The Day Job

Haven’t written for a while – I’ve been doing the day job. I’ve also been preparing to go on holiday and hear Gillian Anderson plans to post a pic of me in seamed stockings.

See politics? Piece of piss. It really is.

That first paragraph encapsulates the entire Davidson Tory agenda – perform sub-Trump media histrionics to get attention and bite off snappy one-liners instead of policy development. So long as the media love you, so will the punters. Content is for losers.

And all across Scotland sensible Scots fell for it instead of asking hard questions about where this government is taking us. Funny how people who screamed for detail and certainty over independence, now meekly accept without question a catastrophic train wreck which will wipe years of growth off the UK economy.

I see the Brexiteer response is to say that Germany will really suffer when we stop buying their cars, which is true, it will. And am I supposed to cheer that the rest of Europe will also pay a price for British small-mindedness?

How long will the country suffer because of an ideological row in the Tory Party? Couldn’t they do that without ruining the country and our international relations? Can’t they get on with the day job? (It appears not as the economy tanks, the credit worthiness falters, promised policies are binned, the Cabinet disagrees and even long-held right-wing ‘principles’ like university tuition fees appear to be on the way out.)

It’s worth keeping some perspective on the bitter complaints from the politicos about the Scottish government and its perceived failings. The Tory MSP Dean Lockhart tweeted a graph showing Scotland’s economy on a low trajectory compared to the UK. No spin or excuses, he said.

Well, perhaps some context then…The UK economy he mentions is the worst performing in the OECD with growth levels below every European country bar none. On the same day the manufacturing industries were revealing how uncertainty is killing their business and how they’re pleading for guidance from the government. The financial bodies are now approaching Europe direct to see if they can strike a deal without the government being involved. The Lockhart approach is shamefully parochial without the wider perspective of a UK now in undeniable decline with galloping uncertainty of a kind we barely imagined over the indyref. Is it also fair to exclude the damning point that his party denies Scots the levers to run our own economy and then complains when we can’t…

And, as we’ve seen, Davidson chuckles and scoffs her way through it having created a media star relationship with the journalists which means she is rarely associated with her own party’s policies. Poking the SNP in the eye appears to be good enough to make her a serious FM contender.

But this is what we have to live with. So what is the SNP response? Well, this is the season for everyone coming up with pet theories. I’ve previously had a go myself and whether you agree or not, it’s pretty clear that the days of complacency are over.

Here are a few thoughts.

First, people have had enough of the SNP running everything. There were just too many of them. Whichever way you turned, there were Nats to the left and Nats to the right in a way that seemed to affront our sense of fairness. That was a problem for Labour for years too and I guess people didn’t want to repeat it. Ridiculous as the one-party state mantra was, it struck a chord. And voters learned that there was a way to stop it by lending a vote to the nearest challenger.

They were encouraged by the Unionists (yes, Labour too, urging folk to vote against the SNP, meaning Liberal or Tory if appropriate. Don’t give me your denials now)

And the referendum idea was merely the trigger to justify the vote. I distinguish between a desire to avoid going through a referendum process and the acknowledgment of a potential need for such a vote. The former is the scunner factor most want to avoid and the latter is the democratic method which people know could offer an alternative. They waved it away as if bothered by a persistent wasp.

So there has been a form of rebalancing of opinion against the concept of one dominating party.

But can we dispense with the canard that the day job is somehow being abandoned in pursuit of self-government? It has become childish and was never true. It is the case that the leadership can be distracted and there are the clearest signs of that at Westminster. What else was the snap election about but preparing to destroy all opposition to hard Brexit? What else is clearing out departments of state of talented personnel to turn them into Brexit operatives? There isn’t a voice in or out of Whitehall that would deny the UK government is overwhelmed by Brexit, not just pre-occupied.

And in Scotland? What is the evidence the SNP has surrendered policy objectives to independence? Did they bleat about it remorselessly or did the opposition tell voters they were doing so and plant the idea? Severin Carrell’s excellent observational piece in the Guardian from the north east hammered home the point that folk were scunnered with hearing about a referendum. But, given that the SNP deliberately didn’t push the referendum line, he failed to explain why people thought that way. Who in the SNP never stopped talking about it? Where did they hear it? Were they sure or were they hypnotised into disbelieving their own ears and eyes? The real story is the power of the political message overcoming rational thought – exactly the phenomenon that won America for Trump.

Oh, and the day job. You never hear it from the media so here is a sample – only a small sample – of Scottish government activity over seven days that mostly hasn’t been reported.

