Throwing the Three ‘Rs’ Away: Rupert Murdoch, the Referendum and Rangers FC

It has been a dramatic few months in Scottish politics and one which reveals something about our nation and its public life. We have a problem with how we do politics, public conversation and understand power. There is an inability, or more accurately, unwillingness across large swathes of Scottish society, from our political classes and institutional forces to even many of the radical and alternative voices, to confront some of the difficult issues we have to.

This pattern has been evident for decades, but it has become more and more clear with the establishment of the Scottish Parliament and election of SNP Government, first as a minority in 2007, then as a majority in 2011. This is because each of these events upped the stakes about the rhetoric and expectations of change and has illuminated more dramatically the silences, omissions and collusions across Scottish public life.

In this essay I want to explore this general thesis with reference to three recent examples which shed light on this: Rupert Murdoch, the independence referendum, and Rangers FC. I will then explore some of the limitations of Scottish public life, politics and democracy and what can realistically be done in a manner which enriches the prospects for self-government.

Murdoch, BSKyB, the Debasement of British Democracy and Alex Salmond

The unfolding Rupert Murdoch/News Corp scandal is as Peter Oborne has written, a ‘defining story of our age’ (1). For three decades the British political classes at the highest level prostituted themselves at the court of the Sun King; as if in some Hollywood blockbuster morality tale each subsequent Prime Minister pushed it further about how far they could debase their moral compass and profess their fidelity to Murdoch senior: first, Thatcher, second, Blair and Brown, and then finally, Cameron.

This brings us to the BSKyB takeover bid of last year: a move widely seen by many as something that if successful would be a watershed in public life and media plurality. In the summer of 2011 the UK came within a whisker of institutionalising the forces of manipulated, truncated politics and post-democracy. We were only saved from this by a sequence of events in which the bravery and commitment of a few individuals needs to be recognised, most notably ‘The Guardian’s’ Nick Davies and Tom Watson, Labour MP. At this crucial point we now realise thanks to the 163 pages of emails released by News International to Leveson, that Alex Salmond wanted and attempted to discuss the BSkyB takeover with Jeremy Hunt at the point he was to take a quasi-judicial decision, to indicate his support for the bid.

Alex Salmond’s explanation of this has been that he supported BSkyB’s bid in the interests of ‘jobs and investment’ and that it secured several hundred jobs north of the border. It isn’t a very plausible defence, for if it had been the raison d’etre of the administration wouldn’t this policy and its success have been trumpeted? Instead, it remained a secret policy unknown to public, SNP politicians and members.

This crucial set of events has proved the main topic of two First Minister’s Questions, but has been downplayed in public life and the mainstream media. It has for understandable reasons been met by silence by SNP politicians, but what is more revealing is the response of independent minded independistas, the kind of ‘critical friends’ the SNP needs to listen to and cultivate if it is to win an independence referendum.

One such source commented that they didn’t say anything in public because ‘I do not want to give succor to a Scottish Labour Party viscerally anti-SNP’ (3). Another reflected that the silence was a product of a variety of factors, making the observation that ‘the Canny Salmond lens is one through which too much commentary and calculation is refracted’. They went on, ‘To question Salmond is to put the cause in question, and accordingly he must be defended against all reasonable political criticism, with puritanical zeal’ (4).

The Referendum Question, Independence, Fear and Disinformation

The bringing to the foreground of the referendum issue has brought all sorts of misinformation and caricatures into the public domain. There has been just to give a few recent examples, ‘The Economist’s’ legendary ‘Skintland’ cover (5); ‘Scotland on Sunday’ proclaiming ‘Independent Scotland a ‘terror risk’’ (based on an article by a Labour MSP) (6); while Lord Fraser was caught claiming than an independent Scotland might force England into dramatic military action which could include having to ‘bomb Scottish airports to defend itself’ (7).

Instead of just rejected the above ridiculous claims (which we also need to do), we need to understand why this is happening. First, part of mainstream Scotland just doesn’t understand the dynamic of nationalist Scotland, and independence brings up all kinds of fears and anxieties which defy logic and rationale. Second, there is the role of the mainstream media in legitimising and strengthening such perspectives by continually giving voice to them to the point that they are acting as vehicles for active disinformation. This isn’t to pose what is going on as some black and white unionist conspiracy; it is more emotive and primordial than that: this is about part of Scotland being threatened and failing to empathise with another element of mainstream society.

