BBC Scotland and the loaded question

telegraph snp fantasyThere was an interesting moment on Good Morning Scotland this week.  On Friday morning presenter Hayley Millar and her co-host Bill Whiteford were reading out the newspaper headlines.

Millar came to the Daily Telegraph which had splashed with an anti-SNP headline – ‘SNP accused of spinning ‘utter fantasy‘ over £15bn deficit‘.  The GMS presenter summarised the article, as you can hear below.


The article in question contained the following opening sentence:

The Scottish Government has been accused of spinning voters an “utter fantasy” after ministers played down Scotland’s £15 billion deficit and insisted it would be no obstacle to an independent Scotland joining the EU.

Reading out politically partisan newspaper headlines on Good Morning Scotland is standard. Have a listen to the newspaper review the day after GERS was published:


But what was interesting thing about the Telegraph article was its origin, which lay in a radio interview conducted the day before … by Hayley Millar herself.

Millar had interviewed SNP MSP Derek Mackay on Thursday morning, the day after the latest GERS report was published.  The interview was as expected with Mackay constantly pressed on what Unionists insist is Scotland’s deficit.

Towards the end of the interview Mackay sought to contrast the challenges GERS presented to Scotland with those of Brexit.  As he did so Hayley Millar interjected.  The GMS presenter claimed that Scotland’s deficit was “more than three times what’s widely seen as a safe level of deficit within the Eurozone” which she claimed would hamper an independent Scotland’s bid for EU membership.

Millar’s claim was dealt with immediately by Mackay who pointed out that the deficit described by the GMS presenter as problematic was still less than that of the UK in 2010, and nobody had suggested its EU membership was in peril.  You can listen to the short exchange below – note how Millar is momentarily silenced before moving on to something completely unrelated.  She is clearly caught off-guard by Mackay’s excellent reply.


mackay gers eu bbcNow, that should have been that.  An innocuous question shoehorned into a radio interview had been dealt with by the interviewee.

But the short exchange grew arms and legs.

Within an hour of the interview ending a story appeared on the BBC Scotland online news page – Derek Mackay: Deficit ‘would not bar Scotland from EU’.

The opening sentences of the article read:

Scotland’s large economic deficit would not disqualify the country from European Union membership, according to Finance Secretary Derek Mackay.

Mr Mackay confirmed that the Scottish government was considering a second independence referendum to keep Scotland in the EU.

The article, which was extensive, contained statements from Conservative MSP Murdo Fraser and Labour MSP Jackie Baillie.  Both MSPs used the opportunity to attack both Derek Mackay and the SNP.

The haste in which the article had appeared was curious.  It had all the hallmarks of having been prepared.  Indeed Hayley Millar appeared to have been waiting for Derek Mackay to bring up the issue of Brexit … when he did she pounced.

Nicola Sturgeon had of course highlighted the dangers to the Scottish economy of Brexit in a statement on Tuesday.  It was clear that Brexit was the SNP’s counter to GERS.  It was also clear that researchers at Good Morning Scotland had ensured Hayley Millar was ready with her “more than three times” attack the moment Mackay sought to introduce Brexit.

scotsman gersBut where had this ‘GERS deficit hampers EU membership’ line come from?  The answer is it appeared in a Scotsman article the day before.  On Wednesday the pro-Union newspaper published an opinion piece by someone called Daniel Mahoney.

Below is a short passage from the article:

Scotland’s budget deficit is the highest of any EU member state – even exceeding Greece’s budget deficit.  New member states to the EU are expected to have a budget deficit of no more than 3%, and an independent Scotland – at the current moment – would be seeking to join the bloc with a budget deficit that is three times this level.  There are already major question marks as to whether an independent Scotland would be permitted to join the EU, and this can only add to the uncertainty.

