Saturday, 13 June 2015

The SNP: Murdoch By Other Means, by Robin Carmody

Rupert Murdoch desires to isolate inconveniently semi-socialist outposts from the core of the Anglosphere, and to separate them geopolitically so as to provide much less inconvenience to himself.

I suspect that nobody is more pleased at the thought that the SNP might take Scotland out of the UK if the UK left the EU.

Thus, the West would be divided into a United States of the Anglosphere and a United States of Europe, with the United Kingdom partitioned between the two. That would be the conclusion of Murdoch’s life’s work. 

But the SNP has, to a very substantial extent, brought this unholy alliance on itself.

Specifically, it has not fully realised how similar – even if espoused for different reasons – much of its rhetoric is to classic Murdochian ideas.

It does not really have the right to complain that it is being used for geopolitical reasons, promoted and pushed so as to help other forces within a Great Game that, at root, has very little to do with Scotland.

I do not dispute that many SNP members and voters are genuine Scottish patriots. I do not dispute that many of them feel a genuine revulsion at neoliberalism and all its works. I do not dispute that many of them feel they have the best possible intents at heart. 

I do not challenge the fact that the British state and its institutions have often treated Scotland appallingly, as much on the Left as on the Right. 

I may disagree with them about whether or not their aims can be achieved without disastrous effects on the very existence – the very  right to exist in their own country – of a very substantial number of people who know no country but England. But I do not doubt their sincerity in what they claim to believe. 

However, national self-determination has to include a cultural element or it is nothing. It also has to recognise where the main threats to its nation’s cultural sovereignty come from – and just as importantly, where they do not come from, even if they once did. 

At times, the SNP reminds me of the owners of the Croke Park GAA stadium in Dublin in an era that already seems far distant, who before they allowed soccer and rugby to be played there (leading to one of the key reconciliations of 2007), still forbade “English sports” but happily allowed American stadium rock bands to perform there. 

Both have suffered from a tendency to fight old battles so long and so far that they have lost sight of where the real intrusion is coming from now. 

In that respect, they are very useful and convenient for Rupert Murdoch, much of whose drive and determination comes from the exaggeration and perpetuation of a mythical “Establishment” long after it has actually ceased to exist.

He appeals to an Anglo-British populist patriotism that is increasingly open in its English nationalism at least in rhetoric, although it is Anglosphere nationalist in practice.

He does so while selling a wholly foreign culture draped in the Union Jack or, increasingly, the Cross of St George, and trusting in the inability of the lumpenproletariat to know the difference.

If others do something alarmingly similar elsewhere, just dressed in a Saltire, then who can blame Murdoch for lending them his fervent support, the better that they can be used for a deeper geopolitical goal? 

More specifically, the SNP and Murdoch share a profound enemy: the BBC. 

The SNP will make maximum levels of political capital out of age-old resentments – many of which undoubtedly existed historically for huge and justified reasons, and may well still do so in some cases – about an institutional bias against Scotland and specifically towards the South East of England. 

I do not doubt that the BBC, in common with other London-centred institutions of what in those days really still was the Establishment, has in the past treated Scotland poorly and contemptuously on occasions, perpetuating nasty, played-out, unfunny jokes and stereotypes. 

But attitudes are fundamentally different now.

Even if largely by default, the BBC has become far more committed to areas that it largely ignored in the past. That was part of the reason why ITV tended to do better the further you got from the south-east in the duopoly days.

Scotland has at least, and very much unlike Northern England, retained the mass-audience commercial channel that “hammocks” the big English or globally-rooted hits with its own output.

Although not everyone in Northern Scotland has been happy with Grampian’s absorption, something that Sky of course rendered much harder to avoid. 

It is wholly unfair, in my opinion, to suggest that there is as great a cultural bias and disapproval as almost certainly existed for much of the BBC’s history.

Most importantly, the obsession with the BBC as the sole and only threat to Scotland’s cultural self-determination does not simply play into Murdoch’s hands.

