Dream of a better nation

For me, independence is not the goal. I’m dubious about breaking up the Union – not least, when I contemplate splitting up the valuable community property of a marriage accumulated over four centuries – but I am drawn to the idea that an independent Scotland could become a better nation than devolution would permit.

Salmond and Murdoch

Yesterday, in the first edition of the new News of the World, there was an interesting political leak: an announcement of the date for the independence referendum, Saturday 18th October 2014. Given that Salmond had already specified the date would be “autumn 2014″, the actual day/date could have been any time between Thursday 18th September (Parliament’s summer recess ends at the beginning of September) to Saturday 22nd November (end of autumn). The consultation period is not yet over, and Salmond had no business giving Rupert Murdoch a date.

Many people simply reacted with pleasure that they now knew the exact date, or with displeasure at those who were harshing their squee by criticising Alex Salmond – or Rupert Murdoch. Later that day Kenny Farquharson asked and I responded:

Kenny retweeted both of my tweets, but only the second tweet (critiquing those so against independence they can’t bring themselves to speak in praise of the SNP) got re-retweeted.

Rupert Murdoch is a dangerous man. Courting his favour says something about a politician. Says something about the Scotland that Alex Salmond intends us to end up in. Murdoch hates the BBC – the TV-licence funded infrastructure for a national broadcasting company is a strength and independence that he actually struggles to compete against.

Has Murdoch’s price for supporting Scottish independence in the Scottish Sun been Salmond’s agreement that there will be nothing like the BBC in an independent Scotland? If so, I genuinely see no point in supporting independence. Why break up the Union to create a country in which Murdoch controls politics even more than in the UK? Rupert Murdoch’s control is toxic. The notion that we should let him own Scotland’s media, that this wouldn’t be a bad bargain for “getting the Yes message out”? Why vote “Yes” if it’s “Yes to Murdoch”?

From John Nichols in The Nation:

Just as Murdoch has had far too much control over politics and politicians in Britain during periods of conservative dominance—be it under an actual Tory such as former Prime Ministers Margaret Thatcher and John Major and current Prime Minister David Cameron or under a faux Tory such as former Prime Minister Tony Blair—he has had far too much control in the States. And that control, while ideological to some extent, is focused mainly on improving the bottom line for his media properties by securing for them unfair legal and regulatory advantages.

Over the past decade, as media reform groups have battled to prevent FCC and Congressional moves to undermine controls on media consolidation, Murdoch and his lobbyists been a constant presence—pushing from the other side for the lifting of limits on the amount and types of media that one corporation can own in particular communities and nationally.

The objection was never an ideological one. Media owners, editors, reporters and commentators have a right to take the positions they like. Where the trouble comes is when they seek to turn politicians and regulators into corporate handmaidens—and when they build their empires out to such an extent they can demand obedience even from those who do not share their partisan or ideological preferences.

Alex Salmond has met with Rupert Murdoch and his News International executives 25 times between May 2007 and August 2011.

Salmond’s spokesmen did not deny that the first minister also discussed the significant political support for the SNP from the Sun and News of the World’s Scottish editions in the run up to Salmond’s landslide victory in the Holyrood elections in May. The titles are now Scotland’s highest-selling papers.

Among 25 meetings with NI and News Corp executives since June 2007, Salmond met editors and executives from the Sun, NoW, the Times, the Sunday Times and Sky, including Rebekah Brooks in 2008 when she was editor of the Sun. The frequency of those meetings increased sharply this year, before the Sun and NoW announced they were backing the SNP in March.

In January 2007, four months before Salmond became First Minister, Clive Goodman, the News of the World‘s royal editor, was jailed for four months for conspiracy to access phone messages, and it emerged in court that he had used “mobile phone numbers and secret codes used by network operators” to hack into voicemails of other newsworthy individuals: and Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months on the same charge. In July 2009 the Guardian broke the story that many NotW journalists had been involved in the widespread phone hacking of up to three thousand people. News International rejected the claims and accused Westminister’s cultural committee of “innuendo and exaggeration”. This we now know to be a lie. The full timeline of the story is here. The Leveson inquiry’s second module opens this morning – looking into the relationships between the press and police and the extent to which that has operated in the public interest.

