Beware Brits bearing gifts

Discussion of a ‘Wings Party’ standing for regional seats in the 2021 Scottish Parliament election is, of course, entirely an academic exercise. And a bit of a distraction. There are far more pressing concerns; such as whether there will actually be any Scottish Parliament elections in 2021. Losing the pro-independence majority at Holyrood is a worrying prospect. But it pales into insignificance next to the possibility (probability?) that we may have lost the entire Scottish Parliament by 2021.

On first reading Stuart Campbell’s article outline his thinking, I thought it sounded very plausible. But long experience has taught me to be wary of plausible-sounding schemes. The whole RISE/’rainbow parliament’ thing that so nearly lost us the pro-independence majority in 2016 was dangerous mainly because it was made to sound so plausible. The difference – and it is an important one – is that RISE had no support base at all, while a Wings Party would, on paper at least, come with a substantial level of support built in.

There’s also the fact that RISE was promoted by persons of what we shall generously term ‘limited credibility’. Certainly far less credibility than Stuart Campbell has acquired over years of offering analysis which manages to be coldly forensic despite his evident passion for Scotland’s cause.

That passion is evident in causes other than independence. Some of which are bitterly controversial within the independence movement. I don’t see this as detracting from Stuart Campbell’s credibility in any way. Whether or not one agrees with his views, there can be no doubt that they are sincerely held, and strongly argued. Many focus, not on those views or his arguments in defence of them, but on the manner in which he expresses himself. This is a familiar evasive tactic commonly deployed by those who have come to the debate ill-equipped to deal with the content of opposing arguments and are, therefore reduced to attacking the superficial aspects of presentation.

As much as I will say about the Wings Party proposal at this time is that it is somewhat more persuasive than the RISE fantasy. What we must bear in mind is that you cannot game the voting system for the Scottish Parliament elections. All you can do is gamble with it. The RISE thing asked us to take a ridiculous gamble where we stood to lose something of incalculable worth with a chance of winning that was as close to zero as makes no difference. Many took that gamble because they were so dazzled by the magnificence of the prize as to be unable to see how unattainable it was.

The best that can be said of Stuart Campbell’s idea is that it constitutes less of a gamble than the RISE folly. How much less nobody can say as there are too many factors which cannot be clearly discerned at this distance from the 2021 Holyrood election. And, in any case, there are matters which demand our immediate attention. Matters of vastly greater importance than some tactical voting ploy in an election that is more than 18 months away for a Parliament this may well have been ‘suspended’ by the British state as the ‘One Nation’ project is rolled out.

Which brings me to a concern that has been growing in my mind since the publication of Stuart Campbell’s interview in The Times. Being ever mindful of the real and imminent threat to Scotland posed by juggernaut of rabid British Nationalism, I am ever watchful for signs of the British political elite’s devious doings. They no longer try to conceal their efforts to delegitimise the Scottish Parliament; marginalise the Scottish Government and demonise the SNP. It is no longer possible to sensibly deny the British state’s intention to dismantle Scotland’s democratic institutions and destroy Scotland’s distinctive political culture. Although some seem intent on dumbly disregarding this purpose.

I have always considered the fourth component of the independence campaign – the Yes movement – to be impervious to attack by the forces of anti-democratic British Nationalism. There is no formal structure; no hierarchy, no leadership that can be targeted. But suppose a target could be created. Suppose the power of the British media could be deployed to associate a particular personality with the Yes movement. Suppose an association between some ‘celebrity’ figure and the Yes movement could be contrived that was so strong as to make it possible to implant in the public consciousness the notion of this figure being the ‘official’ representative of the Yes movement.

When I see Stuart Campbell being interviewed by The Times and making appearances on British TV and radio, I ask myself why. Why is this happening? Why him? Why now? And I don’t like the answers I come up with.

I do not for one second suppose that Stuart Campbell thinks of himself as the figurehead of the entire Yes movement. I don’t think he seeks such greatness. But he may well have this greatness thrust upon him.

I rather think Stuart Campbell may not be the sort of person who welcomes advice. I recognise, too, that he is not a stupid man and that the advice may be entirely redundant. Nonetheless, I would counsel him to beware Brits bearing the gift of recognition. They will use you if they can. They will set you up as the ‘poster-boy’ of the Yes movement in the hope that, when they bring you down in a welter of vicious smear stories, the Yes movement will also be damaged.

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A jarring disconnect

bbc_union_at_any_costI realise that Alex Salmond is being politic when he says that the situation has “seemingly been resolved“. But, of course, it hasn’t. The Wings Over Scotland YouTube channel may have been restored but, at the time of writing, Peter Curran’s channel has not. To the very limited extent that the process by which these channels were targeted has been explained, it appears that it was the same in both both cases. So, why has one been restored and the other not?

Could it have anything to do with the fact that Wings Over Scotland has a higher public profile? Or is it just another instance of incompetence on the part of BBC management? Did they think, by backing down on Wings Over Scotland, they’d done the minimum necessary to placate an extremely irate public? Or did the just forget about the other channel they’d targeted?

