Friday, 24 May 2013

BBC Scotland bias

The anti-independence bias of BBC Scotland was laid bare last week.

Of course, the BBC does not overtly state “don’t vote for independence”: its actions are much more subtle than that, such as presenting British Unionist propaganda and scare stories as if they are fact, while practising censorship by omission through simply not reporting many positive independence stories.

Seemingly small matters, such as the use of particular words in reports, can leave a significant impression on viewers. For example, anti-independence stories emanating from British Unionist politicians are reported with gravitas, implying that they are founded in fact and not to be challenged. Contrast that with positive independence stories, which, if reported at all, are described as ‘claims’ being made by the SNP or Yes campaign.

This type of subtle persuasion – directing us towards a particular position - is nothing new for the BBC. For years, work-place disputes were reported in terms of the bosses making ‘offers’ (reasonable) while the workers made ‘demands’ (unreasonable). Go on, pick your side.

Early last week Holyrood magazine published an interview with former Labour MP Dennis Healy. Mr Healy was Chancellor of the Exchequer from 1974 until 1979, the period that covered the first Scottish Devolution referendum.

Please bear with me while we briefly go slightly off-topic, but it’s worth noting before we go on with the bias of BBC Scotland that the UK Labour Government of the late 1970s robbed Scots of devolution by imposing an undemocratic minimum requirement for pro-devolution votes. Labour decided that at least 40% of the entire Electoral Register had to vote for devolution or Scotland would not get it. This meant that people who had died but whose names were still on the Electoral Register were counted as having voted ‘No’. In the actual vote, comprising those who were alive enough to make it to a Polling Station, a majority of Scots voted for devolution (51%) but Labour’s manipulation of the rules – the first time in UK electoral history that a simple majority had not been sufficient to win – meant that Scotland had to wait a further 18 years before we got a Scottish Parliament by way of a second devolution referendum, this time without the undemocratic 40%-rule.

Now, the reason Dennis Healy’s interview with Holyrood magazine is pertinent to the bias of BBC Scotland is that the former Labour MP was the UK Chancellor who received the McCrone Report in 1974. The report was compiled by a Whitehall Treasury official, Professor Gavin McCrone, and was supposed to rubbish the idea of an independent Scotland. The SNP was riding the crest of wave in the mid-seventies and the UK Government instructed McCrone to research the economic position of an independent Scotland, with the intention of sinking the SNP ship by showing how poor Scots would be if they were ever daft enough to vote for independence.

Professor McCrone did his work, but his findings were not what the UK Government wanted to hear. Amongst other things, the McCrone Report stated that an independent Scotland, with control of North Sea oil revenues (90% of which lie in Scottish territorial waters), would have “embarrassingly large” financial surpluses, resulting in Scots having one of the highest standards of living in the world, while England (without Scotland’s oil) would have to borrow from its wealthy neighbour – Scotland.

The Labour Government, of which Dennis Healy was a senior member, marked the McCrone Report as ‘Secret’ before burying it in the Westminster vaults. It only came to light in 2005 following a Freedom of Information request.

To compound their underhand actions against Scotland, successive UK Governments then branded Scots as ‘subsidy-junkies’ reliant on hand-outs from England, when they knew full-well that the entire UK economy was actually reliant on revenues generated from oil fields in Scottish waters of the North Sea.

The significance of Dennis Healy’s interview with Holyrood magazine is that, almost 40 years after his government ordered the McCrone Report should not be made public, the former Chancellor of the Exchequer finally admitted British politicians had known an independent Scotland would have a very successful economy, and that they had duped Scots into believing otherwise.

Mr Healy told the magazine: “I think we did underplay the value of the oil to the country [Scotland] because of the threat of nationalism but that was mainly down to Thatcher. We [Labour] didn’t actually see the rewards from oil in my period in office because we were investing in the infrastructure rather than getting the returns and, really, Thatcher wouldn’t have been able to carry out any of her policies without that additional five-percent on GDP from oil.”

Of today’s British Unionist politicians and their scare-stories against Scottish independence, the former Labour MP said: “I think they are concerned about Scotland taking the oil, I think they are worried stiff about it.

“I think we [England] would suffer enormously if the income from Scottish oil stopped but if the Scots want it [independence] they should have it and we would just need to adjust, but I would think Scotland could survive perfectly well, economically, if it was independent.”

Finally, with regard to the ‘subsidy-junkie’ taunts directed at Scots, Dennis Healy described them as “myths” perpetrated, he said, by opponents of independence.

Clearly, such a significant intervention into the independence debate by a former UK Chancellor of the Exchequer is a major news story, but not to BBC Scotland. In all, Mr Healy’s comments merited a 15-second passing-mention during a report on another political story on last Monday’s Reporting Scotland.

Imagine if a former senior member of the SNP said the party had lied about the benefits of independence and had buried a report that showed the British Union was good for Scotland. It would have been the lead story on BBC Scotland news and would have featured for weeks on Newsnight and every other political or current affairs programme transmitted by the publicly-funded state broadcaster.

The day after BBC Scotland failed to report the comments of Dennis Healy, Reporting Scotland led with an anti-independence story that stated European Union laws would mean Scottish students could lose-out to non-Scottish students at universities north of the border after independence. The BBC was not deterred from running the story by the fact it had previously broadcast another anti-independence story that asserted an independent Scotland would not be allowed membership of the European Union. See, once you start telling fibs, you’ve got to remember what you said before.

Of course, BBC Scotland maintains it is impartial. The man tasked with ensuring impartiality is the broadcaster’s Scottish Head of News and Public Affairs, John Boothman. Mr Boothman, originally from Kilwinning, is a former Labour Party activist: his long-term partner is Susan Deacon, an ex-Labour MSP and Health Minister.


  1. Precisely why I don't have a television, I refuse to pay to be lied to.

  2. I look forward to the SCBS - Scottish Co-operative Broadcasting Service - for all the people in and from Scotland, wherever and whenever they happen to be here, near or further afield and across the seas and skies.