I’ve never been a huge fan of Stuart Campbell. To put it as bluntly as possible, he’s an arsehole. Or maybe I’m just prejudiced – It could be that I took my mum’s tongue-in-cheek warning, while singing the song about and explaining to me the events of the Massacre of Glencoe, to never trust a Campbell a bit too seriously? Nah? I think I’ll stick with the arsehole thesis. He just is one. I, for various different reasons and in various different circles, have also been accused of being an arsehole. So, I should know. It takes an arsehole to know an arsehole. Trust me, I’m an arsehole.
But I’m a very small arsehole. Stuart Campbell, though physically diminutive (shock horror), is quite a large arsehole in Scotland. Well, kind of in Scotland. It’s been repeated ad nauseam, and with great delight by boring Unionist shithouses, that Campbell resides in Bath.
But regardless of where his wings truly flap over, the reality is that his blog, Wings Over Scotland, wields considerable power over the independence movement. No, it doesn’t determine how people think or act in the way that people, particularly in this post-truth era, imagine all media does (unless it’s media they like, then they’re thinking for themselves – let that one bake your noodle), but it’s easily the most read pro-Scottish independence media outlet around.
And it’s controlled by an arsehole. I’ll let you do the fairly simple calculations regarding what this means.
I could literally reel off a laundry list of areas where I have deep political disagreement with Campbell, but more than anything he’s a thicko. Is that politically correct? Well, he’ll appreciate it if isn’t politically correct to call someone, even him, a thicko, as I know he’s not a big fan of his thicko conception of ‘political correctness’.
But, to return to my point, the necessity to even write anything about Campbell hinges upon less the fact I disagree with him on areas (I don’t care about mere political disagreement; in fact, unlike most of the Left and the Right, I find it healthy), and more on the fact that many of his stances on subjects, or indeed his general political aroma, are particularly malign: on anti-Irish racism and sectarianism, Campbell equates the noble and progressive anti-sectarian ‘Call it Out’ movement with the fascist Orange Order. Anyone who points out the obvious differences is blocked, dismissed or, in the depths of his cavernous mind, I’m sure put into some kind of gulag.
On Hillsborough, Campbell has consistently and intransigently blamed the fans for the tragedy, despite even the cops, media and politicians who framed the fans admitting they framed the fans. Again, when this is pointed out, Stuart Campbell seemingly knows better than anyone.
I used to simply dismiss these things as him being like the boy who never grew up – the kid who will argue a point long after he’s been proven wrong and, furthermore, will, as his stupidity becomes more and more exposed, become deliberately insulting, with pantomime venom.
But it’s not a pantomime and it doesn’t matter if he’s a thicko and it doesn’t matter if he’s akin to a teenager when it comes to understanding the world. He remains the proprietor of the most-read pro-Scottish independence outlet. And that’s a very, very bad thing.
Today this very, very bad thing was made even worse when Campbell was interviewed on Alex Salmond’s horrific show for Russia Today (RT). For those who don’t know, and most of the Left and Right don’t care or won’t accept it (even the same ‘intersectional’ Left who strenuously oppose Campbell’s alleged transphobia), RT is not just another state broadcaster. Though it’s become a common refrain of those who apologise for it and the genocidal crimes of the regime that it serves, it’s not just like the BBC.
As it happens, before I briefly explain why RT isn’t like the BBC, I feel I must prove my anti-BBC credentials, but if I was to explain the full extent of my anti-BBC credentials, I might find myself being fined. But, take it from me, I’m not a fan of the BBC. The BBC does serve up propaganda on behalf of the British state and it does have a pro-ruling class bias, but this form of propaganda is more akin to Chomsky’s ‘propaganda mode’ as outlined in Manufacturing Consent than the kind of direct propaganda you get in an authoritarian state. Anyone who has ever lived in an authoritarian or totalitarian state, as I have, will know precisely what I mean.
At the BBC, its journalists, producers and bigwigs went to university with and belong to the same social milieu as most of what might be called the ‘political establishment’. In the UK, this means they tend to have a pro-Tory and pro-centrist Labour bias, while in Scotland it means that the British Broadcasting Corporation is, lo and behold, Unionist and hilariously pro-British vis-à-vis Scottish independence.
But the BBC still functions as an outlet for proper journalism. What do I mean by proper journalism? When the Greater Manchester Police was exposed to be endemically and violently racist, it was due to a BBC expose, namely The Secret Policeman, by Mark Daly. When it turned out that the father of one of Stephen Lawrence’s racist killers had a cop in the Metropolitan Police on the payroll, it was the BBC who fully exposed it – naming and shaming the cop publicly for the first time. When Tony Blair and Alastair Campbell (maybe my mum is right about the untrustworthiness of Campbells?) famously ‘sexed up’ (shudder) a dossier on Saddam’s non-existent WMDs, it was a BBC journalist who exposed it.
