Archive for category Media

The use and abuse of history in the independence debate; calling all historians to the table

A guest post from Craig Kelly today. Craig is a graduate of Dundee University and Masters student at Uppsala Universitet in Sweden. He specialises in early modern northern European history with specific interests in historical theory, environmental, parliamentary, and protestant history. Whilst in the cold hinterland of central Sweden he blogs on his experiences under the title of ‘ScotinSweden‘ and has become partial to fika.

I want to start with the words that I have always wanted either to say or hear someone else say – the Scottish Parliament, which adjourned on March 25th 1707, is hereby reconvened’

These were the words proclaimed by an elderly Winnie Ewing as she chaired the opening session of the re-established Scottish Parliament. Yet, no one would suggest splitting the parliament into an estate structure and recreating the Lords of the Articles, so how useful is this reminiscence?  

In her post last week, Ruth Davidson turned historian when she claimed that ‘despite being in this political and economic union, we have still been able to maintain our own sense of nationhood’. Ruth, are you sure that has always been the case throughout the union? Is it fair to say that at the end of the nineteenth century Scotland had a distinct notion of itself?

Not to be left out, Tom Harris got stuck into a bit of historical theory when he countered Pete Wishart’s teleological trap ‘Pete wants us all to close our eyes, click our heels together three times and imagine that he was right all along to talk about the inevitability of independence.’

These are some early examples of the use and abuse of history in the constitutional debate. They are not the first and nor will they be the last. One side will appeal to our independent identity defined by Wallace, the reformation, and the early modern parliament. Whilst the unionists will hark to our glorious shared past during empire. Neither are wholly helpful, and neither are wholly correct.

Where the politicians are right is that our history, whether we are aware of it or not, plays a substantial role in our understanding of the world. Many in the south west may instinctually be drawn to side with unionism. Is it not fair to suggest that this is a correlation with traditional Labour heartland, which in itself is covenanter territory? Hardened Presbyterianism turned Christian socialism, now strong unionism. Neither can the independence movement be separated from wider historical processes of change. As Tom Devine once argued, the growth of nationalism is in response to a union ‘not fit for purpose in the twenty-first century.’

This post is an open letter to Scottish historians. Will you stand idly by as the nation engages in the most important debate of our time? I will always remember the consensus that Dundee historians held in a panel debate, where they agreed that it was not the role of academics to get involved in the public sphere. I disagreed then and I disagree now. These people who have dedicated their lives to understanding our nation’s history are better placed than most to postulate on our future. This is not a demand for Plato’s philosopher kings, but it is a provocation to the academic community in Scotland. Jean Paul Sartre believed that philosophy was not only for the lecture hall when he accepted a role in the French government. So you, the historians of Scotland, have a meaningful contribution to make to our ongoing constitutional debate. Will you maintain your silence, discuss only in the corridors of humanities departments, and listen with aggravation as politicians butcher our history for their own ends?

As humanities departments are targeted for cuts by culturally ignorant Principles the length and breadth of Scotland, is this not the perfect opportunity to demonstrate what the study of the humanities can contribute to society?

To Julian Goodare, Tom Devine, Alan MacInnes, Fiona Watson, Christopher Whately, Alan MacDonald, Keith Brown, and the others to numerous to mention. Is it not time, to quote Charles Terry, ‘to play a fitting part in the nation’s history’?


Festival of Politics panel: review

FOP logo

Can you review an event if you are part of the panel itself?  Not sure that you can, or even if it is wise, but I guess I’m going to do it anyway.

Anyway, the European Parliament Information Office in Edinburgh co-organised an event at the Festival of Politics on Thursday (25th) entitled “Reporting Europe in the Age of New Media”.  I was invited onto the panel as co-editor of Better Nation, and sat alongside Iain Macwhirter, one of Scotland’s pre-eminent journalists, David Eyre, a news producer for BBC Alba and Udo Seiwert-Fauti, a German who works in media in the European Parliament and has keen links with Scotland, with the event chaired by Labour MEP Catherine Stihler.

I guess the idea was to talk about how reporting of what the European Parliament does has changed since the advent of 24-hour news coverage, the decline in traditional media outlets and the rise of blogging/ tweeting.  I kind of focused on the opportunities new media has presented for representatives at the European level in terms of providing a direct link to constituents, to allow easier engagement on issues and to actually get the message from Strasbourg and Brussels back to their homes – something which has been distinctly lacking in coverage from the mainstream media.  But there are also issues with the instant nature of new media – the occasional tendency to “write now and think later” which, for some representatives makes new media more trouble than it is worth.

The question and answer session which followed focused on how to use Twitter – and in particular, how to filter out the “lowest common denominator” stuff while still letting new media give you the quality that you might look for in a broadsheet; how “new media” might allow citizen “journalists” (like bloggers) to go deeper into an issue, but to provide breadth of readership, it still requires “old media” to do so; how new media might be used to engage the younger generation in politics; how Europe can feel a bit closer in reporting online; and various other topics.

