Friday, May 16, 2014

The broadcast media adopts "one of the many faces of neutrality" in the referendum by continuing to fund anti-independence campaigning from the CBI

There's an episode in the first series of Blake's 7 (a BBC show, of course) in which the characters seek medical help at a "neutral" space station, and then make a number of sardonic comments about encountering "one of the many faces of neutrality" as they find themselves being shopped to the evil Terran Federation.  It seems that the claims of both the BBC and ITV to be "neutral" in the referendum campaign fall into the same category, because that nominal stance certainly hasn't precluded them from continuing to pay tens of thousands of pounds in membership fees to an explicitly anti-independence organisation. The BBC are no longer even bothering to symbolically distance themselves by temporarily suspending membership for the next few months.

Let's be absolutely clear about this - the fact that the CBI got themselves out of jail with a risible excuse and have somehow managed to deregister as an official supporter of the No campaign doesn't mean that they have been certified as "neutral".  An organisation only has to be registered if it is planning to spend more than £10,000 on campaigning between the end of this month and polling day.  The CBI's website clearly identifies the organisation as still favouring a No vote by stating : "The CBI believes that the best way to deliver jobs and prosperity for the people of Scotland is for Scotland to remain in the UK." It then goes on to campaign for a No vote with a "range of materials" that propagandise about how bleedin' awful independence would be for people in their own rarified world.

Our "neutral" broadcasters are quite openly continuing to fund that anti-independence campaigning website - in the case of the BBC to the tune of £22,191 per year. I'd like to see Angus Robertson or Nicola Sturgeon bring up that point the next time David Dimbleby reacts with self-righteous indignation to any claim that the representation of the referendum debate on television may not have been entirely even-handed thus far.

* * *

I somehow missed Simon Schama's Holland-esque contribution to the debate a few days ago in the Financial Times. Schama was of course the historian who made a TV series about the history of England for the BBC, but brazenly called it "A History of Britain". When he was pulled up about the disconnect between subject-matter and title, he loftily made clear that "his view of Irish and Scottish history is that when England wasn't involved, nothing was happening". So he's perhaps not ideally placed to persuasively wax lyrical about how the UK is just one big happy family, but he pluckily gives it a go just the same. These are my favourite bits -

"On the morning of September 19 the Scots and the rest of the British may well wake up as foreigners to each other."

Well, no they won't, because the UK government have already conceded that nobody will have their British citizenship taken away. And even if that wasn't the case, the "foreigners" thing would only apply if the UK government was planning to treat an independent Scotland differently to the Republic of Ireland, which is explicitly defined in law as "not foreign". Why would they do that, given that Scotland will (unlike Ireland) be part of the Commonwealth?

Oh, and last but not least, what's your problem with foreigners anyway, Simon? When you look out of your window in America, is "Johnny Foreigner" all that you can see staring back at you?

"Our shrunken country will henceforth be divided by borders, barriers, perhaps passports."

That'll be news to people who travel back and forth between Northern Ireland and the Republic every day without a border, barrier or passport check in sight. But even leaving the factual inaccuracy aside, Schama's melodramatic sentence still doesn't make an iota of logical sense. "Our shrunken country" presumably refers to the rest of the UK. Why would Scottish independence lead to the rest of the UK being divided, and to people needing a passport to travel between Yorkshire and Lancashire?

"Something precious, to this historian at any rate, will have been irreparably destroyed: a nation state whose glory over the centuries has been precisely that it does not correspond with some imagined romance of tribal singularity but has been made up of many peoples, languages, customs, all jumbled together within the expansive, inclusive British home."

A few cynical souls might suggest that "expansionist" is somewhat closer to the mark than "expansive". From a historical perspective, there aren't many nations in northern Europe that were more of a melting-pot than Scotland - this was the home of Britons, Picts, Gaels, Angles, Norse, and latterly Italians, South Asians, Poles and many others. We're a trilingual nation (English, Scots, Gaelic) and have countless community languages from all over the world. So your British nationalism isn't going to trump our inclusivity any time soon, Simon.

"Robert the Bruce may have been the victor of Bannockburn, destroying the English forces of Edward II; but he was also lord of the manor in Tottenham and his grandfather, the first Robert Bruce of Annandale, had been constable of Carlisle castle for Henry III."

I've rarely seen such a convincing explanation for why Scotland simply must carry on being ruled by Tory governments it didn't vote for.

"Three hundred years of shared experience, in war and peace, hard times and good, will have been thrown into the dustbin of history – and for what, exactly? So that Scots may be relieved of the bedroom tax and the Trident nuclear missile?"

Yes, heaven forbid that we start electing our own governments for such a trivial reason as the prevention of thermonuclear war.

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