Imagine if you will the following scenario. Jeremy Corbyn has just given a speech in which he criticises the Lib Dem plan to re-run the EU referendum.
Corbyn tells an audience of dignitaries that a re-run of the EURef would lead to fratricidal conflict. Hacks unfamiliar with the term reach for the thesaurus … they then reach for their mobiles.
The word ‘fratricidal’ is connected with the crime of killing your brother or sister, or people from your own country or group. It describes a Civil War. It can also, perhaps slightly less controversially, mean conflict within a single family or organization.
The latter is perhaps what Corbyn means. But we are in the world of the politician where words are weapons. Where a mis-speak is a gaffe. Political leaders must ensure that their words cannot be misinterpreted. Corbyn is about to become headline news … again.
It doesn’t take a genius to work out what would happen given the scenario above. Corbyn’s speech would be seized on by rivals. The Lib Dems would demand an apology. It wouldn’t be long before BBC News 24 started running the story.
Newspapers the following day would splash the unfortunate Labour leaders gaffe all over their front pages. Jeremy Corbyn would find himself the centre of media attention for all the wrong reasons.
That is how political news works in England. In Scotland though we have a different system.
On Tuesday Ruth Davidson gave a speech to the David Hume institute. The Scottish Conservative leader was, as is her wont, attacking the possibility of a second independence referendum.
“And most of all, I believe we should avoid further instability and uncertainty. People do not want Brexit to be used to start yet another fratricidal conflict.”
Newspapers had been fed the speech before it was delivered. They therefor had plenty of time to digest what was going to be said and publish appropriate headlines. Some contacted the target of Davidson’s ire, the SNP, and asked for a response.
The SNP picked up on the inflammatory nature of the phrase and responded accordingly. Davidson, whether knowingly or not, had blundered badly. The headlines should have reflected her blunder.
But they didn’t. Newspapers headlined the speech as though Davidson had said nothing inappropriate, or that could be interpreted as such. Any suggestion that ‘fratricidal conflict’ meant Civil War, or a veiled threat of the same, was not mentioned. The SNP criticism of her choice of words was simply appended to articles in time honoured fashion.
Bizarrely the Daily Record told its readers that it was the reference to Trump that would provoke fury, reporting the following:
And in a comparison that is set to spark fury she will argue that independence means Scotland would “join post-Trump America and pre-election France as this year’s focal point for global instability”.
Social media erupted with fury all right, but not because Davidson compared an independent Scotland to Trump’s America. People were angered at the suggestion an independence referendum would be akin to a Civil War, where brother would kill brother, or Scot would kill Scot.
The speech, if the normal rules of political reporting applied, should have backfired spectacularly on Ruth Davidson. But newspapers, with the exception of The National, were not prepared to pursue the Scottish Conservative leader. They of course are partisan. The BBC, being impartial, was obliged to cover it.
I myself posted the following tweet.
I tuned into Good Morning Scotland the following day more in hope than expectation. The programme opened with the following news trailer.
Two strong stories to kick off with, Article 50 and School funding … then … car parking. Believe it or not Ruth’s speech didn’t feature in any of the programme’s news bulletins. Not one.
Mention of the language used by the leader of the main opposition party in the Scottish parliament was restricted to a brief [very brief] ‘review’ of The National front page.
The other mention was a rather tepid discussion between Robbie Dinwoodie and Mike Blackley who is the editor of the Scottish Daily Mail. You’ll notice that at no point is the term ‘fratricide’ explained. Listeners, who had no idea what the word meant, would have been left scratching their head.
The tweet from Gary Robertson that trailed the item should be challenged under the Trade’s Description Act so lame was the discussion.
In fact there was more in depth analysis in the Car Parking item than of Ruth Davidson’s speech. As an aside you’ll also have noted that Mike Blackley’s false claim that a majority don’t want a second independence referendum is left unchallenged. Why?
Ruth’s speech wasn’t mentioned on any of the Reporting Scotland broadcasts. BBC Scotland had, in effect, employed a news blackout. It was much the same across the entire Scottish media. Nobody it seemed was interested in pursuing Ruth Davidson.
It’s no surprise of course. Ruth has form when it comes to making inappropriate comments only for the media to turn a blind eye.
It wasn’t that long ago she suggested Scots were thieves who couldn’t be trusted to be invited to posh events. She also once claimed that only 12% of Scottish households ‘make a net contribution’ to the economy. That one did make the papers, but that was back in the days before she became Ruth, Queen of the Union.
Ruth’s blunders and gaffes never make the news now. I’ve said already that there is no appetite within our media for going after her. She has inherited Jim Murphy’s invisible suit of armour.
It’s quite surreal when writing articles like this to wonder if the issue really did merit more [any?] coverage. So conditioned are we to accept what is deemed news and what is not that we can begin to question ourselves.
You only have to ask yourself what would have happened had Nicola Sturgeon used such a term in a speech and you quickly disabuse yourself of any such doubt. It would have been all over the airwaves and Ruth would have led the attacks.
Ruth’s speech was the news that never was. So rarely is she pursued that Ruth is the news that never is.
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