Anyway, I can’t speak for the audience, but I enjoyed the session (evidence in the picture below!) and I hope it was a worthwhile session for them to attend.  Also, thanks to James Temple-Smithson of the European Parliament’s Office in Edinburgh for the invitation to participate.  If you are really interested, there should be a recording of the event available at some point soon.

PS – This is a double whammy of unusual-ness:  A “review post” that was written by Malc.  Don’t worry – normal service (a guest post) will be resumed later today!

Are politicians, even now, still too scared to stand up to Murdoch?

I’m not sure why we at Better Nation haven’t touched on the capitivating shitstorm that is going down at News International. Perhaps the issue is too big to get our little heads around, perhaps we’re already over it and just want some real news or perhaps my unbridled, unapologetic delight at the publication’s demise sits too awkwardly against my co-editors’ more compassionate concerns.

Anyway, there is nothing else really dominating the news agenda (*cough* drought in Africa?) so I’ll pick up the story with where we seem to be today – the political pressure that Rupert Murdoch may or may not allow to bother his designs for a 100% stake in BSkyB. Nick Clegg has joined Ed Miliband’s calls in requesting that Murdoch changes his mind on the deal with a hint of a parliamentary vote in the Commons later this week. One could argue that it’s a Laurel and Hardy version of a carrot and stick approach; others could say that it is the first long overdue steps to the UK political elite standing up to the tabloid media. I’m a generous soul, I’m plumping for the latter but then I’ve never been very good at seeing things in black and white.

For me, there is something very weak about a Cabinet member or leader of the Opposition requesting that a private company does not go forward with a proposed business transaction. Are they asking because it’s polite or are they asking because they don’t know how to say no?

Surely private entities should be constantly straining the limits of acceptable practise to ensure that the dog-eat-dog nature of capitalism can thrive and the UK grows as much as it can? Or have I just been watching too much Apprentice? Either way, it is for the Government to decide what is and what is not best practise, not Rupert Murdoch, so if that involves rubbing powerful people up the wrong way by doling out categorical constraints then so be it.

I would much rather Nick Clegg stated his clear intent to vote alongside the increasingly impressive Ed Miliband on this issue in the Commons vote on Wednesday and effectively message to Rupert that he can do what he likes but he won’t be getting his grubby paws on BSkyB, particularly not when so many strands of News International are facing criminal investigations. To his credit, I believe Simon Hughes did this very thing on Newsnight (or some such programme) over the weekend so the Lib Dems do look set to meet, or even surpass, expectations and remembering their voice despite being sat amongst Tory MPs.

That said, it all seems to be a bit like nibbling around the edges and if the initial reaction from politicians is that they should let business take place simply because private entities have requested it then that is very worrying indeed. And yet, in requesting Murdoch to change tack rather than promising to slap the American down, that is the message that the Deputy Prime Minister seems to be sending as far as I can see. Perhaps Nick Clegg is trying to straddle a wide fence between pro-Capitalist right wingers in the Conservative party that he is in coalition with and the regulation-friendly, anti-Murdoch lefties within the Liberal Democrats (that I would sooner identify myself with). And, hey, he is at least doing better than David Cameron on the issue, who is presumably too busy trying to find a way to save his own hide in amongst all of this to worry about piddly BSkyB.

There is something dangerously self-indulgent about this news story though. It fills the silly season hole very nicely indeed when there is little other news to discuss (*cough cough* gas prices are up 20%) and there is a risk that NoTW headlines and Rupert Murdoch pictures in newspapers will outstay their welcome. If there is any serious consideration to come out of it, other than to be disgusted at some of the operations that have taken place at the newspaper, it is that even in the immediate aftermath of such a disgrace and with public sentiment behind them, politicians still find it understandably immensely difficult to stand up to the powerful moguls that control these islands and send out a clear ‘No!’.

That needs to change, and the politicians (and public) can help by weaning itself from the tempting, titillating teat of a tabloid press, but it won’t be easy.

After all, as Tony Blair said: ‘We are the servants of The People, and we must never forget it”.

A gap in Scottish blogging

David TorranceAs Scotland prepares for the SNP to pop the question, whatever it turns out to be, the country deserves the broadest and most vibrant discussion possible about all the issues. The debate will take place in the media, in pubs and living rooms, and in the blogs and on social media (and, I almost forgot, in Parliament), but there’s currently quite a substantial gap. Specifically, there isn’t much level-headed argumentation out there for any form of the Yoonyon.

With that in mind, please welcome Mugwump, the new blog from freelance journalist David Torrance. Knowing our readership (hello all! waves fondly!) many of you won’t agree with him. But personally I think we need a debate where the best case is made by both sides. And where all the awkward questions are asked. His opening post is certainly that – are the SNP really planning to offer independence-lite, just an “ever-looser Union”? He’s tracked down some straws in the wind that suggest that might be the plan.

