Blinded by the Light

I fear there is an atmosphere being created in the media bubble which could have unforeseen consequences. The calculated smearing of Wings for example has developed into a witch-hunt, an idea given force by the reported attempt of Mike Dailly to compose a list of supporters for use by the mainstream media…whatever that means.

The daily publicity and denigration of pro independence supporters in the Press has the potential to generate a sense that they are society’s enemies. (In fact that is explicitly their intention). Identifying individuals who, whatever their politics, are merely citizens like anybody else and publishing their picture, describing their work or suggesting their residence and portraying them as a danger to society sets a worrying precedent.

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We already know that when tweeters are identified they are soon after abused by any manner of cruel and inhumane individuals who deem them fair game as a result.

When we include rabid outpourings of extremism, blanketed in the assumed respectability of the Express, for example – as their Kerry Gill showed this week calling for the BBC to be biased against independence because it was on Britain’s side against the Nazis – it is, in my opinion, tantamount to incitement.

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There are enough inadequates out there who will read such foolhardy claptrap not as the ramblings of a journalistic bigot but as a green light from the national Press to express themselves in the only way they know how. To the deranged, the idea that nationalists can be compared to the Nazis – and every nutter in the universe knows what they did – will be all the excuse they need.

It would be a tragic indictment of the greatest debate of my lifetime if one single court case hears evidence of how some unhinged malcontent was inflamed to violence by anti-independence rhetoric.

It isn’t just that this has been an inspirational, invigorating national conversation which has drawn Scots from all classes and corners out into the open, it’s that it is overwhelmingly civilised, witty and informed. To me, 99.9 per cent of social media has been within the bounds of what is reasonable given the type of forum it is. It provides people with a kind of an online pub conversation, removed from the artificial constraints of the BBC and the studied correctness of the politicians. It is authentically real and uses the robust language we all do in private.

I make no apologies for being direct and at times rude because that’s how it works and, although there is a line, everyone knows what is acceptable. To ridicule someone is not to encourage others to do them damage. Ridicule is what politicians do every day to each other. It’s what newspapers do every day to anybody they please. The sanctimony of the self-selecting Solomons of the print media stinks to high heaven.

But they are campaigning hand-in-glove with the No side to quarantine Yes supporters outside the mainstream. Interestingly, this week I asked Better Together if they would nominate people from their side to be interviewed on batemanbroadcasting.com.

In ‘reply’ I received a No Thanks icon and a link to a Darling lecture…that’ll be BT humour, then. But there is no personal message from the person in charge of broadcast – no ‘Dear Derek, no thanks…’ Even at the level of a formal request to give them airtime from what is a small but so far it seems, respected online radio project, they are incapable of displaying respect. It is the first campaign I remember in which the normal protocols do not apply. At the height of fractious campaigns like that in Monklands in 1994, each side acknowledged the other and separated out the roles of attack and that of public interest. That meant that however tough the language and however bitter the claim and counter claim, Labour could deal one-on-one with SNP officials and vice versa on matters of mutual and public concern. You respect your opponent.

That is not happening here in the same way and the result is a deliberately contrived venom that vilifies an opponent instead. Better Together can’t even communicate with an online radio station, can’t provide a single person to put their case. I have no obligation to impartiality because I am unregulated online but I am genuinely interested in all points of view and respect them. It’s a pity I won’t be able to bring the views of those proud Scots who prefer Britain because their own campaign is so blinkered. (I’m sure I can persuade a few I know personally).

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Within hours of making the request, you’ll be glad to know, I was being trolled on Twitter by the Better Together ‘Director of Communications’ Rob Shorthouse. It’s a short step it seems from making contact with BT to being targeted by their smear machine.

He was following the Mike Dailly ‘I’m composing a list of Wings supporters for the media’ conversation which makes an intriguing connection, don’t you think? Labour lawyer starts anti-nationalist witch-hunt for mainstream media and Better Together Director of Communcations pops up taking his side on Twitter…Is there a tie-up? Is BT behind the Dailly witch-hunt? Shorthouse disappeared like a rat up a drainpipe as soon as I pointed this out, realising too late the implication for his campaign. When he re-emerged later it was to claim he had no idea what the original Dailly conversation conversation was about! That was my biggest laugh of the day and shows how the mindset is to treat everyone as if they’re dim. Either the BT Communications Director can’t compute basic information or he was – what’s the phrase? – making it up.

