BBC Reporting Scotland Analysis – Week Beginning 18 September 2017

 

Monday, 18 September 2017 | Labour Leadership Contest | Brexit | Willie Rennie’s Prediction

Labour Leadership Contest
In something of a shakeup of recent convention BBC Reporting Scotland, in its coverage of the Scottish Labour leadership contest, has decided to introduce Anas Sarwar first, but only after outlining the problems in the party. In the run up to the party conference in Bournemouth at the end of the week the BBC is going to keep the pressure on Sarwar, opening on him tonight by referencing his family’s connection to Labour as “a family business.” Sarwar himself is described as having lost his Westminster seat, where Richard Leonard – shown on video giving the socialist closed fist salute – is new to politics.

Leonard is presented in an entirely different light. We are again reminded he is popular with Labour’s left-wing, and that he comes from a trade union background. In front of the cameras he repeats the Corbynite slogans, and describes Scotland as hungry for “radical Labour policies.” His programme is to appeal to both Yes and No voters from the 2014 referendum. According to the analysis of Hamish MacDonell, the Times political editor, Richard Leonard, if elected, will “entrench” the Corbyn revolution in Scotland, where Sarwar will be but a “slight break” from that; showing Labour in Scotland to be as “independent” as it can be – a dog whistle to those in Labour pathologically wary of anything independent.

Brexit
David Mundell is now making the case that returning powers repatriated from Europe to the devolved administrations “may prove extremely damaging for business.” With no evidence supporting how this “may” be the case, this is little more than scaremongering. It is, however, defended by the BBC’s political editor Brian Taylor. He opens his discussion by saying that “one person’s power grab is another person’s common sense.”

This idea of “common sense” has become a recurring theme in Reporting Scotland’s discussion on Scotland’s issues with the Repeal Bill. It implies that Westminster is the more grownup and sensible of the two parliaments.

That the concerns are being voiced by the Walsh and Scottish parliaments limits how much the BBC can lay the standoff at the door of the SNP, but, in making the case that a potential “rainbow of legislation” across the UK will create unnecessary problems for trade, Jackie Bird is still able to refer to the Scottish government as the “SNP government.” Here again we have a classic example of the BBC actively promoting the British government’s position in Scotland.

Willie Rennie’s Prediction
Covering the Liberal Democrat national conference in Bournemouth, this report by David Porter takes a look at Willie Rennie’s prediction that the SNP will lose in the 2021 Holyrood elections. According to Rennie the tide is turning, and the SNP has “cooled on the idea” of fighting Brexit. To him this serves as proof that the SNP is on the wane. As the “UK’s most pro-European party,” Rennie imagines a massive swing in Scotland to the Liberal Democrats.

In a change to the BBC’s usual spin on Brexit, this report lingers on the Liberal Democrats’ fight for an “exit from Brexit,” knowing Brexit to be deeply unpopular in Scotland. The camera pans over the beach where “Exit from Brexit” is written in the sand as Porter recites Churchill’s wartime line of fighting on the beaches.

 

Tuesday, 19 September 2017 | Amendments to the Brexit Bill | Health | Derelict Land Tax

Amendments to the Brexit Bill
If anything this appears to be an effort on the part of Reporting Scotland to de-politicise public opinion on Brexit. While the First Ministers of Scotland and Wales are drafting a letter to the Prime Minister outlining their concerns of a power grab, the president of the National Farmers’ Union is given space to speak for the working man, saying “we need to get past the politics.” Frankly, this is unhelpful in a democracy. Farmers and workers all over Scotland depend on a real political solution to this impasse, and because the power grab issue has become inconvenient to London’s agenda the public are being encouraged to dumb down.

We are encouraged to think resistance is futile; as Brian Taylor says, “there is no veto.” So in both Andrew Kerr’s report and in the studio discussion the actions of the devolved governments are spoken of as a mere “tactic” and an opportunity to sow division. The notion of the power grab is reduced to a “claim,” while we are told the parliaments will be “enhanced by Brexit” – though there is no discussion on what this actually means.

What we have instead of real discussion is fearmongering over the dangers to business, a vague promise that more power will be devolved, and a repeat of the London government’s line that the Westminster model is “common sense.” Things only make sense when they are understood. As things stand, not even the Prime Minister understands Brexit. Rather than clarity what we have are more slogans and – in passing – the mention that the Henry VIII powers can be used after the process and that Fracking is one of the disputed powers.

Health
Here we have yet another health scare story. In Aileen Clarke’s report on strokes in Scotland we are told on the one hand that most Scots are now surviving strokes, and on the other that they are not recovering as well as others are in the rest of the UK. Andrea Cail, the Director of the Stroke Association, drives this point home in stating that we “don’t have as good an outcomes as the rest of the UK.” The comparison then is with England, and even Ms Cail sees the problem – money.