And don’t listen to the cynics who suggest that the two next letters in the pic to the left are R and Y. For one thing, I expect plenty of critique of the Tories. And for another, I suspect he’s actually a federalist.

Where has all the good news gone?

NewsstandIt’s been a bad week for bad news.

Ninety editorial jobs going at the Daily Record and Sunday Mail is a body blow to one of Scotland’s greatest newspaper institutions and will have struck terror into the hearts of every journalist in the land.

The scale of the losses, almost halving the editorial team and diminishing the whole staff by over a third, is breathtaking: every single one represents a human tragedy for the families involved.  No, they are not the first and won’t be the last people ever to lose their jobs but where are the alternatives?  Finding work in a diminishing media pond in Scotland will be tough.  Yet colleges and universities keep on churning out journalism and media studies graduates.  Hmm.

The attempt by the Trinity Media Group to spin this as good news is contemptuous.  Yes, there is an inevitability about the impact of advancing technology.  Online content systems reduce the need for scribblers and editors but – and I realise I’m stating the bleedin’ obvious here – they don’t seek out the news, research a good story, create a splash.  The more rationalisation in the Scottish press, the more ubiquitous and uniform copy we get as holes in pages are filled by agency releases.

I can’t help thinking – though of course I may be wide of the mark – that the Daily Record/Sunday Mail’s reduced circulation in recent years is more of an excuse rather than a cogent reason for these job losses.  The problems at Trinity Media Group are much more profound.  Bringing the largely standalone operation in Scotland under the Trinity wing and standardising it as a Trinity publication with shared content and features might make financial sense to the parent company but threatens to kill off Scotland’s national tabloid newspaper.

Charles McGhee opines eloquently about the impact of big proprietorial, often international businesses.  His article, and indeed allmediascotland’s leader on the issue, are excellent.  Others, of course, have used the bad news to have a pop, largely from their metropolitan boltholes, pointing out the many faultlines in the Scottish press environment and product.

I might even agree a little, believing firmly as I do, that the essential components of a flourishing press are to be free and fair, bold  and imaginative, not thirled to the political preferences nor personal foibles of owners and editors.

But the reasons for the decline of the national newspaper in Scotland are multifarious and complex.  For a whole host of reasons, people are buying fewer newspapers and that says as much about us, as a nation, as it does about the quality of the offering.

I will confess to reading the Daily Record/Sunday Mail only occasionally but I am a rare burd, being an avid newspapers and new magazine purchaser and reader.  I acknowledge and agree that there is a place in our world for tabloid newspapers and they have an existing and potential market and purpose.  How dull we would be if we all had the same tastes and views: newspapers should reflect and meet all the needs and interests of a population and its society.

Moreover, bloggers co-exist with media outlets and practitioners.  The media play a vital role at the heart of our communities and society, acting as the hub of a wheel that ensures information, news and comment reaches audiences.  Bloggers may like to think they are the new kids on the block, bypassing the media through modern technology to reach audiences directly but frankly that is delusionary.  The future might be social but our paltry viewing figures cannot hope to compete with the ability of mainstream media to reach mass audiences.  In fact, those that have become celebrity bloggers owe thanks to MSM professionals for their stardom:  many now have successful media careers as a result.

There is also a desperate irony behind the reason for my absence from these shores when the bad news broke.  The European Parliament office in the UK has been trying for years to interest journalists to do the visit I was on and find out more about writing news stories on Parliament business.  Few had the time or inclination to do so and often, the editorial line in the UK media, almost uniformly, is a negative one when it comes to European matters.  The Directorate-General for Communications has turned to citizen bloggers as a way of trying to influence the news agenda, neatly pointing up some of the embedded weaknesses in our current media set-up.

Ultimately, we need a vibrant, healthy media if we want a vibrant, healthy democracy.  To shine a light – as the Daily Record has done so effectively in years’ past – to expose, to praise, to promote and to defeat, to shame, to change.  If anyone doubts the power and role of the media in a free society, go check out PEN and Amnesty International.  Or just google *campaigns to free journalists*.

If ever there was a time to play a nationalist media card, this was it.  Scotland needs a diverse media mix in rude health.  It needs smaller ownership, not bigger, and more homegrown products to succeed.  More powers over all media regulation – to create an enabling framework – and full fiscal powers to create a tax regime that allows the flourishing of talent and creativity, and protects the very good products that we still have.  Two very recent examples include the Sunday Herald’s expose of the reach of organised crime gang culture into our lives and Scotland on Sunday’s partnership with Wikileaks.  As a nation, we punch above our media weight in so many ways.  But we can do more and better.

So, go on, cyber nats, do your worst.  Enough gloating about the job losses – very unedifying and immature by the way.  Don’t focus on the Daily Record’s current political slant as the source of all its ills – you’ll be wrong by the way – but put your invective to good use for once.

The thing about standing up for Scotland is that we stand up for all of it.  And it’s time to stand up for Scotland’s press.

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