YOU’RE reading this article in a daily newspaper which supports Scottish independence. Remarkably, that’s something you couldn’t have said before the 2014 referendum. The “fourth estate” let the people of Scotland down in the most spectacular fashion imaginable during the independence campaign, as not a single one of 37 daily/national papers spoke for more than 1.6 million Yes supporters – amounting to a uniformity of voice more reminiscent of the press of North Korea or the Soviet Russia.
When Nicola Sturgeon announced this week that she’d be seeking the power to hold a second referendum, most of them immediately took up where they left off in 2014, delivering a rendition of Project Fear’s Greatest Hits with the volume turned up to 11. The Daily Mail screamed “BETRAYAL” across its front page, an unhappy Daily Express howled “THE DIVISION AND MISERY GOES ON” and a Telegraph column called for the First Minister to be decapitated as a “traitor”. Business as usual, in other words.
There’s little sign we can expect any different when indyref2 becomes a reality. With the exception of some slightly more ambiguous messaging from the Daily Record, the Scottish press collectively remains poisonously hostile to independence, with deeply unconvincing “neutral” positions the best that the Yes half of Scotland’s voters can hope for.
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The BBC, meanwhile, has all but retired from the fight: beset by criticism which is often but not always merited, the Corporation – which has a £200m vested interest in Scotland remaining in the Union – has simply thrown up its hands and abandoned Scottish political coverage. There is now no nightly Scottish current-affairs show at all on the state channel (Scotland 2016 having bitten the dust after attracting smaller audiences than the average Partick Thistle match), and the 40-minute opt-out to The Sunday Politics is BBC Scotland’s only dedicated televised political reporting.
In these circumstances, it could reasonably be regarded as something of a miracle both that Yes achieved as much as 45 pre cent in the first referendum, and that support has grown in subsequent years in the face of a continued seven-days-a-week assault, particularly over oil revenues. Nonetheless, those things ARE true, so it’s clear that the effect of an overwhelmingly one-sided media can be, if not ignored, then to a large extent overcome. But how?
The so-called “new media” clearly plays a significant part. According to figures recently released by the National Readership Survey for 2016, my own site Wings Over Scotland – has more readers online every month than the Daily Record, Scottish Sun, The Scotsman, The Herald or the Scottish Daily Express, which is an astonishing statistic for what’s essentially a one-idiot operation with a tiny fraction of the resources and content of a newspaper.
But as readers may recall from the words of Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic Park, “life finds a way”. Yes supporters denied a voice in the traditional press simply looked elsewhere, not just to Wings but to a whole raft of pro-independence websites, and found sources of facts and opinion which they then took from the internet to the streets, pubs, and workplaces of Scotland.
Perhaps more than any political grouping in recent history, the independence movement is a true grassroots one, with little to nothing in the way of centralised control. It owns online and social media almost – though not quite – as comprehensively as Unionism owns the print press, and while you can’t win elections or referendums online they’re the sources feeding effective ammunition to the armies of people who go out and knock on doors and persuade voters.
For indyref2, the Yes side should once again operate on the assumption that it has no chance of getting a fair shake from the mainstream media (a straightforwardly factual and non-pejorative term to which it inexplicably hotly objects).
The overt and perfectly legitimate bias of the commercial press – which is entitled to take any view it chooses – will again be amplified by supposedly impartial broadcasters, as the BBC and others run daily and nightly round-ups of (nearly all Unionist) newspapers while excluding (largely pro-Yes) online outlets, and selects most of its commentators from the ranks of those papers, thereby allowing them to set, frame and control the daily political agenda despite many of them having tiny readerships in Scotland.
WHILE the anger of independence supporters at that situation is rational and understandable, it’s counter-productive to go and stand outside BBC headquarters shouting about it.
To borrow another football analogy, it’s a bit like St Mirren fans mounting mass protests outside Celtic Park about how unfair it is that the league champions have much more money than everyone else – it might be true, but yelling about it isn’t going to change it and there’s a high chance that you’re just going to be made to look like a handful of loonies. (Remember, it’s the media that gets to choose the camera angles and edit the vox pops.) To win this time, the Yes movement needs to do what it did last time, only more so. The odds have tipped in our favour – while Scottish Labour have imploded spectacularly and nobody wants the poisoned chalice of leading a new “Better Together” campaign, there are 100,000 more SNP members to go out canvassing and leafleting, and thousands more Greens too.
My own site will be producing another Wee Blue Book, and printing far more than the 300,000 copies we distributed to every corner of Scotland last time, despite being a bunch of amateurs with no idea what we were doing and nobody to explain the rules to us.
And that’s the key – in 2014 independence supporters didn’t sit back and wait for someone to tell them what to do. When they saw something that needed doing, they just got up off their sofas and went and did it by themselves, because nobody knows their own social groups and their own local areas like the people who live there. The Yes campaign was a microcosm of what we want an independent Scotland to be – people taking responsibility for themselves and getting on with the job of making things better.
We know where we stand with the Scottish media, and that we can expect no help from 99 pre cent of it. We can grouse about the press all we like, but the best way to counter it is to simply bypass it, taking the truth directly to our friends, families and neighbours, face to face. By doing that last time, the Yes movement earned itself a much stronger platform to start from this time, and the opposing side is far weaker now than it was then. If we keep faith with the strategy, it’ll take us the last few yards.