The Scottish political media, ‘infantilism’ and the row over ‘SNP Bad’

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Commentary by G.A.Ponsonby

The columnist Kevin McKenna wrote in the The National on December 21 that the SNP must be “tested, criticised and properly opposed” if Scotland is to become independent. He opined:

“If Scotland is to gain its independence the SNP, while in government, must be at the top of its game, and be seen to be. To perform at such a level it must be tested, criticised and properly opposed.”

Five days later, The Herald‘s political editor Magnus Gardham published an opinion piece in a similar vein.  Entitled ‘“SNP bad” is contributing to an infantilized political culture’ – Gardham’s Saturday article said the following:

“SNP bad isn’t just a way of deflecting questions or criticism, it’s a way of mocking opponents who have the temerity to raise issues of legitimate concern. As such, it betrays a complacency bordering on arrogance and contributes to an infantilized political culture in which supporters and activists begin to resemble the fan base of a teen pop band.”

I’ve heard this stuff before from professional journalists. The argument usually goes something like; ‘Democracy demands an effective opposition. The SNP must be challenged if democracy is to thrive.’

Few would argue with the principle. All governments must be challenged and held to account if democracy is to flourish. But to suggest the SNP hasn’t been challenged or to deny that much of this ‘challenge’ has been little more than politically motivated smear, is to fly in the face of reality.

SNP challenge

The SNP is the most criticised, challenged and smeared political party in the whole of the UK. Until the arrival of Jeremy Corbyn, no party endured the sheer volume of coverage ‘enjoyed’ by SNP politicians.

Corbyn: Under fierce scrutiny
Corbyn: Under fierce scrutiny

The claim that the SNP has escaped scrutiny has been rehashed several times by other journalists and broadcasters. Below are the words of blogger Peter A. Bell who challenged the claims contained in Kevin McKenna’s aforementioned article.

“The suggestion that the SNP administration is not subject to scrutiny is just plain idiocy. A substantial part of the resources of the British state, including almost all of the mainstream print and broadcast media has for years been devoted to finding – or inventing – something by which to discredit the party and/or its leaders. If anything gives the party the appearance of being beyond reproach it is, not the accolades of those honest enough to recognise its achievements, but the signal failure of all the smear stories and dirt-digging.

If scrutiny of the Scottish Government is inadequate then it is folly to blame this on the SNP, which quite properly has no role in such scrutiny. It makes even less sense to blame the electorate whose democratic choice it is to have the SNP in government. And it is just as stupid to blame party members and supporters who have absolutely no power to prevent scrutiny. Nor even to discourage itIt is sheer hypocrisy for Kevin McKenna to condemn a lack of proper scrutiny even as he exhibits the ill-informed prejudice and/or wilful dishonesty that have rendered both opposition and media incapable of even commenting in a rational manner on the SNP administration, never mind properly holding it to account.”

Like other journalists who inhabit the hermetically sealed environment of Scotland’s corporate media, some  are heavily influenced by another recent phenomenon which is the description of Scotland as a ‘One Party State’ [OPS]. The OPS claim is itself a child of the decades-old description of the SNP as a dictatorial, fascist like entity where dissent is quashed.

One Media

But the truth is Scotland isn’t being damaged by a ‘One Party State’.  It is in fact suffering due to a ‘One Media State’. There is a lack of plurality. Aside from The National, there is no national newspaper currently backing the SNP or independence. It is why the term ‘SNP Bad’ has taken hold.

In his own article, Magnus Gardham writes the following:

“SNP bad is one of the year’s most striking phenomena. It began as a meme on social media, as Nationalists took to dismissing anything critical of or embarrassing for the SNP government as ‘SNP bad’. It was eagerly picked up by tweeting MPs and MSPs and has now entered the political lexicon at Holyrood, trotted out by backbenchers and even ministers answering parliamentary questions. It’s not a good thing.

A recent example shows why.  Without rehearsing every twist and turn in the story of the Forth bridge closure, it’s clearly reasonable to ask why it happened. Regular maintenance is supposed to stop bridges breaking, after all. But even before an explanation was provided, questions about the closure were ridiculed as an attempt to create an ‘SNP bad story’.” [my emphasis].

UnknownThis misrepresents criticism of media coverage of the bridge closure. Nobody was describing questions relating to the closure as being ‘SNP Bad’. What was being described as ‘SNP Bad’ was the politically motivated accusations, the false claims and the hypocrisy from Unionists.

