Barbara from Wiltshire says!

I’m not sure what is newsworthy about a caller on a BBC programme being abysmally ignorant about and offensively condescending towards Scotland. The broadcasting arm of the British state does precisely what one would expect of it. Barbara from Wiltshire thinks and speaks exactly as one would expect of somebody whose opinions are informed entirely by the British media. And Nicky Campbell is just as shallow and vacuous as he needs to be in order to serve as the voice of the British establishment – and keep his job.

It would be great if Campbell were more like James O’Brien (LBC). His conversation with Barbara from Wiltshire might then have gone rather differently. He might, for example, have pointed out to the woefully ill-informed – or wilfully misinformed? – that it is not just Nicola Sturgeon “spouting she wants Scotland to be independent” but around half the people of Scotland. He might have pointed out that Nicola Sturgeon was only doing what she was elected to do. He might have pointed out that what her father fought for was democracy; and that denying the people of Scotland the right of self-determination is hardly in keeping with democratic principles.

It would be gratifying if Barbara from Wiltshire were better informed. It would be great if she were aware of a world other than that presented to her by the mainstream British media. It would be wonderful if she retained that precious spark of human intellect that inspires us to question dominant narratives; and a glimmer of that human spirit which provokes us to challenge established power.

But none of this is going to happen. Because the broadcasting arm of the British state does precisely what it is supposed to do. Because the British media are the voice of the British establishment. Because the narratives which serve established power are, not just dominant, but overwhelming.

The media should be the community of communities which constitute the nation talking amongst themselves. We just don’t have that in Scotland. With few exceptions – The National being the most prominent – we do not have newspapers which report and present and analyse and explain and discuss current affairs and major issues from a Scottish perspective. We have newspapers which are little more than propaganda sheets for an increasingly shrill and aggressive British Nationalist ideology.

We don’t have broadcasting in Scotland by Scotland for Scotland; we have broadcasting at Scotland by the British establishment for the established power of the British state.

Scotland is not as it should be as much because of the cultural anomaly of the media as due to the constitutional anomaly of the Union. Scotland is less than it might be, not only because we are denied the political powers that we need in order to pursue our aspirations, but also because we lack the means to create and communicate and criticise and recast an idea of ourselves.

Both these anomalies must be rectified as a matter of urgency.



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The BBC won’t change

Good to see the SNP taking a more robust position on the British media. It won’t make any difference, of course. The BBC is part of the British establishment. It is the voice of the ruling elite. It would be folly to imagine that voice might serve anything other than the interests of the ruling elite.

Even if there is an Ofcom investigation, and even if the BBC is found to have breached any law, regulation or code of conduct, it will not change. Even if it is ruled that the BBC has been wilfully dishonest, it will not change. It will not change because it cannot change. It cannot change because it is part of the British establishment. The BBC can change only if and to the extent that the British establishment changes.

Right now, the entire British state is in full defensive mode. Other, perhaps, than in time of war, the British establishment has never been more resistant to change. At such times, the tendency is to look backwards. To cling to the past. To hold to a standard based on a mythical golden age. Any more realistic standard is just too much of a challenge. The British establishment is not going to change. So the British media are not going to change.

In truth, the fundamental nature of the British state has not changed in more than three centuries. There has been no revolution such as is required to destroy and replace the ruling elite. All that has changed are the methods by which that ruling elite maintains its structures of power, privilege and patronage. And even that boils down to the one thing – manipulation. The British establishment has grown more efficient at manipulating people. It has improved the apparatus by which public perceptions are managed. The British propaganda machine is second to none. And better than most because it has had such a long period of uninterrupted development serving the same purpose. Serving the same ruling elite.

This machinery of manipulation is now so deeply entrenched and woven into British society as to have become all but invisible and undetectable. The disinformation, distortion and dishonesty of the British media tend not to be seen as such by those who identify as British because it is so much part of the culture in which they have been embedded all their lives and generation after generation.

