BBC Reporting Scotland Analysis – Week Beginning 2 October 2017

Monday, 2 October 2017 | Police Scotland | Catalonia | Conservatives

Police Scotland
A fourth serious complaint has been made against Phil Gormley, the Chief Constable of Police Scotland, who is currently on special administrative leave while three existing complaints are investigated by the Scottish Police Authority. Reevel Anderson’s report focuses on the call from Kenny MacAskill, the former Justice Secretary, for Gormley to step down.

What is noteworthy in this report is that it gives the BBC the opportunity to describe the reorganisation of the police in Scotland as “controversial” and Willie Rennie as its “arch-critic.” These points are quite irrelevant to a report on the alleged misconduct of the Chief Constable. Regardless of the calls for Gormley’s resignation, the hands of the Scottish government are tied. It must wait until the investigations have been concluded.

Jackie Bird introduces this brief report on events in Catalonia by linking them to Scotland’s 2014 independence referendum, thus framing how the Catalan referendum is to be understood. Contrary to the evidence and Niall O’Gallagher’s previous report, she describes “violent clashes” between police and voters as opposed to the more accurate ‘violent attacks by Spanish Police’. In this segment from Barcelona Niall O’Gallagher correctly maintains that this was police violence rather than violent exchanges as Bird’s “clashes” would imply.

Tricia Marwick, the former Presiding Officer, spoke of Catalonia’s referendum being about people’s right to vote and Nicola Sturgeon asked for the Spanish and Catalan governments to find a way forward. The Secretary of State for Scotland, David Mundell, said that he “obviously” condemns violence “everywhere,” before adding, “…but this is a matter for Spain.”

At the Conservative Party conference in Manchester David Mundell called on the SNP to rule out a second independence referendum in Scotland altogether. Yet this comes amidst a Conservative leadership crisis, one which Ruth Davidson hopes people ‘manning up’ will solve. The conclusion on independence, according to Nick Eardley, is that it’s “on the backburner.”

It is interesting that Brian Taylor, BBC political editor, challenges the accepted rhetoric of the British government in saying that the “common sense proposals” on the return of powers from Europe are not seen as such by the Scottish government. The recurring theme in this report is that the UK government is weak, with the possible frameworks for sharing returning powers being contentious – “even within the UK government.” As the Brexit talks continue in Europe and as the standoff between Westminster and Holyrood intensifies, it is clear that May’s government is weakening. This is not being discussed in any great depth on the BBC.


Tuesday, 3 October 2017 | Fracking Ban | Obesity | Improvement Collaboratives | Brexit Talks | Offensive Behaviour

Fracking Ban
Glenn Campbell’s report on the effective ban on fracking in Scotland makes it impossible for the Scottish government to take any credit for doing something good. On the one hand the viewer is informed that hydro-fracturing is already “big business” in the United States, that industry here is “bitterly disappointed,” and that we have given up on the jobs that fracking would bring to the country. On the other hand, if banning fracking is the right thing, then the Scottish government hasn’t gone far enough. Labour, we are told, has pushed the government to introduce legislation, making fracking illegal.

What isn’t mentioned by Glenn Campbell is that Scottish Labour previously opposed an all-out ban.  The party wanted local communities to decide via a local referendum whether fracking could take place.

In this segment by Aileen Clarke we are told that two out of three Scots are overweight and the call is made for the Scottish government to do more to address the problem. The government’s evidence based strategy on smoking has had a certain level of success and this is the approach to obesity taken by Aileen Campbell, the Public Health Secretary. The message of healthy eating has been taken up by three quarters of school children, but the emphasis of the report is on the quarter that has been “left behind.” It is interesting that, despite the established link between obesity and poverty, there is no analysis of the socio-economic factors behind obesity in this report.

Improvement Collaboratives
Here we have another example of a missed opportunity for Reporting Scotland to deliver an Education good news story. Jamie McIvor’s in-studio interview looks at the success of the creation of Improvement Collaboratives; boards for sharing best practice in education across Scotland’s local authorities, a programme that has ensured that councils and Education Scotland can work together without compromising individual council’s autonomy Throughout the interview the language is muted and matter-of-fact, with a closing comment on the initiative not being thought “radical enough” by some who first felt it might be a power grab by central government.

