The Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications Act [OBFA] is headline news again. Opposition MSPs are apparently to gang up ‘Edinburgh Trams’ style to vote against it.
By the time you read this the Scottish Greens will either have abstained on a Tory MSP motion to “repeal the Act as a matter of priority” or backed it. If Patrick Harvie’s group join with the Tories, Labour and the Lib Dems it will guarantee a defeat for the Scottish Government.
It will also place the Greens in the invidious position of prioritising the repeal of an anti-abuse law over anything else … even renewable energy which hit the headlines on the same day as the debate.
The Motion by a Tory MSP will be supported by the other two Unionist groups at Holyrood. The Lib Dems will join Scottish Labour as they seek to undermine the SNP.
And make no mistake, that is all this vote is about – getting the Nats. This vote is not about improving legislation or tackling the cancer of sectarianism that finds incubation in and around two football clubs. It is about political point scoring. Nothing more.
It’s why BBC Scotland is providing the meaningless motion with coverage far and above that which it merits. It’s also why the institutionally corrupt broadcaster is targeting, not the Scottish Government in its headlines, but the SNP.
The BBC operates an unwritten protocol whenever elected governments are defeated. That protocol distinguishes between the party forming the government and the government itself. Recent defeats for the UK Government have been headlined as exactly what they are, governmental – not party – defeats.
Below is a selection of recent votes that went against the UK Government.
Universal Benefits defeat
Sunday Trading defeat
Trade union funding defeat
In all of the above examples, not one headline described the UK Government as anything other than ‘The Government’. The BBC never once used ‘Tory’ or ‘Conservative’ or the phrase ‘Tory Government’ or ‘Conservative Government’. I checked using a simple Google search and all recent government defeats are reported in this same technically correct fashion.
But the protocol changes abruptly when it comes to the Scottish Government. Alongside is the headline on the main BBC Scotland news page on the morning of the day the OBFA vote took place.
‘SNP facing defeat in football act vote’
A meaningless piece of politically motivated symbolism was the second most important story that day. Note how it is the SNP facing defeat and not the Scottish Government.
Why the change in protocol when it comes to the Scottish Government facing defeat is not immediately apparent.
That morning’s broadcast news was similarly manipulated. The clip below is an example of several news bulletins broadcast on Radio Scotland on Wednesday morning.
If you listenened to the clip you’ll have noticed Gary Robertson repeat the line that the SNP is facing defeat. You’ll also notice reporter Philip Sim claim that a defeat will “pile pressure” on ministers to re-assess the future of the legislation.
Why this would ‘pile pressure’ on ministers is not immediately apparent. The legislation is backed by a majority of people in Scotland.
One way of course to apply pressure on a political party is by repeatedly headlining opposition criticism but not to highlight public support.
This selective coverage will of course influence public opinion such that support may begin to shift. This is propaganda.
Another way to ensure maximum pressure is applied to only one side in the political debate is by refusing to highlight hypocrisy in the stance of those seeking to apply the pressure. For example the BBC has yet to draw attention to the fact that the Labour MSP calling for the legislation to be scrapped has himself called for new legislation to deal with football related sectarianism.
Five years ago Labour MSP James Kelly called for the law governing online sites to be strengthened. On 22nd April, two weeks before the 2011 Holyrood election, James Kelly released the following statement regarding sectarianism on football related internet sites.
“It’s clear from recent days that there are still instances of online campaigns which are sectarian in nature and are unacceptable.
“As well as condemning that behaviour, the authorities should be doing all in their power to try and clamp down on that. The job for a future parliament is to look at the laws around the internet and examine whether they’re tough enough or not – and if they’re not, look to beef those up.
“It’s not just a case of saying that these online campaigns are unacceptable and we want the authorities to act. We must ensure that the authorities have got the appropriate tools in legislation at their disposal to clamp down on this.”
Few people will recall that James Kelly’s Labour colleague, MSP Michael McMahon, actually called for a change to Scots law after an infamous incident at a football match at Tynecastle saw Celtic manager Neil Lennon attacked by a fan. After the jury returned a ‘Not Proven’ verdict, McMahon issued the following statement:
“The Neil Lennon case highlights the problems with the not proven verdict. Millions saw the incident on television and were astonished by the verdict.
“It is important the public have faith in our justice system and this comes at a sensitive time for Scotland as we come to terms with how we deal with sectarianism.
“The not proven verdict is both unjust and unnecessary.”
BBC Scotland has no intention of highlighting Scottish Labour’s blatant hypocrisy. To do so would risk exposing the failing party as nothing more than an opportunistic Unionist group seeking to make political capital out of a problem that blights pockets of Scottish society and Scottish football.
But using meaningless Holyrood votes in order to undermine the SNP isn’t just a one-off by BBC Scotland.
In September a similar vote on health resulted in opposition MSPs ganging up to defeat the government. The headline again targeted the SNP.
But what happenes when the ruse goes horribly wrong as it did when Kezia Dugdale failed to vote against the Scottish Government on the issue of council tax?
Did the BBC headline it as a win for the SNP?
No, of course it didn’t. There wasn’t a mention for the SNP in the headline. Quite remarkably the BBC protocol of being technically correct kicked in.
BBC Scotland’s coverage of the OBFA vote is predictable. A defeat for the government will be headlined as a defeat for the SNP. In radio and TV bulletins the public will be told that this ‘piles pressure’ on the SNP. James Kelly’s own calls for legislation to deal with internet sites will never feature, nor will the call by his colleague Michael McMahon to scrap the ‘Not Proven’ verdict. The public’s support for OBFA will be played down or ignored altogether.
BBC Scotland is institutionally incapable of covering Scottish politics in a fair, informative and balanced manner. The OBFA circus proves it, as though we needed more proof.
There is a scheduled screening of the documentary inspired by my book on Saturday November 5th in Dundee. It is free. Details HERE.
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