18 September 2015. 

Conference: The 2014 Scottish independence referendum in the media. University of Stirling.

Over 50 delegates from universities across Scotland, England and beyond, but also from Ofcom, the BBC Trust and BBC Scotland, participated in stimulating discussion with media researchers at this one-day conference, held on the first anniversary of the referendum. The event offered an opportunity for academics who work independenty on different aspects of the coverage of the Scottish referendum in the media to share their findings, reflect on the role of the media in the campaign, and debate with a highly engaged audience.


Professor Claes de Vreese, Chair of Political Communication at the University of Amsterdam, opened the conference with a plenary on media framing in referendum campaigns. His very comprehensive talk discussed framing as an analytical approach and how it has enhanced our understanding of polical communication in referendum campaigns. He focused on the particular challenges for media, politics, and citizens in referendum campaigns and also explored the question of who supports the referendum as a decision making tool, given these particular challenges.

The first panel continued the discussion on media framing, with a paper by Marina Dekavalla from Stirling University, which explored findings from her research project on the Television Framing of the Scottish Referendum. She looked at how Scottish television channels defined what the referendum decision was about and which factors had an impact on these frames, based on her analysis of the coverage and her interviews with broadcasters at BBC Scotland and STV. The second speaker of the panel, David Hutchison from Glasgow Caledonian University, explored a different perspective of referendum coverage in Scotland by focusing on how the Scottish press and television reported on the Scottish Government's White Paper on independence, and how this coverage contributed to debate around the issue. Will Dinan from Stirling University closed the session by looking at the role of Scottish civil society in the campaign. Drawing on his research of communication and public affairs professionals in this sector, he expored the relationship of civil society with the Scottish media, its access to and representation by the mediated referendum debate.

The second panel explored perspectives on the referendum campaign from outside Scotland. The media in England, Slovenia and Catalonia had their own, very different reasons for following developments in Scotland last year. Andrew Tolson from Leicester University discussed the English coverage of the referendum, the accusations of bias during the campaign, and illustrated how Scottish voices were represented on some of the English programmes about this political event. Alenka Jelen-Sanchez from Stirling University, explained how the media saw the 2014 referendum in Slovenia, a country that became independent almost 25 years ago, through a similar democratic process. She argued that there was little consensus between outlets in how the referendum was represented, but some media did draw comparisons with the Slovenian experience of building a new state. Comparisons with the situation at home were also common in Catalan media, explored in the final paper of this session, by Enric Castelló and Marta Montagut, from Universitat Rovira i Virgili. Their research, supported by the Spanish Department of Economic Affairs, looked at metaphors and frames used in the narratives of Catalan television and the press in the run-up and immediate aftermath of the vote.

The last panel of the day looked at the contribution of social media, and specifically Twitter, in the referendum debate. Michael Comerford and Des McNulty from Glasgow University discussed the role of social media in political mobilisation, which created new conditions for a longer-term political reconfiguration in Scotland. Mark Shephard from Strathclyde University examined the extent to which political deliberation that took place on Twitter during the campaign can be seen as fulfilling deliberative criteria such as diversity, reciprocity, civility or depth.

The range of perspectives presented shows the complexity of political communication, media reporting and deliberative participation during a referendum on such a vital matter for the future of Scotland and the UK. What can be said with certainty is that one year after the Scottish referendum, appetite for debate remains strong. Exploring and questioning the role of the media in referenda also remains more topical than ever, in view of the forthcoming referendum on the UK's membership of the EU.

Please click here for the conference programme.

Please click here for paper abstracts.

The conference was supported by the ESRC.