*Finance Secretary Derek Mackay has called for an urgent meeting (on the DUP deal) and highlighted that the Scottish Government will invoke the formal dispute resolution mechanism, if this situation is not satisfactorily resolved by HM Treasury.

*Creating a fully accountable railway policing service. Railway policing will come under the command of Police Scotland after legislation was passed by the Scottish Parliament. The expertise of British Transport Police officers and staff will be backed by the specialist resources of Police Scotland, including counter terrorism, air support and armed policing.

*Payments worth £6.7 million to Scottish sheep producers will arrive in farmers’ bank accounts this week, Rural Economy Secretary Fergus Ewing has said.

The support scheme is targeted at sheep production on the poorest quality land to help farmers maintain the social and environmental benefits that sheep flocks bring to those areas, with payments being made to around 1,050 eligible producers by 30 June 2017

*Over two hundred projects working to promote equality and address discrimination will benefit from more than £20 million investment over the next year.

More than £5 million will be provided to organisations supporting engagement with communities experiencing prejudice on the grounds of age, disability, gender, gender identity, race, religion or belief and sexual orientation – while £2.7 million will go to frontline projects promoting equality and tackling prejudice.

*Transforming services to ensure people with dementia get the support they need, at all ages and stages of the illness, is at the centre of Scotland’s third dementia strategy.

*the Scottish Government intends to introduce legislation for a soft opt out system of organ and tissue donation.

Public Health Minister Aileen Campbell has confirmed plans to bring forward legislation during this Parliament after 82% of consultation responses supported the move

*National workforce plan for future NHS staffing. An estimated 2,600 extra nursing and midwifery training places will be created over the next four years as part of wide-ranging measures to support and strengthen NHS Scotland’s workforce. 

*Rural Economy Secretary Fergus Ewing said: We are doing all we can to deliver as many payments as possible this month. We are making progress, but we still need to do better. We have made a clear commitment to do all we can to make the 2016 payments by the end of this week and our staff are working as hard as they can to process the remaining payments. 

*background briefing tomorrow (Thursday 29 June) held by Scottish Government.Statisticans and analysts to coincide with the publication of a report on the impact of UK welfare reform in Scotland. The briefing will examine the evidence, facts and figures behind how the UK Government’s welfare reform programme between 2010 and 2017 has impacted on people in Scotland.

*Public Health Minister Aileen Campbell and Social Security Minister Jeane Freeman will tomorrow (29 June) visit Upward Mobility in Edinburgh to announce access for young disabled people to a £5 million fund to help them live more independent lives.

The Independent Living Fund (ILF) will provide a short-term award to people age 16-to-21 to help the transition into adulthood.

*The second meeting of a Ministerial Working Group, convened to examine building and fire safety regulatory frameworks, has taken place today.

*Proposals to transform the approach to planning for homes and infrastructure projects have been put forward by the Scottish Government.

*Improvements will be made to the way wild deer are managed in Scotland, Environment Secretary Roseanna Cunningham has confirmed.

*The UK’s Chief Medical officers (Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland) have released new advice on physical activity for expectant mothers – believed to be the first of its kind in the world.

*Social Security Minister Jeane Freeman said today that women, disabled people and young people would be those disproportionately affected by damaging UK Government welfare cuts.The Minister was commenting on a Scottish Government report detailing the impact of UK Government welfare cuts on people across Scotland published today.

*Minister for Childcare and Early Years Mark McDonald will launch a new guide to enhance the design of childcare provision across Scotland during a visit to a local nursery.

*The police and courts will have greater powers to protect the public from perpetrators of human trafficking and exploitation from today. Trafficking and Exploitation Prevention Orders (TEPOs) can now be used by the courts to impose restrictions on people who have been convicted of trafficking and exploitation offences.

*Young disabled people will be able to access a £5 million fund to help them live more independent lives, Public Health Minister Aileen Campbell has announced.

*Views are being sought on the best way to spare child witnesses from having to give evidence during criminal trials.

*Cabinet Secretary for Rural Economy and Connectivity Fergus Ewing said:

 

As the Auditor General has confirmed, the changes we have introduced are showing signs of progress, which will deliver further improvements over time. This includes significant changes to the development and implementation of the CAP IT, including strengthening governance arrangements with a new senior management team.

*Detailed work on how a potential bottle ‘deposit return scheme’ might operate in Scotland has been commissioned by the Scottish Government.

