Bad news day when the front page becomes the story

I’m looking forward to reading Gavin Bowd’s book.  He’s right that Scotland has been reluctant to acknowledge the dalliance of fringe elements with fascism, before, during and after World War Two.  And knowing and understanding more of our social and political history is always a good thing: it explains who we are, how we got to being who we are, and where we might end up if we’re not careful.

As Bowd points out in his article for Scotland on Sunday, we’re overly fond of revelling in our left-leaning credentials, of a kailyard revisionism in establishing our reputation for open, inclusive internationalism and of working very hard to hide stains on our social psyche by effectively moving our political furniture to keep them hidden from view.  It doesn’t do us any good.  For nations, read families.  Everyone has embarrassing relatives, the sort that everyone rolls their eyes about, but when it comes to it, even they get invited to the family gatherings. Everyone might hope they’ll be a no-show but not only do they always show up, they insist on behaving in a way which cements their reputation.

Every nation has episodes and elements in its history they’d rather not own up to and it takes a certain level of maturity to acknowledge all aspects of past and present political culture.  Interestingly, Bowd alludes to the fact that Scotland had – has – far greater home-grown demons in the form of sectarianism, with only some of its sects embracing the opportunity fascism afforded.  That bit of the book will make for particularly fascinating reading, given that sectarianism is endemic still in our culture and in many communities.

And while the publication of this book might trouble the SNP in terms of being reminded of the less than fragrant opinions and actions of those associated with the nascent nationalist movement in Scotland, I for one, am more perturbed at the role played by our aristocracy. We conveniently forget that Scotland has an indigent aristocracy, which is largely unreconstructed and still has huge control and sway over land ownership and the creation and holding of wealth in this country. The SNP might have found a way to move beyond the narrow confines of ethnic nationalism (which dogged it as late as the 1980s) to become outstanding proponents of an expansive and internationalist form of civic nationalism, but there is little evidence of a similar transformation among them what continue to rule our roost.  The aristocracy’s continuing influence on everyday life – and the belief systems which inform how they conduct themselves – are definitely worthy of more poking with a sharp academic stick.

But interesting, timely and useful as this study might be, that does not excuse how it has been presented for our delectation by Scotland on Sunday’s editors.  The front page of its “The Week” supplement has created a social media storm;  there is a petition against it designed to generate multiple complaints to the press commission; remarkably, when there’s lots of interesting news this weekend on referendum-related matters, it has managed to push the quality journalism on offer from the paper down the agenda.  All anyone wants to talk about is the image and the headline. And rightly so.

This front page is a travesty and a disgrace.  It appropriates an aspirational image [update:  apparently, it is the Scotsman’s own image so it can photoshop it as much as it likes though you have got to question why it would want to diminish its genuine association with Tom Devine’s work] from a quite different historical book for nefarious purposes, suggesting that the Saltire – the cross of St Andrew which for many has legitimate faith-based connotations as much as patriotic ones – could well be replaced by the Nazi symbol.  The image created gives the impression that what is discussed in its pages is a modern-day phenomenon threatening our current political culture, rather than the content of a book which is largely historical in content.  The words on the front page mislead further.  They’re not even very good.

This is poor and shoddy editing designed to create shock and awe.  Those responsible might well consider it a job well done – everyone, after all, is talking about it, but those in the newspaper industry, after everything Leveson-related in recent times, should know better.  There is such a thing as bad publicity, with the potential to damage both reputation and circulation.  They should take heed, at the very least, that not all those complaining loudly on social media networks or signing the petition can be considered to be usual cybernat suspects.

It’s worth noting that the usual editor of the Scotland on Sunday was on holiday this week.  He might appear to have the creation and publication of weekly headlines designed simply to wind the Yes camp up in his job description these days, but this front page smacks more of stand-in editing at the last minute.  It is a bad idea poorly executed, cobbled together without thinking of the consequences.

