Stop Press!

How do you report a larger deficit in Scotland’s budget? Easy – you report that the income is down because oil is volatile and get someone from each side of the debate to state their case. In essence, that is it. It is the simple, formulaic process used to inform the public. But does it…inform?


Only if you think reporting a car crash amounts to saying two vehicles hit each other on the road. If you are interested in why that happened and how it could be avoided in future, you are unlikely to learn from most broadcast news where the event itself is classed as ‘news’. Presumably neither driver intended to crash into the other, so why did they? Inexperience, road conditions, weather, speed, mental condition, surrounding scenery, driving on the left, an animal on the road, headlight beams too high, a passenger attacking the driver…the list of possibilities goes on and will take the police weeks to collate. Sometimes it leads to changes in vehicle design or road markings or even, as happened on the *A1 near my former home, a realignment of the road itself.

The trick with much of the news is to simplify mainly because information has to be digestible for a lay audience that doesn’t root around in GERS reports. This is where it gets complicated for the journalist and where the talent comes in – or not. How deeply into it do you go to give perspective before the audience switches off? The way this works is that the approach taken beyond the mechanistic coverage is often dictated by third party news players rather than the journalists. So a correspondent has his or her own store of knowledge and analysis but will almost always look for validation elsewhere from an outside  source. Phone calls are made to those close to the action, political types, academics with a known interest, trade unionists perhaps, business sorts and economists. One or two may be contacted on a given story and asked for their view and the correspondent will either have his own judgment vindicated or be put right by another voice. He assimilates this into a coherent script. He is most unlikely to mention on air who he passed his ideas by, which leaves the chosen contact in a position of unseen influence. Most journalists will use contacts with whom they are on good terms – obviously – to perform this role and that often means, because we are only human, someone with whom they often agree. These people are influencers and I’ve used them myself.

Some years ago I started to look at news differently. I had spent a working lifetime relying on conventional sources for help rather than truly challenging what I was told or trying honestly to imagine what the public would want, or needed, to know. This had surprising results. Instead of accepting for example that the SNP was nationalist without hesitation, I asked what does nationalist mean. From there it emerged that the notion of nationalism had changed in Western Europe from the 18th century concept of sovereignty and identity into an expression of collective will. That meant a distinct indigenous political culture favouring perhaps public rather than private services, high taxation, universal benefits and pay limits was an expression of national collective will – a form of nationalism. I have argued before that the German model of family-owned businesses – the Mittelstand – operating in niche sectors, often engineering, and financed from local regional investment banks was a form of nationalism as it is peculiarly German format which is embedded in their way of life and represents a distinctive feature of which all Germans are proud. It helps to define the nation to the rest of the world. It is German nationalism and a million miles from what used to be the equivalent sixty years ago. The idea is not to take anything for granted. My first editor challenged me on why I had got a story wrong and when I said I had assumed what someone meant, he roared at me: ‘never assume anything, Bateman’.


You can apply this kind of back-to-basics mentality to any subject. Instead of reporting with horror cases of child abuse, we asked: If there is so much paedophilia in the world, is it a naturally occurring phenomenon in some humans and does it occur in the animal kingdom? Why are almost all despots ageing men – Mugabe, Amin, Gaddafi – who would rather destroy their country than retire? What is that human impulse?

We take for granted that southern hemisphere countries will be poorer than the north, but why is that so and what is it that allows white South Africans or Australians to create a rich society in the south? Uncomfortable, no?

I apply my naïve question to Scotland’s budget. We are continually told that our budget is a particular sum and that is it. We receive tens of billions in and another set of billions goes out. But my question is: Why do we assume Scotland’s budget will always remain the same? Every claim and counter claim about income and spending and deficit takes for granted that the budget is fixed. What if it’s not? Isn’t the point of independence to do things differently and take control of the levers that allow us to grow our economy…why shouldn’t our global sum rise as we encourage economic activity and cut waste, adjust tax rates and invest in positive areas like childcare? The deficit today is tied to the overall budget but takes no account of what changes can be made to the way to raise revenue and spend. Does anybody believe we will follow exactly the Westminster model? That is just myopic.

Unionists say we’ll have to raise taxes or spend less. Why not create more? Why not generate, expand, promote…All new countries start with a clean slate and a desperate energy to hit the ground running. I encountered that spirit in Romania not long after the revolution when a similar mood of frantic entrepreneurship gripped the country. It happened in the Baltic states too. We will start from a far higher level of economic development and infrastructure than them.

