The BBC’s blink and you’d miss it SNP conference

It’s the blink and you’d miss it SNP party conference, the conference of the largest political party in Scotland, the party of the Scottish Government and the third largest party in the House of Commons entered its second day on Monday. Not that you’d know this from most of the British media, the BBC, which gave us blow by blow accounts and extensive coverage of the recent Labour and Conservative party conferences did not mention the SNP conference at all during its main lunchtime UK wide news programme on Monday or on BBC Scotland’s “news where you are” bulletin that followed. Not. One. Single. Word. However in that same bulletin BBC Scotland did find time to give us not one but two reports on the fitba.

On the main evening edition of Reporting Scotland the conference rated a mere 15 second mention of Nicola Sturgeon’s visit to the conference, more than half way through the programme no further details were given. And that was it. Don’t go thinking that your politics are important, Scottish people. They are certainly not important to Scotland’s self-described national broadcaster. Considerably more time was given to the appointment of a new manager for Rangers football team, a report which was followed by another report about yet more fitba. Priorities, eh?

Meanwhile on the BBC news on Sunday evening and again on the breakfast news on Monday, we were informed by the announcer that the SNP had passed a motion at the conference saying that if the party wins a majority of seats in Scotland at the next Westminster general election then they will use that as a mandate to request another independence referendum from the Westminster government. That is not at all what the SNP decided, the BBC has very obviously not been paying attention, although we already knew that from the cursory coverage the Corporation has been giving to the conference.

Further evidence that the BBC is not paying attention and what reporting it is carrying of the SNP conference is refracted through the lens of British nationalist prejudice came on Monday afternoon when the BBC was forced to issue a correction after senior presenter Amol Rajan, the BBC’s media editor until January 2023 and currently the presenter of the quiz show University Challenge as well as the presenter of Radio 4’s flagship news and current affairs programme ‘Today’ falsely claimed on Monday morning’s edition of the show that the SNP are currently embroiled in an ongoing court case. While Police Scotland’s long running investigation into the SNP’s finances is indeed ongoing, no charges have been brought and there is no current court case.

What the conference really decided was that if the SNP wins a majority of Scottish Westminster seats at the next UK general election, it will not waste time asking yet again for another independence referendum. It will instead seek to open independence negotiations with the Westminster government. The BBC cannot shift itself out of the mindset of Scotland being a junior and powerless supplicant at the knee of the big boys and girls of the British Government. In this the BBC displays the characteristic Anglo-British nationalist concept of Scotland as a British ‘province’ lacking any agency.

It is clearly vital for the SNP to take a more aggressive and proactive stance in dealing with a media which is so very heavily weighted against them. It is nothing short of a disgrace and indeed a danger to democracy that only one newspaper in Scotland out of the 38 or so daily or weekly newspapers published in this country supports the constitutional stance favoured by at least half the population while the publicly owned broadcast media is a branch office of a highly centralised London based operation which fully subscribes to the perspectives, prejudices and priorities dictated to it from that London head office. So we get a BBC Scotland which consistently ignores any positive developments for the independence case, indulges itself in an orgy of SNP bad while refusing to hold the parties of British nationalism to the same level of scrutiny or criticism, gives us a level of royalist sycophancy which is completely unwarranted by the true level of interest in the monarchy in Scotland and which constantly infantilises and trivialises news reporting in Scotland with its obsessive concentration on sports, murrdurrs, and cutesy stories about wee animals.

So it is encouraging that at the Conference depute leader Keith Brown announced the creation of a new rebuttal unit which signals a new and more aggressive media approach and which will actively respond to criticisms and attacks made by the anti independence parties and their friends in the media.

The rebuttal unit will be run through SNP head office and will allow party members to submit queries based on the claims of Unionist politicians and other sources which argue against independence.The unit will then be tasked with creating counter arguments or pointing out errors in the submitted claims.

It’s about time the SNP did something like this.

There is a key aspect of the SNP’s new independence strategy which the party’s usual Anglo-British nationalist critics conveniently overlook. Firstly the SNP – despite what the BBC might say – has moved on from asking nicely for an independence referendum which Westminster is never going to agree to for fear that it will lose, the SNP is instead asserting the right of the people of Scotland to self-determination via the only democratic means left open to them, exercising their vote at a Westminster election.

Secondly, and crucially, this means that the real question now is not for the SNP, it is for the Labour and Conservative parties. That question is – does democracy still have any meaning in Scotland under Westminster rule? If the outcomes of elections in Scotland are only to be respected and acted upon when the people give an answer that is acceptable to Keir Starmer or Rishi Sunak, then all that Westminster offers Scotland is the performance of democracy, not its substance. We already know that neither Labour nor the Conservatives accept that winning a Scottish parliamentary election counts as a mandate for Scottish self-determination, and if the SNP win the next Westminster general election in Scotland only to be haughtily informed that that isn’t a mandate either, then what is left?

What guarantees can Labour or the Conservatives give to Scotland that they will respect the outcome of elections in Scotland that produce results that they don’t like? It’s all very well for them to insist that the UK is still a voluntary union but without such cast iron and binding guarantees that is mere sloganeering without any meaningful effect. Scotland deserves more than a vacuous sound bite.

This general election to come is not a test of support for Scottish independence, it is a test of British democracy to see if it is still a reality in Scotland or if it’s a dead letter.



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