulate news and contrive to deceive in order to maintain a particular clique in power cannot be “overthrown” by conventionally civilised means. Those who seek a changed Scotland may have no other recourse but to fight for it by bringing the case directly into the streets. The British state has no intention of going quietly into history, as a people neither ought we.

  23. The Yes campaign did start with Community Directors – that was Stan Blackley’s role, I think?

    In fact, the Yes campaign has grown in the way it was envisaged – a mass grassroots campaign. However, empowered people don’t obey orders in the way “Party” members do.

    It has afforded me considerable amusement to read dismayed tweets from unionist party hacks that indy campaigners continue to support and share, for instance, Wings Over Scotland articles, when “told” not to by Yes Scotland – as if there really was a Cybernat Control!

    Similarly, on Sunday, David Leask was tweeting that the BBC demo was wrong because if was off-message (I can’t remember his words). The implication was that we should be listening to our political masters.

    Both show that they don’t realise – we don’t have political masters! We are ourselves, and we don’t follow orders, we act for what we believe in, and we won’t settle for being told what to do!

    It’s time to take back politics. We won’t be going back into our boxes after 18th September – any future Scottish government will have a battle on its hands if it decides to try to force us to!

    Also, I wouldn’t dream of telling any other Yes campaigners what is, or is not, a good use of their time. I was surprised that some chose to do so on Sunday.

    • I agree ANNEDON,this referendum has stimulated our population into a national debate and there’s no going back whatever the result in September.
      the genie is well and truly out of the bottle,and i see this discourse across Scotland as an important asset to an Independent Scotland.

  24. I am also glad that the Yes campaign has not spent its money on community organisers etc. I don’t really understand that point in the context of talking about a movement rather than a party.

    Yes has put money into materials and left the campaign to self-organise. I think that was the right approach given the timescale.It is hugely beneficial that we don’t have to pay for stuff and they seem to have got the ordering system sorted out now. I am quite happy with the level of support that is being provided.

    I agree that no-one should attack other Yes activists. Equally I think people should be allowed to say if they think something is a waste of time. I think protesting at the BBC is a waste if time. They won’t listen and it’s not going to make anyone decide to vote Yes. So personally I agree with those who say that the 2k people who were there might have been better off leafleting the whole of Glasgow. That is just my opinion, it is not any more important or valid than anyone else’s and if people prefer to demonstrate at the BBC there is nothing wrong with that, it’s their choice. We all do our bit in our own way.

    Re the whole Wings controversy, Wings is not and never has been a part of the official Yes campaign. For obvious reasons. If you think about it that is not a bad thing. If you bring everyone under the official banner then they have to behave officially. That would be the end of Wings as many Yes people love it, and other Yes people hate it. There are divided opinions on it obviously but we’re not having a referendum on Wings over Scotland after all.

  25. Why don’t you organise a mass canvass after the next protest?

    Get in touch with the local Yes groups and RIC groups for canvassing materials and utilise the numbers there to good effect?

  26. “I think protesting at the BBC is a waste if time. ”

    Not at all, it’s about our morale, boosting determination, not feeling alone, the sad fact that it’s not likely to change the bbc is almost secondary.

    • I’m finding it more morale boosting to see how many people are going to Yes.

      The polls really are missing what’s going on. It’s happening.

      Just my opinion.

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