By Gerry Hassan
A coterie of media-elite Scots, peddling ill-informed and biased opinion, leaves the referendum debate the poorer, writes Gerry Hassan
One of the most powerful group of Scottish opinion formers do not live and work in Scotland, but are the London Scots.

This group are never far from the public gaze. They come into focus with the northern exodus of the London and Southern classes at Festival time, personified in Andrew Marr’s recent intervention at the Book Festival about the state of Scotland.

Marr stated that: “There is a very strong anti-English feeling [in Scotland], everybody knows it.” and that “it could become toxic”. Two of his main pieces of evidence were Alasdair Gray’s comments about “colonists” and “settlers”, and the Nigel Farage standoff in the Royal Mile with the Radical Independence Conference supporters.

Marr’s Edinburgh appearance did not give the impression that he had been following Scottish politics closely, getting several basic facts wrong. He has had recent mitigating circumstances, but a similar pattern can be observed in his newly written essay in The Battle for Scotland, first published in 1992. In this Marr writes that apparently Scotland was governed by an SNP-Green coalition in 2007, which will be news to Patrick Harvie, gets the results of the 1979 and 1997 referenda wrong in percentages and actual numbers, and much more.

Previously Marr wrote in his study of British journalism, My Trade, of the importance of being impartial, “studiously neutral” and the centrality of facts. Clearly Scotland is an exception to this thesis, because it depends which audience someone such as Marr is playing to. Domestic Scots are pre-programmed to take the London-Scot classes seriously, while the London media love this sort of thing. After his Anglophobic remarks, the Independent (which Marr used to edit) declared them, “witty, lucid, sharp”.

Yet Marr matters because he has status and reputation, works in London, and has access and influence. He has been for the last decade one of the main liberal voices in the BBC, sometimes too self-consciously, as when he talked of the “liberal bias” of the BBC, a phrase that was used against the corporation by its critics.

Jim Naughtie is another London Scot working for the BBC, who, like Marr, left Scotland at the beginning of his journalist career. This has had consequences for both, with their adult and professional lives shaped by their experience in London.

Naughtie is coming back shortly to do two days a week presenting BBC Radio’s Good Morning Scotland, which some see as a slap in the face for GMS, others as a demotion from the Today programme. Perhaps the most salutary point is that the BBC considered the best person for the job to be someone whose direct experience of Scotland, Edinburgh Festivals apart, was 36 years ago. The powers that be either think he is quick on the uptake, or that not much has changed north of the Border in more than three decades.

Naughtie is a first-rate journalist but in previous Scottish excursions has hit some snags, such as his tendency to patronise and belittle contemporary Scotland. A good example was on the Today programme when Diageo closed the Johnny Walker whisky bottling factory in Kilmarnock with the loss of 700 jobs.

Naughtie arrived and chose to caricature the town. He trundled around talking to people about the “lack of optimism” in the place, and giving voice to that old mantra, “we could not stand on our own two feet”

Even more troublesome is the rabid right-wing populism of some of the London Scots, most prominently Andrew Neil and his protégés, Fraser Nelson and Iain Martin. Neil, who, after working for Murdoch (and then being editor in chief of The Scotsman) is now a BBC presenter and anchorman, and uses these platforms to proselytise about his beliefs about what is wrong with Britain.

A fascinating example was in the weeks just before the 2011 Scottish Parliament elections, on Sunday Politics which he presents, where he laid into Scotland as “the land of the big state” and then claimed that “the state was more important than in any country in the world, bar Cuba, North Korea or Iraq”.

If that wasn’t bad enough, Neil then pinpointed the differences between north and south of the Border: “Cut, cut, cut, may be the dominant theme south of the Border, but here it is still spend, spend, spend”. It is not exactly Reithian or impartial. Numerous examples are available of Nelson and Martin stating similar views: Nelson commenting about Scottish “Soviet levels of state spending” or Martin that Scots were living in “a parallel universe in which Lehman Brothers hadn’t collapsed”.

Some will say none of this is that important, but it is. The Marr-Naughtie BBC elite illustrate the crisis of liberal London and England, given the reality of that city and English politics; the Neil cohort is even more illustrative for it has chosen to validate and popularise the reactionary march of British politics, and denigrate and undermine anything which doesn’t conform to their free market mindset.

