2007 - 2022

Demanding Democracy

chris-silver-demanding-democracyChristopher Silver’s ‘Demanding Democracy – The Case for a Scottish Media’ challenges the reader to ponder questions about Scotland’s broadcasting that far exceed the merely political or partisan. It is at first, an authoritative foray into the societal, cultural and economic origins of Scotland’s media both official and unofficial – print and otherwise. In all we are given a history of how writing with purpose and the service of information sharing came to be in Scotland.

Beyond these encyclopaedic notes, that give an insight into the depth of research undertaken, Silver asks two fundamental questions. Firstly, what is wrong with the Scottish media or perhaps journalism in general and secondly – how do we construct a viable alternative? Wrapped up with these questions are the underlying structures of the British state as well as its interactions with the Scottish nation, itself denied its constitution as one.

A most acute observation made in the book is the almost eternal bind experienced by the Scottish professional, the pro union media as a whole and by extension the collective consciousness of Scotland. If the media is not just, as often presented a mere portal by which information is disseminated; but is the expression of the “imaginative soul of a nation” – then the Scottish media is in itself an analogy for the trapped spiritual potential of a nation without a clear state or status.

Building off the insights of established narrators Nairn, Hutchinson and Donaldson, Silver cites the peculiar nature of Scottish institutions ensconced within the political reality of union. Given wide berth in some cases and yet unwilling to press the boundaries of political consensus, Scotland’s media was made up of men happy with the political and psychological constraints placed upon them.

This is provided to us as a perhaps generous explanation why given 45 per cent of the country would end up supporting Scottish independence, Scotland’s main titles would stay largely resolute, unreformed and unmoved. We also learn how this institutional gratitude for a vague autonomy was exercised within a context of empire and success not lacking in severity.

In any case what sets this work apart from a whole reel of texts disseminated before and after the independence referendum, was the focus on solutions to a series of problems that have laid untackled for the best part of 50 years. The current debate around media both broadcast, online and print is one framed only in terms of constitutional leanings or accusations of bias. Silver attempts to penetrate the debate and take it to deeper concerns around the nature of quality, ownerships, centralisation, investigation, national purpose and plurality.

“A new Scottish media must also be built on the premise that the quality with which it is realised, like the nation itself, has to be rebuilt, re-imagined, re-presented, on a day to day basis.”

Surprisingly enough the work stops short of a predictable call for all out war on “yoon press barons” but instead features a mature peace offering. Instead of shying away from a democratic wave they feared for institutional or economic reasons, the institutions of media should have put themselves to reforming and welcoming the critique. Far more subtle than a political manifesto Silver advocates transforming the way we communicate ideas and events in Scotland not only as a good in itself but a way of resurrecting a new public spirit.

The poor coverage during the referendum by the mainstream media, so often castigated, was not an organised attempt to rob Scotland as portrayed but a symptom of a deeper gross institutional neglect. A neglect which has left Scotland’s titles in a perpetual cycle of self harming decline and with it dragged down the nation’s consciousness and collective conversation.

This leaves us at the most haunting phrase from the book – the ominous warning to all if the new democratic impetus post referendum is not heeded in the structures of press coverage…”To accept this is to accept….Scotland’s public life as a half life”.


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Comments (12)

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  1. Alf Baird says:

    “gross institutional neglect”

    e.g. a ‘Scots Language (Scotland) Act’, which among other things would provide for:

    – Scots Language Broadcaster
    – Scots Language degree course
    – Scots language teachers and Scots language on the curriculum
    – Scots Language Board (to ensure the above is implemented)

    This would at least help remedy part of the ongoing institutional neglect (and cultural discrimination) and give Scots language speakers some long overdue equality with English, Welsh and Gaelic languages.

    1. Patrick says:

      Baird, this will end in discrimination, what every father or mother shall encourage his or her child to learn a second language, then all will success because language is for communication. The succes of United State is that its Constitution does not stablished a national language, neither a national religion.

