Kezia Dugdale when asked on Thursday January 5th if Jeremy Corbyn backed her call for a federal UK replied: “Of course he does, unequivocally. There’s never been any suggestion of that otherwise.”
Dugdale was of course referring to her speech to be given later that day where she would call for a “new Act of Union”. The speech was trailed on BBC Scotland and was the top story online. Below is a brief recording from Good Morning Scotland that very day.
Make no mistake, this was a significant pledge from the Scottish Labour leader. Dugdale was presenting herself as both saviour of the Union and deliverer of federalism … aka the fabled Devo Max. It was, in essence, a bid to revitalise her faltering leadership of a party in trouble in Scotland.
However when asked by BBC reporter David Porter if he agreed with Kezia Dugdale that “it was now time for a new Act of Union”, Jeremy Corbyn took the ground from beneath the Scottish leader’s feet when he replied, “I wouldn’t use the words ‘new Act of Union’ …”. It was a humiliating slap down for Dugdale.
But that wasn’t all Jeremy Corbyn said. When asked his views on a second Scottish independence referendum, the UK Labour leader replied: “I wouldn’t ask for one, although quite clearly if the Scottish Parliament wanted to have one the agreement has been that a second one could be held…”
Corbyn was essentially accepting that the precedent for any future Scottish independence referendum had already been set by indyref1. The Scottish Parliament would decide. This was a significant signal from Corbyn that he would not stand in the way of Indyref2.
The interview, in the context of the constitutional debate, had provided the BBC with not one but two sensational scoops. Corbyn had undermined his Scottish lieutenant and implicitly endorsed Holyrood’s right to call a second independence referendum.
Below is a recording of the six o’clock news bulletin that was broadcast by the Radio Scotland evening programme Newsdrive hours after Corbyn gave his speech.
There is not one mention of this major political story. The lead item is based on exchanges that day at First Minister’s Questions. “The First Minister has come under fire …” are the first words uttered by newsreader Nina Spence. The phrase peppered BBC Scotland news reports that day. Opposition leaders attacking the First Minister on the NHS is as newsworthy as rain, yet this bog-standard political knockabout was considered the biggest story in the key 6pm news bulletin.
The Corbyn interview broke just before Newsdrive went on air. It was the second item in the programme’s opening news bulletin behind the Conservative/Labour attack on the First Minister at FMQs.
At 4:09 a recording of part of the Corbyn interview was played. It was a bizarre item in that it wasn’t followed, as is normally the case, by any attempt at putting his comments into perspective. There was no analysis provided by any BBC Scotland reporter. Nonetheless it appeared that BBC Scotland was preparing to give the breaking story the profile it clearly deserved.
However the opposite turned out to be the case. Instead of pursuing the breaking news story and maintaining its profile, it was pushed further and further down the news agenda until it disappeared altogether at 6pm. The 6pm bulletin did though feature an item about Chris How getting stuck in snow.
On the 4pm news bulletin the Corbyn interview was the second item, by 4:30pm it was third and by 5pm it had slipped to sixth. It recovered slightly to fifth position at 5:30pm but had disappeared altogether by 6pm.
Throughout the programme not one interview was conducted with any BBC Scotland reporter on the subject. In contrast the dog-bites-man ‘Trauma Centre’ attack by Unionists merited the attention of the BBC’s political editor Brian Taylor and its political correspondent Andrew Kerr. Journalist Penny Taylor was interviewed on the subject.
The profile afforded this piece of standard political fare was incredible. The ‘Trauma Centre’ story was the first item on the 4pm news bulletin. It was second at 4:30pm. It was the analysis item at 4:37pm. It was the second item at 5pm. It was the analysis item at 5:09pm. It was the second item at 5:30pm. By 6pm it was the lead item, replete with its “The First Minister has come under fire” opening line.
Considerable resource had been allocated to a standard political knockabout story yet a breaking story of huge significance in terms of the constitutional debate appeared to have merited nothing.
On the BBC Scotland website the Corbyn story initially appeard in sixth place then slowly fell down the pecking order.
As with the 6pm news bulletin on Newsdrive Corbyn’s interview was considered less important a story that one about Chris Hoy being given a lift by the driver of a gritter.
Reporting Scotland relegated the Corbyn interview to fourth place that evening, behind the “First Minister has come under fire” Trauma Centre story.
However not content with burying it, the Reporting Scotland item that appeared was shorn of two key segments from the interview. The two segments not shown on Reporting Scotland can be viewed in the clip below.
Viewers to BBC Scotland’s flagship news programme were denied the opportunity of hearing Jeremy Corbyn actually asked the question about Kezia Dugdale, they heard only his reply. To have heard both together would have strengthened the news value of the item.
Viewers were also denied the opportunity of hearing Jeremy Corbyn implicitly concede that Holyrood was entitled to call for another independence referendum. This is of course a deviation from the line usually trotted out by Scottish Labour which derides any such move as a failure to respect the result of the first indyref.
Good Morning Scotland
Maybe, I thought more in hope than expectation, the story had broken just too late for BBC Scotland to target the deserved resource. Maybe, just maybe, Friday morning’s Good Morning Scotland would provide better coverage and more detailed analysis.
The programme started promising with the opening trailers asking if Labour’s leaders were on the same page.
The promise ended there. Not one of the news bulletins carried the story. It was missing from the opening bulletin at 06:00. It was also missing from the 06:30, 07:00 and 07:30 bulletins.
At 07:54 [a bizarre timeslot], there was an interview with Labour MSP Iain Gray. With the news scheduled for 08:00 it meant a paltry six minutes was all that would be allotted to the issue. The interview was indeed over within six minutes.
For those who don’t listen to Good Morning Scotland, political interviews of any significance aren’t usually conducted just prior to the news. They are normally conducted after each news bulletin, at either 09 minutes past the hour or 39 minutes. It was clear that the interview with Iain Gray was a token gesture by Radio Scotland. Gary Robertson was unable to press the Labour MSP in any meaningful way.
The 08:00 news bulletin followed with, as expected, no mention of the Corbyn undermining of Kezia Dugdale nor his implicit acceptance of the Scottish Parliament’s right to call another independence referendum. The 08:30 news bulletin was similarly lacking in any mention.
So Good Morning Scotland ran for its entire three hour duration and not one news bulletin made mention of the Corbyn interview.
BBC Scotland’s refusal to prioritise the Corbyn interview continued into Saturday when the weekend edition of Good Morning Scotland contained a discussion about Jeremy Corbyn with former Labour MP Brian Wilson and journalist Michael White. The discussion completely ignored the undermining of Dugdale by her boss.
Think about it. A discussion on Radio Scotland about Jeremy Corbyn ignored the biggest story of the week involving the Scottish Labour leader and her UK party leader.
Kezia Dugdale’s whole constitutional stance has been shot down in flames by her own leader. She has been neutered by her boss. She has no authority to make any promises with respect to the Union.
The story should have dominated the news on Thursday. It didn’t. It should have been covered comprehensively on Friday. It wasn’t.
And to think there are still people in the independence movement who think the BBC can be trusted to cover the next independence referendum in an impartial manner.
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