Understandably many of us get mad when we see headlined, day after day, stories of hospital-acquired infections connected in some way, even if only minimally, to the deaths of the very young or of the elderly, but I bring good news. They’re doing it because they have no idea what else to do, they have nothing to work for other than a vague unsatisfactory, leaderless, status quo and feel that they must at least work against the idea of independence which for them is a clear threat to that status quo.
Scotland’s media elite, though porous at the edges to allow ‘talent’ in and with no sharp boundaries, is recognisable. Mostly, they are middle-class and educated at selective schools, either those where you pay fees directly to the school or where you pay the equivalent of the fees, indirectly, in house purchase prices to live within the catchment area of those state schools with high pass rates. They tend to be politically centrist or maybe centre-left. Tony Blair’s Cool Britannia was their dream before Bush corrupted him with a lust for glory through humanitarian intervention and they don’t really identify with the current left-wing Labour or right-wing Tory parties.
They care a bit about the poor and accept some taxation to help them as long as professional qualifications or cvs ensure a pay differential for them and as long as their children can benefit from the advantages of a pseudo-meritocracy based on access to the ‘better’ schools and universities. Though apparently opposed to nepotism per se, they expect to benefit from parents already successful in the media or in dominant political groups.
They are Europhile, loving free media jaunts into Europe to cover EU business and expect their children to be able to take advantage of EU-subsidised school and university exchange programmes. They are socially liberal and progressive, supporting the rights of women, ethnic minorities and gays because none of these groups threaten their cultural dominance based on socio-economic class membership. For this last reason, they dislike manual worker trades unions such as the RMT.
They are, finally, Unionist because that is another defining aspect of the status quo which they like if only because it has been good for them so far and because they expect it to offer opportunities in and beyond Scotland for career progression or for their children in the future.
Of course, they don’t consciously sit around thinking these things. They don’t gather to conspire in the maintenance of this system. They just act daily in their own interests and those interests are mostly the same as the others in the group have internalised and are in the main the interests of the group as whole. Most importantly, they appoint new staff who are like them. For example one of my students at a ‘New University’ was interviewed by the BBC and found themselves the only one of seven not privately educated.
From the end of World War II, until the end of the Blair/Brown era, all was well because Scotland’s media elite had a project to believe in and to act in the interests of, the Labour Party and Labour Governments. The arrival of the new modified SNP, in government in Scotland, just over ten years ago created a problem. The leadership of the SNP was like them, socially progressive, middle class, educated, Europhile and seem capable but sadly, opposed to the Union. At the same time, the Tories had become unpleasant and intolerant like the ‘Tory boys’ they despised at university. Labour had become hard and ideological like those unkempt, humourless Trots they feared and despised there too. The perhaps tolerable Lib Dems were too small and weak to lead.
So, they have no one to lead them. In the political world in which they must operate daily they cannot really champion the Unionist parties though they must, perhaps squirming inside, use them to counter SNP success and dangerous competence. Looking around desperately, they realise that they can only work against the independence movement by indirectly weakening the SNP through finding fault in the institutions for which it is responsible.
Recognising their elemental importance for the survival instincts of audiences, the police, the fire service and the health service become the most viable targets. Unable to campaign enthusiastically for the political misfits of the opposition and unable to find much to aim at in the impressive SNP leadership, they attempt, often just in a now-ingrained behaviour pattern, to prevent their victory and the feared loss of the Union. They can only do this indirectly by finding or constructing failures in the performance of police, fire and NHS Scotland. As the performance of all three is infinitely improvable, some perceived failure can always be found.
So, desperately, perhaps avoiding thinking too much, they pounce on reports of deaths in the NHS and attempt to weave tiny, statistically insignificant, traces into a matrix of threats to health which will generate generalised anxiety and a consequent fear of change including constitutional change.