  2. Thanks Alf, would you argue that teaching of Scots language it he primary problem in the media in Scotland?

    1. Alf Baird says:

      Difficult question, Ed. I think teaching Scots language would invigorate and strengthen what passes for Scottish culture today, media included. At the moment we have a heavily Anglicised culture, with (English) language influencing the way we think, as any language does, hence distorting both culture and behaviour. This I believe is one of the main reasons so many Scots vote against their own nationhood, which would be construed as bizarre otherwise. The establishment’s propaganda (media) message is rather more easily conveyed in this faux-linguistic environment, which is of course engineered by the establishment to be so, as evidenced by the long-term refusal to consider the widespread teaching of Scots and avoidance of legislation to enshrine the language (also a rather standard practice in numerous colonies, historically), as I propose should be done. As to the practicality, there might be some scope to teach Scots alongside English within schools, perhaps moreso at primary level, allowing for comparisons and contrasts, but essentially to demonstrate to young Scots that the way they speak in informal settings is thair ain leid efter aw.

      1. K. A. Mylchreest says:

        Does anyone out there in the real world actually use words like ´leid´ and so on?

        Before you can teach something (and more so before you can set examinations etc.) you have to define it, within bounds at least. Who is to do that and how? How many decades will that take? Would you teach Glaswegian in Glasgow and something quite different tae the loons and quines o Stonehaven?

        I´m not saying don´t do it, but at least look at the mess places like Norway got themselves into and be forwarned of the mire you´re likely stepping into.

        1. DC says:

          Perhaps Norway did get themselves into a mess over forms of language, but it was the kind of mess that a civilized country should be getting into (i.e. language development) as compared to the kind of mess that the UK habitually gets itself into within and beyond these islands – a kind of mess that, to add to Alf’s point, is gotten into as a result of a way of thinking embodied in, expressed by and even justified, through a language.

        2. Alf Baird says:

          I appreciate there are arguments either way, though the issues you raise seem far from insurmountable. As for Norway being in a “mess”, if only Scotland were in such a ‘poor’ condition (i.e. Norway is wealthy, confident, and independent, as opposed to Scotland’s relative impoverishment/decline, inequality/Anglo style elitism, cringe culture, and colonial/powerless status). Indigenous language is a lot more important than some think. Language defines who we are, how we think, and what we do. Language IS our culture. Without it we are nothing. The cultural oppression of Scots language therefore goes some way to explain Scotland’s current sorry predicament.

          1. K. A. Mylchreest says:

            On the whole I agree with your POV. My points are simply :
            1. Language wars, e.g. arguments about the correct version of a language, can get very bitter and quickly become irrational, and once started are hard to stop. Believe me you don´t want to go there!
            2. Whatever Scots once was, today it´s a series of informal dialects that converge in formal speech on something very like standard English. Therefore it requires a degree of determinism (some might even say fanaticism) to maintain the Scots is really a different language. After all there are very distinct forms of English spoken in Ireland, Canada, Australia etc. etc. yet afaik no one has ever tried to codify them as distinct languages.

            Forgive me for playing Advocate to the Deil, but all these questions are bound to be raised, so best prepare the answers in readiness?

          2. Alf Baird says:

            K A M, the only question really worth pondering here is why Holyrood was so keen to pass a Gaelic Language (Scotland) Act, yet refuses to progress a Scots Language (Scotland) Act? With goodwill and respect towards the (already more widely spoken) Scots language then effective progress is clearly possible. However, if ongoing institutionalised discrimination of Scots language continues, due in part to nitpicking over spurious technicalities as your comment suggests, then little progress will be made.

          3. K. A. Mylchreest says:

            Well yes, I agree, the disparity with Gàidhlig is striking. There are serious technical problems with Scots, but they should have been tackled long since, rather than being used as you suggest (and I´m inclined to agree) as an excuse for doing nothing. And on top of that there´s the whole popular conception of Scots as being something substandard, which needs to be countered. But that would require an officially recognised standard (doesn´t have to be totally rigid) for spelling, grammar and vocabulary, so that people like myself who are familiar with spoken Scots can have some confidence in writing it. And thrashing that out would/will take a lot of time and effort. So we might well ask, why hasn´t a start been made? Or has it? is there a body somewhere charged with this duty?