I want to vote for independence if we can have a better country. I am not interested in voting for independence if all it means is giving business interests like Rupert Murdoch’s more control. Alex Salmond embraced Donald Trump: took a million from Brian Souter: and now he is giving Rupert Murdoch the most important leak in his plans for the independence referendum. Why vote for that?

Gerry Hassan writes in the Guardian yesterday:

The bigger problem is the progressive agenda of Scottish nationalism. This has always been more implicit than explicit, based on a rejection of centre-right UK politics and a belief in the centre-left characteristics of Scotland. It has never been fleshed out by Salmond and the SNP, and their pursuit of “big tent” politics and Murdoch’s endorsement have to bring into question what vision of Scotland drives them.

The progressive potential of Scottish nationalism, of a society championing solidarity, compassion and social justice, can no longer be left unsaid. The SNP must make it centre-stage, otherwise what is the point of independence? But how has such a politics been aided by the SNP’s pursuit of Rupert Murdoch?

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8 Comments

Filed under Elections, In The Media, Politics, Scottish Culture, Scottish Politics

8 responses to “Dream of a better nation

  1. Bob Leslie

    Given that just about every paper in the UK is in thrall to some politico-economic ideology that inevitably compromises its commitment to truth, it’s a bit disingenuous to single out Murdoch as the only “Mr Evil” around. It’s also pretty disingenuous to ignore the fact that, until the recent hacking-related toxicity, EVERY political party was courting Murdoch. Given that the Sun is now Scotland’s biggest seller, any political leader, in the Scottish context, who deliberately turned down an offer of support thereof would be well on the road to political suicide. I get a bit tired of the view that the SNP have to be the goody-goodiest party that ever there was. Sometimes, like every other party there ever was or is likely to be, you have to make a few strange alliances to further your ends or risk them never happening. Do you WANT an absolutely united anti-SNP media?
    Having said that, there’s absolutely no proof that Alex Salmond leaked this date to Murdoch and, if you read the wording closely, it doesn’t state that the date is done and dusted. There is, however, a large circumstantial objection to this being a genuine piece of SNP policy: Murdoch knows nothing of the wildly varied Scots mid-term holiday system. Alex Salmond and the SNP in general, having to run councils as well as Holyrood, are certain to know that at any given time in October, large chunks of the country will be dealing with school holidays – often by going abroad. Since the SNP have made it quite clear that they want the maximum possible turn-out for the referendum, it would hardly be likely that they would pick the date mentioned in the Sun.

    • You know what I find disingenuous?

      Indy-supporters trying to minimise how bad Alex Salmond’s courting Rupert Murdoch looks.

      Given that the Sun is now Scotland’s biggest seller, any political leader, in the Scottish context, who deliberately turned down an offer of support thereof would be well on the road to political suicide.

      If that’s the Scotland you want to live in, fine. But that is exactly the line of argument that makes me determined to vote No on 18th October 2014. Is that what you want – people voting NO to independence because why bother with a change that’ll be no change at all?

      And I doubt that I’m the only floating voter who feels that way.

      I get a bit tired of the view that the SNP have to be the goody-goodiest party that ever there was.

      Straw ,man. Alex Salmond didn’t just leak the date of the referendum to Rupert Murdoch for his grubby new News of the World, he wrote an article welcoming the Scottish Sun on Sunday. Salmond isn’t just touching the muck, he’s down there rolling in it.

      Do you WANT an absolutely united anti-SNP media?

      Do you? With Salmond kowtowing to Rupert Murdoch, whatever Salmond’s promised Murdoch, that’s exactly what you’ll get any time Murdoch feels like it. Murdoch is no supporter of a free press.

