Rushed out during the independence referendum and subsequently panned by critics, Scotland 2016 is now on death row. Its demise can’t come soon enough for me.
Some people have been lamenting its imminent passing and the fact that there won’t be a dedicated late night current affairs programme produced by BBC Scotland. I couldn’t care less if nothing replaces it. A constant stream of pro-Union journalists providing their ‘analysis’ is something I can do without.
The show – initially called Scotland 2014 – was supposed to be a vehicle for Sarah Smith. The daughter of former Labour leader John Smith was one of a couple of highly paid Anglo-Scots recruited by BBC Scotland during the latter stages of the indyref campaign. The other was James Naughtie. Both displayed the usual tendency to push a pro-Union agenda.
I rarely watched Scotland 2014 when it launched – it had replaced Newsnight Scotland. By the time BBC Scotland realised there was an appetite for indyref related discussion and debate, STV had already stolen a march on them.
Scotland Tonight was broadcast earlier and, importantly, didn’t restrict itself to the elite template adored by its broadcasting big brother. Yessers appreciated the more balanced discussions and the fact that the show sometimes covered issues its rival steered clear of.
The very few times I did watch the BBC programme was almost always to observe yet another example of the pro-Union bias that was slowly poisoning the BBC’s referendum coverage. One particularly appalling episode took place in July 2014 – two months before the indyref. It related to European Union membership, which seems particularly apt.
In July 2014 Jean-Claude Juncker had just begun his tenure as the President of the European Commission. The politician from Luxembourg had replaced Jose Manuel Barroso.
Juncker gave a speech on Tuesday July 15th in which he called for the suspension of what is termed ‘the enlargement’ of the EU. The EC President very specifically made clear he was referring to ‘candidate countries’ – specifically states from the Balkans who had already applied to join the EU.
In his speech he said:
“There will be no new enlargement in the next five years,”
“…It’s hard to imagine that one of the candidate states with whom we are negotiating will have, in time, met all the accession criteria…
“The EU needs to mark a pause in its enlargement process so that we can consolidate what has been done with 28,
“Under my leadership, ongoing negotiations will continue, notably with the western Balkans countries, which need a European perspective,”
For anyone listening to, or reading, Juncker’s statement there was little doubt what he meant. Enlargement is accepted as adding to the territory of the European Union.
It can mean a new member state, as happened in June of that year when Croatia became the 28th EU member, or it can mean the expansion of a new state, as happened when West Germany – already an EU member – absorbed East Germany.
What it very clearly didn’t mean was that a newly independent Scotland would be thrown out of the EU and made to wait five years before trying to re-enter.
Within hours of Juncker’s speech, the anti-independence campaign Better Together had cobbled together a press statement claiming his words were proof that a Yes vote that coming September would leave Scotland in the EU wilderness.
It was par for the course for the No campaign, and was as unsurprising as it was untrue. It resulted in a few predictable headlines from newspapers who relished such things as it fuelled their own anti-independence agenda, and that’s where it should have remained.
However, for some inexplicable reason, somebody at BBC Scotland decided the contrived claim from Better Together was a major story. It soon appeared on the BBC Scotland online news – ‘Scottish independence: No new EU member states before 2019, says Juncker’, was the initial headline.
Within half an hour this changed to an even more bizarre – ‘Scottish independence: Referendum campaigners seize on Juncker comments’.
The article began with the claim from Better Together:
‘The Better Together campaign said the comments confirmed that leaving the UK would mean leaving the EU.’
It was clear that the so-called ‘Referendum campaigners’ who had ‘seized’ on Juncker’s comments were the anti-independence campaigners from Better Together.
But why had BBC Scotland promoted this claim from Better Together? In their own article the BBC listed the so-called candidate countries.
‘Albania, Iceland, Montenegro, Serbia, Turkey and Macedonia are candidate countries for EU membership.’ said the article.
The candidate countries listed and the word ‘expansion’ made it clear that Better Together was at it.
Expansion could no more include Scotland than it could include any EU member whose territory was already firmly established within the EU. Scotland could have acquired its own membership after a Yes vote and the EU wouldn’t have expanded one inch.
It got worse when on that evening’s Reporting Scotland, presenter Jackie Bird relayed Better Together’s attack pretty much word for word.
Compounding this astonishing lapse in journalistic standards was the appearance of a UK Government junior minister in the shape of Tory MP David Mundell who readily accepted the platform offered him by the BBC and repeated the claims, whilst facing no questions whatsoever.
So, in the space of a few hours, the anti-independence movement had been granted the apparatus of the BBC in order to promote a quite egregious piece of political chicanery. From Better Together HQ into every household in Scotland in a matter of hours, courtesy of BBC Scotland.
However, within an hour, the whole charade came tumbling down when a spokeswoman for the EC President confirmed that Juncker wasn’t in fact talking about Scotland. The BBC quickly altered the headline on the online article and amended the body in order to correct the misinformation they themselves had promoted.
The Scottish Government issued statements demanding Better Together retract their claims and issue an apology. None was forthcoming.
The story was covered on Scotland 2014. Quite incredibly Sarah Smith tried to repeat the now debunked nonsense by wilfully misrepresenting Juncker.
“He [Juncker] did make it clear that he thought that 28 was the right number for the EU for now, he wasn’t talking about increasing it to twenty nine members.”
Smith’s summary of what Juncker had said was completely false.
When SNP MEP Alan Smyth dared to suggest her programme was doing itself a disservice by giving credence to the Better Together claims, he was talked over by the irritated presenter.
It was an appalling piece of broadcasting trolling from someone who was at the time being paid a six figure salary to provide intelligent analysis and neutral interrogation.
Smith went on to compound her blunder by misrepresenting Juncker AGAIN over the issue of a letter sent to EU leaders.
Juncker, as Newsnet Scotland had already revealed, was talking about Catalonia when he referenced the letter in a Q/A session with MEPs the previous week. The letter had been written by Catalan President Artur Mas to EU leaders who he was lobbying for support. Juncker was replying to a Catalonian MEP.
The exchange between Sarah Smith and Alan Smyth was typical of BBC Scotland interviews during the referendum. Scotland 2014 became Scotland 2015 then Scotland 2016. The name changed but nothing much else. Guests are still selected from a tiny elite pool of journos who still push the same anti-SNP narrative their profession thrives on, as the clip below shows.
Scotland 2016 won’t be missed by me. I hope nothing replaces it, unless and until there is a wholesale management clear-out at BBC Scotland. Even then I’d be wary of the replacements.
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