Of course more can be done to help people in Scotland recovering from strokes, and, as the report acknowledges, the Scottish government does have a national stroke plan in place. Yet the Scottish government is limited in the amount of money it can spend as a consequence of austerity cuts being made at Westminster. This point is not even raised.

Derelict Land Tax
In this short segment we are informed of the Scottish Greens’ suggestion that derelict land should be taxed in order to raise an estimated £200m that can be used to build affordable homes. This, as a progressive taxation proposal, is presented neutrally – unlike any progressive measures proposed by the Scottish government. In closing, given that this is a neutral-to-good news story, the government – which promises to build 50,000 new affordable homes in the life of the government – is not called the “SNP government.”

 

Wednesday, 20 September 2017 | Grenfell Cladding in Glasgow | Income Tax | Unburied Baby | Aberdeen City Councillor | Education

Grenfell Cladding in Glasgow
Despite the fact that not one single high rise block of flats in Scotland was found to be fitted with cladding similar to that responsible for the Grenfell tower disaster in London, a report into structures in Glasgow found some 57 “privately owned” low rises had. Naturally this becomes the focus of Aileen Clarke’s report tonight. When this information was presented to the Health Committee Bob Doris’ emphatic question, “So some has been found in Scotland?” takes centre stage in the report. Yet the Housing Minister, Kevin Stewart, is correct in stating that this report did not indicate if this cladding in Glasgow was the same type that was used on Grenfell. His measured approach was to wait until more details were known.

This was, however, rounded upon in the Reporting Scotland segment with the insinuation that the Scottish government was simply asking more questions rather than being proactive. Glasgow City Council’s representative made it clear that these were not considered a fire risk, but this did not stop Aileen Clarke from implying such a risk when she said this issue is “affecting potentially hundreds of families,” and adding that this “could be a problem on quite a large scale indeed.” Back in the studio Jackie Bird adds to the unnecessary scare story by concluding that the decision not to identify the properties is doing nothing to allay people’s concerns. Nowhere is it made clear that there is no substantial evidence to support such fears.

Income Tax
After the decision of the Scottish parliament to agree on the principle of raising the level of income tax, this report makes an issue of the abstention of SNP members in the vote. In the vox pop of the article a hike in taxes is broadly seen as a negative; with one woman talking about money not being used properly, waste in the NHS, and about people already being taxed enough.

The question is of course if we would “chip in” to cover the costs of public services, but, other than a brief soundbite from Labour’s interim leader Alex Rowley, meeting costs is not addressed in the report. What we are given is another soundbite from Conservative and Unionist MSP Murdo Fraser insisting the Scottish government has plenty of money, and that the only problem was that it was “not wise” in how it used that money. No examples are given of this supposed lack of wisdom and it is not explained that money is needed to pay for the public services we have.

Unburied Baby
The story of a mother seeking answers as to the whereabouts of her dead child is sad and rather cynical. The child died 42 years ago, and quite rightly his mother wants to know why she was deceived and given an empty coffin to bury. This is traumatic, for sure. But four decades later the stress of this piece is on the Public Health Minister, Aileen Campbell. The report tells us that “all she can do is offer a sympathetic ear;” the undertone of which suggests incompetence. In the face of a family’s grief and its need for closure, this subtle comment is nothing short of scurrilous.

Aberdeen City Councillor
Rebecca Curran, in a report ‘vindicating’ ousted Aberdeen City councillor Willie Young, reports on the story of a wall and its cost to the Aberdeen City authority. It is reported that the furore over the wall and its repair, which flared up before the May elections, ultimately cost Young his council seat, thus giving him the opportunity to describe this in interview as “more SNP dirty tricks.” Other than providing a platform for this allegation to be made, there is no other reason why a wall should make national news on the BBC’s flagship programme in Scotland.

No justification is provided to back the claim that the former Labour councillor had been vindicated.  Indeed the council reports that proper procedures weren’t followed and that records had not been kept.

Not shown is how Willie Young reacted to the emerging scandal at the time.  He refused to give any interviews.

Education
In the briefest of comments nearing the end of the bulletin we are told that the Education Secretary, John Swinney, is pressing ahead with reforms to the education system – a theme, in weeks past, Reporting Scotland has been keen to hurry along. Yet, now that the ball is rolling, the closing comment is again negative, with the remark from the desk that unions want to know more details. The report ends without providing any further information.

 

Thursday, 21 September 2017 | Grenfell Cladding in Glasgow | Anas Sarwar | Catalunya

Grenfell Cladding in Glasgow
Returning again to the theme of Grenfell-like cladding found on a number of privately owned low rise flats in Glasgow, this report by Aileen Clarke is concerned with the limited nature of the report produced by Glasgow City Council. This is described as an “issue” in the parliament chamber at Holyrood. Given that such reports take time, as pointed out by Colin Edgar of GCC, there is no clear information on which the government or the council can act. Naturally, to stop any undue “fear and alarm,” the council is reticent about releasing full details. Notwithstanding this common sense approach the BBC report is laced throughout with panic.

