Farming Matters: Let’s Tell Scotland’s Success Story

alec-rossThere are moments in my life when I realise that my priorities are horribly out of kilter. My obsession with football, for example, is total. I’ve never watched my wedding video right the way through and probably couldn’t even find it now, but I’ve got Leigh Griffiths’ two free kicks against England saved to my YouTube account and I watch them on a loop. I’ve watched Scotland, through thin and thinner, for the best part of four decades.

I’m terrible at remembering birthdays and anniversaries but I know the winners of every European Cup since 1956. I find myself in important meetings and wondering why Stranraer’s form has suddenly dipped for no apparent reason. It’s really quite tragic.

With typical Scottish perversity, my favourite memory is following the national team to Dortmund for a European qualifier – which we lost. The German fans were absolutely brilliant, and didn’t complain when we put an industrial sized bottle of fairy liquid into the town square fountain, temporality turning Dortmund into an alpine ski resort.


Dortmund and a younger Alec Ross

Beer was €2 a pint and I was with my pals. We hadn’t bothered with a hotel, but a lovely woman kept her bar open for us into the wee small hours until it was time to head to the airport. When people are asked about the great moments in their life they always talk about kids and weddings. That goes for me, too. But, to borrow from Bogart and Bergman, I’ll always have Dortmund.

In the kind of quirky detail that football often throws up, the Scotland manager was in fact a German – Berti Vogts. He came to the job with a big reputation – he’d led his country to glory at Euro96 – but his reign at Scotland was ignominious and ended after an inglorious draw with the mighty Faeroe Islands. He was a perfectly nice guy but entirely unprepared for the ferocity of the Scottish press, who mercilessly criticised him, even on the rare occasions (like his win over a fancied Holland) when he got it right. He summed up his experience of the press thus:

“If I walked on water, my accusers would say it is because I can’t swim”.

I thought about Berti this week when reading a couple of stories. For a unionist Scottish press – a tautology if ever there was one – and its followers, for whom the glass is always barely half full, this was a bad week. The BBC Scotland website must have had the Yoons in distress. The Scottish economy was outstripping the UK’s. There was a hugely positive report on the Scottish NHS. If that wasn’t bad enough for them, Rangers had been beaten by the fourth best team in Luxembourg and lost their tax case with HMRC. There was even talk of the Orange Walk getting banned from Glasgow. It must have felt like the end of the world.

How these first two stories – the economy and the NHS – were reported tells us much about our press, our politics and our national character. This week’s press reminded me of PG Wodehouse’s quip about it being easy to distinguish between a Scotsman with a grievance and a ray of sunshine. If you mention what a fine day it is, you’ll be told “aye, but we’ll pey for this”!

Talk up the achievements of an individual and someone will say that they “kent his faither“. Don’t get above your station. Know your place. Eat your cereal. But something more troubling than dour pragmatism is at play here.

Early this week, initial reports hinted that the imminent report on the Scottish economy would not make good reading (unless you’re a unionist) and prominent unionist rentaquotes were wheeled out to blame the Scottish Government. However, it turns out that the Scottish economy is actually doing rather well and it outperforming the UK by 0.6%. Suddenly, the critics were silent. Two things struck me about the subsequent reporting.

Firstly, why lambast the Government on the basis of a report that hadn’t yet been published and then, when it arrives and is favourable, fail to ask those same critics for their reaction?

And secondly, given that it’s a bright ray of sunshine in a dark year, why report it so negatively?

Why write “Scotland staves off recession”, when the real story is “best growth in the whole of the uk”?

Why, indeed, put a negative, anti-independence slant on the largely encouraging Nuffield report into Scotland’s NHS?

By never informing people accurately of what is really being done on their behalf, the media commits the sin of misleading readers. That’s why people think education and health is failing – but that’s neither true nor fair to teachers or health workers who are constantly undermined by negative reporting.

Scotland’s long-term membership of the union largely depends on a pro-union media making enough people believe that we are too wee, too poor and too stupid to run our own affairs. The papers panicked this week because good news stories don’t sit with that narrative. Project Fear is alive and kicking, and I’m quite convinced that The Scotsman has its headline ready for the day when Scotland achieves independence: “Blow for Sturgeon as SNP loses Raison d’Etre”.

