A Little not Small relief from BBC Scotland’s rubbish?

From Alasdair Galloway

The BBC routinely gets a good kicking for its coverage of Scotland and Scottish politics, so I thought it only fair to bring to your attention – if it hasn’t already – an article on their website today. It’s by “veteran” (ie old) reporter Alan Little. You can find it here https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-64761495

While it begins in a kind of downbeat way – Nicola’s gone, Unionist parties poised and ready to strike (don’t laugh!). But he quickly gets over that with a “Don’t be so sure.”

While Little works in London, he is from Scotland (Glenluce) and has a finger on the pulse of what is going on up here which is at least unusual. In his series of BBC documentaries on the referendum he relates a story about a dinner party he and his wife (Sheena McDonald) held at their London home, just before the 2014 vote, for a group of current affairs folk in the Beeb. Becoming a little fed up with the level of comment, he went round the table asking each of them the question “why do you think this (the referendum) is happening?” He says the question elicited responses which amounted to “the Scots are chippy” and “Alex Salmond is wily”.

Little’s hypothesis is summed up, for me, by this “For me, there is something more telling than the rise of nationalist sentiment, and that is the story of what has happened to the Union itself, to pro-Union sentiment, and to the way Scots have thought about their place within the Union.

It is the story of the falling away, over decades, of much of what it has meant to be British in Scotland.”

I suspect that most of us aged more than 60 will know exactly what he means. At that time, living in Clydebank, the main employers were Singer with about 15,000 people. Brown’s was building the QE2 etc. Fifty years later Singers is a Business Park and Browns houses the town Health Centre and Leisure Centre, to be developed for housing in due course.

This kind of development underlies Little’s assertion that we have moved from a situation where “The [Scottish] economic landscape was still dominated by the great Victorian heavy industries of coal, steel and shipbuilding. The working-class communities they sustained were huge and had proud civic identities”. Such communities were, as he says “bedrocks of British identity in Scotland, as well as of Labour solidarity.” BUT, during “the 1980s and 1990s those industries were swept away. One of the great socio-economic pillars on which British identity had sat crumbled to dust as those communities, over time, fragmented and dispersed, and their old industries slipped, with each decade that passed, further into the middle-distance of collective memory.”

Scotland had the shared interest with the rest of the UK, in the Empire “It was a huge, shared British enterprise, built upon a set of values that people across the nations of the United Kingdom broadly shared. We might be radically rethinking the legacy of Empire in our own day, but to them, the experience of Empire was a powerful sustaining force of British identity in Scotland.”

Even after the Empire was dismantled, Scotland’s interest in the UK remained in the form of  “the cradle-to-grave welfare state, the new NHS, full employment, social housing (I was born in a council house). But there was something else new for families like ours – a chance that their children would one day make it to university or college. And, in my family, we did.”

And then came Maggie Thatcher. Her plan was “to roll back the frontiers of a state that was outdated, and collapsing under its own weight”. While “the United Kingdom as a whole returned Conservative governments under Thatcher and then Major…. Scotland never embraced Thatcherism… a long slow divergence in political aspirations took place, with England (particularly the south of England) and Scotland voting for different kinds of Britain. This divergence would resume in 2010. When Gordon Brown’s Labour government lost the election of that year, due to a swing to the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats in England, none of Scotland’s Labour MPs lost their seat, and many were elected with strengthened majorities.” Vote Labour get Tory!

But most importantly the shared values of the kind of Britain the UK would be, which had sustained the Union during the 1960s and 1970s was considerably less valid that it had been. More than this though, during the 1980s and 1990s, Scotland’s “experience of being governed, through the Scottish Office, by a party that had repeatedly lost elections in Scotland, changed public opinion”, despite Michael Forsyth returning the Stone of Scone (other than for Coronations). What it led to was this, “In 2014, Brown was among the first in Labour to see that many of the party’s traditional voters were planning to vote Yes. It was the start of a landslip. Many Labour voters jumped ship to vote Yes, and then, the following year, to help the SNP to its astonishing landslide.”

However, in the intervening 8 years, as Little notes, while 45% voted Yes in 2014, and the 2015 General Election could be described only as “seismic”, “for all her popularity and the admiration she commands, eight years after Sturgeon assumed the leadership of that movement, the dial has hardly moved. Support for independence still hovers just below 50%”.

