A Man Writes…

If I don’t mention my leather trousers, is it alright if I talk about women in power? I ask because I belong to a generation of hacks who wrote stories like ‘First Woman Bus Driver in Dundee’ or ‘Yes, Ma’am – New Top Cop is a Female.’ We were awestruck that someone who wasn’t a man might be put in control because, of course, the backgroundhought was: Imagine men being told what to do by a woman.

Half a century later and we’re still doing it. No matter how many women enter the workplace and rise through the ranks, there is still a frisson when one emerges top of the pile. She breaks the glass ceiling – and doesn’t even bother to sweep up the mess. Huh! What are things coming to…

BBC Scotland has just appointed its new Director – what we used to call the Controller, in that mildly sinister lingo of the State apparatus so redolent of George Orwell (former staffer Eric Blair). And, as even feminist Lesley Riddoch pointed out, Donalda MacKinnon is the first woman to hold the post. Do we still rejoice at that? Will it make any difference that she is female? Some of the women I remember in executive roles in the BBC, far from having a more nuanced style than a male, were brisk to the point of rudeness, often snappy and demanding. Broadcasting was a leader in affirmative action to balance gender in the staff so there is a long history of women forging careers there. I have to say, in my experience, it was clear over time that there really was no difference between the sexes. Both could be either easy and creative or they could be brash and impatient. The fact is you get used to working with each other and stop thinking about differences. The same thing happened with your place of origin so that you were constantly working with people from Ireland, Australia, America, the sub continent or pretty much anywhere. Like a university, the BBC is a melting pot, the living proof that people rub along whatever their background.

Donalda is also a Top Gael. (The clue’s in the name, really. I always think it sounds as if they wanted a boy to work the croft but were landed with a girl.) She’s from Harris and takes over from Kenny the Gael who’s from Mull which makes an inspirational and possibly unique achievement with one Gael succeeding another in an English language organisation. That in itself is another mark of how affirmative action can bear fruit. The BBC has provided an employment gateway through the Gaelic language for generations from the Gaidhealtacht. It doesn’t mean, of course, they wouldn’t have made it anyway but it is heartening that there are successful examples to be emulated when there is a drive to broaden the use of the language.

A woman. A Gael. These are signals, but do they mean anything in real terms?

We have to hope so because I think the BBC is in historically poor shape. It is undergoing a transformation into a kind of publishing house for outside productions with the Beeb’s own programme makers bidding for contracts against independent companies. It can’t compete for the major sporting events. The new on demand studios like Netflix are entering traditional BBC speciality areas including costume drama. Its home-grown offer gets stolen (Top Gear, Bake-Off). And the sure-footed news and current affair offering on which so much of the respect is built, is floundering. Is Panorama a must-see? Does anyone take Newsnight seriously? Are right-wing millionaires (Neil, Dimbleby) really the best presenters we’ve got?

Then there’s Scotland. The referendum was a tipping point because it exposed just how limited the BBC’s resources had been allowed to become. The failure to nurture and retain talent. The deliberate removal of experience. The creation of the worst industrial relations the unions had known. Low morale and bullying management.

The main cultural organisation in the country and it couldn’t reflect the single greatest event in a century. Instead we had stagey debates with the usual suspects and, apart from an occasional incisive film, the BBC, with outposts in Shetland, Orkney, Stornoway, Inverness, Aberdeen, Dundee, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Dumfries and Selkirk, totally failed to convey the town hall phenomenon that swept the nation. While Scotland was in a democratic ferment, the Beeb sat with its headphones on, feet up on the desk, lost in its own bubble.

So will Donalda resolve this? Maybe. The trouble is that she was there all along. When the unions howled at the appalling news management team and its impact on quality, she was mute. When the redundancy programme, cunningly deferred everywhere else, was brutally front-loaded in Scotland to push staff out the door, she was there. When the women of the newsroom took their worries about bullying and intimidation to her, as the senior female at BBC Scotland, she rebuffed them.

