As I begin to write this, I ask myself two questions -
Why do I still buy the Herald?
Does anything the Herald says about Scottish life still matter?
The answer to the first question is residual loyalty to what was once a great Scottish newspaper - one that I have read for over fifty years - and for occasional superb contributions from Ian Bell, Harry Reid and Iain Macwhirter.
The answer to the second is almost certainly no, given its declining circulation, its almost complete abandonment of basic journalistic standards, especially in news reporting, and the exponentially growing of television and the new media.
But, with the nagging feeling that I am wasting time that could be more productively used elsewhere, I feel that I must comment on today’s page 7 report on yesterday’s Politics Show Scotland leaders debate, chaired by Isabel Fraser.
In yesterday’s blog, I offered clips from this debate and my commentary, which are opinion, from the perspective and allegiance of a committed Scottish nationalist and SNP supporter. But the televised debate itself is a matter of visual and audio record, available to anyone who wishes to view it and draw a conclusion.
The Herald offers two pieces on page 7, one by Robin Dinwoodie, which is presented as news by the Herald’s chief political correspondent, and an opinion piece - Comment by Brian Currie.
The headline for the Dinwoodie piece was typical of the Herald’s style of bias by headline - selective and unrepresentative of the debate - Salmond under attack for fighting anti-secrecy law.
In an objective news report, it might have been Holyrood Party Leader’s in vigorous debate on The Politics Show, but if I adopt the Herald’s style, it also might have been Opposition Party Leader’s under attack for their opposition to minimum pricing for alcohol, or even Iain Gray under attack for blocking minimum pricing, or perhaps Salmond and Scott attack Goldie and Gray’s proposals for minimum sentencing for knife crime.
My preferred headline, adopting the Herald’s modus operandi, might have been Holyrood Opposition Leaders fight like ferrets in a sack while First Minister remains calm and objective.
Dinwoodie devoted the first 450 words or so of a 750 word article to the freedom of information question referred to in the headline, which essentially involved the Government trying to protect the principle of civil servants offering advice in confidence to ministers, something supported and defended by every government of whatever political colour. As the FM pointed out, the actual costs of an LIT, far from being a secret, had been announced to Parliament by John Swinney. In spite of the opposition parties and the Herald’s desperate attempts to make a story out of this, we may be reasonably be certain that the voters won’t give a damn about such arcane points of government.
What they do manifestly care about is the blight of alcohol and violence in their communities and what their government is doing to protect them, the issues that were in fact central to Sunday’s debate, but which Dinwoodie and the Herald glided smoothly over, as well they might, since they showed the poverty and expediency of the opposition to the SNP’s minimum pricing proposal, and the Labour and Tory simplistic and unworkable proposals for minimum sentencing for knife crime.
And then we have Brian Currie’s little opinion piece. His general theme was that much of the debate was an unedifying squabble, and I agree wholeheartedly with that.
But in his third paragraph, he says -
Regrettably, Tavish Scott, Iain Gray and to a slightly lesser extent Alex Salmond and Annabel Goldie continually tried so hard to drown each other out during the BBC Politics show yesterday that many of their exchanges had all the merits of a bar-room rammy.
The inclusion of Alex Salmond in this bad behaviour is, quite simply, untrue, and a blatant distortion of the facts, as anyone watching this programme would testify. He was an oasis of calm and courtesy throughout, and despite being continually interrupted by the others, refrained almost entirely from joining in, although he could not resist a couple of pertinent and amused comments as Goldie and Gray fought like ferrets in a sack. Iain Gray, repeating his lamentable performance on the STV Leaders Debate, continually interrupted the First Minister.
But Currie, forced to comment on the embarrassing and at times chaotic behaviour of the three opposition leaders, - which was there for Scottish viewers to see - felt he had to tar the First Minister with the same brush, because the quiet dignity, courtesy and objectivity of Alex Salmond throughout doesn’t sit well with the caricature of him that the Herald wants to present.
What Scottish viewers saw - and can see again - was a microcosm of what has gone on in Holyrood for four years - an expedient, policy-bereft opposition, ill-informed by their masters in Westminster, engaging in blind, opportunistic opposition to almost anything the SNP government tried to do, only held together by Alex Salmond’s mastery of the politics of minority government and his statesmanlike recognition of where the real interests of the Scottish people lie.
Again, a poor, poor show by the Herald.
But this newspaper matters less and less to the people of Scotland, as demonstrated by its inexorably declining circulation, and the people have found their own channels to the truth, something rarely present in the Scottish print media today.