I once heard a story about the late Who drummer, and notorious prankster, Keith Moon. The story goes that Moon, along with accomplices, would buy around twenty editions of the London Evening Standard whereupon they would be stored away for one year.
Exactly one year later the drummer and his mates would each take a copy of the year old newspaper and head to the London Tube. A carriage would be commandeered with each sitting a few seats away from the other reading their year old copies of the Evening Standard.
As commuters got on and took a seat, they would notice the headline on the newspaper which of course was exactly one year old. A look of puzzled bewilderment would pass over the faces of the unwitting commuters as they scanned the front of each paper, all with the same year old headline. The commuters left the train carriage in a state of cutter confusion.
I had a similar experience on Sunday when I turned on Radio Scotland. The news bulletins informed me that the Royal Bank of Scotland planned to move its HQ in the event of a Yes vote. Are they replaying old bulletins from 2014 I wondered? Nope, it really was ‘news’.
How can it be news I thought? If RBS already announced its plans in the event of a Yes vote in 2014 then it’s news only if those plans had altered. I was genuinely puzzled as to why it was being re-run. Then all was explained.
The so-called news was nothing more than an answer given by RBS chief executive Ross McEwan to a question from BBC Scotland’s Douglas Fraser. When asked whether RBS would relocate its HQ, McEwan confirmed what he had said in 2014. If that’s news then every threat, scare and prediction of doom announced by businesses two years ago is also news.
The headlining of the comments as ‘RBS confirms it will move HQ’ was of course for the benefit of those who do not follow politics closely. There will still be those who believe that the bank will move lock, stock and barrel out of Scotland and that thousands of jobs will go with it.
But it provides an opportunity to remind readers of the backdrop to the original story that broke back in September 2014 and the role played by the BBC in spreading misinformation.
In the final week of the campaign, the BBC broke a story claiming the Royal Bank of Scotland would relocate to England in the event of a Yes vote, the BBC story implied significant job losses. Hours after the BBC broke the story, RBS’s chairman was forced to issue a memo to staff insisting a Yes vote would not affect jobs or operations.
The following morning an angry Alex Salmond appeared on Radio Scotland and demanded the BBC correct its reporting and clarify that that no jobs were at risk.
The story though had already been picked up by other media outlets which were running with the initial BBC line regarding job losses. The job loss claim embedded.
It later emerged that the BBC had reported the story after having been contacted by someone at the UK Treasury. It also emerged that the Treasury had passed information to the broadcaster whilst senior management at RBS were still holding their board meeting and had yet to make any public announcement. Salmond claimed that by passing market sensitive information to the BBC, the UK Treasury may have broken the law.
The episode also led to an extraordinary exchange involving BBC Political Editor Nick Robinson and Mr Salmond at an international news conference when the BBC reporter was heard heckling the First Minister off-camera after Mr Salmond had responded to a question from the correspondent.
In his response, Mr Salmond had highlighted his concerns over the role of the BBC in the release of the RBS plan prior to the markets themselves being informed. Despite his question being answered by Mr Salmond, a bruised Robinson bizarrely claimed on that evening’s BBC news that the First Minister had refused to answer his question.
The truth of the RBS episode didn’t fully emerge until well after the independence referendum. In March 2015 the UK Govt civil servant who issued the communication was identified as Robert Mackie, the son of Catherine MacLeod. MacLeod was a special adviser to Better Together leader Alistair Darling when he was Chancellor of the Exchequer.
Six months later the extent of the collusion between the BBC and the UK Treasury was revealed. Brandishing a leaked email, Alex Salmond described the corporation as “purveyors of misinformation”.
The re-running of the ‘RBS HQ’ story by BBC Scotland is typical of a corporation that has clearly been spooked by the Brexit vote and the restoration of indyref2 onto the political agenda. That this ‘story’ was courtesy of the ever ‘reliable’ Douglas ‘The pound isn’t an asset’ Fraser isn’t surprising.
I wonder if BBC Scotland will revisit other claims made during the referendum, such as the Triple-A credit rating, the HMRC jobs, shipbuilding or renewables? Something tells me they won’t be as keen.
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