Amidst all the Brexit brouhaha, savage sackings and resignations not quite in tune with the ethos of one-nation Tories, plus the endless speculation on an imminent general election, I am content to seek solace and sensible advice in the thoughts of Sir John Curtice, professor of politics at Strathclyde University, and now an acclaimed guru as the gentleman (and he is) who knows a thing or three about polls and elections. And I must sternly tell Scotland's clutch of political editors and their staffs in newspapers, TV and radio, that Sir John's thoughts should be putting them on red alert and their mobile phones fully charged, on how the SNP are poised to once again dominate Scottish representation at Westminster – just as it did between 2015 and 2017.
Sir John, recalling that the 2017 general election proved to be something of a setback for the SNP, losing 21 seats, and leading to first minister Nicola Sturgeon putting the party's push for a second independence referendum on hold, warns: 'However, according to the polls, an election this autumn could well present the SNP with a golden opportunity to repair much of the damage it suffered two years ago – and to inject new life into its campaign for Scottish independence.'
Since the spring, on average the polls have put support for independence (after leaving aside the don't knows) at 49%. And a recent poll again put Yes on 49%. This leads to Sir John musing: 'While this figure (Yes on 49%) does not suggest that the SNP could be confident of victory in a second independence referendum, it does mean that unionists could not be confident of doing so either. Scotland now seems to be divided almost equally down the middle on the constitutional question. Moreover, there seems to be increased support for holding a second ballot. Little more than 18 months ago, opponents of having another independence referendum within five years held sway by 54% to 36%. Now, according to YouGov, the figures are 44% and 45% respectively. The Brexit debate seems to have played an important role in the swing in favour of Yes. The increase in support for independence has taken place entirely among those who voted Remain.'
At the age of 72, I readily confess I am not an expert on digital technology and its attendant phraseology and neologisms. Confronted with writing on podcastology, I was grateful for the Daily Telegraph's
version of its meaning as: 'a podcast is an audio show, usually spread across a series of episodes, which can be downloaded from the internet and listened to either on a computer or an mp3 player. The term, which was coined in 2004, is portmanteau of iPod and broadcast.'
The reference to portmanteau had me delving into the dictionary to discover it is a word 'blending the sounds and combining the meanings of two others: eg. brunch from breakfast and lunch'. Oh well, I know now. Brexitcast
, BBC Radio Five Live's highly popular podcast, has been turned into a late night TV show, replacing the Andrew Neil-fronted politics series This Week
, and it makes its debut tomorrow (12 September) at 11.35pm. The TV version will maintain many of the podcast's features as well as its presenters – BBC political correspondent Chris Mason, political editor Laura Kuenssberg, Europe editor Katya Adler, and reporter Adam Fleming.
Scott Bryan sat in on a recent broadcast and reports: 'The BBC broadcast has been a revelation, two years old but thundering up the broadcast charts in the past eight weeks. The reason is simple: it offers impartial analysis about what has been going on in Westminster and Brussels, with none of the formality and pomposity that usually comes with the topic. When you first listen, you might be surprised at how spontaneous it feels. Having been there, I can confirm that this isn't an act. Brexitcast
has no scripts, nor a running order... everyone seems to forget, in a good way, that they are being recorded. The show is extremely reactive. Brexitcast
used to be weekly – a sequel to the BBC's 2017 election podcast. But the tumultuous events of the past few weeks has pushed the show into releasing near-daily "emergency" episodes, recorded after the day's events have concluded, sometimes after midnight.'
Bryan continues: 'It sounds exhausting... but in emphasising how exhausting it must be, I am reminded that they have not been forced to do this. If, and when, they record an "emergency" episode, it is squarely down to them. Brexitcast
is also remarkably informal, something its presenters say came about by accident. Although podcasts are, of course, usually quite casual, political correspondents on news programmes are not. Yet the team's authority is not undermined by this informality. Fundamentally, it makes politics sound more human.'
Bryan quotes Mason explaining: 'When you are doing a 90-second TV piece. inevitably there's a sort of, not a caricaturing, hopefully, but certainly a crushing down of somebody's rounded set of views into a single soundbite. Hopefully, Brexitcast
has been the sort of outlet for that, seeing people in three dimensions, because all human beings are three-dimensional and certainly all 650 people in the House of Commons are.'
Incidentally, the new Andrew Neil Show
on BBC Two on Wednesday evenings at 7.30pm, running for 30 minutes, attracted an average audience of 800,000 in its debut week last Wednesday.
I have come across a very interesting article on the relationship between Boris Johnson and the Daily Telegraph
. Writing in The Guardian
, its former head of media, Jane Martinson, now Marjorie Deane professor of financial journalism at City, University of London, comments: 'After months of unstinting support for its former-columnist-turned-prime-minister, the lack of regret for the departures of either Jo Johnson or former Tory big beasts such as Kenneth Clarke did not come as a huge surprise.'
She explained that the editor of the Daily Telegraph
, Chris Evans, has sent an email to subscribers headlined: Is it really that bleak for Boris?
: 'Yet the note from Chris Evans was telling nonetheless for promoting a piece by the editor of the Sunday Telegraph
, Allister Heath, that welcomed "a tougher, rougher non-deferential conservatism". For Leave voters, he said, "losing anti-Brexit irreconcilables, especially overrated establishment figures, is a huge step in the right direction".'
Martinson, an extremly experienced media figure, points out: 'For much of its history, the Telegraph
was the paper of the establishment... which underlines quite how much it has changed. In his column, Heath welcomed the long-delayed "seismic realignment" of the Conservative party, but he could have easily been talking of the similar refashioning of the paper long known as "Torygraph" and now more often "the Daily Boris". It is not alone in its visceral support for the new hardline government and writing news with an agenda has long been a feature of the British press.'
She goes on to recount: 'This week The Sun
superimposed the Labour leader's head on to a bird with the headline "Is this the most dangerous chicken in Britain?" in an echo of its infamous lightbulb front page featuring Neil Kinnock ahead of the 1992 election. It went further in using Johnson's words to set the news agenda, when it took his playground use of the sexist "big girl's blouse" to send a reporter with a pink top to Jeremy Corbyn's house. These antics, rather than act as a reminder of the days when millions more read these papers, reflect a new shrill tone for the "news". The debate about whether the media sets or reflects that tone is never ending but there is evidence that, while Johnson and his allies may be becoming more radical in order to take power, the press is doing so in a bid to survive.'
Wishing to remind her readers of the favouritism extended to Johnson by the billionaire Barclay brothers who own the Telegraph
, Martinson points out: 'Ahead of his anointment as prime minister, it (the Telegraph
) splashed his weekly columns on its front page while paying him £275,000 a year for the privilege.' And she quotes former Telegraph
journalist, Peter Oborne, now with the Daily Mail
, who, warning of the dangers of failing to question a politician by Leave-supporting newspapers, declared: 'They weren't interested in truth. They were interested in winning.' And that makes Martinson conclude: 'Truth has made way for propaganda, in other words.'