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The Scottish Independence Debate: Anglophobia and Media Bias

27/08/2013 16:14 BST | Updated 26/10/2013 10:12 BST

Speaking at the Edinburgh international book festival to promote his (now updated) book, The Battle for Scotland, Andrew Marr caused a stir among Scots last week when he warned of "very strong anti-English feeling" north of the border, and the effect this may be having on the tone of the independence debate.

Predictably, it didn't take long for commentators below the line to take issue with the Glasgow-born journalist's remarks. And I must admit, my own first reaction to claims of "entrenched Anglophobia" was immediate skepticism - entirely at odds with the views of my many Scottish friends, and my large Scottish family. Let us not forget, moreover, that the Yes Campaign have gone out of their way precisely to avoid anti-English ranting.

Yet Marr may still have a point. At the fringes of nationalism, it isn't hard to find a small cohort of late-night bloggers who express decidedly unpleasant views, while the behaviour of the Radical Independence Campaign supporters in their Royal Mile standoff with Nigel Farage in May gives similar cause for concern. And then there were the bizarre and unhelpful comments from Alisdair Gray, one of Scotland's most respected authors, who sought to categorise English migrants as either long-term "settlers" or short-term "colonists" - inflammatory language to say the least. Likewise, former SNP leader Gordon Wilson did himself and the Yes campaign few favours when he referred to the "cancer" of the south-east of England when talking about economic centralization.

But does this picture really speak to a wider problem of "entrenched Anglophobia" in Scotland?

The most recent major quantitative research conducted on the subject is now a decade old, but brings important insight to the table. Using responses from the 2003 Scottish Social Attitudes Survey (SSAS) to measure anti-English feeling among respondents, Glasgow University's William Miller and Asifa Hussain found that over one third (38 percent) of Scots surveyed expressed Anglophobia, and that over a quarter of the English migrants they interviewed had experienced harassment.

Importantly, however, they also found that the presence (or absence) of anti-English sentiments among Scots is impacted by different social and political factors, with cross-cultural contacts, youth, and most of all, high education, all acting to reduce Anglophobia. Scottish nationalism, on the other hand - with either a small 'n' or a capital 'N' - has a "fairly strong" impact on anti-Englishness at street level (though not at SNP leadership level), with SNP voters registering a "high rate of Anglophobia". Despite these findings, however, only 16 percent of English migrants interviewed see conflict between English and Scots as even "fairly serious".

Among certain sections of Scots, then, social attitudes surveys reveal a lingering undercurrent of anti-Englishness which is not always jovial. This is concerning. But Marr's analysis of the effect that this is supposedly having on the independence debate fails to convince. Rather than worrying about the "very aggressive tone of the debate", which I think Marr considerably overplays, I would argue that the real problem is its woefully biased and inadequate coverage by the UK and Scottish media (particularly well-documented here).

According to Marr, for example, there has been "curiously little" discussion about what kind of Scotland is going to emerge after the independence vote. This is an odd claim, however, because this has in fact been discussed extensively - most of the mainstream media just hasn't bothered to cover it. Head over to the Jimmy Reid Foundation, the National Collective, Think Scotland, Reform Scotland, or the UK 'Devo More' programme launched by the IPPR and you will find plenty of different visions for Scotland's future - plenty of lively, engaging, and respectful exchanges of ideas.

On one point at least, I absolutely agree with Marr: the vote is going to be a lot closer than many care to admit. According to the recent Panelbase poll commissioned by the pro-indy website Wings Over Scotland, for example, 36 percent of Scots voters are currently planning to vote No in the referendum, with 34 percent planning to vote Yes. With just over a year until Scotland makes its most important choice since 1707, then, there is still a great deal to play for with many Scots undecided and unsure as to which way to turn. So for those still on the fence and searching for a more stimulating and informative debate than has so far been offered by the much of our mainstream media, rest assured that it is out there. And it's well worth finding.