Viewpoint: Alternative media should be more ‘joined up’

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Personal view: G.A. Ponsonby

We lost the referendum because of currency.  The SNP’s policy on keeping the pound was an albatross around the pro-independence movement’s neck.

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve read that.  So many people believe it that it’s now become a passage in the ‘referendum scriptures’.

I’ve said it until I’m blue in the face and I’m writing a book about it.  Yes lost because of the BBC.  Everyone seems to have forgotten that Yes took the lead two weeks out from the vote.  Public and private opinion polls showed a lead for the pro-independence movement.  Darling and McDougall were heading for failure until the state broadcaster stepped in.

I’ve already covered the last two weeks of the campaign where the BBC sidelined the Yes campaign and promoted No to a hitherto unseen extent.  I’m currently writing a book which chronicles BBC Scotland’s role in the referendum and its metamorphosis from political observer pre-2007 to political participant after the SNP’s first Holyrood win.

In truth though, even the eleventh hour intervention by the BBC could have been rendered moot if the Yes Scotland campaign had been more savvy.

The official Yes Scotland organisation didn’t have a particularly good referendum.  Too much money was spent on creating a glossy looking website and staffing an inaccessible central office.  Early campaign literature was over complicated and ineffective.  The grassroots movement saved the Yes campaign.

The official campaign also failed to utilise the very effective new media which had already established itself.  There was no serious attempt at coordinating with sites like Newsnet, Bella and Wings over Scotland.

One of the most effective weapons the No campaign had was a sympathetic media that would readily synchronise the latest anti-Yes message.  No sooner had a statement or scare been issued against independence, than it was headlined by pro-Union newspapers and broadcast by the BBC.

The resultant bombardment could last for days, even weeks, as the media artillery rained No-bombs on voters.  Pundits discussed, not the strength of argument, but the effectiveness of the respective campaigns.  Thus, the public were regularly told how No was winning the campaign war and either ‘currency’, or ‘the EU’, or ‘Cybernats’ was a Yes weakness.

Yes could have hit back by ensuring a similar coordinated line of attack from the sympathetic new media.  Had Newsnet, Wings over Scotland and Bella Caledonia synchronised pro-Indy stories then Yes would have been more effective in countering the traditional media machine.  But it never happened.

And the weakness is being exposed all over again, this time the target is the UK general election.
Newspapers and media are employing exactly the same tactics as were employed during the referendum.

Have you noticed how the price of oil has been used by Unionists in order to mount an attack on Home Rule?
It’s no accident that the Scotsman and Herald newspapers are running stories attacking the Scottish government over the drop in oil price.  Scottish Labour is running this show.

Your Call presenter Kaye Adams
Your Call presenter Kaye Adams

On Friday the BBC gave Labour a free party political broadcast in the shape of the morning radio phone-in Morning Call.

Listeners were asked: ‘Do you want Home Rule? Does the price of oil make a difference?’ – the image of a tweet from Radio Scotland can be seen at the top of this article.  The programme was presented by Kaye Adams, who bizarrely told listeners Gordon Brown did not pledge Home Rule during the referendum campaign.

 

Wings over Scotland has a good article highlighting Adams’ claim and that of Labour MSP Lewis MacDonald who joined the BBC presenter in denying Brown mentioned Home Rule.  This is a news story but nobody will run it.

Days ago the media were running with a story of a so-called ‘row’ between Scottish Labour leader Jim Murphy and London Labour MP Dianne Abbott.  It featured on BBC Scotland news including Reporting Scotland.  Thus, Scottish voters were presented with the image of Jim Murphy standing up to London, which was exactly what he wanted.

The new online media has to start working together if it is to combat this ultra-effective pro-Union media synchronicity.

But how?

Days ago I tweeted that the new media needs to start pooling resources, cooperating and coordinating.  There is an incredible amount of talent within the Yes movement but there is no communication.

I suggest an overarching body be created that will encourage cross-pollination and discussion.  The decision makers at Newsnet, Bella, Common Space and Wings need to start meeting and talking regularly.  The goal should be to ensure the new media shares content, synchronises and grows.

There is currently no online outlet running with regular news stories that might challenge or even apply pressure to the Murphy/Scottish Labour narrative.  Newsnet used to do this and might yet again within time.  As things stand though, areas of weakness within the Scottish Labour campaign are not being exploited and brought to the attention of the wider public.

A case in point is the oil story itself, where a first class article by Stuart Campbell at Wings over Scotland highlighted Labour duplicity over an oil resilience fund.  Campbell’s research ought to have appeared across new media, but it hasn’t.

Similarly, weaknesses in Scottish Labour’s pledge to add 1000 more nurses to any figure the SNP pledge should have been exploited and effectively syndicated across the new media.  Ofcom’s decision to exclude the SNP from its list of major parties has resulted in an angry response from the party of government in Scotland, but you won’t find it in any news outlets.

These shortcomings existed within the new online media throughout the referendum campaign.  They were never addressed.  The reasons are not important.

What is important is that the lack of real cooperation has allowed the traditional media to steal a march as we enter the campaign period for the UK general election, an election which offers an opportunity like no other.

Newsnet, Wings and Bella have carved out their own little niches, and very successfully too, the Common Space will no doubt carve out its own as well.  Four welcome voices.

These four voices will be heard by more people if they occasionally shout the same message at the same time.  When that happens, we really will be Better Together.

G.A. Ponsonby co-founded Newsnet Scotland, and edited it until shortly after the September referendum. He is writing a book about the role of BBC News in the referendum and now has his own blog, Ponsonby Post. He contributes this article in a personal capacity.