The Constitution by Media

There  are certain rules. Davina is the Queen of Big Brother (RIP). Simon Cowell is the King of X-Factor and Graham Norton searches for Dorothy. The latest tv tradition we have established instantly is not decided  by parliament, or the BBC, is that a massive influence on a UK General Election will be chosen by media moguls and spin doctors.

I’d sue if I were Plaid / SNP. They may yet. Though the question remains why they let this be broadcast at all? Presumably the issue of being billed as ‘censors’ was judged to outweigh the benefits. Wrong call I think.

This is the equivalent of the hanging chads that lost Gore the election in Florida. You can’t really disagree with  Iain Macwhirter who writes in todays Sunday Herald:

“I still cannot understand how, under Britain’s strict election rules, the broadcasters were able to transmit this debate in Scotland without the governing party of Scotland being represented. But they have done so, and that is that. The SNP may well lose the 2011 Scottish elections as a result.”

“Nick Clegg may have won but the Scottish people certainly lost”. So says Jeff Breslin and few would doubt it this side of the Tyne. See also How to Rig an Election for a view from Cornwall.

The stark cleft nature of the bizarre debate format has awoken even the most somnolent commentator, prompting Vernon Bogdanor to write:

“Who governs Britain? That is the question being put to the voters on May 6. But two other questions lurk uneasily in the background. The first is: how is Britain to be governed? The second is: will there remain a Britain to be governed, or will the election give a further push to the forces of Scottish separatism?”

You’ll note the routinely pejorative use of ‘separatist’ as if to determine your own affairs would cast you adrift in the Icelandic ash hopelessly lost to the world bar for the global thread of that renowned font of internationalism, England.

Over at the Guardian Timothy Garton-Ash was waking up too: “Most people in England have not fully woken up to this (devolution)  yet, but they – we – are waking.” Well wakey wakey. But obviously not fully awake yet. He continued:

“The other mould-breaker was revealed not by any of the three would-be PMs, but by ITV’s rather twitchy moderator, Alastair Stewart. As the discussion turned from health to crime to education, he kept reminding viewers that Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland had their own policies in these areas – and would have their own separate debates. In other words, half of what matters most to most voters has been devolved.”

No, in other words what was being broadcast was irrelevant to the people of three nations involved, that wasn’t made clear at all.

Over at Left Foot Forward, they do little better stating:  “For the first time, the general election could result in different parties, each with competing visions, leading each government in Belfast, Cardiff, Edinburgh and Westminster.” Then outlining the manifestos of the three, except Plaid and the SNP. Second, if your going to refer to Calman, refer also to the fact that having cobbled it together none of the unionist parties can agree on what, when or if to implement it. This is crucial to know.

Let’s be very clear about this as everyone gets very excited about the fact that Nick Clegg can string a sentence together. This was a debate stitched up by the three Unionist parties and the TV corporations. Having been plucked from obscurity (Lib Dems track at 12% in Scotland and came 5th in countless constituencies votes in 2007) he has been anointed by the political establishment, and in this golden opportunity, he shone. Of course much of it was pure deception. Its easy to look radical next to the Labour and Tory dinosaurs, and the Lib Dem policy on Trident isn’t to abolish them, it’s to reduce them, a bit. It’s moral equivocation on a par with Travis Bickle going out with ONE of his handguns under the pillow.

It’s difficult to tell how much impact this will have in Scotland. To those aware of the issues and intricacies it will likely have confirmed and hardened views. It will have toughened up the SNP vote with feelings of resentment at exclusion confirmed, and maybe even some stragglers appalled at the way the devolved issues were referred to and sidelined. Issue after issue came up which were clearly devolved and the programme rolled on with a cursory and confusing reference from the chair. On health someone Tweeted: “Incredible that Brown doesn’t mention Scotland as being in vanguard of personal care. Is he ashamed?”

For many though it will just be downright confusing. One young friend, a first time voter commented on his Facebook: “I’ve looked at the manifestos of the three parties and I’m still not sure how to vote.”

What constituency is this first time voter in? Glasgow East, currently held by the SNP.

To that extent this is a victory for the unionist parties. Job done. But many may more have been shocked by how this was essentially an media event for an election for and about England, England as Britain?

Comments (5)

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  1. DougtheDug says:

    Mike:
    “Though the question remains why they let this be broadcast at all? Presumably the issue of being billed as ‘censors’ was judged to outweigh the benefits. Wrong call I think.”

    I still can’t work out what the SNP strategy is. I fully expected them to stop the broadcasts in Scotland through the courts but nothing’s happened.

    I hope to hell there is a strategy behind the reason not to interdict the broadcasts because the damage caused by allowing the debates to continue has been immense. The SNP have simply fallen off the media radar altogether and what Clegg has proved is that simple media exposure and parity of treatment can add about 10% onto a party’s share of the vote. In the light of that result falling into a media black hole is not a good strategy.

    The only strategies left are:

    1. Interdict the BBC’s final debate if the SNP don’t get on which will start a media firestorm and huge SNP exposure near the end of the campaign.

    2. Take the broadcasters to court over the partial treatment of the SNP which will boost the SNP for 2011.

    If the SNP strategy is simply to grin and bear it as an innocent aggrieved party in hope of a sympathy vote I think it’s a very stupid strategy and as you put it a very, “wrong call”.

    1. bellacaledonia says:

      Doug I’m assuming its Option 2, though if there’s anyone froom the SNP out there who would like to comment we’d be interested to hear. We will hear either way in the next two weeks, but as you say, that’s too late.

  2. Doug Daniel says:

    The media have thus far successfully made the SNP look like a spoilt child crying “it’s not fair!” when they’ve been told they can’t do something the big kids are getting to do. They really need to hammer home the point that this is not about them as a party, but about how Scotland as a whole is being treated as an insignificance to this election.

    By rights, the whole of Scotland should be up in arms about how the issues that matter to us are being completely ignored, and return 59 SNP MPs in protest to say “how’s this for insignificant?” – imagine the third force in UK politics being a party deemed too insignificant to share a platform with the other three leaders.

    Regardless of the outcome of this election, this needs to be used as more evidence in the case for independence. It’s completely logical: if these issues can’t be debated during a Westminster election, then they need to be devolved to the Scottish parliament where they can be dealt with. If nothing else, this whole debacle has highlighted how the current set up just doesn’t work – devolve everything, or devolve nothing. Give us no say over our own affairs, or give us complete say. Give the Scottish people that choice, and I think we’d be pleasantly surprised by their answer.

  3. 2Mac says:

    There is an alternative. Let the Unionist parties jump on the BBC Platform. Let the Scottish voters feel left out as they do not hear about issues that affect them. Let them view the unionist leaders as the ineffectual muppets they are.

    Then bring on Big Eck like a tornado through the Scottish Leaders Debate wiping the floor with the unionists.

    Leaving all those undecided voters who are the important ones to place their vote with the SNP.

  4. Pingback: #scotlandspeaks «

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