During the first referendum campaign, a number of observers noted a pattern in the way the anti-independence propaganda machine operated. Typically, a ‘report’ would be published by some ‘independent’ think-tank which would be spun as ‘proving’ that independence would mean everybody in Scotland being worse of by some random figure that would vary in relation to the degree of sensationalism desired. This ‘report’ would form the basis of screeds of comment and ‘analysis’ in the print media and hours of ‘debate’ on TV and radio over a weekend.
At some point, the alternative media would start to point out serious flaws in this ‘report’ and, more commonly, in the way it was being (mis)represented by the media. Conveniently, as soon as question started to be asked about this ‘report’, some retired general would crawl out of the woodwork to solemnly opine that an independent Scotland would be immediately overrun by whatever group of brown people was currently being demonised. In a nod to the sensitivities of our times, editors would often remove some of the more indelicate terms from these Jeremiads. Occasionally, they’d get bored and replace “fuzzy-wuzzies” with “aliens”, to the great amusement of all but the most humourless British nationalists. But, for the most part, the military miserablism would provide a serviceable distraction from the now disintegrating economic ‘report’.
Over the ensuing weekend, attention would shift away from the economy to defence. Until such time as some other military authority started to pick holes in the claims being made by Project Fear’s pet soldier. At which point Gordon Brown might decide to ‘step out of the shadows’ with an intervention that was ‘unprecedented’ only so long as you ignored the last half dozen times he embarrassed himself by striding up and down the stage like a caged cat in some atrocious communist-era Balkan zoo while spouting pompous gibberish in the am-dram stentorian tones of a man pathetically desperate to emulate Tony Blair’s success in getting paid vast sums for spouting pompous gibberish. A project doomed to failure, by the way, for the simple reason that, where Blair’s oratory drizzle from his mouth with the smooth oleaginousness of extra virgin olive oil, Brown’s efforts drop from his maw with the lumpen greasiness of industrial lard.
I digress. But you get my point about the cyclic nature of the Better Together/Project Fear campaign. Scare-story; followed by uncritical media hype; followed by alternative media scrutiny; followed by temporary retreat from this scrutiny to the relatively safe ground of a new scare-story – or an old scare-story taking its turn in the cycle.
My point here is that this is still happening. We continue to be pounded with negative stories about the SNP, the Scottish Government and any institution or organisation that is particularly associated with Scotland, such as NHS Scotland or Police Scotland. When these stories are subjected to a marginally more forensic examination than the mainstream media seems capable of, the ‘debate’ is immediately shifted in a distinctly unsubtle manner.
For the last couple of weeks we have been witness to the unedifying spectacle of an unabashedly orchestrated witch-hunt targeting Transport Minister, Humza Yousaf over a supposed ‘crisis’ afflicting ScotRail. The rhetoric has been appalling – up to and including brazenly racist attacks on a man who is generally regarded as one of Scotland’s finest public servants and a rising star in the SNP administration. Who can doubt that this is why he was chosen as the victim of this disgraceful harassment? The contrived furore certainly has nothing whatever to do with Scotland’s rail services which, while unsatisfactory – as acknowledged by Mr Yousaf himself – are not extraordinarily so. And certainly not in anything that might sensibly be described as a ‘crisis’.
For at least a fortnight, the media in Scotland has been filled with hysterical nonsense about the situation and more or less explicit demands for Humza Yousaf’s removal. All liberally laced with quotes from the British parties in Scotland which almost literally dripped with malicious glee at the prospect of destroying the career of a man who is an undoubted asset to Scotland’s politics.
Today, one of the ‘Scottish’ titles publishes an article by Iain Docherty, Professor of Public Policy and Governance at the Adam Smith Business School, University of Glasgow, which includes a scathing denunciation of the behaviour of unionist politicians and, by implication at least, their accomplices in the media over the whole affair. I take the liberty of reproducing here a lengthy section of that article.
The reasons for these difficulties are complex: they include the impacts of the present unprecedented level of investment in enhancing the rail infrastructure, the knock-on effects of the Queen Street tunnel renewal and the fact that significant numbers of trains are out of service, being upgraded as part of the franchise commitments.
But to read the comments of opposition politicians you would know none of this.
They criticise the operating company over aspects of the railway it is not responsible for and lambast Scottish ministers for the performance of Network Rail, which is fully reserved to Westminster.
It would be polite to describe this as duplicitous. Successive UK governments could have transferred full responsibility for rail to Scotland but purposefully chose not to.
Proponents of nationalisation, which is perfectly feasible in principle, conveniently ignore the fact that the infrastructure half of the railway is already nationalised and overspends by an estimated 30 per cent or more, whilst the average profit margin of private train operating companies across Britain is around two per cent.
We have a situation where Labour and Conservative MSPs are criticising their own policies on the structure of the rail industry in a crass attempt to take a ministerial scalp.
This is simply the worst form of politics, disregarding the impact on the thousands of frontline people who work hard to deliver Scotland’s railway service, on the passengers they serve and on the taxpayers who fund the system.
What we have here is the kind of scrutiny which was earlier identified as tending to prompt a hasty change of tack in the media. And, sure enough, what do we find but The Scotsman leading with yet another piece denigrating Police Scotland. A piece which, on even a cursory examination, has no actual substance. Basically, the people working in a public service want more resources for that service. Something which is about as remarkable as the sunrise, but which is nonetheless spun as denoting a ‘crisis’ in our police service in the same way as the everyday problems of running a rail network, or a public health service, are portrayed as a sort of rolling catastrophe.
There’s little need to pick apart this drivel. It’s nothing we haven’t seen countless times before. I’ll note just one example of way the British parties resort to dishonesty in their eagerness to talk Scotland down. Scottish Conservative shadow justice secretary Douglas Ross feeds the hysteria with the following quote,
It’s no surprise to see the SNP’s low-crime claims derided by those who actually know what’s going on.
Nowhere will you find the Association of Scottish Police Superintendents (ASPS) or the Scottish Police Federation “deriding” Scotland’s record low crime statistics. Nor would you expect to. After all, this would be them deriding their own performance. But the British nationalist politician is happy both to lie and to denigrate Police Scotland for the sake of scoring a point against the hated SNP.
Is this the kind of politics we want in Scotland? Apologists for the British parties will, of course, shrilly denounce me for trying to shut down reasonable criticism of the Scottish Government. But I am doing precisely the opposite. Like Professor Docherty, I am deploring “the worst kind of politics”, and insisting instead on “sensible, mature debate”.
I see no possibility of this so long as our politics is blighted by the presence of the British parties and politicians who put the preservation of the British state before the needs, priorities and aspirations of Scotland’s people. They will not change! Therefore, they must be removed.Views: 4580
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