Why I Don’t Buy The National

Some preliminaries… Firstly, because I have only a critical, highly-politicised interest in the staging of consumer enjoyment, I have always considered the concept of the spoiler alert to belong to bourgeois interests. However, I do try to be a nice person and I try to present militancy as something which is fun, rather than just irritating; so if you don’t want to know what happens at the end of Mike Leigh’s 1993 film Naked, then you’d best not read much further.

Secondly, I want readers to know that this blog is not subject to any editorial process. Independence Live do not approve my posts before I put them up. And I point this out only because I would hate for anyone to think that what you are about to read represents anything other than my own personal opinions. Having said that, I know that when I say I don’t buy The National, I am speaking for a large number of others within the pro-independence movement, most of whom don’t buy it simply because they aren’t in the habit of buying any newspaper. What I seek to provide here is a justification for that choice which will give those people greater confidence in rebutting the suggestion that their failure to purchase the newspaper represents a backsliding or a lack of solidarity. As a movement, we need to be able to have robust and honest conversations with each other. If we are unable to do this, we’re fucked.

In any case, I do not want anyone to think that simply because I do not buy The National that this means I am therefore against The National. It serves its customer-base of older supporters of independence, which is a very worthy thing. What I am against is the suggestion that, as a supporter of independence, I should be making a point of buying (or otherwise economically supporting) The National. Writing in Bella Caledonia, Pat Kane, for instance, argues:

We know that Scots voters who were more passive and less interactive in their media consumption – older, more traditional voters – correlated more with a No voting profile. So it is incredibly important that YeSNP (it’s back again!) types and others economically support The National paper in these next few months (and its ideological sister, the Sunday Herald). The National will become, effectively, campaign literature that can be easily obtained at the street corner, and passed to friends who occupy this bracket.

Although I appreciate Kane’s subsequent comments about the importance of Scotland’s new grassroots media, I cannot endorse the suggestion that those of us who are more interactive in our media consumption should be funding something we ourselves don’t read in order to put propaganda in the hands of No voters. The mistake Kane makes here is to believe that the conversion of those who voted No can take place without presenting a challenge to the comforts of a less interactive media.

davidthewlisThis is where Mike Leigh’s Naked provides an important vision of a post-Thatcher world in which we are exhorted to refuse the false comforts of older social forms. The film tells the story of Johnny who flees Manchester and crashes back into the life of his ex-girlfriend, Louise, who now lives in London. After bickering with Louise, Johnny embarks on a lonely odyssey through the English capital in which he is forced to sleep in office doorways, gets caught up in fights with the night-life, and eventually finds himself subjected to a random beating. When he returns to Louise, having been given a taste of London’s violence, he is offered a way out: unexpectedly perhaps, Louise (having herself been ground-down by the harshness of life in the capital) suggests that she and Johnny return to Manchester together to make a second go of things. It sounds like a happy ending of sorts is in the offing. Excited, Louise rushes out to hand her notice into work. Whilst she is away, however, Johnny silently makes his escape and throws himself back into the unwelcoming city, preferring to remain homeless and alone rather than return to the provincial comforts of Manchester.

It is this refusal to seek refuge from the structural violence of neoliberal capitalism by withdrawing to the old comfort zones of a rotting social democracy which makes Naked a work of proto-accelerationism. Johnny may find no comfort on the streets of London, but what he does find there is more truthful than any life he might have had with Louise back in Manchester. The same lesson should be applied to our media: the idea of a print newspaper supported economically by political goodwill alone risks nurturing a desire to retreat to old comfort zones. Changes in productivity are violent: there is certainly an economic violence in the damage to newsprint caused by online journalism. But as today’s promoters of “left accelerationism” are keen to remind us, Marx was himself the first accelerationist; no one understood more than him the necessity of going through capitalism in order to reach a better world beyond.

Where I do agree with Kane is in his call for us to support our pro-independence media institutions, whether young or old. My only disagreement is with the idea of deliberately going out of one’s way to support those old comfort zones that I’ve written about here, when there exists a doubt over the ability of those zones or institutions to support themselves. Many of those who voted No (and who are in the habit of reading newspapers) are more or less blind to the structural violence of capitalism; by pretending that newspapers are, in the long-term, still a viable form of media, all we risk doing is encouraging such people to remain blind.

Some of those who argue (and, yes, I’ve argued with them) that we should buy The National on the basis that its declining sales becomes (however wrongly) an indicator of declining support for independence fail to realise that the opposite may be true i.e. that a loss of interest in The National may be an indicator of how independence draws the majority of its support from the most interconnected and media savvy sections of society. As the Leveson Inquiry demonstrated, a large part of the mainstream press, despite the challenge of online journalism, has used its position within elite power networks to maintain itself. Far from needing a challenge ‘from within’, this model needs to die. In Scotland, a radical grassroots media, politically tied to support for independence, might just have what it takes to kill the damn thing off.

Finally, one last thing. One month’s subscription to The National costs £5.50. A bargain for people who read the paper and, as I stressed earlier, I have no problem with that if they are in the habit of buying a newspaper. But if you are asking me to offer economic support to a media outlet because it is a politically worthy cause, then donating to Independence Live is my priority because it is a service that I actually use (and, incidentally, the current crowdfunder is about to end in less than three days, with 86% of what is needed having been raised so far). There should be no pressure on supporters of independence to either purchase or not purchase The National, just as there should be no pressure to contribute to Independence Live. There is no one, single right thing to do which covers the whole movement. There is only the right thing, individually, for each one of us to do.

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