There are big issues in this. The London Scots feel they are close to real power and have influence themselves on big, grown-up decision makers. The increased focus of wealth, power and status in London makes many domestic Scots feel they don’t have the status or confidence to oppose this view of the world, challenge it, or map out an alternative course.

What the London Scots are slowly contributing towards, some perhaps unintentionally (Marr), some intentionally (Neil), is the slow weakening of the union by the politics of caricature. Scotland doesn’t and cannot let itself be seen in the simplistic anti-state view put forward by Neil, or Marr and Naughtie’s pessimism. But that requires that we raise the game in our own political, public and media conversations, and to put it mildly, we seem so far to be experiencing a few problems in how to have a mature debate.

Courtesy of Gerry Hassan –


2013-08-25 00:29

Only point I would differ in, is the Title – (London) Anglicized Scots I think would be more appropriate. It would illustrate clearly where their loyalties lie. But hey, maybe I’ve just read too much history, pertaining to their ilk.
” requires that we raise the game in our own political, public and media conversations,” again I agree, but can’t see that happening until there is a break with Westminster.
2013-08-25 03:08

Yes Gerry,

nice analysis, at last, a journalist worthy of the title.

….. more of the same please.
2013-08-25 04:45

London is awash with expat Jocks who, despite feeling the need to adopt the appearance of the late Sir Harry Lauder two or three times a year, like nothing better than to pontificate in dilute Scots accents about a country in which many haven’t lived for decades.

Nothing is achieved by these individuals habitually talking down the places and people they left behind, other than to make themselves more amusing and acceptable to their circle of new friends ‘darn sarf’.

However, the problem comes when such individuals, suffering from toxic levels of the ‘Scottish cringe’, are parachuted in by our state broadcaster to tell those poor, misguided souls who never had the wherewithal or desire to leave home, what they should be thinking and how they should be voting. For sadly there are still those in Scotland who easily succumb to the ‘London knows best’ attitudes peddled by such individuals. Please save us from their ilk.
2013-08-25 05:32

A good article and none of the hand wringing that I sometimes despair of.

I occasionally enjoy listening to Andrew Marr but, fact is, we don’t need him or his opinions, as Scotland prgresses towards Independence and a better and fairer future.

It would be good, though, if Mr Marr and Mr Naughtie could spend more time in Scotland and discover the vibrant and exciting place that it is becoming.
2013-08-25 05:57

Gerry your best article to date.

This tactic is as old as the hills. The Roman empire used it to rule – take a few people to Rome and impress them with the life style then they become more Roman than the Romans.
It is a great way to run and control your empire and a few do benefit. However the wealth of the regions still got send to Rome.

I prefer people doing what is right for their country and people rather than self interest. My country is Scotland and I am certain we can have a better future for it’s people than the culture encouraged in London of self interest and wealth above all else.
2013-08-25 08:43

I know I’m dancing in the minefield, most noteably because my perception of London is nearly 20 years out of date, and equally out of touch as current London based commentry is about Scotland: but-
The analogy between London and ancient Rome is spot on. London is a fantastic city and powerfully disarming with its cosmopolitan acceptance/indifference to just about everything. Being Scottish won’t hold you back, but it won’t bail you out either. The same goes for other ethnicities too. Sound familiar? Where a slave gladiator might rise to full Roman citizenship?
The vast majority, and I’m guessing somewhere over 90% of the people in London don’t care a thing about Scotland, but it’s nothing personal.
We’re not in a battle with London. Its the Westminster ‘Senate’ from whom we must break links, and to do that we must be stronger in our resolve to break free than those amongst us who are ‘Romanised’, often without ever knowing Rome.
2013-08-25 09:58


my perception of London is nearly 20 years out of date … London is a fantastic city and powerfully disarming with its cosmopolitan

You are out of date. I live half my life in a place 50 miles from London and I (and my neighbours) only ever go there when absolutely necessary. It is a place where a garden hut or a cupboard in a decaying pre WW1 tenement costs £0.5m. A place where every sq ft of roadspace either has a car parked on it or moving (slowly) on it. An area where the atmosphere is constantly polluted with traffic fumes. A land where Public Transport is so full of people that the stench from unwashed bodies and BO is unbearable and where it takes 1/2 an hour to travel 1/2 a mile. It is the dumping ground for all the riff raff of the world, and the preferred home of criminals from every corner of the globe Londonistan is the only third world Capital City in the west.