Which brings me to my main argument. I’m glad she got the job out of the panel available and have hopes that she will impose a more responsive regime than her predecessor. But my information is that there were only three final candidates, all of them existing staff. Two men, who are both accountants, and Donalda…all of them long-term Pacific Quay insiders. What kind of choice is that? Three institutional figures who are part of the existing set-up which has performed so poorly?

This is the biggest cultural position in Scotland with a salary, last time I looked, of nearly £200,000 and there is not a single credible candidate from outside the existing staff structure of BBC Scotland. That is one tiny gene pool.

Donalda is the only one with any programme making experience and that’s a long time ago. Why are two accountants on the short list anyway? Accountants! This is the thriving hub of digital creativity making soaps, documentaries, comedy, drama, news and sport – and radio – and they seriously considered an accountant to lead it? Where are the heads of the successful independent production houses the BBC itself puts so much store by? Where the applications from broadcasters in Europe and Scandinavia or the English-speaking world of Australasia and the Americas? Where is even the faintest whiff of edginess or new thinking or aspiration and ambition…

Instead we get the predictable insider, BBC-savvy careerists already comfortable and unchallenged in their assumptions, limited in outlook and damned by their involvement with the previous establishment. What a contrast to the wailing over non-Scottish leaders in arts organisations occasioned by Alasdair Gray. If only…

She faces another institutional hurdle – the role of her predecessor Kenny MacQuarrie, who instead of taking a long overdue retirement, has been promoted to head of what the Beeb likes to call Nations and Regions (that’s Scotland and Cornwall for example). In other words, he is still her boss. He will still hold the cold hand of budget and executive control over her efforts as a kind of Witch Finder General for London and, given his known fealty to HQ, we can expect that to be enthusiastically pursued. He was no fan of a Scottish Six – as soon as the public went off the boil, so did he. If she wants to proceed down that route, she may have to content with his resistance.

Still, it’s up to her. She can either break with the past and force her way or go quiet and acquiesce. I think her first move should be to forge a relationship with two other women in power – Fiona Hyslop and Nicola Sturgeon. If there are battles ahead, they’re the best allies she could have to fight the grudging culture of London HQ.

The trouble with insiders though is that they learn that getting on depends on getting in – you stay in the good books and longer you last without rocking the boat the higher you rise. For two long that has been the priority in Scotland. It has been self-preservation over national celebration. Obedience and timidity cannot rebuild the respect the BBC has lost in Scotland.

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46 thoughts on “A Man Writes…

  1. I don’t care who was appointed. BBC Scotland is no longer my national broadcaster.

  2. Bugger (the Panda)

    We trained hard, but it seemed that every time we were beginning to form up into teams we would be reorganized. Presumably the plans for our employment were being changed. I was to learn later in life that, perhaps because we are so good at organizing, we tend as a nation to meet any new situation by reorganizing; and a wonderful method it can be for creating the illusion of progress while producing confusion, inefficiency, and demoralization. During our reorganizations, several commanding officers were tried out on us, which added to the discontinuity.

    Charlton Ogburn Jr. in 1957.

    Ogburn participated in the Burma Campaign in World War II, and wrote a piece about his experiences titled “Merrill’s Marauders

    possibly from a quotation attributed to Gaius Petronius Arbiter about 60 AD

    I was to learn later in life that we tend to meet any new situation by reorganizing; and what a wonderful method it can be for creating the illusion of progress while producing confusion, inefficiency, and demoralization.

    Plus ça change, plus la même chose,

  3. Derek Is there a particular reason that you don’t mention Londons Calling by GA Ponsonby or the items covered by that programme ? And is there a reason you don’t get a mention in it.

  4. ‘A woman. A Gael. These are signals, but do they mean anything in real terms?’


    I’ve long since given up on BBC news and entertainment, but even if that weren’t the case, I don’t know this person. I’d wait to see how they perform in the job, then make my thoughts on their ability and performance known. (shrugs)

    As I say though, I’m long done with the Beeb and their output. Bridges long burnt and all that.

  5. Only thing the BBC is good for anymore is if you’re bored enough to want to play,spot the propaganda.
    With the possible exception of BBC alba (most of the time) the BBC can be relied upon to stick the promotion of London culture into everything.
    You can demonstrate it ,to people who haven’t realised yet,you can study it if you want to write about it and you can play various versions of propaganda bingo.
    Anything else….go anywhere but the BBC!