It might be worth watching this one as it develops. Or it may be after the event that someone at the No offices goes public with what really happened inside. That could be a great read. Meanwhile let’s hope none of us have to read of some personal catastrophe befalling a vilified participant before this is over.

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Real Radio

It’s out now…my latest radio programme at batemanbroadcasting. It has Labour insights from Steven Purcell about the crucial West of Scotland Labour voters who will in all probability decide the outcome. We hear where the party went wrong in its strategy towards the referendum.

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The socialist perspective comes from Frances Curran, the former MSP, who explains the opportunities presented by independence.

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I have a rant – forget Blether with Brian, this is more Bitch with Bateman – about the faint-hearted offers of extra powers. Is the ability to raise a higher percentage of tax really a power when the benefits come from the ability to spend in all the areas in need of investment? And if some powers are good, why not all powers? What is the weird attraction of a political system that ties our hands and leaves the big decisions to others?

Amanda has been out and about too seeking the voices of young creative Scots. Listen to it here  http://batemanbroadcasting.com/episode-3-referendum-left

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Nice Little Earner

Here’s a heart-warming story of how we’re Better Together. Word reached me that some of Scotland’s burgeoning industry of food banks were struggling to pay the rental on their premises. In particular, I was told that in Glasgow council-run properties used for this purpose were charged a full commercial rent.

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Astonished that such a thing could be possible when the need is so great, and given the Labour council’s commitment to protect its citizens, I asked my local councillor to check for me.

This is the reply they sent him.

Dear Councillor Andrew

Please accept my apologies for the delay in replying. City Property’s Commercial Group Manager has confirmed that we do not have a policy on food banks. Commercial rates would be charged unless the property and tenant qualified under the concessionary rent scheme. I trust that this is sufficient but please do not hesitate to contact me should you require anything further.

 Regards

Anne

 

Anne Gilmour Member and Community Liaison Officer

City Property (Glasgow) LLP

Exchange House 229 George Street

Glasgow G1 1QU

T: 0141 287 6166

 

I have since confirmed with my local food bank in Maryhill which occupies a unit on an industrial estate that they are charged the full commercial rate of £5000 a year, an onerous undertaking for a volunteer effort working to keep people fed through donations.

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If it wasn’t for the help of Celtic Football Club who pay a monthly sum to cover the rent, the food bank would need to relocate or disband. Is this what we expect from a Labour authority at a time of biting austerity? Interestingly, the reply isn’t from the council as such, it’s from their arms length property organisation. Does this mean that the politicians escape responsibility? Have they no way of ameliorating the pressures on a socially important project by restricting the rents?

It may be worth asking your local authority what their policy is if they have a food bank in one of their properties. This needs some campaigning zeal behind it to cut costs for those providing a safety net for the poorest.

In Glasgow, were spending lots of cash on decorating the old lady for the Commonwealth Games so the foreign visitors won’t recoil at the grubby mess us local scum (as Rab C would say) have to put up with. I’d forgo some of that to let the Maryhill Food Bank https://twitter.com/MaryhillBank go rent free. Maybe visitors from developing countries could be taken on a visit to the Maryhill site to see how poor people live in this developing country. Remember, we’re Better Together….

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Classic Comedy

W1A was the comedy based on the BBC in London. My old chums at BBC Scotland are clearly going for their own version – PQ – having screwed up their radio schedules to drop – yet another – popular programme and then replacing it by offering a contract to someone entirely unsuitable and then dropping her too. That looks to me like making a big mistake first and then wheedling a way out. If this was Kezia’s idea to pull out, it doesn’t sound as if the BBC made herculean efforts to retain her. Put another way, it implies they’re happy to wash their hands of her, after realising too late that there’s, there’s…an election on.