2013-08-25 10:19

But was ancient Rome any different?

(And OT, I don’t dispute your point but a pre WW1 tenement is likely to be a far superior building compared to its modern equivalent. Dated and aged perhaps, but superior nontheless).

2013-08-25 07:29

Ah, yes indeed, clootie.
Westminster’s notion of ‘togetherness’ is like the medieval master/ servant relationship with themselves always the master.
They have time now to advertise for our replacement in the role of ‘mug’

‘Hand over your assets and we will legislate for you, use your money for our benefit, keep you poor and perhaps give you nice, shiny new lino for your comfortable kitchen’.
Who could resist?
2013-08-25 08:01

Forwarded Gerrys piece to Ken MacDonald who tells me that Gerry is on “Headlines” at 0900 this morning. Well worth a listen as Ken tries to be fair in the referendum debate.
2013-08-25 08:40

Worthy of mention also is how the London media end up feeding Middle England a ludicrous picture of Scotland, by taking the views of these London Scots as somehow informed and neutral, then refracting them through their own bias.

The Indy article Gerry allude to above was a textbook example. It had the bizarre headline “Witty, lucid, sharp: Andrew Marr’s back – and it’s bad news for Alex Salmond”. This despite Marr praising Salmond as a genius in the interview, and Marr’s own obvious ignorance of contemporary Scotland (he clearly hadn’t read Grey’s piece).
2013-08-25 08:41

Here they are, gleefully encouraging others to join them in the mud slinging and name calling on the bandwagon of the ill-informed as it bumps and lurches its way down the Union cul-de-sac.
2013-08-25 08:44

One of the most astute regulations for the upcoming Scottish referendum is that only those who live in and contribute in some way to Scotland’s present and future will have a say in it.

Gerry’s article is very good but misses the obvious; that any opinions from onlookers who will have no vote in the referendum, are no more than simply opinions and aside from the ‘star’ rating that may attach, these opinions are ineffectual.

The other aspect is that these ‘big-hitters’ have not sworn undying fealty to those who remain in their mother country – yet they are given some kind of credence, as opinion-formers, when in effect they can stand-up only for their chosen option within the UK system.

It’s surely time to place these comments from non-voters into the right context.
2013-08-25 09:04

I’ve always had the opinion that “London Scots” like Brown and Darling see their own country as a wee backwater, a stage not big enough for their talent! and its the same with people like Marr and Andrew Neil, they don’t give a damn about any young person in Scotland who cant find a job or a pensioner who cant afford to turn their heating on in the winter. London is the centre of the universe for these people and they have been seduced by it completely, its been the same since the start of the Union of 1707, the Duke of Queensberry alone received £12,325 sterling for his part in Scotland losing its independence, that’s why he’s known in history as “The Union Duke” We still have many Union Dukes it seems, self interest and self preservation comes first for these people.
2013-08-25 09:30

Many good things have come out of the BBC but, unfortunately, it has created a very cosy, untroubled home for the commentators, such as Marr, Naughtie, Taylor.
The imported technique, from the US, of reporters talking to each other, so the news comes through several filters, has increased the assumption of controlling the agenda.
There is a private lexicon, they like to use phrases, such as ‘the big beasts of politics’, that puts them as part of the debate, rather than simply reporting the debate.
They are not the news; we the voters are the news, the SG is the news, the Referendum is the news.
2013-08-25 09:41

The comparison of London with Rome is very apt.

These truly are the last days of the London Empire.

The financial bubble will burst.

Property prices five times higher than Scotland and set to increase by 40% over the next five years when average salaries in London are not much higher than the rest of the UK
call me dave
2013-08-25 10:14

It will get even more crowded according to this then.
What a lot of tosh!!