There was no mature analyses of the decision-making that prioritised different aspects of the maintenance work over the years. There was no highlighting of the fact that the organisation charged with looking after the bridge – FETA – was comprised of more Unionist councillors than nationalist. There was no acknowledgement that, contrary to Labour claims, cuts played no part in the decision to delay strengthening work and that FETA had sufficient financial reserves with which to pay for such work had it deemed the work necessary.

The closure of the Forth Road Bridge was used by opponents of the SNP in order to seek to undermine support for the nationalists. It was this political manipulation of the closure that turned it into another ‘SNP Bad’ story, not a reluctance to answer questions.

Urgent Repairs

Here’s just one example. Just over a week after the bridge was closed, the Mail on Sunday newspaper published an article by Mike Blackley which was based on a so-called leaked email. The email had been sent by former bridgemaster Barry Colford on February 24 to Labour councillor Lesley Hinds, convener of the Forth Estuary Transport Authority (FETA), which ran the bridge until May.

Titled ‘Truss End Links – Abnormal Vehicle Restriction‘, the email notified Hinds that loads weighing more than 150 tons would be banned from using the bridge and that “the restriction needs to be in place until all the Truss End Links are either strengthened or replaced”.  The email said nothing about urgent repairs, nor  did it urge Hinds or her colleagues at FETA that they should do anything other than that which was already being carried out or had been scheduled to be carried out.

On the day Blackley’s article was published, his own newspaper published an editorial based on the same article.

bridge_bungle_mailonsunday

By the time our professional journalists got hold of the story, the ‘urgent repairs’ lie was being reported as fact.  Even BBC Scotland began promoting the nonsense.

urgent_email

This BBC online article contained the following sentence:

‘Scotland’s Transport Authority was told of an urgent need to repair the Forth Road Bridge 10 months ago, a leaked email has revealed.’

So, not only had BBC Scotland repeated the ‘urgent repairs’ lie, it had added another of its own in claiming the email had been sent to ‘Scotland’s Transport Authority’ – as well as FETA. The Mail on Sunday article formed the basis for several news broadcasts that day on BBC Scotland.

This kind of false reporting is what has contributed to the emergence of the SNP Bad phenomenon.  We saw it again last week when a ruling by the European Court of Justice on minimum price for alcohol was grossly misrepresented by every Scottish media outlet, including BBC Scotland.

Only the Financial Times accurately covered the ruling.

min_price

The emergence of the #SNPBad meme is a reaction to years of ‘SNP Accused’, and similarly styled headlines.  The Scotsman newspaper alienated half of its readership and became a laughing stock after 2007 when it based a considerable amount of its political output on ‘SNP Accused’ headlines. The Herald is beginning to suffer from the same malaise.

Influence

Mainstream journalism is losing the ability to influence in Scotland. It’s becoming ineffective because those who once relied on it alone for news, now have alternative sources. Those alternative sources are online and people are prepared to pay for it through donations and subscriptions.

Magnus Gardham’s criticism of the SNP, and the party’s supporters, was ridiculed within hours of publication. His desire to blame the SNP for something that is a symptom of a politically partisan media suggested a blindness that will only lead to more of the same.

The Scottish Labour Party looks now to be in terminal decline, a decline that became evident in the months leading up to the 2007 Holyrood election. It has never been addressed or arrested. Instead of calling it out, the media has indulged a discredited ultra-Unionist entity.

The demise of the media in Scotland is now mirroring that of its once powerful Labour ally.  Like Labour, it has started lashing out. The ‘SNPBad’ meme is not a sign of panic amongst the ranks of nationalists, it is a sign of confidence that the tactics are no longer working. The recent poll which showed the SNP extending its lead over Labour was a testimony to just how ineffective the media has become.

Prior to Gardham writing his piece, Derek Bateman had already called out the Scottish media over its tendency to headline political articles from the standpoint of Unionist opponents of the SNP:

“It is always informative to know what opponents think – in this case that they are small-minded with no real argument – but just because a spokesman makes an objection it doesn’t constitute the main point of a news story. The feeling is that the journalists are caught in the tramlines of a fixed view – get story, get contrasting spin and headline it.

It’s the same mindset that led to headlines this week on the TNS opinion poll findings showing the SNP up again – ‘despite the troubles over the bridge.’ They suggested there was no dispute that the SNP was in trouble over the closure whereas in fact there is no evidence that the wider population remotely blamed the government. That was the opposition and the media’s own instinctive response but one I doubt was shared across the country.”

Just as Labour in Scotland has sought to blame the electorate for its demise, so the media is now seeking to blame those same people for its own loss of trust.  It’s a strategy doomed to fail and will lead to the further circulation loss.