      Having said that, there’s absolutely no proof that Alex Salmond leaked this date to Murdoch

      The Scottish Sun claims the date was given to them by a ScotGov source. Either they are shamelessly lying – which would be interesting, given the explosive nature of the Leveson inquiry beginning today – or they’re telling the truth. And if they’re lying, Salmond’s silence on that is… interesting, isn’t it?

  2. Bob Leslie

    Getting rid of nukes, not participating in illegal wars, not having our troops slain disproportionately in those wars, maintaining social medicine and free education, having the power to save our fisheries, having the cushion of Scottish oil to keep the economy afloat while we transition to renewables, actually having our own seat in international organisations instead of being represented by 10% of a diplomat’s left buttock on the UK chair – that lot looks a lot like “a better nation than devolution would permit.”
    But, of course, none of that means ANYTHING because Alex Salmond may or may not be soliciting support from Murdoch so you’ll be voting the Dependence ticket. Talk about a fair-weather friend! You’re just another of those Independence dilettantes just looking for an excuse to pull back to the comfort of the BritNat fold.
    On the left-hand of the scale: Murdoch, evil in tooth and claw.
    On the right-hand, and weighing it down most considerably: all the benefits outlined above.
    Nowhere in sight: a government run by a panel of Bhodisattvas, Saints, Angelic beings from other planets, and your own personal Jesus. Get real!

    • How long will Salmond stand by any of these extremely good political positions when his friend Rupert Murdoch has decided they are unprofitable and deserve only condemnation in the NI-controlled Scottish media?

      • Bob Leslie

        Look, if Murdoch decides to support the SNP, it will be on the basis of its present policies because they are the attraction for SNP voters. There would be no point in the SNP having Blairesque neo-Tory policies because, even with Murdoch’s support, those policies have not had, and will continue not to have support in Scotland. If, post-Independence, Salmond started behaving like Murdoch’s puppet, he’d soon get thrown out for hypocrisy.

        Murdoch, in my opinion, caters far more to existing (usually) bad taste than acts as the creator of it. Fox, for example, simply takes advantage of an existing authoritarian/low education-level audience in the US. Most populations have a sizeable chunk of people who, for reasons of upbringing or circumstance, are not very bright. A recent study indicates that such people have a stronger tendency to drift into right-wing, authoritarian, even racist attitudes – http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2095549/Right-wingers-intelligent-left-wingers-says-controversial-study–conservative-politics-lead-people-racist.html

        Now if Murdoch is going to come out against such attitudes and support the SNP, then I, for one, am not going to chuck custard pies at him. Murdoch’s record is one of choosing the audience most likely to reliably make him money. Generally, that means lowest-common denominator stuff. However, it would appear – through the plummeting circulations of the BritNat press in Scotland – that more money might be gained through support for Independence. I’d say, in this case, Murdoch is starting to dance to the SNP’s tune rather than vice versa.

        In any case, it still sounds to me as if you have not seriously considered the case for Independence if you’re that worried about the ability of a newspaper to potentially turn the population of Scotland to the Dark Side when it has a circulation of around 16% of the public entitled to vote – and probably only around 10% of that 16% give any thought at all to its political agenda (let’s face it, it’s a comic!). That small percentage would probably be sufficient to tip the fine balance in favour of the SNP, but I don’t see it changing deeply-held opinions.

        You’re more interested in raging against our Australian chum than in the massive political, social and economic good that an Independent Scotland would bring. If the wee bit of push that Murdoch can supply is on offer, then I’m for taking it – he doesn’t scare me. I’d rather have Independence and the freedom to create a just society than go down with the sinking ship that is the present UK.