Moreover, he claims, “The era of Salmond and Sturgeon, which transformed the fortunes of the SNP and redrew the map of Scottish and UK politics, is over. Its signature project – to secure an independence referendum by winning elections – appears to have run into a dead end…. The next leader will have to offer independence supporters a credible alternative route to Scottish statehood.”

Little’s view of an alternative is that “if support for independence rises to, say, 60% or more and stays there for a sustained period, then a UK government will, in the end, be unable to deny a second referendum indefinitely.”

So, to remove the fine words, it remains, as it always has, bringing ‘soft’ No voters over to our side, perhaps aided and abetted by the utter venality of Westminster (though the experience of Johnson appears less productive than we might have thought!). There is no magic bullet. The only way forward is to convince those who doubt, or disagree with the independence argument, to come over to our side. In other words, democracy.

My one note of caution about Little’s thesis is that he does a fine job in setting out why the ties that bound Scotland to the UK have been loosened (and may never be restored) he doesn’t offer much in the way of explanation to the question that if the ties are weaker or non-existent, why more of our fellow Scots have not taken that last step and ‘got out of Dodge’.

There is a need to consider, I think, that there are people in Scotland who have done well out of the post Thatcher economy and society. For instance the kind of people who will be spooked by scare stories about what will happen to mortgage rates in the event of independence, or that taxation will be increased significantly and so on. These are the people who vote with their wallets. Yet are they wise to do this?

How prosperous a country could Scotland become under independence, in a country at ease with itself rather than scarred by the experience of degrees of inequality that have given us places such as Greenock Town Centre and East Central, Inverclyde; Carntyne West and Haghill, Glasgow City; Paisley Ferguslie, Renfrewshire (datazone S01012068); Alloa South and East, Clackmannanshire; Buckhaven, Denbeath and Muiredge, Fife; Cliftonville, North Lanarkshire; Paisley Ferguslie, Renfrewshire (datazone S01012067); Inverness Merkinch, Highland; Linlathen and Midcraigie, Dundee City; North Barlanark and Easterhouse South, Glasgow City. In 2020 these were the ten most deprived areas of Scotland.

While at the same time, the ten least deprived were Stockbridge, City of Edinburgh; West End North, Aberdeen City; Midstocket, Aberdeen City (datazone S01006559); Marchmont West, City of Edinburgh; Midstocket, Aberdeen City (datazone S01006561); Blackhall, City of Edinburgh; South Castlehill and Thorn, East Dunbartonshire; Morningside, City of Edinburgh; West End South, Aberdeen City; Netherlee, East Renfrewshire.

Notice the degrees of separation. Glasgow appears twice in the list of the most deprived while Edinburgh appears four times in the least deprived list. Votes will not be won though by promising to tax the least deprived till the pips squeak. It is though crucial that, as Little notes earlier in his article, “Under Alex Salmond’s leadership, the party moved away from its traditional appeal to the politics of national identity – the flag, the literature, the culture and symbols of national sentiment – and towards the politics of social justice. It presented itself to the Scottish electorate as a modern, mainstream European social democratic party.”

I think we could all agree that this should not be discarded by any means, but instead hardened up and clarified at all levels. However, there is a need to appreciate that the deprived may be particularly enthusiastic about not just having a government with that kind of policy commitments, but also a fairly hard promise that, under independence, the days of Westminster austerity and funding cuts to services such as the NHS and Welfare will not be repeated. The least deprived may however, react differently. ‘How much is this going to cost me?’ ‘I’ve paid my taxes, why should I pay more?’

There is an instance of this in today’s Sunday Herald, where one Letter writer asserts “There has been a consistent laziness at play within the Scottish Government with its various generous social policy implementations, in that people don’t have to demonstrate their qualifications for certain benefits.” https://www.heraldscotland.com/news/23341979.letters-next-snp-leader-must-someone-opposed-sturgeon/

This can easily be answered. First of all, benefits can be taxed back from those who don’t need them (cue for them to complain about the level of taxation). Secondly, Naomi Eisenstadt, who was an adviser to Nicola Sturgeon’s, argues that means testing often excludes people who need help (don’t know about the benefit, or the process to get it is too difficult or prying) and that offering the same benefit to everyone ensures 100% take up and no social shame about having it, as it is a right for us all.

