A funny thing happened to me during the Scottish Independence Referendum campaign last year – I pretty much gave up on a lifetime habit of reading newspapers and generally ended up avoiding TV news and current affairs programmes too. As far as I could manage it this continued, in truth intensified, during the recent UK General Election too.
Why? I was, am, fed up, frustrated, outraged and, well, just generally hacked off with being lied to or hearing interminable and unintelligible spin masquerading as fact.
Now, I’m not naïve, I expect to be lied to by politicians, that’s just what they do. But they are getting worse. More blatant. Sometimes they don’t even try to spin to disguise the fact they’ve lied, they just blunder on regardless and either hope we haven’t noticed or, more likely, they simply don’t care. And too many journalists appear all too happy to perpetuate their lies.
To be fair, (even though I’m really not inclined to be), sometimes they’re not exactly lying per se, they just don’t know any better. And therein lies the real problem, and the fundamental reason I’ve stopped listening. They are not experts. I’ll say that again for emphasis… They. Are. Not. Experts.
Take George Osborne (and I really wish someone would!) as an example, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, in charge of all the dosh and all of our economic futures, has a degree in Modern History. His immediate predecessor, Alistair Darling, studied Law and the one before that, Gordon Brown, History (in all senses!). Am I the only one spotting a pattern here?
Moving on, how about the Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, (and how accurate was James Naughtie about him, by the way?) – the dreaded Philosophy, Politics and Economics, usually glorified as PPE in ‘meeja’ circles. His shadow, Andy Burnham, is an English graduate. Maybe Education is better served…? Maybe not. Nicky Morgan was a Solicitor, and her shadow, Tristram Hunt, is another with a History degree.
I’m shouting at the page now… They. Are. Not. Experts.
So what about the people who allegedly hold them to account, the journalists? Let’s take just one example, Jeremy Paxman. He has an English degree yet we are expected to accept his forensic questioning on economics, health, education, defence, foreign policy and everything else, unquestioningly. Just because he’s read a bit of Shakespeare?
Now, I’m not saying you have to have been a doctor to have an opinion on health, or a teacher to have an opinion on education, but in positions of absolute authority surely it helps? And perhaps someone with a sound and proven grasp of Economics might just have a better understanding of, well, and I’m just throwing this out there, Economics, than some hooray with a History degree?
And that’s mainly why I switched off.
I also believe there’s an agenda in the media. The BBC has made it explicitly clear that it is the State broadcaster with an absolute responsibility for promoting the Establishment position at all times. Its conduct during the Scottish Referendum campaign was reprehensible. By the time the UK General Election rolled around most people in Scotland, thankfully, had realised that and treated everything broadcast by the BBC with an entire proverbial salt cellar.
So, what am I really trying to say here? People have to see beyond what’s presented as ‘fact’ and look behind the rhetoric. Returning to my Scottish Independence theme, for just one important example, I know that our friends in England have been fed a line by UKIP, fuelled by Labour and the Tories, that ‘their’ money is subsidising free prescriptions, free education and lots of other goodies in Scotland. That is a lie. It is simply not true.
But our beloved State broadcaster won’t correct it. Other vested interest outlets such as The Torygraph, The Daily Wail and others gleefully perpetuate it because it suits their agenda. Ask yourselves why? Even those erstwhile paragons of virtue The Guardian and The Independent are not immune, and just don’t get me started on Dan Snow! It suits the Establishment to perpetuate such mistruths and they rely on the ‘it’s in the paper so it must be true’ mythology.
And, it’s not just me. Something has fundamentally changed in Scotland over the past couple of years, and central to that has been the increasing numbers of ordinary people finding alternative sources of information. There is widespread mistrust of the so-called MSM (mainstream media) and new, mainly online, outlets have sprung up to fill the void. The rest of the UK must now do the same and hold the traditional political parties and news outlets to account. Remember my main message here – they are not experts.
We have many political issues of our own to contend with in Scotland, but we can at least console ourselves that our children’s future is not (currently) being dictated by a “demented Dalek on speed” who is on a mission to “exterminate” education!
