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Is the press biased against the SNP? Probably. But we are all nationalists now. - Spectator Blogs

31 January 2013

1:03 PM

31 January 2013

1:03 PM

So we have a question and it is a simple one. Should Scotland be an independent country? There, that wasn’t so difficult was it? It is, after all, the nub of the matter.

Granted, one might agree that Scotland should be an independent country but still conclude that being so is a different matter. That might be a metaphysical matter beyond the Electoral Commission’s ken.

Nevertheless, it is not an unreasonable question. Some reports seemed keen to spin this as some kind of ‘setback’ for Alex Salmond. Apparently dropping the preamble ‘Do you agree’ – included in the SNP’s favoured wording – is yet another indication the nationalists are on the ropes. This is unpersuasive guff.

So too, frankly, is Damian Thompson’s suggestion that this modestly-amended question is hopelessly biased in favour of the nationalist agenda. I would suggest that if Mr Salmond’s critics cannot agree whether this is a triumph for the ‘wily’ First Minister or, instead, a fresh humiliation then the chances are that it is neither.

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In any case, the question matters rather less than the answer. But the manner in which even relatively mundane issues may be interpreted as nationalist defeats is a reminder of the extent to which the nationalist cause lacks friends in the media. There is nothing objectionable about that. Equally, nationalist complaints that the press is incorrigibly biased against the Great Cause are not wholly groundless.

That’s something I pondered in this week’s Think Scotland column:

Generalisations are always tricky propositions liable to be undermined by specific examples that contradict the general premise. Nevertheless, some rules do usually apply. And sometimes these rules appear paradoxical. For instance: the media dislikes the status quo but is also opposed to change.

How can this be so? Easily. The press begins from the proposition that present arrangements – on whatever policy area you care to choose to use as an example – are thoroughly inadequate. Why, Minister, aren’t you doing something about this. Something must be done! There is, you see, a bias in favour of doing something and often it doesn’t much matter what that something might be or however well-considered it is.

That, however, is only the first part of the media-two-step. While it may be important that something be done it is equally important to point out that any particular or given notion is obviously inadequate to the challenge at hand. Worse, it may be a distraction. Or dangerous. Change – upon which we insisted before there was a proposal for actual change – is now risky and dangerous. The media thirsts for novelty but is actually institutionally afraid of new ideas. Independence is a new idea.

The media tends to approve of change as an abstract or general principle but is opposed to it as soon as it become specific or particular. This may be unfortunate but it is the way it is. Politicians tend to be quite chummy with journalists when in opposition. Once they are in government the relationship changes. Yesterday’s crusaders for truth become today’s implacable cynics. Or, as Tony Blair once described the Scottish press, a bunch of “unreconstructed wankers”.

Whole thing here.

Meanwhile, relatedly, allow me to commend David Torrance’s latest column at the same site.  For reasons that are obvious, the SNP are keen to pretend that a Yes vote is the only way to achieve the much-vaunted, mysterious “more powers” Scotland wants. This is not the case, not least for the very good reason that even the Scottish Conservatives are inching away from last-ditch, paleo-Unionism. Indeed, one may make a credible argument that there are no Unionist parties in Scotland any longer. Rather, there are four nationalist parties and the difference between them is of degree as much as it is of kind. Like coffee beans, their nationalism is of different strengths but, in as much as each favours transferring additional powers to Holyrood, even the mildest of them could be considered a tiny-n nationalism.

Anyway, as David says, this puts the SNP in an awkward spot:

Sometimes a lot of SNP and “yes” campaign rhetoric seems to belong in the 1980s rather than 2013. The old rallying cry of “no mandate” still exists, albeit in modified form, while on twitter and elsewhere some Nationalists talk of an “over-centralised” UK state that simply doesn’t exist. Often, you’d be forgiven for thinking a Scottish Parliament hadn’t been established in 1999.

As for the prospects of greater devolution following a “no” vote in the referendum, again I think Sturgeon is overstating her point. Given that all three Unionist parties are now committed to legislating for more powers at some point after the referendum, and that those pledges are likely to be put to the electorate at the 2015 general election, it seems a bit far-fetched to believe that somehow all that will be forgotten about come October 2014.

