How the media may hasten the end of the Union

Katie Schmuecker
11 June 2008

Katie Schmeuker (IPPR North): Much of the debate about the future of the union between Scotland and England focuses on constitutional, political and economic questions. But in reality, the vast majority of British people will not sit down with a balance sheet before deciding whether they support the continuation of the Union. A part of the debate that is often underplayed is role of cultural links between the two countries (and Wales), what we might call the ‘cultural union’ between the nations of the UK.

Nation Speaking Unto Nation by Douglas Fraser, Scottish Political Editor at the Herald is the latest of the Institute for Public Policy Research North’s commissioned papers on the Future of the Union to be published. It points out that the media has a key role to play in shaping this cultural union.

The media serves a number of purposes in public life, one of which is to mediate a conversation between the people of these islands and beyond. The media plays an important part in giving us a sense of our identity, and the community or communities to which we belong.

But as Tom Griffin outlines, media coverage since devolution - when combined with technical change - is accelerating a sense of cultural distance between England and Scotland. Increasingly newspapers that produce a ‘Scottish edition’ strip most of the Scottish coverage out of their English editions, unless it fits a narrow ‘heroin and haggis’ stereotype of urban grit or highland whimsy, offering only a partial picture.

What’s more, media coverage can actively promote cross-border tensions, with what coverage there is focusing heavily on the perceived iniquities of devolution, such as the public spending disparities and policy differences.

This could have important implications for how Britain sees itself as a nation, and for the future of the Union, with a combination of indifference and misunderstanding adding to the sense that the two nations are drifting apart. Ultimately it could be this indifference - rather than grievance - that spells the end of the Union.

See also: This post about the The Times and the strong response to the report by Dougthedug in the comments to Tom's post. 

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