Sounds harsh, but that’s how the National Union of Teachers in England described the UK Education Secretary, Michael Gove, last week. It may indeed be a reasonable assessment of the man, given that he has previously espoused the abolition of school holidays and the imposition of an 8-day school week! Clearly I have paraphrased those two particular ambitions but, in any event, I am confident we should remain grateful that Michael Gove has no influence on education North of the border.
However, we should still be wary of those who seek to influence our political leaders as it often appears all too easy for them to be led down the path of increasingly irrational, unfounded bureaucratic nonsense. For example, only last month this newspaper reported that a Scottish ‘think tank’ had declared “children should start school at the age of four”. When these people are thinking in their tank do they ever bother to read, research or, heaven forfend, ask some experts?
Sadly, politicians often seem intent on packing kids off to school ever younger, then hot-housing them through some ‘rigorous’ Victorian throwback system in a frantic sprint to have them graduate into the world of work. Then they can work hard, pay high taxes and regenerate our economy – hurrah!
Instead of the Chinas, Japans or South Koreas so beloved of Gove and his ilk (and we have them in Scotland too) can we perhaps find inspiration in Finland? There, formal schooling begins at age seven yet they consistently achieve credible educational statistics. Of course there’s more to it than simply starting later, but allowing ‘kids to be kids’ is central to the Finnish philosophy. Who could argue with that?
In Finland, state schools are highly localised; there are no private schools. Childhood independence is promoted and most pupils will walk or cycle to school by themselves. Class sizes are small and highly-qualified, well-paid teachers are charged with treating each child as an individual. It’s not rocket science, is it?
We can be reassured by the fact that the Scottish Government appears to at least aspire to many aspects of the Finnish approach. One of the strengths of our education system, as opposed to that in the rest of the UK, is that Scotland has long enjoyed an all-graduate teaching profession. Finland takes that a stage further and insists on all teachers having Masters degrees. This is a trend in many European countries and is in complete contrast to the latest Gove-inspired fad in England of introducing unqualified teachers into the system. You couldn’t make it up, really!
So, in Scotland, we appear to be doing, or attempting to do, most of the right things, most of the time. This is something we should be proud of, but we cannot be complacent while ‘think tanks’ continue to push in the opposite direction. Perhaps, some might agree, they are what should be exterminated?
BBC Scotland annoys me! There are many reasons for this, one being that it consistently misses our fine city of Dundee off the weather map. We’ll always see Edinburgh, Glasgow and Aberdeen, usually Inverness, and regular appearances from apparently important outposts like Kelso – no disrespect Kelso! Why is that? Is there a conspiracy against Dundee? Actually, there may well be but that’s another rant for another day. No, what’s exercising my ire right now is a rapidly growing dislike of the inaccuracies, spin and unsolicited, thinly disguised opinionated slants contained within their news reporting.
Take Reporting Scotland last week as an example, and their feature on the (then) upcoming public sector Day of Action. Newsworthy, certainly, but presented in a very sinister way didn’t you think? For me, it certainly didn’t help that it was presented by David Henderson, you know, the one who’s far too posh for his own good and with a delivery style that’s way too contrived even by BBC Scotland standards. As an aside, just exactly why do they keep choosing presenters with appalling presentational styles – think Bob Wylie, or his extreme (and extremely irritating) disciple Seonag MacKinnon? And, why are we usually no better informed at the end of one of their tedious pieces than we were at the beginning?
Anyway, back to last week and what really irritated me was the whole tone of the article. Someone had clearly decided beforehand that the upcoming strike was a bad thing and should be presented in such a light. How else could you explain the introductory heart-tugging piece focusing on some random Edinburgh graphic design business owner whose “colleagues may be off work on strike day looking after their kids”? As the article was actually predicated on the announcement by the police that, although they can’t go on strike, they were adding their voice to the protest against the UK government plans for pension reform, why was this not the lead in to the story?