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The idea she herself is promoting that nothing was signed or sealed is bogus. BBC Radio Scotland wouldn’t offer a written contract for this type of gig. That would imply professionalism, or someone capable of drawing up a contract. It would simply be agreed that she would do it, how much she would receive – nominal, I’d say, £100 at most – and the ‘deal was done’.

She wouldn’t be asked to sign something because the BBC writes down as little as possible in case it has actually to meet its contractual arrangements. And if you give someone a contract they take it away and let their lawyer check it over – can’t have that.

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Their own staff are treated the same way. There are pay grades like in the Civil Service on which the BBC is based. But if you’re a BJ, that is a Broadcast Journalist doing the basic job and on the basic salary, they will still entice you to do presenting shifts when they’re short-handed and you do because that’s the glamour end of the business. (Hard to believe when you look at the picture at the top of this page, eh?). So many a BJ has worked their socks off doing all hours as a presenter but never received a bean in extra pay. It’s called exploitation. If I remember correctly that’s exactly what happened to Ruth Davidson at BBC Scotland before she was unveiled as an Evil Tory.

Once Kezia’s name appears in radio times, it’s been agreed she’ll do it and plans are well in hand. I understand she and Andrew did a pilot show last Sunday. That’s where they get into a real studio, get used to the kit, run through a ‘real time’ programme and then do a debrief to see what works and what doesn’t.

It’s at that point, you will know, in your heart of hearts, if you feel happy you can do it, or not. Suddenly when the studio lights go red and mic lights turn green and the faces through the glass are all trained on you and someone says in your ear… ‘Speak, Kezia! Let’s hear you…’

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All the three-minute interviews and question time contests you’ve done then seem very small and easy, when you can put on your professional politician’s voice and look stern. This is different. Now you’re running the show, using your voice to reach out to an audience from Yell to Yetholm hanging on your every word. You must read script, answer your co-presenter, challenge him back with wit and verve, use correct language, take producer instructions AND remember your political positions. There is no hiding place.

I think it was nuts to hire a serving politician during a pending period but my bottom line on broadcasting is the same as my line on comedy. Everything and anything can be a subject for comedy – so long as it’s funny. That’s the one golden rule and then you can tell jokes about my mum.

In this case, if they got a serving politician and one other and if they made sparks and if it was unmissable dialogue and genius radio then frankly, I don’t care who they hire. And if it did work, the BBC rules would be quietly forgotten. (They have one about BBC staff not commenting on BBC policy in public. But when Scottish management wanted a Scottish Six, a whole group of us presenters were allowed by management to write a letter for publication to the Guardian backing them. I did a column for the Record and got paid – with BBC management approval, breaching their own rules.)

But here it looks like someone, and it has to be John Boothman, grabbed at the idea – possibly recommended by Andrew Wilson – and went ahead without running it past the people paid to adjudicate on policy. This should have gone all the way up to Ric Bailey, chief adviser on politics before it was ever near public knowledge and it may be it finally did reach him and explains why it’s not going ahead.

Four days before launch is not the time to find out a presenter doesn’t want to do it. This is local radio behaviour, not national broadcaster territory. Will the list of idiotic self-inflicted errors get even longer?

I watch some brilliant television produced in Scotland nowadays – the David Hayman Clyde ships series was excellent and I loved the Bannockburn investigation, both big budgets, top presenters and great graphics. But there is a deep malaise in news and current affairs. Angus Roxburgh wrote about it in the New Statesman this week.

I have come to think that Jim Naughtie genuinely thinks he is being impartial on air. His compass is so skewed from a lifetime in London that he is like John Major – utterly incapable of imagining a different Scotland, one that is modern, outward-looking, European, green, fair and prosperous, as if that’s not our role in life. I’ve written before about some ‘exiles’ who seem to resent any improvement in the country they left as if the unchanging mundanity of Scotland was the validation of their move away. And when they see real progress made at home, they resent it as if saying: ‘Hang on, if you get better and better I can’t justify leaving so easily. I need vindication by coming home and laughing at you/patronising you…’

I got a glimpse of this last night with Sarah Smith who seemed infuriated, Kirsty Wark-style, that Kenny Gibson wouldn’t admit that Scotland would have less power over interest rates if independent. She was exasperated that he wouldn’t accept that having a few dozen backbench MPs in Westminster somehow amounted to influence over the Bank of England on interest rates. She should simply have shouted: ‘But that’s the status quo. What’s wrong with it?!’

