Bad News

One of the most dispiriting aspects of the debate surrounding Scotland’s constitutional future has been the relentless, grinding superficiality with which the London-based media have covered it. The failure (or refusal) of many UK broadcasters and print journalists to address the question of Scottish secession in any real depth has become all the more stark since David Cameron’s ill-judged attempt to ‘seize back the initiative’ earlier this week.

Take, for instance, last night’s Channel Four News. In a report about how British assets and liabilities would be divided in the event Scotland became an independent country, economics editor Faisal Islam suggested it was unreasonable for the SNP to expect to take 90 per cent of the oil from the North Sea yet only 8.4 per cent of the UK’s total debt. Jon Snow pursued this line of argument in a subsequent interview with First Minister. But it is a complete dead-end. The protocols governing the ownership of natural sea-bed resources are clear and internationally recognised: states control a 200-mile exclusive territorial zone running out from their coast lines and the resources contained therein. The question of debt following the break-up of multinational states is equally unambiguous: it is distributed according to population or GDP. Any other formula would provoke endless – possibly irresolvable – disputes.

Much of the explanation for this kind of sloppy coverage – which is entirely typical, despite Channel Four being one of Britain’s most enlightened media outlets – lies in the fact that London journalists are only just waking up to the very real challenge Scottish nationalism poses to the UK’s unitary political structure. In Scotland, largely as a result of efforts made by the Scottish left, various theoretical accounts of the emergence of the nationalist movement have developed. Some view it as a response to the gradual deterioration of the institutions which make-up the British state. Others, like Neal Ascherson, interpret it as an attempt to preserve what remains of Britain’s post-war social democratic settlement. Yet, substantive analyses like these have escaped the notice of the Westminster press corps, which, in recent years at least, has been utterly focussed on Labour and the Tories’ inch-by-inch battle for the centre-ground.

This is as true for England’s left-leaning commentators as it is for its conservative ones. Although no doubt broadly sympathetic to the SNP’s soft social democratic agenda, writers like The Independent’s Johann Hari, Liberal Conspiracy’s Sunny Hundal and ‘Chavs’ author Owen Jones, show no sign of being willing to address the Scottish question outside the narrow prism of Labour’s UK electoral prospects. If questioned, it’s likely they’ll tell you they fully support Scotland’s right to self-determination, but that separation would 1) abandon English working people to endless Tory domination, 2) represent a retreat from a wider multicultural project and 3) weaken cross-border solidarity. When subjected to proper examination these assertions look very weak, particularly if weighed against the potential benefits – the abolition of UK’s nuclear weapons system, to cite just one – the break-up of Britain could deliver for the left on both sides of the border.

With the best part of three years still to go until the referendum, it’s difficult to tell whether the media in the south will get to grips with the more nuanced aspects of the debate in the north. That will depend on how effective nationalists are in setting the terms and conditions of the discourse.

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  1. RevStu says:

    “…The question of debt following the break-up of multinational states is equally unambiguous…”

    This may well be true, but if you’re attacking other people’s news coverage you really need to provide sources when you make assertions like this. On WoS we try never to make factual statements without providing a link to back them up, and my view is that nationalist blogs should always do so where at all possible, especially if they’re going to criticise the standards of the mainstream media.

    1. allymax says:

      Yes, very important for these ‘Lefties’ to recognise they are in the big world now; no longer can their bleating of ‘discrimination’ be accepted in grown-up politics because they forgot to put in a ‘source’ !

      Risible article, and even worse is the flagrant epitome of suffrage as the picture; sorry, still don’t get what the picture is meaning to say. D’ya nkno what, a’ dinnae really care !

      God help us from Scotland’s pathetic whinging, cringing Lefties !

    2. Of course I should have referenced that assertion. Here’s a long and detailed article discussing what proportion of Canada’s national debt an independent Quebec should take: http://global-economics.ca/dth.chap8.htm

      It concludes, “Quebec must take its 25 per cent share of our common debt if it goes”, in line with its 1/4 share of the Canadian population. It also states, “the Czech Republic and Slovakia, keeping it nice and simple, divvied up the debt of Czechoslovakia on a two-to-one basis, with population as the benchmark.”.

