2007 - 2021

Media Confusion

It’s possible that the UK’s mass media, based in London, doesn’t understand Scotland. Have you noticed that too? (Ed, yes …) Let me illustrate with a wee example, from back in the Before Times.

In 2001, I was working for a newspaper, designing their Sunday magazine supplement. For reasons that I no longer remember, the paper was based in London and the magazine in Edinburgh. About six months into the supplement’s life, the owners decided to move the whole operation to London. Anyone who wanted to stay on could visit the main office, to see if they wanted to move. I went on that visit.
At lunch, over a long pub table, one of the London-based staff mentioned his liking of Edinburgh. Visited every year for the festival. “Without us, Edinburgh would be broke”, or words to that effect. I paused for a moment to consider a reply, because as we know there are several ways to pop this particular bubble of delusion. I did not pause long.
Said staffer – who I had worked with at a distance for all of those six months – suddenly exclaims he’s kidding. Obviously Edinburgh is successful and such. I was perplexed. The sudden change from banter to apology was… odd. Unprecedented.
About five minutes later I came to the startling conclusion that he might actually have been intimidated by me.
As far as I understand it, from closing in on a half century of living in this body, there’s nothing particularly scary about me. I was last in a fight in Primary 5. And that was a no-score draw. However. Here I was guilty of being Scottish in London.
Let’s face it. London is has a bigger population than Scotland and, from inside, there is nowhere more important. Is it any surprise Londoners have little conception of Scotland?
If someone who I thought knew me (at least enough for lunch time banter) could be scared of me, mostly because of my accent, what does that say about the UK media and its understanding of Scotland?
Later, I lived in Southampton for nine months and Scotland was mentioned on BBC Radio 4’s main evening news twice in that time. Once to talk about the smoking ban (Scotland’s was in place, England & Wales was debating one) and once for an ‘and finally’ segment because deer had blocked the A9. How ludicrous! Such jokes!
It becomes clear that Scotland gets mentioned when it affects England and only then. Unless there’s a joke to be made at our expense. The ignorance is thick and its way past time we were rid of it.
I was 27 when I went to London. It seems odd, but at the time I hadn’t thought much about Scotland’s place in the UK. I’d noticed only-Scottish-when-they’re-losing sport and got annoyed every time the UK was conflated with England, but that was probably it.
Scotland’s parliament had just returned and Braveheart shocking generations of Scots with the knowledge that their country had a history was only six years past. For most of us, independence was not considered.
Yet from small seeds… My London experience opened my eyes a wee bit to Scotland’s place in the UK. The stereotypes bandied, the space opening up around me on the tube when I spoke to another Scot. Being called ‘Jock’. Nothing traumatic to be clear, but an impression.
An aside here. When I came back to Scotland at the end of 2001, I decided that since we had our own parliament and I had a proper grown-up job, I should join a political party. I chose the Scottish Greens because of my worries about climate change (I believe we now call this climate breakdown, or the climate emergency). Interestingly, their manifesto also called for Scottish independence… which got me to wondering. Why would an environmental party be pro-independence? Their reasoning opened my eyes to seeing independence as being about more than simply flag waving. To what some call civic, rather than ethnic, nationalism.
Now back to the main story: the media Before Times and 2007, where Gordon Brown becomes PM. I was and very much am not a fan. Regardless, I very clearly noted that UK media called him Scots in a derogatory fashion, including even the Guardian, who I had until then thought where okay. This, then, was the second major point when I realised the UK media had no clue about Scotland, or even that their attitude to it was problematic. It would not be a great exaggeration to write that media anti-Scottishness was a trigger that helped push me towards wanting Scotland’s independence.
What we see of Scotland in the UK media is not what we see in the Scotland around us. The attitudes that we hear expressed too often do not reflect our lived experience. Non-Scots voices making jokes at Scotland’s expense sting and make anger. How many comedies have Scots as the butt of the joke? The see-you-Jimmy hats with the orange hair, the Have I Got News For You drunk beggar, the eternal skinflint. How come there is never an English equivalent of these?
These things have a cumulative effect. They lead to things like seeking out non-corporate media sources. Or, finally, questioning Scotland’s place in the UK.
The long-established power of the UK is massively centralised. To my mind, that is reflected in its media and that centralisation is its weakness. When we realise that we don’t see ourselves, our lives or our stories reflected back at us by our media, we are left with questions of the media’s legitimacy.
Every time another dubious opinion on Scotland is expressed, or another joke is made at our expense, how many more are started on the path to wanting Scotland’s independence?


