Molehills and mountains

I suppose it was the turn of education to get the grinding denigration treatment from the British establishment propaganda machine. That’s how it works. When the backlash against media maligning one of Scotland’s public services gets to a certain level, it’s time to target something else. The recent onslaught against NHS Scotland had reached a level of ludicrous hysteria and surreal distortion which was difficult for even the British media to sustain. As various organs strive to outdo one another in a crescendo of sensationalist spin, there’s a point at which even the less politically aware begin to ask awkward questions about the way the media are behaving.

When even the less discerning consumers of media fare start to turn up their noses at what is being offered, it’s time to put something different on the menu.

Not that there’s anything which is really new. But the public’s memory is sufficiently short, and its appetite sufficiently jaded, that the same dishes can be served up in rotation whilst maintaining the illusion of ‘news’. Alternatively, the menu description can be rewritten. Or the same ingredients can be tweaked slightly to make the dish seem slightly different. Or the restaurant can invite a guest chef, perhaps from a rival establishment, in the hope of that this will titillate the diners.

Putting James McEnaney’s name on the by-line is one way of putting a thin veneer of novelty on what is otherwise just the tired and tiresome practice of making a mountain of menace out of a molehill of the mundane. It is, to extend our gastronomic metaphor perhaps a little to far, spice to the gruel. A sprinkling of star anise in a bowl of insipid sops.

Many readers will be aware of James McEnaney. Most will not. Not yet, anyway. He is usually to be found on Common Space, a news website owned by the think tank and advocacy group Common Weal, where he regularly rails against this or that Scottish Government policy, making no effort to conceal his personal antipathy towards the SNP administration in the process.

The British Nationalist media can always find a use for people who are in some way associated with the SNP or the wider Yes movement but are prepared to lend their names to articles intended to damage of undermine one or both. Those names are, by now, quite familiar. Mainly because there’s not that many of them. Jim Sillars is perhaps the best known. (Or, as the British media invariably introduce him, ‘Former SNP Deputy Leader Jim Sillars’. Lest we forget that now pitifully tenuous connection with the party.) The late Gordon Wilson was another. Lately, ‘Former SNP Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill’ has been putting in a few appearances.

Then there are assorted ‘righteous radicals’ who have adopted the ‘Yes’ label as a marketing device by which to sell some narrow policy agenda. People who, having belatedly jumped on the independence bandwagon, now demand the right to drive it and to dictate who else is allowed aboard and where they must sit. People who will, from time to time, stick a petulant spoke in the wheel just to prove they can. People who constantly threaten to tip the whole independence cart as they try to distance themselves from the SNP.

It would be wrong to suppose that these are mere ‘useful idiots’ meekly allowing themselves to be manipulated by the media. It would be even more wrong to imagine they do it for personal gain; although some certainly seem susceptible to the flattery of media attention. Just as there are more prosaic interpretations of the dull statistical data from which the media weave a string of alleged national crises, so there is a more humdrum explanation for independence supporters and other progressives willingly contributing to a propaganda effort aimed at thwarting the independence campaign and stifling progressive politics.

The British political elite is particularly adept at exploiting even the most minor differences, disagreements, grudges and rivalries among those who, were they to make common cause, might pose a significant threat to the structures of power, privilege and patronage which define the British state and serve the few and the expense of the many. Divide and rule is strategy that was thoroughly honed in the days of Britain’s imperial pomp. It remains a favoured tactic.

So long as there are those who resent the SNP’s success because, through political miscalculation or ideological inflexibility, they have missed the opportunity to participate in it, there will be those who are eager enough for the personal gratification of a bit of pointless sniping to turn a blind eye to the wider consequences.

So long as there are those whose desire for change is outweighed by their extreme aversion to the political power needed to effect change, there will be those who are irresistibly drawn into attacks on the very means by which progressive politics might be kept as an option.

The standard response to such observations generally takes the form of frenzied accusations of mindless party loyalty, references to some kind of personality cult and/or insistence that ‘what you’re really saying’ is that the SNP should be immune from any criticism. Trust me on this! If I wanted to say that the SNP should be immune from criticism, I have the vocabulary to do so. If I wanted to make the case that the SNP should be immune from criticism, I could do that too. There are arguments that can be made to that effect. I am not making those arguments; any more than I am ‘really saying’ the party should not be criticised. But I am resigned to the fact that people will read what they want to read regardless of what is written.