It’s also worth noting the irony of such an offensive cover appearing in the week when Johnston Press announced significant editorial job losses at its Scottish titles.  In future, we will have fewer editors, which means fewer in conference making decisions on what and how to run with in key sections of the papers and fewer creating coherence across sections and supplements.  Fewer is likely to result in more appalling editorial decisions like this.

The Scotsman and Scotland on Sunday are already practically running on empty – if this is how editorial decisions are shaped under the threat of job losses, think how much worse it is going to be when those jobs have gone.  Such misguided decisions on how to generate operational efficiencies are not the way to create the press Scotland needs or deserves.


31 thoughts on “Bad news day when the front page becomes the story

  1. On the subject of the media, it was good to see Burdzeye at Dundee University last night, where we learned that David Torrance, the Daily Record, Dundee Courier and BBC Scotland are absolutely impartial in their coverage of the referendum debate. Indeed the dear Brian Taylor had to enquire of a questioner from the audience as to which side she felt the BBC were biased against! I almost fell off my chair laughing. Even the ex labour spin doctor Simon Pia felt embarassed enough to say that he felt there should be a nationalist leaning newspaper somewhere amongst the mix. Burdzeye (and Pia to be fair) were the only ones honest enough to pin their colours to the mast – the rest maintained that their role was to report the referendum debate impartially.
    Interestingly the audience (largely those of an academic and/or political background) were split fairly evenly amongst those who claimed to get their news from a/ newspapers and tv and b/ the internet. May God help those poor souls who take in all their news through the entirely unionist and insular Scottish tv and newspaper routes!

  2. I find the online outrage about a perfectly apt image very Daily Mail-ish. If the Scotsman really aimed to connect the modern SNP with fascism, their are plenty pictures of Aurthur Donaldson with the SNP logo in the background.

  3. I’m surprised and a wee bit disappointed that the burd has taken offence at this graphic, which can only really be condemned for being a wee bit cliched and obvious.

    When it first appeared on SoS facebook page I spent a happy hour or so reading the increasingly whacko posts from cybernats whipping themselves into a spittle-flecked frenzy of outrage.

    I didn’t for a minute think that the more lucid in the independence movement would give this a second thought or see it as important.

    Sadly I was wrong.

    This whole sorry episode tells me that independence supporters consider the saltire to be their own. This appropriation of a national flag is not unique to Scottish nationalists, the fascist nationalists of the BNP tried to do the same with the union flag.

    it is this unhealthy obsession with flags and the idea that nationalism owns the saltire which sees them imagining any distortion of the flag is a distortion of themselves.

    In short, you don’t own the saltire; an attack on the saltire isn’t an attack on you.

  4. By writing a comment I confirm I’m a fully paid-up member of the chatterati who enjoy a good debate on important topics.

    But, hawd oan a wee minute – what’s all this knicker twisting and faux fulmination about an article in a newspaper nobody reads? SoS circulation is on the slide and the last ABC figures I can find ( speak of 36,500. On the assumption that most readers choose SoS because they are reasonably well-informed, outrageous writing will be recognised as partial and sensational.

    If something similar had appeared in Sunday Mail or Sunday Post or one of the daily comics I might see the point of a petiiton to correct any error. By overreacting we tend to look foolish.

    Maybe we need to create a Scottish equivalent of ‘Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells’ – ‘Angry of Alloa’, ‘Livid of Leith’ as a lightning rod

  5. The notion of a fascist football league is an intriguing one – wouldn’t fancy facing their Disciplinary Committee.

    The flag thing is in poor taste – it’s a modern image to illustrate a historical work and I don’t think there’s much about the Ku Klux Klan in it.

  6. It seems Gavin Bowd has a supporter in the Burd.

  7. I really can’t agree with your analysis of the article. The author omits highly important aspects of the backgrounds of the Scottish fascist sympathisers in the 30s and its links with the aristocracy and the Conservative party. \instead he tries to construch a ‘nationalist family’ of SNP and BNP, two groups which are poles apart politically. There is a clear intention to construct a link between modern Scottish nationalism and British nationalism/fascism. The latter is entirely connected to the no side of the debate and is a constant source of embarassment to Better Together, who try to ignore their existence. This reeks of desperation in the unionist camp.