The Iain Grays and the Danny Alexanders are backward looking, unimaginative Can’t-Dos. They don’t have ideas – they are merely managers. They have no idea of the energy and optimism sweeping Scotland that is tired of their dead economics and ready and eager to start anew. I’d like to see some journalists asking what would it take to add one per cent to our economic output – how many more tourists…how much more whisky exports…oil industry expertise…how many life science deals. Let’s see them quantify what it would take to eliminate the deficit and make people see what is possible.

*The A1 was dualled after a woman in a Transit with five or six children killed them by mistaking a single lane for a double and hitting an oncoming car. We had argued for a double lane for years for that reason but the Scottish Office relied on simple reporting of accidents without asking the deeper question why they were happening. It was only after a dreadful tragedy that change occured.

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36 thoughts on “Stop Press!

  1. I can confirm from my experiences in the Baltic countries that the blank sheet of paper you speak of is the most valuable gift from Independence. Used wisely it provides not just an initial impetus for economic growth but a long term advantage that can last for generations. I am sure about this I witnessed it with my own eyes over years and years.

    • Would the ‘White Paper’ count as a blank sheet of paper? Did the No campaigners in the Baltic States claim all the new ideas on the blank sheet of paper were fantasies?

  2. Not forgetting that a chunk of our budget deficit is through joint spend. Wonder what the difference would be with re-prioritisation of spend and minus our current contributions? 😉

    Plain fact is even with a bad year we have a comparable BD with the rest of the UK. This is allowing for the effects of George’s raid on north sea taxes, re investment and even a brief field closure, SG infrastructure spend and having to compensate for Westminster inspired lunacy. Our finances are just peachy and in good hands.

  3. Simply paraphrased, the Unionist argument is: as partners, we have brought you to the edge of ruin. You’re in such a sorry state that you need to keep this partnership.

  4. Derek, I have a serious question for you. Do you think we are going to do it, and achieve a Yes vote(particularly against the MSM in the UK)?

  5. Thinking out of the box is frowned upon in unionist circles. They know their place.

  6. News? What a quaint idea.
    You will get the state view and like it, even if we have to repeat it day in, year out, till you understand.

  7. Something confused me today when I read the GERS output as reported on the BBC, as reported here..

    Can anyone here enlighten me please?

    They stated, “The UK as a whole ran a current budget deficit, including all North Sea revenue, of £91.9bn, or 5.8% of GDP”

    They also stated, “Scotland’s public sector budget balance, not including North Sea income, was at a deficit of £14.2bn, a deficit of £13.6bn including a per capita share of North Sea revenue, or a deficit of £8.6bn including a geographical share of North Sea revenue”

    Why do the count oil revenues as belonging to both sides of the balance sheet at the same time when discussing Scotland v ruK’s relevant positions?

    Why do they never express the rUK position minus oil revenues as surely that would present a truer reflection of the position post indy?

    It can’t be spent/accredited/apportioned twice…. can it?

  8. Mutley 79 – my bunion tells me it’s gonna be over 60% YES and it also tells me people are sick and tired of the ongoing negativity which is crazily then doubled up by the BBC and MSM.

    Six months ago I was trying to put the YES side across to three out of four anti types. Now I can just shut up and listen to two of the four giving it laldy. In football terms we would call that a six-pointer, the NO side have lost two and the YES side have gained two, which is a net four to YES.

    Take heart from this the trend is going always to YES.

  9. Another thing that GERS cannot show as revenue is the supermarket millions that are accredited to their head office location, which let’s say is generally around the London area, but this is Scottish cash that was spent in Scotland. No doubt this is true for the bulk of whisky sales too. Honestly, our too wee, poor and really stooopid heids do button up the back to let this go on and on. Oh and don’t forget the good old Crown Estates that grab all of our Scottish coastline and sea bed potential revenues also. When you think about it the GERS figures that always show Scotland in a very positive light, aren’t even getting it all in – our revenue side should be much more than is shown. Oh, well, that’s that then! Keep poppin them pills!

  10. I listened to Iain Gray on Radio Scotland today until I could stand it no more. He is so driech and dismal. I had to turn off the radio.

    • But where is Johann? She aye seems to be somewhere else or is it my imagination?

      • She’ll come out of her invisibility cloak at midday today for her weekly FMQs thrashing with her basketball – one bounce for every word read from Paul Sinclair’s script. “Isn’t it the case … Isn’t it the case … Isn’t it the case …” Or ”The reality is … The reality is … The reality …” Maybe one week soon PS will give her a new script.

