It is a truth universally acknowledged that the UK and Scottish media is mainly hostile towards the SNP. But that hasn’t stopped the SNP. The media doesn’t decide who wins elections in Scotland, the people do.
Since the SNP won power the media environment in Scotland has become marginally more favourable. But at the same time distrust of the media from SNP and Yes supporters has grown stronger.
There are some who think the answer to media bias is for the SNP to simply disengage from the MSM. They should consider what the consequence would be. It wouldn’t end the phenomenon known as #SNPBad. Rather, it would mean there was nothing but #SNPBad as our point of view wouldn’t be heard at all. I can’t see how that would be an improvement.
And sometimes I find myself reading a story described as #SNPBad and thinking hold on a minute, there’s a valid point here. The job of any government will never be complete, there will always be problems that need fixed and it’s perfectly legitimate for journalists to highlight them.
Many journalists see their job as holding the powerful to account and the SNP is in power. But the fact that we’re in power in a UK context makes it a wee bit tricky. We’re both in power and not in power, in control yet not in control. It’s more layered and complex than many journalists acknowledge and, perhaps unsurprisingly, lines become blurred and readers become enraged instead of engaged.
We do need to recognise the media is not a single entity. There are good journalists and bad journalists. There are a few who are essentially professional trolls. And there are many journalists who write stories which are good for the SNP and also write stories which are bad for the SNP. That’s just the nature of journalism.
None of this means I don’t understand and share the frustration of people infuriated by sloppy, one-dimensional inaccurate stories about the SNP or Scottish Government in the media. I do.
We should always highlight falsehoods and make sure as many people as possible are made aware of them. And we should also do as much as we can to support new Scottish media.
But I still think SNP supporters can ascribe to the MSM a power it doesn’t have. We are not victims. We are in government and we should have more confidence in ourselves.
Equally, I think Scottish journalists and editors ought to reflect on the fact that a large chunk of the population feels marginalised and alienated from a media which should encompass the diversity of opinion in Scotland. That is not healthy or sustainable.
A degree of scepticism from readers is healthy, however, and should be encouraged. I’d like to see all of us apply the same healthy scepticism we bring to our own media to all media. If you believe the BBC is institutionally programmed to promote the interests of the British Establishment – as I do – then that is even more true of broadcasters like RT. Let’s apply the same critical analysis to their output.
The current debate around fake news, social media and tribal epistemology (which describes the situation where the perceived truth or falseness of a statement depends entirely on who is making it) is not only pertinent for journalists and commentators, it’s very pertinent for us too. I believe that understanding the danger of this phenomenon is crucial for the Yes movement as we gear up to make a renewed case for independence.
Many people in Scotland still feel that the world has gone a bit bonkers and that it’s difficult to know who and what to believe. That condition applies to people who voted Yes and No alike. They are nervous about the future.
In my view that makes it even more vital that the case for independence is made in a rational, calm and evidence-based way. We need to persuade undecided voters – to earn their trust, not scare them away. Rather than absorbing a tribal approach to politics we need to recognise tribalism is our enemy.
I think that means we need to be careful with the language we use when discussing the media. It doesn’t mean we need to be less critical of inaccurate reports but if you find yourself railing against the failing biased phoney fake news media you should probably stop and have a wee lie-down.
The next Yes campaign really needs to be a serious affair, in contrast to the political pantomime of the past few years in the UK. It needs to offer complex solutions to complex problems, it needs to be pluralist, it needs to be diverse, it needs to be inclusive, it needs to be rigorous, it needs to be honest, above all it needs to be grown-up.
In an ideal world a grown-up campaign would be covered by a grown-up media. I’m not holding my breath on that one. But the fact we can’t control how the media will cover it doesn’t change the way we need to campaign. And we need to campaign that way now.