We’re all doomed – how often have we heard the Scottish media sound it’s own death knell. But look around – the stench of decay is unmistakeable.
The Scottish press is engaged in a desperate war of all against all in a rapidly shrinking market. Scottish broadcasting is in a dreadful state with STV having given up the ghost and BBC Scotland forcing through cuts of 25% in its news and current affairs budget.
Just imagine if the BBC in London had tried to cut network news and current affairs by a quarter in an election year? There would have been a political outcry, a media firestorm. But the Scottish quality press has utterly failed to appreciate the significance of this act of cultural vandalism, even after the resignation of Blair Jenkins, the highly respected head of News and Current Affairs at BBC Scotland.
Collapsing the English language service of BBC Scotland (Gaelic retains its prodigious funding) is not just bad news for broadcasting. It will upset the delicate ecology of the Scotiish media. But the Scottish press seems too preoccupied by its own troubles to notice what is happening in Quen Margaret Drive.
The Scotsman has been suffering double digit falls in circulation over the summer, and the revenues of its new owners, Johnston Press, have plummeting by nearly a tenth as advertising evaporates. The Herald isn’t in great shape either. The Record has capitulated to the Sun, and faces an uncertain future under Trinity Mirror, who axed the Scottish Mirror. The launch of evening cheapos by the Record – a vulpine attempt to feed of the decaying carcass of the Scottish evening press – will help no one.
Johnston have responded by appointing as editor of the Scotsman a local newspaper man who has no obvious familiarity with the Scottish political or media scene – Martin Gilson of the Portsmouth News.
“Life is Local” as the Johnston Press mission statement, puts it. Well, now we know.
Mr Gilson and may indeed be a brilliant operator, but his appointment was greeted by dismay among the Edinburgh chatteratti who fear that the Scotsman is being turned into another local paper, rather than a a forum for a national conversation.
Bring back Andrew Neil, say denizens of Barclay Towers, who are shell-shocked at the latest humiliation. At least he had national ambitions for the Scotsman and was prepared to pay for it, instead of syphoning cash to keep share-prices up.
The decline of great national papers is a matter of crucial importance to Scotland. The national media is disintegrating before our eyes, to be replaced by editionised English titles – Times, Daily Mail, Sun. This has real effects on Scottish civil society.
Speak to MPs and MSPs right now and they say that their constituents are preoccupied with immigration and the “swamping of Scotland”. This has nothing to do with demographic reality and everything to do with the prominence given to immigration in the English titles, like the Mail and the Sun, which Scots increasingly read.
There is no immigration crisis in Scotland – we remain appallingly white, as Gregg Dyke might have put it – and the influx of 2,000 Polls has done nothing but good for the Scottish economy. But that isn’t what people are reading. The Scottish conversation is being hi-jacked by the racial obsessives of another country.
The Scottish political classes must wake up to the nature of the crisis and start to make waves before it is too late. The BBC is central to what happens to Scotland. It is what has been keeping the rest of the Scottish media honest. But increasingly the BBC is being reduced to a localized service.
Just look at the BBC Scotland website in which national stories are eclipsed by local tales about Edinburgh city parking arrangements and a school being closed because of a tummy bug.
This is what the BBC regards as suitable fare for Scotland’s national broadcaster. Meanwhile, Scots put up with patronising and parochial opt-outs from Newsnight and the Politics Show. The Scottish dimension is being driven out of the Scottish media.
Pessimism may be a national sport in Scotland, but sometimes the doom-sayers are right. And they are right now.