the reinvention of scotland?

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  • This article was downloaded by: [University of Connecticut]On: 08 October 2014, At: 08:32Publisher: RoutledgeInforma Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number:1072954 Registered office: Mortimer House, 37-41 Mortimer Street,London W1T 3JH, UK

    Political CommunicationPublication details, including instructions forauthors and subscription information:http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/upcp20

    The Reinvention of Scotland?Philip Schlesinger aa Professor of Film and Media Studies andDirector of the Stirling Media Research Institute,University of Stirling; Professor of Media andCommunication at the University of Oslo.Published online: 29 Jun 2010.

    To cite this article: Philip Schlesinger (2000) The Reinvention of Scotland?,Political Communication, 17:4, 313-318, DOI: 10.1080/10584600050178898

    To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/10584600050178898

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    Political Communication, 17:313318, 2000Copyright 2000 Taylor & Francis1058-4609/00 $12.00 + .00

    The Reinvention of Scotland?

    PHILIP SCHLESINGER

    Keywords political journalism, parliamentary journalism, Scottish mass media, na-tional identity, civil society, Scottish public sphere

    On September 11, 1997, the referendum on Scottish devolution produced a resoundingmajority for the creation of a Scottish Parliament with extensive powers, including thevariation of income tax. The Edinburgh legislature, which was finally installed in May1999, has competencies in many key areas of domestic lawmaking. Westminsters mainreserved powers under the Scotland Act of 1998 are the constitution, macro-economicsand finance, foreign policy, social security, and citizenship. Devolution to Scotland, Wales,and Northern Ireland, together with the UKs first directly elected mayor of London andreforms of the upper House of Parliament (the Lords), is changing the political landscapeand the nature of bargaining between political centers. This displacement of powers is partof a wider constitutional revolution that is challenging the UKs centralist state. It hasopened up the the English Question. Some think that present change will necessarily leadeither to a fully federal constitution or, alternatively, to the breakup of the United Kingdom,as the strains of asymmetrical government become too great.

    Inevitably, such fundamentalif incompleteconstitutional reform is raising ques-tions about political communication and how this relates to the more complex divisionof powers and identity claims of the UK. The question of how media handle constitu-tional issues is being posed in a quite distinctive way, because they are faced with howto report on peaceful, negotiated change. Of course, the constitution (famously un-written) has been on the UK agenda previously. To cite some well-known 20th centuryexamples: There have been two world wars requiring a national rallying to the flag anddefense of the realm, and the taking of special powers by the state; the postFirst WorldWar Irish secession, fracturing the Union; the General Strike of 1926, deemed a threatto the state; the Abdication Crisis of 1936, concerning the status and continuity of theCrown; and the long-running Northern Ireland crisisinternal war by another name.Looked at this way, there we can reread media history through the reporting (and fic-tionalization) of constitutional crisis. We can also begin to create a typology of therange of possible mediated representations of constitutional change and their underlyingconditions.

    Philip Schlesinger is Professor of Film and Media Studies and Director of the Stirling MediaResearch Institute, University of Stirling. He is also Professor of Media and Communication at theUniversity of Oslo.

    Address correspondence to Philip Schlesinger, Stirling Media Research Institute, Universityof Stirling, Stirling FK9 4LA, Scotland, UK. E-mail: p.r.schlesinger@stir.ac.uk

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  • 314 Philip Schlesinger

    Why Scotland?

    In this brief paper, I focus on Scotland, the nation whose demands for autonomy withinthe UK (and in some quarters for independence from the British state) have really driventhis process of change. During the time I have lived in Scotland, I have come to appre-ciate the interesting problem of the nation without a state, one that resonates else-where, notably in Wales, Quebec, Catalonia, and the Basque Country. I have been drawnto analyze political communication in Scotland because I have a substantial citizen in-volvement in the place, because I work theoretically and empirically on questions ofnationalism and national identity (principally in the wider European Union context), andbecause it is simply a fascinating laboratory for the political sociologist. As I brieflydescribe here, Scotland in the past few years has offered the rare chance to observe theprocess of inventing new institutions, supercharged with high aspirations embedded inthe political discourse.

    Until the union of the English and Scots parliaments in 1707, Scotland was a sepa-rate state (although the crown had already been shared for a century). It was the incor-poration of Scotland into the new union that led to the creation of Great Britain. Sincethe mid 19th century, the question of home rule for Scotland has been on the politicalagenda. My own research, however, comes out of the much more recent pressures forpolitical change of the last 30 years or so, and more particularly the pressures for reformdating from the late 1980s. During that time, Scots nationalists have pressed for inde-pendence (latterly in Europe), and the more flexible unionists have opted for devolu-tion as the contemporary version of home rule. For some, devolution has been anundisguised tactic for keeping the union in being; for others, it has offered a genuineroute to meet the aspirations of Scotlands distinct civil society.

    I have called this brief paper The Reinvention of Scotland? because it raises anecessary question. To what extent does the new political status have a transformingeffect? The restoration of the Scottish Parliament after 300 years is a matter of greatnational symbolism as well as of practical politics. Symbolically, an institution of statehas been recreated, albeit with a subordinate status to Westminster. In practical terms,the bureaucratic politics of Scotlanda territory run for more than a century through adepartment of state called the Scottish Officehas been replaced with electoral politicsand with an administration called the Scottish Executive. Scotland has therefore beenreborn as a more complete polity, bringing into a different form the high degree ofautonomy that it has largely enjoyed since union.

    My interest lies in the communicative dimension of the institutionalization of a newpolitical system since 1997. How does communicative space reconfigure, both in thedevolved nation and in the wider UK state? What processes of invention have to occur inthe media and ICT age when you replace bureaucratic politics with democracy in anancient nation? How inventive can civil servants, politicians, and media schooled incenturies of Scottish-Britishness be? What was the role of civil society in bringing aboutchange? How far can aspirations for radical democracy go, and how do news media fit in?

    The Research

    This article is based on an often ethnographic study of press, broadcasting, and politicsconducted since 1996 that seeks to draw out the implications of constitutional changefor political communication in a British state without a written constitution. The workhas been conducted with my Stirling University colleagues David Miller and WilliamDinan. Its central aim has been to track and analyze the emergence of three key ele-

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  • The Reinventi