  3. Johna says:

    It’s been mumbled a few times, and not by ‘unionist’ partisan observers, but from those with no real dog in the fight, from other countries, the shallow and pseudo intellectual base of the Yes movement. This article is a case in point as it lacks any self-awareness and is simply another vapid ‘commentary’ on the current state of affairs dressed up in the language of an undergraduate essay. It exemplifies exactly how the Yes movement follows the same creepy qualitative systemics as Trump, and all the other arseholes. The fact that it is couched in left wing terminology is irrelevant as ostensible policy is not what is important – it’s where those systemics can take you – as with all nationalisms..
    It’s really simple. The issue is not the media nor who it supports – unionist or nationalist, nor is it about Democracy, but about the currently very unfashionable Liberalism – the European kind couched in Locke, Smith, Hume, Mill, Voltaire, Diderot, Montesquie, Montaigne, Kant, Wollenstonecraft, Paine, and so on, e.g the enlightened notion of the primacy of the individual and individual rights out of which come human rights, democracy (as the protection of the minority over the majority – see De Toqueville) plurality and freedom of conscience, speech and generally not being bullied by the ‘collective’ – not the term ‘liberal’ used for left wing America).
    Within a Liberal framework, the media always supports one side over another – each individual outlet has that right!!!!! And it is the right of individual to decide who he listens to. E.g) The Sunday Herald supports Indy, the Telegraph and Scotsman doesn’t. BellaC supports a leftist indy, the national a more mainstream Indy, the Guardian a liberal left unionism, the Daily Mail…and so on. The contrast is say fascism (defined here in the widest slippery sense of the authoritarian ‘collective’) who decry any the Liberal framework of the media if it doesn’t suit their agenda – i.e. this article/ book. The MSM is generally pro union so therefore it is wrong…eeeerrr right.
    I suggest the author goes and lives in a genuinely authoritarian society if he thinks the UK media framework is illiberal.
    The Guardian/ Observer is NOT illiberal, nor influenced by the British state simply because it doesn’t support nationalism – Scottish or British.
    Actually, there is plenty plenty criticism of all government power and state authority in the UK and Scotland, hence the reason that every government criticises and tries to clip..say…the BBC’s wings…Campbell for New Labour, the Tories endlessly complain about left wing bias, the Scot nats…etc etc. How is it possible that all these things amount to only one being correct. Not supporting Scot independence DOES NOT NECESSARILY MEAN the binary opposite – support for all the power structures of the British state exclusively. Hence the reason the BBC fights tooth and nail to maintain its independence.(even if it supports the Union – in a liberal framework it has that right!!!!!!)
    Time to dig out the currently fashionable Eco and his 14 points. And it’s hard not to shiver at some of the ‘crypto’ sentiments expressed by Mr Solonge.
    1) ‘Wrapped up with these questions are the underlying structures of the British state as well as its interactions with the Scottish nation, itself denied its constitution as one.’
    – Conflating state interference with a pluralistic media, some of whom happen to support said State. Basically, they don’t support us so they must be wrong and there must be some conspiracy. Trump says the same, Marine Le Pen says the same, Putin says the same, Xi Jinping says the same. Scottish nationalist is no different. Populist crap. Tick
    2) ‘…eternal bind experienced by the Scottish professional…’

    – wow, I had to read that twice… you really did use the word ‘eternal’ to express a temporal state of affairs – how is Nuremberg these days?
    3) ‘… If the media is not just, as often presented a mere portal by which information is disseminated; but is the expression of the “imaginative soul of a nation” – then the Scottish media is in itself an analogy for the trapped spiritual potential of a nation without a clear state or status.’
    – I’m too busy shuddering to comment on such a statement…’spiritual potential of a nation…’ FFS.
    4) ‘….was not an organised attempt to rob Scotland as portrayed but a symptom of a deeper gross institutional neglect…’ Rob Scotland…stop patronising people. There is no collective hive mind, there is no creepy Volksmeinschaft ‘spirit of the nation’. Does it ever occur to you in your arrogance that people fully understood the issues, they fully understand their own sense of identity and voted against Nationalism? But because it doesn’t suit your agenda you dress it up in this pseudo historical grievance. I say well done voters in the ref for seeing beyond the partisan nature of the media and voting with awareness.
    5) ‘.. was not an organised attempt to rob Scotland as portrayed but a symptom of a deeper gross institutional neglect…’…Jesus H Christ…

    To sum up, the press is only Liberal if it agrees with a Nationalist agenda…right.

  4. That was intersting to read!Thank you!

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