British is not best

Media mediate. The clue is in the name. All media come between the parties to a communication episode. They intercede to shape the message. They may alter that message to a varying extent and for a variety of purposes. Their reforming of the message may be done with different degrees of artfulness and the extent and purpose may be more or less apparent as a result. But media mediate. There are no exceptions.

The splenetic reaction of British Nationalists to news that Alex Salmond is to host a talk show on Russian TV channel, RT, represents yet another display of the imperious British exceptionalism which is such an integral part of that repugnant ideology. Mediation is fine so long as it’s British mediation. It’s fine to intercede if it’s on behalf of the British state. Shaping the message is perfectly acceptable if it serves the purposes of the British state. ‘British’ is the exemplar. ‘British’ is the standard by which all else is judged.

Four legs good! Two legs also good! So long as they are British legs!

That a devoted, not to say slavish, servant of the British state – let’s call him Andi Kneel (See what I did there?) – is afforded multiple platforms in the British media from which to defend and promote the established power of the British ruling elites, is not seen as at all problematic. Because he is British. Because the media is British. Because what is being defended and promoted is British. British is synonymous with benign and beneficent. Everybody knows that!

But so much as suggest that someone who is prepared to challenge the concept of a divinely ordained British state might have access to media resources which will allow them to convey a message unmediated by servants of the British state, and a veritable storm of spluttering, spittle-flecked outrage ensues.

Is RT a tool of the Russian state? No doubt! But no more so than the BBC is a tool of the British state. There may be differences in the way they go about it. But both serve established power. Both work in various ways to shape the message for particular purposes. They’re media. They mediate. Get over it.

Is the Russian regime hoping that Salmond’s programme will discomfit and embarrass the British regime? You bet it is! But I’m perfectly comfortable with that. I’m quite content that any regime should be discomfited and embarrassed. I see no reason whatever why the British regime should be the exception. I reject the notion that the British state should be able to act with impunity. I do not accept that the British establishment should have the sole and exclusive right to mediate the message.

And, when it comes to the media, don’t ask me to pick and choose between British and Russian. I’m Scottish! I don’t see that much difference. I don’t see either doing much to serve Scotland or Scotland’s people or Scotland’s politics. I’m sure as hell not about to assume that, even if the Russian media are malign, this implies that the British media are benign.

The Brits are raging. They’re raging because Scotland’s Yes movement may have found a broadcast media outlet. They’re raging just as they raged, and continue to rage, at The National for daring to break with the cosy consensus of a London-centric British perspective on Scottish politics.

They can only be raging because they desperately want to prevent the Yes movement getting its message to the people of Scotland. They can only be raging because they really don’t want people to realise that a different perspective is possible. They are raging because they fear to lose control of the message.

Just think for a moment what this implies. The British state wants the British media to deny a voice to a lawful, peaceful, democratic political movement supported by something approaching half the people of Scotland. And a far larger proportion if one includes those Unionists who, despite their reservations about independence, nonetheless adhere to democratic principles. In what way can this possibly be better – in any sense of that term – than whatever it is that the Russians are being accused of?

This is not just raging. It’s British Nationalist raging. It wouldn’t be British Nationalist raging if it wasn’t anti-democratic. And thick with the contradiction and inconsistency that marks British Nationalism as an ideology of the gut, rather than the mind. Watch while British Nationalists gloat over the SNP ‘distancing’ itself from Alex Salmond’s latest project. They drool gleefully over what they choose to interpret and/or represent as ‘disapproval’ in Nicola Sturgeon’s rather mild comments on the matter. But watch also as they insist that Salmond represents the SNP as he appears on RT. Because the alternative is to admit that what he is actually representing is the Yes movement. But they can’t allow the Yes movement to have a voice.

It’s a dilemma that the British state resolves with obfuscation, distraction, distortion and downright lies. But only so long as it gets to mediate the message.


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More boring, please!

Politics isn’t supposed to be this interesting.

Political speculation is fun. Not least because pretty much anybody gets to be an ‘expert’. Even David Torrance gets to put on his best sage and solemn countenance and have a wee rake about in the goat’s entrails. I rest my case.

The reality, of course, is that none of these ‘experts’ has any special insight. As is clear from the variety of their pontifications, none of them has any more of a clue about what’s going on than any of the rest of us.

