In November last year I wrote an article for the online site Newsnet. The article, entitled ‘Stop debating Indyref2 timing: Unionists are campaigning already’, warned yes supporters that Unionists were already campaigning in anticipation of indyref2.
“…whilst the date of a second referendum has yet to be determined, campaigning for what could be the vote-of-votes is already in full swing. In fact it never really ceased even after Unionists won last year’s historic ballot.
“The alliance that was forged between Labour and the Conservatives during the first referendum campaign has endured beyond it.”
The article was prompted by attacks on the SNP by George Osborne after the chancellor used the falling oil price to paint the nationalists as having misled the electorate during the referendum campaign. Osborne’s misrepresentation of the campaign became headline news in Scotland and was widely promoted by BBC Scotland.
On the same day that George Osborne was goading the SNP over the dramatic fall in oil prices, the UK Government quietly announced it had scrapped a one billion pound grant earmarked for Carbon Capture.
The announcement was a major blow to Peterhead power station. Peterhead was thought by most experts to be the perfect location for Carbon Capture. It had been promised similar funding by the previous UK Labour Government, before the plug was pulled by Alistair Darling.
The Tory/Lib Dem alliance had resurrected the grant and dangled it as a bribe months before the 2014 referendum. It was of course accompanied by the obligatory warning that the funding would be placed in jeopardy with a Yes vote.
Carbon Capture wasn’t the only indyref pledge to be broken by Unionists after September 2014. HMRC workers, Steel workers and Shipyard workers also endured similar let-downs as promised protection evaporated and job losses were announced.
Each broken pledge was given scant coverage by a Unionist dominated Scottish media keen to get back to punting SNPBad stories. That was the case until last Friday when the rest of the United Kingdom ‘pulled the trigger’ and voted to leave the EU.
Brexit was a broken promise that could not be dismissed with a thirty second acknowledgement on Reporting Scotland.
When the rest of the UK voted to leave the European Union and Scotland opted to stay in, we had what Nicola Sturgeon and her predecessor Alex Salmond called a ‘material change’. The rest of mainland UK had pulled the trigger. Indyref2 was no longer a distant prospect.
The Brexit story has eclipsed every other news story with the exception perhaps of the attempted coup d’état against Jeremy Corbyn. The disintegration of the UK Labour party couldn’t have come at a worse time for Scottish Unionism.
With the UK government and the official opposition both incapacitated through internal civil war, the way has been clear for the SNP to capitalise on Unionist impotency. Anger at the prospect of Scotland being stripped of its EU membership has led to increased support for independence. If momentum is not arrested, then demands for indyref2 will see the end of the Union within two years.
Better Together … Mark II
Whilst there has been virtually no political resistance to what is an organic rise in support for independence, there has of course been some opposition. The BBC has stepped into the Unionist vacuum and slowly started warming up the Better Together engine.
I first noticed the emergence of the broadcaster’s self-styled ‘No’ campaign during a news bulletin by the BBC’s Scotland editor Sarah Smith. Smith appeared in a news bulletin the day after the EU referendum.
The BBC reporter made three outright claims relating to independence, saying:
“A Brexit actually makes the case for an independent Scotland a bit more complicated. It raises all sorts of new questions about currency and border controls.”
I was struck at how Smith’s comment was phrased. She wasn’t paraphrasing a third party but was actually stating as fact that independence will be more difficult after Brexit and that it will raise questions over currency and border controls. There is no justification given for the claims.
It didn’t seem to occur to Smith that any future UK Chancellor is extremely unlikely to play the dangerous currency games George Osborne did during the last indyref, not least because it would be insane given the financial turmoil leaving the EU has already wreaked. There are of course options available to a newly independent Scotland should the bottom fall out of the pound. Indeed there is a growing body of opinion that believes the currency issue isn’t a problem for Scotland, but an opportunity.
The issue of a border between Scotland and England is of course an old indyref scare that completely ignores the fact that the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland have operated a common travel area since the 1920s.
