We need to talk about Good Morning Scotland

radio scotlandAmid all the gnashing of teeth and hullabaloo over a replacement for Reporting Scotland, we’ve forgotten that there’s an equally significant platform which is every bit in need of overhaul.

I’m talking about Radio Scotland, and in particular the flagship morning news programme Good Morning Scotland [GMS].  GMS is a simple mix of news bulletins, interviews, pre-recorded items, transport and weather.

GMS will be the first port of entry for most people as they begin their day.  The programme will shape their initial thoughts on what is and isn’t significant news.  GMS plays a key role in setting up the day’s news narrative.

This week an interview caught my attention and led to me posting a critical observation of the interviewer, GMS host Gary Robertson.  Robertson was interviewing Scottish minister Keith Brown in what I thought was an overly aggressive manner.  During the interview the GMS presenter briefly laughed as he challenged the SNP MSP.  The laugh was momentary and relatively insignificant.  Less than a minute later however, the GMS presenter did it again, this time far clearer and for longer.

I tweeted criticism of the condescending laughter.  My tweet was challenged by Robertson who insisted I was wrong and what I had heard was actually a sneeze from his co-presenter.  You can hear from the youtube clip below that I was in fact correct.

It isn’t a one-off.  A similar example of condescending laughter can be heard in this excerpt from an interview with Angus Robertson in October 2014.


The behaviour of Gary Robertson when interviewing Keith Brown may seem insignificant.  But it’s an example of an enduring trait that has long since been evident when SNP politicians are interviewed on GMS where they are relentlessly hectored, badgered and interrupted.  They are always, and I mean absolutely always, forensically pressed to provide information that is at times so detailed that no person would be expected to provide it.

Unionist politicians endure nowhere near the same level of scrutiny.  Have a listen to the interview below conducted by Hayley Millar who was interviewing the then Shadow Scottish Secretary Ian Murray in November 2015.


Mine was not the only tweet Gary Robertson took issue with.  The following day he reacted angrily after yet another ‘review’ of newspaper headlines, replete with politically partisan attacks on the SNP, was read out by the GMS team.

headline tweet

The issue is not of course the reading out of headlines per se, although the TV licence should not be used to promote private businesses anyway, but the reading out of headlines that are politically motivated attacks and are published by newspapers known to be politically partisan.  Yes, even The National.


The practice is bias by proxy.  Stories that are sometimes wholly without merit can find their way onto the airwaves of a publicly funded broadcaster.  It went on throughout the independence referendum.  The clip below was broadcast exactly seven days before the vote.

Saturday mornings regularly finds Radio Scotland regular Eamon O’Neill positively gush about articles he has read in newspapers – many overtly political.  Articles are frequently described as ‘superb’ or ‘very good’.


Editorials are ‘excellent’ or ‘fantastic’ as O’Neill does his best to persuade listeners to purchase the titles he reviews.  In January this year The Herald received a free advert.

Smear stories too are promoted by proxy through use of the ‘review’.  Listen to the clip below which saw Forth Road Bridge smear stories, known now to have been embellished or simply manufactured, find their way onto Radio Scotland.

Good Morning Scotland has issues that nobody appears to want to acknowledge.  Last week I highlighted a blatant example of misreporting when a survey of graduate debt was presented as though a UK wide issue despite Scottish graduates leaving university with less than one quarter the average debt of their English counterparts.

Senior Unionist politicians are also now frequently refusing to appear on the programme to face even mild questioning.  Kezia Dugdale, her deputy Alex Rowley and Scottish secretary David Mundell have all refused to be interviewed on significant issues.

The GMS team of course cannot press-gang politicians to appear.  However the normal course of action when politicians go into hiding in this manner is to invite hostile commentators on to ‘discuss’ the issue.  It usually results in those guests ‘making hay’ at the expense of the politician or his/her party.

That though hasn’t happened on GMS and issues such as the Dugdale/Rowley split over Corbyn and Indyref2 have remained virtually unreported.  Mundell endured no significant discomfort when refusing to discuss the UK’s lack of economic reaction to the Brexit vote.

I don’t even know if GMS invited Labour’s new Secretary of State for Scotland onto the programme to discuss his comments over a possible anti-Tory coalition with the SNP.  Dave Anderson walked into a major rift with Kezia Dugdale over the issue.

Some Scottish Unionist politiians do accept invites, not to be pressed on issues, but to be presented with a platform in order to promote their political views.  The series of ‘long interviews’ Gordon Brewer has conducted recently has witnessed independence being attacked by the guest, with little or no challenge from Brewer.  The clip below is of unelected peer David Steel.

Good Morning Scotland needs a serious overhaul.  It’s coverage of domestic news is poor and it frequently relies on surveys and reports to pad out its content.  These surveys are all too often described as ‘UK’ when in fact they are de-facto English with little clear statistical relevance to Scotland.