*Payments worth £2.4 million to Scottish dairy farmers will arrive in farmers’ bank accounts in the coming days, Rural Economy Secretary Fergus Ewing has confirmed.

*Latest recruitment rates released by NHS Education for Scotland show that 97% of all medical training posts in Scotland in 2017 are currently filled.

*An HPV (Human Papillomavirus) vaccination programme for men who have sex with men (MSM) will begin in Scotland today (1 July).

*A consultation is underway on financial support for college and university students.

*A new guide to enhance the design of childcare provision across Scotland is now available for local authorities, private and third sector providers.  

*Significantly higher numbers of north sea cod, haddock and whiting may be available to Scots fishermen next year, according to new scientific assessments published today.

*Veterans Minister Keith Brown said: This weekend marks several poignant anniversaries of major conflicts where we remember those from Scotland and elsewhere who made the ultimate sacrifice.  I am here in Contalmaison to remember the men of McCrae’s Battalion who fought during the Battle of the Somme, 101 years ago.

*As of close of business last night (Friday 30th June) and subject to final confirmation we have made BPS, Greener and Young Farmer payments to 16521 farmers and crofters, valued at £343 million. This represents around 90.4% of expected total payments for those schemes.

*The way facial imaging and other biometric data is used to investigate crime is being reviewed.

The independent advisory group, chaired by John Scott QC, will consider human rights and ethical considerations of how biometric data is captured, used, stored and disposed of.

*Hundreds of Atlantic salmon will be tagged and released back into the water as part of a new study aimed at increasing the understanding of the routes they take and the conservation measures needed to protect them.

*External Affairs Secretary Fiona Hyslop will be in Dublin on Tuesday and Wednesday to meet with her ministerial counterparts, as well visit a range of joint cultural and conservation projects under way between both nations.

 *The latest RBS business monitor prepared by Fraser of Allander contains good news for the Scottish economy. Companies across the country have reported modest growth in the three months to February, with the financial and business services and tourism sectors enjoying above average growth

*Economy Secretary Keith Brown will visit global manufacturing company Interplex in Arbroath on Thursday, 5 July to highlight actions to grow the economy.

 

Astonishing, isn’t it? If you got bored and raced through it, I’m not surprised. Most of this is not the kind of stuff that anyone would call ‘news’ but this is a taster of what is going on over one week when the journalists and the unchallenged politics tell us the SNP must get back to the day job. And this is the published material. Behind the scenes work goes on day and night covering every aspect of devolved government. Can you imagine Ruth Davidson having the intellect, commitment or nous to perform this kind of detailed, policy-driven work instead of riding tanks and tweeting?

By never informing people accurately of what is really being done on their behalf, the media commits the sin of misleading readers. I think their obsession with image and frivolity and soundbites merely infantilises the audience. That’s why people think education is failing – but that’s neither true nor fair to teachers. The same for health where staff are constantly undermined by glib, partial coverage. Further in both schools and hospitals, the public learn to be fearful and distrusting as they are assaulted by exaggerated talk of woe.

You have to ask though, why aren’t the SNP making more of what they do? How robust is their reaction? I think their machinery has stalled and needs a clear overhaul from the top down. There is no good story any more. To the public there is only one politician, there is no cabinet, no other stars, no other agendas on health, saving our environment, energy or new social benefit powers. The government has no command over the agenda as governments should have and, for all its faults, that’s not down (only) to a biased media. That just gets the SNP off the hook.

If the material is there, it will appear. If the message has to be forced, it can be. Heaven help me but I recall one of the biggest transformations in media history occurring after Alistair Campbell took control of government communications and knee jerk anti Labour stories were replaced by supportive writing. Here’s Wikipedia: He oversaw new co-ordination and rebuttal systems which gave birth to a communications machine which became both feared and respected, and the model for modern communications in politics and business. He earned a reputation for ruthless news management which made him many enemies in the media. But even the Conservatives conceded they were partly defeated by their inability to find someone to match him.

The message should never overcome the mission as has happened with the Scottish Tories who in policy terms are a shell party. But the message is as important as the mission because it makes sure the voters get it. The SNP has a message, a cause, others can only dream of. Time we heard it again.

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Bugger Barnett

The Barnett Bypass is the worst example I recall of what is an accepted funding formula being exploited unfairly for raw political purpose. It appears to contradict the aim of Barnett as a means of distributing fairly UK national resources based on population. It is nakedly opportunistic and cynical. It is, in political parlance, a bribe. It says to the DUP: Support us and we’ll pay you.