Comments (18)

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  1. Axel P Kulit says:

    I recall working in London. I went for a drink with a bunch of people from the office and ordered a whiskey (beer and London Transport are a bad mix), The manager immediately said “Whisky, that’s a queer’s drink”. I wish I had been able to transport him to say Muirhouse and get him to repeat that.

    That was one contract I had no desire to see extended.

  2. w.b. robertson says:

    Last time I was in London it was like travelling in a foreign land. Since, according to the census, the majority of present day Londoners were not born in England , I wonder how many of them understand the English still living among them? (never mind the distant Scots!)

    1. Stewart Bremner says:

      The 2011 census recorded that 2,998,264 people or 36.7% of London’s population are foreign-born. The trope of London being a foreign land is racist in origin. https://data.london.gov.uk/dataset/ae01ef10-5ae8-4747-9cd5-ab8ae094bf04

    2. Anna says:

      What on earth is your point? Do you only want to go to places where the folk are like you? Or are you trying to suggest that folk who originate in other countries should not be in London? Does “foreign” to you equal bad or dangerous or something?
      London is a great city to visit and I think the diversity of people on the streets, the shops, restaurants, languages, art and music etc play a big part in making it such an interesting place to go.

  3. w.b. robertson says:

    don`t know whether my contribution above would be rated as anti English or anti foreigners under the latest proposed Holyrood legislation. Nothing like living dangerously!

    1. You certainly sound racist

      1. douglas clark says:


        On this amazing internet thingy I came to know quite a few Londoners. What they told me – this is ten years or so ago – was that mixed marriages were very very common. (They also educated me on a lot of other things too.) And this was from a open minded Asian web site,

        I thought that that was a positive.

        I still do.

        So, I think that whilst racism obviously exists it is not the only force in play.

        There are the obvious cases of Scotland welcoming asylum seekers and “the Glasgow Girls”.

        And no, we are certainly not perfect.

    2. Bruce McQuillan says:

      Its not someone’s skin colour that makes a land feel “foreign” to me. Its not culture, its not food or dress or accent: its about values, shared values.

      The majority of Scots feel that it doesn’t matter where you come from if you choose to make scotland your home: that’s a value I share and a diversity I celebrate.

      This is Scotland if England has different values that’s up to them.

  4. Squigglypen says:

    I read this article with interest…very like something I encountered in Liverpool.
    I was asked in 1964 at an English college by someone from Cornwall if we had electricity in Scotland (not a joke)…and when I introduced myself at our first meeting in that same English college.. .there was laughter when I said I came from Glasgow…I looked at them in surprise…your accent they explained….But you have accents I said bemused…didn’t you know I smiled …. and proceeded to give a selection of all the accents I had encountered in college…Yorkshire..’put wood int’ hole..(shut door ) etc….there was an embarrassed silence as they came to terms with their rudeness and arrogance. Months later I was brought up before the Vice Principal for something I had said to a lecturer ( still don’t know what upset him)…This particular Vice Principal was feared by the Sassenachs in college ( she reduced them to tears)…but bothered me not….she ended up saying I was a ‘wall a veritable wall and she couldn’t get thro to me’….I have to admit I spoke deliberately in the vernacular to her and I reckon she hadn’t a clue what I was saying but was too proud to ask me to explain. We never met again in college…she probably had to lie down with a glass of wine( maybe whiskey)…and recover…much as we Scots have had to recover from this narrow minded little nation..thinking only how they live is the right way…..and that when Scots speak we attack them like the savages we are. We really have to get shot of them…SOON!..before our mental health/self worth is irreparably damaged..

  5. Josef Ó Luain says:

    That’s what you can expect when you travel to foreign countries. Why would London be any different from Berlin, or wherever?

  6. Andy Smith says:

    Well said Stewart, It’s always irked me that the English view of all the home nations is based on their supposed superiority, ie Scots are mean, Irish are thick, and the Welsh just talk funny.
    Added to that is the media bumming- up of every English “success” ie in sport their football team has always had the “best” goalkeeper in the world, they “invented” every sport under the sun( if football was really coming home it’d be heading to Leith which has the oldest claim to football rules ) granted if gold medals were given for self promotion they’d top every table. Rant over !!

  7. Jacquie Tosh says:

    Sad that I cannot share this on Facebook. They have removed it twice for contravening their standards on spam!!
    I really do not understand it. I suspect it has been complained about by one or more BritNatz and Facebook just cave. Doesn’t happen the other way round!

