Words are worthless

A Model Constitution for Scotland, Elliot BulmerI 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.

The Herald says:

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?

Update: See Kate Higgins at Burdzeyeview for a different take on this.

24 Comments

Filed under Human Rights, In The Media, Poverty, Scottish Politics

24 responses to “Words are worthless

  1. Precisely put. This is faux outrage whipped up by BT and their unionist biased MSM buddies. It could be said they are trying to divert attention away from the breaking hacking scandal. Some may even think they have good reason to divert attention away from that. Let us hope that in the interest of common law and democracy this crime is investigated and prosecuted to the fullest extent of that law. BT have form in slithering around under the barrel they scraped through a long time ago. Their every utterance has been shown to be either lies or anti Scottish propaganda. The MSM were not so keen to report on BTs funding from a man who rubs shoulders with war lords and war criminals. BT and the Unionist cabal are now suffering strokes from a rod of their own making. The law of diminishing returns.

  2. Susan MacNee

    “The Yes Scotland campaign and supporters are generally just about as good at convincing me I should vote No.”

    In what way(s), out of curiosity?

    • In no particular order:
      – The habit (in realspace) many Yes supporters have of blocking all input from the undecided majority.
      -The SNP’s naming independence day (assuming they win the referendum, which I doubt) as 1st May 2016, thus ensuring they remain in total control until independence
      -The unwillingness of most Yes supporters to criticise the SNP
      -The unwillingness of virtually all Yes supporters to acknowledge that distrusting the SNP & Alex Salmond is a valid reason for not wanting to vote Yes (since they’re perfectly happy to argue that distrusting current Westminster parties and their leaders is a valid reason to Yes, it follows that distrusting the SNP is the other way – but Yes supporters do the “please don’t look at the man behind the curtain” thing)
      -The SNP’s u-turn on the monarchy
      -The SNP’s u-turn on NATO, which strongly suggests that we cannot rely on their standing up to NATO/US government to get rid of nuclear weapons on independence.
      -The SNP’s cosiness with billionaires and hypocrisy on local government issues, claiming they want to let Scottish people make decisions for ourselves
      -The male-dominance of the SNP (and the Yes Scotland campaign launch)
      And above all and probably most important:
      – If we’re voting for independence, we should know what we’re voting for. Some process like that which created “A Claim of Right for Scotland” should have begun years ago, open to all, regardless of their views on independence. There is no positive case made for independence, beyond the purely nationalistic “i believe Scots will do better independent” without any realistic justification.

      Of course Scotland can be an economically/politically independent nation without rUK. Attempts made by “Better Together” to convince me otherwise are fuel on the Yes side. The question is: why should we be?

      • Susan MacNee

        Goodness. That’s an awful lot of cynicism to take in at once.

        I’m not sure I understand how “the unwillingness of most Yes supporters to criticise the SNP” is a point against voting for independence. Statistically most – far from all, but most – Yes supporters will be SNP voters. Why would they want to criticise their party? And what does it matter? Despite your other comments, the referendum isn’t on the SNP, it’s on independence.

        (I’ve never seen anyone say “Vote Yes because you can’t trust the London parties but you can trust the SNP”. I’ve seen people say “Vote Yes because you don’t like what the London parties are ACTUALLY DOING RIGHT NOW”, but that’s not the same thing at all)

        I’m not an SNP member, but as far I know its official policy on the monarchy has never changed.

        “If we’re voting for independence, we should know what we’re voting for. ”

        We do. We know exactly what we’re voting for. Independence. Choosing our own governments, not having them chosen for us by voters in a country ten times our size. Everything else gets decided in elections. You’re far too intelligent a person not to understand the difference between elections and a referendum.

        “The SNP’s naming independence day as 1st May 2016, thus ensuring they remain in total control until independence”

        What? I’m sorry, but as a reason not to vote Yes that’s just crazy. The SNP won an election in 2011 to a five-year term. They’ll be legitimately and democratically in power until 2016 no matter what happens. You can’t possibly be suggesting they should stand down on 20th September next year and throw Scotland into the chaos of an election campaign at the exact point when the crucial independence negotiations will be starting, can you?

        • Statistically most – far from all, but most – Yes supporters will be SNP voters.

          Yeah, sure. That’s another reason why “No” will win: because the majority of Scots are not SNP voters, and the “Yes” campaign is more-or-less the SNP campaign.

          Despite your other comments, the referendum isn’t on the SNP, it’s on independence.

          But the SNP are in charge of the independence process (if Yes wins, which is unlikely) and without any willingness on the part of Yes supporters to criticise the SNP. So “No” will win, because Yes is – aside from the Scottish Greens, who don’t have the political power – a one-party issue.

          I’ve never seen anyone say “Vote Yes because you can’t trust the London parties but you can trust the SNP”.