Then there is the substance of some of the arguments; ‘The Economist’ gave what it thought were four key problems with independence: the over dominance of oil and gas, doubts over renewables, the weakness of the financial sector post-crash, and the issue of a currency. These are all legitimate points, and apart from detailed discussion, they require a strategic answer articulating the main advantages of an independent Scotland which would look something like: an enhanced international profile, a nuclear free nation, developing a different economic set of priorities from the City of London, and tackling and prioritising poverty and social justice in our country. A contributory factor in the current debate and misinformation has been the combination of a vacuum on independence, with any detail we currently have presented as continuity by the SNP leadership (Crown, currency etc). That will have to change.

Trouble in Govan: Glasgow Rangers and Scottish Football

In terms of measuring by passions and emotions arguably the biggest story of the year in Scotland so far has been the controversy surrounding Rangers FC. This has been building for several years due to Rangers unsustainable spending under David Murray and the level of debt he inflicted on the club; these very public actions were ones that no part of the mainstream media, football, business or otherwise, held Rangers to account for. Even former ‘Times’ sports writer, Graham Spiers, who has bravely challenged the club on its sectarian traditions and practices, did not venture into the terrain of Rangers toxic finances pre-crash.

Since the Rangers house of cards came crashing down when the club went into administration in February 2012, the media have talked about Rangers troubles, but Spiers previous comment of the perils of ‘succulent lamb journalism’ holds true; a case made more powerful by the reach of Channel 4’s Alex Thomson who has ventured into areas uncharted by the Scots media (8), and the ‘Rangers Tax Case’ website (9).

When the SFA recently came out with suggested penalties for Rangers for what has been called by Mike Wade amongst others, ‘a decade [of] effectively cheating’ (10), the reaction of Rangers fans was one of apoplexy and moral outrage, a feeling of mass indignation and victimhood that they were being unfairly singled out. This episode crystallised the two prevailing media accounts of the Rangers case. The first was encapsulated by Stuart Cosgrove when he said ‘no one club is more important than sporting integrity’ (11); the other by Douglas Fraser who commented that ‘Scottish football needs a successful Rangers’ (12).

The real culprits in the game are not people like Cosgrove and Fraser who have made thoughtful contributions across Scottish life, but the mock populist sports commentators who debase much of our media content. The reality of ‘Scottish football needs Rangers’ no matter the cost or preparedness to abandon principle is similar to the ‘too big to fail’ view which brought banking and the country to its knees. Michael Johnston, chair of Kilmarnock, showed his clear sense of the SPL clubs moral compass, commenting, ‘The clubs are mindful of a sporting integrity aspect but the commercial benefits may outweigh that’. Alex Thomson has pointed out that Scottish football is at a crossroads: allowing a tainted, toxic, hated Rangers into the SPL or holding people to account for cheating. We can guess which way things will go, but as Thomson writes, imagine a different world where ‘Scottish football is about sport, sporting values – integrity, morality, justice’ (13). And then look at today’s Scottish football and those who collude with it.

Fight the Power: The Prevalence of ‘Undemocracy’ and ‘Unspace’

The examples of Rupert Murdoch, the referendum and Rangers reveal some important characteristics about Scottish society and the media in particular. They shows us that we have a strange, convoluted relationship to power and those who exercise it, which can be characterised as a complete lack of curiosity and inquisitiveness. This is paradoxical for a nation which prides itself on its radical past and imagination, and which produced such bestsellers as Tom Johnston’s ‘Our Noble Families’, published over a century ago, which sold hundreds of thousands of copies.

We live in a culture where power is rarely held to account. This is a place where proper investigative journalism seems to barely exist; yet some people go through the motions telling themselves that they are the people’s tribunes. An example of this is the BBC Scotland documentary, ‘Rangers: The Inside Story’ which did break the story that Craig Whyte had been debarred from being a company director for seven years and had not disclosed this when he bought the club in the summer of 2011 (14). That though was the sole revelation in a documentary which missed most of the story; in particular it missed that Ticketus had bought the rights to future season ticket sales thus financing Whyte’s purchasing of the club. This sensational news only became fully public post-administration; it has been alleged by some that these documents were available to the BBC for its programme, but were not discovered or understood (15). Sadly, despite this the same team are as we speak producing a forthcoming BBC documentary, which they think will get to the core of the issue, but will on past precedent, get nowhere near.

