by Paul Kavanagh, with thanks to John Miller
The Scottish media loves its accusatory headlines. Especially if it involves accusing the SNP. There’s been another spate of them recently as the Liberal Democrats engage in their new leadership campaign, the campaign to become the most ridiculed public figure in Scotland. Michael Moore got off to a strong start with his six questions that had been answered long before Danny Alexander’s hairline started to recede.
Danny impressed the judges with his Treasury Department fuelled scare-stories and his handbags at dawn with Ming Campbell over base closures. But recently a contender has appeared from the party’s behind. Wullie Rennie is riding Edinburgh castle sized Olympic rings around them all on his camel.
Wullie’s latest was to accuse the SNP of threatening University funding because after Scottish independence people will forget how to read and Scotland would miss out on UK research funding. The flaw in Wullie’s argument being of course the fact that UK university research funding has been researched to be a pittance and just about everyone invests more than Britain does. Wullie thinks 14% of a pittance is a great deal and we’re punching above our weight. But it doesn’t take a research grant to work out that 14% of bugger all is a good deal less than bugger all.
But of course facts are only important on TV game shows, not political reporting. The point of the Scottish Unionist political game show is to give the Scottish press the opportunity to print stories headlined “SNP accused”. The other parties never seem to get accused of anything much because they’re so busy thinking up things to accuse the SNP of that they never get around to doing anything else.
What we punters get is a steady stream of biased reporting. Now, thanks to Newsnet reader John Miller, we can do the sums and see just how biased the Scottish press media is when it comes to SNP accused stories.
John helpfully did the research by Googling “SNP accused” in four newspapers, the Scotsman, the Herald, the Record and, just for a laugh, the Daily Mail, and compared them against the results from the same papers accusing the Unionist parties of some ooh-ah-ery or other. The results are pretty accusatory, or rather not-accuse-a-tory at all in the case of the Herald and the Record. 88% of badness is down to the SNP, if you believe the papers.
|Scotsman||Herald||Daly Mail||Daily Record||Total||% of total|
The only paper never to print an SNP accused story is the rabidly anti-everything Daily Mail. The Daily Mail is of course largely an English newspaper, moreover one read by the sort of people for whom Scotland is regarded as a county somewhere north of Yorkshire, but with even more peculiar locals. Possibly the Mail has never carried an SNP accused headline because that would involve admitting that Scotland was a different country after all.
The Scottish papers do all the SNP bashing by themselves and it’s a task they throw themselves into with as much gusto as their plummeting circulation figures allow. The Scotsman more than stands up to its reputation as the natural home of the Lothians tut-tutting classes with a massive 8981 accuseds or 69.6% of Scotland’s accusatory output. The Herald makes a respectable showing of 3409 or 26.4%. The Record only manages a paltry 426 or 3.3%, but it scarcely qualifies as reading anyway.
Labour comes in for a wee bit of schtick, but only a wee bit. Labour’s utter crapulousness gives even the Record a tough time trying to concentrate on fitba, murrderrs and cute human interest stories about boring middle aged doos which read road maps and argue whether it’s better to take the Westminster Parliamentary Road to Strathaven or the A71. The Westminster road wins it because it means they can crap on more people’s heads from a greater height, a lesson which has also been learned by the Labour party in Scotland.
Even the Scottish press find it hard to avoid occasionally accusing Labour of doing something spectacularly dumb, because not even Mary Poppins could make their nasty medicine go down. But only 12% of accused of something nasty stories are about the Labour party. It would be less but Magrit Curran does not convince as Mary Poppins. The Shadow Scotland Secretary flying through the air on a brolly exposing her Unionist bloomers to the planet is too disturbing a mental image, though it’s probably the closest to punching above her weight that she’s ever likely to get.
The real difficulty is that Labour’s spoonful of jam tomorrow still leaves us the problem that it’s what they’re saying and doing just now that’s giving us the dry boak. Which leaves the Record with a tough gig. For the past decade and more Labour in Scotland has been so god-awful and so inept, so-Purcell-and-Devine-nasty-clique-spin-ALEO-tossers. Even though they do their best they can’t hide how far the rot goes.
But it falls to the Record to newspaper over the cracks in Labour’s edifice. One of the Record’s “Labour accused” headlines, although you have to search back to 2003 to find it, was prefixed with “Nats attack Wendy”. Wendy Alexander, before she resigned in a huff again, was once described in the Herald as having a “galactic intelligence”. Presumably they meant that like the galaxy it largely consisted of a vast void of empty space. But even though it was Wendy who was being accused it was still just because the Nats are nasty. Order and balance is restored to the Unionverse thanks to the Daily Record’s feng shui’, which is a swerrie wurd in North Lanarkshire.
The Lib-Dems scarcely register in the accused-stakes. But then there’s not really that many of them anyway and they’ll probably be relieved to get as much as 0.628% of votes at the next election.
What’s really bizarre is the total absence of stories that accuse a tory. If you read the Scottish press you could be forgiven for believing that the only party which never does anything that voters in Scotland might find objectionable is the Conservatives. They’ve only ever been accused of anything twice, and one of those occasions was in the Daily Mail when it was off on one of its rants about how the EU wants immigrants on benefits to give your budgie Aids. So that doesn’t really count. We’re left with a single Tories accused. Just the one Tory, and it wasn’t even David Mundell this time.
It’s quite incredible in a country where the entire fulcrum of politics turns on putting as much distance as possible between your party and the Tories that the Scotsman has on just one solitary occasion managed to unearth something so heinous, so dreadful and so appalling that it warranted a “Conservatives accused” headline, and that was back in 2003. On that momentous and ground shaking day, the Scotsman published a headline accusing the Tories of “tainting Michael Martin’s honour” for pointing out that he was a Weegie. This comes as something of a surprise to those of us who don’t think being a Weegie is the most distressing or embarrassing thing about Michael Martin, entirely independently and of their own volition some Cybernats have in fact prepared indexed and cross-referenced lists in six volumes, but evidently these things are viewed differently in certain quarters of Embra.
The Herald and Record, published in Weegie-central, have never accused the Tories of accusing anyone of being a Weegie, which you might expect. But then they’ve never managed to accuse the Tories of anything at all. It’s possibly too much of an imaginative leap for the West of Scotland print media to conceive that those nice children’s 1970s TV entertainers, recently relaunched as Davie Cameroon’s Action Krankie Puppet Show, might do something horrid. It would be like accusing the Trumpton Fire Brigade of posing naked in a gay porn magazine and the appalling realisation that “Cuthbert dibble grub” is actually an instruction to do something seriously kinky that’s still illegal in many jurisdictions. You’d never be able to stare a privatised fireman’s hose in the eye again.
This is all a bit of a worry, because the Tories are the party which has its paws on all the big financial and political levers and a single Scottish MP. Their track record in keeping Scottish voters happy is about as convincing as Michael Forsyth in an advert for Werthers Originals. Would you want to suck up anything that man offered you? The Scottish print media apparently thinks we should.
The Scottish papers are 11,319 times more likely to publish a story accusing the SNP of something than they are to accuse the Tories. That’s not a statistical blip, that’s a systematic failure of a Westminster media regulation that doesn’t have the slightest interest in ensuring the balanced reporting required by a democratic society. That’s a press that’s no longer even pretending to work in the public interest.
It’s at this point things cease to be funny. Scottish control of the media and broadcasting, now.