What’s the point of interviewing politicians? Seriously, why do you think our elected representatives are grilled by TV and Radio presenters?
Some people think it’s to elicit information. That’s correct up to a point. Good interviews will often result in a vague stance being clarified. A skilled interviewer will coax a little more clarity from a politician that he or she intended to provide.
But another reason for the interview is to challenge claims being made by those same politicians. It’s not unknown for politicians to make assertions that, under scrutiny, turn out to be completely false. A good interviewer will thus have prepared thoroughly for any such eventuality and confront the politician in question with evidence to the contrary.
There’s another kind of interview, one that isn’t designed to elicit information, to seek clarity or to challenge falsehoods. These interviews are aimed at creating or consolidating a political narrative.
They are effectively set-piece interviews whose sole purpose is to allow the embedding of a lie or claim with a view to setting a news agenda. It’s a corrupt interview – propaganda. The most famous example would be Andrew Marr’s ‘interview’ of Jose Manuel Barroso during the first independence referendum campaign.
But interviews needn’t be deliberately corrupt in order to help set a false news agenda. Just as damaging to political coverage and thus fact based democratic debate can be the inept interview.
Good Morning Scotland
On Friday witnessed two interviews broadcast on Good Morning Scotland. The first interview was conducted by GMS co-presenter Hayley Millar. Millar interviewed Conservative MSP Murdo Fraser. The second interview was conducted by her colleague Gary Robertson. Robertson interviewed SNP MSP Derek Mackay.
Let’s deal with the Hayley Millar interview. Below is the interview with Murdo Fraser in full.
The GMS presenter was hopelessly ill-prepared. Millar appeared incapable of making the most basic challenge to the most glaring falsehoods. Below are a few examples.
Fraser on Theresa May’s ‘Now is not the time’ stance. “In so doing she has been entirely in tune with Scottish public opinion on this matter and consistently polls have told us that people in Scotland do not want another independence referendum in the next few years …”
Theresa May’s stance is not in tune with Scottish public opinion on this matter. Nor have polls told us that people in Scotland do not want another independence referendum in the next few years.
Two recent polls make this clear. A Panelbase poll conducted in March this year for The Sunday Times showed 50% of respondents were in favour of a second independence referendum either whilst Brexit negotiations were ongoing or immediately after.
A survey conducted by the same firm on behalf of Wings Over Scotland, which Professor John Curtice described as “a balanced formula that methodologically is preferable to that deployed on The Sunday Times poll”, found a slight majority – 51% – in favour of a second referendum before the UK leaves the EU.
That’s two polls which disprove Murdo Fraser’s claim. There have been others but these are two of the most recent. Indeed if you look at the image above showing polling from June 2016 it’s clear that support for a second independence referendum has never been in a minority, at least for that polling company.
Given that evidence trashing Murdo Fraser’s claims is so readily available from a respected source, we have to ask why Hayley Millar was struck dumb when the Tory MSP was spouting lies?
But let’s move on …
Fraser “Very interestingly the survey of opinion that came out yesterday from Professor John Curtice showed that, on relation to the EU, the attitudes of people in Scotland are very similar to the attitudes of people across the rest of the UK”
Hayley Millar’s response was bizarre; “Well, I think the survey showed that it was much closer than that”. It sounded as though the presenter was arguing that attitudes north and south of the border were closer than even Murdo Fraser was prepared to claim.
The first point about this particular survey is that it didn’t meet the accepted standards for number of respondents. It interviewed 859 people instead of the 1000 required in order to maintain +- 3% accuracy.
That notwithstanding, Professor John Curtice published his own thoughts on the survey results, the most interesting of which was the following paragraph:
Of course, that still leaves open the question of whether Scotland should or should not accept the UK-wide decision to leave the EU in the first place. On this opinion is almost evenly divided. As many as 47% think that ‘Scotland is an integral part of the UK and so should accept the UK-wide vote to leave the EU’, while just slightly more, 51%, believe that ‘Scotland is a nation and so should not have to leave the EU when a majority of Scots voted to stay’.