‘SNP Bad’ will remain for as long as those who run Scotland’s media continue to run our media, and it will get worse as May 2016 approaches.  Those of us who do so, must continue to highlight media excesses and inaccuracies.

G.A.Ponsonby is the author of the book ‘London Calling: How the BBC stole the Referendum’.  You can read the entire book for free HERE.  

13 COMMENTS

  1. It’s the MSM that have put Scottish Labour and any other once credible opposition into terminal decline. It’s an industry awash with sycophants who have went to extraordinary lengths to push an agenda.
    In their eagerness to do so, they have bred complacency into Scottish Labour in particular to the point that it’s bereft of any talent (It hasn’t needed any for a while now to survive). By protecting SLAB the media have reduced them to a gaggle of dribbling goons devoid of any talent or original thought.
    As the article eludes to, we’ve simply stopped listening to the MSM. They are an irrelevance now and fully deserve the mocking they are currently being subjected to.

    Messers Gardham & McKenna,
    I am in no way a journalist or ‘expert political commentator’ but hear this – I’m capable of rational thought and my opinion is as valid as yours. Your continuation on this lazy repetitive road is doing no one any favours at all and is most certainly not yielding the results you so desperately seek.
    If your genuine wish is to bolster and strengthen democracy then stop propping up idiots. We can see they are idiots and we see you propping up idiots.
    Why don’t you use your efforts to call out everyone on a level footing? Maybe that way you’ll get some respect back and we might even see the emergence of a half decent opposition again. An opposition that needs to earn it’s own corn because it’s no longer sat behind the protection your giving it? An opposition that needs to start thinking for itself and stands on it’s own two feet? Until that day arrives, I’ll continue voting for a Party that’s achieving on it’s own without your protection.

  2. The cracks in the dam of Disinformation are beginning to widen and soon the whole grotesque spectacle of appalling anti-Scotland directed Media outrages will crumble and fall,mostly by their own hand, which is perhaps a fitting irony.
    No other country in the world has all their TV and media edited and thrust down their throats by another skewed politically motivated country,none.
    So why is it allowed to continue here?
    There must be UN or International Human Rights issues here that need challenged in court,though it would have to be outwith the glorious UK as the lawmakers are tarred with the same brush as the Media,Carmichaels orchestrated court case proved that.

    The tectonic plates of Scottish politics have shifted and will not be returning to’normal’ anytime soon.

    The Union led disgrace that is ‘Scottish’ Media just cannot accept that they have been rumbled and they no longer have the power they so desperately want back.

    Hell mend them.

  3. I can’t remember the exact figures but someone did a Google search for ‘Labour accused’ on the Herald site, it came to around 70, then for ‘SNP accused’ it ran into thousands.
    Perhaps it was Mr Ponsonby.

  4. Arrogant BritNat journalists are in the huff because they see their influence waning. A fall in newpaper circulation in conjuction with an increase in internet sites/viewing means that unionists can no longer expect people to believe every BritNat lie that’s printed. Likewise the desperation of the Britnat bbc as it sees its influence waning because people in Scotland are sick of all the SNP- bad and Scotland-too-wee stories which fill the BritNat airways.

    BritNat journalists have only themselves to blame – but they will continue to blame everyone else.

  5. Because of our unusual constitutional arrangements,neither an independent country nor federal state and because the SNP occupy the political area that British Labour in Scotland pretended to,politics will continue to be the SNP vs the Dependency parties.
    The normal politics of capital vs labour wil be suspended until the constitutional question is settled for good unless the SNP take a turn to the right.
    We just have to accept that those who support the dependency culture for Scots will contine to attack the idea of standing on our own two feet as being a valid position for us to take.
    It is unfortunate that too many of the MSM commentators appear to have adopted the worst aspects of England’s gutter press and are prepared to publish anything which suits their political agenda in many cases without even checking the facts.
    The old maxim of never letting the facts get in the way of a good story definitely apply.

  6. I don not think we will get answers from the Scottish press, therefore in the absence of answers, here are some questions.

    What do bulk of Scottish journalists want Scotland to be?

    What are their career aspirations, in Scotland or on to greater perceived glory in London?

    Do they find it interesting and stimulating to have a drink with Jackie or James and print Labour Party press releases as genuine news?

    When will it occur to the Scottish press that courting, whilst reporting factually is the way to deal wit the SNP?

    Do they get told what to write by the owners and they oblige obediently or do they actually believe what they print (if they do, that would be frightening)?

    Lastly:

    What are their aspirations for the press and media in an independent Scotland?