    • Bugger (the Panda)

      Missed the boat there, we should have developed and marketed a board game for xmas; based on BBC propaganda bingo?

      Maybe next year?

  6. The accountants were probably there to create the illusion of choice. This is how institutions work. If the rules say they must have a shortlist of three in order to be transparent and accountable, the desired candidate will be found on the shortlist with two who are clearly inferior. The decision will be obvious. But we will never know who didn’t make the shortlist.

  7. Gael or not, it’s irrelevant. What is relevant is the bbc’s continuing blatant bias against Scottish independence. Don’t pay the bbc tax. Let britnats pay for britnat propaganda.

  8. As a C A I would say many accountants are able to turn their hand to just about anything……………….

  9. My bet-and I’d love to be proved wrong- is a time server.

  10. Nothing will change I fear, MacQ will still be in charge. If Donalda were to even try an approach of any sort to Sturgeon or Hyslop then I’m sure Donald would find the locks changed tout de suite at PQ.

  11. It wont make any difference to me who they appoint. The BBC is and will remain the Yoon State propagandist whoever is in charge. She will still be taking her orders and clicking the heels to her London Masters barks.

  12. i wish I could care but that went long ago. The BBC is like a bucket of shit, if it gets stirred only shits float up.

  13. “I think her first move should be to forge a relationship with two other women in power – Fiona Hyslop and Nicola Sturgeon. If there are battles ahead, they’re the best allies she could have to fight the grudging culture of London HQ.”

    Derek, if I saw Nicola Sturgeon forging any sort of alliance with BBC Scotland, given what has gone on before, I would probably resign from the SNP. I did read your blog at the end of October when you seemed to support the idea that the BBC’s bias was not really intentional. No need to dwell on this because you know yourself how that was received by Joe Public because Joe has already made hs mind up on this one.

    I have another concern in that the BBC is seldom openly criticised or taken to task by the SNP. This is despite what is really overwhelming and irrefutable evidence of bias of the type clearly demonstrated in London Calling and in the subsequent film. This reluctance by the SNP to confront them is a concern to me. They are the Scottish Government and the deliberate manipulation of Scottish news and tampering with video, etc. should not be tolerated.

    I just don’t understand it and no one has ever been able to explain why it is this way but as for NS forging any sort of relationship with them? Gimme a break!

    Have you read London Calling or watched the film? If so do you have any comment to make on this?

    • The media would love to play an “SNP attacks BBC” drama up and down the UK, where outside of Scotland the BBC has not recently been used as a weapon against the people, wouldn’t they?

      I remember thinking right after the Nick Robinson debacle, that someone had to stand up and respond – but that it shouldn’t be Alex Salmond, the immediate victim, but rather someone below him (someone at Robinson’s level, so maybe someone on a long jail stretch?). That Alex did respond directly was, in my view, a tactical mistake. (I’ve voiced the strength of my support for AS before, and the odd mistake doesn’t diminish it).

      I do think that there is room for robust handling of BBC interviewers and presenters on the occasion that any SNP representative does get airtime.

      And… I too would love to hear Derek comment on LC, well said.

  14. Personally Pacific Heights on the banks of the Clyde ,could burn to the ground tonight ,and all staff members immediately made redundant , and i would raise a glass , the single biggest impediment to Independence is that place and the people who assist in its running .There are no exceptions they are all guilty by association they all know what is going on , and so do we .
    A softer touch by a woman ? aye right remember Maggie ? & not forgetting the regurgitated clone Ruthie .

  15. Yipee, a woman leading the BBC in Scotland!

    Yeah, like all comments before me, I am unconvinced, disinterested and long past caring.

  16. Turned my back on TV early 2014 – see LONDON CALLING for explanation. Recently gave GMS a miss and turned to Radio 4 since they at least are honest in their dishonesty regarding the SNP Scottish Government. What do I find? Humph blatantly sneering at a union representative – not the great “British Union” you understand but an ordinary working man attempting to keep English rail jobs safe.

