Commentary by Derek Bateman
Now in the old days an invite to a media Christmas drinks do meant an afternoon and evening training for the World Cup of Boozing – usually ending up in a curry house cuddling the assistant general secretary of the STUC…or some other notable depending on the source of the invite. Sometimes it meant fights when simmering bad blood between reporters burst out under alcoholic pressure. Happy days…
The point was to put aside differences between vested interests and the key journalists covering their patch – industry, party politics, education etc, acknowledging the role each other played in the great tapestry of public life (as a smart alec columnist might say).
So it was interesting that, so far as I can tell, the First Minister’s journalists’ drinks event this year was exclusively for the conventional, and all but exclusively Unionist, media. Interesting because it’s the role adopted by the non-respectable media that has the Unionist types in such a funk. The constant and immediate debunking of the usual slew of un-researched, churlish Nat-bashing that has passed for journalism over the last decade, has destabilised the old media. They hate us. New media is a constant threat to what they still think of as their credibility, leading them to circle the wagons. The Record for example used to compete with the Mail. Doesn’t happen any more – they’re like Labour and the Tories disguising their affinity as SNP attack dogs with contrived differences. And can you imagine Scotland without Wings, sans Bella and minus Common Space?
Who have been the beneficiaries of this challenging journalism and spikey comment? Overwhelmingly the SNP, I’d say. In fact when I tweet I regularly get a response from SNP elected members, so I, and others, aren’t whistling in the dark. Yet the government seems to prefer David Torrance to Robin McAlpine…even, so help me, Buzzfeed to Bella. This is a weird corporatist approach that flatters her detractors and confirms that the leadership mindset is deeply establishment.
The excuse will be that this is the parliamentary press corps but that just means all those accredited to work at Holyrood which in itself betrays a lack of imagination. In reality it is the political media of Scotland she is entertaining which, if she bothered to look, does now contain more than the usual hacks. A bit disappointing, no? You support the SNP, you subscribe to new media and value it and then learn the First Minister doesn’t. In playing the doomed game of trying to win over the critics, she rather embarrasses herself when their next day front page is a compilation of half -truth and innuendo about the national finances and the Forth Road Bridge.
So…I’m put out at being left off the list, am I? Not really. I haven’t done this type of event for many years and ‘had a prior engagement’ – watching my daughter in the Glasgow Schools Orchestra. But I think it’s worth recording how the old Scotland still operates with the partisan Nat-bashers ushered into the presence of the leader they humiliate daily. The idea of a one-party state rendered even more flimsy…
If you’re wondering who paid for it – well, you did, of course. But let’s join in the seasonal spirit and concede that at least she got a pressie from them of a selfie stick, presumably addressed to The Most Dangerous Woman in Britain.
Talking of danger, I was tweeting this week how it was a genuinely worrying idea to think of Labour winning the Scottish election and running the country. It’s only because we know it won’t happen that we haven’t considered it. But just try out the image of Kezia waving on the steps of Bute House…Jackie in a Matron’s outfit…Iain Gray on finance and James Kelly as education minister (sit doon at the back…)
Whatever your misgivings about our performance on health or the police, ask yourself if there are any circumstances in which you’d feel relaxed about an administration run by Kezia. Imagine Blair McDougall in charge of government information…
You have to admit it is an ace hand for the SNP to approach the end of a second term in office with an opposition as effective as Dad’s Army. This week Corbyn’s man in Scotland, Neil Findlay, appeared to deny that PFI debts – of £37b – were down to Labour and that deals under the Scottish Futures Trust were the same thing.
Blair McDougall misrepresented the OECD report on education by cherry-picking every criticism but omitting every accolade. This type of knuckle-dragging politics has been the hallmark of Labour for years and epitomised their indyref campaign yet they’ve learned nothing. McDougall’s only approach was to whip in the Union support and frighten waverers. It was never to appeal to the Nationalist-minded to win them over. That would require strategy and nuance – with something clever and optimistic. He is a one-trick pony able to make a dog whistle appeal to the already committed yet unaware of how to reach out beyond a shrinking base to recover the voters Labour need. Why, after he came close to losing the referendum, is he still in place? And do Labour really think Anas Sarwar, heir to one of the two warring families of Glasgow Labour, will bring anything but the same glib motormouth politics that scunnered voters last time out?
Nicola might ponder just how more dismal Labour would be without the undying support of the media she flatters. The Tories may have a point – with nothing more to offer than not being the SNP, Labour invite voters to make a binary choice between the two, a risky move. And, if voters accept Labour’s basic premise that the SNP is too dangerous because separation would be disastrous, enough of them just might see the Tories as safest Unionist option. Either that or they give up voting altogether. I see no escape for Labour, saved from execution like the Tories in 1999, by the voting system. And of course, kept on life support by Nicola’s party pals.