Friday, 23 May 2014

England and Scotland are on different journeys

At the time of writing (Friday, May 23), London-based broadcasters are providing wall-to-wall coverage of the electoral advance achieved by the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) in English local government elections.

UKIP is also expected to do “very well” in the European Election in England, according to the same broadcasters. The European Election results for England will be announced on Sunday (May 25), after polls have closed in other member states of the European Union. Scotland’s results will be revealed on Monday, due to the Western Isles declining to count votes on a Sunday.

There are two significant issues relating to UKIP’s electoral success in England. Firstly, it has been achieved largely because the very same London broadcasters (and newspapers) have provided the party, and principally its leader, Nigel Farage, with blanket coverage ahead of the elections. Farage has appeared on more editions of the BBC’s flagship political programme Question Time than any other politician. It has also been the practice of the English media to portray Farage as ‘an ordinary bloke’ or ‘one of the lads’, mainly because they have regularly featured him having a pint down the pub.

Nigel Farage, though, in addition to holding a range of repugnant views, is far from being ‘an ordinary bloke’ as most of us would define the phrase. Like the leadership of the Tory Party he claims are an out-of-touch elitist group, Farage was privately educated and formerly worked as a stock-broker in the City of London. It was Farage and his ex-colleagues who crashed the UK and global economy.

Rolling news programmes on the BBC and Sky are now referring to a ‘countrywide’ advance for UKIP, but the country to which they refer is not mine. For London-based broadcasters and newspapers, only England matters – except, of course, when the ‘Jocks’ get daft ideas about running their own country and taking control of its wealth and resources. Then the full power of the media is turned on Scotland with a vengeance: then the media loses no time in disparaging the aspirations of Scots: then broadcasters and newspapers become little more than the mouthpieces of the anti-independence ‘Better Together’ campaign, regurgitating word-for-word – often using identical headlines – the wildly negative press releases issued by the British Unionist organisation.

The BBC has decided to remain a member of the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), a right-wing, pro-big business organisation. The BBC uses £20,000 of licence-payers money every year to fund its CBI membership. The CBI recently registered as an official backer of the pro-British Union, anti-independence ‘Better Together’ campaign. However, once many of its Scottish members resigned because of that decision, the CBI said registration had been a mistake and asked for it to be cancelled. However, the organisation has not changed its position – it still opposes Scottish independence and supports the British Union, and the BBC is still helping to fund the organisation.

STV resigned from membership of the CBI because, as a broadcaster covering the Independence Referendum, it had to remain neutral and felt it could not be part of a group that was actively campaigning for one side, the British Unionist side. The National Union of Journalists has asked the BBC to resign from membership of the CBI, because its campaigning against Scottish independence leaves journalists working at BBC Scotland open to the accusation that their employer is biased. The BBC refuses to resign. In fact, in the past week BBC Scotland News reported a story in which the CBI again claimed a variant of ‘the sky will fall’ if Scotland became an independent country. The broadcaster failed to mention it was a member of the CBI and that it helps to fund its activities.

What the advance of UKIP in England has done is blow apart the claim by the Tories, Labour and the Liberal Democrats that somehow the staunchly British Unionist party led by Nigel Farage was not part of the anti-independence campaign. The argument offered by the three so-called ‘mainstream’ London-based parties was that UKIP was on the far-right margins of politics, but the English local government elections have changed that. Now UKIP is right there in the mainstream, standing shoulder-to-shoulder with David Cameron, Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg in opposing the right of Scots to govern our own country.

Such has been the effect of the English media’s promotion of UKIP that the Tories, Labour and Liberal Democrats have been drawn further to the right of the political spectrum in order to appear that they are willing to ‘be tough’ on the media’s favourite topic, the supposed over-running of ‘the country’ by immigrants who “come here to take our jobs and our benefits”, which leads us to the second significant issue to emerge from UKIP’s English advance.

There is now no doubt what faces Scotland if we reject independence in the referendum on September 18th.

Current polls relating to the 2015 Westminster Election – and the results of the English local government elections – show the most likely outcome for the next UK Government is either the Tories on their own or a Tory-UKIP coalition. If Scotland does not grasp the opportunity of independence, we will have a far-right government imposed on us by the electorate of England. If we don’t decide to govern our own country in our own interests, then we will be knocked from pillar to post by further devastating cuts to jobs, welfare and public spending, imposed by a rabid right-wing government in London.

The English electorate showed last Thursday that they are on a very different political journey to most of us in Scotland. England is moving further and further to the right, while mainstream opinion in Scotland embraces a moderate, centre-left position: the routes are incompatible.

Independence restores to the people of Scotland the right to govern our own country, to take decisions for ourselves, to plan our own economy and public services, and to follow the political path endorsed by the Scottish electorate.

Independence is simply being a normal nation.

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