Today The National reports that Nicola Sturgeon is calling on the UK media to challenge the refusal of the anti-independence parties to concede to the will of the Scottish people and agree to another independence referendum. Over the past few months we’ve seen numerous media reports about how the Conservatives or the Labour party or the duplicitous Lib Dems plan to maintain their refusal of a Section 30 order, even if the SNP wins a landslide in the General Election next month after standing to ask the voters of Scotland to give them an explicit mandate for another independence referendum. Our colonial governor general Alister Jack last week went so far as to explicitly deny that the SNP would have a mandate for another independence referendum even if they did win a landslide in December after asking the people of Scotland to back them in the demand for a Section 30 order.
What this refusal represents is the final destruction of the traditional unionist understanding of Scotland’s place within the UK. Those who call themselves Scottish Unionists always prided themselves on the fact that Scotland is not a colony, not a possession, but rather a kingdom which has freely chosen to unite with the crown of England to form the United Kingdom. But if Scotland is not free to end that union should it be the will of the people of Scotland, we’re not in a union at all. Scotland is a possession. Scotland’s position becomes indistinguishable from that of a crown colony. This refusal spells the death of traditional Scottish Unionism, and its replacement with an aggressive Greater England nationalism. When those who call themselves unionists have to resort to keeping Scotland within the UK by ignoring and denying the democratic will of the voters of Scotland, there is no union any more. A union implies democratic consent. A union implies choice. Remove those two factors and what you’re left with is a colony.
The refusal of the anti-independence parties to agree to a Section 30 order represents the undermining of the very principles of democracy itself. Democracy only exists when the parties of power can be held to account by the people. That’s how democracy works. When the people cannot hold power to account, democracy dies. In any healthy democracy the media plays a crucial role in holding power to account, in demanding that the powerful explain and account for their actions. Except for viewers in Scotland.
The opinion polls tell us that, the hopeful prognostications of certain pro-Tory columnists in the Herald notwithstanding, the SNP is on course to make substantial and significant gains in next month’s General Election. That’s not nailed on of course, there is a lot of work to do and a mountain to climb in the form of the UK media’s drowning out of Scottish messages in favour of the political priorities of other parts of the UK. However it is a reasonable expectation that the SNP will win more seats than it currently holds and increase its vote share compared to its performance in 2017. And it will do so after standing on a platform explicitly asking the people of Scotland to give the party a mandate for a Section 30 order and another independence referendum.
On 13 December, the people of Scotland will have sent a clear and unequivocal message to Westminster. Irrespective of who wins the election in the rest of the UK, the SNP will have won it in Scotland. Scotland will have said clearly and plainly that it wants to choose its own future, that the people of Scotland have the absolute right to decide their own future – and that choice is not to be subject to the political whims and calculations of Boris Johnson or Jeremy Corbyn.
It falls upon the media in the UK to hold the powers that be in Westminster to account should they continue to deny the democratic rights of the people of Scotland. But the signs are not good. So far the UK media has been perfectly content to continue to parrot the attack lines of the anti-independence parties – never mind challenging them, they have sought to amplify them and to present them as established facts instead of the political opinions that they are. So for example we see a continued description of any referendum without a Section 30 order as “illegal” or “unlawful”, when the only legal fact about such a referendum is that its legal status has never been tested.
What the media is spectacularly failing to do is to challenge the anti-independence parties on their failure to respect the will of the people of Scotland and their failure to respect the mandate for another referendum that the Scottish Government already holds. In an interview in Sky News at the weekend, Boris Johnson and Labour’s Rebecca Long-Bailey were pressed on whether they would refuse to allow another independence referendum. The default position taken by the interviewer was that a refusal was normal and expected, it was the direct opposite of challenging a politician on why they believed that they had the right to defy the democratic will of the people of Scotland.
The message from the parties of British nationalism and the British media is loud and clear. It’s not just that they don’t care how Scotland votes. It’s not just that they’re going to ignore how Scotland votes. It’s that they think it’s right and proper to dismiss what Scotland wants and to ignore how Scotland votes. And this is what they keep telling us is the most successful union of nations that the world has ever seen. Most successful for whom? Because from this end of the British state’s treatment of Scotland it sure as hell isn’t Scotland.
The people of Scotland are being failed by a British government which is hell bent on pursuing a hard Brexit which is damaging to Scotland’s interests and which is using that Brexit as an excuse to unilaterally undermine the devolution settlement. They are also being failed by a UK media which has repeatedly proven itself to be incapable of representing Scotland’s point of view. The UK media sees its role as helping Westminster to crush the thistle. When the media sees its role as reinforcing power instead of challenging it, democracy becomes a sham.
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