Anas Sarwar
Sleekit perhaps best describes this short report on Labour leadership candidate Anas Sarwar, a character assassination par excellence. If the BBC agenda in the Labour leadership contest is to promote Richard Leonard, then this manages to take a shot at Sarwar and Nicola Sturgeon, the First Minister, in a single breath.

In introducing the segment Nicola Sturgeon is said to have “derided” Sarwar in her comment that there is a “massive gap between what Labour says and what Labour does.” This may be a fair assessment, but good parliamentarians never deride.

Brian Taylor, the BBC’s political editor, rather unfairly keeps the focus of the report on Sarwar’s family; on his family’s wealth and his choice to send his children to a private school, before turning to the issue of his family’s business not paying the higher living wage to its employees. Even when Anas Sarwar says that he receives no income from the shares he has in the business we are told that his wife is a shareholder in her own right. Nothing, so far, has been reported on Leonard’s family or his wealth. At the close of the report the SNP is once again referred to as “the nationalists.”

Catalunya
Reporting on the protest in Glasgow in support of the independence referendum in Catalunya this piece serves no purpose but to showcase Nicola Sturgeon talking about independence, thereby feeding the narrative that she never stops talking about it. There is no discussion on the protesters or the situation in Catalunya. Each time the 1 October referendum is touched upon on Reporting Scotland it is juxtaposed with the SNP and the Scottish constitutional debate.

 

Friday, 22 September 2017 | Brexit | Corbyn’s Demand | Transport

Brexit
Strange pieces like this one by Andrew Kerr on Theresa May’s Florence speech have become a common feature on the BBC’s coverage of Brexit. It begins by stating that there are too many unanswered questions and yet still manages to present what Ruth Davidson calls a “mature” UK model. “Too many unanswered questions” is an understatement. There are no answered questions. There is no UK model. All we have are ideas and proposals, such as the new set of proposals made by May in Italy.

Regardless of this Reporting Scotland pushed ahead, speaking of May and her vague ideas – still not agreed upon in Brussels – as “new life” in the city of the Renaissance. Scotland, on the other hand is “gloomier,” with its hard facts and figures on how Brexit poses a significant threat to its economy. SNP MP Stephen Gethins hits the nail on the head in saying we still don’t know what Brexit means – both in terms of what is going on and what effect it will have. All we have in this report it gloss and rhetoric. It has nothing of substance to offer.

Corbyn’s Demand
Without interrogating the contradiction of Jeremy Corbyn being agreeable to another referendum on Brexit, we hear in his interview with David Porter that he sees no need for another one on Scottish independence. He is not asked why he has changed his mind on this.

According to his supporters he is liked in Scotland and, with the Scottish Labour leadership contest underway, he is looking for a leader with certain characteristics. His ideal candidate is someone with listening and speaking skills, and someone who can develop a “radical economic agenda for Scotland” – exactly the words being echoed by Richard Leonard.

Transport
Andrew Thomson reports on the short delay in road construction between Perth and Inverness, works the Scottish government forecast to be completed by 2025. “Critics,” namely Conservative MSP Edward Mountain, “are doubtful.” Ignoring the public opinion voiced in the segment; that such delays are to be expected and that it is best for all that the job is done right, Mountain states that it’s all “fairly simple.” He is not questioned on his engineering expertise.

 

Saturday, 23 September 2017 | Anas Sarwar

Anas Sarwar
Aileen Clarke continues with what can now only be described as the BBC’s hatchet job on Labour leadership contender Anas Sarwar. Again the spotlight is on his family’s business. Following the storm over his ownership of shares in the company – from which he says he received no dividend – we are again reminded that the firm does not pay its staff the real living wage, while being informed of his “well-heeled” background. There is a clear indication in this and in previous BBC Reporting Scotland reports that Sarwar and his family are being portrayed as shady businesspeople. That the BBC appears to have picked sides in this contest is hinted at again as the segment closes with the Tory comment that he is a hypocrite and that Leonard is an “unelectable left-wing candidate” – a definite nod to Corbyn and his pre-general election left-wing, unelectable status.

Sunday, 24 September 2017 | Scottish Labour

Scottish Labour
Finishing off a week of subtle and not so subtle attacks on Anas Sarwar, Reporting Scotland on Sunday ends the week with another strike at him. Nick Eardley tells us that even his supporters have admitted that this has been a difficult week, before the focus turns again to his family’s business. Sarwar’s own words of a life dedicated to public service and the fight against “the racists, the fascists, the Islamophobes” fall flat. His framing as an anti-Corbynite, as a shady dealer, and a Blairite by the BBC has made him less than palatable to the viewing public.

 

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