The Murdoch, referendum and Rangers examples could be joined by many others; the collusion with the banking sector and courting of Fred Goodwin and others pre-crash by our entire political class; then there was the grotesque case of Donald Trump and his vandalising of the sand dunes of Menie which the political establishment responded to (Greens exempted) by declaring ‘Scotland open for business’. A rare exception to our absence of curiosity and challenge has been Anthony Baxter’s award winning film documenting Trump, ‘You’ve Been Trumped’ (16), a film refused any funding by Creative Scotland and barred from a showing at the Edinburgh International Film Festival.

We aren’t where we are by accident; it is a product of the power and reach of institutional Scotland, and its creation of a culture of conformity and consensus. Scotland has been a land run by committees of the great and good, and shaped by ‘undemocracy’, an absence of the culture, memory and practice of democracy, and instead chararacterised by the ubiquity of ‘unspace’, public and private spaces characterised by institutional sclerosis, fear of risk taking and independent mindedness; good examples of this would be the Royal Society of Edinburgh and the plethora of public affairs conferences and events.

What can we realistically do about this? First, we can’t continue to be silent about the culture of silences and omissions. We have to name it and talk about it and bring into public the institutional silences and collusions.

Second, we have to get the self-government movement to learn that it needs to have critical dialogues and critical friends. Scotland isn’t going to embark on meaningful, long-lasting change through a top down command and control party model which stifles debate and dissent.

Third, we have to encourage and nurture public debate to be more nuanced. The self-government movement has a responsibility here, and the cybernat community at its worst have to be seen as part of an unhealthy black and white Scotland. At the same time, one can only understand the cybernat obsessions as part of this wider picture, and not solely focus on them as Carol Craig did recently (17). The endless stories of unionist misinformation and scare stories, and the over the top anti-Nationalist rhetoric of Labour in particular, are also part of the same distorted debate which diminishes our democracy.

Fourth, following on from this the language of our public debate has to develop beyond the simplicities of a binary Scotland, unionist v. nationalist, the status quo v. independence. It isn’t just that there are several possible Scottish futures; but that the language of this closed conversation involves name-calling, labelling and a fixed mindset which is profoundly conservative.

Finally, and crucially, how we imagine and understand power has to change. We have to stop thinking just of public Scotland, but address the much more significant and potent ‘iceberg Scotland’ which exists under the waves and away from scrutiny. This means that how we think of politics and political change itself has to alter; for too long this has been about the Parliament and politicians with change reduced to the Parliament gaining more powers, and independence shrunk to the Parliament having the ‘full powers’ of a ‘normal nation’. This is the continued story of Scotland’s enlightened elites, maintaining their position, governing over us, and minimalising the potential of any change.

Additionally, we have to recognise that Scotland’s experience is part of a wider British and global story. The British state over the last 30 years has become institutionalised as a neo-liberal state, part of ‘the global kingdom’ and an advocate for the global class who live and pass through the UK. The Scottish public realm has proven more immune to the charms of this worldview, but all political parties and mainstream politicians have compromised with the market fundamentalist perspective. Nearly every economic, social or cultural policy debate in Scotland bears the imprint of instrumental neo-liberalism, marginalisation of alternative voices, and truncating of public debate (18).

Self-government has to be a democratising process and project, or it will produce a change in name only which won’t affect the lives and experiences of Scottish people. That entails nourishing a culture which is both honest and humble, respecting different viewpoints and challenging vested interests. This is an intricate balancing act, one which involves changing the public culture of Scotland, and aiding an ecology of self-government and self-determination which allows for this sort of thinking, discussion and debate to take place. For this to happen we have to acknowledge the long revolution that Scotland has been on, and the powerful hold of ‘undemocracy’ and ‘unspace’. We have to stand up to power, while digging deep into our capacity to be generous, hopeful, imaginative, and playful and create the Scotland of the future today.