  8. I was immediately enraged when I saw the image, not because of a Nationalist stance but that it took the national flag and defiled it, they wouldn’t have done the same to the Union flag. This is not just about Scotland but as there are other countries who also have this as their flag, would they too be disgusted at such an implication, not for themselves but for the way others apparently see their country.
    Scotland is a welcoming society, it may not seem as such the farther south one travels but here in Strathblane, everyone receives a greeting, stranger, tourist or townsfolk but do we want people to see the Scottish flag defaced, the Scotsman may own the image but they don’t own the Saltire.
    See what happens in America if some foreign nation burns their flag, try burning a Union Jack or defacing it and see what happens, you wont get lots of tweets, you’ll get a lot worse but Scots are not known for their massed violence, we will protest loudly and hope someone will pay for it and as for the Scotsman that could result in the end of an era!!

  9. I was trying to avoid going down this path but I’ve had to make the same point on FaceBook so here goes…

    This whole episode has to be seen in the context of the new business models which have emerged from digital and social media. Despite engaging online, most of us still think of newspapers as hard copy and especially so when thinking about the commercial strategies behind content.

    The truth is that that if SoS depended on hard copy sales it would have been out of business long ago. There is a reason why SoS is not behind a paid firewall and that is because the advertising revenues that can be driven from inbound traffic to the site outweighs the revenue that would be accrued from subscriptions.

    Everything SoS does therefore is designed to generate traffic to its site because the number of visits to a site is how advertisers will pay for their space (either directly or indirectly). So, forget about the impact on hard copy circulation. If anyone shares the article, they are increasing its reach, the number of potential visitors, the number of potential ‘click throughs’ to advertiser’s sites and therefore the commercial value of the article / publication.

    Whether you agree with the content or not, and whatever your motivation for doing so, if you share this article you are increasing the value of SoS to the advertising market which Johnston Press has obviously targeted as its main source of income.

    You have to applaud them for so effectively commandeering their opponents into adding value to their business.

  10. to some extent I agree with Andrew Smith. This was clearly intended to touch a nerve, and we ought not to show that the nerves have been touched. There will lots of these prods in the next few months, deliberately intented to create an incontinent, angry reaction – never a good place from which to argue. I don’t invest my hopes for Scotland’s future in the Saltire, though I do appreciate it is an effective rallying image. Not really a fan of flag-waving, but I am a fan of representative democracy and THAT’s the ultimate prize.
    The Scottish broadsheets, whose jackets are on shakier and shakier pegs (as are those of the Scottish news department of the BBC), are obviously being driven like cattle to place shrill provocative articles at every opportunity.

  11. Its simple really – as Alfred Hamsworth said – “When a dog bites a man, that is not news, because it happens so often. But if a man bites a dog, that is news”

    A book about the past and dalliance with facisim in Scotland – while of academic interest probably has no bearings on the party today or indeed how nationalism is expressed. But that is not going to sell. These books rarely do, (and I have read a few from Nazi sympathisers in the republic of Ireland, IBM computers built on spec for the Nazi pogroms and the world banks willingly doing business with the Nazis right up to the end of the war. All shocking but compelling reading, but all vanish without comment)
    But this publication in taken in context of an Independence referendum, the Scotsman decided to portray a very Nazi image with the saltire perverted into a swastika, purely to follow the advice of Hamsworth, but also to infer rather clumsily that there is more than old history here, but something to fear about nationalism – even if the book doesn’t even state that. The Scotsman is well known for its opposition to independence, sometimes taking it to surreal levels.

    The problem for them is that people aren’t stupid. They’ll read it, they may even read the book. they’ll watch the SNP and think to themselves “What are these people blathering about, Salmond isn’t a Nazi – he might look like he ate all the pies, but he’s not a Nazi”. They’ll then pay more attention to the Scotsman & Bettertogether and realise that is these who are spouting nonsense and behaving like demagogues, not the SNP.

