20September2014

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‘Dark Omens’ And ‘Horror Shows’: Scottish Independence, Power And Propaganda

Established power hates uncertainty, especially any threat to its grip on the political, economic and financial levers that control society. And so it is with elite fears that the United Kingdom, formed by the 1707 Acts of Union, could be on the verge of unravelling.

No informed commentator doubts that elite interests will do all they can to maintain hegemony in an independent Scotland, should that historic shift occur following the referendum of September 18. But if it does happen, there will likely be significant consequences for the Trident nuclear missile system, the future of the NHS and the welfare state, education, climate policy, energy generation and other industry sectors, the media and many additional issues; not just in Scotland, but beyond, including Nato and the European Union. There is clearly a lot at stake and established power is concerned.

Just over a week ago, to the consternation of Westminster elites and their cheerleaders in media circles, a YouGov opinion poll showed that the 'Yes' vote (51%) had edged ahead of 'No' (49%) for the first time in the campaign, having at one point trailed by 22%. The Observer noted 'signs of panic and recrimination among unionist ranks', adding that 'the no campaign is desperately searching for ways to seize back the initiative'. The panic was marked by 'intensive cross-party talks' and underpinned George Osborne's announcement on the BBC Andrew Marr show on September 7 that 'a plan of action to give more powers to Scotland' in the event of a No vote would be detailed in the coming days.

Confusion reigned in the Unionist camp, and in media reporting of their befuddlement. According to the rules governing the referendum, the UK and Scottish governments are forbidden from publishing anything which might affect the outcome during the so-called 'purdah period' of 28 days leading up to September 18. So, how to reconcile the opportunistic 'promise' during purdah to grant Scotland new powers following a 'No' vote? BBC News dutifully reported the government sleight-of-hand that:

'the offer would come from the pro-Union parties, not the government itself.'

Voters, then, were supposed to swallow the fiction that the announcement came, not from the UK government represented by Chancellor George Osborne, but from the pro-Union parties represented by senior Tory minister George Osborne!

However, Alastair Darling, leader of the pro-Union 'Better Together' campaign, told Sky News that all new powers for Scotland had already been placed on the table before the purdah period. What had been announced was 'merely... a timetable for when the Scottish Parliament could expect to be given the limited powers already forthcoming.'

Thus, an announcement setting out a timetable for enhanced powers was completely above board and not at all designed to influence the very close vote on independence. This was establishment sophistry and a deeply cynical manipulation of the voters.

Media manipulation was exposed in stark form when Nick Robinson, the BBC's political editor, was rumbled by viewers able to compare his highly selective editing of an Alex Salmond press conference last Thursday with what had actually transpired. Robinson had asked Salmond a two-part question about supposedly solid claims made by company bosses and bankers -  'men who are responsible for billions of pounds of profits' - that independence would damage the Scottish economy. Not only did the full version of the encounter demonstrate that Salmond responded comprehensively, but he turned the tables on Robinson by calling into question the BBC's role as an 'impartial' public broadcaster. The self-serving report that was broadcast that night by Robinson on BBC News at Ten did not reflect the encounter which the political editor summed up misleadingly as:

'He didn't answer, but he did attack the reporting.' 

The distorted BBC News reporting was picked up on social media and no doubt encapsulated what many viewers and listeners, particularly in Scotland, have been observing for months, if not years. One reader wrote an excellent email to us in which he said:

'Honestly, this is just ONE example of pathetic bias which more and more Scots are seeing through. I've long been a follower of your site, and I make a point of reading each and every alert. This is the first time I've taken to contacting you, and as I said, I imagine lots of others will be doing just that on the same subject.

'I've seen so much media bias with BBC Scotland since the turn of the year, but it's now getting to laughable proportions. And now that we have the entire London press-mafia crawling all over it too, it's daily headline news - all doom and gloom about how Scotland will fail, Scotland will be bankrupt, there's no more oil left, jobs will go, etc etc. It's been diabolical.'

The BBC's dismissive response to the public complaints about Robinson's skewed report concluded with the usual worn-out boilerplate text:

'the overall report [was] balanced and impartial, in line with our editorial guidelines.'

It is not only the bias in BBC News reporting that has alienated so many people, but the way the public broadcaster fails to adequately address public complaints - on any number of issues.

Read more: ‘Dark Omens’ And ‘Horror Shows’: Scottish Independence, Power And Propaganda

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