As this campaign goes on I’m getting less time to blog. I spent yesterday’s blog time doing the podcast for Michael Greenwell
trying to keep up with Carolyne Leckie, William Duguid and Andrew Tickell and now I’m preparing material for Thursday nights’ Yes meeting in Stirling with Pat Kane and fielding requests for other public meetings from Skye to Selkirk to East Kilbride.
I thought when Yes launched that Blair Jenkins would do all the work and I could just sit here and slaver. Now I’m rushed of my feet. And me a pensioner, too…I think I’ve had enough of all this grassroots, people-led nonsense where citizens who should know better are going round the houses asking folk how they’re going to vote. It’s not meant to be like this in canny-be-bothered Scotland. We’re supposed to wave the enthusiasts off into the dark and head for the pub via the chippy and top up the lard and alcohol reserves. At this rate some of us are threatened with a lack of obesity. There are fine traditions at stake here and nursing a belly burkha is one of them. A straining fabric cover-all for the swelly belly is the mark of a true Scotsman. Too much canvassing – AND deliberately being nice to strangers – is putting all that in jeopardy.
The trouble I see is that it is more natural for us to be pessimistic and to say Naw that to be inspired, smile and trill Yes. We are not just a thrawn nation, we are a Naw nation. And the Unionists even got that wrong. Instead of trying half-heartedly to sound upbeat (fixed smile) with Better Together they should have read the national psyche and gone for regional variations with NO (in Bearsden and Morningside), Naw (Glasgow and the West) Nut (Borders) and Nope, Non and Nada (for guests).
I’m also working hard at keeping in check my natural Nat rage which is increasingly finely honed and which explodes in an empty house when I shout at the radio instead of the microwave – which answers back. If I set it a task, it pings three times and if I don’t open the door immediately it waits about 30 seconds, then pings again, as if it’s saying: come on, hurry up, open the door…I usually shout something like: I’m busy for chrissakes…
I’m learning to bite my tongue though at BBC items which seem to me to accept without question anything that comes from British and/or corporate sources as the obvious and rightful position we must all adopt. I’ve written before about the Britishness that seeps through the corporation and much of it is, frankly, unthinking. It is a mindset. It’s one reason why Standard Life and the other money monkeys are treated with ingratiating respect, because we have been conditioned to think they are more important, somehow superior and powerful because they handle somebody else’s money. Big business people are revered, aren’t they? Nobody asks how they got their money and how they fix things to keep making it. I seem to remember one of our great entrepreneurs saying he got started by selling trainers to stores when he didn’t have any to sell. He got the order first and ran off to a supplier. Another famous multi millionaire of your acquaintance (oh yes, he is) told me he was part of a cartel of steel-makers who met every now again to fix the price of metal. When the price fell too low to affect profits, the big manufacturers get together and all put up the price by 5 per cent. (Under EU rules, that’s illegal).
I heard the redoubtable Bill Jamieson of the Scotsman on the radio talking about Standard Life – the company where the management enrich themselves while sacking the staff. Bill took the conventional British line – that they have to consider all eventualities so had to make a statement on their future etc. But he didn’t mention, and I don’t think was asked, about the real strength of Standard Life, the staff, and how they might be feeling or how many might keep their jobs or be moved or get the sack. Oh, they’re worried about pensions funds and investments and profits, but people? I would think staff are utterly indispensible to the company and doubt if they can be easily replaced. Are there so many qualified quality staff in overcrowded London? And here’s a different perspective again. Supposing we turn the company’s position around and ask a different question. If they express doubts about their future viability and add they may have to move – maybe yes, maybe no – because trading might get difficult, is that reassuring? Or is it a warning that it might be a good idea to relocate your funds now? They are in effect issuing a warning to investors who may just take them up on it. In other words, it can be interpreted as the exact opposite of what the company – and the complaint media – suggest. It may have been a miscalculation – not the first by this company. But you wont hear that on the BBC.
It was striking too that Bill casually suggested that a warning not take any share of UK debt would be interpreted by the markets as a political act. Perhaps it will. But this remark went unchallenged when surely the blindingly obvious response is that the British provocation was also, in those terms, a political act. Are we really saying that the government, their coalition partners and the opposition, aided by the Civil Service, uniquely acting in concert to deny the Scots their rightful access to the Bank of England is not a political act, yet the Scottish reaction to reject the debt, is? Yes, we really are. This is a hall of mirrors and no matter which way you look, the same image appears.
The BBC has always been close with the Establishment. That’s one reason why rifts like the Gilligan and associated David Kelly affairs are so tense and fractious, because they are rare, and do remember that after the Iraq War spat, the BBC Governors in the shape of Richard Ryder (former Tory Chief whip) made an abject apology to government for any and everything the BBC may have done. Servile hardly did it justice. But in today’s debate the duty to acknowledge the essential role of government should not be confused with a wider duty to viewers and listeners – the licence-fee payers – who have an inalienable right to fair, balanced and impartial treatment. That means at every stage of every programme every effort is made to look at issues from both sides and to ensure that Scots of all political persuasion can hear their side reflected. It does NOT mean taking sides. It means using journalistic imagination to tease out every angle and give nourishment to the debate.
I accept that management have made that more difficult. I met a BBC producer today who said the job was a constant battle to get time and resources to make programmes rather than having the space we used to have to make inspired intellectual leaps. When the budgets are slashed and the staff reduced, the first thing to go is the quality – the very thing Kenny McQuarrie promised would never be compromised.
Still, what is also undeniable is the depth of the kick-back. Scots are increasingly aware of being short-changed by their BBC and many won’t be for forgetting after the referendum. One side effect of grassroots Scotland getting mobilised is that it can easily turn into a different but equally effective campaign. If enough Yes people feel aggrieved, there is a case after any No vote, for keeping people together and turning it into a truly Scotland-wide anti-BBC movement, demanding changes in personnel and remit with the abiding threat of hundreds of thousands refusing to pay the licence fee. It is conceivable that a million Scots could stop paying and I would predict that disenchantment elsewhere in Britain would quickly escalate into something unstoppable. These are dangerous days for the British state and equally dangerous for its partner the BBC.
Bugger -that’s the microwave again…