Monday, 31 October 2016

How to Lose Friends and Alienate Key Voters

You know, for all that the Independence referendum was a democratic awakening and a display of grown up politics, there were certain aspects of the debate which left a nasty taste in the mouth.  The biggest running sore being the conduct of Scotland’s largest public service broadcaster,  and the conduct of the more excitable pro-Independence supporters towards the media and specifically that public service broadcaster.  This feud saw it’s most public outpouring in a series of demonstrations outside BBC Scotland’s main offices on Pacific Quay.  Thankfully that referendum is a once in a generational thing and we don’t have to worry about scenes like that again.
A Photo-shopped billboard yesterday...


One of the more depressing sights in recent months, alongside the re-appearance of the ‘You Yes Yet’ hashtag or the more recent meme ‘putting the band back together’ has been the resurfacing of that feud.  Of course, for some people, they genuinely felt – in the face of all evidence mind – cheated out of Independence.  It was terrible media bias you see, led by the Visigoths at Pacific Quay that spread smears and lies about the case of Independence.  Not of course anything to do with the fact that the case for Independence was not as bombproof as it really needed to be, and Salmond & Sturgeon’s bluff & bluster got found out in the end.  Still, consistently bringing up media bias and the notorious Vow does act as a decent deflecting tactic from your own shortcomings, even if it does keep the illogical media bias view going.  Not that the people behind the “Mis-reporting Scotland” banners have ever thought that their position is anything other than logical.

Last week it was reported that the group “Inform Scotland” had raised £7000 from their target figure of £8500 to pay for a series of billboard advertisements to draw attention to the BBC’s… ah… ‘untruthful’ reporting of certain issues.  In attempting to defend the posters, Simon Malzer said that the poster “…is not aimed at the BBC.  It is aimed at people who unquestionably believe everything the BBC tells them”.  That answer in itself is a troubling response – that we know more than you and that you need to be forced to see the truth.  It speaks of a smug superiority that some pro-Indy supporters have (it’s the same smug superiority us lefties had in the 80’s – Thatcher might have been wining elections, but we were right in our convictions to boycott South African goods & not to read The S*n.  Hmmmm).  Malzer’s arguments are undermined with the phrase “We took our time and conducted workshops… and consulted with authorities on BBC bias like G A Ponsonby”.  The same Ponsonby, of course, that doesn’t go very far without plugging his tome on BBC bias – the conspiracy theorist that even other conspiracy theorists think is just a little ‘out there’.

It seems as if this needs to be repeated, but the case for Independence lost in 2014.  For the next referendum, when it comes, to be successful for the pro-Independence side the childish smugness needs to go.  The pro-Independence side need to reach out and talk to people who voted ‘no’, to find out why and create better arguments that will bring those people onboard.  They need to be treated as grown ups who made a decision in 2014 and convinced to change their minds whenever the next referendum will be.  What ‘Yes’ supporters shouldn’t be doing is indulging in condescending cheep stunts like this.  Many ‘no’ supporters view the SNP, and in particular a certain type of Independence supporter with suspicion.  The question that needs to be asked is will this type of talking down to Scottish voters really work?

The big irony in all of this is that the BBC’s own conduct of late has given succor to Malzer and his Inform Scotland cronies.  While I don’t agree that the BBC was deliberately biased during the referendum, there was an unintentional bias within how news stories about the referendum were constructed – all within BBC guidelines.  Guidelines that saw that each party had a say.  Individually.  This meant not one sound bite for each side but a sound bite each for the Tories, Labour and the Lib Dems (all on the pro-Union side) and one for the SNP and maybe one for the Scottish Greens.  If pro-Indy supporters wanted to see real bias at work, then a glance at the Anglocentric press would have shown then the difference between the BBC’s poor reporting and real pre-meditated bias.

Their refusal to look into their reporting of the Scottish referendum shows the same smug attitudes as Inform Scotland.  Since then, we’ve had the rise of Corbyn and Labour’s dramatic shift leftwards.  The BBC’s response to this has been disappointing as their correspondents, led by their new Chief Political Correspondent, have been disparaging towards Corbyn’s supporters and have done everything in their power to promote the so called ‘Centraist’ tendency from Labour.  It is not just Labour’s hard right politicians that have been allowed free advertising from the BBC.  There is barely a week that goes by on the BBC’s flagship political discussion show ‘Question Time’ where one of the panel is a representative of that well known English only minority party, UKIP.

This is an unpleasant situation where both sides have to take long looks at themselves in the mirror.  On the BBC’s part, their news gathering and their Scottish output still leaves a lot to be desired, and in many cases falls way behind that of their commercial rival STV in terms of both quality and programming.  The sooner that BBC Scotland stops thinking of itself as a northern outpost and more as an entity in its own right, the quicker it can look at it’s various problems.  Network BBC’s problems are a different kettle of fish, related to both Charter renewal and the sense that the Hall years have not been the best for the BBC.  On the part of pro-Independence supporters, this smacks of not learning from your mistakes.

Other than the big, policy related, mistakes the SNP leadership made, the attempt to turn the BBC into the bogeyman did not help the Independence cause.  The demonstrations against the BBC hindered the Independence cause and energy was wasted fighting against an enemy that simply was not there.  That energy would have been better expanded reaching out to potential voters rather than reacting within their own echo chamber.  Rather than make the mistake of succumbing to voices from more excitable wing of Independence supporters.  Again.

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