Campaigns aren’t supposed to contemplate defeat in advance and I know people – like Pat Kane in Stirling last night – who refuse to go there. It’s never been my view though because as a journalist as opposed to a participant, it has always been my job to look at both sides and all outcomes. I am deadpan about opinion polls in that I read them and refuse to go up or down. They are what they are according to what question was asked and when. They tell us what people said at a moment in time and not what they will do on September 18. I hear from people all the time saying openly and confidently that we will win. They have no doubt. I heard the same again last night from people who are out every week canvassing. I can’t disagree with them and am taken aback at their conviction. You’ll never get me to that stage. If I’m confident, I’ll go quiet. So if I ever write a line about victory being in sight, you’ll know it’s the wine working on the medication.
These Yes meetings are cathartic for me. It is quite scary going from journalist to public participant – a totally different and unnerving transfer of attitude and skills which I would never have contemplated if it were not for what I regard as the national cause of independence. I am completely, perhaps madly, committed. It is gradually changing my life. I have forsaken an embarrassingly large amount of income, despite having wife and family; I have put myself out here on a front line with opinions I didn’t know I had; I have jeopardised and, in some cases, severed associations I valued; I have fought an aversion to public speaking and learned to have no fear. I am for the first time in my life exposed – to ridicule, hostility and to recognition and respect.
I spent 25 years at BBC Scotland yet I am now better known than I ever was. I am recognised on the street. Improbably, people shake my hand. Love your blog, I get often. People tell me who I am…you know – You’re Derek Bateman!
I never was one of the select few who qualified for star treatment at BBC Scotland, not after the arrival of Jeff Zycinski as Head of Radio – he had other favourites to promote. Nor did I actively seek it, to be fair. But it is notable that six months blogging has done more for my public profile than 25 years as a BBC presenter. I also feel good about myself as in sure of what I’m doing, mostly because of the overwhelming response of Scottish people to what I write. I was always proud and a bit honoured to talk to Scotland via radio – that connection was something I really valued, more than the ego trip of being on air. But now, in a more grassroots sense, I feel part of the Scottish community, not set apart behind a mike and the welcome has been warm.
I mention this and what happens if there is a No because it came up last night – again – that this is a real movement. It is cross-cultural, it is classless, party-less and it is creative and innovative. It is self-perpetuating and it is become clear that there is no reason for it to quietly turn away if the referendum is lost. It extends beyond, far beyond, constitutional change. It is discussing how to do things differently, how to take control, how to make change rather than wait for it. It is developing a life stream that may not be stoppable, that can carry on into community action, breaking down the doors that prevent us taking part, deter us from voting, keep us from demanding and leave us at the mercy of a political machine. It needs a little co-ordination and could retain the name Yes because that sums up the attitude that defines it. Something powerful and inspiring has been born and it won’t lie down on September 19.
Meanwhile*, I’ve been wailing at the moon. Having spent part of last night at the Yes meeting in Stirling defending BBC journalism against claims of bias, I made the mistake of tuning in this morning to my old programme Good Morning Scotland. I shuddered at what has happened to it.
If you are going to preview your big story – Danny Alexander live! – followed by John Swinney – as live as he gets – you really need to have some ammunition. You need a case to make, a challenge to throw, a worked-out response for their totally predictable line of propaganda. I listened in horror to Alexander running rings around the studio for part of the interview, repeating ad nauseum his mantra of better together, too risky, no currency union. He hopped from point to point, assertion to assertion with barely a challenge. If you’d pulled back a curtain to reveal Blair McDougall and Paul Sinclair with headphones on producing the programme, it wouldn’t have surprised me. For much of the time it was the politician’s dream. He must have thought he got away with a free hit, getting a pop at his opponent while hammering home his own propaganda. And yet, when he was challenged he was laughably inept. It didn’t sound as if the pre-programme planning had been done to work out an interview strategy. For example…
What does the refusal to consider a currency agreement imply? Clearly Alexander believes Scotland has made no contribution to sterling over 300 years and has no rights to it as an asset under the Treaty of Union, otherwise he couldn’t deny Scotland. How does he justify that belief that the Scots played no role in building up a successful currency – that’s a denial of the Union itself – and how does it fit with his party policy of federalism that Scotland is a non-contributor to sterling’s value? And if Scotland’s contribution is non-existent, which UK nation has created a strong currency – is it perhaps only England?
This is a game of bluff – that’s why Danny is pressing the button again today – and your opinion depends on who you believe. Wasn’t Danny in the Lib Dem team who gave personal assurances to students there would be no tuition fees? Does that make him a man to trust? And since the whole British government is behind the currency blockage, is it a sign of how much we can trust them that it takes two years to admit a radiation leak at Dounreay? The newspapers are asking today what happened to the Respect Agenda? The Scots are learning they can’t believe what London tells them – they lied about the value of oil forty years ago as Denis Healy admits and kept secret the McCrone Report and some of us remember being lied to over Iraq by a Cabinet including Ed Balls and Alistair Darling. The track record is one of mendacity. Why should it change now over currency?
