What was the biggest story of the general election campaign last week?
In terms of the UK campaign it was the leak of Labour’s manifesto. But what was it in terms of the Scottish campaign?
I’d argue it was a photograph linking Ruth Davidson with someone who it later transpired was responsible for posting racist and sectarian abuse on social media.
John William Buchan had also called for someone to “take down” and “take out” First Minister Nicola Sturgeon. The Facebook and Twitter accounts of the Company Director and former fisherman were later closed down.
The Press and Journal newspaper reported that Buchan has since been reported to the police. This though hasn’t merited a mention on BBC Scotland which is odd given that similar online threats against prominent Better Together supporter JK Rowling back in 2014 did lead to headlines.
The exposure of Buchan followed a catalogue of exposés involving several Scottish Conservative councillors. The revelations included a new Scottish Conservative councillor who had been posting sexually explicit messages online. Another was found to have posted racist material on social media.
It’s an absolute disaster of a general election campaign for Ruth Davidson by any measure, her latest blunder-stunt involves tweets about the IRA.
But she’s not the one currently in the BBC cross-hairs. That accolade has gone to Nicola Sturgeon.
Last week I came across an article on the BBC Scotland news page. The article headline read Sturgeon: 50p income tax rate ‘under review’.
The article was puzzling as I knew that Nicola Sturgeon had been highlighting the growing use of Foodbanks in Scotland.
Why would she overshadow the Foodbank campaign message with a statement on high-rate income tax, especially when it wasn’t a Westminster issue?
Shortly afterwards I heard a news bulletin on Radio Scotland. The newsreader informed listeners that the issue of higher-rate tax had “dominated” that day’s general election campaign. Below is the clip in question.
The news report, as you can hear, includes attacks on the SNP by the party’s Unionist opponents. But was it an issue that had genuinely dominated the day’s campaign as claimed? Had it emerged, well, organically?
The answer is no. The so-called ‘dominant’ issue was in fact planted by the BBC. Nicola Sturgeon, whilst holding her campaign event, had been door-stepped by a BBC reporter and asked whether the party would be altering its 50p tax rate policy. The First Minister gave a lengthy answer which made clear the policy remained as stated in the party’s 2016 Holyrood manifesto.
The 2016 manifesto included the following paragraph:
“We will ask the Council of Economic Advisers to consider how and to what extent this risk can be mitigated and if we are sufficiently assured that it can be, we will consider raising the additional rate from 45p to 50p from 2018/19 onwards.”
The issue had been raised at Holyrood the previous day when Labour MSP Anas Sarwar asked Finance Secretary Derek Mackay to set out the SNP government’s current position.
Mackay responded by virtually quoting the 2016 manifesto: “The First Minister has asked the Council of Economic Advisers to consider how and to what extent this risk can be mitigated, and if we are sufficiently assured that it can be, that we consider raising the additional rate from 45p to 50p from 2018/19 onwards as part of budget considerations.”
So, a policy that had been clearly stated for a full year had not altered one iota. But BBC Scotland presented it as though it had. This allowed the SNP’s opponents to attack a ‘change’ that was in fact a BBC fabrication.
But I had another issue with the BBC’s coverage of higher-rate income tax. The issue is devolved. It has nothing at all to do with the Westminster General Election. And it’s not the only devolved issue that the BBC is quietly shoehorning into this general election campaign.
This weekend witnessed a virtual hijack of Nicola Sturgeon on the Andrew Marr show. Marr, as can be seen in this clip, interviewed the First Minister on his Sunday morning programme.
Incredibly, in what was billed as a general election interview, Marr spent his time ignoring Westminster issues. Nicola Sturgeon was quizzed mainly on Scottish education, a little on Nurses’ pay and finally membership of the European Union in the context of Scottish independence.
Immediately following the interview, the BBC included the First Minister’s answers on education in its general election news coverage.
The interview was the top story on the BBC Scotland online news page. It was also included in the BBC’s general election coverage on the UK national news.
A devolved issue has nothing whatsoever to do with the general election. Why was it being presented as though relevant?
Reporting Scotland was even worse. The opening remarks from the presenter will ring a bell “Devolved issues dominated”. She also claims “…the parties chose mainly to talk about subjects which are the Scottish parliaments responsibility.”
The SNP of course didn’t choose to talk about devolved issues. Nicola Sturgeon was asked about them by Andrew Marr. It was the BBC who made the subject of Scottish education that day’s subject. Just as in the case of the higher-rate tax rate, the BBC had determined what issue would ‘dominate’ that day’s news.
If you watched the Reporting Scotland item closely you’ll notice that the Scottish Greens were also presented on the defensive. Patrick Harvie’s party has already being presented as being in some kind of secret electoral pact with the SNP. BBC Scotland online headlines are helping promote the idea.
What we have is an attempt by BBC Scotland to help pro-Union parties in this general election by turning devolved areas into general election issues. This of course ensures that Nicola Sturgeon’s party is presented on the back foot.
It’s why the racism and sectarianism running through branches of the Scottish Conservative party are being ignored.
It’s why Ruth Davidson’s car-crash interview wasn’t featured on BBC Scotland news, save for a heavily spun article claiming the Scottish Conservative leader was open to reviewing the Rape Clause policy.
Ask yourself, does the BBC Scotland ‘open to review’ article really match the content of the interview above?
The state broadcaster is protecting one party leader whilst at the same time cultivating a news narrative designed to place her rival onto the back foot. Devolved issues are being hijacked.
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