Neil Mackay: Why the Sturgeon Government hates journalism

PICTURE this: reports appear that Boris Johnson plans to recall Parliament over Covid. Immediately, Mr Johnson not only denies the reports but attacks the press for publishing the story. Within days, however, it’s confirmed Parliament will be recalled and, indeed, there’s duly a special sitting over Covid.

There’d be outrage, yes? The SNP, in particular, would be howling, rightly, about lies and deception, misleading the public, attacks on a free press, and undermining democracy.

It’s strange then that those precise events took place over Christmas, only the offending party wasn’t Mr Johnson but Nicola Sturgeon.

On Saturday, December 18, the Herald on Sunday’s front page went out on social media headlined “Omicron crisis: Sturgeon set to recall parliament”. Ms Sturgeon took to Twitter saying: “No idea what basis of this headline is, and it’s not helpful to add to anxiety people already feel. It’s a week before [the Scottish Parliament] is even in recess. The situation is unpredictable and I’m sure Parliament will sit as necessary – but I have no plans at this stage to request recall.”

On December 21, Alison Johnstone, Presiding Officer of the Scottish Parliament, issued this information on social media: “Update: Parliament will be asked to agree to sit on 29 December, and potentially 5 January, for an update on Covid and questions from MSPs.”

On December 29, the Scottish Parliament was duly recalled over the Christmas recess.

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Perhaps, if you’re charitable, you might imagine the First Minister really had no intention of recalling parliament on the weekend of December 18/19, only for everything to change two days later. However, that doesn’t really seem credible, given The Herald had two independent sources confirming recall was actively being discussed.

Perhaps, Ms Sturgeon was indeed anxious about adding to “anxiety”, as she said in her comment regarding the Herald front page. However, it’s notable that just days before, she was using language like “tsunami” to describe Omicron.

Ms Sturgeon seems to have quite the appetite for undermining Scottish journalism. It’s entirely understandable, given her Government’s disastrous record, and the lack of any real opposition in Holyrood. Journalism is about the only effective check on her power.

On December 17, Ms Sturgeon was asked by a journalist about cutting “the requirement for self-isolation”. Her response was high-handed, condescending and sneering. “Yeah, that would really help,” she said, “because that would spread the infection even further and would not be doing any favours to business.” She went on to question whether the reporter had “listened to a single word I’ve said”.

However, on December 22, John Swinney said that reducing self-isolation periods was a measure “that would contribute” towards tackling staffing issues. Many teachers also noted that if Ms Sturgeon was really concerned about the further spread of infection, she might consider turning her attention to schools.

Also on December 17, Ms Sturgeon mocked press questions about whether she could find more money for business support. On December 21, she found an additional £100 million for business support.

The history of undermining journalism runs deep. Each time Ms Sturgeon launches one of her concocted attacks she chips away at Scottish democracy. Her social media claims are amplified thousands of times by her followers, many of whom echo the worst of the Donald Trump base with their shouts of “media scum”.

If we return to the question of what would happen if Mr Johnson had behaved like Ms Sturgeon over the recall issue, we can be pretty sure that many SNP supporters would have compared the Prime Minister to Mr Trump. Rightly so.

Journalism is far from perfect. The media is flawed, like every institution in every democracy on Earth. However, attack the media when the media is at fault, don’t fabricate complaints or deflect scrutiny by building an Aunt Sally with a press card.

There’s a deep foolishness in what Ms Sturgeon is up to with her attacks on journalism. The media isn’t just here to hold people like her to account; newspapers and broadcasters also act as the means by which politicians communicate with the public. Much as many politicians may wish that they could propagandise unfiltered via their social media accounts, thankfully, that is not – yet – how the world works. Most of us still get our news from established media outlets.

So, politicians who continue to bad mouth the “mainstream media” are, in effect, only hobbling themselves. The more they denigrate the media, the more the public will distrust what they see and hear … including, importantly, the words of people like Ms Sturgeon.

Clearly, it’s not as if the Sturgeon Government doesn’t need scrutiny. Let’s take a look at some information we discovered over the same December period when the SNP was doing down those who dared ask questions about its ability to govern.

The latest instalment in the running sore that is Scotland’s ferries involved claims that ministers may have acted illegally. Ministers were also attacked for “botching” the sale of Prestwick Airport. The Government missed the deadline to update harassment procedures following the Salmond saga. The Lord Advocate began talking of non-jury trials for rape cases.

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The number of librarians was shown to have fallen by nearly a third in seven years. The SNP continued to mouth platitudes about homelessness. The BMA attacked the Government for failing to tackle the shortage of doctors. Some young people are waiting years for mental health treatment. People are dying while waiting to be treated for chronic pain. Ambulance staffing shortages are crippling the service. And the Government’s own experts on the drug death crisis quit their posts in dispute. We’ve not even touched on the questions the SNP has to answer over the handling of Covid.

Amid all that, MSPs were offered an early Christmas present: a 3.4% pay rise for 2022.

The SNP Government has the luxury of using the chaos of Tory rule in London as a shield to hide behind when it comes to public anger over repeated policy failure. Then again, if you hand someone a bottle of poison and a bottle of filthy water, they’ll obviously prefer the filthy water every time.

That’s why the SNP detests journalism – the simple act of reporting the facts shows just how filthy the water is, in truth.

Our columns are a platform for writers to express their opinions. They do not necessarily represent the views of The Herald

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