Monday, 11 September 2017 | Defending Devolution | Blair’s Priority | Queensferry Crossing | Brexit Vote
In this report addressing the First Minister’s statements on defending devolution against a Westminster power grab Jackie Bird prefaces the discussion by citing Nicola Sturgeon’s critics; describing her words as “scaremongering.” Glenn Campbell reduces the question of repatriated EU powers to agriculture and fisheries and repeats the term “scaremongering” before the report moves to a video of Ruth Davidson; she and the Conservatives being the only real critics in Holyrood.
Ms Davidson, without any agreement from the London government, asserts that returning powers will go first to the UK government before being further devolved and says “it has to be in that order.” According to her the concerns of the First Minister and the SNP are nothing but “political point scoring.” Quite disingenuously, considering Ms Davidson backed Remain in the EU referendum, she blasts the Scottish government for its position on the repatriation of EU powers because, she says, the Holyrood government wants to “hand those powers directly back to Brussels.”
Rather than focus on the question at hand; why there is a perceived need across party lines in Scotland to stand against a London power grab, the report redirects the viewer’s attention to what it frames as the First Minister’s priority – a second independence referendum. Willie Rennie, leader of the Liberal Democrats in Scotland, caps this off by stating emphatically that “we’re not interested in another constitutional argument.” This, however, is not what defending devolution is about.
Looking back on 20 years of devolution this piece focuses on the thoughts of Tony Blair, the then Prime Minister. The main thrust is on Blair’s idea of cementing England and Scotland together after devolution through football. In the studio Jackie Bird introduces this segment as Blair’s plan to strengthen and “maintain national bonds” – as though the United Kingdom was a nation. Ironically, during an interview with Brian Taylor, the former Prime Minister dismisses the ideas of uniting the national football teams as a “step far too far” – thus undermining the entire scheme.
What is perhaps most interesting about this short report is that it exposes the use of political will and government policy to align the cultures of the two nations, coming closer to social engineering and state-building. While the report passes comment on Blair’s thoughts on Jeremy Corbyn, nothing is said of what Scottish people think of Tony Blair.
Steven Godden’s report on the Queensferry Crossing is, from beginning to end, completely unnecessary. In a short article introduced in the studio as a bridge “beset with long queues,” the commuter interview is of a driver who describes 15 to 20 minute delays as “about normal compared to the old bridge.” He even says that it was better than he expected. The Queensferry Crossing is beset by normality, but Reporting Scotland apparently still has to produce a negative story.
Given the normalcy of the traffic conditions, the report finds one shopkeeper who says the traffic puts people off parking at his store. So there are calls for the Forth Road Bridge to be reopened in order to cope, presumably, with normality. Liberal Democrat MSP Alex Cole-Hamilton, defending these calls from persons unnamed, makes the case in interview that the Forth Road Bridge is a “perfectly good bridge,” before immediately weakening his case by acknowledging its need of “some repairs.”
This brief interview with political correspondent David Porter at Westminster ahead of the Brexit vote is particularly interesting. The discussion is first of all framed by the statement that a majority of Scots MPs are preparing “to vote against the bill that will transfer EU laws into British law” – giving the impression of sheer Scottish obstinacy.
The piece ignores entirely the concerns of the Scottish government; that powers being repatriated from Europe will be arrogated by London. It is due to these concerns that the majority of Scots MPs are unwilling to support the bill, but this goes unsaid. Attempting to explain this issue Porter completely misrepresents the position of Holyrood and the Welsh Assembly, saying that those powers the devolved administrations already have will not be taken. This is not the issue. Scotland and Wales are resisting what they see as a power grab of powers returning, not of powers they currently have.
Tuesday, 12 September 2017 | Battle for Brexit | Business Rates on Schools | Police Scotland | Edinburgh Trams Inquiry
Battle for Brexit
In the studio Jackie Bird frames this report on the disagreement between the Scottish and Welsh governments and Westminster as a “squaring up for a battle over Brexit,” a sentiment that is repeated verbatim later in the article. The position of the Scottish government, that the repatriation of EU powers to London will undermine or subvert devolution, is reduced to a mere claim without any analysis of the political realities. Before the transition to Brian Taylor’s report the viewer is told that this claim was dismissed as “nonsense” by the Scottish Secretary David Mundell.
Regardless of the concerns of the devolved administrations in Wales and Scotland, Reporting Scotland echoes the British government positions on the importance of laws and rules, that it is “sensible” for powers first to be returned to Westminster, and that – without any stated guarantees – the UK is “prepared to consider” what powers should be devolved after the process.
