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Poetry in motion

Poetry in motion

I’ve just had a Labour leaflet delivered to me – by someone in full Highland regalia. Looking online at the hoo-ha over the Makar, Liz Lochhead, joining the SNP, I see the first complainant signs himself ‘Real Scot’.

You see a lot of this sort of thing, where the Craven Scotch feel a need to proclaim their patriotism, because they know they don’t meet any minimal definition of the spec and feel guilty about it. “Yes, I wear a kilt to weddings, drink whisky at Hogmanay, support Scotland at rugger, but am passionately opposed to my country controlling its own affairs.”

It has a sort of logic, I suppose, but not one that would be recognisable on this planet, or most others, last time I visited. It’s another case of ‘only in Scotland’.

The opprobrium heaped upon the heid of such a lovely lassie as the aforementioned Liz is predictably nasty, given where it’s coming from. But there’s nae doot she’s opened a container full of burrowing invertebrates.

If you’ve a pair of hands about your person, let us proceed to examine them. On the one paw, a citizen of sound rhyme and body should be able to support whichever party he or she sees fits. If you discount the media, we live in a democracy and, provided you don’t go too far left or right, you’re unlikely to be hounded.

On the other hand, if you’re in a public position, representing all the people, it’s said that you cannot proclaim your allegiance to one sectional interest. Fair point, though if that were so it’d be pretty hard to be First Minister.

But I suppose there’s something in the complaint. We all have a vision of somebody somewhere being entirely above it all, even-handed, Olympian even, like an old-school civil servant perhaps or The Times as fondly imagined in the past. It was hard to achieve but a good aim to have.

However, the civil servant would bring all the baggage of his class, upbringing, public school and gentlemen’s club with him. Similarly, in the press, a reporter’s choice of intro, decision to lead on the announcement or the opposition to it, selection of quotes, and framing or perspective will skew these facts one way or the other.

That said, I do – honestly, guv – remember going out of my way to shoehorn in a great quote or salient fact to a story even if it was deadly to causes I backed privately. However unfashionable, I do believe passionately in the truth and that one’s cause should have to deal with it.

I was brought up on a paper of record and the idea was to let people make up their own minds from as many facts as we could put at their disposal. I have to laugh at the many comments you read online – mainly from nationalists – praising biased commentary for being objective news.

At the same time, a nationalist friend of mine criticised the new National newspaper for being too biased. He wanted an idealised, objective news presentation of the sort outlined above. I suppose I did too but, at the same time, I revelled in reading news presented from a different perspective. It was all legitimate, factual and truthful. It just started from a different set of assumptions or prejudices, if you will.

I’m wary too of our industry’s predilection for self-mythologising. This hides tremendous conceits. The word ‘propaganda’ is thrown about loosely but it’s the mot juste for most political coverage. Whatever happens will be twisted mercilessly to the cause of the newspaper concerned.

It isn’t inevitable. But it’s nigh-on universal. And that’s before we even get to whether certain news is covered at all. Propaganda is as much a sin of omission as commission. When news broke about the suppression of the McCrone report, which painted a rosy picture of an independent Scotland’s future, at least one Scottish paper suppressed news of the suppression. Thus Scotland. Weird place. Weird media.

As for yonder Makar, perhaps she should have suppressed her own SNP membership. Every Makar will have political views. The previous Makar also supported independence. You’d be hard pressed to find any creative or intellectual Scottish person who doesn’t.

But disclosing, or just having, party membership was arguably making a rod for one’s own back. Liz might have learned from the self-mythologising of journalism. Journalists would never, or rarely, take out party membership but the allegiance of some is so transparent that it’s only a formality. Their party gets more value from their coverage than their party membership fees.

Perhaps you could say something similar of your saintly hero here but I fancy that would pertain to causes rather than parties, having voted for several of the latter at different times.

It’d be difficult to conceive of a Makar who didn’t have a view on independence, even if hardly surprising to learn that they were pro. Given that view, it’s not illogical that they join the SNP, though it could as easily have been the Greens or Socialists.

Oddly enough, that would have attracted less ire from those party political types expressing the view that others should have no party political views. 

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