Even those who operate this machinery of manipulation are not necessarily fully aware that what they are doing is propaganda. It is entirely possible that the people responsible for BBC Question Time genuinely believe they are doing an excellent job. They believe they are presenting the truth because they have never questioned the truth they are presenting. They have never learned to question it. Their capacity for questioning has been excised. The manipulators are effective because they themselves are products of the machinery of manipulation.

The BBC will not change. The British media will not change. Only we can change. People can recover the capacity to question. They can become aware of the machinery of manipulation and its methods. And, being aware, they can be resistant to its effects. They may even break the machinery.

So, it’s good that Keith Brown is publicly denouncing the BBC. Not because it will bring about change in the corporation, but because it may prompt a few more people to question the version of the truth that is being fed to them.


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Loose lips

Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh devotes much of her column in The National today to a valiant attempt to repair some of the damage done by her colleagues who apparently thought it a good idea to follow up the stirring event in Glasgow on Saturday with a stunningly ill-considered attack on the Yes movement’s online activists in The Herald the following morning. Acknowledging that “pro-indy bloggers do great work” may go some way to placating those who were understandably perplexed and offended to learn from Neil Mackay that the SNP had declared “war on the cybernats”.

Mackay’s “exclusive” rehashing a stale gobbet of Unionist propaganda was laced with quotes from a trio of SNP worthies from which the former editor who oversaw the demise of the Sunday Herald was able select the words which would help him spin some shallow, lurid sensationalism from a tired, trite trope. Angus Robertson, Alyn Smith MEP and Stewart McDonald MP were reported as referring to online Yes activists using terms such as “cowards”, “creepy”, “snarling”, “vicious”, “nasty” and “vile”. Hard-hitting stuff.

Could these “leading figures” in the SNP be talking about the same people Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh later praised for doing “great work”? Well, of course not! Not according to Stewart McDonald, at any rate. Apparently, when he said what he is reported as saying, he didn’t mean to offend any of the people who were offended.

The thing is, Stewart, when you loose a salvo from a blunderbuss hoping for the effect of a sniper rifle, you are almost inevitably going to be obliged to then spend an inordinate amount of time and effort picking pellets from the posteriors of those who would be your friends and allies.

Stewart McDonald, too, takes to the pages of The National to proclaim that The Herald’s “”awful ‘cybernat’ headline pissed me off“. He seems genuinely taken aback to find that the thoughtful, measured comments which he could swear were what he fed in, came out after ‘processing’ by Mackay sounding more like the demented ranting of a thoroughly lubricated pub pundit.

Mr McDonald seems like a decent sort of person. I understand him to be a very effective MP who does excellent work for party, nation and cause. To the best of my knowledge he has expressed no ambition to abandon this work in favour of pursuing the office of Speaker of the House of Commons. For which he is to be applauded. But his evident naivety in dealing with the media is cause for concern.

The pressing issue for @NicolaSturgeon as party leader is that alarm bells didn’t ring in the minds of leading figures in the SNP immediately on receiving a call from somebody like Neil Mackay.— Peter A Bell #DissolveTheUnion (@BerthanPete) May 6, 2019

As I commented on Twitter a couple of days ago, it simply isn’t acceptable that senior figures in the SNP should be so lacking in circumspection when dealing with journalists. It is a failing which, as party leader, Nicola Sturgeon really must address as a matter of urgency. Frankly, it beggars belief that experienced politicians should be unaware of the ways in which the media manipulates information. This was not some cunning trap laid by Neil Mackay. It was one of the oldest tricks in the book. And yet these three traipsed into it like children gaily following the Pied Piper into the chasm.

Perhaps Nicola could start by passing on to all her colleagues Kevin McKenna’s message to Angus Robertson, Stewart McDonald and Alyn Smith.