    BBC’s an absolute joke…….only it’s not funny.

  17. I am also past caring: after the tirade at 0730 this am with the BBCScot presenter prigging & goading an economist to trash Scot Gov’s fiscal accomplishments I am stopping my BBC licence. I had (cue fiddle) planned to keep it over the festive season in case anyone was desperate to see anything but…..nah. Nae noo. Scot 6 & BBC Scotland can just…close the door quietly ahin them.

    • Good call to cancel your BBC licence. It should be a condition of SNP membership. Regardless of the subject matter any SNP spokesperson given airtime on BBC should go out of their way to treat the interviewer and the BBC with gratuitous contempt before getting around to rebutting whatever SNPbaaad story is doing the rounds that day.

  18. Meet the new boss,same as the old boss? What is the relevance of gender? With MacQuarrie her boss she will be neuter.

  19. You know Derek, while out Christmas shopping I noticed there is an Enid Blyton book (for grown ups) on sale.
    Its a play ( I think) on all those ‘.team talks ‘you get from your manager, shortly before an audit or a company survey is due .
    ‘Five Go On A Strategy Away Day’ Tony,Kenny, Donalda and two nameless accountants spend the day searching for a ‘ paradigm shift’ while judging by the amount of ‘ technical difficulties ‘ Radio Scotland has, its Timmy the dug holding the fort.
    BBC Scotland? Nah as Jan Cowan said above, it is an absolute joke- except it’s not funny

  20. Since you mention Ken McQuarrie again


    Isn’t he a gem? If I was in charge at BBC Scotland, holding the country’s future in my hands, I would be totally *stoked* to go to work every day. And right in the heat of a historic campaign like the referendum?. I’d be right on the ball on everything, you couldn’t put a thing past me, and I’d have events seared into my memory, hour by hour. And on that sort of salary – living in Glasgow – with a big secure pension and the rest? Fantastic!

    And there’s wee Kenny, sitting there looking glum. “Ah canna mind”. “eh, ah’m no really sure”. “ah’d huv tae goan look that up”. No wonder they promoted him!

    John Robertson’s right, “disgusting” is an appropriate word for the BBC, even from an academic.

  21. They couldn’t have countenanced an external candidate, they might have tried a fresh approach involving truth, honesty and even handedness.

  22. The only thing McQuarrie did at BBC Jockland was deprive his village of an idiot. And I seen nothing in McKinnon’s attitude to indicate a change.
    It should surprise no one that two of the candidates were bean counters. The BBC exists solely to money spin populist garbage across the globe and peddle neocon propaganda. Creativity comes a poor third.

  23. When the BBC itself announced her appointment in an article, her comments were reported and she believes that BBC Scotland is perfect, not biased, but accepts that viewers had lost a bit of trust in it.

    Hmm, sounds a bit like Labour doing badly again in an election and the predictable caveat… we’ve heard and listened to the voters blah blah blah.

    Total non story I’m afraid. The King is dead, ling live the Queen.

    • Absolutely Shagpile. It will make no difference whoever is” in charge”. (laughs).She will do as she is told, in fairness Derek points this out, by the establishment in London. They are the state broadcaster, and it’s wishful thinking that anything will change, especially their propaganda war on the S.N.P Government. Along with many others I never watch, listen, or indeed take any notice of what the B.B.C say these days. Unfortunately, due to the referendum result in 2014, we missed an opportunity to set up a S.B.S, which would have been, I hope, a truthful barometer of Scotland today.
      B.B.C Scotland in its present form will never change. It is, and will remain, implacably opposed to an independent Scotland, and will never miss what it sees as an opportunity to dress-up a story which can be made to be seen as detrimental to the S.N.P, or indeed, any independence-supporting organisation. The most recent was only yesterday with the, “Teacher numbers down” headline. And remember, as with the print media, in most cases it’s the bold print that most people read, and don’t go on to read the full article. That’s if the correct information is even contained further on, which sometimes it ain’t.
      So the only way is full independence for Scotland, and then we can decide for ourselves what kind of P.B.S we want, or if we even need one to exist. I’ll leave it up to the people to decide.

