Jackson Carlaw has made a formal complaint to BBC Scotland of pro-SNP bias.
Strangely enough, in a way he’s right. In this time of pandemic and widespread personal trauma, his party leadership has revealed only incompetence, huffiness and insensitivity while that of the SNP, notably in the form of apparently caring, intelligent and competent women, seems to have caused them to defer criticism and to show respect. That makes the BBC seem, to a Tory used to anti-SNP bias as the norm, pro-SNP.
This is a longer story than it seems and it’s about both the so-called moderate middle-ground of UK politics since the Second World War and, critically, about women in politics and in the mediation of politics.
I’ll try to be brief.
At the end of WWII, the officer class and the squaddies came home with new-found respect for each other and a shared commitment to a better, fairer, more equal world for them and for their families. They voted for it in 1945, dumping the great war-leader Churchill, in the process and electing a Labour party with socialist policies but, critically, which had broken any ties to revolutionary communism.
For thirty years, UK politics, in all three parties, was consensual, ‘moderate’, ‘middle-ground’, as they, with only minor differences, worked to build decent housing, to produce a meritocratic education system and, of course, free health care for all. It wasn’t a complete success, but it was a unique achievement as a country bankrupted by war, built hundreds of thousands of council houses, thousands of modern schools and hospitals and, of course, nurtured the BBC as the voice of that middle-ground.
In 1979 Thatcher began to tear it down but by then a generation including, significantly three ‘Scots’, Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and John Smith (father of Sarah), had been born.
For nearly twenty years, that more right-wing, neoliberal, Conservative party managed to hold the reins but as Thatcher’s charismatic leadership was lost to them and Blair’s appeared in the Labour Party, the middle-ground was able seize control again.
Once again, though more hesitantly than in 1945, the now ‘New Labour’ Party did reduce poverty, supported further EU integration on human and worker’s rights and took some credit for peace in Ireland but much was show rather than substance and they fooled themselves in three big, fatal ways – PFI, deregulation of financial services and, of course Iraq.
Weakened and badly led now by Brown, they fell to a Tory/Lib Dem coalition, led by two Blair-clones in Cameron and Clegg, but only marginally different from them in policies. The middle-ground might have survived, still betraying the working-classes and the poor but not punishing them so brutally as the Tory right would like.
In some ways, the Second Blair, David Cameron, fell in the same way. A lawyer and a PR man, they knew little of history, as they fell into traps set for them by men with a strong sense of alleged historical grievances, George Bush and Nigel Farage. Both said yes, Blair to a war that would consume him and Cameron to angry English nationalism that would eject him and give birth to the creatures who now lead Jackson Carlaw’s party.
Today, those who lead the BBC and the BBC in Scotland are largely products of that ‘better world’ before Thatcher in 1979, when hundreds of thousands of working-class and middle-class kids went to an expanded higher education system, fully-funded, with no tuition fees and grants for living costs.
Kirsty Wark and Sarah Smith are the best-known faces of that generation and Kezia Dugdale is their wee sister, but there are many more behind the screens, writing and editing, informed by their ‘moderate’, ‘middle-ground’ values. Very close to New Labour, sometimes intermarried, sometimes their children, sometimes their colleagues, often their friends, they despise and fear both the ‘hard-right’ of the Tory party and the ‘hard-left’ of the Labour Party, sensing correctly that both desire their end.
Until very recently, these children or ‘nieces’ of Blair, Brown and Smith, graduates of Scotland’s ancient universities and their ‘Atlanticist’ (pro-Western, often pro-US, Unionist) politics departments have had, in Scotland, a third bête noire – Scottish Nationalism.
To some extent understandably, given its early ethnicist roots and, and later, less justifiably so, because of its combative anti-NATO/US stance, under Salmond, BBC Scotland demonised the SNP leadership at every turn.
Things are changing. Pro-EU, moderately progressive in terms of their approval of social policies and, of course, in favour of their own survival, BBC Scotland has lost its anchor. The Scottish Labour Party is adrift, the Lib Dems are vanishing and the Scottish Conservatives, once led by a woman, Ruth Davidson, with seemingly ‘middle-ground’, pro-EU values, has fled to be replace by an opportunistic ‘gammon’ prepared to go along tamely with those schoolboys, and Priti Patel, who would destroy them.
And then they see Nicola Sturgeon, Kate Forbes and Jeane Freeman. Pro-EU, pro-women’s rights, socially and culturally progressive, comfortable with children, calm, patient and, of course, never ever drawn into angry attacks on the BBC or the press. On top of that, the First Minister seems to have revealed herself to hold the same Atlanticism important to them. Unlike Salmond with his RT show and his attempt to have their god, Tony Blair, charged with war crimes, Sturgeon, a Glasgow University graduate unlike Salmond, has enthused about Hilary Clinton as her main inspiration, has tweeted that we might benefit from reading a book by that dread war criminal, Henry Kissinger, and then did not repulse the creepy Alistair Campbell as he squeezed her for a selfie.
As Scottish independence has been put on the back-burner by this First Minister, are they in Pacific Quay, getting to like her a lot and just praying that as some other radical leaders before her have done, she might just settle down into some more ‘moderate’ solution to the constitutional question, one that lets them survive?