It does though, illustrate the kind of argument I have been referring to, but the strong implication is that those who argue we have been too taken up with arguing about the process to the next referendum, when we should have been hardening up arguments to support independence, are right.

This is so, because if you step back and think about it, no matter the process – even if it was fair and the UK didn’t take any unfair advantage – there would still be a need to get the vote for independence above 50%. That requirement is quite simply de rigeur. Without satisfying it, it is hard to Scotland leaving the Union.

Little has done a service by setting out clearly how and why the ties that once bound Scotland to the Union have been loosened. It is for us to develop the arguments to justify to a majority of our fellow Scots why we should take that last step and leave the Union behind.

Footnote from the Ed:

Ian Small, Head of Public Policy and Corporate Affairs at BBC Scotland, above, was the man who, in 2014, reported me to my Principal for my research allegedly bringing both the BBC and the University of the West of Scotland, into disrepute.

My Principal took no action and then went on to do a better job on that than I could ever have done.

When I mistakenly addressed Small as ‘Little’, he responded ‘It’s not Little it’s Small’. I replied ‘I’m sorry to hear that.’ One of my proudest moments.


24 thoughts on “A Little not Small relief from BBC Scotland’s rubbish?

  1. It is a fascinating article, both article and thought-provoking. It also raises an alarm for me. The future of independence and the SNP seems to lie with the young. This is hopeful. What is NOT hopeful is that if, as seems to be possibly the case, the SNP turns away from social justice as a core value by electing a social conservative who opposes social justice, I believe that it will lose huge portions of the young and lose the last remaining chance of Scottish independence.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. The respected Anglo-Scottish journalist/author/commentator James Cameron was invited by the BBC to dismiss any notion of Scottish independence.
    He did so by insisting that media “opinion formers” were all against the very idea, and so the goal could never be realised.
    I think he was both wrong and right.
    Pro-independence levels have reached levels Cameron probably thought were not possible, but have ( without a fair-minded impartial media) perhaps reached a ceiling.
    I have recently been advocating confederalism, to try to kick-start a debate with Unionists, but to no avail.
    If levels of support for independence stay at 50/50, then there is no incentive for Anglo-British nationalists to engage, but there is always a danger that the ballot box would be abandoned by some, in that circumstance. Interesting times, went the Chinese curse.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Have just invested in a copy of “Propaganda Blitz: How the Corporate Media Distort Reality” by Edwards and Cromwell. This includes two chapters of particular relevance – bias within the BBC generally, but also a chapter on their role in our referendum in 2014, featuring some guy called Professor John Robertson?


  3. No mention of Thatcher. The Oil revenues. Kept secret under the Official Secrets Act. Funding London S/E. Tilbury Docks and Canary Wharf. The Banking crash brought about by property fraud in London S/E and the Midlands.

    The illegal wars. Iraq, Dunblane and Lockerbie kept secret for 100 years,

    The MSM owned by tax evading Non Dom’s.

    Devolution 2000 when Accounts were published. Even though incomplete and guess work. They still show how better off Scotland would be Independent. Brexit is costing Scotland £Billions. The pandemic badly planned. To concentrate on Brexit. The Independence supporting vote would be higher. If Independence supporting voters turnout to vote every election in Scotland. STV and D’Hond’t imposed by unionists. The loser wins. A quota. Not happening in the rest of the UK,

    The Tories are tanking, especially in Scotland. Labour not doing so well.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Have to say I think you are unfair here. Right enough he doesn’t mention that ****** woman. But we all know who was running the show during the 80s (when the theft of oil was at a high), and indeed whose malign influence was still the driving force even after she was extracted from power (so the advantages to the south east continued, not to mention the influence of her philosophy on “light touch” supervision of bankers).
      But, we can also go backwards. Labour had a good idea of what was involved in North Sea Oil. I dont know if they commissioned McCrone’s report (could have been in Heath’s day), but they knew all about it. Indeed in an interview with Holyrood magazine not long before he died, Healey admitted that we were lied to.
      But it goes further than that. Benn wanted a British oil Company on a similar format to what the Norwegians were doing. It would be wrong to argue that Thatcher would have closed this down when she came to power, but by the end of the 70s as an increasing number of licences were handed out, obligations could have been placed on the oil companies to have consideration for Britain (eg having kit made here, employing Brits in meaningful skilled jobs). But they didnt even try. Wilson – and its in Benn’s diaries – forbad it.
      Then there is on shore industry. I mentioned Singers. Singers closed in 1980, t he closure being announced in October 1979. This of course was conveniently just after Thatcher came to power, but the fact is that Singer bled to death during the 1970s. For sure the Tories (Heath) have to take their share of the blame for this, but so do Labour. I’m sure there are a great many other Scottish companies whose demise was similar – a long slow death under more than one administration.
      But the core point is that the loss of these companies and jobs – whoever we blame – the notion of Scotland as just another part of the UK, with the same opinions, loyalties etc started to become much less true that it had been, for instance just after 1945.