And anyone who things Westminster cares about us hasn’t been paying attention. I’m old enough to remember when Labour ruled Scotland. Opposition parties mocked them as the “Feeble Forty”, as sheer mathematics meant that their sizeable block of MPs were powerless to stop the destruction of Scotland’s heavy industries and working class communities, and could only watch as the country’s miners were demonised as “the enemy within”.

Today we have thirteen Tory MPs who could, if they chose to, become the most influential group in Scottish political history. They could defy the whip and refuse to support the government until the £2.9m of Barnett consequentials due to Scotland after the DUP bung are paid in full.

They could, but they won’t. Because their loyalty is to their party and its mad rush to Brexit, rather than to their own constituents. They could, in an afternoon, secure transformational levels of funding but their loathing of the SNP government trumps everything. Scotland is poorer because of their petty tribalism. Holyrood will once again have to mitigate unnecessary austerity and then will be blamed for not doing better with the money that was denied them.

And then they’ll tell us to get on with the day job. Again. Which, contrary to reports, is going rather well, and not just in the areas of health and finance. Amongst all the manufactured kerfuffle over Nicola Sturgeon’s statement on a second independence referendum (which was a complete non-story, as she simply repeated what she said in March), it seems the government has been busy.

In the farming industry, for example, over 90% of Pillar One monies have now been paid to producers. Yes, it’s been a slow and distressing process, but it’s getting there. The contrast with DEFRA’s response to a similar I.T. failure in 2006, when they threw up their hands and did nothing – could not be greater.

Scotland’s sheep farmers will receive £6.7m this week, benefitting over 1000 businesses in Scotland’s poorest land. Improvements to deer management have been announced, and £2.4m will be sent to milk producers. A report suggests that numbers of cod, haddock and whiting will be up this year. In just about every devolved area, Scotland is ahead, or at least on par, with the rest of the UK. Not bad, for a government reportedly obsessed with independence.

During the first Scottish Independence Referendum, I was struck by how many Scots talked their own country down. It was almost as if some wanted independence just so they could say “ah telt ye” when it all went pear shaped. In a country replete with paradox and contradiction, I’m struck by how exhausting it is championing a great place when so many of its inhabitants, egged on by a biased media, want it to fail.

Well, I want us to win. We might never walk on water, but we can swim as well as anybody.

Scotland has a great story to tell. Let’s tell it.

Alec Ross is a regular contributor to The Orkney News



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8 replies »

  1. You fail to mention as does your Leader the tremendous achievement in the completion of our British aircraft carrier completed in our Scottish yards by Scottish workforce paid by Westminster not recognised by our Scottish government!!!

    • Mr McDowall – Do you remember Indyref1? Do you remember the promises? Does ’13 Type-26 Frigates’ ring a bell with you? does ‘3 Type Frigates’ ring a bell?

  2. Mr Ross is clearly a member of the Nationalist minority in Scotland. This is allowed and is a direct result of the SNP rout in the last general election. Ms Sturgeon, as I and others pointed out in The Scotsman, should stop whining about independence and get on with the day job. It could not be clearer that’s what’s required. The country from Orkney to the Borders where Mr Ross and I both come from (at least on our fathers side as my mother was a Balfour) voted overwhelmingly away from the idiotic ‘indyref2’ which he sadly fails to mention in his article. The reason this term is not used is as it’s the biggest miscalculation in political terms that the nationalist party has produced yet. What an utter disaster from the narrow minded nationalist and it was utterly predictable. Scotland as a country went BACK to a Unionist majority in the voting public. That is the result and the SNP cannot blame anyone else for the gross inadequacy of their reason and their misjudgement of the intellect of the Scots. You cannot use lowest common denominator politics in Scotland as there are too many intellects in the UK who are Scottish and Unionist and damned sensible and emotionally balanced. Does Mr Ross really think football is an appropriate standard bearer and symbol of Scotlands primacy anywhere in the world? It’s infantile and it’s communicated in a highly inarticulate manner and he demonstrates the classic bias in Scottish football when he discussed Glasgow Rangers FC. In the last general election. Mr Carmichael won in Orkney and Shetland beating Miriam Brett by 4,500 votes. A Unionist triumph and something to be celebrated as it is an unambiguous victory unlike the SNP’s Mr Gethins who sneaked past the finishing line in Fife. He will need a new journey job soon.

