Reporting England’s riots


by Joan McAlpine
First of all congratulations to the BBC News Channel for changing the headline “UK Riots” to “English Riots” on their coverage. I hope Sky and CNN follow the BBC’s example.  The change undoubtedly came because of complaints from Scotland. I was involved in a twitter debate on this earlier (I am on holiday as of today and have space to tweet and blog for the first time in ages).

The violence in English cities is dreadful and one really feels for those affected. The killings in Birmingham, apparently of young men defending their community, are particularly sickening.  But the solidarity of those organising clean ups is inspiring.  It is absolutely right that Scots express support.  That is why the Scottish Government is allowing police from our country to be sent south to help.  When Northern Ireland last year had a water crisis we sent over supplies.  We co-operated with the police authorities in England during the terrorist attacks of 2007.  All fine examples of the different nations of these islands working together.
However misreporting of “UK Riots” is unhelpful and inaccurate and has offended many people in Scotland.  Exclusively Scottish problems – for example football related sectarianism – are not reported as a UK issue.  That’s quite right.  If the riots were exclusive to Glasgow, Edinburgh and Dundee, would they be reported as a UK problem?  If they were only in Belfast and Derry would they be UK Riots?  Nobody is pretending Scotland doesn’t have its share of social ills, with alcohol and knife violence for example.  We are facing up to these and taking responsibility.  We don’t have to be tarnished with violence that is not of our making.

Scotland has historically had better police-community relations than the big English cities.  Not perfect, but better.  The anti Poll Tax protests, for example, began in Scotland but turned into violent disorder in London.  There are complex reasons for this, and we should not be complacent.  In particular we do not want to encourage copycat violence, such as we saw in some Northern English towns after the London riots.  It’s important to distinguish Scotland from this.

Why?  Because at a time of severe economic contraction, with tourism a vital sector supporting many jobs, do we really want Americans and Europeans cancelling their planned trips to the Edinburgh Festival because “UK Riots” are leading the news on CNN?  This is not a trivial point, it concerns people’s jobs at a time of great economic uncertainty.  At such a time, is it not right the Scottish Government does everything it can to encourage visitors by pointing out that we are a different country, with no riots, that remains open for business?

A few seem determined to deny Scotland’s distinctive identity as a nation, insisting we are part of the UK and just as responsible for the riots.  That position has little traction.  The campaign against Scottish self-determination that unites Labour, the Tories and the Liberal Democrats is to be built around the virtues of being in the UK.  But the riots, along with deep public spending cuts and welfare reforms that hurt the sick and vulnerable,  are not a great advertisment for the UK brand.   This morning David Cameron said the riots were “Britain” at its worse.  If he means Britain as Greater England then fair enough.  Count us out.  We’ll get on with the job of building something better.

Courtesy of Joan McAlpine
Joan is the SNP MSP for South Scotland