What do Nigel Farage and Alex Salmond have in common? Photos: Getty
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Salmond and Farage forget the modern world doesn't want to squabble over borders

What do Scotland's First Minister and Ukip's leader have in common? They both fail to realise the modern world has better things to do than squabble over borders.

What do Alex Salmond and Nigel Farage have in common? Answer: they both believe that by walking away from a family of nations working together they become stronger and more independent. The attitudes and language of both men in this respect are remarkably similar. Yet the evidence that a country becomes more independent in the modern world when it breaks away from a group like the EU or UK is very slender. Norway and Switzerland are often, rightly, cited as examples of how dependent both countries are on a successful EU and how much they have to tailor their policies to fit in with, or follow their larger neighbour. True independence it is not.

For Scotland the same would be true. The policies of the rest of the UK would largely determine what Scotland could or could not do whether they have to rely on the British pound and fiscal and monetary policies as decided in London, or whether they have to pay for the benefit of piggy-backing onto a range of UK services such as consular and diplomatic services overseas.

Trade negotiations will remain a crucially important role of the EU, and as long as the UK remains a member we will have a major say in what EU policies are. Scotland out of the UK and not a member of the EU would have no say, and even if you take the wildly optimistic view that Scotland will be able to join the EU, re-entry would take years. And on what terms? An independent Scotland is far more likely to face long and complex negotiations and a possible veto by other member countries worried about break away regions within their own borders.

Joining the Euro will be a must, so bang goes the relationship with the British pound and up comes the interesting question of border and financial controls. This is neither a clever policy, nor is it a policy leading to real independence, which is a far weaker concept in the modern world than it used to be. Both the EU and the UK were formed in part as a means to ending endemic conflicts. The 1707 Act of Union brought to a halt the internecine conflicts across the border. The EU aims to do much the same and it seems to be succeeding rather well.

Curiously, the Act of Union had the basic elements of a federal system before modern federalism was invented. Scotland and England have different legal systems, and church and government relationships are different in Scotland, Wales and England. This knowledge should lead us naturally to the idea of the UK developing a truly federal system designed for the modern world. Many people have been arguing this case for some years now and breaking up the family of nations that is the UK is a serious distraction from that goal.

Both Farage and Salmond should also take into account the effect on their neighbours of the announcement that they want to leave the family. As a young British teenager travelling in Europe in the immediate post-war years, I thought I had won the world popularity stakes! We were admired everywhere for our stand during the war and for creating so many of the post-war institutions and constitutions that have given us such stability today. Now look at our popularity. We have alienated many of our former admirers to the extent that many continental people are saying “good riddance if they go”.

Whether you believe in staying in the EU or leaving it, the worst of all possible worlds is to poke your friends in the eye – it doesn’t lead to generous settlement of leaving terms. The same applies to Scotland. Just as there are some Scots who harbour a strong dislike of the English, there are also some English who dislike the Scots. Nationalism divides and causes bitterness, which is why it is naïve for Salmond to believe that the rest of the UK will accept Scotland walking out of the family, taking their share of the wealth, but then knocking on the door the next day and saying they want to use the pound and have a say on managing the finances – this is not going to make for a happy separation.

The absurdity of the Farage/Salmond approach is that none of us lose our central national characteristics or cultures by merging economic and political powers. The UK has been, by any standard, a remarkably successful union, creating peace and prosperity while retaining cultural differences. The same can, and in my view will, be true of Europe.

Both Farage and Salmond need to take a long, hard look at the modern world and recognise that independence can be in name only. The modern world is more integrated and frankly a far better place for this. The reason why Salmond is not gaining the support of the younger generation in the way he hoped is because they are not excited by borders, whether as lines on a map or lines through the hearts and minds of real people. Salmond and Farage are part of a generation brought up on the importance of borders. Their time has passed. The modern world has better things to do than squabble over borders.

Lord Soley of Hammersmith is a Labour peer

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Hyper-partisan Corbynite websites show how the left can beat the tabloids online

If I were a young Tory looking forward to a long career, I’d be worried.

Despite their best efforts during the election campaign, the Sun, Daily Mail, Telegraph and Express failed to convince voters to give Theresa May a majority, let alone the landslide she craved. Instead, Labour made inroads thanks partly to increased turnout among younger voters who prefer to get their news online and from social networks.

