I’m getting awfully confused about my identity for a proud Scottish Nationalist. I was just getting used to being a Nazi, courtesy of the Scotsman, a newspaper on which I began my career 45 years ago, and was busy pressing my uniform when I found that actually our nationalist leader is really a Putin puppet and now I’m to be regarded as a Russian anti-democracy thug. And there was me applying for my Euro election postal vote with a feeling of anticipation at the democratic process ahead.
Now, I thought Nazis and Russians were on opposite sides during the war, but maybe that part doesn’t matter so long as some of the dirt sticks by association. But wait! I was no sooner practising my accent – tovarish…toVArich – when I discover, again via the Scotsman that, in the eyes of the composer James Macmillan, I am probably a fascist. I’m beginning to spin now.
What does a fascist do? I know, I’ll do my Italian accent and my Il Duce turned-down mouth with chin up and appear on the balcony. (I can’t do Italian. It just comes out like ‘Ello, ‘Ello.)
All of this, mind you, via the mainstream media, not the uncontrolled blogosphere. But it is perhaps time I owned up. I do have a direct link to fascist Germany and the Nazis – my dad fought them in the war. Yes, it’s true. He even escorted one in handcuffs to Edinburgh Castle. And here’s the clincher for all you Scotsman columnists with a Nazi fixation. Sergeant Major Graham Bateman of the King’s Own Scottish Borderers, Commando and Paratrooper, came home with a genuine pair of German jackboots. Jackboots! They sat in our garden shed for 50 years so I literally grew up in the shadow of the Nazis which must have had a deep and lasting impression on my political outlook.
Such is the fantasia of smear in our daily Press. Weird? Silly? Undergraduate? Imbecilic? Or deliberately vicious in order to generate hate?
Personally, I try not to regard myself as a victim of this, although, it has to be said at one level, I literally am.
(When I wrote a torrid satire in reply and in keeping with the tone of a piece in the Guardian* lampooning Scots’ imagined shortcomings in the eyes of the English – and I advertised it as such at the begining – one or two quotes were taken out by the Express and reprinted in an attempt to justify calling me an anti-English Salmond acolyte. Thanks to Kerry Gill – once, like the Express itself, engaged in proper journalism, now reduced to toilet-wall daubings to justify the cheque. If you’re a student of hate journalism, try this http://www.express.co.uk/scotland/462123/COMMENT-Sneering-Alex-Salmond-s-shock-troops-resort-to-class-warfare He didn’t even have the courage, or is the word courtesy, to make contact to check with me. Nor, you’ll notice, did he repeat the anti-Scottish jibes from the Guardian. My quotes were repeated, again without any check, in the Telegraph – thanks to Tom Gallagher – where they were read by friends in England. Is the answer a) let the detractors get away with it b) only write if you keep it anodyne c) give as good as you get?)
But rather than feeling victimised which is pathetic, I regard myself as a player. (Which is why they attack). I have a voice and use it. I am, in a blogging sense, able to look after myself and don’t shirk from being direct and tough when appropriate. I never want it said that I missed and hit the wall. But I do try to argue the case when I attack. For example, I don’t say a Scottish Unionist isn’t Scottish or is somehow less Scottish. I regard that as ridiculous. But I do struggle to understand how they can claim to be proud, unswerving Scots who would nevertheless deny Scotland its nationhood. I have yet to hear anyone justify that in terms other than they regard Britain as their mother state, not Scotland and to me that is contradictory. Does it mean you’re proud, just not proud enough? Or can you be a committed Scot who doesn’t think nationhood is important?
I also get driven near insane by what has been nothing more than a campaign of contempt telling us we can’t live without English subsidy, our shipyards will close, we will be foreign, nobody will sign up to defend our country, we’ll be barred from Europe, kept out of NATO, we’ll not contribute to the third World, will encourage the Forces of Darkness, can’t manage our own oil and our country was absorbed into greater England. All this backed by ‘proud Scots’. Doesn’t that justify some withering contempt? Or is there another country on earth you can name where people would smile benignly as the insults fly in?
