This post is going to be about pensioners. The pensioner demographic completely swung both the EU referendum and the Scottish independence referendum of 2014. If a 2nd indyref is going to be successful before the door slams on the EU someone is going to have to convince the Scottish pensionariat that independence is the correct choice. (Yes, I did say "pensionariat". A secondary aim of this blog is to invent stupid words and furtively spread them through society so that I may laugh like a hyena at my handiwork.) That means convincing them that EU membership is more important than being in the UK. This is going to be a hard sell. It is doubly hard because neither side is listening to the other. I'll explain that with a not-hilarious personal anecdote involving Entoure Snr.
I was back in Scotland over Christmas and obviously spent some time meeting up with Familie Entoure. Herr and Frau Entoure are very, very old. Entoure Snr asked me if the EU referendum result affected me and I told him that, yes, this could have a profound effect on my future. After all, my rights to live and work in the EU will likely be curtailed by Brexit and the ensuing negotiated settlement. Entoure Snr was surprised to hear this, probably because the rights of UK workers in the EU is not exactly a hot topic. This is not the sort of thing that troubles the editorial team on any daily newspaper. WHY IS NO ONE TALKING ABOUT THIS AND MAKING IT A TOP PRIORITY OH WHY OH WHY OH WHY DO THEY EVEN LISTEN? We then chatted about Scottish independence and how that was the only remaining route that guaranteed my rights to live and work in the EU. He presented the usual worries that were easily debunked: EU membership for an independent Scotland, walls at the border etc. Anyway, it occurred to me that we got our information from completely different sources. Twenty years ago we would have read pretty much the same newspapers and watched the same news programmes, even if we had formed different views from the same information. Today, we have almost no news sources in common and our opinion on each other's reading habits is divergent, to say the least. What happened?
|The Entoures at home in 1998 watching Panorama. That's me at the front aged 27. Still got the shorts.|
The emergence of two very separate readerships is remarkable and might even reflect something deeper happening in society. If I worked at the BBC as head of digital strategy I would write a white paper on this exact topic. It would bang on about platforms, content delivery, diverging value systems, and the Terry Wogan demographic in a post-Terry Wogan world. It would be a work of content-free genius that might even land me a promotion to a post with an even longer job title. Happily (for you, for me, for everyone), I don't work at the BBC in any capacity so I'm not going to attempt an answer to this conundrum because a) I no longer live in the UK and b) I live in a bubble world of my own construction that involves a lot of ukulele playing and German verb conjugation.
What got me thinking about all of this is that Entoure Snr defends The Glasgow Herald as a newspaper with an editorially neutral stance on Scottish independence. It might have a more nuanced view than The Daily Record or The Scotsman but it could hardly be described as having a neutral stance, at least not by you or me. He is kind of correct, though, because on the limited spectrum spanned by daily newspapers it probably could be described as somewhere near the centre. If you spent your entire life reading newspapers then it is hard to realise that they are now clustered at one end of the spectrum on a whole list of issues, including attitudes to independence. In fact, it is almost impossible to realise that if you mix with other pensioners who read the same newspapers and have the same life-long beliefs in the benefits of being in the UK. If I was a pensioner today I would likely be no different.
It strikes that there must have been a time when Fleet Street managed to promote a wide range of popular views. After all, where there is competition, there is also diversity. When Entoure Snr was young, however, independence really wasn't a popular view. There would have been no commercial sense at all for any daily newspaper to take on a separatist stance because they would have found very few readers. Let's not forget that the post-war consensus of state health care, jobs for all, nationalised railways and council housing had a powerful effect on Entoure Snr's generation. Back then the Union was a generally popular concept that was rarely questioned or challenged. It's not surprising that today's pensionariat have warm, fuzzy feelings about the Union because for a significant period of their lives they either benefited from it or felt that they did. Even if you don't believe that newspapers are the voice of the establishment it is still the case that they need to tailor their output to the remaining demographic that buys their daily wares in large numbers.
This is all a bit worrying for democracy because the political class is most definitely influenced by news headlines, which are now skewed towards a singular age demographic. Who is it that gets invited for cosy chats at Nr 10 in return for exclusive interviews? Who invites whom to celebrate their nuptials? Even post-Leveson these links have not been broken. More worryingly, I believe the BBC even analyses news coverage to help decide their running order when compiling their bulletins. They do this in the interests of neutrality and impartiality so that they cannot be accused of setting the agenda. This would be fine if the agenda was statistically balanced and mirrored the full spectrum of popular opinion. What happens instead is that they reinforce an imbalanced view.
What about all this new media? What if we all pointed our parents and grandparents to all of these shiny new internet thingamabobs on the super-highway? The problem is that I'm not going to point my Dad at WoS or CommonSpace because he's not exactly what you might call an internet pioneer. Moreover, these sites are aimed at a significantly younger demographic. I really don't think any of the content is produced with him in mind. Sometimes, I even wonder if it is produced with me in mind; this blog, in particular.
|When I am old whatever replaces all of this will scare the bejeezus out of me. Glog?|
|Jacques Delors is very specific about the length of bunting to honour his presence. Just saying.|
Entoure Snr is a rational human being. He is also a human being with all the attendant paradox and inconsistency that happily differentiates us from automatons. He will listen to the arguments where he finds them. They might change his mind. If he felt connected to the arguments he would be far more likely to change his mind, just like all of us humans here on planet earth. Despite some really excellent blogs and journalism out there, almost nothing I've seen on the internet is going to draw in Herr and Frau Entoure. What is the solution?
Over and out,
PS Pensionariat is a truly terrible word. Let's keep it to ourselves and never mention it again.