        I can guarantee you one thing: if Salmond and Co. were to hand over responsibility for the formation of a new Scottish National Broadcaster to Murdoch, they’d be out on their ears at the next election if the consultation/tendering process were not fair and transparent and if Impartiality and high-quality programming were not the result. Murdoch, despite the evidence of Fox (I except the Simpsons and Futurama), is actually capable of sanctioning the production of good television. I particularly enjoyed the big-budget Terry Pratchett adaptations.

        • Look, if Murdoch decides to support the SNP, it will be on the basis of its present policies

          Ho ho. If Murdoch decides to support the SNP, it will be because he thinks he can get a larger share of the media in an independent Scotland than he has at present.

          There would be no point in the SNP having Blairesque neo-Tory policies because, even with Murdoch’s support, those policies have not had, and will continue not to have support in Scotland.

          Bob, when politicians court Murdoch, it’s not because Murdoch has expressed independent altruistic support for their party’s policies and therefore they like him. It’s because Murdoch has huge and distorting power in the media, and they (a) don’t want him attacking them – though you should ask Gordon Brown and John Prescott how well that deal Blair did with Murdoch worked out for them; and

          (b) because they hope that in the dance of power, they can get Murdoch to smile in their direction and his media smile will make up for the changes in policies they do to get that smile. Because in the end – in this line of thinking – it’s not what you do, it’s what the media is saying you’re doing.

          If, post-Independence, Salmond started behaving like Murdoch’s puppet, he’d soon get thrown out for hypocrisy.

          Just like Tony Blair was thrown out for hypocrisy, you mean? Hm?

          Though here’s my main problem with that line of thinking. Politicians live for the next election (or in Salmond’s case right now, the next referendum). If you decide, oh well, Salmond dancing to Murdoch’s tune sucks but I’ll still vote the way Salmond wants me to and the election after will be the time to threaten to take away my vote – well, you’ve just rewarded Salmond for dancing with Murdoch, why would he stop under threat of future penalties? The only time to stop a politician who’s going bad is now. If you don’t want Salmond kowtowing to Murdoch, the only way to stop him is to make clear you’re going to vote against him at the next vote he cares about – which is the referendum.

          if Salmond and Co. were to hand over responsibility for the formation of a new Scottish National Broadcaster to Murdoch, they’d be out on their ears at the next election if the consultation/tendering process were not fair and transparent and if Impartiality and high-quality programming were not the result.

          Ha! And you seriously imagine Murdoch would care if Salmond and Co were thrown out at the next election, once NI had the Scottish National Broadcasting system? Of course not. Furthermore, I can see having this argument again with a future you – yeah, sure, it turned out there were problems with having NI run SNB, but the tendering process was totally fair (just like it’s totally fair how the buses stayed de-regulated for Souter to make his millions) so why penalise Salmond because Murdoch sucks?

          Nope. Now is always the only time to stop a politician. Putting it off to some random maybe future date means never.

          I haven’t ignored your points minimising the damage Murdoch could do, by the way – I’ve been following the Leveson inquiry and I think this merits a whole blogpost to itself. Would you object to my quoting you in this blog post, referencing back to this comment?

          • Bob Leslie

            Look, you’re obviously WAY more interested in Murdoch than you are in Independence. I started following your blog because of some pro-Independence hints given out. I can now see that I was mistaken and will leave you to your Murdochian obsession. Bye bye.

          • “Look, you’re obviously WAY more interested in Murdoch than you are in Independence.”

            No, Bob. You just about couldn’t be wronger.

            “I started following your blog because of some pro-Independence hints given out.”

            But now you know I’m not so fervently pro-Salmond, I’m willing to criticise him publicly, and I’m interested in independence not as a goal in itself but as a means of making a better nation, you’re just going to quit following me because that’s an unbearable set of values?

            “I can now see that I was mistaken and will leave you to your Murdochian obsession”

            Fourteen posts on independence since January. Three posts on Rupert Murdoch in the past six months. Yeah, that’s obviously a “Murdochian obsession”, Bob.

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