On the media front, I watched recordings of Scotland Tonight and Newsnight Scotland on the IFS report and found both fair and balanced and, the big prize I look for as a reward for watching, I learned something.
Discounting the set up packages played out before the discussions which rarely add much to the subject, I thought both channels did their job. I watched Scottish first and enjoyed the debate with Simon Johnson and Lesley Riddoch. Johnson is with the dreaded Daily Telegraph, a paper that really has lost its soul from its halcyon days when it was a beacon of good journalism, now twisting news and comment into a single cord which it wraps daily round Scotland’s neck. He was truculent and triumphalist as only a Unionist toady can be when there’s a chance to scoff at Scotland. On the other hand he gave as clear and coherent an exposition of unionism’s response to the report as you could expect, neatly combining the top-line facts with undisguised glee and leaving nobody in any doubt that the last place they would look for objective analysis is his paper.
He summed up the conventional view, that if you are stuck in the Westminster mode of thinking, this report puts the tin lid on independence. It plays perfectly to the idea, assumed before it was released, that Scotland is too poor. I noted the lack of any attempt to place responsibility for that – if it were to be true – in any of the output. The old question returns: If this is the most successful union in history, why are we still poor after 300 years? If the UK’s national debt is crippling Scotland, whose fault would that be? The message seems to be: We’ve made you so poor, you can’t afford to escape…Britain, the payday lender of the United Nations. In fact, Wonga would be a great name for the UK, as it’s composed almost entirely of moneylending, crippling itself with debt and keeping people under the thumb. Henceforth, the UK is known here as Wonga.
So we got a smirking Unionist view which was countered by the legendary Riddoch, surely Scotland’s own Joan of Arc*. She can be, as they say, feisty, can Lesley, so when she is totally calm and controlled she is magnificent…a thing of beauty. What she represents to me is a different way of thinking, a whole different intellectual approach to being a country and a community. She has developed a depth of understanding of how society can be made to work which reaches beyond the sterile Left and Right and which leaves a hack like Mr Johnson stranded in the shallows, gasping. I loved her reference to the way Norway added to its economy by making it easier for women to work and now their contribution exceeds that of oil. Fantastic.
This kind of thinking exceeds even Stewart Hosie who was locked in mortal combat with Iain Gray. Hosie did a fine job considering what he was up against as the simplicity of a headline like Scotland’s black hole makes it an uphill task. But what I love about Lesley is her scorn for the old thinking, that things can never change and nothing can get better, that there is only one way and it’s the Union.
The best single interview was Gary Robertson with Paul Johnson, director of the IFS because fair questions were put succinctly and enough time was given for the answers which were illuminating. I never felt it was being rushed or that the presenter was gagging to get in to interrupt. It is the simplest form of broadcast journalism – ask an informed interviewee sensible questions and let him answer. Rocket science it ain’t. It provided a depth of understanding and allowed some light into the findings that didn’t make it sound nearly as apocalyptic as the Unionist adherents painted it. In fact, Robertson, whom I have maligned previously, didn’t get in the way at all last night and judged his interviews and to-camera remarks really well, even managing what looked to me like a genuine smile or two, always a sign of confidence.
I remain though of the view that independence is about belief and that if we see ourselves as just pawns of the London-centric system, they will treat us that way. This report offers an immediate prospect of a sustainable Scotland, a period of years, if they’re right, before the squeeze begins to be felt and that time can be used to good effect preparing our country by sorting out our own priorities, our tax system and our own immigration policy. Other questions won’t go away…will the UK be in the EU…will fracking reduce energy costs…will there be a housing bubble in the South east and will we all pay higher interest to combat it…will the banks need to be bailed out again. And as for 50 years hence…fifty years ago we didn’t know there was North Sea oil and gas…50 years ago we didn’t think of renewables…and 50 years ago we didn’t know there would be a new Scotland with its own parliament making laws we can be proud of and we had no idea that the British Prime Minister would come to Edinburgh and sign a document confirming a referendum on our independence. We didn’t know our destiny really would be in our own hands. In 50 years time our children might look back and thank us for seizing the moment and transforming our country for them.
*Don’t send me messages saying: I’ve got the matches!