Sixteen per cent of Scottish voters – the equivalent of 640,000 people – say they would think about moving away if Alex Salmond achieves his dream of breaking up the United Kingdom.…/…
Joe Public
2013-08-25 10:42

I wish they’d just move now. The only ones they’re helping with their current unthinking attitude towards self government are the same Westminster MPs who have presided over the social and economic stagnation of Scotland for all of our lives. Please flit now – BEFORE WE GO TO THE POLLS![/b]

2013-08-25 11:25

Do these London Jocks have to justify why they left Scotland? do the denigrate Scotland to validate their desertion? are they kept in a bubble like a pet snake? more and more see them for what they really are,in my opinion they are still unsure of themselves and their place in the “Big Smoke” they still show all the signs of one who believes he is less than those he wishes to be like.
2013-08-25 12:04

I’m a ‘London Scot’ in that I live and work in London. Like many of us Scots, I moved down here because I couldn’t find work in Scotland in my chosen profession (thanks Union dividend!)

I don’t understand why living in the South of England should make Scottish people more inclined towards the Union: On the contrary: It feels to me that if people in Scotland knew just how much disinterest and contempt English people routinely express for our country, they would vote en masse for independence straight away!
2013-08-25 12:22

What impact on London property values will a YES vote have?
2013-08-25 12:43

So, that shining example of moderate and balanced journalism, the Express, asserts that 16% of the Scottish population will think about moving away, if we choose independence. I assume Ms Mone, the bra queen, will be leading this exodus … again!

If this fantasy figure (the exodus, NOT Ms Mone) were remotely based on fact, it would in fact constitute a problem for democratic politics in an independent Scotland, as there would be hardly a Tory or LibDem voter left in our country.

Also, think of the loss of political talent such as Willie Rennie, Ruth Davidson, Jackson Carlaw … here, hold on … come to think of it, could we maybe persuade Johann and most of her Holyrood Desk Thumpers to join the exodus? Come back Henry McLeish, all is forgiven!
2013-08-25 13:09

I am not going to blunt my words at the risk of being moderated here. These so called “elite Scots” that peddle the Union out of self interest are the reason we got into the union of parliaments in the first place. They need to understand they DO NOT speak for a nation they DO NOT live in (visit perhaps but they do not live here). Contrast their views to so called “elite Scots” who are living in nations other than “ENGLAND” and the story is very different. These vipers will fight to the bitter end out of pure self interest using their position to do so. They may not have a vote (depends how they swing the 2nd home game) but they will spin to the bitter end. Sad. There is a word for these people I dare not utter.
call me dave
2013-08-25 13:16

Her’s something for the weekend.
England’s grievances would be addressed by a new Act of Union
Devolution has changed the relationship between England and Scotland, so a new Act is needed to reinforce the bond…/…
2013-08-25 20:37

Aye right CMD. In 1707 is was signed in what I understand to be the existing ladies toilet of what is now an Italian restaurant in Edinburgh, because of the Scots protesters outside trying to get in to prevent it.

There’s no chance of such slight of hand being enacted again thanks immensely to a SNP leadership that puts Scotland and its people first. Yet, we still have have had McCrone and the seabed border adjustment smash and grab, handed to the UK by Scots MPs, for God knows what reason, but fortunately both legally incompetent, yet, they surely did it and sleekit rules were and still are the standing orders of the present unionists. No more! Keep vigilant!

2013-08-25 16:19

When people get to London they think they’ve made it. Even if they struggle with the rent, cant afford to go anywhere and whinge about the commute. Generally they are the ones with the “provincial cringe” thinly swathed in faux London wrappings. And they’re the ones with most to lose when UK hits the skids.
2013-08-25 16:42

Wonderful piece of anglo hubris. Guys like Fabricant should be stuffed and mounted in a museum labelled Homo Imperialisticus – Once believed extinct. Like the comment from the guy accusing us of low IQ easily taken in by “propaganda” on sites such as this. Racism yet!
2013-08-25 19:27

Are they miffed because they don’t meet the residency requirements and so are not eligible to vote? Or is it there aren’t enough dinner party invitations to allow them to talk down Scotland…?
2013-08-25 22:19

I don’t watch the news on the BBC, preferring ITV instead. I listen to my local radio station in the morning. I watch the BBC for non-news items like documentaries. In any case I know the BBC and ITV concentrate on mainly English material which is fine with me. Once we have independence we’ll get our own real national and international news from a true Scottish perspective.
We all know that these BBC journalists (Marr & co.) will always be faithful to the hand that feeds them, whether they have worked for years in London or Glasgow, that’s just the nature of the beast. Scotland has lived for too long under the pedagogy of poverty, oppression and we may not really have given or have been allowed enough time to get others used to the possibilities that could come with change that is independence.

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