    They may pat themselves on the back for this one and think they are; to use another well known phrase, wagging the dog, but in reality they have may very have just grabbed a tiger by the tail instead.

    • Absolutely spot on. It says much more about the state of Scotsman publications than it does about modern Scottish nationalism. And i feel very sorry for the very good people who all have to work there constantly under threat of job cuts and losing their own livelihoods and who are being badly led by editorial decisions like this. Which just make their jobs harder. It’s a vicious spiral into oblivion.

  12. I have never denied there is a history of Fascism in Scotland, but I do find it offensive that they change the Saltire into a Swastika. I also believe Scots to be a more welcoming society unlike that of our cousin south of the border.

  13. It is so depressing seeing the reaction to this. All the more so because it is so utterly predictable.

    Anytime a newspaper ‘leaks’ anything the day before publication is a sure sign it is trying to boost sales the following day. Why do those who hate the publication so much dragoon themselves into its online marketing department with such messianic gusto?

    Personally, I thought the imagery was cheap but the feature article, while slanted to suit the author’s point of view, was based in simple and well-known fact for the most part.

    The publication itself will have done nothing to damage the SNP or the cause of Independence. The reaction may well be suggesting to some people that there is something to hide.

    Once again I ask myself where the leadership from the SNP and Yes Scotland is. We are continually fed the myth about their mastery of social media, and while you can’t and shouldn’t try to control everybody that has access to a keyboard, there should be direction from someone ‘in authority’ to guide those posting on behalf of branches and groups.

    We all knew that the Referendum would bring increased scrutiny, whether sincere or scurrilous, and we have to learn to live with it. Ultimately, we will be known by our deeds and actions not what others say or insinuate about us.

    • the point of social media is that it is hard to own, it creates its own echo chambers and would surely actually be more damaging for “names” and the party and movement to get officially involved? At least, we have fewer official cheerleaders these days after a few folk clearly got brought into line….

      Normally I tend to let this kind of stuff wash over me. It’s the battle du jour which matters not a jot other than wasting a lot of time and energy. But I think the Week front page is about the wider demise of decent journalism. If folk are panicked into acting with threat of job cuts, they don’t do their best work. Someone somewhere clearly thought this was a bright idea – or they had no time or resources to create a proper front page for it. Hence this. It doesn’t augur well.

      And you are right, there is worse, much worse to come, from the tabloids and rightwing tabloids in particular

  14. The conservative party in the 1930s was full of Nazis supporters and in Perthshire they deselected their MP who was was campaigning against support for Hitler in her party.

  15. I find it quite fascinating and the defensiveness of journalists and their supporters is amazing. If the picture was not intended to wind people up it was a mistake of epic proportions. If it was intended to do that, it is still a mistake.

    It makes no sense to me that newspapers – who are in what appears to be terminal decline -should adopt this shock and awe tactic,whether it is around the independence referendum or any other issue. I can’t imagine what kind of a business plan would advocate shocking and offending people as a means to attract more readers. It can only have the opposite effect.

  16. @andrew The editorial team have turned a Saltire into a Swastika, retaining the blue and white of the Scottish national flag. What clearer, more graphic association – or equation – between these two groups could they have made? The picture says: Scottish Nationalism = Nazism. It’s shameless as it is nasty as it is inflammatory. And while you might waive it off as mere editorialising, this is supposed to be a serious newspaper, where serious issues are debated in public – in this case, issues that affect our future. This photoshop rabble-rousing may be accepted practice in the blogoshere, in the usual online haunts whereextremists and crackpots let off steam – but a national newspaper? If this is the level of debate that the Scotsman are aiming at, we’ve lost something fundamental here. This forum for debate has become a playground of hate.

  17. With all due respect to the previous commenter I must say that to take our flag and emblazon it with a swastika makes me very angry indeed.

    Imagine the public outcry if a Union Jack was treated the same way and printed as a supplement in the Daily Mail? No, we are Scottish and we just have to suck it up, is that the case? Wrong.

