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TV: Independence - It's the principle of the thing

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Illustration: Jim Cogan

Illustration: Jim Cogan

Illustration: Jim Cogan

'I'm voting aye, and for Scotland's glorious destiny!" - "But wait, yon fitba player and kecks model Beckham says no." - "I'll vote no then."

I was laughing out loud at this tweet by one Stig Abell, mocking the contribution of David Beckham to the Scottish independence debate, when it came to my attention that other commentators were mocking Beckham without any of the skill displayed by Stig. They merely found it amusing that a man considered by them to be essentially stupid should have the conceit to make his views known on a matter of public significance. Which shifted the parameters of the Beckham issue, because now we had to deal with the notion that there are people out there who hold responsible positions in our culture who still think that David Beckham is stupid.

Yes, there are people who are allowed out on their own to engage with the media who are actually under the impression that this man who has parlayed his considerable talent for "fitba" into a global brand with an estimated worth of hundreds of millions, is an idiot - and moreover that they are demonstrating their own superior intelligence by pointing this out.

Meanwhile they hear some Fine Gael hack on Morning Ireland holding forth on all sorts of significant matters, and they think that's fine.

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So this is what you get with the best kind of independence referendum - you start the day wondering if they will vote "aye" or "no" in chilly Jocko-land, and by mid-morning it's become "aye" or "no" to David Beckham, and anything else that may arise out of the incessant arguing.

You will note, of course, that I referred to a place called "chilly Jocko-land", which is a deliberate mistake, a throwback to a primitive time when Ian St. John and Jimmy Greaves, or "Saint and Greavsie", had a massively successful show every Saturday lunchtime on ITV, and Greavsie, who is a Londoner, would routinely "rib" the Saint, who is a Scot, about events up there in "chilly Jocko-land."

There is no more "ribbing" of this kind permitted on TV, yet such was the excitement of the Scots in this last week, it was well-nigh impossible for the London television establishment to control everything. We saw these perfectly stereotypical scenes in which Newsnight held a series of debates in some sort of a big tent, outside of which the voices of stereotypical raucous blackguards could be heard roaring some Caledonian gibberish.

Knowing that one wrong word in this situation, one slightly mis-spoken nuance could be immediately career-threatening, presenters such as Emily Maitlis and Kirsty Wark just apologised for the "noises off", with not the slightest hint that the disturbances were in any way related to their specific location in "chilly Jocko-land", or to whiskey, or perhaps to some combination thereof.

There was no apology when Newsnight ran an interview with the principal of a university faculty, with a caption saying that this person was the "principle". They don't feel bad about that sort of thing any more, even in the higher echelons of that great broadcasting establishment, which was founded for many reasons, most of which can be encapsulated in one line: "at the BBC, we know the difference between principle and principal."

Kay Burley of Sky News had to apologise for herself, when she was heard saying that a Yes campaigner looks like "a bit of a knob". She was, she explained, in a "challenging environment." And though the Scots have reached a verdict on this issue, even they have no real idea of what destiny may have in store.

For example the Channel 4 debate moderated by Jon Snow ended with a blast of Should I Stay or Should I Go? by The Clash.

Now, those of us who were "out" when the Clash recorded that track, could never have guessed that it would end up being played, as a matter of law, during every election campaign in Ireland, England, Scotland, Wales, and in all other countries in which they are aware of that seminal recording. That for decades to come, reporters compiling their radio or TV items would think to themselves: "everyone else plays this track, until it's become the dreariest cliche in western broadcasting, so you know what ?.... I'm going to play it too."

And they do.

Sunday Independent