Further, it is a fact that it was deliberately framed by the Scottish Secretary as a product of Barnett and he made clear he would not sanction it otherwise.

I believe even the Tory Party itself accepts all of this while desperately deflecting to avoid embarrassment. In other words, this is a dirty deal using public money to keep a discredited government in office.

But my question is: Who’s surprised? Are serious observers of British politics really shocked at the use of political patronage to solve a difficult problem? Are commentators genuinely taken aback that a ruthless government machine would abuse the Barnett Formula for a political end? Seriously?

Even if Barnett were laid down in law, they would still contrive a way of circumventing it. And it isn’t. It’s accepted custom and is embedded in the system but there is nothing to demand it is used whenever money is allocated, except of course public expectation. If you want these convenient arrangements and gentlemen’s agreements to work, you need a government that will honour them in all circumstances – a government you can trust. And the reality for Scotland is that all our lives we have learnt time and again that a Westminster government cannot be trusted.

A British government will always support Scotland. Until it doesn’t. That’s the rule that’s more important than Barnett.

So spare me the grief from the holier-than-thou mob. When Scots decided by majority three years ago that they didn’t want to run their own affairs and preferred a London government – Labour or Tory – to do it for us, we surrendered to whatever devious ploys they come up with. Now, nobody ever votes to be made a fool of and I’m sure all Unionist No voters believed they were doing it for the right reasons. It’s just this is the consequence. London decides how much we will get and how much we won’t get. Even having a man in Cabinet and War Hero Colonel leading the Scottish Tories is rendered meaningless when the needs of that London government are on the line.

What I can’t stand is the wailing about how unfair it all is. There is something pitiable about pleading with people who have manifestly no interest in your plight. Did anybody who knows anything about the Tory Party expect anything more? Did anybody ever say: ‘I can trust the Tories to do the right thing for Scotland?’

If, after their behaviour in the indyref – not to mention the previous 300 years – a single Scot honestly expected a Tory government to play fair, they should get themselves sectioned under the Mental Health Act.

‘We wiz robbed – again.’ Make that Again. And Again. It’s a never-ending litany of robbery and insult and still a large section of the electorate ask them to do it again by voting for the same people.

It sums up just how weak our position is that we’re reduced to raging about whether a funding formula should have been applied to money spent elsewhere so we could get a notional nest egg. ‘We should get some too,’ sounds to me like the bleat of people who never learn a lesson. The government has the power to do virtually as it wishes in a country without a written constitution. And even when the rules appear to be written down, as in the Scotland Act, we can be quickly disabused – see the Supreme Court ruling on Scotland’s role in the triggering of Article 50. To me the main issue here isn’t the dubious authority of Barnett and the technical detail of when and how it applies. It is the principle of how a democracy should work. This looks wrong. It sounds wrong and, from the mouth of Mundell himself, it is wrong.

Here’s Andrew Wilson who heads the Growth Commission and ex MSP via Twitter.

‘I am sure people are following but every area of DUP deal would normally fall under Barnett equivalent areas.

And to bypass the system is quite something which the post war Scottish team would normally unite to fix. This probably wont stand. But we live in such strange times of self harm. Remarkable really. And while I get the argument its not relevant as not England as anchor spend this fails completely to get the whole policy intent.

Every post war secretary of state (bar none) would step in now. Every single one. I think the current one might still. Lets help him

And while by passes have happened a lot they have almost always been in the favour of the countries. A shoddy awful system & I dont approve. But the sense of unfairness from today’s move is not a matter of technical debate but obvious

So we shouldnt wind selves up on technicals rather than natural justice and (frankly) national self interest.’

Sorry about the Twitter grammar. Not wishing to put words in his mouth but I think he means, and I agree, that Barnett normally flows from a spending settlement in England and doesn’t in this case. But it really a case of politics – that is, it doesn’t feel just and isn’t in our national interest. That’s the key point. And the Union’s politics are now so broken that what would have seemed normal not so long ago – when Scotland’s politicians would have united to find a fix – is now not on the agenda. That’s what I was saying yesterday about previous Scottish Secretaries who recognised when to intervene.

It is clear that Mundell was excluded from this decision and has been humiliated. Again. Even his Tory friends don’t rate him or this would never happen. He is weak and talentless. If he had the dignity, he would look at the last two days and resign.

Here’s another Twitter sample, this time James Mitchell, Professor Politics at Edinburgh.

