HUW Edwards has always fascinated me. Deeply Welsh, in his language and commitments; his late father Hywel, brilliant but absent from his family due to his devotion to Welsh language and nationalism. The son was a notable Welsh-speaking broadcaster, before becoming the “news anchor” for these islands.

I would look at Huw’s grim, sometimes grimacing discomfort on the nightly news, and imagine he thought he still was the BBC’s Welsh correspondent. Was his dour non-attachment, as he reported on the shenanigans of the British state, more than just professional poise?

Although we’re now combing it for other clues, I liked this bit of Edwards’s May 2022 exchange in Men’s Health magazine with Alastair Campbell. The ostensible topic was the newscaster’s history of depression:

AC: If you had to list all the aspects of your national identity, how would you order them?

HE: I would say I’m Welsh first and I’m British and European in joint second. I don’t think that’s an unreasonable answer.

AC: So you’re a Plaid anti-Brexiteer?

HE: I’m a Welshman who’s treading a very high tightrope, okay? [Laughter]

The National: Alastair Campbell will appear with Catherine Salmond, editor of The Herald, at the Aye Write book

Edwards goes on to effectively say “never say never” to becoming a political representative in Wales (his dad was twice a candidate for Plaid). He agrees that he will “do something of service to Wales in the future”. Maybe sad to read these aspirations now, as the smoke arises from his blasted reputation.

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I mention my idle imaginings about a personality I do not know, and have never met, because it’s part of what underlies the reverberations around Edwards’s alleged (and now deemed non-criminal) sexual behaviours. It’s a direct hit to the realm of the “parasocial”.

This idea is defined quite superbly by the ever-reliable TeenVogue:

“A parasocial relationship is along-term attachment to a media figure ... based on what a person ‘knows’ or understands about that figure over time. We develop parasocial relationships based on repeated interactions with these figures on social media or on television that make them seem relatable and accessible rather than far away from us ‘regular’ people.”

Doesn’t that precisely define Edwards’s relationship to the public – the sombre, familiar face guiding the “nation” (or the one assumed by the BBC) through its triumphs, collapses, births and deaths? The sordid nature of the allegations against him could not more precisely unravel that parasociality.

That the presenter Jimmy Saville conducted decades of child sexual abuse, exploiting the parasocial affections of those around him – while being fully employed and promoted by the BBC – surely explains the corporation’s zeal (some have said excessive) to investigate itself over the last week. The recent Philip Schofield imbroglio is also certainly on BBC executives’ minds.

I don’t want to lessen in any way the context of patriarchy here.

Older males in positions of institutional authority have been harassing and abusing underlings, sexually and socially and across all genders, for millennia.

However the actual details of the accusations in Edwards’s case resolve themselves, we are generally in an era where victims of abuse now feel increasingly capable of raising their voices. This is amplified by a digital culture which both gives their voice a platform and can provide evidence for their claims.

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But the thud-thud of these scandals, and my self-observation of how easily I get wrapped up in them, drives me to deeper questions about the relationship between media, psychology and power.

Although we often don’t agree, the left-wing Scottish commentator David Jamieson made a telling point a while ago.

Hadn’t too many of us been in a “parasocial” relationship with Nicola Sturgeon (and for that matter, her predecessor Salmond)? Meaning that we have way over-invested in her fluent and relatable Scottish personality (“I’m with Nicola!” as the slogan put it).

This was easier and lazier to do, suggests Jamieson, than actually pushing her and her ministers to execute daring policies that might have broken us out of the indy stasis.

'There are no Gods and precious few heroes'

WE’RE also in the murk of a still-uncompleted police investigation into the SNP’s organisational finances. The parasocial shock of having Sturgeon anywhere near a police interviewing room, for anything, is still reverberant (and may leave damaging fissures in the indy movement).

The National: Nicola Sturgeon

The obvious line surfaces, by way of a Hamish Henderson song and Christopher Harvie’s history of modern Scotland: there are “no gods and precious few heroes” in this picture of leadership.

It would also suggest that there is something fundamentally deficient about conducting public affairs – whether it’s journalism or politics – by the projection and management of personality. Especially when the digital surround makes it so easy to prick the balloon.

So what’s better than a “trusted news anchor” amidst the chaos of the times? I’ve been involved with a political lab called The Alternative for several years. We believe in radical levels of community empowerment across a wide range of areas.

One of those powers is the capacity to both generate and receive news that supports, inspires and informs powerful local initiatives (called, in our language, CANs, or community agency networks). Within a broad eco-civilisational perspective, people begin again to “trust the news”, because it directly helps them “strengthen their conditions”.

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This isn’t about being parochial. Indeed the term we use is “cosmolocalism”. Whether you’re actively addressing housing, electricity, food or credit at a common and local level, you can draw down plans and precedents from around the world, by means of digital networks.

For this media structure to ultimately resist being polarised or scandal-ridden by corporate exploiters, it probably needs to be a “commons”, its resources managed by an ethically-transparent foundation (somewhat like Wikipedia or the browser Mozilla). It might even use the recent wave of democratically-oriented blockchains (known as DAOs, or distributed autonomous organisations).

Yes, it’s early days. The Alternative is currently incubating prototypes of bits of the necessary structures. But most of this should be familiar to National readers.

This paper knows that it rests on the vitality of an independence movement, where active communities seek vital information – both to plan for the future independent polity, and to convince compatriots that it’s plausible. (This news agenda is cosmolocal, by definition. It serves the late Winnie Ewing’s injunction, “stop the world, Scotland wants to get on!”).

I know that’s why there are sections on The National’s website explicitly for “communities” and “grassroots”, driven by the agendas of Yes groups.

And absolutely none of this will be novel to my friend and fellow columnist Lesley Riddoch, whose books and journalism resist what she called the “stand there and be fixed” mentality. She’s a one-woman transmitter for a confident, defiantly constructive Scottish localism.

To imagine a new relationship between people and their media isn’t just nice to have, but urgent.

The credibility gap that’s opened up between them has many demons flowing into it: fear-and-loathing merchants who deploy conspiracy theories to feed on the deep-seated distrust. I watch GB News or TalkTV and am amazed at the licence and resource they have, to incessantly create a paranoid and distrustful world for their audience.

We need to name them properly: they’re pre-fascist prep.

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However, we also need to build, or at least instigate, a better media structure for this age. Scottish self-determination is always an opportunity for reform.

But, humanely, we need to detach our gaze, be self-aware of our parasocial tendencies, and start mediating with each other about the information we need to be planetary citizens.

We also need to let a TV anchor, manifestly troubled from many angles, sort out his life crisis. The news that stays news? We have a world to stop burning.