In being told that the UK government does not need the consent of the Scottish government to go ahead and pass the bill; which appears to operate as a threat, the viewer is informed that this is not what the UK government wants. It “doesn’t want a fight with the Scottish parliament.” Here the British government is being presented as the peacemaker. This is reinforced with the reminder that David Mundell has offered talks.
Business Rates on Schools
The headline to the report by the business correspondent David Henderson is that new taxation proposals will see schools and universities brought within the tax net, but as the segment progresses we discover that this is not quite so. Nurseries will retain their complete tax exemption, but fee paying schools will be taxed; bringing them into line with state schools, and universities will be taxed on the income they make from renting accommodation to visitors outside the academic year.
The discussion on the government’s report recommendations is carefully stated so as to give the impression that, while she is in favour of free nursey education, this was not the initiative for the First Minister. While there was nothing in this item quite reaching the scale of bad news as indicated in the header, Jackie Bird closes the piece by reiterating that this is good news for nurseries, but that there is “uncertainty still” for private schools and universities.
The report on the political pressure being put on the government over Police Scotland is opened with the claim that the single police force and its leadership “are beset by problems.” For the most part this report focuses on the opinion of the opposition parties; from Tory MSP Liam Kerr’s “catalogue of failures” to Labour MSP Claire Baker’s “critical report after critical report.” The impression is that Police Scotland is in a state of crisis.
The apparent dysfunctionality of Police Scotland, “with three SPA chairs stepping down in four years,” and the “vacuum of leadership” in the force, is laid squarely at the feet of the SNP and described as “a disgrace.” As it would be awkward for the government to comment on an ongoing investigation and problematic for it to interfere in the force’s own procedures, the Scottish government finds itself in a difficult position. All that the Justice Secretary Michael Matheson can do is reassure the public that Keith Livingston, now acting Chief Constable, is “a very able and experienced officer.” Given the cross-party condemnation of the SNP allowed for in this report, Matheson’s words cannot but sound hollow.
Edinburgh Trams Inquiry
Steven Godden, reporting on the Edinburgh Trams Inquiry, returns to a story interesting for its lack of adequate analysis. Giving evidence at the Inquiry Duncan Fraser, former Tram Coordinator at Edinburgh City Council, gives a broadly similar account of the debacle as we have already heard on Reporting Scotland’s coverage; that details were hidden from elected members, that he was not allowed to see contracts, and that – after being forced to compress his own report – the sum of £25m in further costs was redacted.
He describes how it was explained to him that the reason for this lack of transparency was because risk was being shifted from the public purse to the private sector. This he found “difficult to believe,” but was not in a position to question these matters further. Clearly there are further questions to be asked regarding the possibility of corruption, but the various BBC reports on the Trams Inquiry have avoided drawing attention to this.
Wednesday, 13 September 2017 | Record Low Unemployment | Education | Trams Inquiry | Skye
Record Low Unemployment
While it is always good to hear unemployment is down, and better still that it is at a record low, the decision to make this headline about unemployment being down rather than employment being up gives this story a negative feel. This negativity is further pushed in Jackie Bird’s warning from the desk that there is a growing skills shortage. David Henderson, BBC business correspondent, delivers the report.
It is left to the interviewee Gareth Biggerstaff of Be-IT Resourcing to mention the relationship between a skills shortage and the number of people leaving Scotland as a consequence of their concerns over Brexit. This Brexit-driven skills drain is then ignored in the studio discussion with Jackie Bird directing the talk back to the factors increasing employment.
Henderson, also ignoring the problems created by Brexit, outlines the benefits of a weak pound for exports and tourism. Considering Scotland and the rest of the UK rely more heavily on imports than on exports, it is surprising nothing is said of what a falling pound is doing to Scotland’s import industries.
In explaining the increased employment Henderson euphemistically glosses over Westminster’s sanctions regime as “controversial benefits changes,” before going on to describe how real earnings are lower today than they were a decade ago. There is at least the possibility here that this rounded-off “decade” is intended to be a subtle nod to the SNP’s time in government.
This report by Glenn Campbell picks up on the growing shortage of Maths, Science, and Technology teachers in the Scottish education system, again allowing opposition parties to put the blame on the SNP. Three times the report returns to the refrain of this shortage being a “national” problem. There is no mistaking that this is, from beginning to end, a bad news story on education.
On the coverage of Trinity Academy’s attempts to address the shortfall locally, the emphasis is quickly turned to the teacher shortage being a national issue and affecting other schools in Edinburgh. We are left to wonder if the choice of school in this report is a deliberate attempt on the part of Reporting Scotland to speak to a specific target audience.