The state of not just Good Morning Scotland, but the entire Radio Scotland output, was best summarised by Historian Tom Devine during a debate that took place in January 2013.

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20 thoughts on “We need to talk about Good Morning Scotland

  1. Ian

    Great article. I heard Iain McWhirter (I think in a interview with Chris Silver) explain the bias of the BBC by saying that it was because they took the news from the mainstream papers. – ‘that’s just what an editor does’ so no bias, just someone doing what they are meant to be doing.

    That didn’t work for me…..I thought it was a circular and dishonest argument from IM –
    how can you claim to be impartial when your chosen sources are partisan?

  2. Jim Arnott

    What really worries me is it goes on and on and on … It seems that nothing can be done about it because the BBC doesn’t acknowledge that anything is wrong – and that is putting a very benign interpretation on their motives.

    Posts like this one are all fine and dandy about exposing the problem but can we get a sense of how best to hold the BBC to account – international organisations etc?

    Something needs to happen.

    1. jdman

      I contacted journalists without frontiers two years ago before the indy ref and they wouldnt touch the issue (of biased reporting by the state owned media), too afraid to take on the UK establishment.
      the only other body who COULD take an interest is the OSCE/ODIHR but their response to me (again 2 years ago) was they will only involve themselves if the Sovereign state requests it, guess who that is?
      It really would seem as if we’re on our own.

  3. jdman

    I have called (sometimes on a daily basis) Call Kaye many times and initially i was asked my political preferences, foolishly i told them I was an independence supporter, and since that first contact I have not once had the chance to air my views on the programme, in spite of listening almost daily to the SAME unionist voices, I kept my point clear and without rancour but was ignored.

  4. Sandy

    We need an organised, concerted campaign of non-payment of the licence fee. They will not respond to anything else but will be wary of the risk of that snowballing to include Corbyn supporters in England and Wales. I understand that the SNP won’t organise this, as a responsible party of government, but the Yes campaign needs to seriously consider it. Non-payment helped see off the Poll tax when we were powerless at the ballot box.

  5. Alistair Davidson

    I also find that Robertson and Millar when talking to SNP Politcians start their questions with …”is it not the case” or ” you have to agree that”. In many cases like that they try to mislead the listeners.
    I also find that most of the ‘specialists’ from whatever particular topic they are talking about have South of the border accents. Do we not have specialists north of the border? I feel that this is BBC’s way of anglicising the Scottish listeners. Sort of – it’s only English people who have the intelligence to comment!
    Please note that I am not racist, just an observationalist!!!

    1. Robert

      Too many English accents, eh? Call yourself an “observationalist” all you like, but that’s just downright bigoted.

      1. GAP

        We’ve allowed your comment despite the fact that the person you are responding to did not say what you claim. Please try not to misrepresent other posters.

        1. Robert

          I don’t agree that I did. The commenter complains that “most of” the specialists they have on the show have “South of the border accents”. I assume the commenter means English accents and not people from some other border, as it is apparently the BBC’s way of “anglicising” us. I think that is transparently a complaint about English accents.

          How is an English person who has made their home and life in Scotland supposed to feel when they read comments like that? Maybe they have learned enough to become a ‘specialist’ in their given field and want to contribute. How else are they supposed to interpret this? How are they supposed not to feel excluded, or at least less welcome?

          I get that you might think the poster was misrepresented. But he wasn’t. He complained about the number of specialists on the show who had English accents rather than Scottish ones. That is a form of bigotry, and no disclaimer or attempted casuistry changes that.

          1. tarisgal

            There is a distinct difference in the phrases ‘too many’ and ‘most of’… Using the phrase ‘too many’ would suggest the commenter was not happy about the number of ‘South of the border accents’ and so that phrase is totally inaccurate. He did NOT say that and he DID NOT complain about the number of specialists on the show who had English accents.

            He suggested ‘most of the specialists’, meaning that a majority of the specialists used had, in his opinion, South of the border accents. That phrase does not suggest he is UNHAPPY about the use of ‘South of the borders’. I’m afraid that is YOUR interpretation of his comment.

            But if the commenter’s intention WAS to give the impression that there were too many specialists with South of the border accents, that does not make it a bigoted comment – simply an observation that there are not enough specialists with NORTH of the border accents asked on the program to give a more balanced view of an issue.

            But – perhaps you feel that NO ‘specialists’ North of the border should be given air time? Or that there are NO specialists NORTH of the border that are qualified to give their opinions on this show? If such is the case, I’d suggest that you are the one being bigoted in your comments! I’d be interested to know why you think it bigoted to suggest that specialists with NORTH of the border accents should not be represented on the show? Or am I picking that up wrong? Yes – the wording and phrases used is OPEN TO INTERPRETATION! But remember – while you hasten to make the commenter above seem a bigot, I could suggest from my interpretation of your words that YOU TOO seem a bit of a bigot!