When asked what politicians most feared, Harold Macmillan is supposed to have replied, “Events, dear boy! Events!”. The implication being that, in politics, it is events which are important. This certainly seems to be the assumption behind most of the speculation around the likelihood, or otherwise, of Theresa May being evicted from 10 Downing Street. All the ‘experts’ are looking at various events and attaching degrees of significance to them. This event makes it more likely that she will be ousted. That event makes it less likely. Betimes, the same event makes May’s departure from office both more and less likely depending on which expert is asked.

From the perspective of the individual politician and party managers, events surely are the most important thing. That’s what they have to deal with. They must handle situations as they arise. A case of financial misconduct here. An instance of sexual impropriety there. Gaffes, rebellions, briefings and back-stabbings. All the events which, at a certain frequency and amplitude, make politics so much more interesting than it ought to be.

But are events the appropriate feed-stock of political speculation? Or ‘analysis’ as its practitioners would doubtless prefer to call it. The very fact that the same events can be weighted so differently by diverse ‘experts’ suggests that they are not at all reliable indicators. Analysis should, perhaps, be concerned less with trying to discover – or devise – causal connections between and among events and more with understanding the processes behind those events. Politics is surely better understood in terms of the sweeping historical processes on which human affairs are carried along like a great game of Poohsticks.

So why are our ‘experts’ so focused on events? Why so little interest in those processes? I’d suggest it’s because that’s the way we’ve all been conditioned by the mass media. I’m fairly sure there was a time when newspapers – the ‘quality’ ones at least – and those parts of the broadcast media with a public service remit, acknowledged a duty to educate and inform the public. I may be fooling myself, but I seem to recall that journalists would offer competing analyses of political developments that went some way beneath the events floating on the surface and sought to give a sense of the currents and eddies which influence the trajectory of those events.

Maybe it’s just the cynicism that comes with age and experience, but the whole purpose of journalism appears to have changed from those days when newspapers would challenge the reader with broadsheet pages dense with text and all but devoid of pictures, graphs, sidebars and the like. Radio, and later TV, would feature lengthy broadcasts consisting of nothing more than people talking, seriously and politely, as they considered the issues of the day in the context of history. The word was king – spoken or printed. Things were elucidated using words, with nary an animated graphic nor a swingometer to be seen.

Now, the role of the journalist has been reduced to that of a prospector panning for nuggets of public attention which can be polished and sold to advertisers. The prize is no longer the well-crafted paragraph which illuminates and elucidates, but the gobbets of tawdry titillation and fleeting sensation which may capture attention long enough for it to be bent to some commercial purpose.

Real politics is boring. The broad, deep, sluggish river of historical process is tedious to observe and monotonous to describe. It only becomes interesting when it breaks its banks.Or when somebody falls in. Even political scandals tend to come along with metronomic regularity. It suits the purposes of both the media and politicians to have us regard politics as a series of discrete events, the meaning and portents of which can then be explained to us, in a suitable dramatic manner, by a priesthood of experts. Therein lies the power to control attention, manipulate perceptions and shape attitudes.


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Chaos and corruption!

I suppose it’s too much to hope for, but I do wish we could stop referring to the present shenanigans as “Tory chaos” and recognise the fact that what is happening is a feature of British politics. Anybody who imagines things would be much different if seating arrangements in the House of Commons were altered is just plain naive.

Patel behaved as she did, not because she is a Tory, but because she is British. It was the British sense of entitlement which led her to act as she did, and suppose she would get away with it. It was the British sense of exceptionalism that bade her assume that the rules didn’t apply to her. It was British elitism that put her in that position in the first place.

None of this is unique to the Tories. Nor is there anything novel about the corruption which stems from this British entitlement, exceptionalism and elitism. That corruption is inherent in and a product of the structures of power, privilege and patronage which define the British state. It is as old as the the British state. And, like any corruption that isn’t cauterised, it grows and spreads.

Insider trading! Sex scandals! Foreign spies! Cash for honours! More sex scandals! More financial scandals! Nepotism! Political ineptitude! Cash for honours again! More financial impropriety! More foreign spies! And we’re only up to the 1950s! It gets worse after that. Remember these names and the scandals associated with them?

