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By Jason Michael
DO YOU EVER GET THE FEELING there’s something not quite right about the news BBC Scotland presents? Imagine for a moment that we lived in Plato’s cave; with our backs to the mouth of the cave we can make sense of the world only by the shadows cast on the wall in front of us. Putting this thought experiment into a modern setting, imagine being kept in solitary confinement with nothing but half an hour of television news from BBC Scotland each day to distract you. What would Scotland look like? Considering there are so many in our country whose only access to news and political analysis is through the BBC, this is an important question.
Everyone is talking about “dark money.” The revelations that right-wing political parties and campaigns have been flooded with massive amounts of money originating in Russia have been topping the news cycle around the world. This hasn’t been off the front pages of The Washington Post, The New York Times, and The Guardian since the story broke – weeks ago. Dark money has everything; spies, money, politics, sex tapes, laundering, compromised politicians, a Saudi prince, the works. Bestsellers and blockbusters will be produced on the back of this story. Dark money is the Watergate of our generation. It’s the one thing in the news we can’t afford to miss.
What’s more, is that Scotland is right in the thick of it. A wannabe Renfrewshire politician of relatively modest means, Richard Cook, set up a number of bogus companies, travelled to Kiev in 2013 – at the time of the pro-Russian regime in Ukraine, and channelled money back to shady political organisations in Scotland. This money, as we now know, was used illegally to fund the DUP’s Vote To Leave Brexit campaign. This Northern Irish unionist party – also with relatively modest means – used this cash, donated by Cook’s unregistered Scottish shell group, The Constitutional Research Council, to campaign in London and in Scotland. This and similar Conservative shell groups were using this money to influence the outcome of the referendum in blatant violation of the law.
Peter Geoghegan (@PeterKGeoghegan) March 07, 2018
An exact replica of this has been uncovered in the United States, with the FBI’s Mueller Investigation exposing the use of Russian dark money to fund the 2016 Trump campaign through well-established Republican funders like the NRA. In the States, where the Democrat-aligned media is having a field day with the story, this is seen as a story that might end in the impeachment of the President – on the grounds he is acting in the interests of a hostile foreign government. The dark money story, as Carole Cadwalladr well knows, is the type of story journalists hope for their entire careers. “Dark money” is the biggest story on the planet right now, and there’s no mistaking it.
Yet, here in Scotland – right in the eye of the storm, in our BBC version of Plato’s cave, you’d easily think nothing was happening. Even today; a staggering twenty-five days after the story broke, and in spite of the Scottish National Party calling on the Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson to reveal if her party had used dark money, there is not a solitary mention of “dark money” on the BBC Scotland website. If you, like so many people in Scotland, relied on the British state broadcaster for your news, you would think the only thing worth knowing was that “Holyrood’s Brexit bill is ‘fundamentally inconsistent’ with UK law.”
Before the weekend I broke the rules of journalistic etiquette – as a number of unionists on social media were quick to inform me (no such etiquette exists) – and reached out to Ruth Davidson on Twitter, asking her for a twenty-minute interview on the Scottish Conservatives’ links to dark money. What I put to her was:
If this gets 500 retweets @RuthDavidsonMSP will you give me a 20 minute interview on the @ScotTories’ connections to Russian #DarkMoney?
That tweet has received 1,226 retweets since Friday morning, and it has been seen by 69,742 people. Including likes and replies, Ms Davidson will have gotten over 17,000 notifications of my request for an interview. It has become obvious that no one in the BBC will put pressure on her to answer questions on this, so we are forced to keep that pressure on her ourselves – ignoring those who appeal to proper procedure and etiquette to shut us up.
Jason Michael (@Jeggit) July 20, 2018
Still, the best criticism is that going about seeking an interview in this way is useless. Davidson will only ignore it – and she has. But here’s the thing, the tweet was never really intended to secure an interview with her. She was never going to give me one. This is the interview everyone is looking for – why would she give it to a “Nat?” She’s not going to give that interview; not to the BBC – which’s hack won’t chase her on it – and most definitely not to me. So why make such a fuss of asking her on Twitter? Social media is a powerful tool. Each time this request was seen, retweeted, liked, or replied to was a reminder that Ruth Davidson is not only ignoring this story; she is being allowed to ignore it by a state broadcaster that has consistently facilitated her party’s needs and requirements.
Social media gives us the tools to expose the corrupt relationship between the BBC and its preferred political party. It highlights that even in the midst of this scandal – when what we are looking at is nothing short of treason – the BBC sticks to the Conservative Party like glue. It’s the same in every part of the UK, the BBC is always on the side of the Conservatives or the leading Conservative-aligned party (the DUP) – leading us to suspect the BBC of being the media wing of the Tory Party. But this isn’t the case. If there is collusion, then both the BBC and the Conservatives – given the fact that real power always obfuscates itself – are the respective media and political wings of the British establishment, which’s interests are always served by the state broadcaster and the Tories.
It is clearly in the interests of the powerful British ruling political and financial establishment to keep Scotland in the union. The financialisation of London and the UK’s place in its globalised special relationship with the US depends on the wealth created by Scotland’s oil and gas resources. Scotland is the piggy bank of what remains of the British Empire, and so the task of keeping Scotland in the UK is contingent on the maintenance of a Truman Show-like reality in Scotland. The Scottish public must be kept in the dark and the state media must function to protect the party of the establishment.
Bernadette Devlin McAliskey on the DUP-Tory bung and Dark Money Brexit