The centre of power in the media has been shifting to the web for years, but during the election we saw just how well a crop of hyper-partisan left-wing news sites are using social media to gain the kind of influence once restricted to the tabloid press.

Writers for sites such as the Canary or Evolve Politics see themselves as activists as much as journalists. That frees them to spin news stories in a way that is highly attuned to the dynamics of social media, provoking strong emotions and allowing them to address their audience like a friend down the pub “telling it how it really is”.

People on Facebook or Twitter use news to tell their friends and the wider world who they are and what they believe in. Sharing the Canary story “Theresa May is trying to override parliamentary democracy to cling to power. But no one’s fooled” is a far more effective signal that you don’t like the Tory government than posting a dry headline about the cancellation of the 2018 Queen’s Speech.

This has long-term implications for the right’s ability to get its message out. Research by BuzzFeed has found that pro-Conservative stories were barely shared during the election campaign. It appears the “shy Tory” factor that skewed opinion polling in previous elections lives on, influencing what people are prepared to post online. If I were a young Tory looking forward to a long career, I’d be worried.

Distorted reality

Television was once the press’s greatest enemy. But its “newspaper reviews” now offer print titles a safe space in which they are treated with a level of respect out of all proportion to their shrinking readership. Surely this must change soon? After all, the Independent sometimes gets a slot (despite having ceased print publication last year) for its digital front page. How is it fair to exclude BuzzFeed News – an organisation that invests in reporting and investigations – and include the Daily Express, with its less-than-prescient weather predictions?

Another problem became apparent during the election. Because the press is so dominated by the right, coverage from the supposedly impartial broadcasters was skewed, as presenters and guests parroted headlines and front-page stories from partisan newspapers. Already, some political programmes, such as BBC1’s The Andrew Marr Show, have experimented with including news from outside Fleet Street. One of the newspaper industry’s most reliable allies is looking for new friends.

Alternative facts

The rise of sites spreading the left-wing gospel across Facebook may be good for Labour but that doesn’t mean it’s good for the public. This was illustrated on 16 June in a post by a relatively new entrant called the Skwawkbox, which claimed that a government “D-notice” – now called a DSMA-notice – might be in place restricting news organisations from reporting on the number of casualties from the Grenfell Tower fire.

The claim was untrue and eventually an update was added to the post, but not before it was widely shared. The man behind the blog (who gives his name in interviews only as “Steve”) insisted that because he had included a couple of caveats, including the word “if” in the text of his article, he was justified in spreading an unsubstantiated rumour. Replacing an irresponsible right-wing tabloid culture in print with equally negligent left-wing news sites online doesn’t feel much like progress.

Blood and bias

Narratives about the corrupt, lying mainstream media (the “MSM” for short) have become more prevalent during the election, and it’s clear they often hit a nerve.

On 17 June, a protest over Theresa May’s deal with the DUP and the Grenfell Tower fire made its way past BBC Broadcasting House, where a small group stopped to chant: “Blood, blood, blood on your hands!” Hours later, in the shadow of the burned-out tower, I heard a young woman complain loudly to her friends about money being used to fly BBC news helicopters when it could have gone to displaced victims.

The BBC cites the accusations of bias it receives from both ends of the political spectrum as evidence that it is resolutely centrist. But while many of its greatest critics would miss the BBC if it goes, the corporation could do a better job of convincing people why it’s worth keeping around.

Grenfell grievances

Early reports of the attack on a Muslim crowd in Finsbury Park on 19 June exhibited a predictably depressing double standard. The perpetrator was a “lone wolf”, and the Mail identified him as “clean-shaven”: phrases it is hard to imagine being used about an Islamist. Yet the media don’t just demonise Muslims in its reporting; they also marginalise them. Coverage of Grenfell contained plenty of references to the churches in this part of west London and its historic black community. Yet Muslims and the relief work carried out by local mosques received comparatively little coverage. Community issues such as Islam’s requirement that the dead are buried swiftly were largely ignored, even though a large number of those killed or made homeless by the fire were Muslim.

I suspect this may have something to do with outdated ideas of what north Kensington is like. But it also must reflect the reality that just 0.4 per cent of UK journalists are Muslim, according to a study by City University in London. The lack of diversity in the media isn’t just a moral issue; it’s one that affects our ability to tell the full story.

This article first appeared in the 22 June 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The zombie PM

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