Skintland – It’s only satire says BBC Scotland’s Douglas Fraser


By a Newsnet reader

The Economist has caused a furore with its ‘map’ of Scotland.  ‘Skintland’ is the latest in a series of insults and offensive ‘jokes’ levelled at us Scots.

Current and former First Ministers have condemned the magazine cover and twitter was alight with Scots of all hues angry at the latest slight against the nation.

Over at the Spectator, Fraser Nelson, not noted for his pro-independence leanings, joined the chorus of disapproval and blasted the Economist.

“Saying that Scotland would go bust without English subsidy is the clichéd unionist attack line, which has lost force over the decades because it is demonstrably untrue.  The emergence of new nation states, many much smaller than Scotland, has shown it that small is viable.” he said.

The Spectator’s stance follows comments from Conservative Home Editor Tim Montgomerie who said: “Cover is hugely insulting and unhelpful to the Unionist cause.”

A list of respected commentators from across the political and journalistic and academic spectrum left the London based magazine without a name, unlike the many insulting names it used to describe Scotland’s regions and islands.

Tom Devine – Senior Research Professor in History at University of Edinburgh, Henry McLeish – Former Labour First Minister, Lesley Riddoch – Broadcaster, Scottish Green Party co-leader, Patrick Harvie and many more, tore into the obnoxious adolescent jape.

However, this condemnation of the image was not shared by BBC Scotland business editor Douglas Fraser who insisted on his blog that perhaps nationalists cannot handle satire and ridicule and that the Economist cover hit a raw nerve.

Mr Fraser seems blissfully unaware that the map has been condemned by Unionists as well as nationalists and even respected journalists, so quite why Mr Fraser singles out nationalists for criticism is not clear, but he does.

“An alternative response is to note that the cover has hit a raw nerve among Nationalists, and that they seem to be unable to handle satire and ridicule.” he writes and adds:

“The magazine, while taking itself very seriously, is no stranger to satire.  Its 1970s’ covers were the first shop window for the puppets that went on to make Spitting Image.  Last time it got this kind of response was when it savaged Silvio Berlusconi.  Not the best of company to be keeping.”

Douglas falls into that category of those who confuse the lampoonery of political figures, many of them pompous and/or hypocritical, with the use of a xenophobic stereotype in order to raise a cheap laugh, in this case that of the subsidy junkie Scot.

Would Douglas have laughed as much had the Economist depicted Ireland as ‘Thickland’ with ‘Dumblin’ as the capital or even maybe Africa as ‘Starvrica’.  No, I don’t think so.  But hey, it’s OK to have a go at the Scots, and according to Douglas Fraser anyone who complains is a humourless nat.

But Douglas has more to say, not least regarding BBC Scotland’s lack of enthusiasm in reporting the story.

“Even the BBC has come under attack, with the allegation that it shows the corporation’s bias to pay little attention to the stramash over the magazine cover.  Perhaps people haven’t been listening to our radio output.  Or perhaps it’s because, well, it’s only a magazine cover.”

Yes Douglas, the BBC would of course have covered the story had a diplomatic row ensued – much like the row that was caused by Scottish Labour’s former leader Iain Gray when he linked the independence of Montenegro with war crimes and ethnic cleansing.

Oh wait, BBC Scotland employed a news blackout for that one didn’t they Douglas.

But Douglas surely has a point when it comes to satire.  One of the aspects of the BBC’s news coverage is that it can indeed tell the difference between satirical output and very real offensive content.

The BBC would surely ignore complaints from Unionists who were being lampooned and ridiculed in satirical fashion.  Except that is, when it came to the blogger Mark MacLachlan, who lampooned and ridiculed some Unionist politicians in November 2009.

Unionists of course are themselves prone to satirical lampoonery as demonstrated by Tom Harris on a Labour website when he suggested that online nationalist were less then sane – an image of a madman in a straitjacket accompanied the piece.

Douglas goes on digging though and his nat bashing theme continues with this paragraph:

“There’s a confusing variation on this response – condemning it while arguing it’s a disaster for the pro-union parties, as referendum campaign co-ordinator Angus Robertson has done.  Surely if the offence caused is bad for the pro-union case, the anti-union case should be relishing it, and demanding more of the same?”

Here’s what Douglas misses as he tries to attack the SNP reaction to the offensive cover.  People can both condemn something whilst making political capital from that which they are condemning.

In fact, it is a natural human reaction to condemn that which actually insults you and yours.  However the offence has to be unambiguous and acknowledged by a cross section of the community in order for your complaint to have maximum effect and for political capital to be made.  In short, the complaint must have widely accepted merit.

Unlike Douglas’s own attack on online critics when he was political editor of the Herald.  Labelling readers of the paper as “vermin” because they disagreed with him was not a wise move given the paper at that time was beginning to show signs of a declining readership due in part to Douglas’s own political contributions.

Quite fortuitous that the BBC provided a publicly funded lifeboat when the Herald ship started listing and Douglas hopped aboard at Pacific Quay.

Douglas ends his blog by saying:

“What it does is rehearse arguments that will be no strangers to those who have followed the economic debate in Scotland, including this blog; isn’t oil revenue a dangerously volatile basis for balancing the budget?: how could an independent Scotland bail out failing banks?: wouldn’t its borrowing rate probably be raised?: what would be the costs of inherited public borrowing and nuclear power decommissioning: and how would it handle its currency and European membership?

They’re all legitimate questions to ask, even if some have already been answered.  But you’d only address those issues if you got over your offence at the front cover.”

Yes, and all part of the Unionist scaremongering rhetoric that we’d be happy to answer for you Douglas – especially the part about failing banks that your colleague Derek Bateman answered months ago.

Yes, we’d like to answer them Douglas, but you have prevented any dissent by disabling public comment on your blogs.  Not much debate if the only voice to be heard is your own.

But we’ll leave you with a laugh Douglas, here’s some real satire: