A rogue media is driving Britain towards territorial strife

A rogue media is driving Britain towards territorial strife

by Tom Gallagher
article from Friday 27, November, 2020

THE COLUMNIST at Unherd Ari Roussinos made a startling prediction recently. It concerned the not unlikely possibility of Scottish nationalists seeking a confrontation with the London government in order to try and end “Westminster rule” in Scotland. He argued that a key player would likely turn out to be the London media. Such would be the outcry if firm measures were taken to quell secession that the likelihood was that London would back down, enabling the great unraveling of Britain to proceed.  

The media in the Anglosphere has come down forcibly on the side of promoting an identity-obsessed narrative meant to rip society apart from its moorings. France’s President Macron, sufficiently alarmed by what he sees as the distorted coverage of the Financial Times and the New York Times of his measures to contain Islamist extremism in his own society, has directly upbraided both newspapers for adding to the difficulties of his task by their coverage of recent events. 

Drawn increasingly from restless elements of the upper middle-class, many media personnel have replaced detached and professional coverage of political events with unabashed activism. Radical experimentation has come into vogue. Regarding a society based on hard work and family life as the broad norm has fallen into disfavour. From the New York Times to the Guardian, flagship publications have thrown their weight behind elevating ethnicity and gender as key elements in society. The elite media catering for the professional classes has joined forces with radical militants to promote race awareness and social justice as the new organising concepts for both state and society.  Restrictions on free speech and purges of dissenters are required for the new orthodoxy to prevail.  Needless to say, across much of society these disruptive trends are resented and feared.  This summer several American cities faced months of mob rule as ferocious attacks were mounted against the police and other conventional symbols of authority. 

As they sought to usher in the new utopia, Antifa and Black Lives Matter found some of their staunchest allies in the newly radicalised media. Household names that now increasingly cater for niche groups of anti-establishment radicals, played down the far-left unrest. When that was impossible, it was attributed to myriad ‘other’ forces. 

If a trial of strength between determined separatists and the British state spills over into street disorders comparable to the ones seen in Seattle or Portland, I am in no doubt that large segments of the media would also become enablers for, or excusers of, unrest. 

Producers, editors and news anchors on Channel 4, SKY News, BBC and ITV find it hard to dislike the SNP, however much its conduct deviates from standard democratic norms. It is not just due to Nicola Sturgeon going further than any other influential British politician in order to try and overturn the decision of a British-wide referendum in 2016 to leave he European Union. The SNP and its cheerleaders at the heart of the British media share a similar goal of ardently wishing to transform British society. Sturgeon’s desire to partition the island is perhaps only dimly understood among London allies – but much warmth is shown on account of her zeal and demagogic talents.  There is a shared commitment towards advancing the numerous causes which it is hoped might one day usher in a global left-wing order.  The SNP is busy seeking to empower groups of Woke activists with often bizarre schemes meant to anchor society around a collage of  racial, sexual and cultural identities. Sturgeon’s party has not neglected to include a strong coercive dimension in its cultural revolution. A divisive hate bill is currently being forced through the Scottish parliament into law in the teeth of huge opposition. Custodial sentences are planned for criticism of the new Woke settlement in relation to transgender rights and religion even if it occurs in the privacy of one’s own home. The authoritarian dimension of the SNP’s rule rarely seems to trouble prominent media personalities who often characterise Sturgeon as a plucky Joan of Arc or a female Che Guevara, rocking the citadels of obsolete and illegitimate Western power. Stunts, like the adoption a few days ago of a Labour member’s Private Bill to make sanitary products free for women are given extensive coverage while the Edinburgh executive’s defiance of its own parliament is played down or ignored, especially by London media outlets which view the First Minister as embodying the voice of nearly all of Scotland. 

It is left to a small number of journalists who value the ethics of their craft to draw attention to the Sturgeon government’s attempt to dismantle or erode basic freedoms. The most recent examples are her point-blank refusal to release the legal advice her administration received on the Alex Salmond case after two parliamentary votes demanding it; and the refusal to allow two civil servants to give evidence before the official cross-party Parliamentary committee investigating the matter at Holyrood. The London media has refrained from offering regular coverage of the tangled and legal dimensions of this power-struggle between Sturgeon and her still influential and popular predecessor.  When the committee gave her a deadline of 13 November to comply, it was ignored, not just by Sturgeon but often by usually reverential media interviewers. By contrast media uproar often follows the merest Westminster squall which suggests the UK government might be over-reaching itself. 

It’s rare in any democracy for a government to flout a parliamentary vote in such a brazen way.  Much of the media simply refuses to concede there might be any kind of constitutional crisis. One is forced to draw the conclusion that if Sturgeon placed herself at the head of an attempted territorial power-grab, excuses would also be found to minimise the impact of the events or frame them in ways that benefited the insurgents. 