Brexit Talks
Reporting from the Conservative Party conference David Porter manages to make the Downing Street promise of face-to-face talks between Theresa May and Nicola Sturgeon over the Brexit deadlock sound like British government magnanimity.

The “fundamental differences” between the Scottish and British governments over the repatriation of powers from Brussels is a crisis entirely of the British government’s making, and yet the BBC presents this promise as a concession, as though the UK is an honest broker engaged in the process of trying to find a fair solution.

Not mentioned in the item were news reports from July in which a Downing Street source insisted that Nicola Sturgeon would not be granted any meeting with Theresa May over Brexit.

Offensive Behaviour
The Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications Act 2012 was introduced by the Scottish government in order to tackle hate crime – and in particular sectarianism, but again we have a Reporting Scotland report claiming it to be a law “beset by problems.” We are told that Scottish Labour wants this Act to be repealed and that supporters’ groups say it “victimises” them and the game. Paul Quigley, representing Fans Against Criminalisation, giving evidence to a government committee, makes the rather amusing claim that since the introduction of the law there is “now a suspicion between fans and police.”

Not mentioned in the item is the fact that surveys show members of the public actually support the Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications Act.


Wednesday, 4 October 2017 | Threat of Nationalism | Fragile Economy | Miscarriages

Threat of Nationalism
In the course of what Brian Taylor, Reporting Scotland’s political editor, described as a “calamitous” keynote speech at the Conservative Party conference in Manchester, Theresa May made the claim that the “threat of nationalism” had been set back by the last general election. This language perpetuates the idea that Scotland’s growing desire for independence is somehow dangerous and a menace, thus allowing her to state: The “case for a second referendum in Scotland – denied.”

Back in the studio Jackie Bird reminds viewers that “the nationalists” here are the SNP, but nothing is said of the catalogue of setbacks suffered by Theresa May’s deteriorating Tory government as a result of the same general election. Some credit has to be given to Brian Taylor, however, who noted that feeling for Mrs May has moved from compassion to pity; not a good emotion for a Prime Minister.

Fragile Economy
Scotland’s economy is growing. Growth since Brexit has slowed, and that – considering the lack of power the Scottish government has over the worsening situation – is to be expected, yet this is not how Reporting Scotland reports the state of the Scottish economy. Research by the Fraser of Allander Institute – an economic and policy think tank – shows that the incline of economic growth in Scotland has decreased over the last quarter; an observation reported by the BBC as evidence of how “fragile” the Scottish economy is, with a growth rate only a third of that of the rest of the UK.

There is no discussion of what economic growth looks like over the English regions, leading us to the assumption that growth over the rest of the UK – against which Scotland is to be compared – is a sum total distorted by the effect of the City of London. That such a comparison is made – deliberately presenting Scotland as too poor – is unfair and highly manipulative.

It is “utterly unacceptable” that a woman would have to wait five weeks for surgery after suffering a miscarriage. No one will argue with this conclusion, but the use of what was clearly an isolated incident to spin a healthcare crisis story is deplorable. In this report by Catriona Renton, the Chief Medical Officer made it clear that all health authorities across Scotland would be investigated to ensure the best possible waiting times for all, but still this report focused on rumour to imply that four and five weeks waiting were becoming normal. This segment is ethically problematic to say the least.


Thursday, 5 October 2017 | Cancer Benefit | Air Passenger Taxation

Cancer Benefit
Peter Hastie, speaking on behalf of the cancer charity Macmillan Cancer, has urged the Scottish government to “do the right thing” and reinstate the Employment Support Allowance; a benefit to cancer sufferers cut by the Westminster government. Shelley Jofre’s report looks at the impact money worries have on people suffering from cancer and their families, with some people refusing potentially life-saving treatment for fear of losing their jobs and getting into debt. Alex Rowley, the interim Scottish Labour leader, said reinstating this benefit “is not a lot,” but scant attention is given in the report to the number of Westminster cuts the Scottish government is under pressure to mitigate.

