I have a talent for putting words together effectively and clearly. This talent has been honed by many years of work. I enjoy doing it. And I’m fortunate enough that I have for many years been able to earn my living by doing it, though almost invariably when I’m paid to write my name did not go on my writing – it belongs to my employer: it’s been a rule of thumb for most of my working life that I can either get credited or get money, rarely both.
I regard this as unfortunate, not as a moral value. I like getting paid for doing work, and I like getting the credit for doing good work. I have argued in this blog multiple times for multiple reasons that people have a right to get paid. It doesn’t matter how much you enjoy your work, or how good you are at it: if someone else intends to profit from your work, you have a right to get paid for it.
Article 23.3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights:
Everyone who works has the right to just and favourable remuneration ensuring for himself and his family an existence worthy of human dignity, and supplemented, if necessary, by other means of social protection.
Elliot Bulmer’s article in the Herald, A Scottish Constitution to serve the common weal, represents his views on the Scottish Constitution and on independence: views he has expressed multiple times and in many ways. I can confirm that personally and others have also done so, including James Mackenzie of Better Nation. In short, as anyone familiar with Bulmer’s work can confirm, that he received a fee for writing it made no difference to the views he expressed.
The article is 1200 words of clear prose to a professional standard. It’s a job of work, and a good job well done. It sets out Elliot Bulmer’s sincere and informed views on a constitution for Scotland, an issue on which he is well-qualified to write and which is of importance to a vital, current, political debate.
I should note that while I support the idea of a Scottish Constitution, I don’t know Bulmer personally: we’ve encountered online, and I disagree with him strongly on several issues. I consider the hacking scandal at Yes Scotland offices much more important than a fee for an article, but as police are still investigating, we don’t yet have all the facts.
It is The Herald’s policy not to pay for such articles and we adhered to our policy on this occasion.
Yes Scotland confirmed: Elliot Bulmer believed that he deserved to be paid for writing a 1200-word article. The Herald wouldn’t pay him – their policy is that people should provide that kind of contribution to their paper, and their website, for free. So Yes Scotland paid Bulmer a £100 fee for writing a 1200-word article.
So why isn’t it the Herald’s policy to pay writers?
Primarily, I imagine, because writers want an audience. I like to be paid for doing the work of writing, but businesses from vanity publishing upwards make their profits from writers by knowing that once we’ve put the words together, we usually want them read. Blogs took off because anyone can start one: most blogs stay small because while most people assume they can write, most people then discover that writing well is hard work – and why do the work if you’re neither getting paid nor getting much of an audience?
Writers who are interested in politics/current events are in even more of a bind: you can write a novel about Middle Earth or Elizabeth and Darcy and it will still be worth reading five decades or two centuries later, but a few hundred words about the current issues in politics is unlikely to interest most people once the moment has passed.
So the Herald doesn’t have to pay writers who are contributing their sincerely held views on matters of consuming political importance, because we want to write, we want to be read, we want an audience. Enough writers want this enough that the Herald knows it doesn’t have to pay. Dress it up in moral values of “we don’t pay because we want your views pure“: because money tarnishes – it adds up to: you can write for a living, or you can write about the independence referendum: and if you do so, your words are to be regarded as literally worthless.
(The spectacle of professional journalists all spitting fire at the horror of the idea that a writer should want to be paid has not been amusing.)
I wrote last year, at the beginning of a series of posts in support of a Scottish Constitution:
I don’t know how I’m going to vote in autumn 2014. And so far, neither campaign has impressed me.
It’s paradoxical, without being funny at all: The Better Together campaign and supporters – especially Labour, Conservative, and LibDem politicians at Westminster – are absolutely brilliant at convincing me I should vote Yes. The Yes Scotland campaign and supporters are generally just about as good at convincing me I should vote No. This present spewing of bile by Better Together on the notion that writers get paid for writing made me briefly think of committing to a Yes vote, but, I did cool down and remember what I have been reminding myself every time either campaign does something appalling:
- Deciding whether Scotland should be independent is a huge issue
- I will not make up my mind how to vote based on the spew and bile of political campaigns and parties.
The Herald will from now on make clear if any article was sourced by them from a political campaign. But they appear to have no intention of changing their policy that writers who can produce a good article on the independence referendum should expect to do so unpaid.
You can say, of course, and people will, that this is the chance to contribute your thoughts and ideas to a debate where the majority of Scots say they feel uninformed. That’s true, but that isn’t going to pay the bills at the end of the month.
And now pundits on both sides can go back to complaining that there’s a dearth of positive, informed debate being published on the independence referendum. Goodness, why would that be?