Will Theresa May reject the Scottish government’s request for a Section 30 order? Probably is the best guess. It’s a guess because, as yet, May hasn’t confirmed whether she will or won’t.
The Prime Minister gave an interview to Robert Peston on Thursday. It was being touted that she was going to announce she’d block any request from the Scottish government to hold a second referendum within the timescale laid down by the First Minister.
When the time came to deliver, May failed.
The best the Prime Minister could do was to utter “Now is not the time”. It was weak. It was unconvincing. It wasn’t what the assembled hacks were led to believe she would say.
It reminded me of Gordon Brown’s famous loss of nerve when, with momentum behind him and the media waiting in expectation, he failed to go to the country. Bottle Brown was savaged by the media. Having lost his nerve he went on to lose his premiership.
But something odd began to happen. Rather than report the actuality of May’s weasel words, the media began embellishing them into something they weren’t.
I first noticed something afoot when a tweet from Glenn Campbell appeared. Campbell had initially posted an accurate but brief summary of Theresa May’s interview.
The prime minister @theresa_may has said that “now is not the time” for another indyref but is no more definitive than that.
However within moments there appeared an altogether different ‘interpretation’ of Theresa May’s interview. Campbell tweeted the following:
I’m told that “now is not the time” means no referendum before #Brexit, a rejection of @NicolaSturgeon autumn 2018/spring 2019 window.
Asked who had told him this, Campbell replied he had been told “by a UK government source”.
Who was this ‘source’? Well suspicion immediately fell on David Mundell, who within minutes of May’s disappointing interview tweeted the following.
It wasn’t long before the entire media machine kicked in and began reporting, not what Theresa May had actually said, but the embellishment of the interview by the unnamed source. Whether it was David Mundell who gave the media the narrative they started running with is irrelevant. What is relevant is that reporting of May’s interview quickly turned into misreporting.
The BBC Scotland website initially reported accurately what May had said, and boy did it look limp. Within an hour the headline was altered to fit the spin. The timid words were replaced by a more authoritative headline. Now not the time for independence vote became Referendum demand ‘will be rejected’.
The misreporting was everywhere. This wasn’t a Prime Minister weakened by uncertainty. Instead what emerged was a leader throwing down the gauntlet. It was as though journalists, having been primed for a big announcement, simply went along with the lie for fear of being the only ones left with no story at all.
The thing is they had a story. Somebody had touted what May was going to say. She didn’t deliver. Had they been misled? Had May bottled out? Who had strung them along? Instead of reporting accurately, they took the lazy route and took the spin fed them by an unnamed source.
Theresa May hasn’t yet confirmed she’ll reject a request from the Scottish government for a section 30 order. What she has done is to give a reason for rejecting such a request if it comes to it.
When May told Robert Peston “Now is not the time”, what she was saying was that a second independence referendum would clash with any ongoing Brexit negotiations. That it would be prudent to wait until these are out of the way and everything is signed, sealed and delivered. That’s a whole lot different from confirming you’ll actually block any request to hold a referendum.
But why alter the news narrative and present a harder line than May was prepared to present? Some reports suggest that it is in fact Ruth Davidson and David Mundell who are behind the ‘reject’ message. If true then it suggests Theresa May didn’t want to confirm outright that she would indeed block a referendum request from the Scottish government but that it was her Scottish lieutenants who wanted a hard line message.
Within hours of May’s interview, Mundell and Davidson were holding a set-piece press conference where each attacked the idea of a second independence referendum.
Both appeared that evening – in statesmanlike shots – on Reporting Scotland.
And that was the story complete.
Theresa May hasn’t said she’ll reject a referendum, she’s merely said now isn’t the time. The media has instead run with unattributed words from some unnamed source. A source has provided the meaning of an interview after it has been given and that doesn’t match what was said. That’s journalism folks.
The story wasn’t about Theresa May. It was about Ruth Davidson and David Mundell. They needed something, anything, in order to hit back at Nicola Sturgeon. May’s interview was merely the hook on which they hung their wee stunt.
But what will it bring them? Neither Davidson or Mundell are political strategists. Both are uber-Unionists. They’ll feel they’ve spiked the start of the SNP conference this week. They’ve received some help from a media that has long since forgotten what journalism means.
I suspect their chuckling will be short lived. It’s long been accepted wisdom that the blocking of the democratic will of the Scottish parliament by a Westminster government with respect to an indyref would only increase support for Yes. We’re about to find out if that wisdom is accurate.
In the meantime watch the media push the line that the SNP is on the backfoot, that an indyref campaign before we leave the EU will hamper the Brexit negotiations, that the Scottish people deserve better.
Finally, listen to this wee clip of BBC Scotland reporter Andrew Kerr and marvel at his ability to promote the required narrative.
There’s more of this nonsense to come folks. Batten down the hatches.
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