      Liked by 5 people

  4. For ease I’ve copied my comment on WGD on this article as follows:-

    I first noted his title “Special correspondent”, a post and title he vacated in December 2014, secondly his article’s promotion on UK, Scotland and Scotland/Politics web-pages.
    Third I note his childhood memories of Galloway are not only different to mine at 6 years older, but a retrospective falsehood on which to justify his perspective of the Union :
    – No mention of almost everyone across Galloway having been a “Desert Rat” or having personally bombed Berlin despite having been Air Force ground crew – In short, his “Union” was a nation still coming to terms with WW2 over 20 years later….
    – No mention of closure of the Paddy Line, a blessing of his “Union” which essentially abandoned the south-west of Scotland for almost 30 years.

    Yet it is his dismissal of the 1974 election of George Thompson as SNP MP with “few people saw their victory as a serious threat to the long-term viability of the Union” is the most telling of all particularly given he was only 9 – The incumbent Tories in Galloway were incandescent with rage the hoi-polloi had defenestrated “their man”, they were terrified.
    George was ousted by Ian Lang in 1979 and thus began a blatant propaganda campaign by the Tories to lie their way out of public discontent in Scotland, and Lang’s creation of GERS in the 1990s to dissuade devolution.

    Alan Little’s perspectives are a work of fiction on which to build this wordy composition, much as the “Union” is today.

    Liked by 3 people

      1. I agree that most of his view of what Scotland was then is mostly nostalgia–a sentimental recollection of a place that did not exist–and not reality. The article still made some interesting points.

        Liked by 3 people

        1. An old pal of mine who spent his working life in Traffic Division with the Cops, once told me that if he turned up to an RTA which had six witnesses, he could rely on getting at least 7 versions of what happened.
          My recollection is that he is right on the money. I can still remember the day after Winnie Ewing won Hamilton. Everyone was a Scot Nat – well for a few days anyway. The only Scot Nat I was aware was Duncan someone (he actually worked for the SNP for some year) who was known around as “the SNP guy”. The notion of independence back then – late 1960s was not only laughable, but seemed to have no connection to fact. Friends of mine who left school at 15 would have two or three offers of apprenticeship. The place wasnt what it was – the skids were already under shipbuilding but Browns was building the QE2.
          Step forward 40 years or so, and it’s quite different as I have noted above. Despite my name I have no knowledge of D&G much beyond where it is. However, I do know Clydebank, and there are three memories of 2010s that stand out for me.
          First I got in touch through Facebook with my “oldest” friend (in the sense that he is a month younger than me and lived round the corner – we went through school together), who has lived in LA since 1977. His comment when he saw the indy stuff on my FB page was “Alasdair Galloway a Nat. Who’d have thunk it”. I had to tell him there were lots of us.
          Secondly the PM I sent him saying “you’ll never believe it but you can stand at the bottom of Hume Street and see right across the river to the other side”. For those of you who dont know Clydebank, this meant Browns yard had finally been demolished.
          Thirdly, as I said, his birthday is a month after my own, and we exchange fraternal greetings in the traditional Bankie manner (think “that’s you a year older than me”, to be followed by “not any more you’re not ya old git”). His birthday is 4th May, so in 2015 I sent my usual cheery greeting, but added at the bottom, “there’s a General Election” here on Thursday. Watch out for the results. I think you might find they are a wee bit different from usual” (remember being brought up in Clydebank where the Labour vote wasnt counted, just weighed). At the weekend after the election I got a message from him thanking me for the “heads up” but saying “even with that, my reaction was omfg”. This was a guy who might have spent his first 25 years here, but after 40 years away, really didnt have a clue (and to this day I still dont think he gets it).

