[Part One is here.]
Reverend Stuart Campbell, the pro-independence padre at “Wings Over Scotland,” declares that his website “spends much of its time highlighting major outbreaks of misrepresentation, spin, distortion and outright lying in the Scottish and UK media.” This is apparently not a concession, but an article of pride. The chief part of WoS’s August coverage has in fact abandoned the independence debate altogether, and WoS is lately reduced to commissioning and interpreting opinion polls – a preoccupation with public opinion which makes Tony Blair look like the Duke of Wellington.
Rather than seeking to inspire people with revolutionary change, these psephological obsessives simply want to register what the Scottish public currently think. If the Scottish public keep their opinions to themselves on independence, requiring expensive “crowd-sourced” opinion polls to winkle out such information, then this might possibly indicate that they are not particularly engaged with the topic. When WoS commissioned the first ever “crowd-sourced” poll earlier in August, the question of whether the respondents were remotely interested in the independence campaign never intruded. WoS comically assumed that the respondents would have opinions about Anas Sarwar and Michael Moore ready to be polled.
Still, to WoS’s credit, they have managed to publish at least three scoops a day at a time when the Scottish news cycles are completely impoverished. Let us glance back over some of WoS’s August headlines. The TUC deleted a single page from their website which referred to the consequences of terminating Trident (it turned out that the TUC’s position had not changed); the leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats said something mildly silly on Newsnight Scotland (WoS described this as “remarkable”); the BBC presenter James Naughtie’s views on independence were not properly disclosed in a press release (a bit hard to organise a general strike around this); the Scottish Daily Mail misrepresented the behaviour of Scottish football fans in one article; the BBC’s coverage of changes to Scottish rail fares showed evidence of bias; the price of kippers in Aberdeen was reported incorrectly in the Argyle Herald (I possibly made this one up); and all of these stories were interspersed with reports about how WoS is now the most popular political website in Scottish history.
Why does this monument to boredom attract so many readers? Precisely because it helps to fill a groaning, swollen collective belly of victimhood. The readers of WoS are reassured that they really are being discriminated against. Yes, Scottish nationalists are really important enough for the state, the media, and the establishment to deploy all of their resources against defeating them. Nevermind that the evidence of this hostility is invariably minutiae and that WoS’s intense magnification will never make it seem any bigger or more consequential.
Unable to see the wood for the tiniest twigs, WoS end up advocating a naïve, somewhat brainless approach to seizing power. Take, for example, their fuss over “project feart”: the idea that the media is full of scaremongering about post-indie borders being closed and the EU withholding membership. Of course, the Westminster government does not need to frighten people in the media when it could terrify people in real life, simply by announcing that the rUK’s border will be closed to Scotland following a Yes vote. The fact that Westminster has taken no such steps only demonstrates how relaxed they are about the forthcoming referendum. With scant understanding of tactical campaigning or realpolitik, WoS’s “project feart” line does nothing except acknowledge the underlying passivity of their opponents.
It would considerably improve the tenor of the referendum debate if Better Together just packed it in. There is little heartfelt warmth for the Union amongst the Scottish electorate, who seem to regard it as the least of two inconveniences, and Better Together has only managed to dig up a stiff and rather ghastly patriotism. Scottish politics already accommodates sufficient cross-party opposition to independence – to establish a designated campaign group with all of the associated complications of leadership and sinister funders only invites distractions from their intended message.
If there was no Better Together, WoS would have to exist for its own sake, rather than as a movement which reacts purely to its opponents’ catalogue of gaffs. Scottish nationalists would be forced to outline their own model and vision of an independent nation. And that’s rather more difficult than finding a biased turn of phrase in a BBC press release.