Leave the Unionist propaganda to your opponents. Re-double your efforts on doing what we pay you for: fighting hard for the communities and the lives that have been destroyed by your political foes. Don’t pretend to be upset at the uncouth and uncivilised language of the cybernats. Instead, when you’re sharing cocktails in all your kilted finery at your next £100-a-head dinner you could try using some of it on the bankers and industrialists you’re all fond of meeting and who are guilty of much, much more than a few obstreperous cybernats.


My message to the SNP on ‘cybernats’: Stop perpetuating a Unionist myth

That seems like a good way to introduce a crash course in dealing with the media. And perhaps those who qualify as “leading figures in the SNP” will indulge me if I presume to offer a bit of advice specific to the situation in which that particular trio found themselves.

When the phone rings at some odd hour when you might be expected to have at least partly unwound after a hard day of politicking and you answer to be greeted by a journalist who informs you in slightly breathless tones that he is about to submit a piece on [hot topic] and asking if you would like to comment, BEWARE!

The sensible thing to do in that situation is to offer to submit a written statement by email within the hour. If the hack insists this would be too late for inclusion, politely end the exchange and hang up. You won’t get your name in the paper. But neither will you get yourself in the shit.


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Lies and liars of every sort

David Mundell

There are many different types of lie. Human beings don’t want for ways of being dishonest. Lies can, for example, be artful or clumsy, They may be cleverly contrived and fully detailed accounts lacking only the element of veracity. Or they may be obvious untruths lacking all credibility.

As well as being differentiated by the skill of the person telling them, lies are often assessed on the degree of harm caused or intended. White lies are supposed to be at least relatively harmless. These are lies purportedly told to avoid giving offence or causing hurt. The repulsive Christmas gift is received with effusive, but entirely false, gratitude. The prior engagement excuse for non-attendance is deployed in preference to the more honest, but rather hurtful, explanation that the individual concerned is a crashing bore whose company you would avoid even at risk of serious injury or death.

White lies are lies that we forgive ourselves for. The term is a euphemism for what, were we more honest, we would call insincerity. A character flaw we tend to deplore in others and are reluctant to admit to.

Exaggeration is another form of dishonesty which, depending on context, can be considered quite forgivable. Who doesn’t embellish a story that would otherwise be too mundane to be worth retelling? Who doesn’t put a light coat of varnish on their CV? Who among us doesn’t take a futile stab at trying to convince the doctor that we’re more abstemious than is actually the case?

Of course, there is a line to be crossed. The line between deducting a few pints from your weekly alcohol consumption in the forlorn hope of impressing a doctor who has heard it all before and adding a few zeros to your annual income in an attempt to secure a loan. Or between polishing an otherwise factual anecdote to make it funnier and trying to pass off a total fiction as an honest account.

Broken promises are rarely, if ever forgivable. Perhaps, if there is good reason to believe the commitment was made in good faith and/or there is a genuine excuse for failure to deliver, the culpability may be lessened. But this very seldom applies in the case of political promises. Few politicians are felt to have earned a presumption of good faith. And the authenticity of a political excuse is, for good reason, deeply suspect.

Fabrication and deception are forms of lying which commonly accompany one another. Fabrication involves imparting information which is known to be false. Or, at the very least, information which is unverified. This becomes deception when the purpose is to cause others to believe something which is untrue. Invariably, with malign intent.

The political smear story is an example of a lie which usually adds distortion to exaggeration, fabrication and deception in order to mislead the public about the conduct and character of a particular individual. By the manner in which they are presented, details which are, in themselves, entirely true can be made to serve a narrative which is totally dishonest.

There are exceptions – which we shall come to in a moment – but, generally speaking, senior politicians prefer not to lie. Direct lies can be difficult to sustain when one is constantly in the public eye. It’s all too easy for an inept prevaricator to become the fly in the tangled web they weave when first they practise to deceive. Politicians would much rather that others lie on their behalf. Which is where the media come in.

The skilled political actor will keep themselves at one remove from the smear. Character assassination is best left to the professionals. The politician merely provides the ammunition. They studiously avoid making allegations. But will happily comment in such a way as to lend currency to innuendo and insinuation. Masters of the art of the smear can seem to be defending the target while actually directing the dagger and giving it an extra thrust. The best liars lie with complete conviction and casual ease.

