Category Archives: media

Are terrorist attacks Europe’s high-school massacres?

Fuck the Terrorists
Fuck the Terrorists by VivaAntarctica, on Flickr.
In the light of the recent horrible events in Copenhagen, I'm starting to wonder whether terrorist attacks are becoming Europe's version of America's high-school massacres.

Both high-school massacres and small-scale terrorist attacks are typically done by young people who feel they don't fit in, and they're heavily publicised by the media.

Lionel Shriver wrote the following back in 2007; however, wouldn't almost every word of it apply to many recent terrorist attacks in Europe?

If it does not sound too tautological, campus shootings keep happening because they keep happening. Every time one of these stories breaks, every time the pictures flash round the world, it increases the chances that another massacre will follow. In the main, all of these events are copycat crimes. Campus shootings are now a genre, much as, in literature, campus-shooting novels are a genre, one of whose entries I am guilty of writing myself. They are part of the cultural vocabulary, and any disgruntled, despairing or vengeful character -- of any age of late, since grown-ups now want in on the act -- now has the idea of shooting up a campus firmly lodged in his brain.

[...]

I would far prefer that this new killer remained anonymous. Were all such culprits to remain utterly and eternally unknown, the chips on their shoulders interred with their bones, their grudges for ever private, surely the frequency of these grotesquely gratuitous sprees would plummet. One of the driving forces for most of these killers is not just to be noticed, but, however perversely, to be understood.

Of course there are terrorist attacks that are carefully planned by organisations consisting mainly of grown-up people, and maybe they should be handled differently. However, I can't help thinking that perhaps we're actually causing lots of small terrorist attacks by talking about them too much.

Would it not be better if media reported such attacks in a low-key fashion, without talking too much about the perpetrator's identity and reasons, basically treating them pretty much as if they had been bank robberies with the same number of casualties?

Of course it's hard to force the media to tone down their reporting when there's a huge amount of public interest, but at the very least we should perhaps try to keep the big headlines inside the country where the attack happened instead of publicising every one of them across the entire continent. For extremists, there's no such thing as bad publicity.

Welcome to The National

The kids' owl is reading The National, too
The kids' owl is reading The National, too by Thomas Widmann, on Flickr.
It's unlikely No would have won the referendum if almost all the media hadn't decided to support a No vote -- of all the newspapers, only the Sunday Herald supported a Yes.

This is of course the reason why many independence campaigners are now looking at starting up new mainstream media ventures, such as the Scottish Evening News, Bella Caledonia's expansion, and Common Weal's Common Space.

However, it's also wonderful to see that commercial companies have noticed the gap in the market, which is of course why the Sunday Herald today launched its daily offshoot, The National.

I would have preferred the Scottish media landscape to be dominated by newspapers without a strong stance on the independence question, but when the reality is that the majority of the existing ones are Unionist, it's absolutely wonderful to welcome a pro-independence newspaper.

It's also a good read. I personally prefer somewhat more verbose ones with longer articles and smaller photos (and I hate it when newspapers use letter-spacing to achieve justified paragraphs!), but it's reasonably priced at 50p, and it has a good mix of stories.

Interestingly, many of the British supermarket chains aren't too happy about stocking it, according to The Drum:

Supermarket giant Morrisons claimed that it was “unable to stock The National due to a lack of space in store”, and said it would have to remove local newspapers in order to do so. [...] Tesco said it would “consider arrangements for stocking the newspaper if the print edition is a success”, while a Sainsbury’s spokesperson said: “The National was not on our system in time for launch today, but it will be available from tomorrow.”

Hopefully they'll soon change their minds -- it would be a shame if these supermarkets decided only to welcome Unionist customers.

I hope The National will have a great first week so that it becomes a permanent part of the Scottish media landscape. Once that happens, will it be long before the Sunday Herald rebrands itself as the Sunday National, I wonder?

UKIP in the leaders’ debate? Broadcasting must be devolved!

Britain's PM choices - screenshot
Britain's PM choices - screenshot by Scorpions and Centaurs, on Flickr.
As many other people, I'm absolutely appalled by the announcement that the BBC and the UK's other main broadcasters will host a leaders' debate in the run-up to the General Election that includes the Tories, Labour, the LibDems and UKIP, but neither the Green parties nor the SNP.

This is simply ludicrous! I blogged recently about how the pollsters should stop treating Great Britain as one unit, given that the party political systems are very different. In Scotland, the SNP is either the incumbent or the main challenger in most constituencies, and UKIP is nowhere to be seen.

