Media Notes Part 2: Identity, Extremism and the Independence Movement
In the second part of his Media Notes series Kevin Williamson reveals an unstated 3 point strategy of the NO camp; and the trap of the Scottish-British dichotomy.
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In the first of these articles I cast an eye over the mainstream media’s churlish reporting of Saturday’s Independence march. I ended the article referring to a Scotland on Sunday article the previous week. This was the one which castigated the Scottish Republican Socialist Movement (SRSM) for the burning of a Union Jack at an event many years ago. I suggested that the Scotsman publications were about to unleash a new approach in their shrill attacks on the Independence movement.
Perhaps the Scotsman editors read Bella. (As they should.) Or perhaps one of their number, Tom Peterkin, took umbrage at me for publishing his work phone number on Saturday and mocking him and his colleagues. Who knows. But today, anonymously, Peterkin went ahead and published a churlish little article in The Scotsman having a go at myself under the headline “Yes campaigner at Union flag burning”.
The article itself was a bit of a damp squid coming the day after Bella covered the same event. Peterkin could have helped himself freely to a pertinent quote but his journalistic integrity clearly didn’t stretch that far. Anyway, it was like getting savaged by a toothless poodle. But what is more interesting is the way the Scotsman have opened up a new line of attack on the Independence movement.
When the Scotland on Sunday ran their original “flag-burning” article on the SRSM it was done on the prompting of Jim Murphy MP who bragged about it on Twitter. At first glance it may seem bizarre that the Shadow Defence Minister spends time and effort (when he’s not filling in expenses forms) urging the Scotsman publications to attack a small leftist organisation like the SRSM. But there was method in his madness.
If Alex Salmond had shared a platform on Saturday with “flag-burning extremists” – so the story went – this would have been considered damaging. That the SRSM were never asked to provide a speaker for the event was conveniently omitted. (Another of Peterkin’s trademark fabrications).
The first upshot of the SoS article was, predictably, a circling of the wagons against the SRSM. Intriguingly, the SoS revealed an agenda wider than simply embarrassing the FM at a demo, or having a go at a small group like the SRSM. The giveaway line in the original article described the SRSM as Marxists who supported “violent revolution”.
At this point alarm bells should have been ringing but I guess no one wanted to rock the boat a few days before the Indy march. The description of the SRSM as Marxist revolutionaries could equally apply to the SWP or a number of other small leftist groups who support Scottish Independence. It could also apply to members of the SSP or Solidarity. Or to Irish republicans. The list could grow and grow. Therein lies a problem.
Jim Murphy and the Labour Party have a long track record in isolating small left wing groups in order to prepare for an ideological assault on ideas they disagree with. In the 1980s the Trotskyist Militant Tendency were used as a stalking horse for ethical cleansing of the Labour Party. Within a few short years the Marxist left were expelled, Clause 4 removed, and finally all vestiges of socialism were abandoned. By 1997 a corporate-controlled US-compliant Blairite New Labour was ready to take over the reins at Westminster.
In recent months the Labour Party have watched with growing horror the unity of purpose within the Independence movement. This is a movement that has no intention of being sidetracked down the cul-de-sac of gesture politics. Murphy’s response has been to tug on the wires of the Unionist press to see if a wedge can be driven between the leftist/grassroots of the Indy movement and the leadership of the SNP.
The Scotsman has duly complied. The new agenda is to widen the net of those who can be classified as political extremists. Its a surefire bet the word “extremist” will play a large part in the vocabulary of the NO camp, rooted as they are in the methodology of New Labour.
For instance, the MSM propaganda wing of NO will be sharpening their nibs at the prospect of the upcoming Radical Independence Conference on 24th Nov in Glasgow. It wont be to report on the ideas discussed – as if – but they’ll be listening for a quote or two that can be made to sound “extreme” then thrown back at the FM, demanding AS distance himself from radical voices who seek, for example, to nationalise the oil fields, take land out of the hands of absentee landlords, or make Scotland a hostile environment for large corporations or private banks.