And so to the penultimate type of lie in a catalogue which may not be comprehensive. The audacious lie. Otherwise known as bare-faced, bold-faced, bald-faced or brazen.

Instances of such insolent dishonesty are not difficult to find. One need only listen to pretty much any British politician. David Mundell, for example, is a man known for little else besides his capacity for treating truth as an inessential adornment to his increasingly bilious British Nationalist rhetoric. Absolutely nobody, I hazard, would have been genuinely shocked to see a Wings Over Scotland headline declaring, ‘David Mundell is a liar‘. Evidently, Stu Campbell considered this too much of a commonplace to warrant an exclamation mark.

The article beneath the headline is a characteristically forensic excoriation of a particular instance of Mundell’s mendacity. Namely, his audacious assertion, in an interview with the BBC’s Brian Taylor, that the people of Scotland voted in the 2014 independence referendum knowing that there was to be a referendum on the UK’s EU membership. To put it another way. Mundell flatly denied that, throughout the 2014 referendum campaign, the British propaganda machine repeatedly and explicitly claimed that a No vote was necessary to ensure continued EU membership. He did so knowing this to be completely untrue. It was a lie as brazen as it might be without actually being cast in brass.

I have nothing to add to Stu Campbell’s scathing condemnation of Mundell’s shameless dishonesty. But, out of curiosity, I decided to find out what the BBC’s North British political editor had to say about the episode. Holding my nose against the stench, I ventured into the mire of prejudice and partiality that is the BBC Scotland website and read Brian Taylor’s column for the relevant date. Despite – or maybe because of – the magnitude of David Mundell’s lie, it wasn’t considered deserving of so much as a passing mention.

Which neatly brings us to the last in our list of different types of lie. Lies of omission.


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It is what it is

So, the BBC is as much a part of the British establishment as the monarchy, the City of London and the Palace of Westminster. What’s new?

So, being part of the British establishment, the BBC operates on the assumption that there is no act or conduct or policy, however heinous it might be considered in any other context, which cannot be justified in the name of defending or advancing the interests of the British state. This is no more a revelation than the fact that Andrew Neil is a self-regarding, self-important, self-serving bladder who nonchalantly admits to giving free rein to the personal prejudices which bid him afford the status of truth to anything negative about those who challenge his notions of British exceptionalism.

The things Andrew Neil says on air about the SNP and the Scottish Government and the Scottish Parliament and Scotland in general don’t have to pass some test of accuracy or veracity. They simply have to be “credible” to someone who regards all these things with sneering contempt. And Neil is hardly unique. The BBC is stuffed with his ilk.

So Ofcom, itself yet another tentacle of the British establishment, has been confronted with an example of the BBC’s dishonesty and partiality too egregious to be ignored. Shit happens!

Nothing will be changed by this damning indictment of the BBC and one of its pet celebrities. The ethos of complacent superiority which suffuses the corporation’s management will not be affected. The habitual incompetence and unprofessional conduct of the ‘talent’ will go unchecked. The BBC will still be the BBC. Andrew Neil will still typify the close-minded pomposity of London-centric British journalists with their cosy consensus about the way things are and should be.

Which is not intended to imply that we shouldn’t be outraged and disgusted by the casual misrepresentation of facts and the contrived manipulation of information to fit a British nationalist narrative. Only that we should realise this is a commonplace. A constant. A fact of life.

There is actually nothing at all extraordinary about what Andrew Neil did. It is happening all the time even if it is very rarely officially acknowledged – and even more rarely officially condemned. The British media serve only the British establishment. In doing so, they are subject to ethical constraints loose enough to be effectively non-existent. There is nothing we can do to alter this. And we can’t be angry all the time.