    • He’s more depressing than a Albanian suicide dirge.

  11. GERS is not an objective assessment. For example, including “per capita” share of the oil revenues is contrary to international law, and is pure politics. Please see Business for Scotland’s latest blog entry for an explanation of the “deficit” situation and how it has been manipulated.

    We need to explain this to everyone we meet.

  12. I have been trying to explain to a young friend who has been staying in Barcelona how I see the referendum debate going at this moment in time. So here we go:

    The referendum is all about the full power of the state in London orchestrating a huge propaganda programme via the press, BBC, and their friends in high finance/business who are very willing to put out the scare stuff at their command – though of course this is all directed by nods and winks in dark places well away from public scrutiny, which is the way the power elite always works to look after its interests. They even tried to get Putin on board for God sake – according to the Russian press.

    It looks like there is a whole department in Whitehall dedicated to misinformation on a scale that we last saw during WW2. We have even had a broadcaster called James Naughty shipped in to Radio Scotland to ridicule the legitimate aspirations of the Scottish people and blow the trumpet of the faceless Orwellian empire’s “No” campaign. It’s back to the techniques of Goebbels during the war..

    I think they see it as a fight to the death – between them (the power elite) and the ordinary people. It will be the final shudder of the corpse of the once great British Empire when Scotland goes its own way, trident is removed from the Clyde, and they can no longer squander the money from the North Sea oil among their own privileged ranks. Also there is every chance that the natives will get very restless in their own back yard once they see Scotland build a proper democratic, nuclear-free, socially just country on a new model of how a society should be run for the benefit of all of its citizens, not just the elite. So you can see why they will do anything to try to avoid that scenario – the game is a bogey for them when we vote “Yes”.

    Already people south of the border who are capable of both independent thought and radical new ideas for society are seeing the possibilities for them that will potentially come out of a successful Scottish state built on true democracy rather than ancient privilege (Billy Bragg for example is right into having a slice of that cake for England). A whole new vision of what a 21st century democracy could be like is scaring the shit out of the power elite in case what we dream of goes viral elsewhere and they lose their power. The power elites in states elsewhere in Europe (Spain particularly) are doing what they can to keep the lid on this populist movement that is being born here. Right now, ordinary clear thinking people in other countries are taking too much interest in what Scotland might achieve and this is worrying for the pan European elites. It was these very same pan European elites who took us to war 100 years ago when they had a family squabble.

    As has been the case for centuries, the establishment/power elite will use every black art available to them to hold onto power. There is nothing they won’t do in order to terrorise the people of Scotland into voting “No”. I am disappointed but not surprised that your brother James has been cowed into submission by all this. There is just a constant whirlwind of anti-independence propaganda to deal with day after day which is so well organised and orchestrated that the hand of Whitehall direction is written all over it. It is at saturation level – saturation bombing if you like.

    Looking at the huge growth in poverty in Britain and the consequent proliferation of life saving food banks, the decimation of the welfare state (with another £12 billion of cuts still to come there) and the racist style branding not only against foreigners, the poor and disabled in society, but now also more and more blatantly against Scots, the “No” ideology has nothing but the prospect of misery to offer as the case for Scotland staying in the UK. So there is no positive case to be made for the union and therefore all they can do is try to scare folk shitless – and so far it seems to be working.

    However, below the official radar of media manipulation (that the establishment is well in charge of), there is an area they can do bugger all about. The internet simply won’t/can’t be silenced by them and there people are excitedly talking a helluva lot of sense to each other about what our future can be. They are even beginning to wonder if some new form of state governance can exploit the mass input of ideas on some sort of internet platform where people continue to talk to each other about the issues in their society – a really 21st century concept.

    Then ordinary people are getting out in the streets with these ever fresh ideas from their mates on the net and again talking to people. This is so exciting to be part of and this is where the battle will be won, in this ideas war. The battle is between life-enhancing creative imagination on the one hand and the destructive controlling will of sterile minds on the other. The “No” politicians simply parrot mindlessly the line that is being fed to them from the top down. They have a narrow range of carefully self-manufactured and ever-willingly publicised themes that they spew out over and over and over again – currency union, EU membership etc They are like some weird alien anti-human species that gets all its kicks from ridiculing and seeking to destroy progressive human thought wherever they find it, Dr Who stuff really.

    If there’s any God up there we should win hands down

    • Agreed Dunkie, except for the “well organised” line. The No campaign are tying themselves in knots spouting repeated nonsense, which, when challenged, not by a complaint M.S.M of course, falls to bits. We are going to win, never fear.

