Monday, 16 October 2017 | Progress in Brexit Talks | Cardiac Arrest and CPR | Fire Safety in Scottish High Rises | Transport Poverty | Carlos Moedas
Progress in Brexit Talks
What is touted in this report by David Porter as something of a breakthrough in the Brexit deadlock between the Scottish and UK governments transpires to be nothing of the sort. It may be the case that both negotiation teams have agreed on the principles that will underpin the repatriation of powers to the UK after Brexit, but this is little more than an agreement on the basic terms of reference. The “big differences” that still exist are the very issues causing the impasse.
David Mundell, the Scottish Secretary, can say of course that matters are moving in the “right direction.” Dialogue is always the right direction, but Damien Green’s claim that the language of a power grab is behind us is a step too far. Scotland’s Brexit Minister, Michael Russell, does not agree that the power grab can be spoken of in the past tense. Rather, his take is that there is no agreement on the Withdrawal Bill, and nor can there be. Matters are as they were.
Video at the end of the segment shows a small, eccentrically dressed, pro-EU protest outside the Houses of Parliament. David Porter’s voiceover comments “everyone wants to be seen and heard,” implying something of a connection between the Scottish negotiating team and what is intended to be seen as a less than well-hinged opposition.
Cardiac Arrest and CPR
Here we have a health good news story. Improvements in CPR awareness and public training schemes, empowering ordinary people to become lifesavers, are making a difference. The number of those dying from cardiac failure is falling as a result of this initiative. It is interesting, however, that this story is entirely depoliticised. It is presented as the work of the ambulance service and other concerned bodies without reference to the Scottish government’s Out of Hospital Cardiac Arrest Strategy. One would imagine this would be an essential element in the story, but apparently not.
Fire Safety in Scottish High Rises
BBC Reporting Scotland returns to the spectre of Grenfell tower in this report on the replacement of window panels on eleven high rise blocks of flats in Clydebank. The implication is that housing in Scotland is potentially dangerous. Yet as the article continues we are informed that West Dunbartonshire Council has confirmed that these panels are not made of the same material used on Grenfell tower, that the decision to replace them is merely a precaution. In this case the council is going further than required, spending more money than it strictly has to. The report fails to explain this adequately to the viewer.
A new term has been coined, it seems, to describe one of the many complexities of rural life – “transport poverty.” One million people, we are told, live in areas of so-called transport poverty, often forcing them to buy cars they may not necessarily be able to afford. It is well understood, not only in Scotland, but around the world, that public transport in rural and remote areas will be more limited than it is in larger urban centres.
Naturally this does cause difficulties for the elderly, the disabled, and those on lower incomes, but its remedy demands an infinite government budget. John Lauder from Sustrans Scotland, a sustainable transport advocacy group, points to research findings that show this to be an issue faced by “small towns” and not only rural areas. Naturally this too will be the case. Yet, in closing, the piece remarks on the Scottish government’s claim to support sustainable transport; a comment which, in light of the failings highlighted in the segment, comes across as a criticism.
Glenn Campbell’s coverage of the visit to Scotland of Carlos Moedas, the EU Commissioner for Research, Science, and Innovation, is a remarkable piece of Brexit spin. In interview Mr Moedas states that uncertainty is part of ever negotiation, which it is, and that at the head of each team in the EU talks are “intelligent people looking for the good.” The conclusion is that these intelligent people will seek and find the good, and that “good” is of course a deal.
The most obvious weakness in this is that Mr Moedas is the EU Commissioner for “Research, Science, and Innovation.” He is not a member of the EU negotiating team, and here he has clearly been asked to answer questions far beyond his remit and competence. It can only be concluded that this interview was used to manufacture an optimistic soundbite on Brexit at a time of growing uncertainty. Oddly, Glenn Campbell signs off by acknowledging the concern that the UK government is preparing for a no-deal worst case scenario.