There is a pantomime of the grotesque parading across our conventional media on a daily basis, in there among the fair and the enlightening and the inspiring. I don’t subscribe to the idea that all the media is irredeemably biased. It isn’t. If you want pro-independence sentiment, if not outright support, read Macwhirter, Bell and Hugh Reilly in the Herald, Kerevan and Joyce Macmillan are in the Scotsman, Kevin McKenna in the Observer, Andrew Wilson in the SoS. Those voices are there but given the entire weight of publications and words produced daily in Scotland, they are islands of dissent. The problem doesn’t just lie in commentators, but in selection and placement of stories and, of course, their treatment. A lot of our broadcast output doesn’t help to provide perspective, I’m afraid.
I hate to sound like an apologist for Salmond because I recognise his shortcomings, hear unattractive stories about his behaviour and disagree with him on policy areas and campaign approach, but, just as I did with Jack McConnell, I accord him the respect that his office demands. McConnell never impressed me – or many in Labour – as FM material but one thing a grounding in politics and life in the BBC teaches you is that each politician represents a section of the Scottish people. Every MSP comes into a studio with the backing of the majority of voters and it is to those Scots that you owe respect when you interview their chosen representative. The First Minister is the political embodiment of the Scottish people, if you vote for him or not. His office, his job and title, carry the full majesty of the people. It doesn’t mean you genuflect, on the contrary, as a journalist you question and challenge but you never forget that at his back stand the entire Scottish nation whether he’s SNP, Labour, a bumbling idiot or, (for the Scotsman,) a fascist.
So when he goes to Bruges to make a speech about our future in Europe, given our current constitutional position just weeks away from the referendum vote, it is, of itself a news event. It is impossible to avoid the conclusion from most of our media that it’s just another version FMQs, in which they look for the Holyrood tripwires of controversy. That is part of the job, of course it is. But, unless he says he’s going to war with Brussels, the event and his message about our planned role in Europe IS the overriding news story, as it would be if Cameron went to Bruges. The questions over content and meaning follow on from the main event and form part of the analysis. Other countries recognise the difference when their leader is representing them abroad and don’t just take a parochial news line that omits the main point. The Scottish media seems never to have grasped the meaning of a national government in their own country and sometimes treat it like Strathclyde Region Mark Two.
I think the references to fishing are a real story but they are only part of the Bruges event. When Scotland is trying to gain entry to the EU in controversial circumstances and is creating a Europe-wide interest, it looks small-minded not to recognise the overall implications of his intervention. The conventional media treatment of discounting the main point of his speech fits with the long-time strategy of Unionist parties to pretend it is not really a national government in Edinburgh, just a sub division of the really important one elsewhere – hence the initial resistance to calling it a government not an ‘executive’.
(I thought the point of the fishing remarks was, if not actually a threat, a long-awaited reminder that Scotland has a hand to play. If you follow the normal commentary, you’d think Scotland went into EU talks naked, utterly dependent on the whim of others. This was a small and pointed reminder that is not so. We have a full deck of cards of our own.)
The fascist references above, by the way, derive from James MacMillan being given space in the Scotsman to give us his views on the referendum. Puzzlingly, he is coy and says he doesn’t want to (that’s when the Scotsman should have said OK, No Thanks) but goes on at length to try to link the Yes movement to fascism by the tired story of the brief dalliance of Hugh MacDiarmid to the creed when he regarded it as a movement of the Left. You might as well link a British Communist like John Reid to Stalinism. Then, through a serpentine maze, Macmillan ropes in Alan Bissett and to me implies he may be afflicted by the forces of evil (fascism) along with other Yes-minded artists (?) Convoluted and bizarre and distinctly nasty in implication.
