I PROBABLY shouldn’t start a column in The National, talking about another newspaper. But when the new editor of the Daily Express pledges to fight Islamophobia and wants to promote the positives of immigration, I think it’s worth a mention on the basis of “better one sinner repenteth”.

Gary Jones has been editor of the Daily Express for more than a year now, a newspaper once infamous for its support of Ukip, extremes of Conservatism and anti-European sentiment. It’s even been accused of promoting hate speech by the UN.

So, it’s quite a turn of events for its new editor to be facing up to the newspaper’s bad reputation. Jones’s decision to turn down articles on Tommy Robinson or demonising minorities and focus instead on social justice issues recognises that perhaps some of his readers don’t want the same old daily diet of dirt and disinformation anymore. Unfortunately, his changes are just a drop in an ocean of hate and bile spewed forth by some major tabloid newspapers in the UK, much of it as far from fact as possible and as distant from truth and reality as their owners’ salaries are from the folk who read their papers.

These courtiers of hype, scandal and myth are backed up in public by figures such as Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson and in private tete-a-tetes with the PM and senior Cabinet ministers, who run with their scare stories and who amplify the fiction and point the finger at minorities. They care little for evidence and fact. It’s disgusting, but hate and distortion of the truth seems to sell, and it certainly seems to advance some political careers.

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These sections of the media are utterly complicit in the propagation of myths on immigration in order to shift copies or keep people watching.

It’s the theatre of the absurd, a pantomime of larger-than-life characters wheeled out to see who can shout the loudest and create the biggest stir or clickbait. And none of it has to even resemble the truth; it suits Farage and Johnson et al to give as little away as possible about the reality behind the headlines and keep the lie ticking along while poo-pooing academic research and erudite analysis from those they ironically call the “elite”.

Because their malign influence spreads far, it’s all the more important to find ways to allow voters access to the truth. How can people know what to think when they are unable to make informed decisions, when all they’ve got is shock-horror headlines to go on, knee-jerk, lowest common denominator soundbites and little to no evidence-based research. Factual information on important and divisive subjects is thin on the ground, despite reliable data produced which demonstrate the benefits of immigration to Scotland for instance, which shows how immigrants are the exact opposite of a drain on public services, how they don’t take our jobs never mind how much the media may pretend this to be true. In fact, just last week, a report published by the Federation of Small Businesses revealed that immigrant-led businesses contribute £13 billion to the Scottish economy. Significant though this figure is it is even more significant how little it was reported. Good news about immigrants is not news – according to the media mainstream.

It’s depressing stuff and it prompts the question, how do we combat this dearth of facts and figures, this thwarting of the truth?

There are some glimmers of light. One is the authority by which online commentators take apart the crude dog whistling of much of the media powers-that-be. More and more people are searching for the truth online and with Wings, Bella Caledonia and Craig Murray (to name but three of a number), we see independence supporting information sites dominating the web. I yield to no-one in my condemnation of bad online behaviour and since I have been the target of much abuse I really do know what I am talking about. However, you would have to be buttoned up the back not to appreciate the value of some of these contributions and I puzzle at the motivation of those who don’t.

To take but one example, recently Craig Murray wrote a piece on the treatment of the Chagos islanders following the comprehensive defeat of Britain in the International Court of Justice. No-one reading that report will ever doubt again how deeply racism is imbued in the British establishment and nowhere in any conventional media outlet would you ever see analysis of that quality and depth.

A second ray of sunshine is the potential of the Citizens’ Assembly idea long punted by Joanna Cherry and Lesley Riddoch. Bring together a representative sample of Scotland, let them debate the future with the help of expert witnesses and the decency and goodwill of ordinary Scots will prevail in their attitude to a genuinely open society.

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These assemblies seem to me both a practical and sensible solution in a world where facts are thin on the ground, expert opinion is often derided and scorned and consensus on big questions seem impossible. Information and suggestions on policy making in the hands of those who will be most affected by issues such as immigration or opportunities for growth is what the likes of this Tory Government, Farage and Johnson and the media moguls who have built their careers on distortion, fear most of all. The sooner we get started, the better.

A third reason for hope is the sheer scale and exuberance of the independence march in Glasgow at the weekend. There are one or two countries which have been able to boast such peaceful and joyful street movements for change – a few but not many. And yet we live in a media environment where the main Sunday BBC political programme frontman can actually ask his panel if such a demonstration of commitment and enthusiasm was somehow counter-productive!

It is even whispered that there are some in the SNP who share that view. If so, I would hope that they understand that pandering to the mainstream media’s worm’s eye view of Scotland will not advance our cause one whit – bo more than allowing the mainstream media to get away with playing footsie with racism without calling them out for what they are.