The Authentic Voice of Britain

Had dinner with the Prime Minister. Gave him advice on where he’s going wrong and told him how John Reid suggested I should lead Better Together and that I agreed. So while that money-grubbing loser Darling was the public front, I was actually directing the campaign behind the scenes. And me just a simple newspaper editor from a council estate…

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Assuming that the Jackie magazine word balloons that constitute Alan Cochrane’s self-declared ‘part in Salmond’s downfall’ diary are approximately true (including Maggie’s fish lasagne!), it is the clearest indication yet of the corruption of what we used to think of as journalism. This, remember, is someone who, along with the institution that is his paper, is at the heart of Britishness. He admits – conveniently after the event – of being not an informed observer, but an active participant on one side of the independence debate. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/SNP/11262442/Alan-Cochrane-my-part-in-Alex-Salmonds-downfall.html

There is, in my book, a difference between supporting an argument, and meeting and consulting with its leaders, and helping to organise it (as in meeting Reid in the Lords and seeking his agreement to lead the Union campaign). Giving lines for the Prime Minister to deliver (virtually speech writing) isn’t journalism – it’s double-dealing.

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All of the above can of course be done if the journalist informs his readers of his involvement. That’s called disclosure and it’s what journalism is for. Did Cochrane make clear what he was doing? I only recall a detailed piece about dinner at the Peat Inn that, to my recollection, made no direct reference to his personal presence – which would have raised questions in readers’ minds. Why so coy? Deliberately to hide from the readers your direct involvement (no matter how over-written) while at the same time commentating on the same topic as if merely observing, is dishonourable. It makes you untrustworthy and it matters not if you are Unionist or Nationalist – all readers are deceived equally.

If it is true that Cochrane was also promised a financial incentive if he helped to deliver a No vote, then the old craft is stained by Telegraph venality. That is tantamount to saying truth, accuracy and principle mean nothing and propaganda will do, so long as it keeps the British establishment in control.

No, I’m not surprised by Cochrane’s subservience to Britain’s elite. I’ve long called him Bleeding Knees for the amount of crawling he does to London. But I am shocked at the injury done to journalism and its honest practitioners.

All informed journalists spend life close to the front, as it were, which means in direct contact with the decision-makers. That shouldn’t mean they are so close they take their word unchallenged or that they become a cypher for their views, which of course is exactly what does happen in many cases. For all the criticism that can be levelled at Jeremy Paxman, he was never a partisan networker and treated all sides with sneering contempt so that when he was asked about running as a Tory for Mayor, he appears not to have hesitated in declining.

I too directly engaged in that I approached senior Tories with the idea that Cameron should meet privately with Salmond in 2011 to find common ground, if there was any, on the constitution, ahead of any referendum as it could – and I think, would – have delivered a Devo Max deal in keeping with majority Scottish opinion. (It didn’t happen, you may have noticed, much to Labour’s chagrin today). The difference is that when it came to it and I wanted to go public with my pro-independence views, I resigned my job to free myself to do so. I didn’t compromise the organisation I worked for and I don’t believe I breached any code of ethics. I then wrote about my actions on this blog in some detail – months ahead of the vote. Of course, it wouldn’t change an iota in terms of the result, but it seemed to be the honest thing to do. I went for disclosure not concealment.

The Telegraph’s disgrace rather confirms the view that anybody involved in Better Together finds it impossible to locate the virtue of honesty. It’s as if it is congenital that any run of facts has to be re-arranged because that’s what they do. Truth became more malleable to them than in any previous campaign and popular perceptions turned upside down. The contemptible champion of this was Blair McDougall, now with his own dark little corner in nationalist history along with George Cunningham and Ian Davidson. This week he was still at it on Twitter (who can’t let go?) declaring that (apparent) confirmation of naval orders coming to the Clyde was a boost for Scotland and ‘a disappointment for Nationalists’, implying that Yes would prefer London to renege and jobs to go and yards to close. Nice, eh?

What this flipped over of course was the truth of the situation throughout the campaign – that it was Yes that insisted the orders would come to the Clyde whatever happened. We said the Clyde yards were the only logical place to build the vessels and made the case for the work and jobs. It was Unionists who said the orders might not come. But in the mad scientist’s lab that is McDougal’s mind, the opposite is true, simply to attempt a partisan jibe.

There is no doubt we were beaten but day-by-day the sickening reality of how that defeat was engineered becomes apparent.

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