Among advocates of the restoration of Scotland’s status as an independent nation, as well as a number of dispassionate observers, it is widely held that the first referendum campaign marked a new low for the media in the UK. It’s not so much that their coverage of the campaign was so one-sided. The mainstream print and broadcast media are the voice of the British establishment. They are embedded in the structures of power, privilege and patronage which define the British state. So it was not in the least surprising that they joined with the British political, economic and cultural elites in defending a status quo which serves those vested interests rather well; regardless of whether it serves the people of these islands at all.
What rankled with independence supporters and brought disgrace upon the media was, not this entirely anticipated pro-union bias, but the abject failure to conduct even the most cursory examination of the prospectus offered by the UK Government, the British political parties and Better Together/Project Fear. A prospectus which we now know to have been false in pretty much every regard.
We might debate the extent to which newspapers have a responsibility to inform, analyse and illuminate substantial political issues. What cannot be disputed is that, to whatever extent such a duty exists, the British press were derelict. With woefully few exceptions, the nominally Scottish titles failed the people of Scotland and democracy itself by their blank refusal to scrutinise the anti-independence campaign.
The broadcast media are another matter. A matter which has been very effectively dealt with in GA Ponsonby’s book, London Calling – How the BBC stole the Referendum, and Alan Kight’s superb documentary based on Ponsonby’s research. Towards the end of that film, there is a short section which highlights the alternative media publications which arose during the first Scottish independence referendum campaign as part of an effort to compensate for the deficiencies of the mainstream media. Pride of place amongst this plethora of blogs and online news sites is taken by Wings Over Scotland.
Whether measured by the size of its audience and the financial support provided by its users, or by the vitriol it attracts from British nationalists, Wings Over Scotland must rank as the leading pro-independence website.
To mark iScot Magazine’s second anniversary issue and an amazing five years of Wings Over Scotland, I spoke to the site’s publisher, the Reverend Stuart Campbell. I started by asking him what he regarded as the high points and the low points of that five years.