IT’S hard to believe that the first Scottish independence referendum took place five years ago. Hard to believe because it seems like it was only yesterday. Hard to believe because it seems like it was in a different era. So much has changed, and so much is still to change. The rollercoaster of the past five years is only going to be matched by the rollercoaster that is ahead of us.

Scotland’s first independence referendum changed this country forever. Pre-referendum Scotland really was a different country from the one we live in today.

It was a country where opponents of independence enjoyed an ascendancy that they believed to be unassailable, one that they thought would last forever. Better Together went into the first Scottish independence campaign confidently predicting that it expected a No vote in the mid 70% mark. Now the anti-independence parties are desperately trying to prevent a second referendum from taking place, because they know that when it does happen that they will be lucky to minimise the scale of their loss. The arrogance of British over-confidence has been replaced by panic masquerading as arrogance.

That ground-shifting referendum took place in a Scotland where the message of British supremacy was almost unchallenged in this country’s traditional press and the imperial dinosaurs of the Labour Party stalked the land. A country’s media is supposed to hold up a mirror, to reflect that country, to allow it to see itself, to foster conversations between its disparate voices. In Scotland that didn’t happen. Scotland’s media held up a distorting mirror, framed in red white and blue. The large and growing segment of the Scottish population which was coming to believe that perhaps this country might do better for itself through independence was marginalised, sidelined and disparaged. But that was all about to change. We had had enough of being silenced.

In the years running up to the referendum, I was living in Spain. For many years I had edited an English-language monthly features magazine. That’s how I learned how to write. When you have three blank pages staring at you because a contributor has let you down, and there’s only a few hours to go before the magazine has to go to press, you sit down and you write something. When you live with looming deadlines you quickly learn that there’s no such thing as writer’s block, there is only “I can’t be bothered”. But when it’s your neck on the line, you can be bothered.

In my spare time I contributed to Scottish politics blogs and forums. Back then BBC Scotland actually allowed ordinary punters to leave comments on its stories and features, and I became a regular below-the-line poster on the Blether With Brian blog on the BBC Scotland website. This was the blog of the BBC’s political editor Brian Taylor, and although it was called Blether With Brian, it was really Brian Makes Statement While the Rest of You Blether Amongst Yourselves. Possibly the BBC didn’t go with that because it wasn’t a snappy blog title, but it would certainly have been more accurate.

Another of the regular below-the-line posters on the blog was a guy using the ID GreenockBoy. I got to know him in another Scottish politics forum which we both used, we exchanged email addresses and kept in touch that way.

You may know him as GA Ponsonby. GA Ponsonby has been ridiculed by traditional journalists. He’s been disparaged even by some independence supporters. But all by himself, his hard work, his obsessive dedication, he did more than any single individual to launch the Scottish digital media revolution, and to change the Scottish media landscape.

It was a revolution that brought about the normalisation of the concept of independence, bringing it from the margins of Scottish political discourse in the McGhetto to which the British establishment had consigned it, to the very centre of Scottish politics. It was my immense privilege to be a part of that revolution along with him.

We were all quite happy commenting away on the Blether with Brian blog until early in 2010 when the then leader of Glasgow Council Stephen Purcell resigned from his position, admitting to having issues with cocaine addiction.

Until his spectacular fall from grace, Stephen had been a rising star of the Labour Party in Scotland, touted for great things – even leadership. According to reports, he had regular lunch meetings with newspaper editors and BBC management.

The story as presented by BBC Scotland was an invitation to the Scottish public to sympathise with Stephen and his struggles with mental health issues. However at the same time all sorts of allegations, some of them pretty lurid, were circulating about what had really been going on in the Glasgow Council which Stephen Purcell had led. None of these were investigated by the BBC. Those of us of a Scottish independentista persuasion who commented on the Blether With Brian blog felt that the BBC was operating a double standard here.

We felt that had this been an SNP politician, the issues surrounding his resignation would have been investigated at length, in detail, and would have been plastered all over Reporting Scotland for months to come. Yet because this was scion of Scottish Labour, the BBC was circling the wagons in an effort to protect the party.

Any attempt on the Blether With Brian blog to raise some of these wider allegations about Glasgow Council were immediately censored. It was very clear that the BBC did not want us to discuss them. GA Ponsonby wasn’t one to take this lying down. He decided that all by himself he was going to take on the combined might of the Scottish media...

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