    Mr Ross is pro EU on the back of the farming subsidies and not old enough to know anything that went before on a personal basis. It’s a good thing to subsidise the farming community but should be equally done toward the fishing community in Scotland where these workers have to contend with the large fleet of ships that hoover Scottish waters. Surely he understands what happened in Banff and Buchan, Moray and Gordon are classic rejections of Nationalism and to some extent an anti EU stance. Scotlands own Mr Gove is back in cabinet and with his parentage and indeed knowledge of the Scottish Fushing Industry I think the things will move on very well. Publishing Mr Ross’s rants about nationalist politics in a firmly unionist seat just serves to show how out of touch he is with Scotland. This is something I would not wish on Orkney and Shetland. Furthermore publishing a self-admitted obsessive, German fountain vandaliser (how can you applaud drunken detergent fights over football?), and anniversary forgetter under the guise of a rampant Nat doesn’t do the reputation of an unbiased press much good. I just wonder that didn’t end up in the Nationalist rag that lauds even the failures of former oil executive and MP, Mr Alec Salmond. Photographs of drunken football fans do not enhance Scotlands reputation on the international stage. Maybe Mr Ross thinks his article will inspire the youth and give him a touch of street credibility but alas no …not in Scotland. Patriotism and Nationalism are not to be confused and the former only allowed when there is no other way to go, lest we all be called scoundrels. Scotland is a great country and Scots have achieved much success and still do in so many academic and industrial disciplines. The Nationalists do not have a lot to shout about. They are small (3% of the UK vote) and they are shrinking very fast and this is good as anybody who knows European history knows nationalism does not work and it never will. It is by its own nature isolationist and self-serving and so very naive. It is so far away from the ethos of global connectivity and it does not fall into the categories that allow emotion to stump reason. To love your country is just that, it is not Nationalism.

  3. Mr Ross admits here to being in “important meetings” whilst thinking about Stranraer FC’s form dipping. Let us all hope that the self confessed “important”meeting he was attending does not have importance with regard to the NHS, Police Scotland, Law and Order, Education, Social Services, Roads and Rail policy Committee’s, or any emergency service such as the Fire Service or Ambulance Service. If thinking about Stranraer FC’s form tops any of these I think Mr Ross should resign forthwith. I do hope he is on some SNP committee he could do considerable good there.

  4. I don’t read newspapers, as they are usually biased, badly written, or both of those things. That’s not a quote from a famous person, it’s just a quote from me – a person.
    The media, generally, is not to be trusted. That’s why I applaud a venture such as ‘The Orkney News’, which publishes differing views, as long those views are not expressed in an obviously offensive way.
    When reading ‘The Orkney News’, it’s clear that there is a ….let’s say positive inclination (!), towards Scottish independence – and why not, the editor is a Scot. As Mr Balfour-McKie says, to love your country is not bad thing. It’s how that love is expressed that sometimes becomes questionable.
    Yet, ‘The Orkney News ‘ does publish all views – it’s a good thing. And here we have an example of the kind of debate and exchange which can be the result of that.
    I’m not taking any sides here – who I agree with or don’t agree with doesn’t matter, one bit. I will say though, that a little light-heartedness, is often used to get across some very strong views/ideas. It can mean that a piece which would otherwise not be read, is read and thereby encourages thought, and the kind of exchange and interaction that has happened here.
    Alec Ross is writing of important things here – he knows he is. And how he is doing so, has worked.
    Whatever you think of what he’s saying, or even how he’s saying it, he does write well, he simply does.
    What is the quote about not agreeing with what a person has said, but defending to the last, their right to say it?
    Football? I don’t understand the whole business – each to their own.
    That’s my tuppenceworth.

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