The Real Referendum Division


By G.A.Ponsonby

In the lead up to the independence referendum, a national newspaper gave its front page over to claims from the Better Together campaign that there could be ‘carnage’ at polling stations.

The claim followed a significant closing of the gap as No saw its twenty or so point lead over Yes evaporate.

By G.A.Ponsonby

In the lead up to the independence referendum, a national newspaper gave its front page over to claims from the Better Together campaign that there could be ‘carnage’ at polling stations.

The claim followed a significant closing of the gap as No saw its twenty or so point lead over Yes evaporate.

The actual result of today’s vote won’t be known until the early hours of tomorrow [Friday], but the signs are that voting has been peaceful with a record turnout somewhere between 85%-90%.

The people who introduced the ‘ugly mob’, ‘division’ and ‘threats’ line were almost exclusively leading members of the No campaign.  This message was repeated by professional journalists and reporters in Scotland’s broadcast and print media.  Even up until yesterday BBC Scotland news was running with this narrative.

It was a lie.

There’s little point in denying that rows, scuffles, abuse and at times violence occurred throughout this referendum campaign.  But they were too few to be statistically relevant.

Indeed as someone pointed out on the day the Herald ran its ludicrous and irresponsible ‘carnage’ story, there are more incidents when an Old Firm game takes place than happened across Scotland over the entire two year campaign.

The reality is that Scotland’s people have just taken part in one of the most peaceful nationwide referendums ever seen.

But that doesn’t mean there hasn’t been division of sorts.  There has.  It’s just not the kind of division the media want to acknowledge.

A division has emerged between our media and a significant section of Scottish society.

Newspapers and broadcasters are simply not trusted any more.  The focal point for this mistrust has been the BBC.

Most agree that the broadcaster has let itself down badly with its coverage of the independence referendum.  Immediately after the SNP’s historic majority win in 2011, there should have been plans put in place to acknowledge the forthcoming referendum – there was nothing.

The broadcaster, funded by Yes and No supporters alike, continued to treat Scottish politics as a four way battle between the SNP, Labour, Lib Dems and Conservative.  It meant that the constitutional debate was heavily weighted in favour of the Union.

This was maintained for over two years.  The corporation simply refused to address the clear imbalance.

At the same time some reporters were allowed to pursue their own agenda, with the result that news reports were heavily slanted against independence.  On one occasion a reporter’s career ended when he went too far – the Lucinda Creighton episode led to Raymond Buchanan resigning from the BBC.

Meanwhile newspapers upped their own anti-independence agenda with a cascade of No campaign scare stories.  Some of the coverage was carefully analysed and subsequently exposed as garbage by the online website Wings Over Scotland.

The success of Wings has been the story of the referendum campaign.  Stuart Campbell has been singled out for abuse, not by extreme and unidentified users of social media, but by professional journalists and elected politicians.

Some of his most ardent readers have also been singled out for intimidation by at least one national newspaper.  Contrast the lack of condemnation over the actions of the Daily Mail with the hysterical overreaction to a peaceful, law abiding demonstration against the BBC last Sunday.

A chasm currently exists between the Yes movement and the traditional media.  That chasm has been brought about by lazy hack journalism that has slotted with ease into a pro-Union culture that dominates Scotland’s media.

There are of course very good, highly professional journalists who have reported with impeccable neutrality.

At the BBC Isabel Fraser, James Cook, David Miller, Ken McDonald and a host of others have carried the BBC’s neutral torch with aplomb and honour.  They have been let down by some colleagues and news editors whose torch has been a blazing copy of the BBC charter.

Over at STV, my impression is that they have had a good referendum.  The star for me has been ‘Uncle’ Bernard Ponsonby – honestly, he is no relation.

Whatever the result of the referendum, we need to acknowledge the failings of a significant section of the professional media.  If we don’t, then the same agendas that were allowed to infest the referendum will again sully its aftermath.

If today’s poll results in a No vote, then all Yes campaigners must turn their attention to the BBC.  It is absolutely vital that broadcasting is brought under the control of the Scottish people.

The three Unionist parties have pledged to consult with the Scottish people if No prevails, to determine what powers we want.  Gordon Brown is on record as promising a federal style settlement.

Newsnet Scotland has given you a head start by starting a petition calling for broadcasting to be devolved.  Sign this petition and we kick-start the process of healing the rift between our media and us.

The petition can be found here.

[Newsnet Scotland would like to thank everyone for their support over the last few years.  In 2010 we came to life and set out to bring some balance to a media machine that was, and continues to be, heavily pro-Union.

This site has been run by part time people who have daily jobs.  After four and a half years of almost non-stop daily output we will be taking a break from tomorrow.  The site will not disappear and output will return.

We do not anticipate covering the referendum result, which will receive blanket coverage by all of the media.  However we will now open comments to all visitors to the site.  They will not be pre-moderated so we ask people to please excercise restraint.

Good luck Scotland and congratulations to the Scottish people on a healthy and peaceful referendum campaign.]