  7. Was the BritNat print media ever neutral as well as the subsequent broadcast form of it, be it radio or televisual?

    I sincerely doubt it given the historical evidence abundant going back, way back aeons before Reith and Beaverbrook, Rothermere et al to the hand-printed gossip sheets and handbills of the immediate post-Caxton era.

    Prior to this the stage plays and pictorial and sculptural representations sanctioned and sponsored by competing factions of the ruling elites.

    Upon more generally higher literacy levels, the mass-published novels and novelettes designed to distract and titillate the “educated” and those aspiring to be educated.

    Perhaps the crucial historical difference now is the accidental democratization of technology in the form of the Internet which has empowered the traditionally dispossessed and has allowed them/us to do our own independent, evidence-based research and, consequently, to do our own independent thinking and analyses based on the objective data drawn from multiple sources, and to rapidly and coherently and forensically respond to the cliched, oft reactionary trivia of the established establishment news outlets?

    Perhaps it is this technological advancement which underpins this mass awareness gained from mass individual investigation and individuals mass-sharing at a mega-rapid pace to the detriment of the state co-opted and anointed priests and priestesses sanctioned to interpret the ju-ju runes of the same establishment oracle given almost free-run to date?

    Perhaps it is this rapid, independent thinking response facility on the part of the great “unwashed masses” with its attendant, uncontrollable outcomes from the elites’s and their paid shamans’s point of view which truly terrifies them and pisses-off their traditionally revered mouth-pieces of the “inner-sanctum” like La Burd, “Call Kay with an ‘e'”. Gardham, Crichton, McKenna, etc?

    The auld guild of the dark arts “information” practitioners cast in to the ducking-pool of superstition-riven practice by independently enlightened citizens engaged in a second Enlightenment?

    If so, may their medieval hell mend them for their day is all but done as pseudo-investigative-balanced conveyors of fact-led news rather than paid chanters of establishment incantations.

    Perhaps, post re-independence, your good self and a team of others might do a meta-data analysis of the role of the press in Scotland in terms of shaping the body politic from the advent of the printing press and the subsequent mass news-print as well as its subsequent radio an TV forms?

    A major research project to be shared for universal posterity and multi-disciplinary as well as drawing on the reactions of the ordinary news consumer in Scotland?

    Meantime, thank you yet again for this article.

    Pure gold.

  8. aye, a joy tae read ….. funny how all them “Political Insiders” , feel out in the cold all o’ a sudden ? I don’t expect the SNP Government tae be perfect …. just honest, and when they “cock it up” … to say “sorry”. But I sure as Hell do expect lies, deceit & innuendo from a supposed “free & Impartial” press …… I’ll be waitin’ for Hell tae freeze a’for they say ” sorry, we got that wrong”.

  9. Unfortunately it will never end. We are the enemy of the Westminster establishment, and as such, the attacks will continue ad-infinitum.
    The M.S.M have infinite resources at their disposal, so the hacks promoting their lies will do as they are bidden, because they are told to do so by their paymasters.
    As has been pointed out, this type of brainwashing has been going on for centuries, and it’s only with the rise of new technology, that most of us have been able to find out the truth about any given situation, and not take the word of now discredited so-called journalists.
    In accordance with other opinions, it does seem that these attempted smears on the S.N.P Scottish Government are having not only no effect whatsoever, but in some cases are actually driving more people to our side. I say this because in the last three months of campaigning in our constituency, as far as I am concerned, not one, and I do mean not one person has even mentioned any of the “S.N.P Bad” stories. And this in a formerly strong Labour supporting area.
    So perhaps, at least in some cases. peoples no longer take as gospel the daily rubbish spouted by the media, and are beginning to realise that we have been taken for mugs for many years, Let’s hope this trend continues, and at the next referendum we can achieve a positive outcome.

  10. We all know that had labour remained in power in Scotland there would never have been free prescriptions or no student fees also we would still have had tolls on roads etc., or we would not have had the council taxes frozen so who in their right mind would vote for a party who in all likely hood would do away with all that help to the ordinary people and this is the party the media are trying to promote talk about insulting our intelligence and the party who gave us all this help they have the audacity to try and portray as bad they must really think we are stupid

  11. Good article. I guess we get off lightly, UKok usually invade or sanction countries they don’t like, or who they might want something from.

    They just demonise our government with their media. It’s not having an effect in Scotland much, but is it telling the population South of the border that we are a risk to them, or even ourselves?

    That’s the rubbish my friends were coming out with, on a recent visit to Northern England, a potential ‘fascist’ state as their next door neighbour. Guardian readers of course.

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