As the old order of the last 30 years of British politics collapses even large parts of the British political class attempt to flee the wreckage of criminality, deceit and blackmail that was the modus operandi of the Murdoch empire. Scotland cannot allow itself to be the last place on earth run as some Murdoch fiefdom, our politicians happy to do his bidding and our football unable to have any moral backbone for fear of losing Sky TV money. Instead, it is an age for being bold and throwing off the legacy of cautious Scotland, while standing up to the bullyboys of crony capitalism. And at the minimum we have to start talking about this.

Notes

1. Peter Oborne, ‘The Murdoch and News Corporation scandal wasn’t about Conservative Party sleaze – but it is now’, Daily Telegraph, May 2nd 2012, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/leveson-inquiry/9241162/The-Murdoch-and-News-Corporation-scandal-wasnt-about-Conservative-Party-sleaze-but-it-is-now.html

2. Anthony Barnett. ‘Murdoch and the Big Lie’, Open Democracy, May 4th 2012, http://www.opendemocracy.net/ourkingdom/anthony-barnett/murdoch-and-big-lie

3. Private communication, April 30th 2012.

4. Private communication, May 3rd 2012.

5. The Economist, ‘It’ll cost you: Scottish independence would come at a high price’, April 13th 2012, http://www.economist.com/node/21552564; Gerry Hassan, ‘The Price of Independence: Scotland and the UK according to the Free Marketeers’, April 13th 2012, http://www.gerryhassan.com/blog/the-future-has-been-pre-ordinated-scotland-and-the-uk-according-to-the-free-market-revolutionaries/

6. Gareth Rose, ‘Independent Scotland a ‘terror risk’, Scotland on Sunday, April 29th 2012, http://www.scotsman.com/scotland-on-sunday/politics/independent-scotland-a-terror-risk-1-2263860

7. Huffington Post, ‘Scottish Independence: England would ‘bomb Scottish airports to defend itself’ Lord Fraser warns, March 13th 2012, http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2012/03/13/scottish-independence-england-would-bomb-scottish-airports-to-defend-itself_n_1341629.html

8. Alex Thomson, ‘When Succulent Lamb is on the Menu: Serious Questions are Off’, Channel 4 News, March 19th 2012, http://blogs.channel4.com/alex-thomsons-view/succulent-lamb-menu-questions/1010

9. Rangers Tax Case: http://rangerstaxcase.wordpress.com/

10. Mike Wade, ‘Questions over grey areas of US millionaire’s bid to buy Blues’, The Times, May 4th 2012.

11. Channel 4 News, April 17th 2012.

12. BBC News, April 17th 2012.

13. Alex Thomson, ‘This is the time for leadership from Scottish football’, Channel 4 News, May 6th 2012, http://blogs.channel4.com/alex-thomsons-view/time-leadership-scottish-football/1392

14. BBC One Scotland, ‘Rangers: The Inside Story’, October 20th 2011.

15. On these documents see: Rangers Tax Case, ‘Reflections on Craig Whyte’s Secrecy’, June 7th 2011, http://rangerstaxcase.wordpress.com/2011/06/06/reflections-on-craig-whytes-obsessive-secrecy/

16. ‘You’ve Been Trumped’ film details at: http://www.youvebeentrumped.com/youvebeentrumped.com/THE_MOVIE.html

17. Carol Craig, ‘‘What does it profit a man …?’ Why the SNP leadership need to do something about the Cybernats’, April 15th 2012, http://www.centreforconfidence.co.uk/carolsblog.php?p=aWQ9ODM3

18. Nick Couldry, Why Voice Matters: Culture and Politics after Neo-Liberalism, Sage 2010.

Comments (25)

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  1. Peter A Bell says:

    As regards the Murdoch aspect of the above, what is not recognised is that there are two distinct versions of events. There is what actually happened. and there is the story as spun by the anti-SNP propagandists who pervade the mainstream media. When discussing reactions to the events it is necessary to clearly distinguish between reactions to the reality and reactions to the prejudiced portrayal of those events.