Daniel Mahoney is Head of Economic Research for the Centre for Policy Studies.  The CPS was founded by Sir Keith Joseph and Margaret Thatcher in 1974.

cps thatcher

It promotes free market economics, privatisation and low-tax government.  The advisory council and board of the CPS reads like a right-wing establishment who’s who.

So, the source of Hayley Millar’s extremely loaded and almost certainly planted ‘question’ was an article written by the head of a pro-Union right-wing think tank.  Mahoney’s opinion piece begat a question from a GMS presenter which led to a contrived news article appearing on the BBC Scotland website.

And it was contrived.  The BBC always planned to run Derek Mackay’s answer as a news story.  Mackay had only two choices when asked if the GERS deficit hampered Scotland’s EU membership prospects.  He could agree that it did … which made it a news story, or he could say that it didn’t by citing the UK’s 2010 deficit as proof.  The BBC ran the denial as a news story anyway.

stv gers euBut it wasn’t restricted to BBC Scotland.  Other Scottish media outlets were quick to pick up the BBC ‘scoop’, including STV.  The BBC’s Scottish rival published an article with the following headline – Large deficit ‘would not bar Scotland from EU membership’.

When Hayley Millar reviewed the Telegraph front page on Friday she was summarising a story that would not have existed had she not confronted Derek Mackay the previous day.  She was, in essence, harvesting the fruit of her own planted question.

Who supplied the GMS presenter with the ‘GERS deficit hampers EU membership’ question will never be known.  All that we do know is that it required knowledge of Daniel Mahoney’s views regarding GERS and the EU membership of an independent Scotland.  In short, it required some effort and research on the part of someone at GMS.

And there’s the rub.  BBC Scotland reporters and presenters will go to great lengths in order to prepare themselves for interviews with SNP politicians.  As I have already said, Millar was clearly prepared when Derek Mackay raised the issue of Brexit.

owen smith euref2Yet that meticulous preparation is missing when Labour politicians deign to agree to be interviewed.  In a week that has seen Kezia Dugdale publicly back Owen Smith for the leadership of UK Labour, not one BBC Scotland reporter has seen fit to ask Dugdale to comment on Smith’s pledge to re-run the EU referendum.

Dugdale has of course repeatedly attacked the SNP for ‘failing to respect the result of the independence referendum’, yet her apparent contradiction in implicitly supporting Smith’s policy of EURef2 goes unchallenged.

You don’t even have to do any research in order to ask the question.  It’s a no brainer.  Yet BBC Scotland doesn’t have anyone prepared to ask.

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12 thoughts on “BBC Scotland and the loaded question

  1. Piotr

    The lack of balanced reporting is frightening. It is also counterproductive. Who will listen to such biased reporting? What happens to the reputation of newspapers and television that indulge in this type of reporting? Circulation and listening figures suggest fewer of us listen to or read such rubbish.

    Plan A is to try to find ways of keeping Scotland within the EU as a continuing state not to be refused entry after becoming a new applicant because we have a deficit, according to GERS(!), that exceeds 3% of GDP.

    It will take time and a divorce settlement to establish what the deficit of an independent Scotland will be.The EU would allow for that.

    According to (the first result of a query “EU states whose debt exceeds 3% of GDP ” entered into Bing) France, Spain, and the UK all have a debt that exceeds 3%. Portugal is very close behind at 2.9%.

    It is an important service to us all that this type of reporting is carefully and professionally unpicked and calmly reported. Thank you.

    It is depressing and frustrating that the mainstream media are so lazy, and, worse, agenda driven in their reporting. The press is supposed to be a vital pillar of any functioning democracy.

    We deserve better.

    1. Graham

      Had a look at Some interesting figures for the UK. In terms of the deficit UK has largest deficit per citizen, 3rd largest on the other 2 measures. Why isn’t the BBC asking questions? Some of the other comparisons are also pretty scary for UK.

      Re GERS these figures have been debunked numerous times, most recently by John S Warren on Bella. The figures are meaningless.

      Great dissection once again, GA. Don’t know how you keep your cool listening to this partisan rubbish.

