Towards a confident Scottish Press and Media

Woke up as the newspaper thudded through the letterbox and onto the mat. A few seconds acclimatising self to the awake state – then I decided to brave the bare cold floor boards and the risk of one of Lou’s pals intercepting my naked dash to the door. One successful sortie later and I settled to reading the Observer in bed…

I always feel a bit of embarrassment admitting to reading the Guardian and Observer. It’s the liberal middle class cliché. And the Observer is lazy journalism – mostly a rehash or review of the week’s ‘news’. I grew up with the Daily Record. Tabloids. Cheapo journalism (can you really call it journalism I wonder, when it consists of very little reporting of news and zero analysis beyond the rant). Maybe the embarrassment comes from the uneasy chaffing of sub-working class roots against what education has done to me – that’s what I’ve reasoned over the years. But the unease I felt this morning was different.
Increasingly I’ve felt that there is no real newspaper which I can read with any sense of satisfaction – any sense that it reflects even in the smallest way, my own experience. This isn’t a left/right politically inspired unease. It’s about nationalism. It’s about nationhood. It’s about my growing experience of the UK as a purely theoretical construct – with little sense of anything which provides a common and cohesive ‘UK’ world-view.
The front page of today’s Observer: ‘Middle classes face a £35,000 bill to fund their old age.’ I had the knee-jerk: Bloody hell. Another right wing wheeze. More scare-mongering. Then I paused. But not in Scotland. This isn’t being debated in Scotland. This doesn’t form part of the political rhetoric in Scotland. The paper in my hands lightened. As if the meaning of words can be measured in milligrams or ounces. This article – one of many in today’s Observer – had as much relevance to me and my experience as a Scot as the Alicante Express of last year’s holiday. It was interesting. But ultimately I read it as a tourist. Detached. The fears or joys the words were meant to stimulate were experienced in the purely abstract.
I’m not so daft that I don’t know that what’s happening in England today couldn’t or won’t affect what will happen in Scotland tomorrow. But. Scotland’s today is different from this. And the newspaper debates in England don’t reflect what’s happening in Scotland. They don’t reflect a picture that I recognise.
Last General Election hammered home the political differences. At the same time as England was rejecting Labour (which ironically had shifted so much over the previous decade to meet the self-image of the Southern Angle), Scotland felt compelled to reject the right wing agenda which characterises so much of England and which was so out of step with Scottish sensibilities. And here I have to bow to the unfairness of the ‘so much of England’ – because the North of England (whether that’s north of Watford Gap description or Grimsby upward or…) feels out of step, too, with the harsh rhetoric of the South.
The divisions have never been more clear.
Scotland has always felt just that bit distinct. When I was young I put this down to accent and dialect. But we’re ‘different’. We still believe – bear with me, let me generalise – in ‘social justice’; in social equality; in distributive politics… We have a wha’s like us mentality that means we will level and piss-take those who get too big for their boots. We don’t mind acknowledging that people may be equal to us – but will never bow to ‘better than us’. We don’t take kindly to forelock tugging or cap-doffing. Yes, we can – at our worst – be parochial, ignorant, angry, prejudiced. But, by and large, there is an open welcome for strangers and a curiosity about the foreign amongst us.
When I joined the campaigns for Devolution I didn’t give pause to think about how it might change those things that are so hard to measure or even explain: like that internal sense of national identity. Personally this was because I rejected nationalism – preferring internationalism and a dialectic which exhorted workers to unite…
Thing is – that was gross naivety on my part. Yes, nationalism can be a dirty word. Suggesting opposition to diversity within the nation state – requiring homogeneity. At one particular end of the spectrum it results in violent clashes and the ethnic ‘cleansing’ of ‘non-nationals’. It is given horrific life by the Nazis. Think Rwanda; the former Yugoslavia; the former Soviet republics.
But is this a fair definition? What is it in me that allows me to think of myself as ‘Scottish’? And where is this sense of nation nurtured in press or media? Who is covering Scotland? Who reflects us Scots best in print?
Maybe it is the case that we are a nation in flux. We are neither one thing (the sovereign state) nor the other (the subsumed region). We are on a journey – towards… well, maybe away from what we had become – a region of GB or the UK. But we don’t quite know what that means – and this lack of arrival or of even understanding the journey or the bare fact that we will arrive at a destination – these things make our press sound callow. A bit out of step. From The Herald to The Scotsman to The Press and Journal – putting to one side all the local newspapers in between – none quite manage the gravitas of the Guardian or The Telegraph or… We don’t quite have a paper which manages to reflect a sense of Scotland – as a confident nation which is taking its place in the world: a beacon of good common sense; respect for diversity; upholder of equality…
Whilst the newspaper owners are wedded to ‘the union’ – and capital fears a left-ist Scotland – I suspect the papers will lag behind post-devolution developments. I’ll know we’ve arrived when they finally catch-up with the changes…

2 thoughts on “Towards a confident Scottish Press and Media

  1. I've now read this twice and made notes enough to write another blog post never mind a comment. Where, I ask, do I go from here? We shall see. I doubt, though, that the post will go un-commented upon.

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