Did you know that news is predictable? It’s not as incredible as it sounds.
The budget will make the news – predictably. This week’s local election results will also make the news – predictably.
Both are scheduled events of great significance and, thus, are predictably newsworthy. But what if you knew, or suspected, something was going to make the news that wasn’t scheduled?
Last week Ruth Davidson was facing the prospect of her general election campaign being derailed before it even got off the ground. The controversial Rape Clause was establishing itself as an election issue. It was becoming embedded.
The Scottish Conservative leader needed a diversion. She needed the media narrative to change. She needed Nicola Sturgeon to be placed onto the back-foot.
The obvious ploy would be to attack the SNP on a constitutional issue. This is the ground on which Ruth Davidson has pitched her campaign tanks. Move the narrative away from toxic Tory policies in the hope that the Rape Clause stench begins to recede.
Eight days ago I posted the tweet you see below.
It didn’t take long for my prediction to become reality. Two days after I posted my tweet Ruth Davidson brought up the issue of the EU and the SNP’s long standing stance on the Common Fisheries Policy. Below is a short clip of the Scottish Tory leader at First Minister’s Questions.
Davidson’s argument appeared to be that the SNP stance was somehow confused because two MPs [Mike Weir and Eilidh Whiteford] had signed a pledge opposing the CFP. Her other line of attack was that the SNP case for EU membership had been weakened because the Common Fisheries Policy was a mandatory component of EU membership.
There seems to be a bit of confusion over what was actually signed. Both the Press and Journal and The Courier reported that it was in fact a pledge card the MPs signed and not the full pledge. According to the newspapers the card contained the following text.
“We must avoid any policy, practice, regulation or treaty which could return us to the Common Fisheries Policy and the enforced giveaway of almost two-thirds of our fish stocks.”
That said, it seems unlikely that the duo would not have been aware of the full pledge text which does indeed describe Brexit as a ‘sea of opportunity’.
Even had they signed a pledge agreeing Brexit was an opportunity to take back a degree of control over fishing, they’d merely be acknowledging a reality. As things stand, the UK is leaving the EU. Unless Scotland opts for independence then that fact won’t change. Brexit, in terms of the CFP, is indeed an opportunity. That is unless the UK Government is once again prepared to use Scottish fishing as a bargaining chip – hence the campaign by the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation.
But what of Ruth Davidson’s other claim that the SNP stance on Europe was now undermined because two MPs do not want to join the CFP?
Well opposition to the CFP has long been SNP policy. In 2004, the then SNP fisheries spokesman Richard Lochhead described a 150,000 strong petition calling for fishing grounds to be handed back to the UK, as “a historic moment” for Holyrood.
He said: “This is a message to the Scottish Parliament that the fishing industry community is crying out for its support, not only to save their livelihoods, but their traditions,”
“It also sends a strong message to Brussels that enough is enough and Scotland is sick of being at the mercy of a policy that has been unworkable.”
Alex Salmond, also speaking in 2004, said the CFP was unsustainable and should be abandoned: “The CFP has been a disaster for Scotland’s fisheries and failed our fishing communities.
“Last year’s CFP negotiations were a disaster for the industry with ministers agreeing a deal and then having to hot foot it back to Brussels after admitting to ‘unintended consequences’ that were bad for the industry and fisheries management.
“The CFP is deeply flawed and unsustainable. It is the real threat to an environmentally sound management policy and an economically sustainable future. It is time for us to abandon this disastrous policy.”
The SNP stance on the CFP has never been in doubt, nor has the party’s commitment to the European Union. Had this criticism of the CFP been a barrier to EU membership then it would have been highlighted by Ruth Davidson and her Unionist allies throughout the first indyref.
We can safely say that the real story, indeed the only story, is/was the naivety of two MPs in signing a pledge opposing the CFP but that also included text that described Brexit as an opportunity. It was an embarrassing election-campaign blunder by Mike Weir and Eilidh Whiteford, but no more than that.
It was also Ruth Davidson’s get out of ‘Rape Clause’ jail card. BBC Scotland, you see, has treated this minor story as though a significant general election issue. The corporation has thus far covered the story on Thursday’s Newsdrive, Thursday’s Reporting Scotland, Friday’s Good Morning Scotland, Sunday’s Politics Show, Sunday’s Reporting Scotland and Monday’s Good Morning Scotland.
Below are a few clips that demonstrate the resource and priority afforded Ruth Davidson’s attacks on the SNP by BBC Scotland.
Thursday – Newsdrive
Thursday/Sunday – Reporting Scotland
Friday – Good Morning Scotland
Monday – Good Morning Scotland
The coverage afforded the issue is way out of proportion to its significance. Two MPs who don’t want to join the CFP is no more a threat to an independent Scotland’s EU membership than former minister Alex Neil’s pro-Brexit stance is.
But there’s another issue here. Why is an issue that has nothing to do with the UK general election being presented as though it has? The result of this election won’t alter the fact that Brexit is going to happen. The SNP could win all fifty nine Westminster seats or it could win none. Neither outcome make a shred of difference to the UK government’s Brexit plans. Membership of the European Union is only relevant in the context of the debate over Scottish independence.
And there’s the rub. Ruth Davidson needed the election narrative to move back onto the ground she’s carefully prepared – the constitution. BBC Scotland has helped by investing considerable resource in the promotion of her fishing attack line. Ruth’s FMQ’s attack was worthy of coverage on the day she launched it. It could be argued it was also worthy of coverage the day after. FMQ’s routinely feature on Good Morning Scotland the day after.
However the story had nothing additional to offer beyond FMQ’s rough and tumble. It most certainly didn’t merit coverage on the Sunday Politics Show, Sunday’s Reporting Scotland or Monday’s Good Morning Scotland. That it was hyped by BBC Scotland cannot be disputed.
But there’s yet another issue. The issue is one of double-standards.
Two days before Ruth decided to attack the SNP over fishing, there was an extraordinary debate held at Holyrood. Tuesday’s ‘Rape Clause’ debate witnessed the SNP, Labour, Greens and the Lib Dems unite in condemning the Tory policy. So uncomfortable were Tory MSPs, that those scheduled to speak did so but refused to take interventions. That act alone made the debate stand out.
Wednesday’s Good Morning Scotland should have covered the debate. The remarkable sight of Scottish Labour and the SNP eschewing their constitutional rivalry in order to attack the Tories had a news value that required no embellishment. But it was ignored. Good Morning Scotland made not one mention of the proceedings.
I predicted Ruth Davidson would look to the indy related issues of currency or the EU in order to provide relief from her Rape Clause bind. I was correct. I didn’t predict it, but I also knew the BBC would assist the Scottish Conservative leader. That’s its job.
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