‘Basic logic of Barnett formula (Barnett did NOT invent it) was to rationalise spending decisions/avoid political muscle as determinant

There have always been ‘by-passes’ because political muscle continued to rule

Today has seen the most egregious case of political by-pass. Fiscally and politically irresponsible.’

He agrees that this was the use of raw politics, or muscle resulting in fiscal and political damage. No sign here at least that any Barnett ‘rule’ or law was breached.

And here is the Fraser of Allander Institute on the subject: ‘…On a technical level there is nothing in the Northern Ireland agreement that contradicts any rules or laws.’ The author goes on to say there are other concerns but they are of a different nature, concluding that: ‘HM Treasury acts as both rule-maker and referee. It appears to have complete discretion as what is within and outwit the Barnett Formula without consulting the devolved government.’ Exactly. We are powerless. They decide for us and we lump it. that’s where we are and that’s the nub of it, not the convoluted jumble of Barnett consequentials.

We need to stop clinging to discredited assumptions and show some muscle of our own. Which is why I’m glad to hear the First Minister say the referendum remains on the table but the legislation can wait until Brexit is a done deal. The Barnett Bypass shows exactly the colour of people we’re dealing with – ruthless and unprincipled with no care for Scotland (or Wales). If they think they have nationalists on the run and all we can argue with is technical details on funding formulae, we should give up.

 

 

 

 

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Cut and Run

What is a Secretary of State for? Scotland’s was abolished in 1746 when naughty highlanders attempted some pre-emptive devolution but was reinstated towards the end of the 19th century when a visible presence was required – the Duke of Richmond duly came north to shoot grouse.

Then, since the Scottish Parliament, the duties have dwindled almost to nothing, the role being merely to act as cypher between London and Edinburgh. Oddly, you may think, the budget has nevertheless spiralled upwards. Or not oddly at all, as the job has increasingly been to counter politically the SNP.

The hangover from the days of real as opposed to posturing Scottish Secretaries in the modern era, say from the 1960s onwards, has been to represent Scottish interests in Cabinet. Phrase it how you like – a Scottish voice, a Caledonian hand on the tiller, an occasional storm warning and, now and again, No Entry barrier when a decision presages another War of Independence.

Throughout this era men such as Michael Noble, Willie Ross and Gordon Campbell followed by Bruce Millan, George Younger and Malcolm Rifkind had a firm grasp of the requirement to stand four square in the way of Whitehall decisions that they knew would look bad and, fancy, sometimes actually were bad. I draw a distinction because this is politics in which appearances matter and often are little more than mirage. In the same way that justice must be seen to be done, so the exercise of responsibility for Scotland must appear to be performed earnestly and staunchly.

Such men boasted about standing up for the nation and fighting their corner. In their company, a word was dropped in your ear and, if you didn’t get it over the clink of the teacups, an aide would intone the dire news: ‘He told her to her face. There was blood on the wall…’

Today one fears the only blood spilt is likely to be David Mundell’s as he is swatted aside by colleagues. He may of course be adept at behind-the-scenes knife fights in which he secures devastating concessions, only to walk away brushing the dust off his suit shoulders to the sound of Search for the Hero Inside Yourself. What do you think?

Today’s news that what will prove to be an initial down payment of £1b of new money for Northern Ireland should have rattled the teacups in Dover House. Journalists should have been summoned from the brave Scottish Press and told: ‘You can’t print this yet but…’ There should have followed a story of how Our Man was incandescent with (weakened) Theresa May who had surrendered to the DUP and not honoured a promise she made that Scotland would also benefit. Hadn’t David himself said as much on telly? He made clear it would all be above board and transparent and Barnett rules must be applied. Cue headlines about furious Mundell fighting for Scotland. He’d never been so mad. Either May gave him what he wanted or he’d resign…

Sound corny? Well, it would work. The papers would lap it up and it would be on the front of every one except the Express who have a court case involving the cousin of the former nanny to the Princess of Wales.

Of course, the government had already quietly agreed there would be a quid pro quo for Scots but the story would be allowed to take hold until redemption day when Mundell’s triumph of extra funding was announced. Scotland’s champion, David Mundell.

You could even go further and actually imagine if there was no set up and Mundell did actually have the balls to make a demand. Has Theresa May ever been weaker and more likely to cave?

But this is all fantasy for a pipsqueak politician whose sole strength is holding on to office against all odds. As you may know from observing promotion climbers at work, it is often the most obsequious, untrustworthy and incompetent who succeed because they lack the gene of resistance. Such is Mundell.