It demonstrates that some with a popular badge – artist, musician, professor – have absolutely no idea who the people of their country really are and what they believe. This is more of the forced fantasy that can only comprehend independence through a twilight filter of hate while the massive body of the grassroots Yes movement is composed of civilised, polite, humane (and often Christian) Scots committed to democracy and fairness. MacMillan displays no understanding of his own country or what is happening in it and reveals his own dystopian obsessions…as he has done previously on sectarianism. Have a read http://www.scotsman.com/what-s-on/theatre-comedy-dance/scottish-independence-essay-arts-and-the-referendum-1-3393306 and ponder what he is bringing to the debate because I see contrived division, outdated metaphor and another misuse of the mainstream media to express imagined grievance. (Macmillan this week accused me of stirring up ill-feeling! I’d be famous if I had his gift for dividing people first on sectarian grounds, now suggesting democrats are fascist.) He writes a good tune, though.
*Try some of the jokes in the Guardian piece especially towards the end and ask yourself if they stop being funny/satirical and edge into insult. In other words, do they deserve an equally biting response which is what I gave them, merrily ignored by the Express propagandists.
I suppose the point is to be constant, refuse to be moved, remember what you believe, who you are and what you stand for – a democratic, egalitarian, multi-racial, tolerant, open nation, independent within the European family and looking out confidently to the world.
Just don’t expect our own media to tell you that.
NEWS JUST IN
For the record I am disgusted by the actions of Vladimir Putin. He manipulated the constitution to keep himself in power, he implicitly endorses the killing of journalists, he supresses gays and is both flouting international law and threatening a European war over Ukraine. If I were asked today for my view, that is what I would say with the caveat that his style of leadership plays to an instinct in the Russian psyche that warms to ‘strong’ leadership and feels more confident with him in the Kremlin.
Salmond may have slipped when he tried for balance in his reported remarks to GQ but does anyone think Salmond is anti-gay – having just brought in gay marriage – that he supresses opposition, silences journalists or threatens war? This retrospective tirade sounds like the last one…what was it?…his hotel expenses. I suspect that people who haven’t even read what he said are baying for blood because ‘he’s siding with Putin’.
I am I suppose being an apologist for him since, on reading his remarks, it is clear to me what he was trying to impart but you have to try to find the real meaning first. And the truth as we know is that across our media there is virtually no one prepared to do that. However, when that bias extends to ignoring George Roberton’s call for Putin and Russia to be included in NATO in order to treat them as a friendly nation in a formal defence alliance, you have wonder why not. Robertson is going much further than Salmond’s off-the-cuff remarks and proposing sharing our national defence so much do we trust Putin.
Why is there no mention of the British approach to Putin to back their fight against Scottish independence? That too goes much further than Salmond by proposing a political alliance with Putin. Are neither of these points relevant?
And in case you’ve forgotten, other leaders have been happy to endorse Vladimir more heartily than Salmond.
Tony Blair said he was ‘open and forward looking and a moderniser’. Obama says he did ‘extraordinary work’ for the Russian people. Sarkozy said he was a ‘courageous, determined man capable of accepting and understanding.’
And, sorry Vladimir, but here’s George Bush: ‘I looked the man in the eye. I found him to be very straightforward and trustworthy. We had a very good dialogue. I was able to get a sense of his soul, a man deeply committed to his country and the best interests of his country…I wouldn’t have invited him to my ranch if I didn’t trust him.’
What the current torrent of criticism reveals is a lack of even an attempt to understand what he was trying to say and in so doing further reveals the implied suggestion that Salmond agrees with Putin. Did anyone suggest that was the case with any of the above incidences of praise or requests for help from other people? Of course, not. They were just doing what statesmen do. But Salmond doesn’t qualify for membership of that club. In fact that’s exactly what Magnus Linklater wrote…not the words of a statesman. So, Magnus, George Robertson IS a statesman?
I think Salmond is the victim of his own success. If he wasn’t so good, they wouldn’t try so hard to bring him down. Nobody really bothers attacking Johann, do they? They just let her do it all by herself. The underlying message to Salmond is Do Nothing. Don’t Speak. Ignore the Media. Turn down Interviews. In other words, take the Russian option and suppress all opinions. Whatever you say becomes ammunition even as it leaves your mouth. Pitiful, really.