Gilbey on Film: Chronicle of Protest, previewed

Activist video is providing a corrective to the mainstream media - but nothing beats the power of a

One of the qualities I love about cinema is its assertiveness: it's so much harder to overrule or ignore a film when it's on a cinema screen, whether that screen is in the Grand Palais in Cannes or the Slough Cineworld, than when it's on television, laptop or iPod. I was impressed when I watched Chronicle of Protest, the omnibus edition of Michael Chanan's attentive video blogs for the NS, on DVD this week. But its real power will become apparent, I suspect, only when it is screened in a cinema, as it will be this Saturday as part of the East End Film Festival.

Chanan's blogs have already contributed to the democratising of the media by drawing heavily on amateur videos, shot by activists on the various protests and sit-ins which have engulfed and energised the country since the coalition government came to power. Moving that material to a cinema screen provides a kind of ratification that is pleasantly at odds with the film's urgent, snapshot feel.

The idea behind the commission, if I understand it correctly, was to provide a coherent picture of the mood of protest. Mainstream media can only fragment and dissipate such a groundswell, filtering each separate demonstration through its own agenda. (One example highlighted by some of the film's interviewees is the bizarre way in which the unhappy travel experiences of two members of the Royal Family became the focal point of the protest against the hoisting of tuition fees.) Chronicle of Protest goes some way toward being a corrective to this.

Through some nifty editing and lucid rhetoric, the connections between the actions of the coalition and the hardships imposed on communities become transparent. A level-headedness emerges in the judicious cutting of scenes which another documentary might have played straight; I especially liked the way Chanan cuts back and forth between the temperate oratory of Terry Eagleton and the incendiary scenes of protestors storming Jeremy Hunt's appearance at the LSE. Laurie Penny of the NS reflects that the government is rather like a spider, in that it is more scared of us than we are of it, and Chanan helpfully replays in slow-motion close-up a shot of Hunt looking mortified as the room is besieged.

I also liked the material showing another of this magazine's writers, Mehdi Hasan, imagining at the podium what he would do to attack the government if he were Ed Miliband. I express no favouritism to Mehdi, whom I have met only once (I believed we discussed Terminator-related matters), when I say that his address gives the film an extra jolt of fiery energy. (Later, Chanan films an interview with him from a suspiciously low angle, as though Mehdi is being stung in a Panorama exposé, perhaps on a cash-for-guest-editorships scandal.)

One thing I didn't like about this otherwise involving film was its framing device of performances by the First of May Band, whose compositions ("Hey there, Mr Banker Man/ You don't look so great/ Someone ought to tell you/ You're past your sell-by date") seem too simplistic to provide more than a cosmetic reflection of the woes documented on screen.

"Chronicle of Protest" screens at the Rio Cinema, London E8 at 3.45pm on 30 April. Tickets available here. It will be released on dvd in May

Ryan Gilbey is the New Statesman's film critic. He is also the author of It Don't Worry Me (Faber), about 1970s US cinema, and a study of Groundhog Day in the "Modern Classics" series (BFI Publishing). He was named reviewer of the year in the 2007 Press Gazette awards.

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Scotland's vast deficit remains an obstacle to independence

Though the country's financial position has improved, independence would still risk severe austerity. 

For the SNP, the annual Scottish public spending figures bring good and bad news. The good news, such as it is, is that Scotland's deficit fell by £1.3bn in 2016/17. The bad news is that it remains £13.3bn or 8.3 per cent of GDP – three times the UK figure of 2.4 per cent (£46.2bn) and vastly higher than the white paper's worst case scenario of £5.5bn. 

These figures, it's important to note, include Scotland's geographic share of North Sea oil and gas revenue. The "oil bonus" that the SNP once boasted of has withered since the collapse in commodity prices. Though revenue rose from £56m the previous year to £208m, this remains a fraction of the £8bn recorded in 2011/12. Total public sector revenue was £312 per person below the UK average, while expenditure was £1,437 higher. Though the SNP is playing down the figures as "a snapshot", the white paper unambiguously stated: "GERS [Government Expenditure and Revenue Scotland] is the authoritative publication on Scotland’s public finances". 

As before, Nicola Sturgeon has warned of the threat posed by Brexit to the Scottish economy. But the country's black hole means the risks of independence remain immense. As a new state, Scotland would be forced to pay a premium on its debt, resulting in an even greater fiscal gap. Were it to use the pound without permission, with no independent central bank and no lender of last resort, borrowing costs would rise still further. To offset a Greek-style crisis, Scotland would be forced to impose dramatic austerity. 

Sturgeon is undoubtedly right to warn of the risks of Brexit (particularly of the "hard" variety). But for a large number of Scots, this is merely cause to avoid the added turmoil of independence. Though eventual EU membership would benefit Scotland, its UK trade is worth four times as much as that with Europe. 

Of course, for a true nationalist, economics is irrelevant. Independence is a good in itself and sovereignty always trumps prosperity (a point on which Scottish nationalists align with English Brexiteers). But if Scotland is to ever depart the UK, the SNP will need to win over pragmatists, too. In that quest, Scotland's deficit remains a vast obstacle. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.