Now as far as I know Barnett applies only to English spending and how geographic budgets should be compensated as a result.

As far as I know Barnett has no statutory basis. It is advisory. In other words, the government can do with it as it sees fit. Pay it or not. That is what we voted for in September 2014, to allow the British government to run our affairs for us and that’s what they’re doing.

But there’s a world of difference between the rules and the politics. That’s the space where a talented and committed Scottish Secretary would emerge to say: to Hell with the guidelines, I have a battle to fight in Scotland. You are arming my opponents just when I’m on the charge. This cannot stand. I need something to offer Scotland and all those people who voted for us this month.

Instead the proud Tories step back and lash out at the SNP, the clearest sign they recognise their own weakness. What an inglorious start to the careers of the new intake, learning first hand from Mundell the toe-curling lessons of the game – if you want to survive the fight, turn your back and run. And remember, Scotland is never worth it.

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That’s All For Now

This will probably be the last time I actually write anything about the BBC so my heart is light.

Some responses to the blog gave me a laugh, some had me nodding in agreement and others had my head in my hands.

First, for all those hard of learning, can I repeat (please imagine capitals on) I have never said there is no bias. Every time I’ve written on this topic I’ve only ever offered my own direct experience to say there is no deliberate, organised, planned BBC campaign to do down the SNP, oppose independence or vilify Yes.

Bias takes many forms and comes from many sources, none of them acceptable professionally but some, no doubt understandably, as in any large organisation with multiple platforms, working round the clock producing an endless stream of output.

The truth is that no news organisation is free from bias no matter how hard they try because it is an objective – and aspiration – that can never be achieved 100 per cent. Human frailty and work pressures ensure that several times a day someone somewhere will have legitimate cause to claim a report does not accurately reflect what they believe to be true.

When you add in other factors like corporate mindset and, yes, personal viewpoints masquerading as fact, it is inevitable that some output will appear compromised.

Personally, I believe we have undergone a transformation in newsgathering and information dissemination in which old certainties and methods have been changed or dismantled. Put another way, standards have fallen, probably in proportion to the sheer amount of information now sloshing about in the ether. To keep up with rapidly advancing technology – and in response to government public spending cuts endorsed by voters – the BBC has found itself under crushing financial pressure. Therefore some budgets were cut, notably staffing. Take away a tier of decision-makers like programme editors and you remove an essential filter through which material is screened before broadcast. Their role was supervisory asking questions like: Are we right to describe a political initiative this way? Could the opposition fairly complain about it? Why are we doing yet another item on the same subject? Do we need more balance? Without them the rigour goes.

Sometimes it’s just bad journalism, either in the framing of an item, the choice of guests or the quality of script and questions. That comes from both inexperience (not helped by removing through redundancy those with the knowledge to pass on) and, conversely, the sloppiness that comes from long experience. We all get lazy. A good example in recent months was a radio interview with two economics academics, both known as Better Together old hands but not introduced as such – in other words identified as if neutral. Anyone with knowledge of the referendum would have known their affiliation which I assume the producer didn’t. The experienced interviewer then asked them non-challenging, soft questions about the possible consequences of independence including a shrug-of-the-shoulder effort to the effect that ‘…it would all be terribly complicated…’ I listened in horror to an inept, uninformative item that gave a misleading impression. It failed every tests of BBC journalism. I said to myself: They can hardly object that critics say they’re biased if that’s the quality of the output.

Another thing a good editor does is look at the continuity of coverage over a longer period. For instance, the best stories are based on criticism – something someone doesn’t want you to know. (Nowadays that’s usually the SNP government). Therefore it makes sense that a correspondent keeps in touch with those looking to expose shortcomings. In other words, the opposition. They, in turn, are fed inside information from sources who share their political affiliation. It could be in health, for example, and a good correspondent gets a stream of material from an opposition source about problems in hospitals that embarrasses the government. That is journalism. But a good editor will spot when the weight of similar attack stories seems excessive and turns into an area of public concern in itself. It’s obvious that not everything in a given field like health is bad news or the NHS would stop functioning. The reality is that there are heartbreakingly good stories in our hospitals every day and world leading work is done. Journalism is by definition selective. So an editor would look to balance his output over time with good stories. No editor – less chance of balance.

I know it doesn’t fit the blood lust of condemnation but doesn’t it sound a bit more plausible than a coven of executives scheming Sturgeon’s downfall and instructing reporters to do the dirty work?