          That’s odd. Perhaps you just weren’t paying attention?

          We know exactly what we’re voting for. Independence. Choosing our own governments

          The UK is an independent nation, and general elections in the UK choose our own governments. No one’s yet shown me any reason outside pure nationalism – and party-political arguments pro-SNP / anti-Westminster – why I should regard UK independence & UK democracy as of less value than Scottish independence & Scottish democracy.

          What? I’m sorry, but as a reason not to vote Yes that’s just crazy.

          Thank you for sharing your views.

          You can’t possibly be suggesting they should stand down on 20th September next year and throw Scotland into the chaos of an election campaign at the exact point when the crucial independence negotiations will be starting, can you?

          Ah. So, you’re not willing to entertain the idea that we should have democratic control of the Scottish government that will be making the crucial independence negotiations – we should just have to accept that the SNP will do it all without any other input?

          There are various ways this could be done: an election in September 2014 is only one. Setting up an independent and democratically nominated cross-party Constitutional Commission now would be another. Announcing that independence day will be on September 2019 would be still another. But all of that would require the SNP to believe in the democratic will of the Scottish people…

          • Susan MacNee

            “The UK is an independent nation”

            Yes. But this isn’t the UK independence referendum, is it? It’s the Scottish one, so the people in question who’ll be getting to choose their own governments (or not) are the people of Scotland, not the UK.

            It seems obvious to many of us that the interests of Scotland are best served by a government elected by the people of Scotland, rather than the people of Essex and Kent who may have entirely different concerns and priorities. If you disagree, that’s fine. But it’s the question that’s being asked, so it seems fair to conduct debate on that basis.

            “Ah. So, you’re not willing to entertain the idea that we should have democratic control of the Scottish government that will be making the crucial independence negotiations – we should just have to accept that the SNP will do it all without any other input?”

            We do have democratic control over it. It was elected democratically in 2011 and we democratically chose to give the SNP a majority. But I believe the SNP should, and will, involve the other parties in independence negotiations. On what grounds do you assert they won’t?

            I agree that an all-party Constitutional Commission preparing for negotiations now would be a fine idea. But it’s a matter of record that the Unionist parties point-blank refuse to contemplate any sort of “pre-negotiation”. They won’t ask the EU for a definitive statement on membership. They won’t make contingency plans for Trident. They won’t co-operate in any way with anything that acknowledges the possibility they’ll lose. So the idea of them participating in your Commission seems like a pointless fantasy.

            You appear completely convinced that Yes will lose, and that therefore there’s no point in voting Yes. Leaving aside the self-fulfilling nature of that prophecy, is it really fair to describe yourself as “undecided”? Because you come across to me as anything but. You simply sound like an angry cynic who’ll vote No largely to spite the SNP. (And also yourself, because I don’t get the feeling you’d *really* prefer the Tories.)

          • It seems obvious to many of us that the interests of Scotland are best served by a government elected by the people of Scotland

            But you have to convince those of us who are undecided and some of those who were thinking they’d vote No. And it seems to me that Yes supporters are much more interested in talking to each other – and lecturing us – than listening to the rest of us.

            I agree that an all-party Constitutional Commission preparing for negotiations now would be a fine idea.

            Everyone I’ve spoken to, whatever their party, whatever their voting intentions, agrees that would be a fine idea.

            Only “Yes” voters tell me it would be a pointless fantasy. My own experience is that trying to work with “Yes” voters on the possibilities for the future of democracy in Scotland – whether independent or devolved – merely results in abuse from the Yes voters.

          • You appear completely convinced that Yes will lose, and that therefore there’s no point in voting Yes.

            Completely wrong.

            is it really fair to describe yourself as “undecided”? Because you come across to me as anything but.

            Aye, the No voters tell me they’re sure I’ll vote Yes: Yes voters tell me they’re sure I’ll vote No. Neither side is really interested in finding out why I’m undecided and – even more important – what their campaign could do to change my mind.

            They, like you, just want to lecture me on their reasons why I should vote their way. And when I disagree with their reasons, they tell me I’m lying about being undecided.

            I have no idea how I’ll vote in September 2014.

          • Susan MacNee

            “Only “Yes” voters tell me it would be a pointless fantasy.”

            But you ignore the substantive point – the Unionist side has REFUSED POINT-BLANK to participate in any such consensual, multi-party discussions, not just this year but for decades. The Constitutional Convention and Calman Commission refused to even consider independence as an option, and it was only be achieving something designed to be impossible that the SNP were able to make the referendum happen.

            I agreed with you. I wish it wasn’t a fantasy. But it demonstrably, unarguably IS, and pretending it isn’t doesn’t do anything useful for the debate.

