A vote took place in Holyrood on Tuesday. MSPs were debating a motion lodged by Scottish Government minister Keith Brown who was seeking support across the chamber in order to strengthen the argument for Scotland to remain a member of the EU Single Market following Brexit.
The motion can be read below.
That the Parliament recognises the overwhelming vote of the people of Scotland to remain in the EU; supports calls for clarity from the UK Government on its proposals to leave the EU, including whether it will seek continued membership of the single market; notes the reports of the Fraser of Allander Institute and the National Institute of Social and Economic Research regarding the negative impact that leaving the single market would have on the UK and Scottish economies; recognises the opportunities for business and citizens that come from a Europe-wide approach to trade, regulation and free movement and the importance of ensuring that the benefits of this are shared fairly across society; supports the Scottish Government’s efforts to assist businesses in Scotland to secure new international opportunities; believes that the UK Government should seek to maintain Scotland’s place in the single market, and, in the event that the UK Government cannot or will not secure that option, calls for Scotland’s place in the single market to be fully protected.
There’s not much to disagree with here, unless you’re a Conservative MSP in which case calling for clarity from a Tory government at Westminster might be a tad awkward. The motion makes no reference to independence or any veiled threat of a second independence referendum. It’s a pretty generic pro-European statement which marries social equality, business interests and European integration sentiments.
Not one of Holyrood’s Unionist parties backed the motion. The Tories voted against as did the Lib Dems. Scottish Labour refused to even take part in the vote.
The vote made it onto that evening’s Reporting Scotland. It was the number one item as you can see below.
Let’s take a look at this news item in detail.
The first thing to note is the introduction by Jackie Bird who tells viewers that “opposition parties” have refused to back the Scottish Government. This isn’t accurate. The actuality is that only some opposition parties refused to back the motion. Those parties were of course the three Unionist parties. The Scottish Greens backed the motion. What BBC Scotland has done is to hide the fact that the Unionist bloc that has refused to back calls for Scotland’s Single Market status to be protected.
By using the phrase ‘opposition parties’ instead of the more precise ‘Unionist parties’ BBC Scotland is inviting the viewer to infer that all opposition parties are united against the Scottish Government. The reality of the vote, that the Scottish Greens backed the motion, is not made clear until right at the end of the clip, by which time many people may have already have been misled.
It isn’t immediately clear that the Scottish Government has actually won the vote. Jackie Bird introduces the news item merely describing the vote as ‘division’ and a ‘row’. Like the refusal to inform viewers that the Scottish Greens backed the motion, the fact that the SNP motion was successful is not mentioned until right at the end.
This is inconsistent as recent BBC Scotland coverage of key Holyrood votes makes clear.
In September when a Labour motion on the Scottish NHS attracted majority support in the Holyrood chamber, it was headlined across BBC Scotland media as a defeat for the SNP Government. The ‘SNP defeat’ was the central thrust of news reports.
It was a major news item on that evening’s Reporting Scotland, as the video clip below shows.
There was similar coverage of the recent OBFA vote where the defeat for the Scottish Government became the focal point of the BBC’s coverage. OBFA was featured on the Radio Scotland morning phone-in programme.
Even prior to the vote the potential defeat of the ‘minority SNP Government’ was pushed relentlessly on TV and radio.
Perhaps the most relevant Holyrood vote to be covered by the BBC was the ‘fracking ban’ vote which again saw the defeat of the SNP become the central theme of the broadcaster’s coverage. Why is this relevant you ask? Well before I explain its relevance, let’s return to the Single Market vote that took place on Tuesday.
Reporting Scotland’s coverage, as well as playing down the win for the Scottish Government, also played down the behaviour of the Unionist parties. In particular the Scottish Labour party. Indeed much of the item didn’t deal with the vote at all, but skewed off into another area.
If you had relied on Reporting Scotland to inform you of the details of the vote you would be none the wiser as to how Labour MSPs voted. That’s a significant number of the population. Nobody who tuned into Reporting Scotland would have learned that Scottish Labour refused to take part in the vote. Kezia Dugdale’s party abstained.
What ought to have been a key element of the news coverage was simply airbrushed out.
Viewers were denied the opportunity of contrasting Dugdale’s previous support for Scotland remaining in the single market with her refusal to formally confirm that support in a parliamentary vote.
But is the abstention of a party in a key Holyrood vote really something Reporting Scotland would normally highlight? This is where the ‘Fracking Ban’ vote become relevant. The reason the June vote is particularly relevant is because it saw the SNP abstain. And look how this vote was covered on that evening’s Reporting Scotland.
Not only did the programme highlight the vote result at the outset, it also gave prominent coverage to the fact that the SNP had abstained. This is as clear an example of an editorial double-standard as you’ll get.
The decision by the SNP to abstain wasn’t just reported in isolation, it was carefully analysed by Brian Taylor. This is of course in contrast to the approach taken by the presenter when confronted with Scottish Labour’s behaviour on Tuesday.
Reporting Scotland and Brian Taylor had a clear duty to highlight the behaviour of Labour in refusing to back Keith Brown’s motion. Reporting Scotland was required to show consistency in its coverage of Scottish politics and not to behave in a manner that suggests there still exists a protective favouritism towards the Labour party in Scotland. Viewers who pay their TV licence deserved to be informed of the petty politicking of a party that makes much of its pro-EU credentials. BBC Scotland, as is becoming the norm these days, let the public down.
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