The SNP would keep the principle of public broadcasting alive in a way that Murdoch would not. But its idea of public broadcasting could be far more blatantly state-controlled. Scottish definitions of Leftism were never really influenced by libertarianism, whereas English ones were in a way that pushed elements in the English Left towards their own kind of “same means, different ends” ambiguity about Murdoch.

Yet the SNP ignores what is, by any standards, the far greater threat to the things a reasonably culturally conservative, social democratic, nationalist party is supposed to defend by the proliferation of deregulated broadcasting, a door which Murdoch largely pushed open and of which, at the risk of mixing metaphors, he has remained the gatekeeper. 

Are Scotland’s historic market towns (where romantic nationalism was once strongest, but which came through for the Union when they had to), and are its former heavy-industrial areas (where the new nationalism has its strongest core of support), really full of people adopting the speech, manners and dress sense of Reithian formality?

And there is another irony: the BBC’s roots are very substantially in a kind of Anglo-Scottishness that England and Scotland have abandoned in about equal parts, and revolted against in directions which may seem oppositional in every sense, but which are brought together by Murdoch’s desire to use them both.

Are those market towns and those former heavy-industrial areas characterised by the speech, manners and dress sense of Reithian formality, such as have been greatly compromised even in their longest-lasting heartlands in the same era that has seen Scotland gain ever greater autonomy, and which indeed declined largely under the influence of the same government which authorised that autonomy?

Or they characterised by the speech, manners and dress sense brought through the global tide of deregulated media, which have far fewer historic ties to Scotland and far less meaningful connection to any idea of Scottishness, but which – as in Ireland – are sometimes embraced as a “lesser evil”, and on the wrong side of which, every bit as much as in England, you cannot get if you want the most circulated newspaper to support you?

The Stage and Television Today digital archive confirms that at a time of intense frustration and anger in Scotland in the wake of the rigged 1979 referendum and the effects of Thatcherism, Dallas was more likely to be the BBC’s most-watched programme in Scotland and Northern Ireland than elsewhere.

That undoubtedly reflected the fact that the BBC’s own output had more of a Home Counties vibe at the time than that produced by the ITV companies combined.

But it also reflected an outlook that, if transferred from the closed broadcasting environment of 1982 to that which exists in 2015, is every bit as pseudo-anti-Establishment as that of Murdoch himself.

And that is before we come to the effect of Sky on how even the leading clubs of Scottish football have fallen so far behind financially in modern times.

I am wholly aware of the problems built into the Old Firm’s existence, and I would not wish the way Rangers have been treated by successive owners even on that part of the working class, by far the most problematic for people like me throughout history.

I think that the Scottish top flight has probably been better off without them. Though it would be better off still if the team rooted in an equally ahistoric, and now deprecated, view of Ireland rather than of England-as-Britain, could be challenged seriously for the title.

But the fact that Rangers, and to a lesser extent at that point Celtic, once had an income and financial clout comparable even to the leading clubs in England, and well above that of the middling and lower sides in what was about to become the Premier League, seems almost unbelievable now. It is not the BBC that has caused that situation. 

Worse, there might even be a tendency within the SNP which thinks that Murdoch is really Scottish simply because of his surname and ancestry, and which feels that his struggle with the old paternalistic English establishment – which he has perpetuated in his mind long after it ceased to exist, out of sheer fear of being exposed as an establishment titan in and of himself – is also their struggle, equating the two in its mind.

Consider that Welsh nationalism generally, and Plaid Cymru specifically, are stunted at birth in most of Wales by the basic inability of any movement that says that “We were here first and the English are really German” to make any moral claims to be above those in England who say that, “We were here first and people of Pakistani descent who know no country but England are really Pakistani”.

Likewise, you cannot really condemn English Murdochians who effectively say, with the usual racial inferences of that kind of Anglosphere nationalism, that, “All white Americans are really English”, if you yourself are willing to make similar claims when it suits you.

