Anyone watching Channel 4’s recent Dispatches, usually a forum for investigative journalists heading out to uncover dodgy dealings or abusers of the vulnerable and weak, may have been dismayed on tuning in last week to see it entitled The Great British Break-Up. The dry territory of politics seldom offers anything worthy of juicy gossip columns unless it involves floating duck mansions or John Prescott’s late nights in the office.
I actually came across the programme post-broadcast while looking up information on my alma mater, the University of Dundee. A little over two years ago I had flagged up to me something which was on the horizon at my former home of study – their Five Million Questions project. The reason for its being highlighted to me was that in charge of the steering committee would be Professor Christopher Whatley, former head of the institution’s (outstanding) History department, and an academic well known for his pro-Union stance on Scotland’s past. Concerns were expressed at the time to me by a member of university staff querying whether this project was being run with the best sense of academic impartiality. I will make clear at this juncture – I am indeed biased; the History department at Dundee stands second to none.
Full circle to Dispatches and the University of Dundee’s Professor Whatley forms a main segment as an individual who has been threatened into silence by SNP Minister Shona Robison, MSP for Dundee East. Her intervention came following Professor Whatley’s chairing of an official No campaign event in the city.
For those who did not watch The Great British Break-Up , it featured a heady mix of political intrigue and subterfuge – that was, at least, the intent.
According to programme editors not only did the SNP Minister for Sport lean heavily on an impartial academic, but SNP Westminster leader Angus Robertson also attempted to ‘neuter’ the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) from taking a public stance. John Swinney, Scotland’s SNP Finance Secretary, was also identified as the man apparently in charge of a number of companies, and unnamed business figures contacted by Channel 4 also noted they have been contacted by SNP Ministers, who must be lurking in the cupboards of boardrooms and CEO’s offices across the land. Maureen Watt in addition caused quite the stooshie by noting Scottish Fisheries Federation (SFF) Chair Bertie Armstrong was on a “sticky wicket” in the heat of a parliamentary debate after he and the First Minister had a public tet-a-tet over EU policy. Not discounting the potential for intemperate language to be thrown around in a legislative Chamber – has anyone watched the House of Commons since television cameras were allowed in…? – what light does this shed on the referendum campaign in Scotland, asked Channel 4?
Put simply, however, these claims are far from so clear cut. Professor Whatley is charged with overseeing the impartial Five Million Questions, and in addition convenes an official No campaign event in Dundee – one suspects Ms Robison won’t have been on her own in raising an eyebrow. Angus Robertson MP is accused of attempting to silence the SWA in the referendum campaign by its former Chief Executive – something since flatly contradicted by the current inhabitant of the role, David Frost. John Swinney oversteps his remit and orders public bodies to resign from the CBI in an effort to score a political point – except this is precisely the point; these are public bodies, and as the Minister responsible, Mr Swinney is alerting them to their own operational obligations to remain independent from the political process. Not to do so would be negligent. SFF Chair Bertie Armstrong is sent a stinging written rebuke by the First Minister – indicative of a government silencing its critics on policy – except perhaps if Alex Salmond hadn’t been MP and MSP for Scotland’s lifeblood fishing communities for over 20 years – and notably has been returned with stompingly greater majorities each time – then his knowledge of EU fisheries policy and the needs of our maritime towns and villages could be questioned.
The response of elements of Scotland’s media to the claims outlined – particularly those which raised challenging questions of current Scottish Government Ministers – is at the heart of the other side of the Dispatches programme – and for me, the very argument which fuels the drive for full autonomy for Scotland.
Reference was made to the the UK Government having access to a monumentally vast pool of resources which it can call on to, in effect, ‘neuter’ those advocating an independent Scotland. Far from faint-hearted is the believer that Scotland ought to regain control of its own affairs, dissembling the current UK nation-state.
To the undecided voters – think about this – if you were in charge of the UK, an area made up of constituent parts now operating under various stages of devolved government and with an unpopular central administration in London – what would you do and say to stop Scottish independence happening? What lengths would you go to if your population was ten times that of your difficult northern neighbour, with its popular second-term government still trouncing your parties in the polls, and driving an agenda of grass roots social change whilst you were drawn into boorish pub rhetoric by the fringes of your political scene?
If you had ten times the size of Scotland’s army of civil servants and a heaving bureaucracy ready to put the boot in – would you sit back and or call every one of your friends to make sure that you didn’t lose?