All of which amounts to no more than a wee sampling of the questions that remain to be answered by the BBC. From where I’m standing – and I suspect I’m far from alone in this – two possible explanations present themselves. Either this was a politically motivated action launched by the BBC on its own initiative; or it was a politically motivated action launched by the BBC at the behest of some third party. The circumstances make it impossible to plausibly deny the political motivation. To even attempt such a denial would only further damage what little credibility the BBC retains in Scotland.

The key questions here relate to who within the BBC makes these decisions and on what authority. It is important not to get carried away with conspiracy theories. It seems highly unlikely that there is, within the ranks of BBC bureaucracy, a coordinated and continuing plot to undermine Scotland’s independence campaign. Not least because there is so little reason to believe that there is, within the ranks of BBC bureaucracy, anybody capable of managing such a complex long-term project.

It is, in fact, easier to believe that it is all an accident. At least in the sense that there is no planning of particulars or consideration of consequences. No great conspiracy is necessary to explain the BBC’s behaviour in what we must bear in mind is merely a highly visible example of the kind of political bias that has been so much part of the media landscape in Scotland for so long that the general public had ceased to notice it. It is precisely because people such as Peter Curran and Stu Campbell throw a spotlight on the bias that they have been targeted. And, make no mistake, more would have followed if the BBC and/or the ‘third party’ had got away with it.

This political bias is not – or, at least, is not necessarily – a sign of some carefully orchestrated plan to counter Scotland’s independence movement. Rather, it is a symptom of an ethos in which the structures, systems and processes of the British state are unquestioningly assumed to be the norm. ‘British’ is the standard by which all things are judged. Anything perceived as challenging this unexamined assumption of British superiority is automatically and unthinkingly regarded as being outwith the realm of ‘normal’ politics. The customary rules don’t apply. There is a pervasive attitude that it’s only those uppity Jocks, so it doesn’t matter.

This attitude isn’t confined to the BBC. It infects the entire British establishment. It can be seen in the treatment of SNP MPs at Westminster. It can be seen in the contempt shown by the British political elite for the Scottish Parliament. It can be seen in the way the British parties squatting in the Scottish Parliament constantly seek to denigrate Scotland.

It can be seen in the behaviour of the British media – and the BBC in particular.

Who made the decision to have those two YouTube channels taken down? Almost certainly some anonymous and insignificant BBC functionary. On what authority? None was needed. These sites being something to do with Scottish (non-British) politics, it was simply taken for granted that it would be acceptable, if not expected. Normal constraints and considerations didn’t apply. Such is the ethos that prevails within the BBC.

There is a massive and jarring disconnect here. In Scotland, the concept of independence has been normalised. In the BBC, it never can be. The big question, therefore, is this – how can the BBC possibly serve an audience in Scotland when it is so evidently inherently incapable of relating to that audience?

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A can of worms

alex_salmondThat someone as prominent as Alex Salmond has elected to intervene in what I wearily suppose will shortly be dubbed the ‘Wingsgate’ scandal, is quite significant. If nothing else, it serves to demonstrate just how important alternative media have become.

His intervention is doubly significant for the fact that, as well as concisely stating the points that the BBC must respond to in relation to its evidently selective and seemingly ill-founded copyright infringement complaint against Wings Over Scotland, Mr Salmond has broadened the issue to include the rights of persons appearing in the excerpts which have been removed from the public domain due to the BBC’s action. And he has introduced the further matter of the BBC’s apparent failure to remove material which has been found to be in breach of its own guidelines.

It looks increasingly like the corporation has opened a very large can of worms here. And that this can of worms may well keep on getting bigger as the ‘Wingsgate’ affair becomes a vehicle for other long-festering grievances against the BBC. This is the sort of thing which can lead to demands for some kind of public inquiry as a plethora of issues previously dismissed as trivial and/or exceptional are resurrected and tagged onto or rolled into the one which has sufficient mass and momentum to carry them.

That the BBC has got itself into this situation amply demonstrates the dumb arrogance of unaccountable power. Anyone with so much as the tip of their smallest finger on the pulse of Scottish politics could have predicted the furore which would ensue from closing down the Wings Over Scotland YouTube channel. Either the BBC was aware of the hornets’ nest that it was poking and simply didn’t care, or it was allowing decisions to be made by people lacking even a basic awareness of what they were dealing with. Whichever it was, it looks like an appalling failure of management.

And where is the outcry from self-styled ‘professional’ journalists? Where are the frenzied denunciations of ‘gagging’ and high-minded defences of freedom of expression? Mainstream journalists managed to work themselves into a steaming lather of righteous indignation over perfectly justified criticism of certain members of their cosy little clique. But they are curiously silent in the face of an all too real attack on free speech that is ominously reminiscent of TV stations being closed down by some tyrannical regime.

Perhaps Alex Salmond’s intervention will rouse those somnolent and indolent hacks. But if the evidence of the past is any guide their mercenary ire will directed, not against the BBC, but against Salmond. If these loyal servants of the British state are true to tediously predictable form then we can expect that ‘Wingsgate’ will be spun as the SNP trying to ‘intimidate’ and ‘silence’ the BBC.

It’s all very British.

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