In Scotland, the Unionist media went through the Wonderland mirror many moons ago into a land where up is down, black is white, arse is over elbow, and where good is always bad but bad is never mentioned. There are opiate addicts with a firmer grasp on reality, and indeed more teeth capable of getting a firm bite on a situation. Until very recently the phrase “Scottish Unionist media” was tautological, but despite the fact there is a pro-independence digital media and one Sunday and one daily paper which support independence, as far as the Constitutional debate is concerned the traditional media landscape in Scotland is still overwhelmingly dominated by adherents of the view that nothing at all can possibly demonstrate that Scotland is capable of doing things better by itself, unless it’s a photo opportunity for Ruth Davidson.
The result is that in Scotland we don’t get a comprehensive news service, we get the print and broadcasting equivalent of a piss-stained drunk who’s staggered out of the golf club and is now lying in the street shouting incoherent abuse at passers by about how SNP management of the NHS, education, or Scotrail means that Scotland could never ever become an independent country. In a normal country, the media would realise that how any single political party manages any single aspect of government has bugger all to do with the wider issue of independence. In a normal country, the media would understand and explain that how a single independence supporting party runs the NHS has no bearing on whether Scotland should become a properly self-governing democracy in which other political parties will be able to form the government and implement their own distinctive health policies. We don’t live in a normal country. We live in the land of the piss stained golf club ranter where independence and SNP are synonyms, and who insists that Unionism is the same as neutrality and balance.
Compare and contrast, hospital beds and frigates. Only one of them floats the boat of the Unionist press, and it’s not the serial broken promises of the MoD about the frigates that may or may not be built on the Clyde. During the referendum campaign of 2014 Scotland was promised that the MoD would build 13 Type-26 frigates on the Clyde, but only if Scotland voted against independence. After Westminster secured its No vote, the number was reduced to 8, and now it’s been reduced again to 3. Yet the Scotsman newspaper still regarded this as a fantastic boost for the Scottish shipbuilding industry and proof that we need Westminster to look after us. The lies, misrepresentations, and broken promises of Westminster are conveniently overlooked. The lesson is that Scotland must be grateful for whatever crumbs we’re offered.
This week, the health charity the Nuffield Trust which specialises in health research and health policy published a report on the state of NHS Scotland. The title of the report was Learning from Scotland’s NHS, which you might think was an indicator that the thrust of the study was that the struggling NHS in the rest of the UK might benefit from copying how things are done in Scotland, and this was in fact what the report concluded. Good news, you might think. Now, no one is claiming that the Scottish NHS is perfectly rosy. No one is claiming that there are no issues, challenges, or difficulties in the service. However the fact remains that even though health in Scotland is funded by a Barnett Formula which grants Scotland an amount to spend on health which is directly related to what is spent on health in England, Scotland is making a considerably better fist of its NHS provision than the shambling disaster that is the Tory-run NHS in England which is lurching ever closer to the cliff edge of privatisation. This was the main point of the Nuffield Trust report.
Much the same was reported in an opinion piece earlier in the week in the Guardian, written by an anonymous senior manager in the Scottish NHS who wrote that despite not being personally a supporter of the SNP, she or he recognised that the SNP knew what it was doing on health and broadly praised the policies of the Scottish Government. The anonymous manager pointed out that by far the greatest threat to the NHS in Scotland was Brexit and the insecurity it has created amongst EU citizens who work for NHS Scotland and the difficulties it creates for future recruitment. In terms of challenges for NHS Scotland, the senior manager didn’t consider independence rated a mention at all.
Surprise, surprise, this wasn’t what certain parts of the Unionist press decided to focus on in their coverage of the Nuffield Trust report. The Herald, which has recently taken to publishing opinion pieces from arch-Tory Chris Deerin because David Torrance isn’t Conservative enough, decided that the most important thing to take from the Nuffield Trust report wasn’t that NHS Scotland is being competently run, they decided that the main point of the report was an attack on independence. Experts warn NHS at risk from independence focus screamed the paper’s lead story on its front page. The looming disaster of a Conservative induced Brexit didn’t get a mention.
In fact there was but one single mention of independence in the entire 61 pages of the Nuffield Trust report. It came in the following passage on page 29:
Several interviewees from across the spectrum of roles referred to a polarised political culture, with the Scottish Government seeking majority support for independence and a largely hostile press looking to attack their record on the NHS. This could make contentious decisions about shifting resources away from hospital care seem almost impossible.
Another way of putting this is that the Scottish Government is handicapped in its ability to make sensible decisions about healthcare because of a hostile press which seeks to turn every decision made by an SNP administration into an attack on independence. We have a press which habitually conflates SNP decisions in a devolved administration with the wider question of independence. The lesson to learn here isn’t that the question of independence is putting the Scottish NHS at risk, it’s that Scotland is being badly served and our public services are being prejudiced by a media doesn’t fully reflect the range of views in Scotland and which is incapable of – or unwilling to – distinguish between the policies of a single party in a devolved administration and the far bigger question of the constitution. A more accurate headline would have been Experts warn NHS at risk from Unionist media hysteria.
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