By Alan Knight
If you tuned into Radio Scotland this weekend you may have heard a discussion on Sunday’s Good Morning Scotland featuring journalists Robbie Dinwoodie and Lynsey Bews together with academic Gerry Hassan.
The discussion centred around the SNP, with unflattering opinions dominating. Hassan seemed especially keen to air his ‘SNP Bad’ prejudices, hurriedly spitting out opinions as though being paid per word.
But one short exchange right at the end caught my attention. Below is an audio recording of the segment.
The short exchange was prompted by an article in The Times newspaper. The article was written by the former head of news and current affairs at BBC Scotland, John Boothman.
The article contained the following:
Nicola Sturgeon is facing a humiliating defeat at Holyrood, with opposition parties uniting to vote down national testing of primary one pupils, after evidence that they reduced some five-year-old children to tears.
In a rare show of unity, after a massive backlash from teaching unions and parent groups, senior Conservative, Labour, Green and Lib Dem sources confirmed their parties intend to back a motion to scrap the assessments.
This is the beginning of a coordinated attack on the SNP. Fronting the attack politically will be Scottish Lib Dem leader Willie Rennie. The media is going to be the conduit for this attack. In the vanguard will be BBC Scotland.
The effectiveness of the attack relies on Unionist MSPs and Green MSPs supporting the aforementioned motion. This is where political opportunism and media corruption will meet head-on.
What do I mean by political opportunism? Well, if John Boothman’s sources are telling him the truth then the Scottish Conservatives are about to vote against a policy they themselves demanded. Below is a short clip of Ruth Davidson speaking about standardised testing back in September 2015.
So Ruth Davidson not only backed standardised testing for primary school pupils, she actively called for such testing. Below is a clip of Ruth Davidson doing exactly that in May 2015. In the clip Davidson specifically highlights Primary 1 pupils.
Note the person over Ruth Davidson’s right shoulder nodding in agreement. It’s Tory MSP Liz Smith. In August 2015 Smith echoed Davidson’s calls for standardised testing to be introduced.
“These figures show that we have a chaotic, patchwork system of testing across Scotland’s primary schools which is undermining the ability of teachers to fully assess the basic skills of their pupils.
“The fact that local authorities are spending millions of pounds buying in tests from various providers across Britain tells us that many do not have sufficient confidence in the testing system in Scotland.
“At the end of it therefore, we are left without any nationally agreed standard tests which would tell us how schools and their pupils are performing across Scotland.”
The Scottish Conservative 2016 manifesto specifically called on the Scottish government to introduce “standardised tests” for Primary one pupils.
Last week Liz Smith changed her tune and argued that the very tests she and her leader had called for should never in fact have been introduced.
Thus, if John Boothman is correct – and the above tweet from Liz Smith appears to support his article claim – then the Scottish Conservatives are going to vote against national standardised tests for primary 1 pupils. A policy they themselves called for. A policy Ruth Davidson boasted of having called for.
This is political opportunism. Indeed it’s probably more accurate to call it political corruption. In terms of newsworthiness, it is this and not the united opposition attack that is the real story.
Think about it. Ruth Davidson and her MSPs believe standardised testing improves Scotland’s education system. If they vote against the policy, they will – using their own logic – be voting to damage that same education system. Education is thus collateral damage in a bid to attack the SNP.
But the media has no intention of highlighting this political corruption. The Scottish media has already signalled its willingness to run this coordinated attack. The goal has nothing to do with improving Scottish education or closing the attainment gap. The goal is to undermine Nicola Sturgeon’s administration.
In the coming days and weeks you’ll see newspaper headlines proclaiming the “SNP Government” is under pressure to scrap these tests. Similar headlines will appear across broadcast media. STV will ape the BBC’s coverage.
Good Morning Scotland will carry the story in its news bulletins. Gary Robertson and Hayley Millar will read out scripts prepared for them. Discussions will take place featuring newspaper journalists and other trusted pundits. They will all say the same thing. There will be media unity.
SNP politicians will face aggressive interviews asking if they will respect the ‘will of parliament’. Opposition MSPs will launch attacks on the SNP demanding the tests be scrapped. Reporting Scotland will lead its programme with the ‘growing pressure’ Nicola Sturgeon is ‘coming under’.
Glenn Campbell, Brian Taylor, Andrew Kerr and Gordon Brewer will all dutifully echo the narrative. There will be no dissenting voices. No one will highlight the actions of Ruth Davidson and her MSPs.
As I have already explained. For this attack to succeed requires the Scottish Tories to vote against a policy they themselves called for and for the media to refuse to cover this act of political corruption. In short, it requires a marriage of political corruption with media corruption.
As I finish writing this article, news emerges that Labour MSP Iain Gray has lodged the motion which reads “That the parliament believes that standardised assessments for primary one pupils should be scrapped.”
The Scottish Tories are going to support this motion.
The marriage of political convenience is about to give birth to the next ‘SNP Bad’ story. Here it comes.
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