MUCH of the media struggled last week to adjust to the new political landscape, with many of the scribes, editors and chiefs defaulting back to 2014-style reporting.

BBC Scotland kicked-off on day one of indyref2 with Good Morning Scotland giving a platform to constitutional expert Alan Trench who explained to listeners that the process of organising a referendum would result in Scotland going the same way as Northern Ireland and descending into civil war.

Over on Peston on ITV, somebody called Kim Leadbetter – apparently the “Proud MP for Batley and Spen” – anglo-splained to viewers how for “the SNP to just go straight back to talking about independence is really not fair on the country…”.

From Inverness viewers on the remarkable Question Time could watch Tories Fraser Nelson and Craig Hoy alongside Pam Duncan-Glancy and Susie McCabe – all to an audience riddled with more plants than the Botanics.

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In print too, old habits die hard. In the pages of the Guardian Martin Kettle did his best to understand the moment, explaining that “Nationalism thrives in the absence, exacerbated by Brexit, of a shared and capacious sense of what Britain is”. Of course the opposite is true. British nationalism has thrived and driven the Brexit debacle. Scottish nationalism is driven, in part by having a very precise sense of what Britain is.

Then relaxing in the warm balm that is liberal centrism he goes on: “Britain needs a movement of more open and conciliatory minds that can steer it between the rocks of Anglocentric Unionism and the building of fresh borders across these islands.” Musing on the predicament he explains that this is a problem that “Johnson is totally ill equipped to address, even if he wanted to”. That’s a statement that could be applied to pretty much anything but his solution is funnier still.

He explains sombrely that: “The truth, therefore, is that this task, if it is to be tackled, must fall to a new leader. If that leader is Keir Starmer, he will face an enormous economic, social and international agenda and may do so as head of a minority government. It is a daunting prospect. But the greatest challenge that history has reserved for Starmer will be to find a way of recreating the British state. Starmer’s plan to rule out an alliance with the SNP and to oppose a second referendum imply that he gets it.”


If Kettle has an excuse for not knowing what he’s talking about, Chris Deerin has not. Over at The New Statesman (“Nicola Sturgeon has taken her biggest gamble”) he argues that the Sturgeon plan will be a “disaster” and “smacks of desperation”; it is a “blunt-force wholly lacking in finesse”. For Deerin is confused why the First Minister is “pushing ahead in such an aggressive way”. Readers, this is also known as “seeking legal clarity” and is not, in any possible sense, “aggressive”.

Whatever you think about Sturgeon, the SNP or independence it is, almost painfully polite, legalistic and cautious.

But for Deerin – strangely the New Statesman’s Scottish Editor – we are at the “Whacky Races” and the Scottish Government’s roadmap is a “revolutionary act”. This is “grievance max”. Getting up to a froth now Deerin thunders that “Sturgeon has given herself no option but to persuade her countrymen and women that Westminster is unfairly denying them a basic democratic right”.

But that’s precisely what they are doing and its plain to see.

All of this is sad if very predictable. None of the media operatives, senior editors or producers seem capable or motivated to reflect on their output at all. They have just snapped-back to their default position. The problem for them is this is very different now. If, for reasons of ownership, personnel, or political outlook the media (north and south) had a hard-wired Unionist-bias, it did at least want to make the case for the Union, at least sometimes.

But now we have a very different approach that is drawing even the most open-minded Orphaned Centrist into its centrifugal force.

The argument is no longer that we are “Better Together”, it is no longer proselyting for “pooling and sharing” or even offering the economic comfort of “broad shoulders”. None of that. It’s not even arguing “Now is not the time”. It’s basically cheerleading the position that there is no time or place for a poll, ever. They are basically celebrating the suppression of democracy in perpetuity. That’s quite a space for supposedly liberal or even left (ish) outlets like The Guardian, The Times and The New Statesman.

As my colleague in these pages Stuart Cosgrove recently noted: “Such is the grip that Unionism has over Scotland’s public discourse that our best paid journalists are required to argue that a bleak impoverishing and neo-racist Unionism is preferable to change.”

It’s sadly true but you have to wonder if there is any threshold to this behaviour? How comfortable are they going to be – and for how long – attending to their duties as defenders of this miserable state, and specifically the idea that democracy should be suppressed?

DESPITE claims from Kenny Farquharson at The Times that there is “such a different mood in Yes camp compared to ’14. Angrier. Less curiosity. Less optimism. More tribalism. More anxiety. More finger pointing”, that doesn’t seem to be the case at all.

Much of the most toxic elements of the Scottish nationalist movement have disappeared and efforts like AIM’s “Yes Pledge” specifically calls for “no to transphobia, homophobia and misogyny” and “zero-tolerance approach” to discrimination and prejudice”.

The pledge reads: “Working together with others who have subscribed to this pledge, our primary focus will be to engage those who are yet to be convinced of the positive case for Scottish independence based on those values and endeavour by example and illustration to enlist them to our cause.”

Another paragraph of the pledge adds: “Specifically we will, individually and collectively, conduct all-out campaign communication and organisational activities in a respectful and tolerant manner, agreeing to differ where necessary but always taking a zero-tolerance approach to discrimination and prejudice.”

This is about being self-critical, beginning to address the toxicity of some online discourse and taking responsibility for your own tone and conduct.

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There is no equivalent in the Unionist media or what passes for the No movement. No self-reflection, no pause for thought, no idea that maybe, just maybe things are different now and churning out the same content from the same handful of gatekeepers is all OK.

It’s an invitation though for the editors of these papers and journals, and to the producers and editors of the broadcast media to think again about their output, their balance and their commissioning.

Is this really the position they want to defend? As Deerin himself pointed out, the academic Ciaran Martin himself has noted that “if pro-independence parties gaining a majority of seats at Holyrood – as they did in last year’s devolved election – is not a legitimate trigger for a referendum then it is hard to see what the democratic route to one is. The absence of such a pathway, he argues, risks transforming the UK from a union of consent into one held together by force.”

These are intelligent men. They are all men. They are experienced journalists. They have basically descended to a point in which their output has only two purposes: to celebrate SNP failure or to cheer for the permanent repression of a vote in Scotland.