A Compliant Media
There are facts in the independence debate. A clear example would be that Scotland contributes more proportionately to the UK than it receives in government spending. Year after year this relatively easily understood fact is distorted, misrepresented and portrayed as some kind of inaccessible financial jargon by Scotland’s unionist media. It is not party political for the media to explain how Scotland has paid proportionately more per head in taxation for the past 30 years than we received in government spending, nor is it impartial to explain how the net effect of being part of the UK in financial terms is that Scotland contributes disproportionately towards UK debt repayments. It is a dereliction of duty for this information not to be made easily accessible for every member of the public. A properly functioning democratic media would strive to enlighten the population on this most basic and fundamental part of our governance. Moreover, they would dare to imagine how our governance could be different, or more simply to imagine how we could do things better here.
Actually, it seems to me that one of the primary motivations of Scotland’s unionist media is to avoid properly explaining fiscal concepts, among others, to the electorate thus enabling scaremongering and misrepresentations to readily take hold. It enables and encourages people to distance themselves from the debate because there is no clarity or straight forward explanation to corroborate the statements of each side of the argument. We all enjoy reading or hearing something that backs up our instinctive feelings on an issue. When that doesn’t happen a festering uncertainty begins to form, questioning our instincts. Of course, it is healthy to question your own attitudes, but when only one side of an argument is given a voice our opinions are naturally swayed.
But there is something else that happens, a side effect that is especially damaging to the unionist political parties and mainstream media. Because of the lack of clarity provided by the media unionist politicians or political parties are not robustly challenged on their assertions, even when they are plainly incoherent and wrong. This appears to occur as a consequence of the mainstream media preventing facts from being transparently explained in order to further the established media’s own political aims. To question a half-truth, even when uttered from a politician’s mouth, would ultimately reveal a hidden fact, a hidden source of much needed illumination. An intellectual void is created in the unionist parties and mainstream media as a result of this which persists and is maintained because constructive debate is completely stifled. Look at how Henry McLeish is ostracised by the Labour party for questioning their referendum strategy or their lack of vision for Scotland. This is further amplified by a lack of policy debate at party conferences, or the competition over an increasingly limited minority of swing voters in key English constituencies, or by a visceral hatred for ideas which would challenge standard unionist beliefs. From where I am looking at the unionist parties’ and mainstream media’s future the lack of originality, diversity and intellectual energy created by this is devastating. Ultimately our country is then governed without intellectual rigor or strong inspirational vision.
And you get what we saw last week with the incredible, unbelievable, petition plea from Gordon Brown. Why was Mr. Brown not asked to explain why something as insipid as a petition was going to do any help for the cause of further devolution when he had apparently already guaranteed agreement of further devolution from the three main unionist parties? Never mind that he had just finished campaigning against the absolute empowerment of the people of Scotland, on the promise that more powers were guaranteed. Well, apparently not, it appears we need to sign a petition just for the new powers to be debated in parliament. Gordon Brown is above being questioned though; he is almost messianic in his portrayal by the mainstream media in Scotland. Maybe someone should tell him, independence would have given us these new powers and a whole lot more. I have to ask myself “what is the future for the Labour party in Scotland if this is the best they can offer us?” Thankfully, this is not the pro-independence movement’s problem. It is our opportunity. Look at what we can create and how refreshing a window we can provide for Scotland onto the world.
It is symptomatic of the behaviour of our mainstream media that they allowed Gordon Brown’s petition plea to be broadcast and published almost unquestioningly. I have come to expect this sort of behaviour. It is also vital that the new media we are creating in Scotland does not become anything like the closed circle that exists now. I think that the diversity which already exists in the pro-independence new media is already quite refreshing. The creativity that we are having to use now in order to have our rightful voice will, in my opinion, provide the framework for a kind of enlightened media in Scotland’s future. It is important that we remember to demand answers to questions, even when they are uncomfortable to hear and shed light onto facts even when they could be seen to work against our immediate interests. If we want to live in a proper democracy, it is vital our future media shares that desire.
The better country that we are imagining Scotland can be has to be created in order to come into existence. For me the referendum result is a huge missed opportunity to enact that change, but we should not let that deter us from changing what we can today – and the media is there to be changed.
I am encouraged by the fact that a lot of my fellow citizens are thinking the same thing.