John Robertson detects a change in tone
‘A divided United Kingdom: Scotland votes to stay in the EU as the UK decides to leave: The First Minister says that makes a second independence referendum highly likely.’
This was the opening headline on BBC Reporting Scotland at 6.30pm on Friday 24th June, the day that the results of the Referendum on UK EU Membership became clear. The headline in itself was not remarkable. Remarkable, I think, was the delay in and the mildness of, any contradictory viewpoint. After Sally McNair’s introduction, we heard the First minister make the claim again. No contradiction followed. McNair then repeated the argument again and told us that the Scottish government is now busy on the task. No contradiction followed. That’s three times now.
Fourth, Brian Taylor introduced David Cameron’s ‘pledge’ to involve the parliaments in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland in the process. Fifth, Nicola Sturgeon spoke again and was allowed to make the key point of the democratic unacceptability of Scotland being dragged out of the EU with only the clownish objections of Boris Johnstone and David Coburn of UKIP as alternative thinking. Boris was filmed being roundly booed while Coburn struggling to clear the phlegm, croaked inarticulately that ‘Nicola is talking through her hat.’ The preceding section overwhelmingly presented the First Minister (note it’s ‘The’ not ‘The Scottish..’ these days) as the voice of calm authority and responsibility. Her claim of the need for a second independence referendum had been hammered home, four times, unopposed, in the key opening section of a news report on a national UK broadcaster notorious for its hostility to the SNP as recently as the Holyrood elections in May 2016.
Glen Campbell then appeared and we (Yes supporters) might have trembled. He introduced Ruth Davidson’s objections to a second referendum but she only got two lines and he did nothing with them. Labour maid no appearance at all. Glenn was shown asking Nicola a reasonable question about alternatives to full independence and she got another chance to explain in confident yet modest terms, un-contradicted again. Then it was on to DFM John Swinney, probed a little by Sally McNair but with none of Jacquie Bird’s usual sneer or sharpness of tone. He didn’t even answer the hard ones and she let him off. BBC bias in favour of the SNP…disgraceful!
Next we were off down to London to hear David Porter tells us that although Westminster politicians thought that Scottish independence had been ‘put to bed’, that ‘yesterday’s vote utterly, utterly, changed that!’ Porter seemed to be suggesting what I’d call a paradigm shift or a ‘tipping point’ in one. I’ll return to this once I’ve finished describing this very special news report.
To finish, Reporting Scotland’s Buddha-like political guru, Brian Taylor, returned to the studio to put it all into proper perspective for the viewers. He finished with ‘not yet, not yet’ having explained that Nicola and the SNP leadership are not ready for another referendum and will want to be in greater control of the circumstances before they call one. I suspect he’s correct. Note, again, that he offered no opposition to the actual idea of having one.
This report preceded the opinion polls suggesting a growth in support for independence in the wake of the EU referendum results but one of these does get a mention by the Sunday edition. It’s not contradicted in any way.
So, why do I think this matters and is indicative of something bigger? Well first, it’s the sharpness of the change in content and tone from BBC Reporting Scotland’s behaviour as recently as in the run-up to the Holyrood Election on 5th May 2016. My research reported in previous Newsnet.scot articles showed a determined and at times quite unethical bias against the SNP-led Scottish Government based on repeated, often nightly, scare stories about the Scottish NHS, education, policing, social care and economy. Second, the nature of wider mainstream media reporting on the notion of a second Scottish independence referendum seems to be shifting. I’ll expand on this next. Third, beyond the UK there are clear signs of major shifts in the behaviour of voters in the western democracies which suggest we might be on the edge of a new era in politics. I’ll say a bit more on this at the end.
What about STV News on Friday 24th then? Well they kind of first-guessed me with: ‘Seismic shifts at the heart of democracy!’ Shouldn’t that be ‘seismic shocks?’ STV have been kind of respectful toward the Scottish Government and the SNP for some time now and persisted in this. Their report contained little in the way of serious contradiction of Nicola Sturgeon’s statement that Indyref2 was now ‘likely’. Perhaps surprisingly, STV even made a comparison with Bannockburn! Even I wouldn’t do that. Isn’t that a Scottish equivalent to a ‘Hitler moment?’
The Glasgow Herald newspaper, the home of several very sharp critics of the SNP offered two very prominent, large (broadsheet), front-pages on Saturday 25th and Monday 27th. The Sunday Herald is, of course, already pro-independence. They featured large photographs of Sturgeon and former first minister, Salmond, looking seriously concerned, under strong unchallenged headlines:
‘Scotland faces being taken out of the EU against our will. I regard that as democratically unacceptable’
‘Brexit will break up UK’
The Saturday piece had 29 paragraphs with only the 20th and the 21st containing contradiction and in the case of Labour in the 20th, only expressed as being for moment, perhaps. The Saturday piece contained 36 paragraphs with none directly refuting the logic of a second independence referendum and only the 24th and 29th rejecting the Scottish Parliament’s power to block the EU referendum result. I think we all know that.
We now know that older and more affluent voters played a big part in the failure of the Yes campaign in 2014. Similarly, mature and affluent journalists working in the mainstream media were blamed for having made a major negative contribution to both scaring the elderly and sick and to worrying those already benefitting from the current status quo within the Union. If the latter are beginning to shift, perhaps repulsed by the sight of English nationalism resurgent and also anxious about losing the economic stability the EU seems to offer, then the prospect of Scottish independence, within Europe, may be nudging toward success.
The Herald’s smaller competitor for middle-class readers, the Scotsman or ‘Hootsman’ as it is not-affectionately known among Yes-supporters, clearly has less well-developed survival skills, had resisted this tide and remained resolutely against Indyref2.
More dramatically the once clearly hostile to independence, large readership, tabloid, the Daily Record, seemed to have come out, fully in favour of Indy2 on Saturday 25th with: ‘Sturgeon has little option but to pull the trigger on a 2nd Indyref after English votes drag Scotland out of Europe…EU GO, GIRL.’
These apparent shifts in mainstream media in Scotland seem quite dramatic on their own but may be better understood as just a local manifestation of a much wider global phenomenon. I’m thinking of the shrinking size and popularity of mainstream media in the face of internet-based ‘alternative’ media and the collapsing membership of broad-agenda, conventional, political parties, other than the SNP, with their replacement by ‘movements’ such as Syriza, Podemos, Occupy and Yes Scotland. Earlier, we had the debt-refusal of South American popular democracies and the so far suppressed Arab Spring. These along with the recent upsurges in grass-roots activity within established parties such as the English Labour Party and the US Democrats, to promote leftist candidates such as Jeremy Corbyn and Bernie Sanders, suggest further evidence of the Western democracies being on the tipping point of a paradigm shift in politics and perhaps wider societal arrangements.
I might be jumping the gun here but if you’re going to spot the tipping point in a paradigm shift you need to take a risk with your reputation. I’ve retired mine, so who cares?