This is proper journalism. You won’t find any such journalism on RT.
RT has one overt purpose: to simultaneously push propaganda against Putin’s perceived enemies while advancing the causes, narratives and agendas of the various machinations of the Putin regime. It’s purpose is not to provide journalism on the matters it covers, but to create an atmosphere of obfuscation over such events – to degrade the very meaning of journalism and truth. Nonsense, via RT, and via those who give it a mask of sanity, such as Salmond and his ilk, suddenly becomes sense. RT, a purveyor of the polar opposite of truth, suddenly becomes the only truly truthful truth-telling TV news channel.
To put it another way: within the hyper-productive bowels of RT, no journalism that exposes some malfeasant or criminal element of the Putin regime will ever emerge, namely because the Putin regime is entirely grounded in authoritarian criminality and RT’s function is to normalise and obfuscate that criminality. RT is indeed a major part of that criminal enterprise.
Far from exposing potential war crimes committed by the British government as the BBC did in 2003, with RT you’ll get ludicrous denials-mixed-with-justifications of the Russian-controlled Assad regime’s culpability in gassing people to death in Ghouta (twice) and Khan Shaykoun, among many other places. You’ll find the cleansing of entire populations of Syrians, by way of Russian cluster bombs, thermobaric missiles and napalm justified by sleazy RT newsreaders and pundits by blaming and slandering Syrian people as ‘terrorists’. You’ll find a platform for a host of pro-Russia talking heads, ranging from a certain Jeremy Corbyn (to deny that Assad used chemical weapons) to the Neo-Nazi Nick Griffin (to support Assad’s genocidal Islamophobic war effort). RT put out a series of celebratory documentaries on the greatness of Putin during his birthday, but they didn’t report that part of the celebration included Russian warships firing 26 missiles into civilian areas of Syria.
Far from The Secret Policeman, exposing the institutional racism of British cops, on RT you’ll never find the equivalent journalist exposing how Putin’s United Russia henchman Ramzan Kadyrov brutally murders and persecutes gay people – you won’t find even arbitrary mentions of the various anti-gay legislation and practices found all across Putin’s Russia.
The same milieu who howl, righteously, when Israeli apologists use the same bogus justifications when they’re carrying out massacres in Gaza or who oppose the US bombing Daesh (Russia, of course, has mainly bombed Syrian rebels and anti-regime civilians on behalf of Assad, not Daesh), not only provide RT with a captive and loyal audience, but also with a cycle of pro-Putin contributors. It’s the exact same with those who take a righteous stand on LGBT rights in the West, but somehow lose their voice when it comes to the much worse persecution of LGBT people in Russia.
There are volumes of articles, essays and papers outlining the sheer mendacious and malicious nature of RT. If you can’t or won’t believe this then you are already lost.
And this brings me neatly back to Campbell, Salmond and their RT lash up. Campbell has shared the episode of The Alex Salmond Show in which he features, nauseatingly titled ‘It’s not just angels who have wings’. In a tweet, Campbell wrote of his experience on the show: “I enjoyed this enormously. It’s the first time in nearly eight years that I’ve been allowed to speak on British TV as anything other than the subject of outrage …”, further adding, ‘Any whiny woke Yes types bleating about how vile RT is might want to consider that fact, and ask why no UK broadcaster has done it.”
The only point Campbell gets wrong here concerns the ‘woke Yes’ types – they will fully be behind anything to do with RT, Russia and Putin. They’re the one milieu who you can always rely on to preach anti-state politics, unless that state happens to be Putin’s Russia. Putin’s Russia is a veritable anti-neoliberal, anti-imperialist Wokeland for today’s left. The fact that Putin’s Russia is a hyper-capitalist, kleptocratic and genocidal empire is an almost beautiful illustration of the Left’s leading role in the cognitive dissonance that increasingly rules the waves.
But, aside from that, despite being a thicko, Campbell isn’t entirely wrong here. Scottish nationalists and separatists, the ones who, unlike a thicko like Campbell, can understand why it’s entirely wrong to associate with RT, must look at how the British media has made commonsense narratives on Scottish independence almost anathema.
They have pushed Scottish separatists into the hands of Campbell and thus into the hands of RT. On the surface of things, it’s a very good tactic from the British: push Scottish nationalism to the lunatic fringe; ensure that a large chunk of the discourse on independence remains among the gutter with the Campbells, Craig Murrays, Alex Salmonds and all these post-truth false prophets.
