The Today programme on BBC Radio 4 today came partly from Aberdeen, for an obvious reason – the SNP conference. I’ve already written ‘welcoming’ it and noted that the good folk of neighbouring Aberdeenshire voted 60% No in the referendum. Jim Naughtie – who else? – interviewed four citizens of the Shire on the back of the conference. All I can say is, by God, they were all more sensible (even an SNP Holyrood candidate) than the elected nationalist politicians who purport to uniquely represent Scotland. I didn’t agree with everything they said, but each of them came up with something that had the ring of truth about it. I take each of them in turn.
Peter Chapman, farmer and Conservative candidate for Banff and Buchan in the 2016 Holyrood election, believed the ‘No camp’ had if anything strengthened since the referendum. He rather over-egged the pudding by citing a newspaper poll that was one of those online self-selection efforts. But he had a point, not least in his judgement that he couldn’t explain the discrepancy between majorities for No and the recent general election result. Much could be said about that. But the curious phenomenon of wanting to stay united and believing the SNP will best stand up for Scotland in the UK is one of some long standing now.
Ann Bell, fishing industry expert and former Lib Dem candidate, made what I’m sure is an absolutely correct point that the farming, fishing and oil industries would want another referendum ‘like a hole in the head.’ ‘You move on,’ she said. ‘It was a democratic result. Had it been a Yes result we would have had to accept that.’ The proponents of ‘indyref2’ don’t seem to have heard.
The two voices who spoke for the Yes point of view were in some ways more interesting for me.
Peter Bruce, skipper of The Budding Rose seiner/trawler, said he had been undecided during the referendum campaign and had eventually voted Yes but ‘There’s this quiet 55% and I actually think if you had a referendum today I would think there’d be very, very little change.’ ‘Would an EU Out vote change that?’ asked Naughtie. Bruce – ‘I’m not actually sure if the Scottish population are any more pro-European than the English.’ He went on to castigate the Common Fisheries Policy, as fishermen do, with ‘If you look round all the fishing ports in Britain we’ve hardly a fishing industry left’ and yet noted the importance of continental markets to his industry (observe ‘Britain’ and ‘we,’ a perspective which seemed to come naturally to him). In struggling with the in/out dilemma of the EU he was no different from many of his fellow citizens but rather different from the gung-ho ‘in’ of the SNP.
Finally, Naughtie turned his attention to Gillian Martin, SNP candidate for the East Aberdeenshire Holyrood seat in 2016. Not surprisingly she talked in terms of ‘continuing’ the good government of the SNP in Holyrood, not a concept I’d recognise (my post welcoming the SNP conference gives examples of why). But not a negative word about the UK or Westminster and sensible and cautious about the future – ‘It’s only a year ago the people voted No and we have to prove that we are a good government and then people will have trust in us. Why would you after a year, after two or three years of campaigning, why would you want to ignore what happened last year and say let’s go for it again?’ Quite.
Nationalists routinely castigate the BBC for its supposed bias. This subtle and well-crafted piece seemed to me to sum up many of the virtues of the BBC – pertinent, balanced, and thought provoking. A bit like the sensible folk of Aberdeenshire.
If you want to listen to Naughtie’s interviews, the Today programme for 15 October 2015 is available on the BBC web site for the next 29 days. The relevant clip is 2 hrs 21 mins in.