Thursday, 31 January 2013

Clarity and Truth


In the interests of clarity and truth there follows the text of an email to Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon from the Irish Minister for European Affairs, Lucinda Creighton, on the subject of a "misconstrued" interview which she gave to the BBC on the subject of the position of independent Scotland in respect of membership of the European Union, that subject having become a particularly hot potato recently, as is apparent from today's First Minister's Questions in the Scottish Parliament (shown above), in the course of which the email in question was referred to.
The text is prefaced here by an explanatory remark by Ms Sturgeon:
"I had the pleasure of meeting Lucinda Creighton, Ireland's very impressive Minister for European Affairs, when I was in Dublin yesterday.
You may have seen a clip of an interview she gave to BBC on the news last night and reported in some papers today – the impression given was that there was a difference of opinion between her and the Scottish Government on the issue of Scotland's continuing EU membership.
The email she sent me earlier today – attached here with her permission – makes clear that is not the case."
"Dear Nicola,
I want to thank you for a brief but informative meeting yesterday. I am concerned that an interview which I conducted with the BBC is being misconstrued and wanted to assure you that it certainly was not my intention to interfere in any way with your domestic debate.
It certainly was not my intention to intervene in the Scottish debate about the future of your country.  As I stated clearly to the BBC (though perhaps they did not show it) this is a question exclusively for the Scottish people and I fully respect that fact.
I was asked about the future of negotiations with the EU in the event that Scotland votes for independence. I thought that my reply was largely in line with that of the Scottish Government. I certainly did not at any stage suggest that Scotland could, should or would be thrown out of the EU.  Scottish people are clearly citizens of Europe.
I did answer the question about hypothetical negotiations with the EU. I think it is clear that a newly independent state would have to (and would have the right to and indeed should) negotiate the terms of membership, as they would undoubtedly be somewhat different to the existing terms. I did say that this would take some time, which I expect it would. I also went on to say that a newly independent Scotland would be welcome as an EU partner (and I think that applies to all EU member states including Ireland).
My understanding is that the Scottish Government has already committed to a negotiation with the EU between 2014 and 2016, if you vote for independence in 2014. If my interview suggested something other than that, this was not my intention. I think my comments have been misconstrued. I sincerely regret this.
As SNP Westminster Leader Angus Robertson said, 'Negotiations on the terms of membership would take place in the period between the referendum and the planned date of independence' and 'The EU would adopt a simplified procedure for the negotiations, not the traditional procedure followed for the accession of non-member countries.'
I think that sums up the situation quite well.
I hope that this clarifies my position, and again I regret that my words seem to have been presented or taken out of context.
Warm regards,
Lucinda Creighton"
It is gratifying to see the pro-independence Scottish Government making such effective use of FMQs to counteract the inherent bias of the anti-independence anglo-media, which the eminent journalist Iain MacWhirter happened to refer to in an article on the Scottish independence referendum in The Herald this very day:
"What is likely to be more of a problem for Yes Scotland is maintaining political balance during the 16-week referendum campaign, especially on broadcasting. They are up against the combined might of the three opposition parties, the Unionist UK and Scottish press and UK government departments, which have not hesitated to weigh in on issues like Faslane."
The inherent bias of the anglo-media, not least the BBC, particularly BBC Scotlandshire, as it is irreverently known in independentist circles, is well documented and poses a clear threat to clarity and truth in the referendum campaign, I venture to suggest. A comparative study of political journalism in Scotland and Quebec published in the early years of the restored Scottish Parliament is worth consulting in this connection:
"In studies of nationalism, journalists are frequently identified as important figures in the promotion of national identity. They are, says Tom Nairn, among 'the loose screws who cause the trouble' (Tom Nairn, Faces of Nationalism, 1997, p188), the symbol-operators who communicate the vision of a national movement by translating it into everyday political and social realities - or so the theory goes. But is this what actually happens? A closer study of the relationship between journalists and modern nationalist political parties would seem to indicate that the process is much more complex than that, subject as it is to the influence of a variety of social, political and economic factors. In the case of Scotland and Quebec political journalists have played quite different roles in the promulgation of nationalism. Francophone journalists in Quebec, for example, were supporters of the independence movement from its earliest beginnings, and have long seen it as their responsibility to examine both federalism and sovereignty equally, while Scottish journalists have taken a much more critical stance towards independence, and, until very recently, have not seen the necessity of exploring the independence option in depth. The reasons lie in deep-rooted cultural and social differences, which have affected how Scots and Quebecers see themselves, and, in turn, how the journalists in these two places report nationalism (...)
The Scotsman promoted the defence of the Union with considerable vigour, if not venom. During the 1999 Scottish parliamentary elections the SNP, which was perceived as a serious rival for Labour, was subjected to a much more critical examination of its policies than before, something which party strategists had not expected. The coverage, 'which ranged from the sceptical to the outright hostile' (Peter Jones, The 1999 Scottish Parliament Elections: From Anti-Tory to Anti-Nationalist Politics. Scottish Affairs, vol 28, Summer 1999, p5), certainly did not demonstrate the same kind of commitment to fairness and balance found in present-day Quebec journalism. The one paper that was committed to objective journalism in its reporting of the campaign, The Herald, found itself boycotted by Labour, which withdrew £100,000-worth of election advertising from its pages, and was reportedly described by then Secretary of State for Scotland Donald Dewar as 'an out and out nationalist newspaper' (Murray Ritchie, 2000. Scotland Reclaimed: The Inside Story of Scotland's First Democratic Parliamentary Election, p91). The negativity of the coverage was perhaps to be expected, given the past history of hostility between Labour and the Scottish National Party, but the intensity and savagery of it was not. As Iain MacWhirter (The Sunday Herald, August 15th 1999) noted: 'The SNP was never going to get an easy ride from the overwhelmingly Labour-supporting Scottish print media - though the ferocity of the assault ... took even seasoned hacks by surprise.'
(...) the reluctance of Scottish journalists to take the independence option seriously is understandable, given the unfavourable political climate and the career difficulties that doing so would create for them, but, still, it is worrisome that independence, which regularly receives poll support of more than 30 per cent, and on occasion has been as high as 50 per cent, has not been examined more thoroughly up until very recently. Political journalists in Quebec have seen it as their responsibility to examine both federalism and sovereignty equally, despite the hostility that this generates from their anglophone media colleagues in the rest of Canada, because this reflects the views of Quebecers. Scottish journalists, at least up until now, have not seen the necessity of exploring the independence option in depth, although, with the arrival of devolution and the Scottish parliament, this has changed, but the scrutiny is still coming from an anti-SNP and pro-Unionist perspective.
(...) The key difference between Scotland and Quebec is that the journalists in Quebec had the same social, cultural and political values of their sovereignist political colleagues, which arose out of a shared sense of national identity. This is not the case in Scotland, and will not be until the SNP has established the same deep roots in the Scottish community that the sovereignists in Quebec have - and that is also a matter of political organization as well as identity."
If the Yes campaign does not succeed in persuading a majority of voters in Scotland that independence is in their best interests, it will largely be because the vested interests represented by the anglo-media are well able to frustrate what one may presume to be the good intentions of the Electoral Commission by ensuring that there is in reality no level playing field for this contest. It will also be because, to paraphrase Mark Twain, a lie can travel half way around the world while clarity and truth are putting on their shoes.