If the three parties did that then, frankly, they’d get pulverized in the media and, with the SNP’s warnings vindicated, most likely punished at the polls too.

I think this correct. Which leads one to this observation: the SNP are likely to win even if they lose the referendum. A silver medal is no disgrace.

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Show comments
  • http://twitter.com/bobb4you The Alias

    Fluffy thinking Alex, not your best article by a long shot. An effort which would most likely bee seen as ‘reasonable’ and ‘sensible’ and ‘moderate’ by fervent unionists and lie spinners.

  • terregles2

    The fact that Westminster tories are fighting hard to keep the union tells us all we need to know. Thank you very much.

  • Yisrael Medad

    i’ve borrowed a bit for my media critique column in the Hebrew weekly Besheva (http://www.inn.co.il/Besheva/). will provide link when up on Thursday.

  • NorthBrit

    Against my better judgement, I followed the “not a Tory” Torrance link to be confronted by the headline: “Demure Davidson or cocksure Sturgeon – who [sic] would you believe?”, under the questionable heading: “Today’s Thinking”. I didn’t get any further, although given David’s ability to be ridiculous and grammatically sloppy in a mere eleven words, the rest of the article might have been fraught with interest in a similar way to a visit to Bedlam. Why not cite Alan Cochrane next time, for added credibility?

  • Christian_Wright

    Alex Massie wrote: “Meanwhile, relatedly, allow me to commend David Torrance’s latest column at the same site.”

    You know Alex, quoting David Torrance in support of your thesis is the last refuge of the scoundrel.

    There is also something disturbing about the incestuous nature of this coupling between you, where each will reference the other in support of your theses, the way others cite Voltaire or George Orwell.

    And borrowing from Orwell to frame your doubleplusgood Newspeak:

    Under the spreading chestnut tree
    I quote you and you quote me
    There lie they, and here lie we

    .
    And indeed, their LIE David and thee.

    You argue an equivalence between the autonomy (“mysterious more powers”) brought by independence and the autonomy that may (will) be gifted by the other (Unionist) Nationalist parties, uh . . sometime. The choices are in fact as two peas in a pod give or take, you tell us: six of one and a half dozen of the other . . in the round.

    NO means YES, and YES means NO. Unionist is Nationalist. Voting either way leads to acquisition of the same “mysterious powers”. Yes, Newspeak right enough, or as it was called when a’ wur a lad: bull****.

    In a way I don’t blame you co-opting Torrance. Where I to contemplate perpetrating this sort of cosmic fraud, I’d want to lay-off some of the blame, too. Chutzpah, doesn’t quite do justice to this slight of hand, after all.

    I suppose there will always be the credulous who will buy what you’re selling, and upon whose good graces you can rely and seek solace in, when the critics come for you with the hammers and the boards and the nails.

    Perhaps it is that both you and Torrance believe your own bull, both in the bubble, each validating the other. I could see how that might be. If so you are both in sore need of an intervention.

  • CraigStrachan

    I find this talk of more powers for Holyrood a bit odd, considering it hasn’t yet used the tax-varying powers it already has.

  • JPJ2

    Alex Massie.
    Your analysis requires that independence lies on a continuum which has some powers, more powers, and all powers(independence) lying on it.
    I agree with that, BUT the unionists do not, which is why they claim that there must be a vote with only independence being voted upon.
    The TRUE reasdon they do that is so that they can judge just how much to put into their 2015 manifestos dependendent upon the support “Yes” receives-if it were sufficiently badly supported, they would try and TAKE BACK some powers e.g. those related to planning permissions, so that they can build new nuclear power stations against the will of the Scots.
    Scots should vote “Yes” in 2014-they can then come at any issue from a position of strength-if sharing with rUK is appropriate on some issues, it can still be done by genuine mutual consent, not just because rUK has more people than Scotland 🙂

  • Macky Dee

    The Scots will be offered even more unfair powers (DevoMax) to get them to vote to stay, making the already unfair situation (free prescriptions, free education…) even more unfair and Scotland will be an even bigger burden than they are now, and will be resented even more. I just hope they vote to leave!