There is perhaps no other overmighty ruler in the democratic West who gets such a free run from swathes of the print and electronic media where the idea of holding rulers to account is now adopted in a very selective manner.  Sturgeon’s decision this month to refuse to take measures that would ensure stiffer penalties for vandalising war memorials is just one instance of her curiously one-sided approach to hate crimes. Another is the online outburst from Ian Blackford MP,  directed against a Caithness-based English photographer Ollie Taylor. Blackford tweeted (in a post since deleted): 

“As you live in the south of England and travel to Scotland is only for permitted reasons I am sure there will be a valid reason as to why you are posting a photo from the north of Scotland last night?” 

The leader of the third-largest parliamentary grouping at Westminster MP apologised after it was clear there was no evidence for his claim. If a similar personalised attack had been made by a party less-favoured by the media, it is likely the story would have been extensively covered across television and the press. It won’t die down completely as Mr Taylor is planning to sue, having accused Blackford of behaving in a manner “likely to cause serious harm” to his reputation by suggesting he had “committed a criminal offence”.   

In the devolved UK, if a ruling party was held to account on its own local ground by the media for incompetence or questionable behaviour, then it would be hard for the wider UK media to be as charitable and myopic towards the SNP. However, a mixture of sycophancy, fear and opportunism are shaping the outlook of both BBC Scotland and Scottish Television (STV), the main broadcasters, towards Sturgeon’s regime. There are exceptions, but not many, and managerial changes, especially at the BBC, are strengthening the hold of elements happy to bury stories awkward for the government and keep critics far from the airwaves. 

The two successive holders of the position of Lord Advocate, Scotland’s chief prosecutor, have been mired in controversy. The post is situated within the government and, the current holder James Wolffe has been determined to keep legal advice given in the Salmond case from the parliamentary committee which he appeared before in mid-November (resulting in the opposition parties considering tabling a vote of no-confidence.) The willingness of a supposedly impartial senior law officer to politicise the office to such an extent, has again received little serious media coverage. 

Early in the Covid crisis Sturgeon was thwarted in bids to curtail both trial by jury and the release of state documentation under freedom of information laws.  But she has played a dominating role in the crisis not least thanks to appearing almost daily, often for an hour, at a press conference in which few others share the limelight. These stage-managed affairs have enhanced her authority especially due to the unwillingness of much of the media to offer serious criticism of Scotland’s distinctly mixed record in tackling the pandemic. The sheen might have been removed from her performance if she had been required instead to appear as often before the Scottish Parliament so she could be questioned by its members about her handling of the medical crisis. 

Much of the media is not interested in her record in the pandemic and attempts to pick holes in it are only made by a few dedicated figures who preserve a commitment to investigative journalism. 

Instead, Sturgeon’s role as an outspoken and determined critic of Brexit and the British establishment, where the political left has now been out of office for over a decade, is what seems to encourage the media especially in London to treat her so favourably. It is hard to avoid the conclusion that the media has become either a pawn, or else a willing collaborator of a ruthless political operator in charge of the party which has controlled devolved Scotland for 13 years. Much of the press corps is ending up in the same ignominious position as those sycophantic think tanks and advocacy groups where campaigners and ex-journalists, instead of holding the party-state to account, prefer to collude with those in charge of it. 

By their negligence or complicity in base politics, Non-Governmental-organisations are helping to sabotage any recovery in the alarmingly run-down health, education, transport, and policing sectors. Unfortunately, the media have the potential to inflict far more damage not just on Scotland but on Britain as a whole  by egging on a headstrong leader who has embarked upon unwise and dangerous pursuits. 

If Sturgeon, or another unappealing successor cut from the same cloth, ends up being talked about in the same breath as the Irish leaders of the 1916 rebellion or the Catalan secessionists of 2017, it will in no small measure be due to a media which has abandoned journalistic rigour for propaganda, notoriety, and hero-worship.  The current failure to cover accurately and in-depth Scottish political matters, is one of the most glaring examples in the entire West of the media abandoning its commitment to report news and provide analytical coverage of it. Much harm will likely ensue unless the appeasement of demagoguery in Scotland is discontinued by the UK media. 

Tom Gallagher is Emeritus Professor of Politics at the University of Bradford. He is the author of Scotland Now, a Warning to the World (2016). His latest book is Salazar, the Dictator Who Refused to Die, Hurst Publishers 2020 (available here) and his twitter account is @cultfree54

Photo of BBC Scotland studios on Pacific Quay, Glasgow by Jeff Whyte from adobe Stock

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