By Dean Woodhouse
It’s Friday morning on the last day of January 2020, and the day the UK is exiting the EU. Nicola Sturgeon originally had called a press conference for Wednesday, but pushed it to Friday instead. It was held in Dynamic Earth – the building next door to the Scottish Parliament building at Holyrood.
The Yes movement were lead to believe that this press conference was going to be a big deal. I’m a photographer, but I don’t have a press pass, but decide to drive to Edinburgh and drag my two digital SLR cameras and a video camera plus a monopod to try to get in (I certainly looked the part). If this was the big event for launching a referendum then it made sense to be there. It never hurts to try, if you have the time.
I walk to the building via the footpath beside the Parliament building, and turn into the turning loop in front of Dynamic Earth and up the stairs where a TV crew is setting up ready to do a live interview. I say hello, and discern that the camera crew isn’t from outside the UK.
I’m denied entry into the room where the conference is held. I was asked where I was from (I responded from Edinburgh) and if I had a press pass (no). The first part of this brief interrogation was odd, but will later become important. I was told it was full inside, so I accepted defeat and walked to sit down in the coffee area opposite. The staff of the coffee shop even were so gracious as to offer to make coffee, even though the shop was still technically closed.
I put my camera’s on the table in the coffee shop area. There’s two other Yes supporters there who wanted to see if they could get to see Nicola Sturgeon and get a selfie. Shortly afterwards, Nicola walked up the stairway (with three others) onto the area next to the coffee area and the two Yes supporters say hello and ask for a selfie which she happily offered to do. She looked understandably concerned otherwise as she walked to the opposite stairwell where the conference was located.
The Yes supporters found the live-feed on their phone. RT was showing it, before it was abruptly cut off (too many watching perhaps?) so we had to switch to the SNP website feed. It would appear that was 15seconds delayed based on the fact we could hear the clapping happening much earlier than the feed. The live-feed stopped after her speech, yet nobody left the conference due to the question and answer session which appeared to last 15 minutes more.
Afterwards, Nicola (and the aids) returned to the foyer of the building and exited by the same stairwell followed by a number of TV cameras.
Before this event, I’d been contacted by an Italian TV station to work with them as a “fixer”, which would later become unnecessary and turn into an interview outside Holyrood instead. Through various telephone calls I determined that they were trying to get to see everything possible while on their two day visit to Scotland.
To this point, you’ve probably thought that’s nothing new. But there’s some subtle nuances to this, and being one of only four uninvited people present, I felt it important to get some important observations out to the wider movement.
After Nicola’s exit, the BBC Scotland news reporters left – separately. Brian Taylor left looking like he’d understandably not got the goods that he came here for. Walking directly out the door and taking the stairs to the left. Sarah Smith left about 10 minutes later, also looking like she’d seen no point in coming, exiting the door and taking the stairs on the loop to the right. Before the Q&A session began the TV camera that was setup to do an interview outside had already been dismantled and they were back in their truck. Presumably the BBC saw no point in this event because it was nothing they hadn’t heard before. The FM had seemingly wasted their time, there was no big bang.
Watching the live feed, the members of the Yes movement are livid for being setup to think this was meant to be a starting gun for a new referendum. But the anger that we’ve read in the media and many of the pro-Indy experts doesn’t entirely add up.
First off, why was the media conference switched from Wednesday to Friday? If this was meant for the foreign press, why was the BBC there? Why was the Yes movement under the impression that this was a big thing?
Late last week, it was highly publicised that over 40 different TV stations from across Europe would descend on Scotland to gauge our reaction to Brexit. That was their goal – I was interviewed by numerous European stations (and by RAI in depth) with questioning that would reflect that intent. Since they were already in Edinburgh for the 11pm deadline, most were already in Edinburgh and could easily attend the Friday press conference. The date was changed to take advantage of that – likely to throw off the scent of the real point for the event. If you think about it, it doesn’t make any sense that the conference was originally set for Wednesday.
The Yes movement was given a hint this would be a big thing, but it turned out to be nothing more than telling the international press what we already knew. The press out-with the UK thought this was a huge Brexit story and ran with it. Pilar Fernandez later reported that the reaction from the Spanish media appeared to be positive – something that would appear to contradict previous attempts to show Spain being averse to an independent Scotland. Some on social media have speculated this was meant to convince some of the ‘mibbies’ – the likelihood of this is low in my honest opinion but not entirely discounted.
So why were we sold a big story? The BBC likely wouldn’t have attended if it was a rehash of what they already knew. The international press wanted to be there to get a full idea of what Scotlands intent was so they’d attend if it was on Brexit day. The international media largely relies on footage provided by the BBC/ITV/STV. This heavily sanitised footage is the only time the international press gets to see what Scotland’s intent is. They likely had little video evidence to back up that Scotland was much more pro-EU than even they expected. They certainly never had a previous opportunity to interview EU nationals living in Scotland (at the rally outside Holyrood between 5pm and 11:30pm when many were filming live news) that would complete their news stories. The BBC was invited solely to be able to report to their masters in London what had just happened. Nicola Sturgeon grabbed the chance that was available to her for sharing this information directly.
We’ve since heard that the Scottish Government has been told to curtail its spending on foreign travel and most likely the same is implied for their business offices scattered around the world. Our First Minister seized the opportunity to talk directly to the press, telling them how Scotland felt and answering all their questions (you don’t need to think too much why this part wasn’t on a live camera feed).
Unsurprisingly, this event did nothing for the Yes movement, and to be honest the SNP should probably apologise for doing this. But the setup was necessary to get the media to attend, and probably get the BBC to record footage for Westminster.
Remember that our First Minister is followed by aids, one of which we all know to be an appointed civil servant for the British Government. It would always be near impossible to announce the real intent of this press conference without the interference of Westminster. I’m going to labour a guess that there were two scripts written for this conference, and our First Minister took the opportunity she had to tell the world – we are Scotland – we want to be an Independent country – we are about to announce a referendum to make that necessary step a reality – and you’d better pay attention because the BBC isn’t going to share the truth. Job done.
It was a calculated risk to use the Yes movement to gain media response and capitalise on their presence in order to share Scotland’s intent with the entire world. It payed off, reaching millions and millions of viewers across Europe and beyond. Westminster couldn’t stop her message. And now our neighbours know everything they need to know about how Boris is treating Scotland.
Googling steps to independence recently sent me to a page by livescience.com called “How are new countries established”, and it would appear that much of the groundwork short of an actual referendum has now been done already. This press conference appears to be the logical step in laying the foundation for Scotland to soon be recognised as an independent country. It is without doubt that the final recognition of our independence will come from the EU.
Our First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, did Scotland proud on Friday. This is gamesmanship at its very best. If you were looking for a peaceful means to become an independent Scotland, this is how the game should to be played.
In order to keep the momentum, the starting gun for Indyref2 can’t be far away. There’s no need to get permission, and presumably we’re ready for any legal challenge that states otherwise. The end game has just begun.
Dean Woodhouse is a ‘500 Mile walker’ with a book coming out soon.
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