Nicola Sturgeon, the First Minister, has said that her government simply cannot replace everything that has been slashed by the London government, and that mitigation means that money has to come from elsewhere. We cannot help but notice that the focus of this article is wrong. In reality this should be a report on the impact a London-driven programme of austerity is having on Scotland.

Air Passenger Taxation
Plans to devolve Air Passenger Tax to Holyrood have been delayed over a row concerning the exemptions to airports in the Highlands and Islands. Derek MacKay, the Finance Secretary, has accused the British government of attempting to pass powers to Scotland that are unworkable under the conditions London has created. The UK response is that this is “simply untrue,” giving the impression that the Scottish government is telling lies, and giving Murdo Fraser the platform to state that the Scottish government is trying to “weasel out” of taking responsibility and so losing out on the added revenue this would bring. We note that no serious effort is made to explain the details of this dispute, thus we have nothing but another opportunity to suggest the Scottish government is being less than honest.


Friday, 6 October 2017 | Conservative Leadership Crisis

Conservative Leadership Crisis
Andrew Kerr’s report makes it clear there is a serious and developing crisis of leadership in the Conservative Party. While Scotland’s Tory MPs, mostly new to the job, remain behind the Prime Minister, there are up to 30 MPs – some of whom are former Cabinet members – who have lined up to move against her. Kerr’s report is openly hostile to Mrs May, commenting that she was in a panic when she claimed she was providing calm leadership.

Other than the focus of the report being on the person of Theresa May there is no discussion on the pressures that have been brought to bear against the British government; pressures that have played a significant part in creating this leadership wobble. It may appear that the BBC is taking a negative position against the government here, but that negativity is singularly directed towards a Prime Minister one would expect now to be on the way out.

The report turns to the coming SNP conference in Glasgow – as a distraction perhaps – and reminds the viewer that the SNP lost over a third of its MPs in the last election. It neglects to mention that having previously won 56 seats at Westminster was an exception, and that its current number is still both a majority and impressive. We are told that the SNP will be debating Brexit, public sector pay, and “of course talking about independence too


Saturday, 7 October 2017 | Conservative Leadership Crisis

Conservative Leadership Crisis
It is not easy to fathom what this BBC Reporting Scotland bulletin is trying to say. On the one hand it makes it very clear that there is an active plot against Theresa May, undermining public confidence in her ability to run the country. On the other hand it sets up a number of almost comical defences of her as Prime Minister. Ruth Davidson, seen on video running from the cameras while extolling the heroism of Mrs May for getting through her calamitous conference speech, claims that the plotters are not led by anyone serious. Then we have the young Tory councillor Thomas Kerr saying “Ruth is like a celebrity.” It is possible and not altogether unlikely that the BBC is being tongue in cheek here, subtly pointing to the farce the Conservative government has become.


Sunday, 8 October 2017 | SNP Party Conference

SNP Party Conference
Brian Taylor’s overview of the SNP conference is predictably reductionist, reducing the thrust of the article to the question of independence. John Swinney, the Minister for Education, announced plans to help people transition in their career paths from business and industry to teaching, with an added bursary to assist them. Yet this is shunted from centre stage in the report as we are told that while Mr Swinney asked the party to rededicate itself to independence, the leadership “won’t even contemplate another referendum” until the shape of Brexit is better known. “Caution” being the “constitutional watchword” is a phrase used as a device to imply weakness.


Additional Comment
Missing from any of the news reports on Reporting Scotland was a trip to Dublin by the First Minister.  Nicola Sturgeon gave a keynote speech to the Dublin Chamber of Commerce on Thursday October 5th.  Nicola Sturgeon also met Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar at the start of her two-day trip to Dublin.  The trip was completely ignored by the flagship news programme.  Below is the speech in full.


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One thought on “BBC Reporting Scotland Analysis – Week Beginning 2 October 2017

  1. Liam Joseph

    This freelance journalist must be hot stuff. £100 smackers for something that clearly isn’t journalism. Where are your facts matey? Why don’t you understand news priorities and basics like syntax choices.

    Love the howlers “Brian Taylor’s overview of the SNP conference is predictably reductionist, reducing…”
    The word is “reductive” and no real journo would put it beside “reducing”.

    Congrats on bilking cash from the gullible but the “journalist” you are using wouldn’t crack Bute FM.

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