John Vassall. John Profumo. Joh Stonehouse. John Poulson. (What is it with these ‘Johns’?) Reginald Maudling. T Dan Smith. Harold Wilson and The Lavender List (Not a JK Rowling fantasy.) Jeremy Thorpe. (Baron) Joseph Kagan. Cecil Parkinson. Jeffrey Archer. Edwina Currie. David Mellor. Michael Mates. Jonathan Aitken. Neil Hamilton, Tim Smith and Mohamed Al-Fayed. Peter Mandelson (Twice!).

That takes us only as far as the turn of the century; at which point, things start to get really bad.

We are told that changing parties will solve all the problems precisely because it won’t change anything. The British state is corrupt by nature. All the British parties are mired in that corruption. Every British politician is tainted by it.

Scotland urgently needs to distance itself from this pit of putrescence. We need to bring our government home.


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Power pollutes

As Andrew Learmonth notes in the first paragraph, we’ve been here before. It is only a year since the last epidemic of outrage sparked by the Panama Papers. A year from now there will be another round of shocking revelations to be christened. And a year after that. And on and on. At intervals, we will be supplied with our fix of righteous indignation. We will enjoy the anger-buzz and be briefly sated with self-satisfaction as we wallow in a warm bath of moral superiority. And nothing will change.

Nothing will change because we’re getting angry about the wrong thing. We are encouraged to vent our rage on selected celebrities and famous figures in order to divert us from the underlying problem. We are regaled with tales littered with recognisable names and eye-watering numbers so we don’t attend to the big story. We are encouraged to think it is particular people and their personal conduct that is the problem, when these things are merely symptoms of the disease that afflicts human society. The disease of power.

Not that power is always or necessarily malign. Like many things, it only becomes toxic in large concentrations and/or when it is in the wrong place. Rather than a disease, it may be more useful to think of power as a pollutant. Pollution is best defined as anything which is out of place. Oil isn’t a pollutant when it’s in the ground or contained in a suitable receptacle. When it’s contaminating seas; washing up on beaches; and coating wildlife in stinking glaur, it’s pollution.

Noise can be pollution. When it leaks from headphones into the ears of other passengers on a bus or train, it is out of its proper place. It becomes pollution. Quantity also matters. The ozone odour at the seaside is pleasantly bracing. In high concentrations, however, the smell of ozone is pungent and offensive.

Power in the wrong hands is every bit as much pollution as oil on a beach. An excessive concentration of power pollutes society. We urgently need a massive clean-up operation. Dabbing at the visible gobbets of greed won’t do it. We’ll just have to do it all again next year.


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Not sentimental

We need to fight to protect Brand Scotland for precisely the same reasons we must fight to defend every aspect of Scotland’s distinctiveness. It’s all connected. Dismiss any part as too trivial to ‘make a fuss’ about, and you necessarily chip away at the underpinnings of something of undeniable significance.

We need to fight to defend every aspect of Scottish distinctiveness because it is all under attack. If we do not draw the line at Brand Scotland then that line moves inexorably to our public services, our national infrastructure and our democratic institutions.

At no time since the Union was imposed on us has Scotland been in greater danger of being engulfed by a ‘Greater England’ project which has often been in abeyance but which has never entirely been abandoned. That ‘Greater England’ project morphed into the ‘British Empire’ project and thence to the ‘One Nation’ British Nationalism of today. Essentially, it is the same endeavour, which has taken on a new urgency as Scotland rediscovers its confidence, develops its distinctive political culture and finds its democratic voice. It is a project which has been quick to adopt and deploy modern methods of distraction, disinformation and manipulation in furtherance of its aim of eradicating the very idea of Scotland as a nation.

The British state is not benign. It’s purposes are not beneficent. It’s intentions are not honourable. It’s methods are not principled. If you would not see Scotland absorbed into a state which is increasingly the antithesis of what we aspire to then you need to fight to defend Brand Scotland just as you would fight to defend the Scottish Parliament. It all matters.

This is not about sentimentality. It is about survival.


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The curse of the cringe-monkey!

As the crisis deepens at Westminster, expect the British media in Scotland to redouble their efforts to embroil Holyrood in the scandal. For ‘One Nation’ British Nationalists, it doesn’t matter how bad things get down there; so long as things are no better up here, they are satisfied.

Of course, if the Scottish Parliament can, by whatever contortion of facts, language and logic, possibly be portrayed as an even worse pit of sleaze than the proclaimed Mother of Sleaze-pits, then your average British hack or ‘Proud Scot’ cringe-monkey will be spastic with perverted delight.