  24. Since the run-up to #Indyref, trust in BBC Scotland (and UK wide) has been at an all-time low and still it continues to diminish. Audience figures are poor and social media is flooded with anger and aggression towards the BBC in general.

    Much of the anger on social media is based on the shared, glaring examples of the absolute proof of their bias. Many people are refusing to renew their licences yet when complaints are made BBC Scotland continues to smugly shrug and deny any wrongdoing. In the examples of “creative” video editing and instances like the Nick Robinson debacle this bias extends almost to criminality.

    Despite this they continue to insist that all is well and shipshape at Pacific Quay. Until they acknowledge their wrongdoing the slide will continue and so it should.

  25. Derek, in your blog of 28 October this year (about the billboard campaign) you created a bit of a stir when, in reference to the claims of BBC bias, you said …

    “The clear message conveyed is that all this is deliberate. And organised. It is part of a plan to tilt opinion against the SNP and independence. BBC journalists are willing participants or perhaps convenient stooges implementing a master plan. In short it is a conspiracy. In this he is backed by other members of the infromscotland group.

    The trouble with this analysis is simple. ”


    Not true and not possible?

    You did try to qualify this later but despite what many of us see as overwhelming evidence of bias, as detailed in GA Ponsonby’s “London Calling” and the subsequent documentary film, you still seem to think that it is not happening? I am perplexed by this.

    As far as I know you have made no comment on “London Calling” or on the proven cases of bias and deliberate news manipulation that it exposes. I am wondering if you know something we don’t? Perhaps you could comment on this.

  26. I wouldn’t piss on PQ if it was on fire. If it burned down I too would raise a glass in celebration. Maybe we can sell it to a new start up commercial broadcaster after Independence.

    • Bugger (the Panda)

      It is leased from an off-shore tax haven, I think.

      Worth SFA except for broadcasting and equipment probably leased too.

  27. Having had personal experience of BBC bias during the referendum, specifically non-reporting of a story; lying by omission in my opinion, I have completely given up on the BBC and do not pay the TV tax.

    Meet the new boss, same as the old boss. Only internal candidates? Did nobody apply from STV? Aye right.

  28. The BBC is the single biggest barrier to Scotland’s Independence.

    I wouldn’t open the curtains if they were broadcasting from my garden

  29. Oh well i guess the people have spoken , and it is a shame most of us cant and wont ever trust any of the output from the BBC in Scotland, a shame because if they ever started broadcasting the truth they wont be believed , a truly dreadful situation for us all , and not of our making , a neutral and impartial public broadcaster is all most people require ,those in the management who engineered this situation should be totally ashamed, they are doing no one any favours this includes people who agree with the actions of BBC Scotland because this propaganda can and will at some point be used against them but most of them cant see this double edged sword , it cuts both ways .

  30. Nicely expressed Robert Graham – a shame because if they ever started broadcasting the truth they won’t be believed.

    O/Topic: And the source of reporting data for the UK media on bad Russia, bad Assam, is one guy in a two bedroom house in Coventry. Eye witness? Aye Right.

    Oh, and it’s being claimed that bad Russia helped Trump to win the press election, by…. disclosing information on H Clinton’s wrongdoings.
    Just not fair eh? Informing the public, whether it was Russia or the FBI that disclosed information.

    I can now obtain a free TV license, I haven’t bothered, not interested.Stopped paying a few years back.