A healthy Independence movement needs its radical voices. A national movement for Independence has to be diverse and inclusive or it isn’t a national movement. There has to be space for trade unionists, school students and community activists as well as traders, company directors, businessmen, farmers and landowners. It has to include political parties of all hues, left, right and centre. It needs to include the fringes as well as the centre. As I wrote previously on Bella Caledonia in an open letter to Angus Robertson; 2014 is about bringing democracy home, the 2016 election is about policies. Its important not to confuse or conflate the two.
As the phoney war over procedure draws to a close the NO camp strategy has revealed its soul, bit by bit. Their objective will be to create rigid parameters in order to frame and control discussion. They won’t abandon the approach of ridicule and disinformation but their ideological set plays are firmly in place:
1. Both wings of the NO camp want the question of identity to be central to the Independence debate. This would channel a manufactured debate along a crude bipolar agenda of pitting Scottish versus British.
2. Both wings of the NO camp want personalities to the fore rather than ideas. It suits their purpose if Alex Salmond = Independence and vice versa. Personalities are more vulnerable than ideas, and easier to attack or ridicule. This approach is the standard propaganda model used internationally against all ideas or ideology which threaten to challenge the status quo: Shoot the messenger/Ignore the message.
3 Both wings of the NO camp fear grassroots campaigning that they can’t influence directly. For NO, the Independence debate must be conducted through the centralised conduit of the mainstream media where access can be controlled. The NO camp is afraid of radical ideas and would prefer to have these ideas contained for fear of contagion.
It is through this three pronged approach that we can view the minor stooshies around flag-burning and alleged “extremism.” The mainstream media and their corporate sponsors know fine well that EVERYTHING is up for grabs in a newly Independent Scotland. This, quite frankly, terrifies them. They will do everything in their power to marginalise, ridicule or silence any views that are considered threatening to the interests of the usual elites. If it means isolating and shunning a small Marxist group like the SRSM so be it. That’s how these things start. Call it Murphy’s Law of Ever-Increasing Exclusion.
From our perspective it is important that the debate is not dominated by a few high profile individuals no matter how articulate they may be. As many voices as possible need to be heard. Especially the voices of women, young people and the poorest in our society. These are the voices which are usually filtered out first. These are the voices that will say the unsayable. Thank goodness.
Finally, we need to truly understand and internalise how the shadow of Identity hangs over this debate like a vampire waiting to pounce.
Let’s be clear. Identity got us to where we are today. If Scots did not feel they had a unique identity there would be no referendum. Identity prepared the ground for the formation of the SNP, its subsequent development, and fanned a centuries old flame for Independence. Our unique Scottish identity is built upon our unique history, our languages and our culture. Identity is important.
But there is a paradox. The idea of a single homogenous national identity has gone. The twentieth century killed that one off. Scotland is a mongrel nation and gets more mongrel every day. Ten per cent of the population of Scotland is English. There are areas of Edinburgh where English people are in the majority. This is to be welcomed.
Similarly, feelings are mixed on what it means to be British. Personally, I don’t consider myself to be British. For me Britain isn’t a nation it’s a political state and not one whose foreign policy I’d like to be associated with. Yet others who live in Scotland feel very differently. Many enjoy being both Scottish and British. Some consider themselves English and British but not Scottish.
Ultimately identity is a personal matter not a political one which is why the 2014 referendum isn’t about identity. It doesn’t matter how many Union Jacks have been detoxified through sporting events or whatever. We aren’t voting on a flag but about where we locate democracy and power. Do you want to be ruled from London? Or do you want self-government here in Scotland. Yes or No. That’s what it’s boils down to.
In the months and years ahead the NO camp can wave the flag of Identity. But rather than sneering at the Union Jack, or worse, burning it, now is a good time to simply ignore it. Like the Scottish/British dichotomy it should play no part in the final outcome in 2014. I’ll reiterate this one more time: Whoever fights 2014 on the question of identity loses. Whoever fights on the relevant questions of power, democracy and possibilities wins.
We have powerful democratic arguments at our disposal. We have the ability to re-imagine Scotland. Let’s put them into service.
(Coming Next: PART 3 TERMS OF ENGAGEMENT)