The purpose of a leaders' debate is to guide people on what to vote, and this selection of parties gives voters in Scotland the misguided idea that UKIP is more of a real party than the SNP. It's barking mad!

On the other hand, I can understand that people in England don't really think it's very relevant to see Nicola Sturgeon in such a debate, given that they cannot vote for her party.

At the same time, the BBC's idea about a Scottish debate simply doesn't makes sense, because they want to invite the people leading their parties at Holyrood. However, the Westminster election is about the non-devolved subject areas (e.g., foreign policy, the military and pensions) -- exactly the ones that the Holyrood politicians don't have any influence on.

I hope the BBC and the other broadcasters will change their minds as a matter of priority, but the best way to avoid failures like this in the future is to get full devolution of broadcasting, so that England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland can have completely separate debates hosted by their national broadcasters.

In this way, the English leaders' debate could include whoever they thought were important (and that might include UKIP), but the Scottish debate would replace the English debate, not supplement it, and so the debate up here would most likely include Nicola Sturgeon (or maybe the SNP's Westminster leader, Angus Robertson), David Cameron, Ed Miliband, Nick Clegg and perhaps somebody from the Scottish Green Party, and everybody would be happy.

If broadcasting doesn't get devolved, I guess the SNP will need to start putting up candidates in most English seats, even if it leads to a lot of lost deposits, simply so that it cannot be dismissed as a mere regional party.

The Better Together Broadcasting Corporation

I've had enough of the BBC! They've been biased against independence forever (which is perhaps to be expected given the first 'B' in its name stands for 'British'), but in the past week they have gone from being biased to being a campaign organisation that should be called The Better Together Broadcasting Corporation.

Wings over Scotland found a perfect example today: Here's a question by the BBC's Nick Robinson and a very complete answer by Alex Salmond (the footage is from a news conference for foreign media, so it's apparently foreign correspondents that are laughing and applauding in the background):

However, in the 6 o'clock news this exchange had been reduced to the following:

In other words, Salmond's answer is being summarised as 'Salmond didn't answer'. That's simply a lie.

There's also a helpful list of examples of BBC Scotland being manipulative during the referendum campaign on Newsnet Scotland. Some of the examples are simply outrageous.

I don't have an issue with privately owned media having an agenda and campaigning for this, especially when they're open about it. However, we're all forced to finance the BBC if we want to watch live TV at all, and people clearly expect objectivity from the state broadcaster, so this is an absolute scandal.

If we vote Yes in a week's time, the new Scottish public-service broadcaster (the SBS) will have to be created from scratch to avoid any bad habits from being taken over from BBC Scotland.

On the other hand, if we vote No (which is sadly a possibility due to the manipulative and mendacious behaviour by the BBC) the Scottish Government must request and require broadcasting to be devolved as a matter of priority. If that is denied, we must find a way to create a new broadcaster (using crowd-funding, perhaps) that can deliver unbiased news to people in Scotland. This will be much harder than simply voting Yes in a week's time, however.

If I hadn't already been planning to vote Yes, the BBC's outrageous behaviour would have been the final straw. It's completely clear that Scotland needs to escape the Westminster bubble and its broadcaster. The sooner, the better!

Forced opportunities to work in London

BBC Television Centre
BBC Television Centre by Mike Fleming, on Flickr.
Better Together campaigners love to wax lyrically about the opportunities that are available to Scots as a result of the Union. For instance, here's Ruth Davidson: "Why shouldn't thousands of Scots seize opportunities to work in London, one of the world's great cities? [...] Young people in Scotland want to make it in life - they see the opportunities their parents had, and they want those opportunities too, and more besides."

They forget that London is a global city (37% of the population were born outside the UK), so it would be rather strange if London suddenly refused to accept people from Scotland after independence.

They also forget that for many people moving to London isn't a choice, it's a necessity. There simply aren't enough opportunities in Scotland.

Iain Macwhirter provided a good example in a very interesting article in The Herald today:

Scotland has had no shortage of broadcasting talent, but it largely gets exported to London, which is why Scottish accents are so prevalent in the media village. Anyone who wants to get on in the BBC has to go to London -- as I did -- because that is where the jobs are, where the careers and the budgets are. I spent more than 20 years in the BBC, nearly half of it in London, and it seems to me that the present situation is the worst of all possible worlds.

In the BBC "family" Scotland is always the poor relation, and required to know its place. BBC Scotland is run by a defensive clique of managerial trusties whose main job seems to be holding the line against the Nationalist menace. [...]

