Category Archives: media

The Economist’s “domestic problem”

"Looking for a future".
“Looking for a future”.
The Economist’s special report this week is about “the big decisions ahead for Britain”, which is trying to conflate the Scottish independence referendum, the future EU referendum, the English attitude to immigrants and a couple of other issues. Perhaps tellingly, the cover photo shows three cricket players searching for a lost ball.

The Economist used to be an intelligent magazine with an internationalist outlook, but it seems recently to have become the local newspaper for the City of London, and their latest report is quite typical in that respect.

The leading article introducing the report demonstrates how parochial this publication has become:

On Scotland, Mr Cameron and Mr Miliband are on the side of Great Britain. But it is a decision for Scots. Although a Hibernian [sic!] state could more or less pay its way to begin with, assuming that it was able to hold on to most of the North Sea oil- and gas-fields, that resource is drying up. An independent Scotland would be too small to absorb shocks, whether to oil prices or to its banks. And the separatists cannot say how the country could run its affairs while keeping the pound. For their own sakes, Scottish voters should reject their political snake-oil.

I’m sure there are many people who are not aware of the difference between Hibernian and Caledonian, but if you want to give the impression that you’re highly knowledgeable about the Scottish independence referendum, it’s perhaps not the best start. (And the rest of this paragraph is of course poorly researched scaremongering sound-bites. As Business for Scotland recently wrote: “This is solid proof that oil price volatility isn’t a problem, for if it was, then at least once in 32 years Scotland’s revenues would have dropped below the average for the rest of the UK but it never did.”)

The rest of the leader isn’t much better. Bankers in London might think that “[i]n many ways Britain has a lot going for it right now. Whereas the euro zone’s economy is stagnant, Britain is emerging strongly from its slump. The government has used the crisis to trim the state”, but this is hardly the consensus view elsewhere.

Their provincial outlook is also making them see the prospect of Scottish independence purely from a London point of view. For instance, the leading article contains this:

The most straightforward way Britain could shrivel is through Scotland voting to leave the United Kingdom next September. At a stroke, the kingdom would become one-third smaller. Its influence in the world would be greatly reduced. A country that cannot hold itself together is scarcely in a position to lecture others on how to manage their affairs.

The Kingdom of Scotland wouldn’t become any smaller, and our influence in the world would be greatly increased. I’m not saying they should present it like this, but perhaps they should just once try to imagine how the referendum looks from the other side of the border.

It gets worse on page 4 of the report:

The country also needs to deal with a domestic problem. Ten years ago Scottish nationalism was in headlong retreat, but in a mere ten months from now Scotland will vote on whether to become an independent country. If it opts to leave, what remains of Britain will cut a greatly diminished figure on the world stage. Together with the referendum on EU membership, which may take place in 2017 or even sooner, the vote could set the country on a path to serious isolation.

A domestic problem? A domestic problem?!?! One of the two founding members of the Union leaving is now just a wee annoyance that needs to be dealt with?

Finally, on page 13 they write:

If Scotland votes for independence, what remains of Britain will be shaken. The state will be slimmed mathematically, as 8% of its economy and population disappears, together with 32% of its land and almost all of the North Sea oil- and gasfields. It will be diminished militarily. The Scots supply more than their fair share of uniformed men, and Britain’s nuclear-armed submarines are parked in a deep Scottish loch, with no decent alternative berth. It will also be humiliated. A country that cannot hold itself together is greatly diminished in the eyes of the world. Scottish independence would give succour to Welsh nationalists and would cause an existential crisis in Northern Ireland, where many unionists have Scottish roots.

I put this quote on Twitter two days ago together with this comment: “Is that supposed to be a reason to vote No?” and it got retweeted 68 times, so it must have touched a nerve. As Tweeter @CyberBrat1320 replied: “Stopping British militarism, encouraging Welsh nationalism, and creating an existential crisis in NI? Bring it on!” (I realise that it can sound a bit harsh to relish the prospect of causing an existential crisis there, but perhaps the disappearance of political Britishness could make them agree peacefully on a path for the future, either as part of a united Ireland or as an independent country in its own right, and surely that’d be a good thing.)

I really despair in The Economist. If they can only see Scotland from a London perspective, they shouldn’t be surprised if we complain that London isn’t representing us well on the world stage any more.

If they want to get their heads round what’s happening up here, they need to stop limiting their research to watching the BBC. Ideally, they should hire a Scottish journalist to explain the referendum campaign to their international audience. What they’re doing at the moment is frankly embarrassing.

TV channels after independence

Some typical cable TV channels in Denmark.
Some typical cable TV channels in Denmark.
In Denmark, people in southern Jutland and Funen have been able to tune in to the standard German TV channels for decades, and for a similar amount of time Copenhageners have been able to watch Swedish telly.

