False Memos and French Farce
By Mike Small
The British media is in dire need of some redemption this Easter, as print and broadcast outlets have ended up embarrassing themselves in their desperate urgency to smear Nicola Sturgeon and shape an election they see running out of their control.
At least one of these newspapers has quite a track-record in recent years. It’s ‘incredible’ how the Telegraph has been at the heart of political intrigue for years, leading on the expenses scandal and more recently with Peter Oborne’s resignation and description of the Telegraph’s economic coverage “a form of fraud on its readers”. The paper hit shocking depths that few others could compete with during the referendum and published a frankly shameful piece by Fraser Nelson yesterday celebrating food banks as a solution not a problem, and an expression of the (lesser heard of) Big Society in action (‘David Cameron should not be afraid to talk about food banks’).
Writer and journalist Ian Fraser, he of the excellent Shredded: Inside RBS, reminds us how the Telegraph’s Scottish editor, Alan Cochrane, viewed his role during the referendum. Cochrane’s diary of April 15 2014 reads, after Alistair Darling asked him to spike an unhelpful column: “Jenny said I should do what Darling asks. It’s not really very good journalism but what the hell does journalism matter. This is much more important.”
Whether the paper emerges as dupe or instigator of the Sturgeon smear remains to be seen. Certainly the papers Scottish Political Editor Simon Johnson seems to have gone awfy quiet. Does it matter who it was? Andrew Wilson writes in Scotland on Sunday: “The latest farcical Westminster village story on leaked French diplomatic statements, denied by all involved, won’t change a single vote.” Well, it might actually. If the Lib Dems are caught red-handed their demise as a political force in Scotland will be nearing completion. Political cludeo is well under way.
But Michael Marten brings up a deeper point, writing: “It seems the “leak” comes from Scottish Liberal Democrat Alistair Carmichael’s Scotland Office (you know, the one that “…ensure[s] the smooth working of the devolution settlement in Scotland… represent[ing] Scottish interests within the UK government and… represent[ing] the UK government in Scotland”)”. Both the media and the civil service are rocked by this, though it has, admittedly seen the better elements of journalism jolted into action. Over at the Sunday Herald, Paul Hutcheon seems to be closest to nailing it down, writing:
“Speaking exclusively to the Sunday Herald at the French Consulate, Coffinier said he told an official at the Scotland Office about the meeting. He ruled out Scotland Office director Francesca Osowska, but said: “It was one of her colleagues. I’m not wanting to disclose [who] because it’s not in the Press.” Told other parts of the UK Government were blaming the Scotland Office, he said: “I’m not going to help them to get one of my friends, because these people are my friends, to help pin it down on him – or her.” Asked how the memo came into the public domain, he said: “That you have to ask the Scotland Office.”
Well whoever it is a Panelbase in today’s Sunday Times puts the SNP up four and Labour down two (SNP 45% LAB 29% CON 14%) – which would re-establish Scotland as a Tory MP-free zone, a potentially useful strategic and symbolic coup. It’s in this context that we can expect more of the same from the establishment and their media allies.
The visceral responses we’re witnessing comes as response to an unconventional threat, led by an articulate and popular woman at the head of a movement that’s out of control in a country they can’t dominate. As Kevin McKenna notes “The difficulties begin when you are dealing with something you don’t understand. Something adjacent to fear materialises and this leads to hostility.”
Reflecting on the fact that the movement and surge doesn’t reflect the orthodoxy of self-interest and growth but a potential sea-change in values and priorities he goes on: “What if, alive to the pitfalls and uncertainties that lie ahead, they are happy to sustain a measure of deficit in their own finances for several years to come, trusting that, in return, an investment is made in the economic future of the country by delivering policies that will lift their neighbours out of poverty? If this were so, then we are indeed living through a revolution.”
That is indeed a crisis for our political elites. It would mean not just that their attempts to smear and distort will be exposed in an era of media openness, but it would present them with a deeper crisis of legitimacy. If the scare stories about economic uncertainty don’t work any more because we are already experiencing economic uncertainty and are beginning to reject the models and values put to us, then this Easter will be remembered long after this smear fades in the wake of the coming change.