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Political Campaigning for Dummies #1

Since it appeared in The National on Thursday 14 February, Andrew Wilson’s latest column has provoked a considerable amount of comment. It is safe to say that almost all of this comment has been highly critical. All of those which I’ve seen express various degrees of outrage at one of our First Minister’s advisers urging the ‘softest possible form of Scottish independence’. None of those that I’ve seen show any evidence that the individual commenting on Andrew’s article has taken the trouble to read it first.

The fact is that the words ‘softest possible form of Scottish independence’ do not appear anywhere in the piece. What Andrew actually says, after some discussion of aspects of the Sustainable Growth Commission’s report, is,

In the parlance of Brexit, we offer the softest of possible changes to the current arrangements, not the hardest.

Andrew Wilson: Next Scottish White Paper will learn from 2014 – and from Brexit

He is talking about changes to particular arrangements in the period immediately after independence. Using the “parlance of Brexit” may have been an unfortunate choice of rhetorical device, but it is no more than that – a rhetorical device. What he is saying is that the transition to independence should take the least disruptive course rather than the most disruptive. A statement which is only controversial if one is committed to maximising tumult and turbulence in the early years of Scotland’s restored independence. Or, to put it another way, you’d have to be some kind of nutter to be outraged by what Andrew Wilson actually said.

There is much to criticise in Andrew’s article. For example, his claim that the “first and most striking lesson” that the independence campaign might take from the Brexit fiasco is that we need “a prospectus and a rigorous plan”. He would say that, wouldn’t he? Given that he’s in the business of developing that prospectus and that plan.

Fortunately, Andrew is not – so far as I am aware – involved in planning the campaign which will take us to independence. The prospectus and plan to which he refers are really just attempts to explain. And, as Ronald Regan observed in one of his lucid moments, “If you’re explaining, you’re losing!”.

The “first and most striking lesson” to be taken from the Brexit mess is that a political campaign needs a comprehensible and unambiguous objective. That aim must also be deliverable. But first and foremost it must be absolutely clear what the campaign’s purpose is. You can’t even begin to formulate a prospectus and plan unless and until you establish what it is that the campaign aims to achieve.

That the Leave campaign failed in this regard is evident from the fact that much, if not all, of the early debate concerned the meaning of Brexit. A debate which was not in any sense resolved by Theresa May explaining that “Brexit means Brexit”. It is a measure of the laminar shallowness of this remark that, had you entertained an idea of Brexit as a sugar-coated dung beetle, May’s ‘explanation’ would have done absolutely nothing to disabuse you of this notion.

I hate to remind you. But Theresa May is the British Prime Minister and the person in charge of taking the UK out of the EU. A fact which makes the idea of Brexit as a sugar-coated dung beetle seem sensible and credible by comparison.

Having taken a lesson from the Leave campaign’s abysmal failure to precisely define its aim, how might the Yes movement do better. It’s safe to assume that most people would say the objective is the restoration of Scotland’s independence. But, as we discovered during the 2014 referendum campaign, the concept of independence is open to almost endless interpretation. The Yes movement spent pretty much the entire campaign trying to explain what independence means; what independence is. There were almost as many different explanations as there were people doing the explaining. Every one of those explanations invited demands for further explanation from an anti-independence campaign intent on sowing doubt and confusion. And every one of those demands drew the Yes campaign into further attempt to explain.

If it’s true that “when you’re explaining, you’re losing”, then the Yes campaign was losing big-style.

What is required is a tighter ‘mission statement’. One that states exactly what it is that is the end being pursued by the campaign. That is where #DissolveTheUnion comes in. It serves admirably as that comprehensible and unambiguous objective. There is no ‘flavour’ of independence which does not require the dissolution of the Union which is the antithesis of independence. The fundamental and essential aim of the independence cause is to bring an end to the Union. The break it. To consign it to the history from which it emerged and to which it remains incorrigibly bound.

The other lesson for today is not to trust the British media. It is remarkable that this lesson has yet to be learned by so many in the Yes movement. Of all people, you’d think those who are part of the campaign which is most commonly the target British media dishonesty would be familiar enough with the methods used to manipulate perceptions to avoid being taken in. But evidently, this is not so.

