Bringing it On

The 25th January 2012 brought the independence referendum another leap closer to reality, and did its best to shift the debate along, while not quite succeeding. We now have a published timeline of events detailing exactly why the SNP has chosen Autumn 2014 for the referendum. Sure, unionists can argue that there are perhaps exaggerations in how long certain aspects are scheduled to take, but it’s pretty difficult to argue that any of the stages included are superfulous, which makes those who are still demanding a referendum “sooner rather than later” look even more ridiculous than they did before. It also makes it crystal clear why they make such demands – because they want a rush job, particularly as polls are already suggesting public opinion towards independence has now caught up to be completely neck and neck with the status quo.
For decades, unionists ignored all calls for independence. For four years, they claimed an independence referendum was a waste of time and money. For six months, they argued that the referendum had to happen NOW and that not knowing the date was harming Scotland. We now have a definitive time, yet apparently this still isn’t good enough. There is only one word for this behaviour: disingenuous. Well, maybe another word: petulant. You can only change your mind so many times before you start to look like you’re just arguing for the sake of it, and unionists passed that point long ago. We have a timescale – it’s now time to move away from this tedious argument and get onto the main, grown-up debate.
The day brought us much more besides this, however. We were given a useful glimpse into the mindsets of both unionist politicians and the media, and they didn’t disappoint those of us who were braced for disappointment. The First Minister chose Edinburgh Castle as the venue to launch the consultation document. As grand a setting as you could hope for in Scotland, and as such, exactly the place you should be conducting a press conference that has attracted worldwide interest and media teams from numerous countries. After all, when you invite guests round, you usher them into your best room. Except, it seems, when you are in Scotland. Unionist MSPs Willie Rennie, Johann Lamont and Kezia Dugdale all criticised the Scottish Government for using the castle’s grand hall to hold the event, which is particularly hypocritical in Dugdale’s case, as the exact same venue was used by her party to launch the 1997 Scotland Bill white paper. It says much for their attitude towards the referendum that they think it is “party political”. Clearly, they look at this as being an SNP toy, rather than something for the whole of Scotland, which is perhaps why they deem it appropriate to play such silly political games with the referendum. If the official launch of the “yes” campaign was being held here, they may have a point – although only if the “no” campaign were somehow precluded from doing the same. This is governmental business, and to view it as some SNP party stunt is, quite frankly, ludicrous. This is the sort of petty sniping that is putting people off Labour and the rest.
As for the media, we had BBC Scotland’s Big Debate and STV’s Scotland Tonight referendum special. Let’s be clear here: when people vote in this referendum, they will be voting for independence or the union (or possibly devo max, although it won’t happen); we will not – I repeat, NOT – voting for our favoured political parties. Therefore, when producers are choosing people to appear on their shows, you would except an even split between the two/three viewpoints. However, for some bizarre reason, it has been decided that each of the three unionist parties deserves to have their own version of the “no” arguments put forward, even though each amounts to the same thing. Conversely, it has been decided that independence = SNP, meaning the “yes” arguments are supported by only one person. This is despite independence being supported by three distinct groups in Holyrood (SNP, Scottish Greens and Margo McDonald – whose criticisms of the SNP’s handling of the referendum and other things mean she has valid contributions to put forward). In fact, with 72 pro-independence MSPs out of 129, Holyrood is very much tipped in favour of independence. However, BBC Scotland’s Big Debate show contained one pro-independence speaker (although Nicola Sturgeon did in fact manage perfectly fine without back up) against three pro-union speakers (although Lesley Riddoch did a marvellous job – far better than chairman Glenn Campbell – of taking Johann Lamont and Lord Wally to task on their confused, conflicting and ridiculous arguments). STV went one better, giving airtime to a staggering FIVE unionists against John Swinney and Jim Sillars (who was last seen extolling the virtues of “Indy Lite”).
This will not do. If our media is to do the Scottish public justice, it must have balance. No matter how sensible the SNP’s points may be, it is utterly unfair to have the pro-independence points being attacked from multiple angles, regardless of how bizarre and utterly fatuous those attacks increasingly get. We were often told during the past six months that not everyone who voted for the SNP supported independence. If polls are to be believed (and they’re only ever brought into disrepute by unionists when they don’t show what they want), it is perhaps more true to state that not everyone who supports independence voted for the SNP. It is a well known fact that there are Labour voters who support independence, and it does them a disservice to see the “yes” arguments only being made by SNP politicians. What about those who voted Green, or for the pro-independence socialists? Call me a cynic, but I see this as a trend towards trying to confuse people as to what counts as policy (e.g. what would corporation tax be – well, whatever the government that gets elected sets it as!), and what doesn’t. This would be harder to do with Patrick Harvie alongside the SNP saying “actually, we’d do it this way”, thus presenting the viewer with the reality that independence is about giving ourselves the choice to determine these things for ourselves, rather than about setting everything in stone forever.
These are slightly worrying, if not entirely unexpected, developments. Scotland deserves a grown up, fully informed debate. This can’t happen if discussions are weighted heavily in favour of one side, or if politicians refuse to put the toys down and get out of the pram. Scotland is not well served by petty sniping, bringing up the most tedious points, and refusing to look past minutiae that doesn’t really matter in the grand scale of things. If things don’t improve soon, people are going to start wondering if The Positive Case For The Union is nothing more than a figment of people’s imaginations, with less sightings than Nessie.