Tuesday, 17 October 2017 | Westminster Reform | Social Care Recruitment | Edinburgh Tram Inquiry
This report by political correspondent Andrew Kerr on the work of the boundary commission, redrawing the constituencies’ map of Scotland ahead of a proposed change to the number of seats at Westminster gives the impression it is drumming up support for the reform. Following plans set out by David Cameron to reduce the number of seats in the Commons from 650 to 600, reducing the number of the SNP seats and increasing the number held by the Tories over the UK, support for the idea has waned. We discover there is little support for the reform in parliament or across the country, but the emphasis of the vox pop segment of the piece is on the popular demand for politics to cost less and the perception that politicians are on a “gravy train.”
Social Care Recruitment
In spite of 80 per cent of Scotland’s care facilities having been rated “good,” “very good,” or “excellent,” this report by Reevel Alderson focuses on the problem of recruitment in the care sector. According to The Care Inspectorate, a care watchdog, one third of vacancies are currently unfilled. Alderson identifies two causes for this shortfall; people living longer and the expansion of childcare services – this latter being one of the major drives of the Scottish government over the past decade. More people are required to manage the increased workload, but the effect of Brexit on EU nationals in the workforce is downplayed.
Edinburgh Tram Inquiry
Reporting Scotland’s coverage of the Edinburgh Tram Inquiry has moved from obfuscation to what now looks to be misdirection. The former project directory Matthew Cross gave evidence to the inquiry, saying he did not believe the council was fully behind it and that he felt the “SNP government” did not want it. This, we are told, led to problems and delays; with the reluctance of the decision-makers leading to a more cautious, risk-averse approach.
All of this is a significant shift from earlier reports covering evidence pointing at a lack of transparency, denied communication, and even fraud. At no point has the BBC explored any of these questions. Instead it has simply reported the evidence given and moved on. Now that blame is being shifted to the council and the Scottish government further investigation into the earlier evidence has become necessary.
Wednesday, 18 October 2017 | Universal Credit | Children’s Mental Health Care | NHS Targets | Employment Figures | Floating Windfarm
The British government is to go ahead with the implementation of Universal Credit regardless of the cross-party calls in the Commons for a delay. Andrew Black’s report concedes that the policy, insofar as the transition has caused pain for many, is controversial. The video interview with a young single mother forced temporarily out of work due to an injury is difficult viewing. She describes how in the changeover she was left without any income whatsoever for six weeks. She told how she had to borrow money from friends and relatives, and broke down describing her shame at being forced to use a local foodbank.
The last word is of course given to David Gauke, the Work and Pensions Secretary, who gives the party line on Universal Credit being about “assisting” people as they try to get back into work. This rhetorical is loaded, it carries in it the entire idea package of neoliberalism; of personal responsibility and work as the only means to secure and support one’s self.
Not mentioned in the item was the claim made by Ruth Davidson the previous week where she claimed the six week delay had already been addressed.
Children’s Mental Health Care
Reporting on the significant decline in the admission of children to non-specialist mental healthcare facilities over the past two years Reevel Alderson still manages to downplay the results. In two years children admitted to such facilities has more than halved, but this report elects to record only the fall in the past twelve months – thereby diminishing the impact of two whole years of work. The conclusion of the report is that more money needs to be spent.
In this piece we have another BBC report into the current state of the NHS across the whole of the UK and the promotion of the BBC’s own “NHS Tracker,” allowing viewers to inspect the performance of the health service in their own areas. Aileen Clarke concedes that the NHS in Scotland is doing “a little bit better” than the rest of the UK, hitting its targets in A&E waiting times. Again, in those areas where targets are not being met – as is the case throughout the UK due to funding shortages – the subtle implication is that the Scottish government is failing in some way.
Despite there being more people in the workforce in Scotland than ever before and employment figures generally rising, there has been a dip in employment over the last quarter. How the BBC in Scotland chooses to report this is interesting. Rather than simply using the word “employment” it opts for the more cumbersome language of “record numbers of low unemployment,” thus managing to make high employment sound like bad news.