People can travel freely within a much larger Common Travel Area, made up of England, Scotland, Northern Ireland, Wales, the Republic of Ireland, the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man; there are no passport controls when travelling between areas in the Common Travel Area. Neither Guernsey, the Isle of Man nor the Channel Islands are in the European Union.
Smith wasn’t the first BBC reporter to promote old indyref claims as absolute fact when commenting on Brexit. The day before the EU referendum, BBC Scotland’s business and economy editor Douglas Fraser did much the same, as can be heard in the recording below.
“Some questions were not answered in the way that the electorate was confident with and notably the currency question, even more so if the intention is to get out [sic] of the UK so that Scotland can get back into [sic] the EU.”
Again we hear a BBC reporter presenting their own subjective interpretation of events as though fact. Douglas Fraser is in no position to say whether the currency question was answered to the electorate’s satisfaction or not.
Much of the electorate’s interpretation of the currency question stemmed from the media’s presentation of it, rather than the facts and/or probability of the counter arguments. Indeed there is polling evidence that indicates it was Osborne’s threat that wasn’t believed rather than John Swinney’s offer of a currency agreement.
It’s worth posting this clip of Fraser discussing currency during the independence referendum campaign. Listen as the BBC man presents his own opinion [which coincided with Unionist claims] on whether the pound is an asset.
If you want to read just how bad the BBC’s coverage was of the currency issue during the independence referendum, then just click here.
But back to the current time and yet another example of a BBC reporter re-running old Better Together attack lines. The clip below is from this Monday, June 27th.
Taylor goes for the old chestnut of oil volatility:
“[Nicola Sturgeon] doesn’t want to do this. Why? Because she fears she might lose. With oil at a low rate, with the questions over the currency still unanswered, and … there will be some who perhaps will feel that an anxious time of upset is not a time to add to that potentially with an independence vote.”
Who is it has argued that questions over currency weren’t answered? Unionists and their media friends, that’s who. This isn’t impartial qualified analysis; this is the peddling of Better Together propaganda.
Whilst oil is less than half what it was just before the independence referendum, it has risen by over 60% since January and now sits at around fifty dollars. Where was the promised ‘broad shoulders’ of the UK when oil was scraping thirty dollars and jobs were going?
Unionists like to paint Scotland as over-reliant on oil, but oil is a fraction of Scotland’s GDP. Even without oil, Scotland’s GDP per head is less than 1% lower than the rest of the UK’s. Oil is the bonus Unionists paint as a curse.
One of the most effective ways to push a narrative is to invite a pundit to offer an opinion. There is no shortage of pundits willing to express views that might gain favour at BBC Scotland. If that pundit comes with the title ‘professor’, then all the better.
On June 27th BBC Scotland regular Professor David Bell appeared on current affairs show Scotland 2016 where he was asked about independence and EU membership. The academic, despite acknowledging he was “not an expert in constitutional law” went on to give his opinion anyway, opining that a newly independent Scotland might have to join the euro.
Watch the clip below and marvel at the regurgitation of old Better Together campaign claims, including a claim that Scotland would have to cut public spending by ten billion pounds.
Bell turned up on Good Morning Scotland the day after where he added another Better Together classic by suggesting Spain would somehow block a newly independent Scotland’s bid for EU membership.
It’s worth noting that Scotland is currently a member and until the UK exits, we are all citizens of the EU. How Spain would achieve the expulsion of Scotland from the EU, given that there is no mechanism for doing so whilst we are still a member, is not explained.
Arguably the most mistrusted of all political reporters at BBC Scotland, Glenn Campbell was sent to Brussels to cover Nicola Sturgeon’s visit. Whilst there, he tracked down one of the men scheduled to meet the First Minister. Guy Verhofstadt is President of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats.
In an interview with Campbell, Verhofstadt clearly tells the BBC man that Scotland can stay in the EU if it wants to stay. Asked if Scotland can “stay without joining a queue to get in” Verhofstadt replies: “Yeh, they are in for the moment so it’s no problem on that side.”