    Those, like myself, who have been content to deal with the prosaic facts alone tend to be a bit perplexed by the spittle-flecked outrage and over-inflated righteous indignation of people whose preference has been for the admittedly far more colourful depiction offered by those who have elevated Murdoch to the status of evil super-villain. Being entirely rational, we tend to regard with no more than perplexed amusement the plainly ludicrous assertion that any contact whatever with Murdoch inevitably and necessarily implies approval of the misdeeds of any and every employee in the Murdoch empire.

    Salmond did nothing wrong in relation to his dealings with Murdoch. Or, if he did, his enemies have been signally unable to show any evidence of such wrongdoing. In those circumstances no criticism of wrongdoing that is only imagined can ever be “reasonable”.

    If there was any evidence whatever that Murdoch had exercised some undue influence over the First Minister I would be more than ready to criticise. But I would be at least as critical of a First Minister who allowed himself to be dictated to in the performance of his duties by journalists and commentators looking for a sensationalist headline while being urged on by vested interests using their own media power to undermine a commercial competitor. And I would have no respect whatever for a First Minister who allowed himself to be diverted from his purpose of representing the interests of all the people of Scotland by such contrived hysteria as is now the commonplace knee-jerk reaction to mere mention of Murdoch’s name.

    1. Stoic2050 says:

      Congratulations……..could not agree more.

    2. Ken Mac says:

      At last a voice of reason. Good comment, thanks Peter.

  2. johnnyD says:

    Some good points and interesting facts in here.
    However, in trying to add it up into some cohesive story, your artcle reminded me of two opposing schools of thought. Mostly it’s those annoying deconstructionalist postmodern thinkers who personally delight in tearing down everything they see, telling everyone they think the wrong way, don’t see the big picture or reality the way it is.

    But, while they/you take pride at revealing the power structures and agendas hidden from the rest of us, are unable to create any cohesive ideas or credible theories for themselves. The result is always, nobody knows nothing.

    ‘Cept you of course.

    Because you also remind me of the Priest in the pulpit spouting scolding condemnation with absolute authority. ‘You have to do this, you have to do that, this is what to think!’. As a commentator who clearly has a mind for processing vast amounts of facts, your analysis and conclusions would earn more credability were they not A) frequently infected with your personal petty grudges and dislike for certain individuals and institutions. And B) actually added up to something more concrete than ‘We really ought to chat about this’.

    By the way, Mark Daly uncovered far more than the 1 piece of info you claim and was in fact the first main stream journalist in Scotland to tell the truth about Rangers’ new owner. But maybe you didn’t see it. I wouldn’t be surprised as you’ve judged the next BBC investigation into Rangers a flop – in very white and black terms – and you haven’t seen that.

    So who knows? Whatever fits the agenda eh?.

    1. johnnyD says:

      …I can take it you didn’t see it for yourself then?

      1. johnnyD says:

        Tis your style of analysis I’m referring to Gerry, not the subject you are talking about, which is indeed ‘hard, institutional, materialist power and crony, manipulated, oligopoly capitalism.’

        ‘Postmodernism is a range of conceptual frameworks and ideologies that are defined in opposition to those commonly associated with ideologies of modernity and modernist notions of knowledge and science, such as formalism, materialism, metaphysics, positivism, realism, and reductionism, structuralism. ‘ Wikipedia

        Post Modernists ‘explore’ the truth while defining themselves through opposition to existing structures but try to avoid cohesive views and theories of their own. See the link now Gerry?

    2. Scottish journalists couldn’t possibly have been unaware of the background of Craig White and his financial shenanigans. Private Eye had been slagging White for years and White’s debarment from holding directorships for a minimum of 7 years had been well-publicised in their columns.
      What really intrigues me,about the whole Rangers debacle,is how little attention or publicity has been paid/given to the obvious misdealings – particularly in the very dubious finance/tax arrangements linked to the purchase and retention of “star” players – under the David Murray regime.

      Shurely something odd there?

      Homeless Hector

      1. johnnyD says:

        Yes, I agree Hector. Something is odd about the lack of investigation into Murray and the whole tax thing. Apparently it was deemed bad for the career to criticise Scotland’s biggest borrower. Alf Young from the Herald tried to raise the question of Murray’s dealings and the next day his editor had calls to fire him. Add to that the threats to other journalists’ safety for getting too close and you can begin to understand why the press stood back a bit.
        A wee burd tells me tho that Mark Daly of the BBC is about to raise the game of Scottish investigative journalism yet again. Hold on to your hat Hector.