Many Scots do try to come back from London, of course, but it is a big risk. I was speaking recently to one of my contemporaries, who started in the BBC when I did and became one of the best documentary film makers in Britain, with a string of Baftas and other awards to her name. She tried to come back to Scotland three years ago, and found she simply could not get any commissions from the BBC. So she had to go back to London. If you are not in the metropolitan village you are little people.

I definitely think it's good for many young people to travel and see the world, but if the only job openings within a given field are in London, they can hardly be described as opportunities any more.

Danes would never put up with a situation where many careers forced people to move to Stockholm, Berlin or London. Why should Scots?

I want my kids to have the opportunity to have rewarding careers in Scotland if they so desire, and ideally also to be given a chance to work anywhere in the world if that's what they want to do. However, I don't want them to be forced to moved to London.

We need independence to create the careers at home that people need. Creating more opportunities here doesn't mean that the jobs abroad suddenly disappear. On the contrary, they go from being forced choices to being genuine opportunities.

The Economist is havering again

Improved Economist front page
Improved Economist front page by Thomas Widmann, on Flickr.
In the most recent issue of The Economist, there are four articles about Scottish independence, as well as a photo of a glaikit-looking man with a bad Saltire facepaint and a Buchanan-tartan scarf (which isn't a good way to win me over, given that I've married into the Buchanan clan).

There are lots of errors, omissions and tendentious vocabulary in all the articles, so a full fisk would be a massive undertaking. Instead, I've picked out a few bits and pieces below.

"Don't leave us this way"

The leader sets the tone and places The Economist -- yet again -- firmly in the No camp.

Britain doesn't feel like a nation on the verge of cracking up. Many have clutched patriotic flags and wept this summer -- but most of them were fans of the English football team.

This might be how it felt in London, but obviously there weren't many supporters of the English football team in Scotland, and the independence campaign is now starting to be very visible north of the border. The person who wrote this clearly hasn't been to Scotland recently.

A democratic, peaceful, well-governed nation state is a blessing which should not be casually thrown away.

Is the UK democratic? The unelected House of Lords still plays a major role! Is the UK peaceful? There were riots in London not that long ago, and I doubt people in Iraq and Afghanistan would praise British peacefulness! Is the UK well-governed? There are new scandals all the time, showing us the level of nepotism and corruption that is commonplace in Westminster! Is the UK a nation state? Better Together campaigners keep telling us it's a union of nations, and not a nation state at all!

Tellingly, most members of ethnic minorities describe themselves as British rather than English or Scottish.

While that's true in England, it again shows they haven't been to Scotland recently. Here ethnic minorities happily call themselves Italian Scots, Pakistani Scots, English Scots, and so on.

"How did it come to this"

This article is the best by far -- probably because the author actually has been to Scotland. However, it's by no means perfect:

The impression is of a party promising Scandinavian-style public services supported by taxation closer to American levels. That is fantasy, not socialism.

This is of course a complete misrepresentation of reality. Nobody has talked about American levels of taxation, but simply a slightly lower corporation tax than in the rUK in order to attract more businesses. And although Scandinavian-style public services would be great, that's a long-term ambition. Here and now we're talking about practical measures such as providing enough childcare to allow women to return to the labour market -- something which will probably be self-financing.

"Dear Prime Minister and First Minister"

Although the idea behind this article (to discuss the independence negotiation options) is great, it's unfortunately full of errors.

The timetable will be contentious, too. Mr Salmond claims that Scotland could become independent on March 23rd 2016 [...]. That is fanciful. [...] [S]uch breakneck negotiations will store up problems for the future. [...] A deadline of 2018 would be more sensible.

[...]

Past break-ups suggest that even after independence day, fiddly negotiations will continue. The Czechs and Slovaks only reached agreement on Czechoslovakia's gold reserves in 1999, seven years after they had opted to break up.

As I've discussed many times in the past, the UK will be almost ungovernable between a Yes vote and Scottish independence day because you cannot implement anything that the Scottish Government doesn't agree with. This means that a year and a half is probably the maximum Westminster can put up with, so negotiating until 2018 is simply not going to happen.

It's much more likely deals will quickly be made on the really important issues, followed by further negotiations after independence day, just like the Czechs and Slovaks did.

The second [principle] should be that movable assets (such as arms) be split proportionately and that immovable ones (such as public buildings) remains with the state they are in.