What I am saying is that those who are genuinely committed to restoring Scotland’s independence, with all this implies for the future of our nation and of progressive politics in general, need to be cautious in their criticism of the SNP. And they need to be wary of who they are invited into bed with for the purpose of getting their complaints to a wider audience.

That is all I’m saying. We are in a time-critical phase of the independence campaign. 2018, as has been widely acknowledged, is set to be a very important year in Scotland’s history. This is the time when all of the independence movement should be coming together in defence of Scotland’s right of self-determination. In defence of the Scottish Parliament. In defence of Scotland’s public services and the distinctive political culture which shapes them. And in defence of the party which, like it or not, is the only viable source of the effective political power that the independence campaign absolutely requires. And, not at all incidentally, the best hope of maintaining a political environment in which progressive politics can survive.

This is certainly not a time for colluding with the British establishment media as they work to undermine Scotland’s democratic institutions an infrastructure by eroding public confidence in everything that is associated with our distinctiveness as a nation.

And what about the article itself, I hear you ask. Does it not count as fair criticism of the SNP administration’s handling of education. Well, no, it doesn’t. Not if you read it carefully. All it does is take some bare statistics and build a story around them by piling on all manner of assumptions about what the figures mean.

It’s a familiar pattern. The headline tells you what you’re supposed to take from the article. The opening paragraph states this more explicitly for the benefit of anyone who hasn’t already been hooked, whilst also providing the string of words which will be parroted by British Nationalists on social media – invariably without any understanding of the issues and, in many cases, without even fully understanding the meaning of the words.

Subsequent paragraphs serve to support and reinforce the desired impression with quotes, which may or may not relate directly to the statistics, from ‘experts’ who may or may not be responding to a leading question.

Only when you get to the bits of the article so far down the page that they are rarely read will you find any factual information or qualifying comments or quotes that don’t quite stick to the script. Like the following gem of simple good sense from Eileen Prior, executive director of the Scottish Parent Teacher Council:

“The average age of teachers is still in the early 40s so there continues to be plenty of experience in the system.

“A turnover of staff happens in any profession and new teaching staff can bring fresh energy and new perspectives into the classroom.

“What might be useful is to conduct exit interviews from those who are leaving the profession, to drill down into why that is and to learn from their experiences. Then we could see if this is ‘natural wastage’ or if this is an expression of something more serious.”

That there is all of the story. That’s it! That’s what’s left when you remove the spin added to their ‘EXCLUSIVE’ by Andrew Denholm and James McEnaney.

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6 thoughts on “Molehills and mountains

  1. William Crossan

    For a short time in the early 1990s I was Principal Staffing Officer of Strathclyde Region. We had our “shortage subjects” back then, and workload issues and stress. But in those years and in almost 20 years asahead teacher since then I have never met a teacher leaving the profession who gave stress or workload as a reason for it. I’m now one of the experienced teachers this report says have left the profession since 2010. In common with most of them, and I emphasise most of them, I retired. But I don’t suppose “Teachers retiring in the same numbers as before” is much of a headline.

    1. Alasdair Macdonald

      This is an informed response and William Crossan is to be commended for putting things in perspective.

      It is very likely that the initial report was based on a hand out by the Scottish teacher unions who are currently setting out their pay claim. I was a teacher for nearly forty years and, as Mr Bell has indicated, this ‘stress-causing-exodus’ line has accompanied every pay campaign since I first entered the profession in 1970.

      If we were to calculate the tonnage defecated by bears in woods since 2010, I am sure it would be a big number.

  2. Robert Graham

    A very predictable cycle that has been going on since 2014 , you can almost set your clock when the rubbish emerges .NHS – Police – Education – Transport . NHS- you get the idea every story has its own exaggerated claims ,

    Tell a lie often enough and the foolish public start to believe it ,if we had a media that would investigate some of these outrageous claims of every single thing in Scotland is falling apart and nothing works .

    Instead the media in Scotland are cheering from the sidelines .

    Waken up folks you are being misled and conned by these Liars , look around judge for your selves is it Armageddon out there ? .

  3. Jockanese Wind Talker

    And yet we have the Education Unions sabre rattling about going on strike over the Xmas period re Scots Gov and their pay in cahoots with BLiS Xmas Box of embargoed press releases and the BritNat Media while turning a blind eye to BLiS and BLiS/Tory Councils cutting teaching assistant and teacher posts.

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