    Shame on them.

    Kindest regards,

    David Milligan – a very Sovereign Scot.

  18. Andrew, the article accompanying this disgusting image makes a deliberate slur against the SNP, labelling them fascist and racist:

    “Today, the ruling party of Scotland has nationalism as its creed and is suspiciously coy about its own history. Elsewhere in the nationalist family, the BNP, before it plunged into fratricidal warfare, trounced the Far Left in recent Scottish elections and, in 2010, received a respectable 1,000 votes in Alex Salmond’s stamping ground of Banff and Buchan. To this should be added growing sympathy for the agenda of Ukip. The Scottish electorate now appears more receptive to radical nationalism than Mosley’s blackshirts could ever dream of. With fears of globalisation and mass immigration on the rise, and the political “old gang” unpopular, there might still be living space in Scotland for the “Brown Beast”.”

    • No it doesn’t. It says that there were fascists or fascist sympathisers in the founding members/supporters of an SNP. Which is true. It also suggests current SNP keeps all this very quiet. Which is also true. but then all parties have episodes they want hidden from view. Labour used to fund youth members to go on study trips to Soviet Union…

      • Can you name these fascists, or fascist sympathisers who set up the SNP? By fascists I mean Oswald Mosley type characters, as well as Mussolini and Hitler. What evidence do you have for this serious allegation? I have read about the founding of the SNP, and cannot recall any mention of fascists? Also, I do not mean people who have made naive or silly statements at a certain time, but who had consciously rejected democracy and the constituional process.

  19. Well written, as ever, but I can’t share your outrage. This reminds me a lot of that whole ‘Skintland’ episode last year. It’s a front page article about fascism in the Scots nationalist movement and albeit is a cliched picture, but as a Scot I don’t feel offended.

    At no point does the illustration (or what I’ve skim read of the article) equeate modern Scots nationalism with Nazis. In fact the text beneath the image says ‘the dark history of how fascism exploited the cause of nationalism in Scotland’ and implicit within that is the obvious point that the nationalist movement is not fascist (being pedantic it should say ‘tried to exploit the cause of nationalism in Scotland’)

    The other reason i’m not offended is because it’s just a doctored photograph. There will be a lot of this stuff in the build up to the referendum, and I want ‘our side’ to be confident enough in our arguments and our cause to not find ourselves getting collectively angry every time a smart-alec journalist has a go at us (even though in this case they’re not actually).

    So if we accept the illustration isn’t meant to be illustrative of modern Scottish nationalism then what is it there for? This is simple, it’s so that people talk about it and then buy the newspaper. They’ve obviously done the sum in their heads and realised that they’ll sell more papers or attract more readers as a result of having this front page than not. This may well be a mistake, but the logic is simple and the fact there is already a petition suggests that the old mantra of ‘no publicity is bad publicity’ is still alive and well.

    • The image above, by Scotland on Sunday, is a bastardised image of a photograph by Ian Rutherford for a book by Professor Tom Devine.

      That book is specifically about Scottish nationalism. I do hope they have infringed copy write here, they deserve to be dragged in to court.

      I do not accept your premise. What else is it meant to represent, Japanese whaling? Stop trying to hide behind the article. Interesting it has now been taken down. a wee bit to late to stave of the offence and possible litigation it has caused,

      There will be some such as you who will try and trivialise this in an effort to bury it, such as Torrance on Twitter and other rabid unionist apparatchiks.

      However had an independence supporter abused the Union flag or Jack in such a way it would be different, the howling would be heard all over the world.

      My father and many others fathers, daughter and sons, sacrificed their lives and health to defeating the bearers of the Swastika. Scotland’s contribution to that fight was out of proportion to our size. This glib trivialising of that by abusing our flag and our country has caused huge offence, and continues to do so. Each time we are insulted this way, it is grist to the mill of Scottish Independence, the harder you knock us the stronger we become. Scotland’s Independence is inevitable.

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