Over the summer the number of those employed in Scotland took a dip, an entirely expected fluctuation in what has been for the Scottish economy a generally upward trend. Yet even with this decrease the employment rate here is still above the UK average. This is yet another example of Reporting Scotland putting the most negative spin possible in what is essential a non-news story.
Nicola Sturgeon rightly reminds viewers in her interview for this article reporting the official opening of the world’s first offshore windfarm that Scotland has become a world leader in renewables. Now that this project is up and running and powering up to 20,000 homes on the Scottish power grid, one would assume this would be a cause for celebration on the news in Scotland, but no. After hearing of the benefits this will bring in terms of clean energy and jobs, the report ends with a somewhat spurious complaint from the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds; apparently “too many” floating turbines have already been approved.
Interestingly the RSPB has not been quoted by the BBC in its coverage of the planned Heathrow airport expansion, despite the bird welfare charity lodging objections together with Friends of the Earth and the World Wildlife Fund. Birds, it seems, are important to the BBC only when it is reporting on Scottish windfarms.
Thursday, 19 October 2017 | Smacking Ban | Cost of Ferries | Prime Minister in Brussels
John Finnie, Scottish Greens MSP, put forward the proposal for legislation in Scotland banning the smacking of children and is rightly given credit for this in this segment. Yet the BBC’s treatment of the ban is layered and difficult to untangle. On the one hand the vox pop tends to show support for the ban with the exception on one woman who feels schools have been taken over by the children since the ban on corporal punishment. We can only suppose here the intended conclusion is that the case against the ban is the less reasonable of the two sides.
On the other hand, in the latter part of Andrew Kerr’s report the analysis does and about face, turning on the idea of a ban on smacking as too much state interference. Jenni Davidson, a journalist campaigning against the ban, simply states that the government should leave parents to bring up their own children, before the report signs off by linking the ban to the manufactured Named Person controversy.
Cost of Ferries
Ostensibly this article is about the cost of maintaining ferries to the islands increasing over the past decade while the numbers using the services hasn’t changed. We are told that the cost of the infrastructure and subsidies has doubled in ten years. Then we are introduced to Fraser McKinlay from Audit Scotland who says that the current cost to the government of £200 million has to be show to be value for money. David Henderson then closes the report by asking if this is the best way to help people living on the islands to prosper.
What is peculiar in this piece is that there is no alternative. Scotland’s islands are not experiencing a population boom, and this is unlikely to happen any time soon. Of course the numbers using the ferries are not going to significantly change over ten years. Still, however, these routes do have to be subsidised by the state and the material does have to be maintained to a certain level, meeting industry and health and safety standards. There is no real need for this to be a news item other than to have something negative to say about transport.
Prime Minister in Brussels
Douglas Fraser, Reporting Scotland’s business and economy correspondent, was in Brussels to report on the Prime Minister’s visit. In marked contrast to the misreporting of headway being made in the talks between the Scottish and Westminster governments over Brexit no breakthrough came as a result of Mrs May’s discussions in the European capital – no breakthrough was expected. Again we are informed that these meeting are only to prepare the ground, but the reportage is still discussing a transition that is as yet still not accepted on the EU side.
Friday, 20 October 2017 | National Investment Bank | EU Trade Deal | Clyde Shipbuilding | Scotland and Brexit
National Investment Bank
This segment covering the ideas stage of the National Investment Bank promised by Nicola Sturgeon at the recent SNP national conference is deeply negative. The main thrust of the report is that it is not easy to manage and grow an economy. We note that coverage of the British government’s economic agenda never questions its competence on account of economics being too difficult, but that is precisely what is happening here.
Both before and after Andrew Kerr’s report the viewer is told of the Tory criticism of the plans for the National Investment Bank, that it is merely a distraction attempting to hide “the mess the SNP is making of the economy.” This criticism comes from Conservative MSP Ross Thomson, and neither he nor the report offers a single scrap of evidence that the government is making a mess or that it is incapable of managing an economy. It is simple platforming.