Show Murdoch anyone who makes their central enemy, the guiding force of their hatred, the mythical enemy of BBC and Home Counties Englishness as if 1955 had never ended, and he will love them in a heartbeat and never let them go.

BBC and Home Counties Englishness has in reality been utterly compromised and weakened for three decades.

When I happened this week to re-read Philippa Pearce’s Minnow on the Say, I found it harder and harder to believe that it seemed relatively normal to me as a child, something that I could imagine happening at least the day before yesterday.

Just as I find it harder and harder to believe that Eleanor Graham’s Puffin Book of Verse, a book that among much else clearly articulated Reithian Anglo-Scottishness, seemed comparatively unremarkable and almost easy to get my head around.

That change has been in line with the silent and almost entirely unacknowledged, but of course intimately Murdoch-led, transformation of Toryism into neo-Whiggery.

But show Murdoch someone who recognises the vastly increased challenge that deregulated multichannel broadcasting poses to the maintenance of national cultural sovereignty, and he will make it his life’s work to freeze them out and isolate them from any kind of power, permanently and for good.

That challenge is posed to any nation, anywhere in the world, and in this context it is posed both to the United Kingdom, for those who still believe in it, and to its constituent parts, for those who believe in those in and of themselves.

The SNP has made mythical BBC and Home Counties Englishness their central enemy, the guiding force of their hatred, obsessively for decades.

They have vastly exaggerated its power, strength and potency in the modern day, in exactly the same way that the incarnation of The Sun which painted Nicola Sturgeon as some sort of Communist holding the country to ransom continues to do, arguably more than the version of the paper which hailed her as a conquering hero. 

But the SNP has never lifted so much as a little finger to recognise the vastly increased challenge that deregulated multichannel broadcasting poses to the maintenance of national cultural sovereignty.

I have no doubt that its wariness on this point comes from a desire to seem as inclusive and right-on as it can. As indeed do many tendencies of thought in modern England. In the end, in the harsh geopolitical realities in which we live, those come out as implicitly and accidentally pro-Murdoch. 

I have a good deal of sympathy for the argument that any feeling on the SNP’s part that a return to the BBC-IBA model in an independent Scotland would be implicitly totalitarian and quasi-fascist comes from a place far closer to the soixante-huitard English deregulators of the Left than to the full-on cynicism of the Cameron-Osborne position.

Fundamentally, we are talking about Marxism Today when Sky launched from Astra, and when it could still be imagined to be that which Marx thought that mercantile capitalism could be.

But facing the Anglosphere, from its core to its fringes, and as it is rather than as everyone who thinks like me wants it to be, how can the SNP, truthfully and honestly, complain when the global oligarch of neoliberalism sees that party as a force with which he can work?

I could admire the SNP with far fewer doubts and far fewer reservations if it had realised that its central aim, however well-meant and however well-thought-out in the SNP’s own terms, could so easily be used by forces that I have no doubt that many of its members and at least its longer-term supporters despised.

I could do so if it had sensibly and empirically adjusted some of its tactics in response, placing more emphasis on the damage done to a putatively independent Scotland’s cultural sovereignty by the scale of the global mass media, and moving away from the absolute, unrelenting emphasis on attacking the BBC, out of a sensible realisation that there were stronger and more powerful anti-BBC forces against which, if it came to a battle of anti-BBC positions, the SNP would have no chance whatsoever. 

As it is, the party is fatally compromised. 

Undoubtedly honest in what it believes, and undoubtedly genuine in some of its ideas. But still fatally compromised by Salmond’s Faustian pact with forces that could make mincemeat of the SNP if they wanted to.

They could in the end render it as desperately trapped as those in England who are most likely to feel an affinity with it as long as they are unaware of that pact’s full implications.

That is the ultimate extreme definition of being desperately trapped, as I think that anyone could agree.

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