David Cameron and the UK Government will not want to be the ones who let Scotland go on their watch – not a chance. The world is watching and whilst UK television audiences are introduced to the referendum via hastily thrown together documentaries on the ‘nasty’ campaign, the reality on the ground couldn’t be more different – certainly from the Yes side.
Yes campaigners want only to articulate why Scotland would be in a better position if independent. Not in their interest is an independent Scotland become a laughing stock. Which is why the suggestion of Dark Arts and manipulation are so ludicrous. Ask yourself this – what would be the point of a Scottish Government silencing legitimate concerns about the future – in an attempt to draw a veil over the country becoming a basket case if independent? It would be futile and an epic pyrrhic farce.
Years of London sucking in all of the UK’s wealth have left Scots – and other regions of the UK – asking why we continue to have postcodes in the country where life expectancy is on a par with some of the poorest and most war-torn countries in the world – whilst vast natural and industrial resources sit at our fingertips.
For 18 September the intellectual battle has been won for Yes. Let’s now get out there and remind everyone exactly why that’s the case.
Jimmy Halliday’s contributions to the Cause
Jimmy Halliday – lifetime Nationalist
To put matters into context, in 1955 the SNP contested only two Parliamentary seats in Scotland. Dr Robert McIntyre fought Perth and East Perthshire and Jimmy Halliday fought Stirling and Falkirk Burghs. Jimmy then became the youngest ever SNP Chairman and served 1956-70; in 1956 the entire SNP Conference delegates were photographed on the steps of the Allan Water Hotel, Bridge of Allan.
There will be a Referendum for Scottish Independence this year, which was unthinkable in the dark days of 1955. Jimmy died on 3rd January 2013 at the age of 85, and we will be publishing all his articles in the Scots Independent, all those we have electronic input for. It is anticipated we will publish a book with all his contributions over many years but this will have to wait until after the Referendum.
Unrelenting hostility of all Britain’s media
To English eyes, Mr Clegg’s inclusion looked so jolly just and fair.
We always hope that we can heed lessons taught us by our mistakes and that we will always learn from experience no matter how unpleasant. We like at all times to be capable of self criticism. In the past, as elections have come and gone, we have generally maintained these qualities.
But the General Election, now mercifully a thing of the past, provides us with few positive lessons to be learned and no obvious blunders to be corrected. Self criticism hardly arises. Our failures sprang from no defects of our own but were the outcome of either ruthless determination or quite incredible stupidity on the part of the controllers of British television channels. Between them these three skewed, distorted and rendered farcical an election which for the first tedious and witless fortnight of the campaign seemed destined to be the most boring contest in electoral living memory.
Then commitment to political education was swept away as the channels adopted their preferred identity as branches of show biz. Wouldn’t it be fun to stick England’s party leaders in front of TV cameras, allowing viewers to imagine themselves free to throw nasty things at them? Call the show “Prime Ministerial Debates”, and have all three of OUR parties’ leaders exposed each to the gibes and attempted traps of the other two. of course no one seriously imagined that Mr Clegg had the proverbial snowball’s chance but to English eyes it looked so jolly just and fair even though his presence was just for the sake of appearances.
None of the organisers, we must assume, saw the possibility of complaint from Scotland, but at any rate there would be no complaint from anyone whose opinion they valued. Mr Salmond would not, could not, be Prime Minister. Right? Well, what makes you think he was relevant to the show? No one from the Labour, Liberal or Tory parties in Scotland is complaining. You are just proving yourselves poor sports, just a bunch of whingers. We have been far too reluctant to acknowledge that we are the target for the unrelenting hostility of all Britain’s media. A few individual journalists interject protests and correctives, but far more happily serve their owners’ whims and prejudices. The fact that the SNP has no Press support must now be faced squarely and some tactic must be devised if we are to have any better prospects in future.
These biased scoundrels did not feel in the slightest degree guilty that the elevation of Mr Clegg to parity with big parties, not only gave Mr Clegg the simpering affection of millions who had never heard of him but it also gave to every Liberal candidate a puff of stardust. SNP candidates might fairly assume that their Liberal opponent, in all constituencies except those where they had become a bad habit, would poll 1500 or so. Post-Clegg each of these glowworms stood to poll maybe 4000. By the time TV had done its worst, voters had little reason to remember the SNP, a factor, probably, in Ochil and other places. Our failures occasioned joyful Labour hysterical swaggering. When a Nationalist candidate once victorious, loses next time round, Labour joy is comparable to Heaven’s joy over a sinner that repenteth.