We know that Tom Gordon has a functioning imagination. We see the Herald’s political editor deploy that imagination regularly – nay, incessantly – as he contributes to the campaign of denigration against any identifiably Scottish institution or organisation demanded by the British Nationalist propaganda effort. Tom Gordon is a leading exponent of the ‘Scotland-as-hellhole’ genre of journalism. Indeed, he may have a credible claim to be the originator of the sub-genre pertaining particularly to NHS Scotland. He is certainly the most accomplished. And prolific! Hardly a day passes but that Uncle Tam has at least one article devoted to undermining public confidence in our health service and those who, by his account, barely make it work.
This doesn’t make Tom Gordon a bad journalist. Not in terms of proficiency, at least. (Whether it makes him bad in any moral or ethical sense of that word is for each of us judge for ourselves.) On the contrary, it takes a highly competent journalist to slant, spin and distort information in the way he does without crossing the line into blatant dishonesty more often than he does. If there is a glowing report on any aspect of NHS Scotland that Tom Gordon can’t transform into a damning indictment then there isn’t one that he can’t assiduously disregard. Good news is no news! It is the mark of his manipulative skill that he is only very rarely not up to the challenge of conjuring crisis, collapse and catastrophe from material which to less professionally jaundiced eyes would seem to suggest that NHS Scotland performs extremely well by the impossible standards of a genuine public health service.
All of which makes the dearth of imagination in his little diatribe about Universal Basic Income (UBI) the more perplexing. It is remarkable that Tom Gordon can glance at an Audit Scotland report on NHS Scotland and immediately see the single vaguely negative point which can by his magic become the only thing worthy of the public’s attention and consideration, and yet he can peer at a widely commended proposal such as UBI and be utterly unable to discern anything positive about it at all. All he can focus on is the fact that the proposal referred to by Reform Scotland is more than four years old and that the figures used dated from 2014. On this basis Uncle Tam dismisses the entire concept of UBI as one of those “wonder-remedies” peddled by politicians and sneeringly accuses its proponents of “flogging dead hobbyhorses”.
OK! We know that in these straitened times journalists are denied the resources to do the little extras like research. But for being prevented from doing his job properly by being too impoverished to possess even the most basic computer, Tom Gordon might have discovered that UBI in a variety of forms is taken very seriously by many authoritative experts and that from at least the 1960’s to the present numerous pilot schemes have been or are being run in countries as diverse as the US, Namibia, Canada and Finland. Of course, not all of the completed experiments have been deemed a success. But is that not the nature of pilot projects? Is it not their purpose to find the ways that a scheme may fail every bit as much as the ways in which it might succeed?
In 2018 the Scottish Government committed £250,000 to a feasibility study for four UBI pilot schemes in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Fife and Ayrshire. The study, which was partly prompted by a report from the highly respected Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA) examining the benefits and challenges of a basic income system in Fife, was due to be completed in September 2019. The resulting report will doubtless be to some extent a casualty of the current public health crisis. But the First Minister has made clear her continuing interest in UBI.
That may be the problem. If it is capable of being described as ‘Scottish’, then it must be denigrated. If it is supported to the slightest extent by the Scottish Government, it must be calumniated. If Nicola Sturgeon is expressing an interest, it must be belittled. If it is SNP policy or even looks like it might become SNP policy having been debated at party conferences, then it must be besmirched. Them’s the rules of British Nationalist propaganda!
It turns out that Uncle Tam hasn’t lost his imagination. He has simply deployed it more subtly than is his customary practice. I don’t believe he is as unaware of the facts about UBI as he pretends. He must be aware that rather than being peddled as a “wonder-remedy”, UBI is widely regarded as having a great deal of potential. He must realise that the economic fallout from the Covid-19 pandemic will both require a major rethink and provide an opportunity for reform. But UBI is being talked about by Nicola Sturgeon and considered by the Scottish Government. That makes it ‘Scottish’ enough for the strictures of the Herald’s British Nationalist editorial line to require that it be denigrated and defamed. A job for Tom Gordon.
It takes imagination to imply that UBI is simultaneously a dangerously draconian economic measure and a pathetically unimaginative policy proposal. Nae bother tae Uncle Tam!
It takes skill to suggest to the reader that it is not possible to look past dated numbers to the underlying principle. Nae bother tae Uncle Tam!
I’ve no idea what it takes to consistently portray Scotland as a depressed and depressing ‘failed state’. But it’s nae bother tae Uncle Tam.
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