            Nor, I have to say, does playing the poor maligned victim just because people don’t agree with you.

          • the Unionist side has REFUSED POINT-BLANK to participate in any such consensual, multi-party discussions

            Ah, you’re ignoring my point: EVERYONE I speak to about this idea – whether Yes or No or Undecided – thinks it’s a great idea. No and Undecided voters agree it would be good for everyone to get together regardless of party to talk about the future of Scottish democracy. Only Yes voters say it’s absurd to think that this can be done.

            So, who’s the roadbloack? It’s not the people saying it would be great and we should do it. It’s the Yes voters saying it can’t be done.

          • Susan MacNee

            Oh, VOTERS? I think it’d be smashing if VOTERS did it. Organise it and I’ll turn up. I don’t think it’d *achieve* anything, but I’ll certainly give it a shot in good faith and hope to be wrong.

            If you’d made that clear at the start we could have saved some time. You framed the entire thing in terms of political parties.

  3. I agree with all the points you have listed but still decided to vote yes in the referendum. You haven’t mentioned trident and the renewal, which will go ahead if we remain in uk. What are you thoughts on this?

    • What are you thoughts on this?

      Makes no difference. It would have done if the SNP could be trusted to evict nuclear weapons on the independence day they set, but as they can’t – u-turn on NATO, remember? – the likelihood is if Yes wins, SNP will accept favours from UK government to allow nukes to stay at base until whenever: and the Trident/renewal will go ahead as planned. It would certainly be worth voting Yes just to eliminate nuclear weapons from these islands, but the SNP don’t seem to have considered that important.

      • Susan MacNee

        I’m not at all convinced that IS likely. The UK government can’t really afford to renew Trident AND build a whole new base to house the missiles, even assuming they could find a viable location. I can see an agreement being made to keep them in Scotland for a few years, but not to also renew the system.

        • I can see an agreement being made to keep them in Scotland for a few years

          Yeah, me too. It’s genuinely sad: that would be a really solid reason to vote Yes, if anyone could believe the SNP would be getting nuclear weapons out of Scotland (and thus out of the UK altogether) for independence day. But nobody can, so hello New Trident. (The UK government can always find money for what it REALLY wants…)

          • Susan MacNee

            I absolutely believe the SNP will get Trident out of Scotland. It might not happen on day one, but I’ve waited over 40 years now and another four or five is no big deal to me.

            Whether that will also mean the rest of the UK dumping them is another question, but there’s considerable pressure on them to do so even now, and I think there’s a real prospect that they’ll be glad of the excuse to do it while being able to blame someone else.

            What I’m 100%, absolutely totally and utterly without a shadow of a doubt, certain of is that there is ZERO chance of getting nukes out of either Scotland or the UK if we vote No. On that issue alone, as far as I’m concerned the vote is a no-brainer.

          • It’s pointless moving nuclear weapons out of Scotland in a few years time to a new base built somewhere in England/Wales. (Well, not quite completely pointless, it’s a nice gesture, but rearranging nuclear weapons is not worth voting Yes for.)

          • Susan MacNee

            Again, you avoid the point I actually made – I believe they WILL be removed from Scotland, and I don’t think the UK will be able to re-site them when it comes to the crunch. Options for a Coulport replacement are extremely limited, never mind the expense.

            But even if they only get moved to Milford Haven, that’s not “pointless”. For one thing it takes a very densely-populated area out of the line of radioactive contamination in the event of a serious accident, and for another it puts hundreds of millions of pounds a year into the Scottish budget to spend on better things.

            Your argument is that if you can’t have 100% of something, you’ll vote for 0% rather than 60%. That’s strange to me.

          • You’re really not going to pay attention to or think about anything I say, are you? Just keep pushing your point of view. Well, that’s how the Yes campaign is losing.

          • Susan MacNee

            (For clarity, I don’t mean “Makes contamination Swansea’s problem rather than Glasgow’s.” The wider area around Milford Haven is far less populated than Western Scotland, and prevailing winds would also take contamination away from major conurbations rather than directly into.)

  4. Susan MacNee

    What a disappointingly sneery, huffy and defeatist reply.

  5. Good points from Susan and yourself but in the end we each make our own choice. I want a better society and will use my meagre, wan, wee cross on a bit of paper to choose independence and carry on working in my own way for what I believe will lead to a better life. I’ll do this anyway, independence or not. There was always a ‘NO campaign’ and there always will be, any ‘YES campaign’ I listen to comes from within. Go with your instincts, I say. Best wishes

    • For the most part, I believe that most people on all sides of this issue are motivated by just that: they want a better society for Scotland.

      I do think that given the quality of “no” and “yes” campaigning when it comes down to it – finally faced with the ballot paper – I shall have to go with what seems right to me at the time; to trust my instincts, as you say.

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