Two opposition MSPs are drafted in for interview, Liz Smith – the Education Spokesperson for the Scottish Conservatives – and Iain Gray for Labour. Smith, after admitting to the complex factors causing the shortage, states that this “is a concern that lands straight at the door of the SNP.” Failing to note that Scottish teachers are paid more than teachers in similar positions in England and Wales, Gray says that “our teachers are among the poorest paid in the developed world.” Again, the emphasis here is on the Scottish government failing and needing to “sort out” what is being presented as an education crisis.
In a brief comment on the Edinburgh Trams Inquiry we are told that Rebecca Andrews, an accountant, has given evidence to the Inquiry. Her assessment is that by attempting to shift responsibility to Transport Initiatives Edinburgh Ltd. (TIE), a private “arm’s-length body,” to minimise costs to the public, the City Council “lost control.” TIE, we are told, was over incentivised to continue work even when it made more sense to stop.
The use of vague terminology in the coverage of this story, especially considering the sums of public money involved and the lack of control elected officials had over information and finances, demands more scrutiny than Reporting Scotland is apparently prepared to offer.
This segment, arising from committee discussions on the Islands Bill, scarcely merits news status and amounts to little more than an attempt to pillory an SNP MSP. Observing that the Skye Bridge lessens many of the transport issues faced by other islands, John Mason asked the Islands Bill Committee if Skye really ought to be considered in the bill. Asking such pertinent questions is, after all, part of his responsibilities as a committee member. Yet his clumsy “real island” phraseology has offered the BBC a chance to mock him.
In the studio Jackie Bird reminds viewers that the Bill is “aimed at ensuring the needs of island communities are met,” before stressing that the Conservative convener Edward Mountain “defended” the island. Then, having “crossed the sea to Skye,” Jackie O’Brien continues the joke with islanders and tourists who had apparently been led to believe the committee discussion implied Skye “could lose its island status.” The message from the island was that Mason should consult a map, but the real point of the article was made back in the studio with the words: “Having some fun on Skye.”
It’s worth noting that far more newsworthy comments from Conservative MSP Graham Simpson, who claimed there were “no go areas” in some Scottish cities, were not reported. Simpson, Tory Shadow Minister for Housing, was speaking during the housing debate in the Parliament on the day Mason made his comments.
Thursday, 14 September 2017 | Health Care | Education | Women’s Prisons
As though it is solely responsible for the funding shortages in Scottish health care, we are told in this report that the Scottish government “accepts” there are improvements to be made. Shelley Jofre’s report takes an emotional and personal look at the state of care facilities for younger people suffering from serious neurological conditions. Again, this report is delivered through the lens of statistics; “an estimation” made by the Sue Ryder Foundation that “at least a thousand” people with neurological conditions are being looked after in care homes for the elderly.
Introducing the piece with Sue Ryder’s claim that these people have been “let down,” adds wait to Pamela MacKenzie’s hope that the Scottish government should “take the lead.” Despite repeated acknowledgements that costs are a significant issue and that the “current financial situation” does not help, this inadequacy in care is presented as a result of local authority budget cuts and the lack of Scottish government prioritisation. It is seen as the Scottish government’s fault that care is a “postcode lottery” and an “uphill struggle.” There is no discussion on Westminster’s role in Scotland’s finances, and when we are told there is an action plan in place it is tempered by the reminder that this is only in its early stages.
Returning to education and to the teacher shortage, we have yet another set-piece bad news story; one that appears to obfuscate the progress the government has made in dealing with the issues. Throughout the report the viewer is reminded of the “angry exchanges” and “the latest row” on education; a use of language giving the impression that the perceived failures of the government are a source of anger. The insertion of Ruth Davidson describing the situation as a “crippling shortage” adds to this sense of mounting frustration.
Willie Rennie’s soundbite has him dismiss the First Minister as “her,” as he describes education as having gotten worse in Scotland. Yet this claim flies in the face of this year’s exam results and other indicators. Ruth Davidson and the BBC’s political correspondent Brian Taylor both infantilise Nicola Sturgeon; Davidson in her comment that the First Minister is asking teachers coming to Scotland to “go back to school,” and Taylor when he introduces Ms Surgeon as having “done her homework.”
What is interesting is that when the concerns of Ruth Davidson – that teachers coming to Scotland are being asked to return to education – are fully explained as in-job training under a provisional conditional registration scheme, the report seems to downplay it. There is only a closing statement that confirms that what the First Minister had said was found to be true – as if this was unexpected.
This report by Reevel Alderson, home affairs correspondent, appears to have been needlessly politicised. Where the Scottish government hopes to reform how women are treated in the criminal justice system and in prisons with the establishment of a number of smaller women’s prisons, the only real opposition comes from the Tories. The focus of their concern is the fears of people in the communities where these new prisons are to be built. While they demand reassurances, the report finds quite the opposite on the streets of one community. Very little attention is given to the fact that the Prison Service is in agreement with the government.
