This article is part of our “How to Build Scotland’s Confidence” series. We hope the series will inspire the movement in 2023 and help answer how exactly we build our nation’s confidence.

IT feels like 2014 all over again. The pensions fear tactic has even been revived. Similar tabloid scares about the flight of capital, of corporate HQs, of the super-rich and of professionals have also resurfaced. Of course, the “Putin will be pleased” story is with us again as it was in 2014.

In the weeks before the referendum vote, we saw media scares based on dishonest comments by political figures and even by one former football commentator, including suggestions that pensions were at risk. This was only part of a wider fear tactic, later admitted to, and recognised as game-changing by the No campaign leader.

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Even in 2014, polling for the No campaign revealed that a significant majority of Scots liked the idea of full independence but, unfortunately, too many of those same voters were anxious about whether Scotland would do well enough economically to maintain public services and, of course, pensions.

This strategy remains effective because it plays not upon our rational thoughts, but upon our emotional responses to change and, for many, that means an irrational fear of any change resulting in voting tendencies to favour the status quo.

We know from repeated polls that younger voters (under 30) are strongly in favour of independence and older voters (over 60) are mostly opposed. It is only among the middle groups (30-59) that support is fairly even. We also know that this group consumes news primarily from newspapers, radio and TV broadcasts and as a result, are more likely to become anxious and depressed.

While anxiety is not confined to any one age group, older voters are more likely to have a higher degree of dependency on public services and there is little doubt that our understanding of risks is heavily dependent on the media messages that saturate our daily lives.

News editors select the stories to report from a wide range of possibilities. Some readers might remember the iconic line from the 1960s US TV series Naked City: “There are eight million stories in the naked city. This has been one of them.”

When the media outlet is a public service broadcaster or claims to be a quality, responsible, newspaper, that decision should not be made randomly or just based on a desire to shock and attract readers and play into the anxiety that plagues these older voters. Broadcasters and newspapers have a responsibility to provide their audiences with an accurate and representative picture of the world they live in, so that they can then make informed decisions about the risks and the opportunities they really face on a day-to-day basis – not rely on clickbait.

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But our media is failing us. Several online media monitors have pointed to a stronger tendency to report on anxiety-inducing failures in health, policing and other public services in the Scottish mainstream media than in those operating in the rest of the UK.

One key factor here is that, for example, a failure to meet hospital waiting times targets in Scottish media, especially in BBC Scotland broadcasts, will platform extended accusations from the three opposition parties, accusing the SNP of failure to manage the NHS effectively.

This politicising of health issues is largely absent from most media in the other three nations and there, failures will be attributed to the health trusts. The Scottish Health Secretary will commonly be the image of the failure and in the text, “accused” but his equivalents in the other three nations will rarely appear and, if they do so, their fleeting appearances will be only to blame the Scottish NHS.

A second factor is the selective reporting of success and failure in meeting targets. Waiting time targets of around 90% to 95% are typically seen as aspirational in other parts of the world but are treated as minimal in Scotland.

These are often ignored by media in the other three nations.

The National: NHS to do ‘all it can’ to cut wait times in town as backlog busting blueprint unveiled (Image: PA)

Where they have not been met, they are almost always reported as headline failures with associated calls for resignations. Where important targets are met in, for example, drug and alcohol treatment, IVF or immunisation, there is no coverage. A similar tendency can be seen in the reporting of crime where unreliable one-year increases in particular crimes will be headlined while dramatic long-term reductions will be ignored.

Third, there is the lack of context despite editors claiming to value these in guidelines. So, for example, better performance in A&E waiting times relative to the other three NHS areas, or lower crime rates, will not be mentioned. If they are, opposition politicians will be platformed to attack them as whataboutery, of no interest to patients or victims.

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These are, of course, not direct attacks on the notion of independence but because they are reported in a politicised manner, the party in government, the SNP and the wider Yes movement are associated by implication. All are undermined in the minds of the voters, and many made even more anxious by this distorted news reporting are drawn to reassurances of a comfortable continuity with an imagined past offered by the No campaign.

What can be done about this? The task is considerable but a combination of informed rebuttals and demands by Scottish government ministers to have these stories aired in full in primetime news broadcasts and on the front page, mass letter-writing to newspapers and mass complaints to editors by supporters of the cause, are at the very least needed.

Media has for so long been acting against us. It’s time to use it to our advantage.