Normally that would be it. The BBC Scotland reporter has sought out his man and received a clear and unequivocal opinion. His package can be prepared for that night’s Reporting Scotland. But that didn’t happen.
Instead Glenn Campbell located an ‘analyst’ who he said is advising the Scottish government on Brexit. Fabian Zuleeg is a member of a think tank called the European Policy Centre. Zuleeg provides the BBC Scotland reporter with something to counter the pro-independence opinion of Guy Verhofstadt. The Reporting Scotland item was duly ‘balanced’.
But wait. Who is behind this think tank? It’s worth noting that the President of the European Policy Centre is one Herman Van Rompuy. In December 2013 Van Rompuy was the subject of news reports across the Scottish media after he issued a statement challenging the notion that a newly independent Scotland could remain a member of the EU.
In an online article at the time, BBC Scotland reported:
‘Comments by the European Council president have cast further doubt on an independent Scotland’s EU membership status, it has been claimed.
Herman Van Rompuy said that, if Catalonia became independent from Spain, previously agreed EU treaties would no longer apply.’
At the time of his statement, Herman van Rompuy was a member of the Belgian CDV, which was a right wing anti-independence party. By remarkable coincidence, Van Rompuy’s comments in 2013 are remarkably similar to the comments given to Glenn Campbell by Fabian Zuleeg.
One of the worst and most obvious examples of pro-Union bias at BBC Scotland is the one-sided panel. On Tuesday [June 28th] the current affairs show Scotland 2016 held a short debate on Brexit and a possible indyref2.
As you can see, the panel consisted of one SNP MSP, one Labour MSP and one Conservative MSP. Those of you who can count will note that this makes two unionists to one nationalist.
One-sided panels that favour Unionism has been a long standing practice at BBC Scotland. During the last indyref it wasn’t unusual to see three Unionists [Lab, Tory and LD] versus one nationalist [SNP]. The excuse was usually that these were the four largest parties at Holyrood.
After the 2016 Scottish election, the four largest parties now includes the pro-independence Green party. Yet the Scottish Greens were missing from Tuesday’s debate. Given that independence parties outnumber their Unionist counterparts, there is simply no excuse for continuing to hold discussions with panels that contain more Unionists than independence leaning MSPs.
Who’s Chris Morris I hear you ask? He’s the BBC’s Europe correspondent. Watch the clip below from the BBC’s rolling news channel.
Morris makes the same mistake as many commentators in his summing up, by assuming a newly independent Scotland would have to apply to become an EU member. The BBC reporter does though say something that is absolutely spot on: “We go back to all the debates in the Scottish independence referendum.”
That is precisely what is happening. The problem is that what Morris describes as ‘debates’ is actually pro-Union assertions and claims, promoted by the BBC.
In all of this it’s easy to forget that Scotland faces being dragged out of the European Union despite voting to remain a member. Aside from a solitary question from Ken MacDonald, posed to Ruth Davidson, I’ve detected little appetite amongst BBC Scotland personnel to pursue Unionist politicians over their false indyref claims.
The latest Better Together indyref boast to fall apart is the loss of the UK’s triple-A rating. Like the loss of EU membership, that was only supposed to happen in the event of a Yes vote. Yet still the people who headed the Unionist indyref campaign have escaped scrutiny.
As I finish writing this, Nicola Sturgeon has emerged from her meeting with Jean Claude Juncker. The First Minister has been given what she calls a sympathetic hearing. I’ve no doubt that the EU, under Juncker, is on Scotland’s side.
Despite that, it looks like the only way Scotland can renegotiate its own membership of the European Union is by winning its independence. If I am correct then this makes an indyref2 in the summer of 2018 a near certainty. Unionists know this … the BBC knows this too. The campaigning has already begun.
Better Together has been resurrected by BBC Scotland. The battle for indyref2 has begun in earnest.
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