Comments (18)

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  1. Doug Daniel says:

    Superfulous? Petculant? I really need to stop writing these on Notepad…

    1. Manny says:

      …and “John Lamont”, although I can understand why you might make that mistake.

    2. Colin Dunn says:

      Um, also this . . .

      “Therefore, when producers are choosing people to appear on their shows, you would except (sic) an even split between the two/three viewpoints.”

      1. Doug Daniel says:

        There’s a couple more actually…

        Still, one actual misspelling and a handful of typos, all without a spell check and done while half-concentrating on work. I would say that’s pretty good going!

  2. Jennifer Thomson says:

    I agree with many of your comments. Perhaps the SNP should be asking for more balance as part of the process of attending these events. The BBC is nothing more than a propaganda machine and many people can see this. The power of the internet can help out here.

    1. Doug Daniel says:

      After writing this, I noticed that section 1.19 of the referendum consultation document speaks about getting the media to give balance to both sides of the debate. I have a feeling it’s only really meant for the 16 week run up period to the referendum, which seems a bit late in the day – people are getting fed nonsense now.

  3. I’d only ever come across Lesley Riddoch’s work very tangentially until Wednesday’s debate, so I had little to no knowledge of her, but I’m surprised you characterise her as pro-union. I was at the debate and to be honest her comments got the most applause from the pro-independence crowd. Maybe I was viewing her comments through a pro-independence prism, but I certainly got the feeling she was in favour.

    1. Doug Daniel says:

      She is in favour of increasing the powers, but not full independence, which of course means she is in favour of the union! However, she is also in favour of taking politicians to task if they’re speaking rubbish, which was why she was getting cheers from the pro-independence crowd, because there was a whole heap of nonsense being spouted on the debate. I imagine Lesley is typical of the kind of person who, over the next couple of years, will become increasingly frustrated with the scaremongering and baseless accusations levelled by the unionist camps, and when the referendum turns out to be a straight yes/no, will look at the evidence on offer, and end up plumping for independence.

      Note that she never once had to take Nicola Sturgeon to task for speaking rubbish or being dishonest – a telling sign of which side can rely on facts and which can’t…

    2. bellacaledonia says:

      I think that Lesley’s probably a non-party specific Yes voter. She has written for Bella itself, see here: https://bellacaledonia.org.uk/2011/11/13/the-high-north/

      1. Doug Daniel says:

        Yeah, I liked that article. I’m sure I’ve read on her website that she’s in favour of more powers rather than independence, though. I hope she does vote yes!

  4. H Scott says:

    “less sightings than Nessie”

    Good analogy, perhaps we should all call the positive case for Union ‘Nessie’!

    1. Ken Mac says:

      Yes, the Nessie option, talked about a lot but never seen.

  5. Morag says:

    Sorry, I just posted this on the wrong page – damn IE and all its works. Maybe the mods can simply not approve the earlier posting?

    I saw a new one today in the Herald’s letter’s column. The writer is one Val Robson.

    “After another couple of years of “Yes, No, Nearlies” there will still be the most important single question to be asked of the Scottish people – should Scotland be independent? This will avoid the clever subliminal influence within the “Do you agree” type of question. It is the question which should be asked now, given that the answers produced would be much more relevant than those emanating from any current “big debate”.

    “Alex Salmond is a persuasive, charismatic and confident leader who is growing more self-opinionated. His increasing power to influence many people has been well evidenced but maybe it is worth considering the words of Bertrand Russell: “The fact that an opinion has been widely held is no evidence whatever that it isn’t utterly absurd. Indeed in view of the silliness of mankind, a widespread belief is more likely to be foolish than sensible.” ”

    That’s right. We must ask the question NOW, without any further debate, because uninformed opinion is so much more “real” than informed opinion. And besides, the popular view is probably wrong anyway. And especially, we can’t possibly allow Alex Salmond to work his charms of persuasion on vulnerable voters.

    You couldn’t make it up.

    1. Doug Daniel says:

      Indeed. And she dares sully the good name of Bertrand Russell to boot.

    2. Conan has a take on this, sublime as ususal.

      http://mypseudepigrapha.blogspot.com/2012/01/hootsmon-headlines_26.html

      Note that Grahamski of the Real Hootsmon has escaped and is now
      trolling round independence website spewing his bile.

      1. bellacaledonia says:

        Noted. Ready with large stick.

  6. Hazel Lewry says:

    Fairness from the Beeb isn’t going to happen in this debate – or (I think) my lifetime. I’ve been the recipient of replies to several complaints about bias.. they come in various flavours including passive-aggressive of the “how-can-you-say-that-about-poor-us-mere-public-servants”, or “we’re only here to serve”, or completely patronising “Mother knows best” ilk.
    It’s going to be difficult to impart anything sensible via the “normal channels”. Especially when Pacific Quay is basically the Labour Party (North Britainshire) mouthpiece.

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