It didn’t make sense. Posh David did finally get round to speaking about the police, and their spokesman made the very valid point that the fact that the UK government was attempting to enforce the reforms on police pensions when that was a matter reserved to the Scottish government was “an affront to the whole of the Scottish parliament”. Surely this is more of a story, worthy of further expansion and investigation? Apparently not, as oor David moved on to report that coastguards, driving instructors and even Glasgow Underground would be on strike, the latter prompting him to comment “so even those who want to work might find it a challenge”. Ouch!
Reading that last bit back, I can imagine some of you thinking “what’s wrong with that, he’s just reporting facts” but my gripe is the selectivity of the facts, the order of apparent importance afforded to those facts and, most of all actually, the tone adopted in presenting these facts. We all know how sentiments and feelings are conveyed by the tone of a voice, and how the same words spoken in two different tones can have entirely different meanings, and you can just feel the disapproving tone in this report.
I happen to believe that these proposed reforms are shockingly misjudged, and I also believe the way public sector pay and pensions have been represented in the media generally over the last few years is appalling. A more cynical individual might even suggest it’s all been part of a government campaign to drip-feed the “public sector bad” message into the national consciousness so that come the time, now as it happens, they can justify draconian reforms as ‘reflecting public sentiment’. Shame on you BBC for appearing to collude in this campaign!
Just present the facts and let us make up our own minds, though that’s not very fashionable these days as evidenced by media manipulation of the Scottish Referendum debate – surely a topic for another column? And, in this case, the facts contained in their report centred on over 250,000 Scots being willing to withdraw their labour and forsake a days pay on a point of principle, supported by the police adding their voice despite being legally obliged not to withdraw their labour. Those are the important bits, not the fact that some graphic designer may be inconvenienced by a few of her pals taking the day off to look after their kids. Get it right!
OK, enough’s enough, am I the only one who sees through these politicians and their completely shameless attempts to browbeat an entire nation through fear? What, in particular, has set me off on this particular rant? One day last week, I open my Courier and out jumps Danny Alexander as the latest Westminster apparatchik to take his turn in spreading bogeymen stories about Scotland and the proposed Independence Referendum.
Apparently this is “causing real uncertainty” and follows on from George Osborne claiming that “companies are being put off investing in Scotland due to fears the country will break away from the UK”. For me though it’s just the latest in what appears to be a concerted and sustained attempt to influence the Scottish electorate with scaremongering.
What uncertainty? Unlike the vague promises offered up by countless previous governments, UK and Scottish, the current Scottish government were elected on a mandate including a firm commitment to hold a referendum in the second half of this parliament. Nothing vague about that.
And is it not simply commonsense to allow plenty time for reasoned debate and considered reflection before asking the electorate to take possibly the biggest political decision in Scotland for over 300 years?
I’d have thought so, but as we listen to unionist politicians of various hues deride this plan do you not wonder, as I do, why they want us to rush this? To get rid of uncertainty? Give me a break!
Surely it’s entirely self-seeking, as they believe the polls that seem to indicate they would win if the referendum was now, before all the arguments are out in the open, digested and reflected upon. I really can’t be doing with it anymore, it’s just all so transparent. If politics isn’t about presenting your beliefs, arguing your corner then testing the outcome in an election then what is it about?
There’s been a lot of talk in recent campaigns about negative electioneering and it is widely believed that a major factor in the last two Scottish elections has been the positivity of the SNP against the constant sniping and downplaying of the other parties. Have they learned no lessons? Do they ever?
As the referendum debate gathers pace, what I would naively expect to see is reasoned political argument from those who believe in the union to try to persuade those undecided or already inclined towards independence to change their minds.
Equally I do expect to see the SNP continue to promote what Scotland can be in the future without interference from Westminster. What we do know for certain is that successive Westminster governments have consistently lied for decades about matters affecting Scotland and, specifically, about the implications of independence.
It’s all there in the public domain thanks to the 30-year rule and all that. They lied about oil, they lied about finances, and they continue to lie or at the very least peddle falsehoods and half-truths in order to mislead the Scottish electorate in order to get the result they want.
After all, if they were so convinced of their case why would they not indeed say “bring it on”, present the positive benefits of Scotland continuing within the UK and then trust their own judgement and that of the Scottish people to come to the “right” conclusion?