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Spammo-Twatbury/100002426967566 Spammo Twatbury

      “already unfair situation (free prescriptions, free education…)”

      There is nothing “unfair” about either. Scotland pays its own way, and chooses to prioritise those things over other spending. If you don’t like that, stop voting for Tories and neo-Tories in England.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1075172617 George Laird

    Dear Alex

    “So we have a question and it is a simple one. Should Scotland be an independent country? There, that wasn’t so difficult was it? It is, after all, the nub of the matter”.

    If it was simple as you suggest why didn’t the SNP produce a fair one? Instead we had one that 27,000 signed a petition against because they believe it was rigged!

    And having your ‘rigged’ question shot down Alex, is a humiliation and setback.

    “the nationalist cause lacks friends in the media”.

    I think the answer to that question is simple, do you know how despicable it is in the SNP? I am not someone standing on the sidelines; I am an SNP party member (blacklisted).

    My crime, I asked for an investigation in an email regarding smearing, my legal rights under the data protection act were also broken and it seems that so called ‘decent people’ aren’t so decent unless a telly camera is in front of them.

    “David says, this puts the SNP in an awkward spot:

    Sometimes a lot of SNP and “yes” campaign rhetoric seems to belong in the 1980s rather than 2013. The old rallying cry of “no mandate” still exists, albeit in modified form, while on twitter and elsewhere some Nationalists talk of an “over-centralised” UK state that simply doesn’t exist. Often, you’d be forgiven for thinking a Scottish Parliament hadn’t been established in 1999”.

    The party started as a protest movement, then registered as a political party before becoming a clique, however you could argue more akin to being run as a cult now for Salmond’s benefit.

    And that is why independence will crash right through the floor, 23% isn’t a blip Alex, the Yes Scotland campaign is actually the Yes Salmond campaign, it is loaded with SNP cronies who all hang around the leadership of Salmond and Sturgeon.

    We aren’t taking the ‘best of the best’ here.

    So, should the press sign up to the Salmond clique’s agenda which is greed and power, grab now while the going is good!

    “the SNP are likely to win even if they lose the referendum. A silver medal is no disgrace”.

    I think that is wishful thinking, this all or nothing, there is no second prize, Salmond will lose, Sturgeon will then become the next ‘hope’ but her personality will see slide to oblivion start. Behind Salmond sits clones, not very bright clones of small minds trapped in the bodies of small people.

    Nicola Sturgeon will be Nicola, Queen of the Desert because that is where the SNP is heading, Alex Salmond was kicked out the SNP before, it was a mistake to allow him back, he maybe at present their ‘guru’ but he is a false prophet.

    And Alex, his jolly fat man, man of the people approach, I’m Scottish so I stand up for Scots is false.

    Alex Salmond could lead people to a Curry house but he will not lead people to independence, his second prize is more likely to be a second helping of curry.

    One man, two hands, one mouth, expanding waistline!

    Yours sincerely

    George Laird
    The Campaign for Human Rights at Glasgow University

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Spammo-Twatbury/100002426967566 Spammo Twatbury

      Keep taking the tablets, George.

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1075172617 George Laird

        best save them for yourself, 23% in polls, a*se kicked by Electoral Commission, MSPs being torn apart on telly, SNP activists not willing to come out, public turned against you.

        And the tin lid, Aamer Anwar supports you.

        How the universe has changed.

        When Nicola Sturgeon going to resign as indy minister?

    • Eric the Scotland

      The SNP used to be an admirable party packed with patriotic idealists, now it is packed with socialist zealots and controlled by ruthless careerists.

    • Christian_Wright

      George Laird wrote: “And having your ‘rigged’ question shot down Alex, is a humiliation and setback.”

      Yeah, the inclusion of that insidious, “Do you agree . . ” bit, fair would have discombobulated the folks and tricked them into a YES vote, when they meant to vote NO.

      Salmond has now been humiliated and laid low by the crushing verdict of the Electoral Commission.

