The Big Question: Who ‘Lost’ Scotland?
Scottish Review, March 12th 2014
The independence debate is a product of Scotland changing over decades and generations. Subsequently, this debate has also accelerated and abetted change, challenging old assumptions and throwing light on parts of our public life never previously thoroughly examined.
This transformation will continue whatever the result. One big observation, which needs to be stated, is that whatever the referendum result independence has already won. And Scotland has already been ‘lost’ – a point understood by some of the more thoughtful pro-union observers such as Alex Massie and James Forsyth in ‘The Spectator’.
First, what do I mean by stating that independence has already ‘won’? For a start this does not translate into any automatic balance of forces in the referendum ballot – a point some pro-independent supporters thought I meant when I previously made this strategic observation.
Instead, independence has become normalised – which translates into it coming in from the cold and margins and becoming a mainstream political demand. That’s a massive, generational shift compared to where we were previously. Read the rest of this entry »
BBC and STV are Falling Short in Scotland’s Great Debate
Scottish Review, March 5th 2014
The BBC and STV are failing the people of Scotland in their coverage of the independence referendum, despite the best attempts of some of the many talented journalists still in these organisations. The reasons for this are deep-seated: historic, structural, and about the failure of management to lead, be bold and creative.
The independence debate could not have come at a worse time for the BBC and STV. It caught both bodies ill-prepared, under-resourced, and basically, not taking Scotland or Scottish politics that seriously.
It never used to be like this. Turn back to the end of the 1980s and early 1990s and both BBC and STV had a reputation for doing news and current affairs well. The early evening news programmes, ‘Reporting Scotland’ and ‘Scotland Today’ (the precursor to ‘STV News at Six’), were seen across the UK as serious, authoritative and popular. Read the rest of this entry »
The Birth Pains of Scottish Democracy and the Anguish of ‘Posh Scotland’
Scottish Review, February 26th 2014
Many strange things will be written about Scotland this year. Some will be uncomprehending, some inappropriate or wrong, with others likely to be malevolent and wishing to sew seeds of confusion or distrust.
One existing strand is the pain expressed by some English media voices. There is the liberal ‘Guardian’ reading classes, some of whom have just bothered in the last few weeks to look north from their cosmopolitan concerns and to plea, ‘don’t leave us alone with the wicked Tories’. Then there is the ‘Daily Telegraph’/’Daily Mail’ land of ill-concealed anger about ‘separatism’, derogatory comments about Alex Salmond, and a confusion over whether they really want Scotland to stay or go.
Sometimes interventions cannot be easily categorisable, or while coming from one particular perspective, give voice to a viewpoint which hasn’t been expressed or articulated in public. This was the case with Hugo Rifkind’s recent piece on ‘posh Scotland’ (his words and sentiment) in ‘The Spectator’ and its clarion call to awaken and ride to the defence of the union in crisis.
Rifkind’s ‘posh Scotland’ wasn’t a place for anyone with decent prospects; this wasn’t, as he made clear, anything to do with Ed Miliband’s struggling middle classes, or by implication, ‘the middlin’ folk’ of Scotland. Instead, this was about privilege, wealth and power: the people who run things, own large tracts of Scotland, are privately educated, and believe that the state, if it has to do anything, is there for poor people (and keeping those people a safe distance from them). Read the rest of this entry »
The Land of the Living Dead: Jeremy Paxman and Max Hasting’s Britain
Scottish Review, February 19th 2014
Years ago I believed in Britain; in its future and some of its stories, values and institutions.
I thought that those which did not match modern democratic times, could be changed. This was the beauty of Britain and its radical currents.
Even as a teenager I knew there was some element of make belief and fantasy in this. The mythical stories of Britain as the land of liberty, rule of law and democracy jarred with too many of the facts.
Such Whig accounts have grown increasingly threadbare in recent decades. Yet they still have their last true believers in the world of Tory Eurosceptics and in unreconstructed parts of the Labour Party. Read the rest of this entry »
Scotland’s Historic Year and the Zeal of the Missionary Men
Scottish Review, February 12th 2014
This is Scotland’s great date with destiny. The biggest moment in 300 years of history. So how are we doing versus the hype and expectation?
There is an echo chamber in large parts of public life which so far most of the Yes/No debate has amplified. There is the trench warfare of various tribal positions and the numerous one-way conversations with people talking past one another. And just as problematically, in some of the radical shades of opinion and institutional Scotland, there is a potent disconnect from the realities of everyday life, as the former invokes an ‘abstract’ vision, and the latter peddles its latest fads and buzzwords.
There is the reach of conservative Scotland which covers many opinions which would baulk at such a description. This entity can be described as the belief in the status quo of public life, our institutions, arrangements and values. It is comfortable with the current state of professional Scotland – whether it is in law, medicine and health – as well as across the public, private and voluntary sectors. It is firmly of the opinion that we have stopped the market vandals at the border (Tories, outsourcers, consultants); it doesn’t believe that such a thing as professional self-interest and producer capture exists, and has chosen to buy the self-validating stories these groups present about their version of ‘the good society’. Read the rest of this entry »