  8. Chris Ballance says:

    “Scotland gets mentioned only when it affects England”. Indeed.
    I was educated in England and did History A level. And I’ll never forget my bemusement – genuine bemusement – on arriving here at university and discovering there was a course called “Scottish history” and that it was different from the History I was taught at school. I do remember being taught about the Act of Union and the 15 and 45 rebellions – but discovering that Scotland had a separate history before that had never featured (for some reason my history teaching never seemed to cover kings called Edward and the period before 1485).
    It’s a strength. In England it is assumed that getting rid of Scotland (and Northern Ireland) will make England wealthier. England owns these two countries as sort of social service to them – just as England did her colonies a great service by subjugating them – as Boris Johnson has previously suggested. The step from there to seeing Scottish indy as a vote winner in England, particularly among Tories, is not a big one. Their attachment to Scotland is mainly romantic coupled with a view that anything which makes “England” (ie the UK) smaller is sad. The more awkward we become, particularly in Westminster, the less romantic the union is. Had it fallen out that Scottish MPs in Westminster had been able to stop brexit – we’d be independent already.
    I still have cousins in London who have holidayed in almost every country in Europe – but never Scotland.

  9. SleepingDog says:

    To be fair, the Upper-Class Twit stock comedy character is usually portrayed as English by the English.

  10. Gercon says:

    If I was going to an interview for a job in London I think I would have a better chance with a Scottish accent than a Geordie. Thankfully I am not.

  11. Arboreal Agenda says:

    Bigotry is bigotry no matter who is spouting it.

  12. AWoLsco says:

    I want to see Scotland independent as much as the next man, despite having lived in England for the last 4 decades or so. i’ll try and put at least the gist of my impressions of that foreign country down in as short a space as possible. I left Scotland , in the mid seventies, disgusted by its feeble ineffectual nationalism. i had a life to lead and it wasn’t going to be spent traipsing from door to door trying to persuade Anglish Royal faimly admirers that the days of Empire were over and it was time to get off the auld bahookie( which badly needed a kick up) and get oot there an’ dae fur yersel’s. Self help is the best help. Oh sure, you might become poorer, for a while, but not that much poorer….and if you’ve got pride, pride in your country and your neebors, whit else does a man need? Someone once said to me….All a man needs is a roof ower his heid, food on the table, an’ a lown place tae shite in. The company o’ a well- trained, lyall dug would help, Everything else is an optional extra. True or not true?

    The ‘English’…… What a laugh. You Scots are miles behind the times. Pure English people are now something of a rarity. Now they are crossed with everything under the sun….Welsh, Scots, Irish, French , German, Turkish, Greek, Balkan. The last authentic Inglisman o’ ma ken was Rambling Sid Rumpo.

    Reading through those comments, my impression, as a Scottish ex -pat, is one of naive, almost infantile, perception of the forces arraigned against your/my desire for independence. You folks , as presently organised, in a nutshell, don’t stand a chance of success.
    Unlike you, I’ve had a chance to look at how those people, here, in SE England, operate….and it isn’t pretty.
    To stand half a chance at getting independence, we Scots (yes, i’m with you, despite your being as thick as f–k) have to up our game by about 200%.

    1. AWoLsco says:

      addendum: I visit Scotland often, 2-3 times a year in the fond hope of re-newing my Scottishness….to hear the odd word or two of the auld language, the jokes about the English and other foreigners, the jokes and couthy observations of other religions and cultures.
      Sadly, with the passing of each decade, far from Auld Scotia re-affirming the old language and culture to her returning far flung sons and daughters, she seems hell-bent on the denial of such, but rather prefers to preach to her returnees some ethereal, huggy- fluffy, pinko cosmopolitanism….while at the same time being anything but cosmopolitan. I nod and smile at all this nonsense, thankful that I will be heading south in a few days. The Scots of today really have lost their wits. They’ve been watching too much television, have believed it and have become Anglified in the process without realising it
      I think we are witnessing a first, the death of a nation by television……That’s why Boris is so confident and relaxed about refusing a referendum on Scottish independence…because he knows that Scotland has just about been Anglified, psychologically by television and demographically by the invasion of substandard white English settlers in business, the police and universities.
      The trouble with you Scots today is that you’re too nice for your own good. The dodo was a very ‘nice’ bird……but look what happened to it.
      “The last virtue of a dying society is tolerance.”……..Socrates, 470-399BC, Athens ,Greece.

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