        Gerry hasn’t seen it yet, so ignore him saying it’s rubbish. He doesn’t have a clue what’s in the programme but he clearly has his mind made up on the matter. Maybe he can do that paranormal thing, investigating the future through fortune tellers.

  3. Gerry Hassan says:

    Just to add three thoughts, First, my analysis could hardly be further removed from the postmodern/deconstructionist school if you tried. I am talking about hard, institutional, materialist power and crony, manipulated, oligopoly capitalism.

    Second, the BBC programme on Rangers was a total red herring and is widely seen by commentators and inside BBC opinion as that; it in the opinion of some missed some of the crucial, defining evidence. But on the other hand it is the kind of second rate fodder fed to us by the Beeb and others, and which allows some to grandstand while revealing very little. Some people in Scotland seem to be satisfied with that diet. Rather than narrow it down to an argument on whether you liked one programme or not I want to make the wider case that we have never really had a culture of investigative journalism or enquiry in Scotland. When did the mainstream media last break a really important story?

    Finally on Salmond and the SNP. It is much more complex than just pro- and anti-SNP. In fact there are at least three opinions: SNP cheerleaders prepared to believe their leader on anything, anti-SNP opinion which takes the exact opposite, and then most of us who sit in the middle and want to pursue the truth. The SNP stand that the BSSkyB stance was all about ‘jobs and investment’ doesnt hold up; because then why keep it secret, particularly when you are claiming it to be as so successful?

    1. Doug Daniel says:

      Gerry, I suppose the answer to “why keep it a secret” would be simply because of the furore we’ve since witnessed. We all know how Murdoch is generally perceived, and how utterly against the BSkyB deal the country seemed to be. Perhaps it was thought the easiest way to “manage” the situation was to just not bring attention to the fact that Salmond was – shock horror – advocating the dastardly Digger’s evil plan to expand his dark empire and turn Sky News into Fox News (even though one of the main criticisms of Sky News has been that it is, erm, like Fox News – you know, despite being full of such giants of the anti-capitalist movement as Kate Burley and Adam Boulton…) Naive perhaps, as it was never really going to work, but then it was probably better that it come out now rather than before the 2011 election.

      This all assumes you take the SNP argument at face value, but if we’re being honest here, they’ve got a pretty good track record, and the few times they’ve been caught looking a bit dodgy, it’s always been through naivete rather than malice (the SVR debacle and Nicola Sturgeon’s constituent come to mind).

      Mind you, I’ve never been entirely comfortable with the Murdoch thing, as I’m one of the people who has always thought he is the embodiment of all that is wrong with the corporate media – but perhaps this forces us to acknowledge that News International is actually no worse than any of the others (or rather, they’re all as bad as NI).

      And really, the independence movement needs as many friends as it can get in the media. People would have you believe the BBC is a white knight, but like all white knights, it has a hidden ugly side, and it’s a side only the independence movement sees. Where do you turn to if everybody else’s hero has an irrational hatred of you?

      1. Peter A Bell says:

        You missed a question. You didn’t ask if anything actually was kept secret or what it might have been.

      2. Doug Daniel says:

        I think it’s fair to say Eck wisnae shouting from the rooftops that he was in favour of NI succeeding in its bid to take full control of BSkyB, though. Not that I blame him, though.

        1. Peter A Bell says:

          This stuff about a “secret policy” as much nonsense as the rest of the contrived “furore” around this issue. What is referred to as a “secret policy” is, in fact, no more than the normal duties and responsibilities of the First Minister. Why should he make some special announcement about merely doing his day-to-day job?

      3. Doug Daniel says:

        Though. Though though though. Though though? Though.

        Though. I like the word though. Though I should use some other words sometimes, though.

    2. Peter A Bell says:

      I’m glad you said there were “at least three opinions”. Because we mustn’t forget the conspiracy theorists who insist that the less evidence there is of anything untoward, the more this “proves” their conspiracy theory. If there is nothing to show that a thing happened, the conspiracy theorist will never stop to consider that maybe it didn’t happen. They will bypass all rational explanations on the way to their preferred “truth” that there is some convoluted plot to keep it secret.

