Two themes are dominating the general election campaign in Scotland. The first is of course independence. Unionist parties can’t, or rather won’t, stop talking about it. It has even re-defined Ruth Davidson’s Scottish Conservative party which has become a de-facto North British Nationalist Party.
The other is linked to the theme of independence. It is of course tactical voting. All three Unionist parties are targeting what they perceive as ‘weak’ SNP seats. Examples of ‘vulnerable’ targets include Alex Salmond in Gordon, Pete Wishart in Perth and Angus Robertson in Moray.
To take out such big hitters would of course require a degree of cooperation on the part of the Unionist troika. They would have to agree which party – Tory, Labour or Lib Dem – was best placed to hoover up pro-Union tactical votes.
It would also require a campaign aimed at alerting local Unionist voters to the strategy and informing those unaware as to which of the three pro-Union parties had been selected to lead the charge. All three Unionist parties would stand, but only one would invest serious resource.
It’s would be impossible, not least because there are some seats where the clearest challenger to the SNP is less than obvious. East Renfrewshire is a good example with the Conservatives and Labour each having a valid argument that it is they who offer the best chance of defeating Kirsten Oswald.
But what if each of the Unionist parties simply decided themselves where they would target without any agreement? What if they each made a unilateral decision to target the SNP in seats they themselves believed they were the real challenger?
That is exactly what is happening in Scotland in this general election. Each of the three Unionist parties have identified those seats they believe they have the best chance of defeating the SNP and they are all targeting the pro-Union tactical vote.
Scottish Labour is reportedly targeting just three seats in Scotland – Edinburgh South, East Renfrewshire and East Lothian.
The Scottish Conservatives and the Lib Dems are similarly concentrating their resources on seats they have identified as winnable – Moray is an example of a Tory target seat as is Gordon. East Dunbartonshire and Edinburgh West are key Lib Dem targets.
But there’s a problem. It’s one thing identifying a seat your party has the best chance of defeating the SNP. It’s quite another trying to ensure local pro-Union voters know your party is best placed.
That’s where BBC Scotland comes in. The state broadcaster is currently running what can best be described as a campaign aimed at highlighting what we might call contestable constituencies. More importantly though, and this is the key point, the BBC is openly broadcasting which parties are the likely front runners.
The last voice heard in the above clip is journalist Andy Collier who, believe it or not, is supposed to be the SNP voice in Radio Scotland election discussions. But let’s leave that for now.
Such broadcasts can only benefit Unionist parties. Both Scottish Labour and the Scottish Conservatives have already signalled support for tactical voting, and for good reason; the Unionist vote is more susceptible to splitting than the Independence vote. By highlighting the target constituencies and the Unionist parties targeting them, BBC Scotland is effectively carrying out pro-Union tactical campaigning.
I first became aware of the BBC’s behaviour towards the end of last month when I came across an article by BBC Scotland reporter Nick Eardley. The article headline read ‘Election 2017: Was that Angus Robertson’s last PMQs?’
The article contained the following paragraph:
But the Conservatives are hoping he could be one of the biggest scalps on 8 June. Senior Tories tell me Moray – the constituency Mr Robertson has held since 2001 and his party since 1987 – is one of their top targets in Scotland.
By highlighting a Tory target seat Nick Eardley risked helping hard-line Unionist voters in Moray identify their party of tactical choice in a seat they may well not have realised was a target at all.
It may seem incredible, but there will be pro-Union voters in Moray who have no idea which Unionist party is the main challenger to the SNP.
Nick Eardley turned up again this week in Moray with a broadcast version of his earlier article. The radio version of the item can be heard below.
Below is the item as it appeared on Reporting Scotland. You’ll note the unsubtle references to fishing in both the broadcasts. Fishing is of course used by BBC Scotland as a proxy in order to lever pro-Brexit sentiment into a news item.
But Nick Eardley’s item on Moray wasn’t the worst of the BBC’s ‘tactical voting’ broadcasts. Last week witnessed a quite incredible interview involving Lib Dem candidate Christine Jardine that appeared to breach Ofcom rules on election campaign coverage.
Candidates are forbidden from discussing their own seat without other candidates being present, unless those other candidates have declined to appear. Yet Jardine, who is a regular pundit on BBC Scotland political programmes, is openly invited to do so.
BBC Scotland has apparently identified what it terms ‘Ten seats to watch in Scotland‘.
Whether all ten receive similar exposure to that of Moray remains to be seen.
Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale was the constituency highlighted on Reporting Scotland on Tuesday, the evening after the Moray broadcast. It is of course the seat won by David Mundell in 2015.
Tory Mundell is under pressure from the SNP in this election. The SNP is the only pro-independence party standing in the constituency. Thus, any pro-Independence voter wishing to target Mundell needs no help in deciding which party is best placed.
This is not the case with the main Unionist parties, where all three are standing. BBC Scotland has ensured that pro-Union voters in the constituency, who may have been unaware, know now who to back.
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