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Sunday, 12 November 2017

The choice of media channel becomes the message - a McLuhanesque cautionary Russian fable …

Update 16th Nov 2017: Link to the first Alex Salmond Show -

On Thursday, 10th of November, worried by Alex Salmond’s decision to accept an offer to host his own show on Russia Today (RT), I posted a tentative enquiry on Twitter -

Alex Salmond to host politics show on Russian broadcaster RT (Russia Today) for SNP/indy or bad idea - what do you think?

Unlike the careful advocate – or American DA or defence lawyer - in court, I was not asking a question to which I already knew the answer, although I had a shrewd idea of what the balance of responses would be, nor did I, at that point, know the position of the First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon. I did have my own view – it was a bad idea – a very bad idea. The responses were few, and that few were polarised, as was my yes/no question.

At this point, I perhaps should give my general views, held long before this debacle blew up, on both Alex Salmond and Russia Today.

I regard Alex Salmond as the architect of the modern Scottish National Party and of the 21st century drive to Scotland’s independence, as a key initiator of the YES Movement, the mastermind of the SNP’s 2007 and 2011 election victories that brought Scots closer to independence than they have ever been since 1707, and a superb Westminster politician to boot. I believe Scots owe him a great debt of gratitude for his contribution to Scotland as a nation, one on a journey towards being an independent nation state once again.

I also recognise that, like all politicians – and all human beings – he displays traits that render him vulnerable at crucial times, notably a love of the limelight and a tendency to shoot from the hip. While these are part of his total personality and charisma - and endear him to many - they can be a vulnerability in a politician - and they can make his party vulnerable.

Some of those defending his RT position say that he is now a private citizen, no longer FM, MP or MSP, and he can do what he likes. While this is technically true, such a defence is naive to the point of disingenuous – he is a former FM, an elder statemen of Westminster, Holyrood and his party, the SNP, and the idea that he has abandoned politics is ludicrous.

I regard Russia Today (RT) as a propaganda vehicle for the foreign policy of the state of Russia in countries outside of Russia. For instance, the US Government has required RT to register as a foreign agent by tomorrow. 

(I do not use the word propaganda in its pejorative sense – information of a biased or misleading nature – but in its core meaning of information used to promote a political cause or viewpoint.)

I regard the Russian State as a partial, flawed but evolving democracy, one that was comparatively recently (1989) created from the total collapse of the totalitarian, closed Sovet Union that had lasted for 72 years. As such, I regard it as crucial to world peace, indeed to world survival, that we establish and maintain a wary, but open diplomatic, cultural, human connection and effective communication with Russia. I believe RT is one channel of that process, to be consumed cautiously, with an antidote of sceptical judgement and respect for fact close to hand at all time. I have no doubt that the Russian Government and many ordinary Russians take a similar view of the BBC. I do not, however suggest similarity means equivalence in the case of both mediums.

The idea that Alex Salmond could accept an offer to star as principal in an RT show and not attract criticism, some derision, and a full-blooded attack from the unionist British media and political opponents, an attack designed to damage Scotland’s independence movement through an attack on its party of government, the SNP, was totally - and now patently - nonsense. The supporting idea, advanced by Salmond’s YES defenders, that somehow he would be a great voice for freedom of speech and provide an antidote to the resolutely unionist biased UK media is equally ludicrous. With all his rhetorical talents, analytical gifts and formidable – in some cases unique – political experience, Alex Salmond could provide such a voice, but only in media that would be seen as objective.

His defenders, including some notable online and YES-supporting media channels, are now using the entirely predictable media storm the RT decision provoked as evidence that he was right to accept the offer, and that this somehow will benefit the independence cause.

Many of these supporters entertain the dangerously naive belief that all media channels not totally committed to pumping out a simple independence line are beyond the pale, can never say anything accurate or truthful, and are staffed by unionist shills devoid of journalistic standards.

Some, incredibly, even regard the independence-supporting Sunday Herald – a superb example of what a truly Scottish newspaper with high journalistic values and an unswerving commitment to tell the truth to power can be – as not sufficiently Pravda-like or on message! 

What,  in effect, such a defence does is address  only the substantial part of the core YES support that provides the core audience and funding support for such media, media that performed a key role in the 2013/2014 referendum campaign.

What it patently does not do is address the impact of the Salmond decision on the wider Scottish electorate, who either do not support independence or are undecided – the voter group whose views we must influence and whose allegiance we must change.

MY  TWEETS of 12th-10th November – they convey my unfolding view of the Salmond decision and the reactions to it.

Defending crass political misjudgments by saying they're not as bad as the worst transgressions of your opponents is a poor sort of defence.

Measure your politicans against the best standards, not the worst. 

Blind loyalty to politicians is never a substitute for intelligent support - the support of critical friends is crucial to political survival.

A measure of indy media is degree to which they can offer such support, and not default to keeping the donations flowing by its absence.

For many Scots committed to independence, the condition of dependence seems to have created a kind of infantilism - an instinct to impotently blame stereotyped devils and a desperation for unimpeachable heroes and gurus: a strange aspect of the union-induced Scottish cringe
One of the reasons I look forward to Scotland's independence is that it will help a chunk of indy supporters to grow up - when we face hard realities and have to do something about them, instead of laying it all at the door of unionists, BBC, MSM and anyone else we can think of.   

"I could select from the crowd no one whose opinions were worthy of preference, and thus I found myself constrained to use my own reason in the conduct of my life." RENE DESCARTE   

I fear Alex Salmond is now treading the Geroge Galloway path to media celebrity and political irrelevance. If he wished to use his formidable talents in media, he should have pursued a UK path. The magnitude of his political misjudgment may become evident very soon.   

"..any medium has the power of imposing its own assumptions on the unwary. Prediction and control consist in avoiding this subliminal state of a Narcissus Trance"  Marshall McLuhan UNDERSTANDING MEDIA   

One aspect of the Salmond RT debacle is that I'll spend more time watching RT. Maybe that was all they hoped for- the Kremlin are Krafty buggers ....   

The more media-cautious personalities of the YES Movement were waiting to see which way the wind was blowing on the Salmond RT question before committing themselves. Mustn't do anything to damage careers! But expect a rush of comment now ...   

I see the new vogue phrase for all would-be trendy journalists is "the optics". Expect it to fall regularly from the mouths of the kind of politicians who adopt trendy phrases ...  
The prompt and unequivocal reaction of the best of the SNP to Salmond RT show will ensure that this does not do long-term damage to the independence cause, which has deep stable roots that can weather the storm. But expect a negative  hit in the short-term: that's inevitable  
Tom Gordon on Tasmina Ahmed Sheikh's role on SNP National Executive in context of Salmond and RT Gordon  Salmond playing Russian roulette with the SNP  39 s cause/ …   

I said my little bit early yesterday on Salmond and RT. Today the story explodes in the media, with Tom Gordon's piece in the Herald perhaps being the most excoriating. Anyone who thinks this is good for independence needs to think hard.   

Nicola Sturgeon has condemned Alex Salmond's chat show on Russian TV

" First Minister said she had not been asked about the arrangement, and that if she had been, she would have advised against it."   

STV News  "Alex Salmond to host politics show on Russian broadcaster (RT). The Russian embassy in London was among the first to share the news."    
Nov 10   

Alex Salmond to host politics show on Russian broadcaster RT (Russia Today)

Good for SNP/indy or bad idea - what do you think? POSTSCRIPT

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