  31. This is an extract of a comment I made recently to one of the MSM UK newspapers (no not the Daily mail).
    Ordinary people, especially in what we call the Western Democracies, are being sadly misled not just by politicians, but more seriously by the mainstream media as to current Geopolitical events and what they mean.
    The main reason for this is how the media actually works today; yes propaganda has always existed, but in today’s 24/7 connected world, it is much easier to propagate mass persuasion and pretend it is factual.
    Already in the UK more than 50% of journalists work in the PR industry (what used to be called propaganda) rather than newspapers or TV and the figure in the US is around 85%; with the figure constantly rising, especially so over the last few years. More and more the media is relying on the PR industry to provide their articles; who in turn receive their News from a few news agencies such as AP or Reuters.
    A number of the articles in some newspapers, for example, even though they may show a well known journalist on the Header, have by the time they appear in print been re-written without the consent and sometime even the foreknowledge of the journalist; who only finds out after the article appears in print or on a website that their article has been re-written. The result is that the journalist shown on the Header now becomes “responsible” for all what has been written in that article and for any possible negative response to the article. This is why similar stories appear all over the media offering the exactly the same slant on any story.
    There are a number of current examples of this mono-journalism; one good example of this is “The Russian government hacked the US” story which is being worked to death by the mainstream media. All of the so-called respected media sources are accepting this fake story as factual (but with no actual facts or proof provided) without expressing any criticism or any attempt to carry out any sensible investigation before printing or broadcasting the story. If the US government had any actually evidence of any Russian government hacking and they should have as they have access to all means of communications, both public and private; then they would have happily provided this information to all media sources, either officially or by the usual leaks. But they don’t which is why the keep repeating the same mantra.
    Why is this happening? Because many newspapers rather than rely on multiple advertisers for their revenue as they did in the past, as no newspaper makes a profit from reader revenue alone, now usually have only one big advertisement account. One example of this is the Daily Mail; which depends almost entirely on the HSBC bank to make any profit. Many real journalists will be aware of what this can ultimately lead to; as in the case last year of the UK based investigative journalist who had been working on exposing the Mexican HSBC scandal.

  32. Sorry but thin gruel Derek. And that ‘Gael’ link is disappointingly condescending. The BBC are a corrupt and spiteful organisation that have betrayed journalism and the people they were meant to serve

  33. Derek why do you persist with your belief the BBC and the people in it are not biased? A conspiracy doesn’t need to be organised. And it can comprise many different individuals acting in a similar manner without thinking they are conspiring. All it needs is for employees in the outfit to be fully aware that their advancement will depend on their following the party line. And to help with this the heirarchy only appoint and afterwards promote people with a similar particular point of view as themselves.

    The BBC has ALWAYS been a propaganda outlet from the very first Director General appointment of John Reith a rabid Conservative who became a pillar of the Union Establishment. Not only do they misinform the public with their reports but they do worse when they do not print REAL news because it doesn’t accord with their view of the world. It never ceased to amaze me that the BBC refused to report a huge anti-BBC bias demonstration outside PQ.

    And today what do we get? Fake news reports in support of the UK and USA Governments’ attempts at ‘Regime Change’ in Syria using terrorists from ISIS, Al Qaeda, and others, who have actually been responsible for the holocaust in Alep. In addition we are fed daily reports of atrocities by the Syrian and Russian forces who actually liberated East Alep. Actual pictures today from East Alep show this clearly.

    Thank God I can watch Swiss and French television for my news reports.

  34. Coming from Belfast, I recall BBC bias early in my life, clearly against any nationalist or republican voice or argument, yet history has shown to what lengths the state was willing to go; violence on one side played down while the other side demonised. Does anyone remember the reporting of Loyalist atrocities like the Shankhill Butchers, some of the worst serial murderers in uk history, yet barely a mention, while they butchered innocent Catholics with knives and chopped them to pieces.

    My now wife was sceptical of BBC bias when I first met her before the Good Friday agreement, but once she started watching for it, couldn’t believe how bad it was. Now in Scotland the BBC continues its distortions and contempt for anyone against the British state. It hasn’t changed in my lifetime and I reckon it never will. Sorry Donalda, just stick to pleasing the unionists and one day the rest of us can smile at the BBC’s inevitable demise.

  35. A bit late but today’s interview with Ms MacKinnon she only thinks there is a ‘bit’ of a problem. She uses that word twice. She also thinks the problem is that we have a perception problem and that is what needs working on. Not the substance, just our perception of it.

    Do you really think she will be better Derek?

  36. Hi Derek. I put your question regarding Labours backing of independence in the event of catastrophic consequences for Scotland regarding the Brexit negotiations to Labour Hame. If you or anyone care to see Duncan’s response I’ve provided the link. Pathetic really.


    Last few comments on article … about 120-126

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