We can all argue whether 51% versus 47% is ‘evenly divided’ but If you are a BBC Scotland presenter about to interview a Unionist politician on the twin issue of Brexit and a second independence referendum then it is this result you should be armed with. In failing abjectly to challenge Fraser, Hayley Millar allowed the Tory MSP to trundle on unhindered.
And we move on …
Fraser: “What it showed is nearly two thirds of people do not want a differentiated deal for Scotland with the EU compared to the rest of the UK.”
Could it be that two thirds of people don’t want a differentiated deal for Scotland because these people want independence? A simple retort surely?
Fraser: “So the whole premise on which the SNP are arguing for another independence referendum has just been exploded.”
You can claim to disprove the existence of gravity if you base your argument on falsehoods that go unchallenged. Millar struggled very badly to put together any coherent challenge to Murdo Fraser who effectively walked all over her. The Tory MSP went on to repeat his falsehoods including a quite outrageous claim that the Scottish Parliament itself was out of touch with the majority opinion in Scotland.
The interview, from Hayley Millar’s perspective, descended into embarrassment. When Fraser referred to the 2014 referendum, Millar made no attempt to confront him with the promise made by his own leader that a No vote would protect Scotland’s EU membership.
The final straw was when the Murdo Fraser said: “The point about Brexit is there’s no evidence that people in Scotland have a different view towards Brexit than people in the rest of the United Kingdom.”
There is indeed evidence. There was the EU Referendum result where Scotland voted to remain by 62% to 38%.
The ‘interview’ was a farce. Falsehoods were chucked around with gay abandon. Hayley Millar was either incapable of challenging them or didn’t want to challenge them.
The interview was followed almost immediately by Gary Robertson who interviewed Scottish Government Minister Derek Mackay. Robertson, as you would expect, was well prepared and went after the SNP politician in his usual forensic manner, hectoring and interrupting regularly.
Listen to the full interview below and note the way Gary Robertson bats away mention of a poll that same day and instead highlights the one mentioned earlier by Murdo Fraser and uses it in order to suggest the Scottish Government has “misjudged public opinion”.
The survey Gary Robertson didn’t want to highlight had been released by respected pollster Survation late the previous evening. The results were quite remarkable and showed that most Scots believed Westminster should not be allowed to block a second referendum.
Unlike the NatCen/ScotCen Social Research poll, the Survation poll, commissioned by the SNP, questioned the required number of people, 1104.
Asked who “should have the right to decide if there should be a referendum in Scotland that would allow the people of Scotland to choose between Brexit and Independence”, 53 per cent said Holyrood, 35 per cent Westminster and 12 per cent didn’t know. Excluding don’t knows, the result was 61% to 39% in favour of Holyrood.
Asked if Westminster “should have the right to block a plan for a referendum in Scotland, even if it is agreed on and voted for by the Scottish Parliament”, 58 per cent said No and 42 per cent said Yes, after excluding don’t knows.
Why did the GMS duo choose to ignore a survey that conformed to British Polling Standards and provided up to date data? Could it be that the data challenged the narrative BBC Scotland was trying to push? Indeed a news bulletin that followed both interviews included a clip of Murdo Fraser making what are demonstrably false claims.
The claim that nobody wants another independence referendum, or that the vast majority of people living in Scotland oppose one, is a lie that has been promoted by the BBC for months. I actually posted a tweet asking Gary Robertson why neither he nor his colleagues challenged this lie. He declined to respond.
There’s no doubt that there exists a culture at BBC Scotland that fosters such myths. Below is a clip from January this year in which you can hear Gordon Brewer and Bill Whiteford actually echoing these same false claims Murdo Fraser and other senior Unionists have been making for months.
The Hayley Millar/Gary Robertson interviews above are examples of a culture that persists at BBC Scotland and has existed for years. That culture allows the promotion of falsehoods by Unionist politicians. For years it was Jim Murphy and his cohorts who benefited from this corrupt culture, now it’s Ruth Davidson and hers.
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