      Wings has the BBC misquoting Stiglitz interview today. And so it goes on.

  2. Kenneth Coutts

    Thanks, really professional investigation following the threads, brilliant.
    I dare say none of them will confirm or deny their sources, just spew it out.

  3. Rae Jardine

    Top notch detective work and reporting from Mr Ponsonby. Honest journalism at its best.

    The BBC will fall one day just as all empires do.

    It would be fair to say the BBC have and still do, make some great TV programmes. It’s when it comes to politics it changes from being a world respected broadcaster to something akin to a rogue communist state.

    Roll on Indy2

  4. John McKay

    First class piece of analysis Mr Ponsonby. You have the impressive knack of expressing what we’re all thinking when listening to the #SNPBad tripe spewing from the radio on a daily basis. And is there an impartial alternative? No. Ms Millar’s well rehearsed aggressive attack on Derek MacKay was outrageous. Have we ever heard Ruth Davidson subjected to same? No chance. Their days are numbered. Looking forward to your documentary. (Not on the BBC presumably).

  5. Me Bungo Pony

    I really don’t think there is any real evidence of Millar being part of some grand unionist conspiracy here. She is a journalist after all. It’s not that surprising she could have researched information prior to the interview, and used it, all on her own initiative.

    That others, with their own agendas, such as the organisation she works for, the BBC, and political opponents of the SNP, should then decide to run with it is also not that surprising.

    I agree the point is mere obfuscation and holds little merit. I also agree that the “unionist media” and politicians are being their usual “less than honest selves” with the Scottish people. But I really can’t see any evidence that Millar was part of some pre-planned sting operation.

    1. GA Ponsonby

      “I really don’t think there is any real evidence of Millar being part of some grand unionist conspiracy here.”

      Hi MBP.

      The article doesn’t claim Millar is or was part of any conspiracy. The point of the article is that effort was exerted in order to ensure the SNP’s desire to highlight Brexit was spiked. The article contrasts this with the failure to pose even obvious questions to Scottish Labour politicians that require *no* effort.

  6. Dan Huil

    The britnat bbc seems to believe it is the official opposition to the government in Scotland, hence its biased attacks against the SNP and the easy ride Labour, Tory and the other lot get. The bbc has deliberately given up on any pretence of balance in its reporting of Scotland’s politics, thus any right it has to demand we pay the bbc licence tax has also been forfeited. If you support/join a political party you pay the party dues accordingly. I do not support the bbc’s britnat stance therefore I have no obligation to pay their britnat dues. Let britnats pay for britnat propaganda.

  7. Lochside

    Me Bungo Pony…are you having a laugh? Mr P has written a thoroughly researched and forensic analysis on the BBC’s concerted bias during the Referendum. To even a casual observer, the level of biased and skewed reporting has increased since then by a frightening level.

    What we have now in BBC Scotland is an under-funded, unprofessional and thoroughly unpleasant and tainted propaganda unit directed from London. Staffed by dupes and shills, without a shred of principle or morality, daily colluding in an undemocratic assault on the elected Scottish government and our people with a programme of lies and disinformation. Don’t be a donkey your blinkered eyes and ears.

    1. Me Bungo Pony

      I dom’t disagree with your overall premise Lochside. I just don’t buy into the grand unionist media conspiracy theory.

      To me, the BBC is full of people at all levels with their own agendas. Those agendas manifest themselves in articles that are broadly unionist/SNPbad being disproportionately aired. A change of a few key personnel could push the BBC output into a more neutral environment.

      Like-minded individuals feeding of each others output does not make a conspiracy. The BBC is biased. Not as biased as the print media but still biased. But I don’t see BBC journalists, newspaper journalists, unionist politicians and the landed gentry, hunched round a granite table in a cavernous chamber atop Castle Doom, to plan the destruction of the Scottish spirit. Even if it sometimes looks like it.

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