      Good to see you’re over the dissociative fugue, George. However, keen senses and a lifetime of experience lead me to believe you may still be a tad upset.

      But every brain storm has a silver lining and yours has led you to gift us some memorable quotes – I shall steal them often:

      “One man, two hands, one mouth, expanding waistline!”
      “Nicola, Queen of the Desert”
      “Behind Salmond sits clones, not very bright clones of small minds trapped in the bodies of small people.”

  • http://twitter.com/DouglasDaniel Doug Daniel

    If the unionist promises of “Jam tomorrow” were in any way sincere, they’d have either made last year’s Scotland Act much more radical, or they’d be pushing for more devolution NOW. The main argument against having a “devo max” option on the ballot was because “you don’t need a referendum to devolve more powers”. Correct – so go and do it now to show us you’re serious about it.

    The unionist parties are scared to let Scots take control of devolution. It has to remain a political process. Any further devolution will be decided not by what powers the public want, but by what recommendations they get from some commission, set up to reach a pre-determined goal (namely “devolve enough to try and stop the SNP, but no further”). A Devo Max option would have forced the unionist parties to set out what powers they would devolve, placing them in a predicament, because it would have confirmed that their idea of how much devolution Scotland needs falls pathetically below the level the public wants. So they had to make sure we didn’t get a vote on it, and try and fob us off with “jam tomorrow” promises.

    Let’s be clear here: there is no “commitment” to further devolution until there is a bill going through parliament. Anything else is just a promise waiting to be broken. And even if they all agreed on what to devolve, it would have to get past English MPs (ha! lot’s of luck with that) and they’d probably set up a commission to kick it into the long grass anyway.

    Further devolution simply won’t happen. Not on the scale Scotland wants and needs.

  • http://twitter.com/NiceTeaParty NiceTeaParty

    The question has been posed – Should Scotland be an independent country ?

    The answer is awaited.

    Odd, given that Scotland is already a Country.

    And the Scots are a Nation.

    Yet a County and a Nation that is treated as a semi-detached and semi-autonomous region of a multi-national state called the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

    A County and a Nation that is treated like some form of second rate vassal land trusted so far but not trusted enough to govern itself

    A County and a Nation that is far more than capable of running itself than the vast majority of the United Nations.

    A Country and a Nation that we should want to stand on its own feet.

    For generations now we have fought, and we continue to fight, for the independence of small nations around the world. It is a complete nonsense that we simply do not see the writing on the wall and give the Scottish People not only the right of self-government but the responsibility too.

    • http://www.facebook.com/michele.keighley Michele Keighley

      Nice to know Scotland is both a County and a Country 😉

  • Jim Fraser

    Greater devolution was (is?) certainly a Unionist position, albeit one they have chosen to eschew so far, perhaps on the rather childish grounds that giving Alex Salmond any sort of (even implicit) support is unacceptable.

    Over to David Cameron, the only member of the anti-independence lobby with any power, to describe exactly how much jam one might expect tomorrow in return for a No vote. That ought to be entertaining.

    • MichtyMe

      David Cameron is going to hand over all those powers he succeeds in repatriating from the EU to the Scottish Government.

  • dougthedug

    Alex:

    The press is biased against the SNP. Just ask the simple question, what newspapers, radio stations or TV stations support the SNP’s aim of independence? The answer is not a single one.

    “…in as much as each favours transferring additional powers to Holyrood, even the mildest of them could be considered a tiny-n nationalism.”

    The desire to transfer more powers to Holyrood would not make the Tories, Labour or the Lib-Dems in the least nationalist even if it were true.

    The only reason devolution was set up in the first place was to try and stop the SNP and Scottish nationalism and to save the union and the only reason that there are mutterings about vague, undefined, extra powers for Scotland if it votes “No” is because the unionist parties have decided in the light of their utter failure to band together and put a devolution option on the referendum ballot paper to try the “Jam Tomorrow” strategy. Vote no and somewhere, some-when the mythical devolution fairy will visit Scotland and bring gifts of minor powers.

    David Torrance said, ” Given that all three Unionist parties are now committed to legislating for more powers at some point after the referendum, “, but I don’t know of any commitments by David Cameron, David Clegg or Ed Miliband to give more powers to Scotland.

