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Speaking at the Scottish Independence Convention at the Radisson Hotel in Glasgow on Saturday The National’s consulting editor Richard Walker had some challenging words for the Yes movement regarding our approaches to the media. “Right now,” he said, “everything – everything – is about changing people’s minds; about persuading them to change sides, about making the switch from No to Yes.” He is perfectly right. His stance of being willing to offer the open hand of friendship to newspapers and other media that decide to take a different position on independence ahead of or during IndyRef2 makes a great deal of sense, but there remains a considerable level of hostility towards much of the media among Yes supporters. Our suspicions are well-founded.
Richard Walker, founder of the National: Calls for the Yes movement to change its approach to the media, less hostility #buildyes—
CommonSpace (@TheCommonSpace) January 14, 2017
Yessers' distrust of the Scottish media is a result of, not the cause of, the media's behaviour over independence. #BuildYes—
Tommy (@T_Socialist) January 14, 2017
We began The Butterfly Rebellion on 19 September 2014 – a whole two months before the launch of The National – exactly because we were unwilling to trust the mainstream media in Scotland. The Yes Scotland campaign was a massive wakeup call for me, as it was for many across the country. On the day of the referendum I was a theologian helping to moderate what was, in the grand scheme of things, an insignificant Facebook page rather optimistically called Scotland’s Independence Countdown. Two days later I was working flat-out with a group of people I had never met before to setup and build a “new media” outlet.
The Butterfly Rebellion was kick started with no seed money and no investors, whatever costs it incurred we covered by ourselves – and that is exactly how it is today. Within a few days we had reporters from the Daily Express knocking on our doors and insinuating in print that we were some dangerous wannabe gang of “anonymous” cybernat thugs. We were nothing of the sort. What we were was a group of people who had become completely convinced that the best thing for Scotland was independence, and we still are.
Our fear in those first weeks and months was that the pro-independence media we had come to rely on – Bella Caledonia, Wings Over Scotland, Wee Ginger Dug, and the rest – would fold as the movement deflated after our referendum defeat. Only in the past few days we were faced with the prospect of losing Bella, and there had been some concern a while back that even The National wouldn’t continue. To us, this is what new media for Scotland has come to mean; keeping the case for independence alive. It hasn’t been about a business model or sales. It’s about the hope we have for a free and independent country, and making that case to encourage some and convince others.
All the same we live in the real world, and this is where Walker hits the nail on the head: “Newspapers are a business. They are not going to support independence if they are going to lose readers.” With a blog reach of 205,000, a Facebook following of just over 16,000, and 1,800 followers on Twitter, we are positively miniscule. We are as aware as everyone else of how much we need the bigger, better-funded, professional media. We have the new media that was established before the referendum, we have the Sunday Herald and The National, and the odd column inch in The Herald, but – as Walker was right in pointing out – with another referendum on the horizon, this is not enough. We have to hope that other papers change sides, and to be prepared to welcome them when they do.
That won’t be easy. After the treatment the Yes campaign got from the Daily Record and the insult that was “the Vow” plastered over its front page, we have taken to calling it the “Daily Redcoat.” Of course this is rhetoric and rabble rousing, we’re a blog! As bitter as we feel about the past it is unjust and we can see that thanks to Walker’s insightful input. The Daily Record has shown a willingness to give a voice to the Yes movement in its pages and it has unveiled its “new secret weapon” – Nicola Sturgeon. Let’s not be fools – this is cynical. This is business!
Better Together’s triumph was a pyrrhic victory – it resulted in the collapse of Scottish Labour, the transformation of the Tory party into a consolidated unionist alternative, and put the sales figures of the Daily Record into a tailspin. It wants to sell papers, and that means winning back some of its old audience by giving it what it clearly demands. Do we forgive the Record? Let’s just say that I am willing to put it on probation. The bottom line is that we want independence, and it is all too obvious that this can only be achieved by helping people make the switch from No to Yes – and the people we need to help make that switch read these papers. Okay, I am persuaded. Let’s offer them that open hand of friendship and open wide the door for others to follow suit.
The Butterfly Rebellion