EU Trade Deal
Donald Tusk, the President of the European Council, this report informs us, has given the UK a glimmer of hope on the question of a trade deal. Theresa May is said to be positive that the EU President has indicate that the member states will meet to discuss the question in the absence of the UK. All we are told of today’s discussions, however, is that the Prime Minister “did avoid humiliation.”
When the segment turns to the impact of Brexit on Scotland and the UK we are told that Scotland comes second only to London in attracting inward investment, but again the focus of the piece is entirely on exports. As the pound continues to limp from one slump to the next imports have disappeared altogether from the BBC.
UNITE, the union representing the Clyde shipyards, is up in arms over the Department of Defence’s broken promises. The Clyde had been promised twenty years’ worth of orders which are now up for tender, open to bids from yards over the whole of the UK. In this report by David Henderson, in which a representative of the union said he could not trust the London government’s promises, Michael Fallon, the Minister of Defence, claims that “no other industry has as much certainty as shipbuilding on the Clyde.”
Duncan McPhee speaking on behalf of the trade union makes the point that a similar policy to this had been introduced in the 80s, leading to many yards going out of business and almost bringing down the entire industry. Still the BBC keeps to the script, muting further discussion at the close with a patriotic display of pipes and drums from a military marching band.
Scotland and Brexit
Glenn Campbell’s report on the potential benefits of Brexit for Scotland amounts to little more than pure propaganda, drumming up support for Brexit where there is none. The piece opens with the concerns of fisherman and the fishing industry, before moving on to a criticism of EU students being entitled free tuition fees in Scotland.
In an interview with Gordon Martin, a spokesperson for the RMT union, we are given his opinion that Brexit will be good for Scotland. What is not mentioned in the report is that RMT is currently considering re-affiliation with the British Labour Party, a pro-Brexit party. No attempt at balance is made in the report, and even the interview with Humza Yousaf is framed so as to present the Scottish government as turning its nose up at something the report suggests will be good for the country.
Saturday, 21 October 2017 | Green Party Tax Ultimatum | Catalonia
Green Party Tax Ultimatum
Leader of the Scottish Greens, Patrick Harvey, said to his party’s conference in Edinburgh that the SNP would have to increase tax for higher earners if it was to rely on Green support in the upcoming budget. BBC Reporting Scotland frames this as an “ultimatum,” with Andrew Kerr taking this as an opportunity to remind viewers that the SNP is a minority government. The effect is the portrayal of the Scottish government as weak.
What is interesting in the piece is that rather than it being coverage of the Scottish Greens conference the report merely uses Harvey’s demands for a public sector pay rise and higher taxes as a devise to refocus attention on the Holyrood government. It gives the impression that these issues are not concerns of the Scottish government.
While events in Catalonia are concerning to all democrats, it is worth noting that Reporting Scotland’s coverage of the ongoing crisis always puts Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP up front and centre. Here again we have the First Minister calling for dialogue and suggesting the EU could play a greater role in calming tensions between Barcelona and Madrid. Her call is for a peaceful solution that respects the rule of law, democracy, and the right of the Catalan people to decide their own future, but in only highlighting Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP the BBC is leaving itself open to the accusation of using Catalonia as a proxy for the constitutional debate in this country.
Sunday, 22 October 2017 | Doubts about Universal Income
Doubts about Universal Income
Professor Joseph Stiglitz, Nobel Prize winning economist and advisor to the Scottish government, has voiced his opinion that addressing the question of income inequality demands prioritising pay and employment. No one in the Scottish government is disputing this. Jobs and wages are Economics 101, but because this comment was made in the context of a discussion on the Scottish government’s plans to introduce a Universal Basic Income, this iteration of common sense has been reinterpreted as his concerns and worries over the plan. Yet no one is suggesting UBI is intended to replace the need for secure employment and decent wages. The report neglects to go into further detail.
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