When cable TV was introduced, the typical package therefore included the main German channels (ARD, ZDF, NDR, Sat1, RTL), the Swedish ones (SVT1 and SVT2) and the Norwegian one (NRK), and this is still frequently the case, I believe.

Something similar happens in most other countries. It’s generally the case that viewers can watch the main TV channels from neighbouring countries.

We would expect to see something similar in Scotland after independence.

Of course, before this can happen, Scotland will need to get its own TV channels. I reckon BBC1 Scotland, BBC2 Scotland and BBC Alba will become independent of the rUK BBC in 2016 and be renamed to something along the lines of SBC1, SBC2 and SBC Gàidhlig. At the same time, STV will probably continue more or less as before, except that its coverage will be extended to include all of Scotland. Channel 4 and Channel 5 are a bit trickier — they could either continue as before, or be made to set up Scottish subsidiaries.

The Scottish channels will surely do their best to broadcast what Scottish viewers want to watch, and this will include buying rUK programming (such as Eastenders, The X Factor, The Apprentice, and nature programmes). Sometimes they might want to create a Scottish version instead, such as a Scottish Big Brother.

What’s important to understand here is that the purchasing of programming is a commercial negotiation, and as such, it’s expensive to reveal your hand. In other words, if the Scottish Government guarantees that the SBC will broadcast Eastenders, the price is likely to double. We should therefore not expect to see the details of SBC programming to be fleshed out in details in advance.

Once these new channels have been created, it’s likely that many Scots (at least those with satellite or cable TV) will get the option to receive the rUK BBC channels, perhaps at a modest fee. What this means is that many households will get twice as many TV channels as they do now.

Broadcasting is one of those areas where independence will lead to change, but on the whole it’ll be a change for the better.

Spreading the word

Catch Up
Catch Up, a photo by sheilaz413 on Flickr.
Wings over Scotland recently commissioned a Panelbase poll and today published the results for the media questions. Here’s what the poll found with regard to knowledge of some of the main websites dedicated to Scottish politics:

Which of these Scottish political websites have you heard of? Tick as many as apply.

  • ThinkScotland: 19%
  • Labour For Independence: 10%
  • The Jimmy Reid Foundation: 10%
  • Newsnet Scotland: 9%
  • Wings Over Scotland: 7%
  • Bella Caledonia: 6%
  • National Collective: 6%
  • Labour Hame: 4%
  • Five Million Questions: 2%
  • Open Unionism: <1%
  • None of the above: 68%

This is a massive problem. It means 68% of the population are likely to get their knowledge mainly from newspapers and TV (and the associated websites) and don’t know any independent websites that are likely to write about Scottish independence.

My guess is that the 68% includes the vast majority of those voters who haven’t made up their mind yet, so the implication is that most waverers get their news exclusively from mainstream media. (It would be good to get this confirmed from the crosstabs once they’re published.)

However, I’m sure the status quo can be changed.

Perhaps Yes Scotland (or the local groups) could select a small number of articles from a few blogs (Bella Caledonia, Newsnet Scotland, Wings over Scotland, National Collective etc.) and with the websites’ permissions print them in a small leaflet and hand it out to all households in Scotland. Each article would also list the URL of the blog it’s from, and the leaflet would of course have to state that Yes Scotland didn’t endorse the blogs but that those particular articles seemed to be of interest to many people.

I lots of people would actually sit down and read the articles and start thinking, and then go and explore the websites themselves. If it would make waverers more likely to read the leaflet, it could even include articles from neutral and anti-independence blogs — the main aim would be to get people to start accessing more news sources.

I’m sure a greater awareness of political websites would lead to an increase in support for Scottish independence.

The anglocentric media and the London Scots

Inequivocabilmente UK
Inequivocabilmente UK, a photo by lyonora on Flickr.
Yesterday the Herald published two articles that both contained interesting observations about the way Scotland and the independence referendum are perceived in London.

Iain Mcwhirther pointed out that the Scottish press is completely ignored in London: “The reason so many BBC network news programmes seem so anglocentric is because they tend to take their editorial agenda from the press, which doesn’t report Scotland in its London editions. This, rather that any anti-Scottish bias among editors of the 6pm news or Any Questions, accounts for the absence of Scottish stories.”

Andrew Marr noted that there is an assumption Scotland will vote No to independence: “Whenever London Scots get together and talk about independence, there is a general assumption the people back home will never actually vote for it — that a vote for the Scottish National Party in Holyrood is simply the latest wheeze to put pressure on London for financial favours is blandly repeated in bars and television studios. ‘They willnae.’ … I have become less certain: next September, they micht.”

