by Rab Bruce’s Spider

Mastodon: @RabBrucesSpider1@Mastodon.Scot

Twitter: @RabBrucesSpider

It was interesting to listen to Nicola Sturgeon’s recent media interview where she fielded questions on a range of topics. The hostility of most journalists was fairly evident, and most of them focused their attention on the recent GRR controversy.

I must admit my admiration for the way Nicola Sturgeon did not lose the rag at some of the questions. One, in particular, struck me as quite lacking in self-awareness on the part of the journalist posing the question. He wanted to know how the FM thought that people outside of Scotland would view the GRR furore.

The FM did not retort with the obvious remark that the uproar is largely of the media’s making. She did, quite rightly, point out that other countries have passed similar legislation without there being such opposition. She did, though, refrain from pointing a finger at the main culprits in Scotland even though they were all sitting in front of her.

Now, wherever you stand on the GRR, the one thing you can be sure of in Scotland is that the media, which is almost exclusively pro-Union, is going to seize on any opportunity to bash the SNP. Look at things like NHS waiting times which are pounced upon every time they are poor; look at the reporting of the delays in building ferries; look at the howls of outrage over the minimum pricing of alcohol. They even ran many articles critical of the building of the Queensferry Crossing, and are always delighted when there are traffic problems on that new bridge. With that sort of track record, it was inevitable that the media would use the GRR as a stick to bash the Scottish Government.

This is where I think the FM has got things seriously wrong. Much of the criticism over ferries is justified, so it serves no purpose to provide the media with yet more ammunition to bash the SNP. The GRR was always going to be controversial, and pushing it through has given the media a field day. Nicola Sturgeon would probably claim that the legislation is the right thing to do to help a stigmatised minority, and that politics should focus on what is the right thing to do. She may have a point, but public opinion, in part stoked by the negative media coverage, is not with her on this topic. Many people have serious misgivings about the potential loopholes in the proposed law which could give predatory males access to female spaces. In light of historic cases of sexual abuse by Catholic priests and youth sports coaches, those fears are understandable even if the Scottish Parliament believes they are unfounded.

My main point here is not about the various opinions on the gRR Bill, but on why it was wrong to bring the legislation forward at this time. Given Scotland’s ridiculous constitutional situation, it is foolish to give the media such an opportunity to create an uproar with which to bash the Scottish Government and, by extension, to turn people against the idea of independence. The latest poll shows support for becoming a normal country has fallen, with the blame being placed on reaction to the GRR.

Now, this reaction may or may not be the real reason. Opinion polls are notoriously capable of producing the result desired by whoever commissions them. However, if there has been a fall in support for Scottish independence, then there are two things we can take from this.

First, it is confirmation that the media can influence people’s views by seizing on any news event which allows them to bash the SNP. Since the SNP is synonymous with the desire to become a normal country in the eyes of the UK media and many Unionists, it is something of a political blunder to provide them with what they are looking for.

Secondly, and the part which really bugs me, is that the electorate are influenced on independence by policy issues or personalities. Becoming a normal country should not depend on who is in power or whether you agree with any of their policies. Scotland as a nation has been around for centuries, and will be around long after the current crop of politicians have gone. If current politicians do something you dislike, that really should not alter your views on independence. Indeed, even the current crop of proto-fascists who form the UK Government should not really influence views on independence except in so far as they are extreme examples of the fundamental problem. The English electorate seems to like right wing extremists, and Scotland has no power to vote them out. But these extremists are symptoms of the problem, not the cause, and we should only point to their behaviour to provide examples of why Scotland must become a normal country.

That recent poll has rather depressed me as it confirms that far too many people are missing the point entirely. Let’s hope they soon appreciate the real constitutional issue, and are not distracted and misdirected by the media whose job it is to keep them in ignorance of the real problem. On this point, I do wish Nicola Sturgeon, when responding to questions about teachers’ pay from those Unionist journalists, had made far more of the fundamental problem being that Scotland’s budget is set by Westminster. She alluded to it in a vague way, but she really ought to hammer the point home. Some may see that as playing the grievance card, but it is factually correct, and failing to mention it allows the media to point the finger of blame at the Scottish Government for not agreeing a pay deal. Public sympathy may well be with the public service workers who are taking industrial action, but as we’ve seen with the GRR, the media are capable of influencing that opinion. By always avoiding the central issue of who controls Scotland’s purse strings, the media are able to create the #SNPBad headlines they crave. Many Scots are immune to this now, but clearly, a great many are not, so the FM needs to do a lot more to highlight the problem. And she certainly needs to stop giving them ammunition by supporting unpopular policies.