Here's my latest column for the Caledonian Mercury - musing on the state of the Scottish bourgeoisie/professional classes, particularly as they are manifested in universities and journalism, and wondering what it takes for them to realise that the crises in their sectors won't get any better until they get a Scottish national parliament worthy of the name. Yes, rather unrepentantly independista this week... All comments welcome.
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Two Scottish news stories yesterday spoke to the crisis and frustration of professional life in Scotland. A situation in which national institutions cannot realise their ethos or approach their ideals because of the macro-level structures limiting their development - whether that be Westminster, or an American media corporation.
Watching the Education Minister Mike Russell on the BBC's Democracy Live channel yesterday, contextualisng his Green Paper on higher education to the Holyrood Parliament, was to witness a rather classic combination of truculence and mastery-of-brief. Let your eyes film over, and you can see him in gaiters and periwig holding forth in an 18th century coffee-house, or perhaps in pith-helmet and wire spectacles lieutenanting some still-red section of the World Atlas.
By which I mean that Russell is as perfectly distilled an example of the ambitious and historic Scottish bourgeoisie as it is possible to inhale. Yet his grandiloquence overcompensates for the relative impotence that a devolved Scotland under Westminster possesses.
The Green Paper was itself reminiscent of the Independence papers previously presented by Russell - fair-minded almost to a fault in arraying the arguments of the opposition, alongside the Government's preferred option of no tuition fees and full state funding of higher education.
There's an almost touching commitment to the spirit of the Scottish Enlightenment expressed here - a belief that, fully informed, Scottish politicians of whatever party will come to some optimum policy position in the interests of the country. Throughout this administration, it's a tone I've enjoyed from ministers like Jim Mather, John Swinney, Fiona Hyslop, Russell himself and of course Alex Salmond, who for all his despatch-box swagger is still the most serious and thoughtful Scottish politician working today.
But whatever "Scottish Solution" emerges from the catallaxy of costing exercises - whatever range of consolidations and efficiences (though hopefully not student contributions) comes to pass - it won't be a solution to what is clearly the biggest Scottish Problem of all.
Which is that not enough macro-economic powers exist to allow for the proper expression of national priorities in this country - one of which would be to follow the lead of successful small nations like Finland and Norway, and nourish a super-smart population through free and state-supported access to quality higher education.
I'm an independence-supporter, though I'm trying with as much loving-kindness as possible not to be partisan about the prospect of a Labour-dominated minority government or coalition for four years after May 2011. But I see nothing but stasis for Holyrood if it's controlled by the Scottish Labour party, whose job will be to contain Caledonian disgruntlement and redirect it towards a Westminster victory at some point in the middle of the decade.
My hope for the next five months is that an election message can be fashioned for the SNP which lays out clearly how much they have managed to achieve, but just as clearly what could have been achieved with full nation-state powers. The 40 per cent of Scots who give independence credence, as noted in a recent poll, have to be at some point addressed, comprehensively and confidently. If four years of governmental experience cannot sharpen that argument to a razor's edge, what can?
But it's not just independence politicians in Scotland who are experiencing the frustrations of far-off rule. Yesterday brought news that the Herald, Sunday Herald and Evening Times papers were about to announce 14 more redundancies - after rounds of pagination and staff reductions that have already thinned out these papers to the edge of journalistic credibility.
There are other unconfirmed reports that the Sunday Herald newspaper - of which I was one of the founding editors in 1999, and which was recently recipient of a European Newspaper of the Year award - might be about to become a "news magazine" in early 2011, evidently trying to make a virtue of collapsing all sections into one.
It has to be stated clearly: if any of the Herald titles had existed under the non-stockmarket-listed Trust status that the Guardian and Observer titles enjoy, they would not be caught in their current death-spiral - reduced readerships, resulting in reduced editorial quality, resulting in further reduction of readership.
Successive waves of merger and acquisition have combined with the usual punitive return-on-investment levels demanded by American corporate giants like Gannett. The consequent efficiency drives mean that the distinctive quality of Scottish national titles are gradually reduced to the cookie-cutter templates of regional and city news.
Of course, Scottish newspapers are no different from any other content industries being revolutionised by digitisation and networks. This very publication (at the end of your trackpad) is an enterprising attempt to bring the values of Scottish editorial to the open wilds of the free internet. And it's not as if there aren't successful examples of some of the oldest press titles figuring out how to bring revenue in from the digital generation.
The New York Times ran a piece last week on how The Atlantic magazine is now making a clear profit from a combination of news aggregation, website development, star columnists, departmental consolidation and branded "Atlantic" events - all of which generate a real slice of online ad revenue, allowing this serious publication to maintain its 150 year old tradition of "the organ of no party or clique".
It's troubling to see the confetti of trained, experienced and talented journalists raining down from traditional Scottish titles - itself a hollowing-out of another branch of the Scottish professional classes. But I trust that out of the chaos, some new associations of writers and investors will eventually figure out how to make decent editorial pay, from the traffic across various screens and devices.
It might be a shrunken business model, with journalists acting as orchestrators of citizen-journalists, and developing their specialisms into consultancy and other services. But if forty percent of Scots feel that independence is a desirable goal, the demand for news about the specific structures of Scottish society won't be going away too soon.
Yet it feels damnable that our oldest Scottish titles don't look like being capable of making the same turn-around as The Atlantic. A Scotland with full powers of media regulation would have had a lot to say (and do) about the various rapacious ownership structures that have brought titles like the Herald and Sunday Herald to their knees.
Another futile yearning for tinpot powers by self-interested nationalists, say the likes of Iain Grey? No, just a rather understandable demand by capable, resident Scots that the modern project of their nation is properly completed. The old Scottish bourgie-bourgie, but taking the next logical step.