          Liked by 3 people

          1. Oh, the part about the view of independence he had spot on, so I should have said that much of what he remembers is nostalgia. As usual with the sentimental remembrance of our youth, there will be spots of accuracy but many of us manage to put a veil over it to remember mainly the good parts. I am not saying that those good parts did not exist, but they were thoroughly mixed with parts that were not so good. You look at photos of some of the pretty horrific slums in Glasgow in the 1950s and 1960s if you do not recall them, and it wipes away some of the gloss from the period.

            Liked by 1 person

        2. I agree that he did make some interesting points and observations.

          However, where his perspective is skewed is in applying his personal household memories of “Britishness” (dad had been in the RAF) applied not just to Glenluce but the entirety of Scotland, something mystic and timeless, rather than a residual effect from a brutal war.

          Just as “Britishness” was weaponised to fight the Nazis, so it was with Brexit complete with Spitfires bunting etc, and it’s not much different on “illegal immigrants”, the NIP, etc.,

          It is not “Britishness” which Scots are increasingly disenchanted by but corrupt and ever more right wing governments flying a British flag….

          Liked by 1 person

  5. Scotland waited 20 years for Devolution. Prevented by the Tories, after people voted for it.

    STV and D’Houd’t imposed on Scotland by unionists. Without a mandate. The loser wins. Still outstanding SNP/Independence supporting victories. Going to continue. The Tories will be voted out.

    Scotland raises £69Billion. Scotland could raise £80Billion like Norway. Quite easily. £Brexit is costing Scotland £Billion. Scotland surplus in fuel and energy pays more. Scotland pays too much for Defence and gets little back. £Trident and redundant weaponry. Dumped on Scotland. Scotland makes loan repayments on monies borrowed but not spent in Scotland. HS2, Hickley Point etc. Overtime and over budget. A total waste of monies with no business case. The list is endless.

    Total Westminster waste and mismanagement. Brexit and the pandemicmismanagement,

    No mention of the past. The winter of discontent. Thatcher. Unemployment in Scotland 15%. NI unemployment 20%. The Troubles caused by Westminster Gov. The only place unemployment was under 10% was London S/E. The civil war with the miners. The Poll tax. Etc Etc. People on ‘benefits’. Interest rates at 17%. People could not afford mortgages. The council house sell off. Not building more affordable houses. The 11+. Only 10% went to university. Now 50%+. More in Scotland. Labour. The illegal wars. The banking crash etc, etc.

    People who support Independence need to go out and vote for it, Every election. Until there is another Indy Referendum. Far from decreasing Independence support is rising.. The next election on the horizon with every month that passes. Council elections in May.

    People who support Independence need to go out and vote every election. A higher turnout.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. We need military Gordon. Not just for defence which is important but also for industry and jobs. Military technology in a country that develops it pushes technology boundaries as does space technology. This creates high paid skilled and semi skilled jobs, exports and supportive supply industries.

      Liked by 2 people

  6. The future to me regarding independence is what Salvo are doing and also Ash Regan for FM within the SNP.
    What Alba are doing in Westminster regarding the new bill they put forward on 1 Feb is good.
    We must also all convince one or two people to switch to Yes. Lots of people say this but how many are keyboard Yessers and do not risk verbal abuse by talking to people. To convert someone takes time, on average about a year with a softly softly approach.
    This was a good article to read.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I had to come back to this post a second time to take it all in, there was a lot to reflect on. The following paragraph stands out to me
    “So, to remove the fine words, it remains, as it always has, bringing ‘soft’ No voters over to our side, perhaps aided and abetted by the utter venality of Westminster (though the experience of Johnson appears less productive than we might have thought!). There is no magic bullet. The only way forward is to convince those who doubt, or disagree with the independence argument, to come over to our side. In other words, democracy”

    I totally agree, there are no magic solutions or shortcuts. The SALVO stuff is interesting and worth reading but I think the arguments put forward are too mired in past rights and wrongs, legal stuff and historical perspectives to be a solution to the drive for independence

    One thought did occur to me – given the strength of support in Scotland for remaining in the EU we could maybe do with a sister site Talking up Europe to appeal to the pro EU voters? I think it is important a) that we don’t let slip our European ties & knowledge when it is slipping down the MSM agenda and b) to keep rejoining the EU as a realistic prospect while understanding why it is important to us here in Scotland. Even the odd guest post here might help to give us the ammunition to win over some soft noes?


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