    • Great post Dunkie.

      “There is nothing they won’t do in order to terrorise the people of Scotland into voting “No”. ”

      This is what we are up against. We are a threat to the existence of the establishment. The whole establishment will fight us all the way. We ain’t seen nothin’ yet.

  13. Always thought that the Scottish Gov should do a revised GERS, and take out all the spending charged to us that an indy Scotland wouldn’t want or need. Even the fact that we contribute to the cost and wages of tens of thousands of high paid civil servants based in the SE, contributing to the rUK economy, would surely make a huge difference if our proportion of these jobs and spending power was applied to Scotlands economy.

    As an aside, who can forget the widespread non coverage of last years GERS when almost every rag ignored it and went for Swinneys so called ” top secret” pensions document. The BBC, as always, did the same, and topped it off with Brewer waving a document with a fabricated ”top secret” header attached.

    Changed days to be sure, and back then was when I stopped taking a paper, and if the wife would agree, the TV licence would go too!

  14. Did anyone else notice the almost gleeful way that Ian Gray greeted what he regarded as the bad news anent tax take for North sea oil. Seemed to be saying, “Bad news? Great! Let’s have more of this so we’ll have to stay with Westminster – we’re too wee etc etc….”

  15. @Dunkie
    Well said my friend I am in total agreement with you, excellent!

  16. Well said Dunkie. Couldn’t have put it better myself.

  17. By the way, can someone tell me what MSM means.

  18. @Anne,

    It means; Mainstream Media, ie. TV, Radio and Newspapers.

  19. @Anne – Main Stream Media

  20. The assumption in forward projections that we would not make different decisions is an important point. GERS figures include a lot of unidentified expenditure – namely Westminster expenditure attributed to Scotland. John Swinney achieved a 3% efficiency saving on the SG budget. At least the same can be achieved on Westminster expenditure allocated to Scotland. And over and above a £1bn reduction in defence spending with more of the spend on defence being spent in the local economy and Scotland actually better defended than it presently is.

    Gavin Hill raised an important question. The UK figures include 100% of N Sea revenues as Westminster gets the money at the moment. This is never pointed out. Without Scotland’s geographic share of N Sea revenues their figures will not look quite so good. This is where Better Together comes in – England is better off. That Scots in the Unionist parties subscribe to this says much about where their real priorities and loyalties lie.

  21. george paterson

    In any industry or commercial business watch what the experts in their field are doing. Up here in the North East the investment in all aspects of the energy industry are in massive investments by those who know. Yesterday’s blip in the oil figures is just that, a blip. The massive investments up here will benefit all of Scotland and it is massive. That is not the doom and gloom of our detractors who need to stay in this union for their own financial interests (No Voting MPs at Westminster— out of a job with Independence) One other crucial point. With Independence just watch the collapse in the pound sterling on the International Markets. That is why Gideon and company are terrified we win and they will pull every rotten trick in the book to keep us under thier control. Without us they are a busted flush.

    • Why do you think that AS wants a CU?

      Or do you think that’s just a smoke screen and it would be sterlingisation?

      • Liz, my take on the CU is that rUK would be, certainly in the early years of an iScotland, our major export market. t would do us no good if Sterling plummeted immediately on Independence. So propping up Sterling for 2-5 years while the economies adjust to the new reality is a sound economic policy.

        My personal preference would be a Scottish currency, but I can see the need to assist Sterling until the dust settles and the speculators have gone. But imaging in 2020 or so, a new (old?) Scottish currency that would in a short time become, in the words of Mr McCrone, embarrassingly “hard”. Not a bad “problem” to have.

  22. I had hoped that I would be reading journalistic articles for debate on the issues. What I read is a bias rant that follows the usual nationalistic rhetoric of combining derogatory remarks, paranoia and a blind refusal to admit that independence will involve any problems. That all Westminster is bad and a hovel of austerity and Holyrood is a sanctuary of good sense and a gateway to a land of plenty. All this backed up by post from unquestioning acolytes.

  23. Derek, I have to admit to arriving late at your journalistic career, only experiencing your journalistic talents on the BBC Scotland Sunday morning paper roundup show. Immensely enjoyable and informative I really would have placed you in the NO camp if I had to make a judgement. Just goes to show how far you went to present in an unbiased way but also to your professionalism, which gladly, you are now bringing to this blog.
    As I see it, the Better Together stance is riddled with contradiction. And they have the nerve to call on the YES camp for clarity.
    Assume nothing and question everything-indeed!

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