When is a Better Together broken promise not a broken promise? When the BBC reports it as having been honoured, is the answer.
Last week the UK Government announced that eight Type 26 frigates would be built at BAE’s Glasgow shipyards. UK Defence Minister Michael Fallon visited the Clydeside Yards to confirm the orders.
The announcement was trailed on Friday morning’s Good Morning Scotland. Listeners were told that the eight frigates were a key pledge made to Scots before the 2014 independence referendum.
Below are examples of news bulletins broadcast that morning.
Most people going about their morning routine would have been left with the impression that the UK Government had, albeit belatedly, honoured a key referendum pledge. They would have gone about their daily business thinking no more about the matter. But how many of them will know that they had been misled?
The pledge made to Scottish voters before the 2014 independence referendum wasn’t for eight frigates, it was thirteen. The promise of thirteen Type 26 frigates was punted relentlessly by Unionists.
Scottish Labour produced a campaign leaflet that clearly stated a No vote would guarantee 13 Type 26 frigates would be built on Clydeside. The leaflet was endorsed by MP Ian Davidson who was then the chair of the influential Scottish Affairs Committee at Westminster. Davidson appeared regularly across the wider Scottish media pushing his claim.
The media in Scotland wasn’t slow in pushing the 13 frigate promise as excerpts from several newspapers below indicate.
Daily Record, Nov 7th 2013
The order for 13 Type 26 vessels will not be placed until after the September 2014 referendum on independence. If that results in separation Carmichael said there would be no chance of the order being placed in Scotland.
The Telegraph, Nov 6th 2013
A final decision on the contract for 13 Type 26 Global Combat Ships will not be made until after the referendum, when there would still be time to reprieve shipbuilding at the Hampshire yard.
Daily Mail Nov 7th 2013
The MOD is expected to announce the contract for 13 frigates, with each vessel estimated to cost up to £350 million.
The importance of the pledge to the campaign to keep Scotland in the Union was confirmed in an article in The Guardian shortly after the independence referendum result:
The pledge to build the 13 new Type 26 frigates on the Clyde to safeguard Glasgow’s last remaining shipyards was central to the UK government’s campaign against independence. Seen as a crucial part of the union dividend, it was endorsed repeatedly by Fallon and his predecessor, Phillip Hammond, on national security grounds.
The first inkling that the UK Government was planning on rescinding on its pledge to build 13 Type 26 frigates appeared within two months of the September 2014 referendum when a headline appeared in The Scotsman newspaper.
The article contained the following sentence:
‘The contract, thought to be worth £4 billion, would be to build 13 new type 26 frigates, the next generation of warship for the UK to replace the type 23 frigates which are going out of service.’
The pledge was eventually reduced as a result of a Strategic Defence Review just over a year later.
The announcement was reported in typical fashion by BBC Scotland with the broadcaster spinning it as good news.
The new ‘positive’ headline replaced the original more accurate headline which read ‘MoD to reduce Clyde frigate order‘.
How was this possible you ask? Well the positive spin headline was based on comments from Jim Moohan of the GMB union.
On the day the Tory Government announced the order was to be cut, Moohan gave a quite bizarre statement to BBC Scotland, calling it “great news”.
“Once again this is great news for Clydeside, which has been rewarded for its continuing quality of work produced by the skills and experience heavily invested in by BAE Systems.
“Instead of the peaks and troughs which caused redundancies in the past, we now have continuity.
“This should be welcomed and not used for political mischief by those who have no knowledge in this area of industry and whose vision going forward was a dated Type 42 Destroyer to be the sole protection for Scottish waters in the event that the referendum question had answered Yes.”
Moohan’s statement, which welcomed a Tory order cut for the Clyde yards and certain job losses, allowed BBC Scotland to turn a bad news headline into a good news headline as you can see below. It’s worth remembering that this apparent ‘confirmation’ was being reported by BBC Scotland 12 months before Michael Fallon officially announced it.
The statement from the trade union official was curious given that seven days earlier he had called the cut from thirteen Type 26 frigates to eight “very serious” and warned it could lead to job losses.
Moohan told the Scotsman newspaper:
“I raised this with Philip Dunne recently when the first steel was cut for the ships. We have certainly heard rumours that the number of ships could be reduced, which would be very serious.”
“Obviously the Ministry of Defence contracts are vital for the continuation of shipbuilding work on the Clyde and at Rosyth, and if the number of ships is reduced then that means less work and potentially will lead to people being laid off.”
Jim Moohan of course backed the Better Together campaign aimed at keeping Scotland in the Union as he made clear with his statement in July 2014.
“I believe that the defence manufacturing and related sector will crumble in a short to medium time if there’s a yes vote. I don’t have any positive vibes about it all.”
Last Friday evening the eight Type 26 frigate confirmation was the top story on Reporting Scotland. The extensive piece made no mention whatsoever of the indyref promise of thirteen frigates.
But has BBC Scotland ever confirmed the reduction from thirteen to eight? Well yes. The frigates were an issue in this year’s Scottish election campaign. The clip below shows BBC Scotland reporter Glenn Campbell confirming the order was indeed reduced from 13 to 8, although the BBC Scotland reporter was careful not to make clear it was an indyref pledge that was being broken.
The corporation has no excuse for misreporting it last week. Oh, the clip starts with Ruth Davidson making more promises. Will those be honoured in full?
At every turn, BBC Scotland has sought to downplay what is a broken promise by the UK Government on one of the key indyref issues. When the thirteen frigates was reduced to eight in November 2015 it meant the promise would never be kept. That there are five less expensive replacement vessels that may go to the Clyde makes no difference. The pledge was thirteen Type 26 vessels.
Last week on Good Morning Scotland we had presenters reporting that the indyref pledge was not for 13 Type 26 frigates but for eight. This is a quite deliberate attempt to mislead the public.
I don’t trust the Good Morning Scotland team. Someone in the team deliberately prepared news bulletins that were false. The show’s presenters read out the falsehoods several times. It is, in my view, inconceivable that both Gary Robertson and Hayley Millar were unaware that the indyref pledge was for thirteen Type 26 frigates.
Oh, one final note of interest. The clip below shows STV’s Political Editor Bernard Ponsonby pressing Michael Fallon on the issue of frigates and a possible independent Scotland. You won’t ever see anything like this on Reporting Scotland.
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