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Some thoughts on James Naughtie’s Sunshine on Scotland

Have just listened to Jim Naughtie’s deliberately downbeat, dour and depressive journey north to Kilmarnock for the Today programme, searching everywhere for doom and gloom and not surprisingly finding it.

This was an awful stereotypical kind of item and one which makes you wonder if an intelligent debate is possible about the future of the UK and Scotland’s aspirations in it. Certainly something, which makes you, question the BBC’s capacity to contribute to such an important debate.

Naughtie’s premise was on the back of Calman and the independence referendum bill to land in Kilmarnock and talk to three workers who are losing their jobs in Diageo’s shutting of the local plant which produces the world famous Johnny Walker whisky brand with the loss of 700 jobs. It has been a huge local and national issue. The campaign to get Diageo to reverse this decision gained such traction two months ago that the head of Diageo in Scotland threatened Scots if they didn’t change their tune it would be bad for business! So that showed the kind of Scots get up and go and fighting spirit, which Naughtie’s nasty little piece implied didn’t exist any more.

Naughtie opens with short clips from three workers losing their jobs, and then to Alan Neish, who works for East Ayrshire Council economic development who talks about the multiplier effect of the job losses. At this point Naughtie deadbeat style mentions ‘the lack of optimism’ in Kilmarnock.

Then it is on to another group and he asks his winning question, ‘Alex Salmond believes you could make a better fist of it if you were out on your own’ and gets three decisive ‘Nos’ from his respondents. One says, ‘We could not stand on our own two feet’, and offers the lament of asking what do we produce and what industry do we have left.

Then it on to the talking pundits putting the boot in. Alf Young, as Naughtie acknowledges from a Labour background and getting more explicitly unionist and dour by the day in his old age develops one of his favourite themes of late: the SNP having lost it after the banking crisis.

The Nationalists are part of a gripe culture to Young, something a dour pessimist such as him might approve of, but shock no, it's not his kind of gripe. ‘London rule used to be the problem’ to the Nationalists (actually, Alf, we all thought that apart from the last bunker Tories), ‘and now it is London cuts’. He then comments that they are not really ‘London cuts’ because they saved ‘our banks’. 

Next up rubbishing any possibility of change is fellow disher of hope, Iain Macmillan, head of the CBI in Scotland. Iain comments that ‘the independence debate has been going on for years and has flatlined’. Now it is time to move on from this tiresome irritant which just isn’t getting the Scots anywhere. 

Now Iain has history here for he said the same about a Scottish Parliament, invoking the business community against any constitutional change for twenty years. Then he is on to reprimanding Alex Salmond and his separatist pals with not concentrating on the economic goodies; basically Iain concludes they should park their long held dreams and concentrate on what business thinks best!

To wrap things up nicely, just in case there was any ray of light or hope left, Naughtie concludes with more depression-invoking cliché and caricature. It is back to the Diageo workers and one gets to comment ‘thirty years ago it (independence) would have been a great idea’, but ‘we have nothing now’.

Then its Naughtie talking on the old story of Scots leaving for pastures anew and updating it, ‘there is an old Scottish story running through and generations ago people left because there were no jobs and people said ‘never again’’. And he can’t believe his luck for one of the Diageo workers gives him the hook for his cliché. For when she found out about losing her job and told her brother he indicated that he and his pregnant partner - who lived locally – have had enough. The worker says of her brother’s feelings, ‘there’s nothing left in this town, and they’ve looked further afield and there’s nothing left in Scotland. They are seriously considering emigrating’.

This is what passed for political commentary on Radio Four. A London-based Scotsman coming up with his doom-laden mentality, speaking to some poor workers losing their jobs, some old unionist chums, and not one nationalist with a small ‘n’ or capital ‘N’ perspective.

It is a mixture of reducing Kilmarnock to a modern day ‘Ghost Town’ and the Scotland of the Proclaimers song, ‘Bathgate no more, Linwood no more, Lochaber no more’ rolled out by the London media. Once we invented the sense of victimhood ourselves. Now we live in a place parts of the London media want to caricature as shaped by victimology so they can patronise us and we then doubt our capacities in ourselves and to bring about change.

Apparently, by the time you read this, more of this London-centric drivel will have been broadcast, always more effectively delivered by a Scot.

About the author

Gerry Hassan is author of Scotland the Bold: How Our Nation Changed and Why There is No Way Back published by Freight Books.

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