Someone in the responses thinks the BBC is best pals with the Liberals’ press office so just gets them on air instead of the Greens…

Someone else thinks if you’re Unionist, your face fits and you get on and that’s why I apparently didn’t – nothing to do with my aversion to promotion to any management role then or my total unsuitability for the job…

Another says you can’t be a former Tory activist and be neutral…

And someone suggests they only started being anti SNP after they hired me…

(I must have been the only one not in the know. Or maybe they started when I left. (‘Right, Bateman’s away. Let’s get the Nats.’)

It is true that, even to me, there are items which sound so wrong, so unbalanced that I understand perfectly why a consumer would deduce there is deliberate bias, although the obsessive scrutiny of detail is just sad – a pro SNP story drops down the online page! A mistake at a Labour council is headlined ‘Council in scandal’ but a mistake at an SNP council is headlined ‘SNP council in scandal’ !!

Our capacity for outrage is outstripping national productivity.

But others recognise that you don’t need a conspiracy to produce an effect and I agree. We all work to the boss. Yet my sense is that at BBC Scotland staff have been more afraid of managers because they’ve shown a willingness to sack them than a desire to distort the news to order.

To those convinced Pacific Quay is a bastion of Unionism, wittingly or otherwise, I should point out, contrary to some of my correspondents, that two heads of the news department in recent years have been, so far as I know, Scottish Nationalists – one of them led the Yes campaign, Blair Jenkins. People don’t as a rule talk about how they vote (it never bothered me) but I know for certain at least one on air presenter whom you also know, who is a committed nationalist. There are Yes-voting producers of my ken. I’m aware of one manager who definitely voted SNP and of another who backs independence and reads this blog – (hi). Both John Nicolson and Brendan O’Hara worked at BBC Scotland. I have no reason to believe the political make up of the staff is any different from wider Scotland.

Beware of the groupthink you accuse journalists of perpetrating. One correspondent says most posters here are against me therefore that proves it. In other words, if enough of us say it, we’ll drown you out, never mind the facts. (I’m afraid it doesn’t work that way.)

Another suggests the ex BBC man now working for Nicola Sturgeon might be a double agent sabotaging her efforts. So that’s why they lost all those seats!

Let’s stop making ourselves look silly. There are genuine concerns about BBC Scotland and I’m doubtful about the SNP hands-off strategy which avoids confronting real broadcast issues head on. But remember that the SNP after a Yes vote has no intention of destroying what is there but rather building on it to produce a better service. Criticism would be better focussed on that plan than demonising individuals (some of whom don’t even write the scripts they read). The wilder the accusations, the more extreme the reactions, the easier it is for the BBC to sweep them aside.

There’s also a feeling that relentless blaming of the broadcasters shifts responsibility for SNP failures away from where it belongs. Blasting the Beeb over coverage of education stats won’t help the kids at school. Asking the SNP questions might.

An activist dialogue with the party about the BBC, conducted in reasonable terms, might result in a better SNP approach to broadcast shortcomings AND make the corporation think harder about quality journalism and balance.

Which reminds me: someone asks if the BBC showed how other small countries were faring independently during the indyref. Yes, they did. Allan Little went to Scandinavia. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-25061445

The best summation is this from Chris. I concur.

Everyone has an opinion Derek, but not all of those criticising the BBC do so from a splendid isolation beyond the BBC – some of us have also worked there in the past and have had major issues on London’s patrician relationship with Glasgow. I agree with yourself that there is no direct edict from above – “destroy the Nats!” – but there is a group think in parts of the Beeb based on a variety of factors that I do think can help to create an atmosphere of bias in places. With staff jobs disappeared, and people now on short term contracts, the mantra of “you’re only as good as your last job” is one that focuses the mind if you are going from three month contracts to three month contracts, for example. Don’t upset the apple cart – keep your head down, do what is asked, and you might just be back again next week. 

There will nevertheless be individuals for whom many of us will have issues – Nick Robinson in 2014 with his edited Alex Salmond comment of “he couldn’t answer” is one that I have never been able to justify. But I do also buy into the idea of a decline in journalistic standards, an under-investment in investigative journalism and documentary, and an over-reliance on newspapers as unquestionable sources. On another front, a lot of output is also made by indies these days, and I think there are some issues there also. Mentorn Scotland’s handling of Question Time is appalling, for example, and I’m not just asking as a viewer today, but as someone who has a friend who has shared much experience with me of having worked on the series for many months. 