            “How is an English person who has made their home and life in Scotland supposed to feel when they read comments like that?” It seems to me that the commenter feels there are more than enough specialists with South of the border accents being given their share of air time, so I’d have thought they should be actually quite happy. If the commenter is wrong and it is equal time for specialists with Scottish AND English accents, then – the specialist with English accents should be happy with that result too. But now ask yourself how the Scots feel if indeed the commenter is right and there is a distinct LACK of specialists from NORTH of the border, seeing it is SUPPOSED to be a radio SCOTLAND program? Surely the commenter has the right to suggest equal air time for specialists with North of the border accents?

            I have to say that this ‘bigotry’ line seems to be more of this ‘taking moral umbrage, let’s get Social Media closed down so that Indy people can’t get their message across’ game that unionists are playing to order to make their opposition look bad…

  6. Fiona Grahame

    While I am a great believer in holding all politicians to account I do find the ‘tone’ often of the interviews when speaking to Scottish Parliamentary Ministers overly aggressive and yet fails to obtain information from them because they then go on the defensive.

    I have no idea why they continue to wheel out failed Scottish politicians or ones who have gone to the Lords to give their views instead of finding commentators with new perspectives on topics – that would be worth listening to.

    Radio Scotland’s local radio stations are seriously underfunded. They are important in areas outwith the central belt because you listen to them for local stories but they do no investigative journalism. When the dreadful murder took place at the Mumataz restaurant in Orkney many years ago the headline on Radio Orkney was ‘There has been an incident’. There were no local journalists to cover the story and to find out what had happened in our own community we had to go the the ‘National’ news – or talk to our neighbours

  7. John

    This is old hat , been going on for years . No-one ever properly challenges GMS presenters , especially , may I say , SNP MSP’S who are the ones that get the SNP BAD treatment , especially from Gary Robertson . It is not even as if they are good journalists ,Hailey Miller trips over her words and pronunciations on a very regular basis , as does Gillian Marles , Gary Robertson sighs into the mike for effect when anyone from the SNP is on . This is one program I would scrap along with Call Kaye (although I don’t know why it is called that as she is rarely there ! ) , fat chance of that happening though , they tried to oust Gary Robertson a few years ago and it nearly caused a strike with BBC Scotland journalists ! .

  8. Cliff Purvis

    I think that we stand little to no chance of changing the attitude of the BBC. It is after all the state broadcaster and as such is so intertwined with the established way of government in this fractured Union for it to change the political will from Westminster would need to change. This we know will never happen for there are to many “born to power” running the show and by that I do not mean those elected but instead refer to those that stalk the dim corridors of Whitehall. Those unelected Mandarins who operate in a shadow world of subterfuge and back stabbing.
    The whole system is heavy with the stench of decay we need to move on, detach ourselves from the last bastion of empire.

  9. Martin McMahon

    I agree wholeheartedly with your point about the BBC allowing the newspapers to set the news agenda. This is not just a problem on GMS, exactly the same thing happens on the Today programme on R4, thus allowing politically biased newspapers to set the news agenda of the supposedly politically neutral public broadcaster. Something must be done about this.

  10. David Hooks

    I’ve heard Nicola Sturgeon do the same “laugh of incredulity” when commenting on something that she clearly wasn’t laughing about or considered frivolous. I too have issues with GMS and I know that sometimes it can make me scream at the radio, but seeing the accusation in print that a government minister was questioned in an aggressive manner does give me cause for concern. Surely government ministers shouldn’t get an easy ride and should be able to answer questions? If they can’t then the public will decide whether it was a reasonable question.
    Having said that, I would certainly like to see opposition politicians given the same level of scrutiny since their own positions should be examined to an equal level. I know there are presenters who I would describe as biased but Gary wouldn’t be one. I’ve heard him time and again give just as tough a grilling to Labour and Tory ministers, though with less interruptions.
    In short, I agree there is some level of bias, but I’m uncomfortable with the idea that the media shouldn’t ask tough questions of government minsters.

    1. John

      You hit it on the head there David with ” less interruptions ” . Gary Robertson is a master at this , he will allow Unionist Politian’s to rant on with their SNP BAD remarks for as long as they like , but he will cut off an SNP Politian’s in the middle of an explanation so that we rarely get the full story .This is just plain bad biased journalism ! .

  11. Bob Nugent

    Need to get a backbone

  12. ruth

    Oh dear! I just googled ‘Gary Robertson’ because I am so tired of listening to his rude, aggressive interviewing style. We learn nothing about the politicians he ‘interviews’ due to his self indulgent hectoring, interrupting and sniggering. Having read the above comments it seems there’s little point complaining as he’s obviously ‘in with the bricks’. He doesn’t only do it with SNP politicians by the way – just whoever he has it in for that day. He puts me in mind of a schoolboy trying to emulate John Humphrys.

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