Taken together, these two remarks make it clearer why the UK media have concluded that the referendum have already been decided (as I noted more than a year ago). If they don’t access Scottish media, they will out of necessity get their information primarily from Scots living in London, and if they in turn have decided it’ll be a No, that then becomes the established truth in the Westminster bubble.

It’s quite interesting to contemplate why the London Scots have already decided it will be a No. It has probably something to do with the widespread assumption that talent moves to London, and that the people who didn’t leave are too stupid to think for themselves.

I have a feeling the London Scots might get a big surprise in September 2014!

Skintland and my mum

Skintland, a photo by MissRachel2012 on Flickr.
My mum was chairman of the local constituency Social Democratic party in Denmark for decades, so she is quite politically aware. However, she doesn’t know much about Scottish or UK politics, and until recently she didn’t really have an opinion on Scottish independence.

It was therefore quite interesting to observe her when she found a copy of The Economist’s infamous Skintland issue lying around our living room some months ago. She got intrigued by the cover and sat down to read the whole thing.

She then declared that she didn’t know what it was they were hiding, but if they saw a need to bully people into submission like that, they must be really scared of the truth getting out, so the truth must be that Scotland will be much better off as an independent country and/or that the rUK will be much worse off without Scotland.

So ever since reading the Skintland issue, she’s been strongly in favour of Scottish independence. I’m not sure that’s the reaction The Economist were hoping for!

A difference of perspective

Newspaper, a photo by FireFawkes on Flickr.
If you watch the BBC and STV and read one or two Scottish newspapers, such as The Scotsman or The Herald, but you don’t really read any blogs or other social media, I guess your perspective of the independence campaign is as follows: Better Together and the Westminster Government again and again point out potential problems, and Yes Scotland and the Scottish Government react to these as if they’d never considered this issue before, and the Yes campaign never seems to do anything proactive.

If on the other hand you got fed up with the unionist media in the past and are now mainly getting your knowledge from pro-independence blogs, such as the Arc of Prosperity, Wings over Scotland, Bella Caledonia, Newsnet Scotland, National Collective and all the others, and if you’re additionally friends with other Yes people on Facebook and Twitter and perhaps active in your local Yes Scotland group, I bet your perspective is more like this: Yes Scotland and the wider Yes campaign are busy fleshing out the details of independence, while Better Together spread fear, uncertainty and doubt, often without any evidence whatsoever. At the same time, tens of thousands of Yes Scotland volunteers are out there talking to ordinary voters on the doorsteps.

Which narrative is correct? It depends on your perspective, I guess.

Because of this difference, the recent accusations against Yes Scotland of inactivity probably seem extremely reasonable to the first group, and utterly ludicrous to the second one.

However, given that the first group is by far the largest one at the moment, it leaves the Yes campaign with two options: (1) Try to break through the bias of the unionist media so that normal people start realising what’s really happening, or (2) make everybody read blogs and connect to neutral and pro-independence people on Facebook and Twitter.

Given that (1) is extremely hard to achieve (although of course it shouldn’t be abandoned), I think more attention should be paid to (2). Maybe the Yes campaign should for instance provide every household with a list of Scottish blogs (unionist, neutral and pro-independence). Perhaps it would also be an idea to print a small newspaper containing some of the best articles from the pro-independence blogs, and this could then be handed out to undecided voters who aren’t big users of social media.

Godwin’s Law and Scotland on Sunday

Week 38: Godwin's Law
Week 38: Godwin’s Law, a photo by WilliamsProjects on Flickr.
Back in the 1990s, when Usenet was one of the most important parts of the Internet, I participated in several newsgroups that adhered to Godwin’s Law:

For example, there is a tradition in many newsgroups and other Internet discussion forums that once [a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler] is made, the thread is finished and whoever mentioned the Nazis has automatically lost whatever debate was in progress. This principle is itself frequently referred to as Godwin’s law. It is considered poor form to raise such a comparison arbitrarily with the motive of ending the thread. There is a widely recognized corollary that any such ulterior-motive invocation of Godwin’s law will be unsuccessful.

According to Godwin’s Law, Scotland on Sunday lost the independence debate by deciding to make comparisons between the SNP (an extremely tolerant party which favours civic nationalism) and the Nazis.

I believe in free speech, and while I will defend their right to publish what they want, I do think it was an appalling decision to publish this.

Of course it should be possible to discuss Scotland’s political history, including the role played by fascism, but it’s entirely clear that Scotland on Sunday tried to imply that current nationalist politicians have fascist sympathies, which is both wrong and offensive.

I thought the unionists wanted to win the referendum by debating the pros and cons of independence. Alas, I was wrong. If they want to win by making Nazi slurs, all rational debate becomes impossible, which is exactly why Godwin’s Law says that the debate ends here.