  4. Peter A Bell says:

    Does nobody else find it even slightly curious that, while Murdoch is held to be the Devil incarnate and his spin-doctors and spokespersons the spawn thereof, as soon as one of them makes some claim relating to Salmond – however absurd – that is useful to the Salmond-hating rabble, that particular imp of Satan is instantly transformed into an unimpeachable source?

  5. Craig says:

    Gerry,

    re “this is about part of Scotland being threatened and failing to empathise with another element of mainstream society.” Can you define what the threat is, please. This requires to be articulated, please, as it will flesh out and provide context that is missing from your piece.

  6. bellacaledonia says:

    This article is excellent Gerry, thanks. It doesn’t have pat answers no but it is asking the right questions.

    One of the main systemic problems in Scottish public life is that the institutional barriers to social progress are neither being questioned nor analysed by mainstream politicians nor in the mainstream media.

    That’s the starting point. That’s where we’re at. It’s why Bella Caledonia exists.

    KW

  7. Gerry Hassan says:

    Thanks Bella C and thanks for the engagement.

    I think one of the answers to the prevalence of undemocracy and unspace is the encouragement of messy, fuzzy non-institutional spaces. Now there are not enough of these in mind for a variety of cultural reasons but there are some. To give you a few examples; SOLAS alternative festival, Changin Scotland that I run at The Ceilidh Place, Ullapool, the explosion of websites which are not party partisan (Bella C, Better Nation etc).

    So I think there is hope for change and I regard the mess the Murdoch empire is in and the strange disputatious nature of Scottish society with regard to Rangers – with all its complications and appeasement – as actually in the long run an advance. Because 30-40 years they wouldnt have even had to have a vote and its postponements to ‘parachute’ Rangers back in.

    We may have to deal with the market fundamentalists and the grip of institutional Scotland but some things have changed; not as much as we would like; and we have a long way to go. But that deathgrip of dullness, conformity and small minded authoritarianism grows weaker by the day.

  8. DougtheDug says:

    Alex Salmond’s explanation for this has been that he supported BSkyB’s bid in the interests of ‘jobs and investment’ and that it secured several hundred jobs north of the border. It isn’t a very plausible defence, for if it had been the raison d’etre of the administration wouldn’t this policy and its success have been trumpeted? Instead, it remained a secret policy unknown to public, SNP politicians and members.

    BSkyB employs around 6500 people in Scotland so as First Minister Alex Salmond has a duty to do his best to ensure jobs are not lost from Scotland if there are changes to the company’s status. Alex Salmond never actually got round to lending his official support to the bid process because it got overtaken by events and in the end the takeover never happened so “trumpeting” what he would have done rather than what he did doesn’t really have the same impact. If the bid had succeeded and Murdoch had promised more jobs for Scotland I’m quite certain the “trumpeting” would have been load and insistent.

    So Alex Salmond had contact with Rupert Murdoch during Murdoch’s bid for BSkyB in his capacity as First Minister of Scotland. So what? Did he break any laws by speaking to him, any parliamentary procedure, any part of a quasi-judicial function invested in his post of First Minister, any rules on financial inducements personal or party, any requirements for him to stay silent? The answer is no. The whole affair has been like many in Scotland a desperate mud throwing exercise by the opposition and media in the hope that some, any, will stick to the First Minister.

    And what on earth do you mean, downplayed? The whole affair with Alex Salmond has been a media frenzy in Scotland while his connection with it has almost been ignored in England and the rest of the UK.

    Most nationalists have viewed the whole affair with weary cynicism as the media in Scotland goes off on another one in tandem with the LibLabCons in trying to get the First Minister and the SNP. We’ve said a lot about it and said it often but as we don’t have a voice in the mainstream media it’s been between ourselves in blogs and other online media. Now the local elections are over the whole thing has gone off the boil. Funny that.

    The one thing that is never clear in any of tub-thumping from the media and unionist parties is what Alex Salmond has actually done wrong. In simple words Gerry, what did Alex Salmond do wrong? Simply speaking to Murdoch is not a good enough reason to give for all this furore.

