Friday, 21 February 2014

A Just Scotland Deserves Just Reporting

On Thursday the STUC launched its second A Just Scotland paper (AJS2). It is the product of extensive consultation with our members: a detailed, thoughtful piece of work which we hope will be a constructive contribution to the debate on Scotland’s Constitutional future.   
It addresses serious issues in a serious way, and reflects as far as is possible the questions that union members want answered before September - questions for the Scottish and  UK Government’s; the Labour Party; and the official Yes and No campaigns and their constituent parts.
The paper does not reach a conclusive view on whether the STUC should recommend a ‘yes, or ‘no’ vote and recognises that whilst individual unions may reasonably take a view based on their own priorities, it is entirely possible that STUC will not.  
It also recognises that for many, including a significant number of trade unionists, the answer to the questions posed by the referendum ‘isn’t obvious’.  They are in the process of balancing the pros and cons of Independence and the maintenance of the Union.  Presenting a binary view in which there are no positive aspects to the alternative position or weaknesses within one’s own is neither helpful to those who are still undecided or to the quality of debate generally.
When we launched AJS in September 2012 our hope was that we could create a space to have an open and honest debate, where the issues can be explored and the evidence examined, so that individuals and organisations can make up their own minds, and where people can ask questions and express views without fear of being labeled as a lackey of one campaign or political party.
And I said at that time, that the Scottish media have a responsibility not to report everything in relation to the Referendum with reference to the views of one or another political party or Government, the BBC and others having reported the STUC’s response to UK Government’s consultation on the Referendum in early 2012 under the headline ‘STUC supports SNP’.
Unfortunately, it appears that my plea to the media has fallen on deaf ears.
Having launched AJS2 on Thursday I was astonished to discover that the Scotsman online reported our paper and my comments at its launch under the headline ‘STUC backs Independence’. When it was pointed out how ridiculous this was the headline was changed. Unfortunately the article remained as a partial (and by that I mean incomplete rather than biased  - I would never accuse a journalist of bias-) report of both our paper and my press conference comments.  
What was reported as my claim that union members were 'more attracted’ to the campaign for Independence was a comparison I said was being made by our members of the respective vision for social justice presented at this point by both sides of the debate. 
What I said (and I know this is what I said as I wrote my remarks beforehand and presented them word for word) and what wasn’t reported, was that: 'while attracted to some of the vision presented by Yes and the Scottish Government some questions remain about it credibility - how it can be delivery - is it consistent with the broader economic model presented by the Scottish Government of low corporate and personal taxation and deregulation?'
What I also went on to say ( and again not reported) was that: 'there also remain concerns that the Scottish Government's proposed macroeconomic approach will make it more difficult for that vision to be achieved' and that 'the Scottish Government needs to be more convincing that as a junior partner in any currency union with rUK it will not be subject to the sort of fiscal and monetary constraints that would make the public spending that our members see as necessary to reduce inequality, provide a fair welfare system and quality public services impossible. Monetary union may well be the best option for an Independent Scotland, it will have consequences and more frankness on these consequences from the Scottish Government would be welcome as it would be for these in the Yes camp who advocate a separate Scottish currency’.

When asked directly by the journalist in question whether the STUC was leaning more towards Yes I said ‘No!’. 
AJS2 in intended to raise questions for both sides and not to favour one over another.
On the No campaign I said that many of our members ‘have been largely disappointed at the lack of vision presented by the devolutionist/unionist parties. It is not enough for them to say we will present our vision for social justice if indeed they have one in their manifestos for the 2015 UK Election or the 2016 Scottish Election – the Referendum is in 2014’.
I went on to say that ‘if George Osborne, Ed Balls and Danny Alexander can be definitive that an Independent Scotland will not be allowed to use the Pound, the unionist/devolutionist parties should be able to give a definitive commitment that any block grant funding formula would not would not place Scotland in a worse position relative to rUK if we vote No and should make firm commitments on the further powers that will be devolved to Scotland in that event’.  
At least the Scotsman journalist attended our press conference. The Daily Record reported what I was supposed to have said without the journalist having been in attendance or without having spoken to me either before or after! .By a strange coincidence, the Record’s report contained the same quotes attributed to me and presented the same misrepresentation of my remarks and the STUC’s position as did the Scotsman!   
It is little wonder that few in civil society and in industry are willing to put their heads above the parapet and engage in the debate on Independence when the media persist in reporting (or indeed misreporting) what is said within a binary (yes/no) paradigm.  
The STUC will continue to be open about our position. We will take on the debate and any criticism that comes with it.
However, when we are all seeking a higher quality debate, higher quality reporting would certainly help.

Grahame Smith
STUC General Secretary

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