If we had a truly fair and balanced media apparatus in Scotland, one which allowed for normal debate on independence and the myriad of issues that comprise and emanate from it, we would not need to rely on these squalid little men who aid in Russia’s exploitation of Scottish independence.
And people wonder why SNP bigwigs stay away from the pro-independence marches? If you take one look at the speakers at recent independence events it begins to make sense, such as the large ‘All Under One Banner’ march in Glasgow. One of the leading speakers at this was arch-conspiracy merchant and former British diplomat Craig Murray (yet he rages against the ‘establishment’), who peddles Russian propaganda regarding things like Salisbury and Syria.
The first cry here is always “Free Speech!”. But I’m not advocating that these people should be banned from attending independence rallies, nor indeed should they even be banned from speaking at them. But you can’t expect people who have principled progressive politics to share the stage with them. Especially the likes of Murray, who concludes that a fascist monster like Assad, who has cleansed and murdered millions of people, and overseen conditions of mass rape being used as a weapon of war, as well as maintaining extermination camps, and allowing the foreign occupation and control of his rump state, is worth supporting in Syria. Or who claims that everyone but Russia carried out the chemical attack in Salisbury.
It’s why I was glad to see leading SNP figures try to distance themselves from this fifth column that hides among the independence movement, tipping it, wittingly or unwittingly, to supporting the populist politics of conspiracism. A politics that represents the very opposite of any conception of progressivism.
When I see Campbell and Salmond on RT, I don’t see the vibrancy and progressivism that has come to define Scottish independence, but a strain of conservatism that has come to cultivate itself among the movement like a fungal infection. Campbell is like the Athlete’s Foot of Scottish independence.
Sometimes I fear it’s too late. Sometimes I fear the medium, namely the RT-isation of the discourse as represented by the likes of Campbell, Salmond and Murray, has become the message. That these people, who are the Scottish wing of a global trend towards post-truth populism that almost always paves the way for authoritarianism and malfeasance – whether at home or, more likely with Russia, abroad, among the kind of people murdered by Russia who live in places Campbell hasn’t heard of and who have names Campbell can’t pronounce.
Perhaps it’s too late? Perhaps the kind of politics of decay and detritus that Campbell embodies, politics that have emerged out of the information imbalance that itself arises from the hegemony of the British state and the predominance of Unionist media narratives, has become the norm?
But then I remember that, as influential as these people are, they are, with the exception of Salmond, still stuck away in the relatively dark corners of the internet – most Scottish voters will never heard of Campbell and Murray, but it’s the activists who amplify them and their obscurantism.
The only way to truly get rid of what they represent is, to paraphrase Goethe’s alleged last words, allow for more light: more pro-independence media outlets, more diverse voices and more principled politics. In actual fact, independence will provide the nails in their (figurative) coffins. It’s up to us, to those of us who care, to genuinely put forward a politics of genuine solidarity with the oppressed of the earth – these are not the lofty, lamebrained, dogmatic sentiments of the completely compromised pro-Putin, pro-Assad, Lexiteer left, but rather politics that have concrete meaning in the world.
One really can oppose the British state and its allies, while also opposing the Putin regime and its allies. Principle ought to be the most simple and unshakable aspect of any political movement. Without it, what you’re fighting for is entirely pointless – this was a point understood by the pre-Bolshevik left, most notably by James Connolly who understood that the cause of Irish freedom meant nothing if it wasn’t seen as a wider anti-imperialist crusade.
It’s exactly the same with Scottish independence. You can’t claim to oppose British dominance of Scotland (soft dominance – it’s not like we’re living under authoritarian military rule in Edinburgh), and all the economic and social ills that come along with it, if you can’t extend the same principles to people who face much worse conditions of murder and persecution in Syria or Russia or Ukraine.
If Stuart Campbell was Russian and advocating liberty from the genuine tyranny of the Putin regime or national separatism within the Russian Federation, he would have been imprisoned years ago. Or worse He certainly wouldn’t be sitting down with Salmond in a veritable smug-fest of mutual ego-masturbation.
But, in case you didn’t get it the first ten times, Campbell’s a thicko and he’ll never understand any of this. So it’s not an appeal to him – it’s an appeal to those who follow him and hang onto everything that comes out of his mouth.
They must understand that he is symbiotic with Unionism and British nationalism. I long for an independent Scotland for many, many different reasons – for new models of progressivism and egalitarianism in every area of life, for cultural renewal and creativity and, in a small part, for the demise of Stuart Campbell that would surely come with the end of the Union.