    As an addendum I note your use of the word “cybernat”. The “cybernat” is the bogeyman of unionist press in Scotland. A hidden online menace, rancid, rabid, racist and abusive. Simply by using the word you’ve bought into the myth wholesale and it makes the rest of your analysis suspect. Nationalist commentators and bloggers are unwilling to believe the North British press or the broadcast media so their criticism is dismissed as some form of mob mentality outside the pale. In many ways the myth of the “cybernat” is a Labour defence mechanism. They haven’t been able to prove that the SNP is racist and abusive as their internal world view demands so they’ve decided to label their supporters “cybernats” as the next best thing.

  9. bellacaledonia says:

    Jennifer Dempsie wrote a great piece in The Scotsman this week about “cybernats”

    http://www.scotsman.com/news/jennifer-dempsie-online-there-s-plenty-of-stupid-to-go-around-1-2280223

    1. DougtheDug says:

      CYBERNAT is fast becoming the byword for the kind of troll every political party could well do without, says Jennifer.

      It’s not a great piece because that statement is not true. Jennifer doesn’t understand why the word was coined and why it only applies to nationalists. Cybernat is a word which has been applied by the unionist side of the argument to online nationalists and to online nationalists alone quite deliberately.

      It’s ironic that trying to engage with the electorate, encourage people to vote and join in the debate via the forum that the majority of the world’s population uses – the internet – has somehow been labelled as a nasty thing when the SNP are involved.

      It’s not ironic at all as it’s quite calculated.

      Labels are dangerous things and are always used to define “others”. Tink, gypsy, immigrant, chav and cybernat are all labels which are used to mark out sections of society as being separate from the mainstream. Labels are never applied to mainstream society or politics because a label is always used to mark a difference.

      That’s why cybernat is used a label deliberately mark out online nationalists as non-mainstream and by default to define unionism as mainstream. Gerry’s use of the label “cybernat” in the article above automatically defines unionism as the normal state of affairs and nationalism as the outlier in his political outlook.

      “Cybernat” is dangerous because it implicity defines unionism as mainstream and that’s why I find those who don’t understand the reasons behind its creation as frankly stupid. Attempts to adopt it as nationalist badge are just as misguided because as nationalist we have to become the mainstream and not the labeled others.

      1. Doug Daniel says:

        Don’t entirely agree with you Doug, because I think Jennifer does understand the genesis of the term, but is merely trying to broaden it to cover any type of nationalist, Scottish or British. We’ve seen people call online British nationalists “CyberBrits”, but somehow it doesn’t quite roll off the tongue the way “CyberNat” does, so she’s trying to reinterpret it slightly. At least I think that’s what she’s doing – I’m choosing to give her the benefit of the doubt anyway. Whether that’s actually the right approach is, of course, a different question altogether.

        I’m in full agreement in regards to folk who try to adopt it as a badge of honour, though. They’re effectively saying “yay, I’m ignorant and proud!”, like the kind of people who say “Ive nevur red a bewk in mi live, LOL!” I cringe when I see someone call themselves a Cybernat.

  10. douglas clark says:

    It seems to me that Gerry Hassan has a point. The on-line mainstream media is however as guilty as any other clique in society in determining what can and cannot be discussed. What is an open topic and what is closed, if you will. Where there is a direct challenge to their consensus about their status or opinion – the arguement can be defined as protecting ATL commentators at the expense of the great unwashed BTL commentators – then the balance is almost always in favour of the author of the article. To the extent of deleting comment, or banning participants.

    I inhabit cyberspace to an extent that is probably not entirely healthy, however as an insider I do not recognise the description of it in Jennifer Dempsies article. Unless, of course her sole criteria for on-line discussion is that august newspapers own BTL comments, which would give the lie to my arguement.

    The great empowerment that on-line blogs – that are open for comment – has actually achieved is to allow people who would otherwise be completely disenfranchised to have a say. That they say things in a vernacular that wouldn’t see the light of day in mainstream newspapers is a challenge to mainstream newspapers, not them. It is a common conceit that BTL comments are made by rabid lunatics. More accurately, they probably reflect that part of our overall society that was at least interested enough to read and comment on the Op-ed.

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