That is the extent of the British Nationalists’ ambition for Scotland – that it be inferior, in every sense of the word, to their beloved British state. They aspire for nothing more than that Scotland should always be less than it might be. They fear nothing more than that Scotland should stand as an embarrassment to the British establishment and an example to which the people of the rest of the UK might point and ask awkward questions.

Such is Scotland’s role within a political Union foisted on us by the same degenerate ruling elite presently being shamed by glimpses of its true nature. Not until Scotland breaks free of this toxic Union can we hope to have a better, cleaner politics. We may not be able to make our politics pristine and pure. The very nature of the beast militates against this. But, by bringing our government home, we can at least avoid being forced to watch as our public services are deliberately despoiled and our democratic institutions relentlessly denigrated in a desperate effort to ensure that Scotland never rises above its assigned status within the British state.

We can do better.


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M&S – Manipulative and Scheming

So, Marks and Spencer promoted ‘English’ or ‘British’ whisky on their website but declined to use ‘Scottish’. They have tried to pass this off as a mistake. But is it something more?

Are we really supposed to believe that such a comprehensive and consistent downgrading of Scotland was an error rather than a matter of policy? Are we seriously expected to believe that there is no political agenda at work here? When this suppression of Scottish branding is so generalised, how might we reasonably pretend to ourselves that it is no more than a coincidence of cock-ups?

There is clear intent here. The intent to diminish Scotland in the eyes of the world and in the minds of Scotland’s people. Some will dismiss such talk as paranoid exaggeration. But, as with bank crashes and Westminster scandals, every instance is a one-off until you step back far enough to see the bigger picture. Do that, and a pattern emerges. A pattern of systematic denigration of everything that is most closely identified with Scotland.

The effort to obliterate ‘Scotland the brand’ fits precisely with the campaign to undermine confidence in our public services and delegitimise our democratic institutions. For British Nationalists, it is always and entirely about making Scotland less. Only by making Scotland less can they make the British state more.

Sixty years ago, I sat in a cavernous and freezing classroom of the infant school in a small Fife village. On the wall behind the teacher’s desk there hung what, to the then diminutive me, looked like a huge map bearing a legend proclaiming it to represent a place called ‘Great Britain’. Other than it’s impressive dimensions, there was one particularly striking aspect of this map’s appearance. The lower half, portraying England, was a mass of colour and detail. The counties were all picked out in shades of green and yellow and pink. A tangle of lines in different styles indicated every railway line and every class of road. Landmarks, hamlets, villages, towns and cities were all named in type appropriate to their size and significance, creating a mystifying jumble of words close-packed, curving, tilting and wriggling as they competed for space.

The map was designed, not only to inform, but to impress.

The top part of the map was starkly different. In contrast to the bright, busy complexity of England, Scotland was portrayed as a desert. The word ‘Scotland’ sprawled lazily across an expanse of pristine white broken only by the straggling lines of the rail routes connecting with England like the probing tentacles of some monstrous parasite. Dotted along these lines were a handful of place names; seemingly placed there to explain and justify the railway rather than to mark centres of human habitation. Glasgow. Edinburgh. Perth. Aberdeen. Wick. That was about it. Away from the extension of England’s presence, there was nothing. Scotland was represented as an empty. A land devoid of places. Devoid of people. Devoid of significance.

Not unnaturally, I looked to the teacher, Miss Marshall, for an explanation as to why the map of Scotland was so barren when even at my young age I knew it to be full of places and people. In my head, I can still hear her reply,

“It’s because Scotland is not important.”

This was stated in a flat, off-hand manner which implied Scotland’s paucity of status was a matter of empirical fact not to be disputed. Here I was, a child of Scotland being taught by someone carrying great authority that, as a Scottish child, I was of no importance. How could this not have a profound effect? Even if it was, in my case, the very opposite of the subjugating effect intended.

I remember that map as the British state’s supercilious slighting of Scotland in cartographic form. I look at the BBC’s weather map, and I realise things haven’t changed much in sixty years. The demeaning message is the same. Only the technology is different.

If this humbling propaganda manifests in maps, why would we suppose it hasn’t found its way into the sphere of marketing? How likely is it that this insidiously powerful tool of mass manipulation would not be exploited? Recognising the aims and objectives of the British state in relation to Scotland, the question is not why would the British establishment seek to suppress Scottish commercial branding, but why wouldn’t they?


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