Neither Lord Kerslake nor Lord O’Donnell speak for the SNP administration. The inferences that they chose to draw from the Scottish Government’s efforts to work with the British Civil Service may be of passing academic interests. But their very personal take on things hardly warrants a headline. Especially when that opinion is unambiguously contradicted by explicit statements from the Scottish Government.
So what’s the point?
Bearing in mind that the headline always has a purpose; that this purpose reflects a political agenda; and that this agenda is known to be hard-line unionist in nature, what may we deduce about this one? What is it intended to convey? And, just as importantly, to whom? What’s the target audience? Whose buttons are being pressed here?
I would suggest that the sub-text is a well-worn theme from the British nationalist songbook. It is the attempt to create the impression in susceptible minds that the SNP isn’t really in favour of independence. And/or that the independence that the SNP is prepared to settle for isn’t “real” independence. How can it be “real” independence, goes the old song, when they want to stay in the EU? How can it be “real” independence, drones the next verse, when they are prepared to deny Scotland its own civil service in favour of a joint arrangement with those who were guilt of bias during the first independence referendum?
This message is aimed at two groups. It is, obviously, a cue for British nationalism’s rag-tag band of amateur propagandists and assorted online unionist ranters in social media and below-the-line comments. Their buttons are notoriously large and sensitive. For professional media manipulators, they are fish in a barrel.
But there is another group being targeted here. The suggestion that the SNP isn’t serious about “real” independence is intended to provoke a reaction from what we might euphemistically call the “purists” in the independence movement. A group which, while small in terms of numbers, can be quite vociferous. More significantly, the most weak-willed in this group can be easily goaded into saying something that the British media can latch onto as “evidence” of divisions and friction within the independence movement and a “surge of anti-SNP sentiment”. All of which might be based on nothing more than a single ill-thought Tweet or comment on Facebook.
Such is the British media.