This might be a fine principle, but I guess it means that Scotland gets the nuclear weapons, which Westminster might not particularly like. Also, lots of shared institutions are placed in London, so giving them all to the rUK without any compensation might be unfair.

[Y]ou will need to strike a grand bargain on defence. This may involve the RUK supporting Scotland's NATO application and helping it assemble viable armed forces, in return for a long-term deal to postpone Trident's move (something akin to Britain' 99-year lease of Hong Kong from China).

This is simply not going to happen. The SNP has been very explicit that they will not accept a long-term deal that keeps Trident in Scotland. Also, NATO isn't that important to most Scots, so it's not an efficient threat to make people accept Trident. NATO might also not want a huge hole in the middle of their territory, so I'd be surprised if they decided to be too bloody-minded about Trident.

It would make little sense to insist on splitting the BBC, which benefits from economies of scale and could adopt a federal structure fairly easily.

They want us to keep the Westminster Propaganda Corporation?!? This is simply not going to happen. We're going to create our own public-service broadcaster, and we'll agree a deal (like Ireland's) that'll allow us to watch the BBC, too.

[A]fter independence the RUK could well opt to import cheaper green electricity from continental Europe.

Would it really be cheaper? But even if that was the case, the cables aren't there -- the existing ones are already running at full capacity. So they couldn't do this immediately.

[Scotland will need] a dialling code (+424 is the most likely choice) and an internet domain (though the Seychelles have nabbed .sc, and Sierra Leone has .sl).

It's good to see that The Economist reads Arc of Prosperity (this and this). I just wish they would read the newer articles, too.

"A costly solitude"

This final article deals with the economic aspects, but unfortunately they're being unnecessarily negative.

[O]ver the next 50 years, the Scottish workforce will actually shrink (the rest of Britain's will grow). The number of pensioners will rise.

The forecast that these numbers stem from are showing what will happen if Scotland remains part of the UK. In other words, as a British region, Scotland will grow older and poorer. This needs to change, but that requires access to some policy levers that are only available to independent countries (such as immigration policies).

Excluding oil, Scotland ran a public-sector deficit of £14 billion in 2012-13. At 11% of GDP that is a bigger gap than in crisis-stricken Greece and Ireland.

Excluding oil is crazy, given it's there at the moment. Also, once you subtract the costs of Trident, HS2 or many other of Westminster's white elephants, the deficit shrinks to much more reasonable levels.

Scottish productivity is 11% lower than the rest of Britain's; anaemic exporting, together with a shortage of innovative firms and low R&D investment, helps to explain this lag.

It's true that Scotland has problems in these areas, but that's because it's been impossible to fix them while part of the UK. As an independent country we can do something about this -- for instance by making it worthwhile for companies to invest more in R&D.

To sum up, The Economist managed to disappoint again -- although this issue wasn't nearly as abusive as their infamous Skintland front page.

I had hoped they would finally have sent some unbiased reporters to Scotland to find out exactly what is happening up here, but I guess they're too much a part of the Westminster bubble.

They should heed the final words of their second article: "The polls suggest they will not [form a new country]. But that is not how it feels right now on the streets of Glasgow."

The rUK is already another country

Ninja rat parachuting
Ninja rat parachuting by Nic Price, on Flickr.
My dear wife and I used to read The Economist and Private Eye regularly, and we watched the Andrew Marr Show on Sunday mornings. Of course we were often annoyed by the way they handled Scottish news, but by and large the reason for doing so was enjoyment rather than masochism.

However, something has changed over the past couple of years. Of course the London-based media too frequently treat the independence referendum in an offensive and contemptuous manner, but that shouldn't in itself make the rest of the programmes and publications irrelevant.

Nevertheless, I increasingly react to news from London in the same way as news from Sweden, Germany, Canada or any other foreign country that use a language I know, namely with three parts boredom because the issue at hand doesn't seem relevant to me, two parts perplexity because they're approaching an interesting subject from a bizarre angle, and one part anger because they're ignoring something which would have been very relevant.

The way UKIP is being fêted in England is perhaps the best example of this, but there are countless examples from all policy areas.

The only conclusion I can draw from this is that the independence referendum campaign itself has already turned Scotland and the rUK into separate countries, simply because we have now been having very different national conversations for the past two years.

This is yet another reason why we need a Yes vote in September. I simply cannot see how the UK can feasibly become reunited after a No vote; in all likelihood, the divergence would continue growing until a second referendum became unavoidable, but the years between the two referendums would be such a waste of time.

If independence is a state of mind, Scotland is already there.