Have you ever tweeted something you thought was fact but that you later learned was nonsense? I have. Several times in fact. Honest mistakes but embarrassing nonetheless.
Andrew Marr caused a near twitter meltdown at the weekend, or rather whoever is responsible for his show’s official twitter account, when he tweeted the following: “Nicola Sturgeon says Scotland has a veto over Brexit”
The problem for Marr was that the First Minister had said no such thing. What Nicola Sturgeon had in fact said was that signals from new Prime Minister Theresa May that the latter would not invoke Article 50 until there was agreement across the UK, left the First Minister in a “strong position”.
Here is a clip of the actual exchange.
It’s clear from the exchange between Andrew Marr and the First Minister that the BBC presenter desperately wants her to confirm she does indeed believe she has a veto. The problem for Marr is that Nicola Sturgeon refuses to indulge him. Whoever administers the show’s official twitter account wasn’t going to let facts get in the way of an agenda and posted the tweet you see below.
If there’s one thing we know about social media, it’s that pro-independence users know when those who control our news are ‘at it’. It wasn’t long before Marr’s twitter time-line was fielding tweets from people angry at the misrepresentation of Nicola Sturgeon. One of the tweets was from the First Minister herself.
It prompted another tweet from the Andrew Marr account, that sought to correct the misinformation contained in the initial tweet. However the ‘corrective’ tweet was just as inaccurate, claiming Nicola Sturgeon had confirmed it was “possible” Scotland could veto Brexit.
The second tweet prompted yet more criticism over its accuracy. So many complaints were received that someone decided to delete both tweets. Alas not before several pro-Union newspapers had picked up the BBC message and had headlined the erroneous claims.
There has been much speculation as to why Andrew Marr would claim Nicola Sturgeon had said something she patently had not. There are two possible answers.
The first is that Marr was deploying a bit of journalistic licence by adopting as dramatic an interpretation of Nicola Sturgeon’s comments as he could. In short, he extrapolated a meaning to the First Minister’s words that would make them more controversial, and in turn, more newsworthy.
The second is that Marr was applying some pro-Union spin to the interview by seeking to portray Scotland’s First Minister as the reason for any possible delay to Brexit negotiations beginning. Why would Unionists want this? Well any delay to the activation of Article 50 will almost certainly lead to claims that it is creating economic uncertainty. If Unionists are able to pin the blame for that onto the SNP then all the better.
So we can see there are journalistic and political reasons for wanting to misrepresent Nicola Sturgeon.
But this wasn’t the first attempt to portray Nicola Sturgeon as either threatening to veto Brexit or claiming she has the power to do so. BBC Scotland had a stab at it three weeks before Andrew Marr did.
On Sunday June 26th the First Minister was interviewed on the Sunday Politics Show. Gordon Brewer asked her about a little known procedure in the Scottish Parliament called legislative consent. This mechanism allows the Scottish Parliament to give its consent to Westminster to act on Holyrood’s behalf on an area that is devolved.
Protocol dictates that such consent would be required from the Holyrood Parliament before Article 50 could be triggered. The consent is effectively symbolic given Westminster could simply ignore a vote at Holyrood that declined such consent.
Below is a clip of Nicola Sturgeon explaining to Gordon Brewer why she would advise Scottish MSPs not to grant such consent.
The First Minister’s stance is perfectly understandable. If, as things stand, the Scottish Government grants consent to the UK Government to activate Article 50 then she is effectively agreeing to Scotland’s withdrawal from the EU. That would be a politically bad move.
However within minutes of the interview concluding, the following headline appeared on the BBC Scotland online news page.
Sturgeon of course had said no such thing. Within a couple of hours the nonsense was being headlined by newspapers across the UK. The headlines below are not from the Andrew Marr interview on July 17th, but from the Gordon Brewer interview on June 26th.
The ‘Brexit Veto’ claim is a perfect example of how the BBC can instigate the spreading of misinformation. The broadcaster wields enormous power and influence. Any hint of a story that might make life difficult for Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP will be seized on.
By mid-day on the day of the Andrew Marr interview, the ‘Brexit Veto’ claim lay in tatters. It didn’t though prevent Gordon Brewer from rather incredibly arguing that it was in fact the First Minister who appeared unclear whether she had been handed a veto by Theresa May.
The interview also witnessed Nicola Sturgeon being asked whether she might call a second independence referendum if Article 50 was activated without Scotland having been given guarantees over its EU membership. Below is a short summary of the exchange which can be seen in the clip above.
Gordon Brewer: “Should it come to December […] when they might trigger Article 50, and you were not satisfied that you are not on-board, and the British Government says ‘sorry, we’re just doing this anyway’, realistically is there anything you can do? […] Would you take that as a trigger point for a referendum?”
Nicola Sturgeon: “Of course that would be an option and a decision I would have to consider […]”
Gordon Brewer: “But would you really be happy to have a referendum on independence say in the first half of next year?”
Nicola Sturgeon: “I will have an independence referendum if I come to a conclusion that I think that is in the interests of Scotland.”
Below is how BBC Scotland reported the exchange:
The presentation of the story implies that Nicola Sturgeon has issued an unsolicited statement of intent. The First Minister is presented as having warned of an early indyref2. The truth of course is that she was responding to a hypothetical scenario painted by Gordon Brewer.
This is manufactured news. We see it time and again with BBC Scotland where a controversial scenario is presented to a senior SNP politician who is then compelled to give an answer. The answer then becomes a headline with the public misled into believing this is in fact the SNP’s favoured option.
Many members of the public will now be of the mistaken belief that Nicola Sturgeon is in fact planning to hold an early indyref2. The ‘early referendum’ story led the news on Sunday’s Reporting Scotland.
It also featured on the following day’s Good Morning Scotland. The analysis can be heard below, some of which borders on bizarre.
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