I’m not too sure if I agree with the headline on Tom Devine’s assessment of the “Edinburgh Agreement”, reading as it does “Today is the most important date since 1707 Act of Union”. You might as easily point to the establishment of Glasgow University Scottish Nationalist Association (85 years old) or the original National Party of Scotland back in 1928 as pivotal moments in the campaign for Scottish independence. But it marks the end of the beginning of the process towards full self-government, and the planting of the seeds of the 24-month campaign ahead.
It’s a debate that requires everyone involved to be as informed and knowledgable as they can be, from the politicians eager to promote their version of how Scotland should move forward, to the 4 million-odd voters who must make their decision based on what vision proffered best accords with their ideals and hopes. And it requires a media class with a sound grounding in the facts at hand, in order to present each case to the electorate and challenge the people arguing the merits from both sides.
Sadly, as the last couple of days have shown, those London-based journalists who will be treading the campaign trail over the next 104 weeks have been exposed as failing even at the most basic level of knowledge and understanding. This mince on the Sunday Politics UK Edition yesterday seems a decent summation of the problem. Three journos for London-based broadsheets – Sunday Times, Financial Times, and there for the Guardian, the execrable Nicholas Watt. If you can’t be bothered watching (and who can blame you), there’s a mention of the two decades old “Free by ’93”, an unhealthy obsession with Alex Salmond as opposed to, you know, the future of an entire nation, lots of whom aren’t Alex Salmond, and a woman who can’t even pronounce the seven letters that make up the First Minister’s surname correctly. It’s diabolical stuff, borne of years of ignorance of what was happening with the Jocks. I don’t blame them for being ignorant of the realities up here, but I do blame them for taking the licence-fee payers’ shilling and pretending they’re not.
This is not moaning for the sake of it over a four-minute piece on a barely-watched bit of background noise over your hangover. It’s indicative of a wider conceit on the part of the London-based sections of our media, the idea that on the whole, they’re well-placed to cover the story. Sometimes they may well be, and a fresh pair of eyes on our wee midden is at times sorely needed. But those peepers need to have real competence and comprehension behind them, and sadly those hacks sent north on the Sleeper seem to lack both.
The BBC’s UK Political Editor, Nick Robinson (ex-President, Oxford University Conservative Association) took it upon himself to ask Salmond about athletes wearing Union Flags. At a press conference discussing a referendum on the future sovereign status of a nation. At the same event, another anonymous hack asked what the timetable was for publishing the prospectus for an independent Scotland. Something 10 minutes on Google or Wikipedia could’ve told him§, before making an arse of himself in front of the Scottish press corps. The Telegraph published an online poll which asked “Should Scotland Be Granted Independence?” on the day a refer-bloody-endum was being finalised which kinda takes the whole ‘being granted’ thing and drowns it in a bathtub, being as it is the potential taking back of sovereign power by the people.
This all matters greatly to the tenor, tone, and accuracy of what is presented to the wider public over the coming 2 years. Yes, we have our own print and electronic media, and whatever disagreement we may have with many of their views, we at least know they understand the nuance of the language used in the constitutional debate, the historic political dynamic that undoubtedly ripples through today’s events, and the basic facts that shape the arguments. But considering the bulk of media consumed in Scotland comes from the London HQs of the newspapers and broadcast media – for example, a 24-hour BBC News Channel operation plus BBC1 network news, versus 53 minutes per day from Pacific Quay – it’s vital for both sides in the campaign that these “professionals” have a grasp on what they’re reporting on.
It’s not a question of the Grand Yoonyonisht Media Conspiracy maligning the Yes campaign and, by way of more ignorance, conflating that with the SNP. It’s true that the bulk of the print media are at best dismissive and at worst avowedly hostile to independence. Fine. They always have been, most always will be, and one major aim of the Yes camp should be to move around those obstacles and talk directly to the people. It’s a question of having the basic courtesy to know what the salient details are and using that to report on events a they unfold. It’s a question of paying more than lip service to the recent political history of Scotland and making an effort to see what’s driven us along this road, as opposed to the usual banalities about Alex Salmond being a ‘wily operator’ or having a mask that seems to slip more often than an ice-skating cat. It’s a question of doing a service for their customers and consumers, and helping to educate not just the 5 million residents in Scotland, but the rest of the UK and, via the internet, the world.
So far, the prospects are not good. Let’s hope they get Googling.
§ It’s actually closer to two minutes, but I’m in a happy, cheery, generous mood here, so let’s give him the benefit of the eight minutes.