Friday, 15 September 2017 | Brexit Criticism | Labour Leadership | Public Sector Pay Rises | Catalonia
David Porter’s report on Vince Cable’s criticism of the British government over Brexit and its effect on Scotland is very much a report in two parts. Cable’s primary concern is, as he says, that the devolution settlement and Scotland have to be respected in any Brexit deal. He clearly does not see this happening at the present time. Yet, in answering a question on another independence referendum, the focus of the report switches.
Cable simply states the Liberal Democrat position on another referendum, but Reporting Scotland reports this as him having “come out firmly against a second independence referendum.” This question visibly perturbs Cable as he attempts to pull the discussion back to Brexit. The focus is no longer on his criticism of the Westminster government but on the Liberal Democrat’s advances on the SNP in the last general election – “unseating the SNP’s John Nicolson” – and a subtly skewed representation of why the Liberal Democrats were “hammered” in Scotland in the general election before . The political substance of this report is very much centred on “that other fault line.”
A pattern is forming in BBC Scotland’s coverage of the Labour leadership contest, with Richard Leonard being introduced before the heretofore more prominent Anas Sarwar. Rather tellingly Leonard is framed in the piece as a contender who does not simply want to “manage Scotland,” an echo perhaps of the independence movement’s “branch office” rhetoric.
Brian Taylor continues to effectively sell him to the Scottish left. He is offering a “Socialist transformation,” one that involves the old socialist staples of “workers’ power” and “public ownership.” “Undoubtedly,” Taylor says in conclusion, Richard Leonard is “the candidate of the left,” before underlining the fact that he is perceived to be the candidate most closely aligned to Jeremy Corbyn.
When it comes to Anas Sarwar the viewer is reminded that he was previously critical of Corbyn, and his campaign is painted as less serious, especially with regard to the puerile gesture of “parking his tanks on Nicola Sturgeon’s lawn.” Perhaps his only appeal to the left is the respect he has for his mother, who, as a Labour campaigner, is said to have endured an amount of racist abuse over the years.
Public Sector Pay Rises
As NHS workers in Scotland join with their colleagues in England to seek a pay rise, this brief report has to be commented on it for the unnecessary shade it casts over Scotland’s First Minister. Of the two NHS’s it is only in Scotland’s that the public sector cap on pay rises has been lifted, but the comment from the desk puts Nicola Sturgeon in a bad light when it records her comment that any pay rise would have to be affordable.
Saturday, 16 September 2017 | Labour Leadership | Catalonia
Once again in its coverage of the Labour leadership contest BBC Reporting Scotland puts Richard Leonard up front and centre. Here we see him again being broadcast by the BBC as the candidate for the left – where Labour is struggling in Scotland to maintain support. We are given a litany of his leftist credentials: He is a former trade unionist, a union organiser, he his working for a full-employment economy, and – repeating his campaign slogan – he proposes “radical policies for the many, not the few.” It is impossible not to see this as a deliberate sales pitch.
Anas Sarwar is quoted only insofar as he repeats the same lines Labour has been losing with in Scotland over the past decade or more. His mention of his “first job as First Minister,” other than coming across as arrogant and cocksure, is already a stated ambition of his for which he has come in for some ridicule. It is evident in this arrangement that the BBC has picked its favoured candidate.
This evening’s comment on Fiona Hyslop’s remarks on the situation in Catalunya is, politically speaking, fascinating. It is accurate, of course, in quoting her on the right of all peoples to self-determination, but – in the Scottish context, considering the otherwise remarkable dearth of coverage of Catalunya on the BBC – this term has a surplus of meaning. The suspicion of a nod to the independence debate in Scotland is all but confirmed with the immediate cut to images of the pro-independence “Hope Over Fear” rally in Glasgow.
The item though makes no mention of the reason for the statement from a Scottish government minister, namesly the arguably fascistic actions of the Spanish government as it bids to prevent the Catalans holding an independence referendum. Thus, viewers unaware of the serious situation developing in Catalunya, remain in the dark.
Sunday, 17 September 2017 | Scottish Brexit Deal
Scottish Brexit Deal
In tonight’s bulletin we are informed that the Scottish Conservative Party has reached out to what the report describes as the “SNP government” hoping to strike a deal over Brexit concerns. Even in the report, over footage of Scottish government minsters in discussion with their Westminster counterparts, the Scottish ministers are described as “SNP ministers.”
Speaking for the Scottish Tories, Jackson Carlaw, in spite of his party’s support of the London government’s position in the Commons, says that he “wants to find a way forward.” In every respect this act is presented as an olive branch, one which even Michael Russell, the Scottish government’s Brexit minister, refers to as “a step forward.”
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