Doesn’t she understand that Scotland has absolutely no influence now? The whole point about our economy is that it is run for the City of London and we get their interest rates. Anybody disagree? With independence, there isn’t less influence, there is still none but we do have all the other levers of economic decision-making. And there may be a Scottish representative on the MPC.

It sounded very metropolitan to me – the London-minded Scottish elite puzzled why the rest of us are so worked up. Wouldn’t it be great to hear better politics on radio? I’ve given up doing BBC-style interviewing. I’m more interested in what my guests actually think. If you do it right, it can be illuminating. Not laugh-a-minute, zippy zoo radio but thoughtful, urging speakers to get out what they’re really thinking. I’ll be talking referendum with a socialist and a Labour man – and having a rant at the extra-powers merchants – at batemanbroadcasting.com rom tomorrow night. Have a listen. There’s no sign of Kezia…

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Meanwhile in Lilliput…

Some mixed emotions on seeing the images of crazed jihadists executing Iraqi police. The revulsion reminded me of old footage of the Nazis shooting civilians on the edge of the graves they themselves had been forced to dig. I don’t think anything hit me harder as graphic proof of the chilling reality of humans gone mad.

Then it contrasted with the weekend experience of watching our people, Scots, enacting ancient rites and ceremonies at Selkirk Common Riding commemorating the war dead and the defeat at Flodden 500 years ago with solemnity and dignity and not a trace of resentment, let alone violence.

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Was there also a grim sense of justification for resisting the urge to join the voices arguing for the toppling of the murderous Saddam by all means legal or otherwise? I was on the march against the war, against BBC instructions to staff and listened to Blair addressing the Labour Party the same day, writing off the views of 100,000 Scots before the march was even over.

Oh, the hubris.

But it isn’t just personal rectitude, it’s the realisation that Scotland’s heart was never in this fight, that the people didn’t back it and it was only the war-minded Tories and the party-before-country Labourites who voted in favour of a doomed endeavour whose endgame is now fizzing like a Catherine wheel through Iraq and here, within weeks, we may hear the verdict of the Chilcot Committee. Their findings may be one reason why the much-trumpeted engagement of John Reid in the referendum campaign has been so low key.

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Events in Iraq are a reminder that in an independent Scotland we would have made the right decision on this major issue and would not have suffered the anti-British backlash the war engendered. We were right about it then and are right today. Independence is the freedom to make our own decisions without being coerced by London’s and Washington’s interests.

It was John Reid who was Blair’s spokesman for Newsnight and toured the studios night and day acting as His Master’s Voice. One day ‘We’ll get a second resolution’, next day ‘We don’t need a second resolution.’ Right enough, John.

(I also wondered why the Iraqi death pictures were on the front pages. This is surely doing the terrorists’ work for them? Their regime is designed to scare and to make their more threatening than they are by broadcasting images of their work. Why is the western media acting as their proxies?)

It struck me how the awful events unfolding in Iraq contrasted with the sanctimony of leading pro-war politicians like Gordon Brown and Brian Wilson who were in the papers on the same day lecturing us about how dangerous running our own affairs would be for Scotland. They are shameless, don’t you think? When the magnitude of their own actions in causing human misery and widespread death is brought home to the world, it doesn’t occur to them to show a scintilla of regret but to carry on as self-appointed overlords instructing the rest of us how to conduct ourselves in public debate and how to follow their lead in running our democracy. Cybernats are vicious, they say. Well not as vicious as your illegal war, Brian. Not quite as anti-social as kidnapping individuals on the streets and transporting them illegally to be tortured in unnamed prisons, Gordon. Not as brutal as British troops beating to death a hotel receptionist in custody.

Not a word did I read from either of these Labour men of the tragedy of Iraq and their part in its implosion. Perhaps like their messianic leader, Blair, they believe today’s troubles are completely disconnected from the invasion.

