Going down to the (barbed) wire
Mlies Piper tunes in
In the context of there being now effectively just three campaigning days left in the referendum on Scottish independence, the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show and The Politics Show yesterday provided me with my latest first-hand ‘fix’ of what’s happening.
[The trouble with newspapers these days is that they’re eight hours minimum out of date and, with something as important as this, the compelling aspect is the occasional opportunity to form your own opinion after watching things as they actually occur.]
At this stage, it seems to me, there are contradictory factors involved in the ‘home straight’ desperation of both sides of the argument to rally what are called floating or undecided voters (and indeed perhaps intending non-voters) to their respective causes.
Complacency is not necessarily the only reason that the ‘Better Together’ (or ‘No’) campaign has under-performed, but it is certainly a major one.
Both the three major political parties in Westminster and ‘the Establishment’ generally – however you define that term – seem to have erroneously assumed that, because their case was so blindingly obvious and logical, no rational individual possessed of anything close to average intelligence could fail to back it.
This line was wrong on two counts.
Firstly, there’s no proof that the IQ of the Scottish people is that high.
Secondly – and more importantly – they were well wide of the mark in their assumption that facts and logic alone (and, if you like, conversely the lack of facts and/or logic in the arguments of their opponents) would win the day. It completely failed to appreciate that a general resentment against England and the ‘uncaring’ Westminster elite, coupled with the emotional appeal of the idealistic picture of what an independent Scotland would be like, as painted by a succession of more-than-competent SNP spokespersons, media commentators and celebrities … however fanciful these were … would be just as persuasively powerful in harvesting votes.
And that’s what it has come down to in these final days. Logic and fact – however well or vehemently argued – have become irrelevant. It has all down to emotion and sentiment.
Two other things have struck me.
The first is that – for good or ill – the BBC has become part of the story because the SNP has made it so by claiming that it is biased, albeit ‘unconsciously’, in favour of the ‘No’ campaign.
The ‘unconsciously’ caveat probably means that this allegation holds water.
Personally, I don’t think the BBC is ever institutionally biased (the quest for impartiality is deeply embedded in its DNA and ethos) although there’s an eternal contradiction involved in the practicality.
Every political commentator or journalist has a right to vote – I suspect 99% of them do – and indeed if any of them admitted they didn’t vote they’d get pilloried from all sides.
And yet we expect them to scrupulously keep their personal political views to themselves.
How tempting it must be for a John Humphreys or Jeremy Paxman to interrupt an averagely-intelligent stooge of party political spokesman (spouting a load of rubbish on air in accordance with his Central Office instructions) with “Oh come on! You know you’re talking complete balls! …” from their own, politically-subjective, viewpoint.
Instead, for public consumption of course, they must always maintain the famous Jeremy Paxman-stated “Why is this lying bastard lying to me?” attitude towards all their interviewees.
Even if the allegation is true, however, it fails to take into account how the BBC – and the media generally – works. Every hour of every day, innumerable items of supposed ‘news’ come flooding into editorial newsrooms all over the world. Some of it is ‘impartial’ news agency product and some of it is journalistic reporting based upon research scoops, off-the-record interviews or scouting. But just as much is PR guff put out by government departments, political parties, lobbyists, pressure groups and commercial/business organisations.
Somebody in the BBC has to ‘filter’ the totality of incoming information and decide what is worth putting out on air. If on any given day – as happened last week – the biggest ‘news’ on the referendum issue seemed to be the fact that twenty heads of business organisations had lumped together to announce they had contingency plans to move their HQs away from Scotland in the event of a ‘Yes’ vote, then that is what makes it into the BBC bulletins. The SNP and ‘Yes’ campaign might see that as biased … but it wasn’t intended to be.
Indeed, you could argue that it was the SNP’s and/or ‘Yes’ campaign’s own fault – they hadn’t come up with any press release as interesting and important on that day, so lost out … end of message.
The second thing that has struck me recently – and I do not suggest this from a ‘No’ campaign or Tory point of view – is that there is a strain of Scottish political thinking that is stuck firmly in the ‘Old’ Labour mind-set of the 1960s to 1980s.
This viewpoint holds that the fundamental purpose of the State is to look after low-paid, low-income working, vulnerable and downtrodden people by whatever means it takes, e.g. if necessary by borrowing, if not taxing the rich … and this is all that government is or should be about.
In other words, there’s an overwhelming interest in the principle (sorry, ‘right’) of entitlement and – frankly – scant regard for how anything will be paid for. Presumably someone else (the State?) can sort that out, preferably much later.
That’s why I suspect that the aftermath of a ‘Yes’ vote this Thursday – if one occurs – will be one that ends in tears.
In this world, good intentions are never enough.
If and when an independent Scotland goes bankrupt, the key issues will be how it is rescued from itself, and by whom.
Given the venom and intimidatory nature of some of the campaigning that has been going on during the referendum debate, Scotland may find that the rest of the UK gives a less than overwhelmingly positive response to any suggestion that we should underwrite its shortfall. There may even be an element of ‘good riddance’ and ‘you made your own bed, now you must lie in it’ in our reaction …