I don’t like how the SNP has been cosying up to News International, nor how Alex Salmond is big chums with Rupert Murdoch these days.
And I don’t like how many SNP members/supporters appear to be falling into line and accepting this. Either as an unalloyed good or as an inevitable necessity in the bid to win hearts and minds in the independence referendum.
For years, the mainstream media has bashed the Nats, pillorying the SNP, belittling its core belief, and on occasion, spreading a miasma of lies about the party’s motives and its policies. Decades have seen the party under siege in a foxhole, being battered by the bazookas and artillery of the Unionist parties, their cheerleaders and a host of media outlets. The venom deployed, on occasion, has been shocking.
Despite all this, by its own efforts, the SNP made inroads into the public consciousness. It worked out how to circumvent the media, and to play it at its own game. A motivated ground corps, some strong messaging and policy commitments, a decent campaigning tool, lots of heart, a ton of slog and the breakthrough was made. Admittedly, the malaise in the Labour party and its incompetence and complacency contributed, but the SNP can rightly claim that its success is largely its own.
Even after 2007, it found few friends and could rely on even fewer favours. Right up to the last gasp in the election campaign, newspapers across the land worked hard to give Labour the space to make its pitch. Only when it was clear that the early polls had forecast a false return to form and that the SNP would hold on to power, did they come out in the party’s favour. Some failed even to do that, maintaining a studious and dishonest neutrality.
Now the SNP is the only political show in town. Consequently, institutions and establishment figures which previously crossed the street to avoid the party are queueing up to pay homage in the court of King Alex. And with the prize of independence close at hand, it is understandable that the party and the leadership, in particular, might want to acquire all the levers it might need. That includes a big newspaper with a big readership. The end justifies the means, seems to be the mantra.
Sorry it doesn’t.
Today’s revelations at the Leveson inquiry about the scale and the extent of the rottenness at the heart of the Murdoch operation were eye-watering. Bribery was a commonplace, if the Deputy Assistant Commissioner in charge of the phone-hacking investigations, is to be believed. And why wouldn’t we?
Just as bad, if not worse, is the fact that illegal payments were being made to a range of corrupt public officials. Not to lay bare appalling practice or criminality, but to provide tittle-tattle which breached – flagrantly – people’s private lives. All for the delectation of the masses. Joe Jackson never seemed so appropriate.
This used to be bread and butter to the SNP. What better argument for independence and the opportunity to create a whiter, brighter Scotland, one that embraces a different culture and sets higher standards for public life, could there be than the graft currently being unmasked at the centre of institutional UK? Who wants to remain part of a system which doesn’t just tolerate such activity but aids and abets it?
But the SNP and the Scottish Government cannot point the finger, not when it is cultivating a special arrangement with the Emperor’s Caledonian chattels. Yesterday’s splash on the date of the referendum in the launch edition of the Scottish Sunday currant bun might have been an exclusive announcement or a leak or a speculative punt. The First Minister might have attempted to downplay the announcement, to protest. But not too much.
There is, after all, the whiff of an endorsement for a yes vote in the air. All those come hither tweets from Rupert Murdoch suggest it. Far be it for me to question the man’s motives, but could it be that he sees an opportunity to expand his global media empire in an open source Scotland? If doors are slamming shut on him all around London, would independence enable him to suprise them through the back door?
I really hope not.
The last week has reminded me of the power inherent in good quality print journalism: death in the line of duty makes you consider why some are driven to deliver the news, to tell the untold stories, to give people a voice. And what purpose it serves.
I’d like to think an independent Scotland could offer a blank page and a fresh start in media terms; to create an environment that allows bona fide news gathering and story telling to flourish; which encourages a wider view of the world and allows for the sort of writing that takes you to faraway places and gives you a better understanding of our sense of place in the global village. Heck, there’s room too for the couthy, the gossipy, the frothy and the frivolous – so long as it’s squeaky clean. It takes all sorts after all.
But we’ll get none of that if Murdoch is given free rein in return for favours owed. Indeed, I see as many problems as potential benefits from being too tightly thirled to News International in the months ahead. For every vote gained, how many might be lost? I doubt I’m the only Scot with their stomach churned by the shenanigans unfolding.
I’m dismayed that not more SNP and independence-supporting voices are speaking out against this shotgun marriage, but I’m also fairly sure that I’m not the only one feeling uneasy and queasy about it all.
Could there be more news on this soon? I’d like to think so.