The reception of our most recent editorial has been predictable, to say the least. We argued that the media’s simplistic, largely fabricated “narrative” of the independence campaign was part of an inevitable tendency towards the propagation of myth by a press industry limited by its format and its need to find a broad appeal built on the illusion of instantaneous objectivity. We finished by calling for the development of an alternative narrative that offered optimism, social democratic values and a more inclusive way of doing things, while demanding that if the media must make myths, it should make myths that don’t have deeply dangerous wider implications for our national psyche and our political culture.
Here’s what the former Secretary of State for Scotland and MP for Paisley and Renfrewshire South had to say about it:
We owe Douglas Alexander our very warmest gratitude. You see, we’re only wee – even wee-er than Scotland, Dougie! – so we’re grateful for the exposure to his 20,000+ followers.
We’re grateful that he linked all those followers to an article that contained, very near the start, a refutation of the biggest and most ridiculous effort at myth-making and misrepresentation of the last few days – Herman Van Rompuy’s irrelevant and year-old comments on independence, presented by some media channels as a ‘recent’ intervention.
And we’re particularly grateful that at the very heart of his response was a total and wholehearted endorsement of the argument of the article, which we assume he did actually read all the way through.
Because ultimately, Dougie’s response was all about the narrative. First and foremost, he painted us – little old us! – as “the independence campaign”, in an all-encompassing splash of accusation. We’re flattered, really, but we insist on setting his mind to rest. We’re supported across Scotland’s creative community and by tens of thousands of monthly readers and contributors, but we’re just a small part of a wide-reaching, pluralist and grassroots campaign that is almost embarrassingly more engaged and constructive than Better Together could ever hope to be. Next, he slotted us seamlessly into his narrative of “lying separatists” – a story where Alex Salmond is the big bad wolf, and everybody else is so desperate, and so devoid of constructive arguments, that we’re willing to stoop to shamelessly lying to the public to justify our freakish beliefs.
Now, Douglas Alexander is a very clever man. We don’t really think that he failed to understand the message of our editorial. But he saw an opportunity to build on his narrative, and he took it. Fair play to him, up to a point. But he’s not lying “responsibly”, as our editorial asks him to do. Even from the perspective of his own campaign, it wasn’t the best idea to broadcast an article that was – if we may say so ourselves – a good example of how the Yes campaign is often capable of constructive introspection and public self-criticism for the sake of raising the standards of debate in a way that Better Together simply isn’t.
We recognise that we’re not perfect, and we recognise that our society and our democracy isn’t perfect, so sometimes we need to dress our arguments in rhetoric that gives them a meaning that stretches beyond our debased political culture and into our culture, history and communities. Douglas Alexander won’t admit it publicly, but he recognises that too. That’s why he indulges in some of the most competent myth-making we’ve ever seen in his well-crafted speech to this year’s Scottish Labour Party conference. His exposition is a brilliant piece of storytelling, weaving the story of Scots who contributed to the International Brigades in the Spanish Civil War into a portrayal of Labour’s unionism as something internationalist, radical and progressive. This is a myth that can be easily deconstructed, but nobody bothers – it seems cruel, almost cynical, to use the tale of old Thomas Watters to make political attacks (much like the ones later on in the speech). It’s a nice story, and one that encourages people to do good things. Does it really matter if it’s nonsense?
On other occasions, though, Mr Alexander indulges in an utterly destructive, tribal form of myth-making that completely undermines his occasional positivity. In a debate with Gerry Hassan in the Scotsman early this year, Mr Alexander said this:
[W]e now face both a referendum and a politics in Scotland where the constitutional issue will continue to dominate public debate in the months ahead. I believe that we will choose to stay within the UK, and thereafter I hope we can move forward to a politics that is defined more by ideals than by issues of identity. And that seems to me to capture the enduring and essential difference between the nationalists’ politics and my own. Their politics, at root, is defined by identity…
This is an astonishingly arrogant claim, and precisely the reason “nationalists” are so hostile towards the Labour Party. A cursory glance through the articles of this website shows a group of people utterly insistent on an inclusive civic nationalism that puts poverty, social justice and sustainability at the very front of public debate while condemning the politics of raw identity. The narrative that paints us all as “narrow nationalists” is divisive, mendacious and cruel. Dougie, we know you know what we mean when we talk about myths. We recognise that you need to tell your own stories to justify your side of the argument – we simply ask that if you’re going to do it, don’t pretend that you don’t, and don’t use your considerable rhetorical skill to slander and distort an opposition that wishes to be as constructive, positive and social democratic as you claim you are.
So thanks, Dougie, for proving our point in front of 20,000+ people.
Timeline of Events
3 Nov, 10PM: We reveal that the Observer erroneously presents a Youtube video by Herman Van Rompuy from June 2011 as ‘recent news’, claiming that he has ‘intervened’.
3 Nov, 11.28PM: We notify Better Together that they are tweeting about a story that erroneously presents a Youtube video by Herman Van Rompuy from June 2011 as ‘recent news’.
3 Nov, 11.45PM: We notify Better Together that it is disingenuous to tweet repeatedly about a story that erroneously presents a Youtube video by Herman Van Rompuy from June 2011 as ‘recent news’.
6 Nov, 12AM: We publish an editorial arguing that the media’s simplistic, largely fabricated “narrative” of the independence campaign was part of an inevitable tendency towards the propagation of myth by a press industry limited by its format and its need to find a broad appeal built on the illusion of instantaneous objectivity.
6 Nov, 10.30AM: Douglas Alexander publishes a tweet disingenuously claiming that our editorial is an ‘extraordinary appeal from the independence campaign for myths to be fabricated to try & justify separation’.
6 Nov, 8PM: We publish a note of thanks to Douglas Alexander for proving us right.