29 May 2017
May 29, 2017
As a bank-holiday adjunct to this piece, here’s a weekend article written by a journalist generally agreed to be a good thing; the sort of person who often writes illuminative stuff challenging lazy thinking regardless of its political shade. But not this time.
Kevin McKenna’s article for The Herald, a newspaper with an editorial policy of opposing independence, is entitled; “Save us from faux Unionist outrage and cybernat bullies”. It presents as a balanced piece damning both sides, but if you look closer it’s anything but.
On the one hand, there’s a condemnation of politicians’ ‘faux’ responses – this applies to all politicians of course. Just like it’s faux for a teacher to be ‘angry’ in the classroom, or for a cop to be stern over a minor misdemeanour. All professions have such devices, and while its perfectly fair to deconstruct them and consider their true value, a political journo complaining about how politicians speak feels as tired and pointless as a fisherman complaining about the way the tides work.
On the other hand, though, there’s very specific condemnation of ‘cybernats’ for pursuing a nurse who asked a question critical of Nicola Sturgeon on BBC Question time. Cybernats hounded the woman, says the piece. And they were completely out for order.
Really? Well, The Sun isn’t a cybernat; nor is The Daily Record and nor are any of the other newspapers which provided similar coverage.
A nurse who says she is a foodbank user makes two attempts to put a controversial point on a TV programme watched by millions. She has recently posted pictures of herself drinking champagne in a nice New York hotel and self-describes as ‘moderately wealthy’. She appears to have a child who recently completed a private education. She earns a reported £23k within the NHS and is registered with nursing agencies for overtime which may considerably inflate her earnings. The question was framed as a criticism of Nicola Sturgeon yet nurses in Scotland are paid more than nurses in England. Indeed, the ‘off-piste’ question was, as The Sun rightly pointed out, an ambush planned by the programme’s English producers long before the programme began filming.
Is McKenna saying that journalists should have ignored all of this – that their stories were essentially abuse? Of course he isn’t, because he’s a journalist these folk are his mates.
In truth, The Herald has simply taken an editorial position that this issue should be used to maintain the ‘othering’ of independence supporters and McKenna has written a piece as required. Unionists control the Herald so social media and pro-independence arguments, regardless of how professionally put together, are to be denounced as ‘cybernats’.
So on instruction from his editor, McKenna’s attacks these ‘cybernats’ for raising questions about the nurse’s authenticity. He refers to ‘lazy assumptions’ about foodbank users and says that SNP ministers – by extension the beneficiaries of the activity of ‘cybernats’ – “will not ever have to bother themselves about what the inside of a foodbank looks like”.
Does McKenna really think that ministers have never seen the inside of a foodbank? In Scotland, ministers are all MSPs and as such are REFERRERS to food banks because food banks ration through referrals from councils, MSP/MPs and other authorities. It would be a strange MSP/MP and minister indeed who had never seen the inside of a food bank. In fact, there’s a ‘fake news’ feel to this part of the piece. It’s always a bit smelly when journalists who’ve done a day-trip to cover a social story claim a deeper and more personal knowledge than MSPs/MPs who go into people’s living rooms, and into social facilities like food banks, on a daily basis.
And it’s all very well to behove us all to check our privilege and avoid stereotyping. But it’s reasonable for people to think there is a necessary link between the way people are forced to live their lives and their use of food banks, isn’t it? Because if this is wrong, as McKenna suggests, what are foodbanks all about? In fact, if McKenna asks around foodbank users and those who run them, he may be surprised to find that he needs to check his own stereotyping because many most certainly find the nurse’s self-presentation as a ‘moderately wealthy’ foodbank user more than a little unhelpful.
No, McKenna’s a more than competent journalist and his piece is uncharacteristically weak because it’s been constrained too clumsily to fit the editorial policy of The Herald. That editorial policy is designed to appeal to well-heeled people who send their children to private schools (see the lucrative schools advertising contained within the paper) and delight in the ‘property porn’ of the famously well-laid out houses section. So it feigns support for a left-of-centre perspective, but nothing that’ll scare the horse-owners. And support for independence does the latter. So the editor of the Herald serves his international owners by helping keep the ‘cybernat’ nonsense alive. And that’s where McKenna’s piece comes in.
Indeed, perhaps the most telling line in the whole article comes near the end with; “despite all the recent fake talk of a Tory surge”.
What kind of ‘fake’ surge is represented by a doubling of support from 15% to 30% when there’s a general election the following week? Why would a competent journalist write this nonsense?
Well, one who’s just told us that it doesn’t matter that the devolved Scottish budget is derived from what English ministers decide to spend on English departments; that it’s irrelevant that even so nurses in Scotland actually have a better deal than those in England; that it’s academic that the UK government is able to pass asymmetric tax powers to Scotland as a simple trap.
The harsh reality for commentators like McKenna, available to whoever can pay, is that The Herald’s international owners are dealing elsewhere with a long-term Tory UK government. When they cast their eyes to Scotland, they see the striking rise of Tory fortunes in Scotland and understand that Ruth Davidson is certainly the single most influential UK Tory politician there. They understand, too, that no government stays in place forever and they can see the distinct possibility under the union of a First Minister Davidson at the head of a unionist coalition. Hence the coy; “what Tory surge?” deception.
Cybernat isn’t just a lazy term of abuse. It isn’t even just an ‘othering’ term we should have heard the last of a long time ago. It’s a term with deep purpose and meaning for the mainly subsidised commercial interests that are Scotland’s unionist newspapers.
To be sure, plenty of newspapers owned by big corporate interests put out great quality journalism. But when decent Scottish journalists are happy to spread the ‘othering’ abuse via the false narrative of ‘the cybernat’, we should certainly taken note and celebrate the rise of better journalism through social media.