Newspapers and the SNP

Why does every newspaper want to alienate nationalist readers? I struggle to find a rag in the morning which won’t accuse me of being a reckless threat to the stability of Scotland. Not only is this alienating to me and, presumably, a lot of other potential customers, but it seems like bad

Let me tell you what it is like for readers such as me. Ahead of the elections to the Scottish Parliament next month, polls which show an SNP lead are accompanied by copy which suggests this is a bad thing.

When The Times ran a survey putting the main nationalist party ahead of Labour, the editorial fretted about the “far-left policies” of the SNP, while Tony Blair was ‘blamed’ for bringing this about. Any copy on what an opportunity this might be for Scotland? None – which is kind of odd, as that implied there was nothing positive to report about the policy which was winning the most popular support.

Or, other polls will suggest the SNP are not quite so far ahead of Labour, which The Scotsman will report as a “blow” to the nationalists. Anything on why voters might be making a positive decision to get greater powers for Edinburgh? No.

Yet another poll will show an SNP lead, but Scotland on Sunday can only serve up doom-laden copy, wondering where it all went wrong. Maybe a smidgen of text for that 35 per cent of the population who might think things are going right? Not a peep. They do, however, offer the opinion that Labour and the SNP policies are near identical – does that make them ‘far left’
then, or not?

Come the day after the elections, when Scotland will have changed irreversibly, it looks like not a single paper will chime with majority opinion. Isn’t that odd.

The SNP may well not form the next government. Labour might scrape a victory. However, the irreversible change will occur, nonetheless. With proportional representation voting for the local elections, the old Labour establishment will evaporate. The effect this will have on the relationship between the Scottish Executive and councils could be profound, removing the cosy relationship between tiers of government that sustains the inefficient and corrupt.
Perhaps this is why First Minister, Jack McConnell, felt able to say he’ll take money from
other budgets to boost education.

Add in the woeful, and declining, ratings for Chancellor, Gordon Brown, as future PM, plus the support down south for the Tories, and you have the real prospect of high-spending Labour administration in Edinburgh and a tax-cutting David Cameron down south. Whichever way you play this, the old Union is about to be tested as never before.

Yet I struggle to find the reports or analysis which reflect this bigger picture. Our journalists seem fixated on the B-movie story line about the SNP bringing chaos and terror to our quiet streets, and that supporters of nationalism are zombies in the spell of leader, Alex Salmond. When did our fascinating and complex politics, demonstrating the potency of democracy and the vote, get reduced to this pulp fiction?

Were I ever polled, I would say I’m voting SNP. I would like to make it clear what this means. I want Scotland to have more powers. I want us to undergo what amounts to a change in our taxation system because I think it would be good for us to take responsibility for our failings and

I will not, as newspapers imply, be voting SNP because I think Alex Salmond is a fantastic man. He’s OK, but, having worked together, I think we’re both happy not exchanging Christmas cards. I won’t be voting SNP because of their range of policies. Political analysts might like to remind themselves: very few voters do scrutinise manifestos. Most of us go on a broad sense of whether we’d like change or more of the same; I’m for the former.

Nor am I voting for an ‘SNP Scotland’ as some writers have taken to phrasing it. I’m not sure what this is in the first place, but, anyway, in a PR-elected chamber, there’s no such thing as a single party stamp on the broad policy agenda. I suspect the Nats will have the same limited success with its policies as most other governments.

I’d be hugely surprised if there is an independence referendum. The SNP seem perfectly positioned to go into coalition talks with the Lib Dems and concede the referendum policy in return for the top ministerial posts in government. The Lib Dems could be blamed for scuppering the big plan, while the SNP get four stable years of spending the UK’s financial largesse. Seems like a win-win to me.

So what paper is for me? The Scotsman, Scotland on Sunday and The Times are out. The Daily Record remains loyal to Labour. The Herald, wilting under budget cuts and a dying readership, have given up the fight for intellectual rigour and plumped for the easy option of following the rest of the pack.

I puzzle why not a single paper seems interested in discussing how we, the people of Scotland, might rethink key social policies. Why does no journalist want to discuss what happened to our UK financial dividend, so often trumpeted by the Tories and Labour as the benefit of the Union? Does no-one in papers share the hope that we could do something, not even great, but pretty good, as a small European nation?

What bothers me about this is the commercial proposition. Newspapers are a dying trade – readership is declining across the board. Yet our papers have set themselves against a large chunk of the public, and refuse to engage positively in the biggest intellectual issue facing Scotland. Is it really the case that the hatred of Scots governing themselves is so strong no proprietor is prepared to cater to this market? Is the media really going to tell all those people who voted SNP, with the aim of gaining greater powers for Edinburgh, that they were stupid?

Alex Bell