This is the job of the programme team collectively to build a case to present since Alexander isn’t on to inform or enlighten, he is on air to preach and make a nakedly political point. It is the BBC’s duty to counter. It is not an optional extra. And whatever is going on behind the scenes, whatever staff cuts and budget reductions, there is a standard of professionalism expected by the listener – and frequently trumpeted by the BBC itself.
What was revealing was just how tongue-tied Alexander gets when a proper question is asked. He really isn’t a smart operator, he is essentially a message boy. He can repeat – and repeat – the message but drag him off topic and he flounders. He was reduced, pathetically, to implying there is no plan for the EU In/Out referendum – British industry’s real fear and the reason bosses are happy to play along now on the Scottish question, in the expectation they will get the result they want on Europe. He may have no plan, but his boss, the man he answers to and with whom he sits in the Quad planning the Scottish campaign, definitely and explicitly does want a Euro referendum. That means Danny is a junior part of a government planning a referendum. Isn’t it safer for business to exist in pro-European Scotland as their European base than risk what could well be a vote in the UK to come out of the EU? You just have to press him on the point and he falls apart.
And when it was put to him what his role would be if there is a Yes, he was reduced to rubble. Even Michael Moore could answer that one! Danny’s job as we all know, will be to change sides and work his wee socks off for Scotland and his constituents. Since he fumbled it, he should have been asked: Are you really unsure where your duty lies after a Yes vote? Isn’t that more telling than any argument over currency, Minister? Your loyalties lie with the British side and with the Tories you now work with and for you Scotland and the Highlands come second – that’s the Union in a nutshell. Still, we all have off-days…had them myself.
But of course no referendum item is complete nowadays, it seems, on Radio Scotland or Radio Four, without the cross-border airwaves hopper that is Mr Naughtie, popping up at every turn of the dial like one of those nincompoops in a Whitehall farce, trousers round ankles. Here he comes again…ha ha! Jim’s mad scurry from Scotland to London and back has been a masterstroke for the British, cementing the concept of Union more firmly than oor Danny will ever manage. He’s like an advert: Look, I work exactly the same in both places at once – same words, same attitudes, same outlook. Glasgow? London? Makes no difference to me. Same Jim. Same country. It’s called Britain, Jock. Got it?!
Thus in interview with Swinney, Britain’s overtly political stance on currency – rubbished by experts like the Fiscal Commission – is, to Jim, “a fact”. Immutable. Permanent. Indisputable. Any suggestion it is a political threat is laughed out of court. Yet the response that the debt will indeed remain – as Britain insists it will – as Britain’s debt, is a “clear threat” by the Nats. This is following the Better Together narrative as if they were writing his script. Now I know they aren’t, so I think we can safely say we getting the benefit of Mr Naughtie’s personal reading of the situation here. He might as well ask: Why aren’t you playing the Unionists’ game? Why won’t you do what we all expect you to do? You really don’t understand the power structure do you, Mr Swinney? London runs the country and when they speak, you jump. So jump.
And, if I was a producer, I would asking myself why the programme didn’t focus on pensions as that is what Alexander is up in Edinburgh to propagandise about. This is rich pickings for both the Yes side and a BBC interviewer as there is no national pension pot, just a circulation of tax and national insurance funding the old age pension every month, utterly dependent on today’s taxpayers. And we still have one of the lowest pensions in the developed world and we can look over to Norway to see how Britain – broad shoulders and deep pockets – did what Britain failed to by investing the oil money.
I told the disbelieving people of Stirling last night that there was no deliberate or organised bias at BBC Scotland but I’m starting to run on empty. All I admit to is my belief that the BBC is failing – generally speaking as there are exceptions – to match up to the challenge thrown up by the referendum. People don’t believe me though and I notice the RAJARS for Radio Scotland were down at a time when there is heightened interest in current affairs and there isn’t – or rather there shouldn’t – be any competition for speech-based radio in our country. I fear what the next round of audience appreciation will reveal about the publics’ views on the national broadcaster.
Easy for me to say though. I’m just an ordinary licence-fee payer.
And thanks, Stirling…
PS I was leaving Stirling in the dark through the mist and rain when I became aware of a dim light outside high up to my right. I put down the window and there, towering above me, was the black mass of the castle, spotlights struggling to pierce the shroud of mist, casting an eerie glow. It was an awesome sight. I wonder if that’s how Proud Cressingham and his knights saw it before Stirling Brig…
* Anybody else notice that on Radio Four news tonight they told us about Alliance, the Dundee-based investment company, setting up shadow companies in England but didn’t mention Aviva, a much bigger outfit, saying it wasn’t a problem for them? Maybe they did Aviva last night and I missed it but all the output I’ve heard has missed the Aviva story out, exactly as the Daily Telegraph did which covered Alliance and then segued into the currency/Barroso fiasco. I used to argue that BBC Scotland should have a unit that had oversight of all BBC output on the referendum to check accuracy and balance to avoid that kind of London-centric reporting, but really, what’s the point? We will have to do this ourselves.