    Certainly the Scottish region of the Labour party have their Commission to look at devolution, the Scottish region of the Lib-Dems has published a report on more devolution and David Cameron has made noises about devolving more powers to local councils in Scotland but none is a promise of more powers for Holyrood or a commitment from any party leader to give Scotland more powers in the future.

    Claiming that all three unionist parties want to give Scotland more devolved powers is just like the belief that Alex Salmond wanted a Devo-Max question. It must be true because the media says it’s true even though flies in the face of all the evidence.

  • Wessex Man

    Any sane Scot viewing the Westminster Village in the last two weeks, months, years, decades would vote yes.

    • terregles2

      Think they made up their minds after reading the Great Obfuscation-GERS-2006

  • http://www.facebook.com/bill.cruickshank.9 Bill Cruickshank

    “Given that all three Unionist parties are now committed to legislating for more powers at some point after the referendum, and that those pledges are likely to be put to the electorate at the 2015 general election, it seems a bit far-fetched to believe that somehow all that will be forgotten about come October 2014.”
    It would appear that you and David have missed one of the most important points of the EC’s report. The EC said the the electorate want “clarity” from both sides in the event of a YES/NO vote. The Scottish Government will produce its Whiet Paper in the Autumn

    • Macky Dee

      Why should ANYTHING be offered! The Unionists should say – “If you vote to be on your own, that’s your future! If you want North Sea Oil – just look up who owns North Sea Oil – It’s the UK – and you’re voting to leave the UK so it’s no longer anything to do with you! You will have nothing! (GOOD, BYE!)

      • Auldreekie

        Oh dear – you really don’t know anything, do you, about the Scottish sector of the Continental shelf, defined under international law and subject to Scotland’s own legal system? This has been, I thought, fairly common knowledge for over forty years – recognised by the Labour Cabinet in the mid-seventies, when they decided to suppress the McCrone report which forecast that an independent Scotland would be one of the richest countries in the world. But a recurrent and staggering feature of the whole movement towards Scottish self-government during these past few decades has been the extent to which so many in England are ready to pronounce confidently on Scotland and Scottish affairs, without any basis in knowledge for the presumption.

        • Wessex Man

          Much like many Scots blaming every woe on we English, who have never had a say on any referendums other than those Prescott tried to impose to away with England.

        • http://www.facebook.com/michele.keighley Michele Keighley

          Is that the continental shelf act of 1966 – you know the one passed in committee by the Scots who moved the marine border south just a little bit in defiance of the English members? You really want to read it again if that’s the one.

      • http://www.facebook.com/bill.cruickshank.9 Bill Cruickshank

        It is regretable that you enter the debate so ill informed. 95% of hydrocarbon resources lie in the Scottish sector of the North Sea. The fact that these resources belong to Scotland is not in dispute, under international law what lies within a country’s maritime boundaries belongs to that country. Scotland is a nation in its own right, as is England. The fact that we now wish to withdraw from the Treaty of Union, should not be a problem to most rational, fair minded English people. We will remain firm friends with the people of England. Scotland will be a good neighbour to England.

      • terregles2

        You can’t offer Scotland something that belongs to them.

  • http://twitter.com/cath426 Cath Ferguson

    If all four UK parties are now not unionist but are all for more powers – pulled there kicking and screaming by the electorate and SNP – why were they so resistant to putting this to us democratically as an option when they had the chance? Sorry, but the idea of “vote no and we’ll think about something for Scotland later and we definitely, honestly won’t forget or go back on that, honest” is just idiotic. Parties go back on their promises all the time. The NHS safe in Cameron’s hands; no tuition fees from the Lib Dems; an ethical foreign policy from Labour. Heck the Lib dems even had full fiscal autonomy on their 1997 manifesto and could have delivered in coalition with the SNP.

    They had their chance and blew it.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Spammo-Twatbury/100002426967566 Spammo Twatbury

    “If the three parties did that then, frankly, they’d get pulverized in the media”

    What, the media that you’ve just told us is biased against the SNP?

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