      When I used the term “unambiguous” I was referring to the methods used to divide debt in the event of the break-up of multinational states. The clearest and most simple way to do that is by population or GDP. Other methods are much more complicated. Perhaps I could have phrased it better.

  2. Dave McEwan Hill says:

    It is worth noting that Scotland joined the union debt free and took on a share of the English national debt for the commercial benefits they union was to give them.
    Surely foregoing the English subsidy to Scotland is as good as giving us some of the national debt. HoHoHo

    One problem of the London based media is the Scots they deal with in the metropolitan media pool who continually provide them with nonsense about Scotland – and in actual fact assent gladly to the lies being continuously broadcast. .

  3. James Coleman says:

    “…If questioned, it’s likely they’ll tell you they fully support Scotland’s right to self-determination, but that separation would 1) abandon English working people to endless Tory domination, 2) represent a retreat from a wider multicultural project and 3) weaken cross-border solidarity…”

    Well pardon me. WTF do I care about about those matters. Plenty of the English working class vote Tory. What has cross border solidarity got to do with my day to day living and since when did living in a country become a wider multi-cultural project. All of those things are Party matters.

    1. areddog says:

      1) I don’t know which party you are referring to, but – for the record – I’m not a member of any.

      2) I used those three arguments not because they are immaterial, but because (at least from my experience) they arise most frequently in discussions with the English left about Scottish independence. However, (and again, for the record) A) There’s no reason to believe the break-up of Britain will lead to endless Tory domination of England B) The multi-cultural project will continue regardless of whether Scotland and England remain in a political union C) I feel solidarity with people in the Republic of Ireland, it doesn’t follow that I should want them to be ruled by London.

      On the other hand, your comment might not be facetious. In which case, it doesn’t really warrant response.

      1. James Coleman says:

        I meant party activists. And I was replying to the article by Jamie Maxwell. I’m not sure to whom you are replying. If it was to me my comment was certainly not meant to be facetious. It was meant to show that the three points mentioned are of no concern to me vis a vis Independence.

  4. 1) abandon English working people to endless Tory domination

    The latest election that the Labour party in Scotland affected who ruled Westminster was I believe in 1974 in all others they were irrelevant to who won.

  5. Sunny H says:

    I’ll fully admit I don’t have enough to say on this, but I am looking for intelligent pieces on this issue and we’lre publishing something by Shuggy on this today

    1. Appreciate the response, Sunny. I hope it’s clear it wasn’t intended as a personal attack. I was simply observing that the English left has overlooked the issue and, as such, not really developed a position beyond “what will independence to the Labour Party?”.

      1. “what will independence mean to the Labour Party?”.

    2. allymax says:

      Ha !
      You’ll be lucky to get intelligent response from this article.

      First of all, it looks like a self-ingratiating dose of me-me-me writing; whoever wrote this stuff needs to seriously look at their ‘agenda’.

      Second, as others have already pointed out, the sourcing, and the diminution of the prose is confusing; there’s actually two comments fechtin wi’ each uther ower said poor-prose. Aye, guid luck wi’ that wan.

      This looks as if a ‘Political Lefty’ wrote it. Ha !

  6. Ray Bell says:

    A friend of mine made the interesting suggestion that the announcement by Cameron was to bury bad news. But what bad news exactly? What did Cameron wish to hide by bumping this up the agenda?

    Even so, I believe that the SNP is still being incredibly naive about the whole thing. Have they thought of all the contingencies such as “yes”, “no”, indifference and sabotage? Or the possibility that the British State might try to rush things, to wreck preparations by the “Yes” camp? This is what Cameron seems to be doing, and is the SNP prepared.

    On another note, I have repeatedly asked people in the SNP to guarantee that NEUTRAL INTERNATIONAL OBSERVERS will monitor the referendum. However, while I have had positive responses from some people, others do not seem to realise what is at stake here. We need these to ensure that any referendum, is fair, above board, and conducted properly. We really can’t expect the British State to do this, nor trust certain people counting the votes in some areas either.

    1. LJS says:

      Defeat in the lords over changes to the benifits system?

      1. Ray Bell says:

        Did that happen?

        If it did, I’ll be interested to hear about it.

        Cameron, or at least his advisors, know how to bury bad news.

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