What I did read and see though was the childish posturing over Campbell Gunn, a contrived row over nothing, the kind that exposes Holyrood to the public charge of pygmy politics and the only thing the MSPs are any good at – bitching about their own. These are low-browed, short sighted careerists – the journalists too – with no wider vision than who’s got it in for who, who’s up and who’s down in their tightly-controlled little circus tent. This is the triumph of Lilliput.

If they believe that anyone outside their self-important bubble knows or cares who Gunn is, they confirm their own ignorance.

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Let’s just check a couple of details. Gunn is a special adviser. His job is to influence journalists so the public gets a better impression of his master and his government. Everything else is fluff. How does he do this? By briefing, whispering, nodding, emailing, eliding, spinning and threatening. How do we know this? Because the role was defined by Alistair Campbell whose position was endorsed by everybody in the Labour government – that’ll include Brown and Wilson then. Did they complain about Campbell excluding certain journalists, object to the improvement in Labour’s ratings as a result? I don’t think so.

They are, like all politicians, part of the scummy world they created and to object to Gunn doing the same job for Salmond is laughable.

What did Gunn do? He did his job – when he thought a paper was about to write an item suggesting the Lally woman was just an ordinary mum, he tried to put them right by correctly pointing out she was a well-connected Labour activist and, wrongly, related to Pat Lally.

That’s what spin doctor advisers do – spin information differently and in this respect Gunn was absolutely right. Do the critics pretend that Lally is still an ordinary mum?

The truth about Clare Lally is that, in this context, she is a combatant. In the unattractive militaristic language of political engagement, she is a soldier. She is not a civilian.

She can certainly support Labour, or anybody else, and become a CLP officer and accurately present herself as an ordinary mum. Good luck to her. But when she agrees to be an adviser to the shadow cabinet or helps launch a leadership campaign she steps outside local involvement on to a national, media-focussed stage where she throws off the mantle of ordinary. In the context of the Better Together campaign, an operation almost devoid of visible grassroots support, being able to label people as ordinary is important. In this case it was straight deceit. Her background betrays her. Whatever else she is, she is a Labour Party aficionado and pro-Union campaigner with a party  appointment and high level access. Is Pat Kane an ordinary dad? He’s an adviser to the Yes campaign  but not in a party as far as I know. He isn’t paid and speaks on behalf of himself. Would you call him ordinary? Hardly, yet he fits the bill better than Clare.

It doesn’t change her ‘ordinary’ home life. But just as Moira Salmond is a housewife we never see in the public eye yet whose identity to the nation is as First Minister’s partner, so Clare Lally ceased to be an ‘ordinary’ mum on accepting a national party appointment.

That’s why the wails of protest are bogus. They all know this but it doesn’t suit the anti-Salmond narrative and so journalists and politicos pretend to the appalled. There is no connection with cybernats so they make it for you. All this convinces me that the Unionist story itself has run out steam. A calm and steady campaign with a healthy lead would scoff at the pygmy pootering yet all across the Unionist spectrum this is what fires them up – a tawdry and synthetic childrens’ play of finger-jabbing and spitting. I fear they give away their panic.

As for Alan Cochrane, the Great Tumshie of Tayside, I have never seen a more toe-curling television performance in which he dragged the Telegraph down to the level of Jackie magazine flourishing his piece of paper. ‘Ah huv the email in ma pouch. Look. Here it is.’ Well, if that’s his reaction to an adviser putting him right, I would think no professional media person in their right mind would ever trust him with information again…as subtle as a clootie dumpling.

The irony here of course is that many of the same journalists turning on Gunn will have used him themselves for help – on detail, government thinking, access to the FM etc when it suited. Now it’s time to stab him in the back. Well done, Her Majesty’s Press.

Incidentally, I’ve written before that I can’t stand the special adviser role. It’s a waste of taxpayers money, they mainly produce poison and it’s what journalists feed off. Why not do the opposite and starve the clowns of information and insight and see how clever and well-connected they really are without being spoon-fed.

(I wonder how many jobs the Telegraph will keep in Scotland if there’s a no vote)

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