The question of Scottish independence has always been inextricably linked to a history of condescension shown by the British media. It is an issue with which impartiality and fair debate has not always been seen as requisite, even by sources internationally assumed to be credible, such as the BBC.
Traditionally, a London-centric press serving the UK at large, has found the matter both trivial and lingering. A tartan clad and flawed cause, more the result of bad acumen than intrinsic secessionist sensibilities With the television license fee which funds the BBC being provided by those North and South of the Cheviot Hills, a level of neutrality to a matter such as national identity should be undertaken very seriously.
Jeremy Paxman’s Newsnight, the BBC’s flagship current affairs programme, has been well funded by the license fee and yet he has routinely took it upon himself to bait the Scots and the question of their independence, enjoying the controversy that comes with it. After drawing complaints from a cabinet minister for mocking his Scottish accent, he went on to compare the Scottish influence in (the then Labour led) Westminster as a ‘Scottish Raj’ in comparison to British colonialist rule in India. He has attacked one of Scottish cultures’ most important icon, Robert Burns as a sentimental doggerel, and has drawn substantial public complaint for mockingly introducing Alex Salmond as Moses and likening him to Robert Mugabe.
Kelvin Mackenzie was the editor of The Sun for 13 years, the largest circulated daily newspaper in the UK, and is well known for his vociferously Scotophobic inclinations. He has written columns referring to Scots as ‘tartan tosspots’ and has seemingly rejoiced in Scotland’s lower average life expectancy than England- “The good news is that they are dying sooner than the rest of us.” He pledged to give Scotland a “good shoeing” in television appearances and has referred to Scotland’s first minister as a great lump of Scottish lard.
It is with a quietly conceited distain that the cause for Scottish independence has been painted to its southern neighbors. At best a romantic nationalism with an errant and blithely naive view of economic reality, and at worst a historically rooted Anglophobia held by a sub-nation with a deep fried chip on its shoulder.
The diktat that ‘Scotland is subsidised by England’, holds strong among the UK, despite it being a debatable idea with credible evidence supporting the contrary. When shares of oil reserves are taken into account, Scotland finds itself on a more or less even footing. Scotland’s GDP annual growth rates for 2009 and 2010 were higher than the UK as a whole and have since averaged out at about the same level.
Since the landslide victory of the SNP in 2011’s Scottish Parliament general election and the countdown to last Octobers signing of the Edinburgh agreement, the British media has had to concede the idea of Scottish nationalism as a serious proposition. It may even have become less fashionable to deride Scotland’s right to question its future position within the Union.
Much of this change has to be credited to Alex Salmond. Love him or hate him, it is undeniable that he is a very canny operator who has proved himself formidable in the art debate. He has also made short shrift of many an under-researched news reporter or opposing politician. The feat of 2011’s election results have been acknowledged in the media and Salmond was ironically titled 2011’s ‘Briton of the year’ by The Times Newspaper and ‘Politician of the year’ by Spectator Magazine. There hasn’t been a more public icon of Scottish identity since 1995 when Mel Gibson painted his face blue.
Salmond has commanded a public profile far greater than previous first ministers. Whilst talismanic to some supporters, he is also seen as brusque, egocentric and not entirely trustworthy. He has also gambled his political credibility for some level of media and business clout that has held shady collusion with an international calibre of unsavories such as Rupert Murdoch and Donald Trump.
As it stands, polls would suggest that the majority of Scots would not currently vote for independence. As well as the Welsh and Northern Irish, it would appear that Scots see the union with England as a functioning institution with a proud history and a worldwide cultural influence. A successful Olympic games and a new baby prince or princess on the way have, and will continue, to strengthen that British pride.
And yet it would seem that the issue of independence refuses to go away. Salmond’s planned referendum in 2014 is set to coincide with the 700th anniversary of the battle of Bannockburn, a Scottish victory in the wars of independence. A confidence and spirit can rightly be taken from history. Especially from the Scottish enlightenment – a time when Scotland became famous for its export of thinking and produced some of the greatest minds in literature, philosophy, medicine, engineering, the sciences and through Adam Smith the foundation of modern economics.
It has been 200 years since Scotland last had an enlightenment (and 15 since the last World Cup qualification). However, a culture of ingenuity lives on in Scotland with 0.1% of the global population producing 1% of the worlds published research. It is with pragmatism and a solid a confidence in its own future that Scotland’s improvement will come, be that under Union Jack or Saltire.
– Donnie Graham
(Featured photo: Saül Gordillo, Creative Commons, Flickr
photo 1: Scottish Government, Creative Commons, Flickr)