As has been pointed out, the words which caused offence did not appear in Andrew Wilson’s column. So, where did they come from? They came from headlines such as the one pictured from The Herald. People should know by now that the headline does not provide an indication of what the story below it is about. The headline tells you what the author and/or the publication want you to think the story is about. The headline is the first thrust in the process of manipulating the reader’s perception of the story. It plants the seed of deception which will then be fed by the standfirst and watered by the next few paragraphs. The default assumption when looking at any political story in the British media is that the headline is a lie.

There are abundant clues to tell the active consumer of media messages that they are being fed lies. There’s the fact that it’s The Herald, for a start. Then there’s the by-line. Tom Gordon is arguably the British media’s most adept exponent of anti-Scottish spin. He has played a major role in creating a genre of stories portraying Scotland as a dystopia where all is calamity and failure – unless it’s catastrophe and collapse. Having helped create the ‘Scotland as Hell-hole’ genre, Tom Gordon has very much made it his own. Tales of dysfunction and disaster in NHS Scotland are his speciality. Misrepresenting someone associated with the SNP is something Gordon does while roosting upside-down in his cave.

The ‘single quotes’ are another giveaway. They pretty much always tell the reader that what’s enclosed has its origins in the professionally fervid imagination of some mercenary hack. In the instance under discussion, the ‘single quotes’ scream out that the words within them were not actually spoken or written. Or, at least, they do for the minimally astute consumer of the British media’s output. Which clearly doesn’t include those denouncing Andrew Wilson for something he didn’t say.

Surely one of the most basic lessons to be learned by anyone hoping to be part of a political campaign is that your shouldn’t embrace your opponents’ propaganda. And you sure as hell shouldn’t promulgate that propaganda by parroting it all over social media. If, as a campaign activist, you are saying the same things as the opposition campaign, you are in desperate need of shutting the f*** up and applying such wit as you possess to reflecting on your behaviour.


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Scotland the disappeared!

I came across something the other day which some of you may find interesting. You’ll recall the fuss there was about the British government document(s) regarding Brexit which pointedly failed to mention Scotland. Then, last November there was that Andy Critchlow article in the Telegraph titled ‘North Sea oil can still be the bargaining chip we need‘, which also omitted any reference to Scotland.

I’ve stumbled upon another one!

It’s an article in The Guardian called ‘Organised crime in the UK is bigger than ever before. Can the police catch up?’. Written by Alex Perry and based on an interview with National Crime Agency boss Lynne Owens, it too manages to discuss at great length the issue of organised crime “in the UK” without once mentioning Scotland. There are lots of references to ‘Britain’ and ‘UK’ as well as a couple of mentions of ‘England & Wales’. But not so much as a hint that Scotland even exists. Which is extremely odd given one of the main themes of the article.

Now, you could be forgiven for thinking this is just another ill-informed, under-educated, narrow-minded, shallow-thinking, London-based hack exhibiting all the dumb parochialism we’ve come to expect from that hapless breed. You might quite reasonable suppose the fool guilty of no more than the usual conflating of England with UK. But there’s evidently more too it than that. Because the article repeatedly touches on the topic of how “fragmented” the police service is in England and Wales. Here’s an example.

An ancient and fragmented structure of 43 English and Welsh county forces, some of which date back 190 years, had left Britain with little to no “capability to respond” to modern, global criminals.

Organised crime in the UK is bigger than ever before. Can the police catch up?

This is one of several similar comments based on what appears to be a matter of particular concern to Lynne Owens. So, given that this “fragmented” structure is such a major focus of the article, how do we explain the absence of any reference to the sole example in the UK of a unified police service – Police Scotland? How is it possible for a professional journalist to so totally miss something so relevant to what he is writing about.

Especially given other similar instances, it is increasingly difficult to avoid concluding that the omission is deliberate. Scotland is being ‘disappeared’.


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