There is a lot the BBC gets right, but in these days of constitutional urgency, every single error gets amplified a hundred fold. Whether the BBC is biased is one question, but the fact that it is perceived to be biased, with allegations that it somehow never seems to satisfactorily address, is what ultimately will hole it below the waterline. As much as it is impossible to blame everyone in the BBC for being biased, it is also equally impossible to accuse every viewer/listener with a grievance of having no genuine issue of concern. There are issues on both sides. The tragedy is that a lot of good folk at the BBC are as much a victim of all this as many of the viewers who feel so aggrieved. The ultimate failure is in management at the corporation.

Thank you for listening. That’s all from us for tonight. Sleep well. Here’s the national anthem….

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Public Service Announcement…

I know we have bigger things on our mind just now but I wanted to slip this out in the meantime. I didn’t want to do it during the election. Regular readers (and members of the Bateman Blog Cult) will know that I haven’t written about the BBC for some time. I have stopped doing so for personal reasons.

There is a strand of reaction out there that I find insulting and, however thick-skinned I may be, also hurtful and tedious. To be clear, I have no objection to anyone disagreeing with me…that’s the essence of the exchange – blog and react. Nor do I worry about political opponents taking cheap shots – that’s expected.

What gets to me is people on my own side refusing to allow me my own opinion and insisting I adopt theirs.

I’ve grown tired of self-appointed thought police telling me that ‘I must know what the BBC are doing’…sick of the ‘Come off it, when are you going to admit there’s deliberate bias’…or ‘How can you expect to be taken seriously (when you don’t agree with me)’

Here’s an actual example. Until you accept that it was your old pals at the bbc who decided the result of this election then there is no hope for you. Defend them all you like but they truly are the concentration camp guards who claim that they were just doing their job. Plantation quay needs to be destroyed.  How, I care not. Starved of funds or burned to a crisp, either is fine.’

Even when I don’t mention the BBC, the same thing happens gratuitously. ‘Is Derek still insisting this just poor management…’ (Scoff)

I can’t endlessly defend myself against ill-informed comment. On Twitter I was accused of being a Fifth Columnist, as in a secret agent posing as a Nationalist. It’s clear that partial information has led some to think I’m a cheerleader when long-term readers remember I actually resigned from Pacific Quay so I could campaign for independence. I did accept a deal to go but I still took a significant income hit at the time. I was the first, and I think still am, the only insider who went public with very precise detailed, and named, evidence of what I saw going on. That was no mean feat for someone with over 20 years in the BBC. I haven’t darkened the door since. When Professor John Robertson had his spat with the BBC management over bias in the news, it was me who publicised it.

I have been a consistent critic of the BBC and even laid out a detailed management plan of how they should have handled the referendum and what was needed to turn things round. My view hasn’t changed. I am often left open mouthed at the output when I do hear it such is its quality, although I don’t consume it very much any more. I don’t actually blame any outsider for believing there is willful bias and indeed I know very sensible people who believe just that. It is their right. But I won’t be railroaded into believing it myself and then insulted for sticking to my guns by people who’ve never crossed the threshold of Pacific Quay.

I just don’t believe the BBC organises and controls its journalism deliberately to damage Yes and the SNP. I say that because I was there and would have known. It takes a special kind of behavior to get someone to deny what they know to be true (or untrue).

Whatever your view – and I admit mine is that much of the current affairs output is rank – the demonization of individuals is unworthy of the movement. At Newsnet we received an article accusing a named journalist of blatant anti-SNP bias in a programme. It was such that we declined to publish, leading to a fractured relationship with the author, a well-known BBC conspiracy advocate. Months later that same journalist was working in Nicola Sturgeon’s office as a special adviser where he remains to this day. Some bias…

It’s begun to feel like Lilliputian fascism…little voices constantly demanding that everyone must think the way they do otherwise they’re traitors. This straightjacket orthodoxy kills goodwill and stunts critical thinking. We don’t all have to agree all the time and we must stop when we try to coerce others. Blogs are all about opinions and I’m entitled to mine, however nuanced it is and however it contradicts those of others.

Since I don’t mention the BBC, I’d appreciate it if others didn’t distort my views and display disrespect. Messages from those who demand I ‘own up’ to being wrong about the BBC and accept their version of reality won’t appear here and I’ll block tweeters doing likewise.

Like many on our side, I don’t need to do this blogging business. If we imagine the election result was disappointing, ask what it would feel like if there were no free blogs to turn to? I want your arguments and disagreements but more than that I want your respect.

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