Three events dominated the Scottish news this week….
Three events dominated the Scottish news this week;
The Conservative/Lib Dem alliance, the failure of Labour negotiations with Lib Dems and Thursday’s First Ministers Questions at Holyrood; the first since the departure of Gordon Brown.
How were each of these events covered by our media, and how did coverage North and South of the border differ?
The alliance saw a jubilant David Cameron enter number 10. This quite understandably dominated the news headlines as a hungry UK media gorged itself, gnawing to the bone every possible scrap of information – spewing up and regurgitating the same images and sound bites.
Conservative and Lib Dem elation juxtaposed with Labour grass roots disappointment as middle England partied, safe in the knowledge that the party who won the English election ‘franchise’ were now in power.
Even BBC Scotland got in on the act by transporting a huge chunk of the Pacific Quay news team down to London. Glenn Campbell, Gary Robertson, Kenneth Macdonald and Jackie Bird were but four members of a large Scottish contingent sent down at our expense to sit on the grass opposite the House of Commons telling us exactly the same thing they would have, had they remained in Glasgow.
Gary interrogated Angus Robertson and asked why the SNP offered support to Labour when they had criticised Labour in the election campaign. Jackie Bird helpfully explained to the First Minister that twelve seats from 59 meant that the Con – Dem alliance now had a ‘Scottish’ mandate, “they have double the amount of seats you have” she bizarrely explained.
Jackie also decided that the SNP offer of support to Labour in order to prevent a Tory government would have amounted to the SNP “holding Westminster hostage”. Ms Bird finished off a less than objective political stint by asking the BBC’s political correspondent Nick Robinson if Cameron and Clegg would form “a ménage a trois” with Scotland’s First Minister.
Oh how Jackie laughed as Scottish licence fees were spent misrepresenting and insulting the Scottish First Minister.
What of Glenn? Well Campbell described a helicopter hovering in the sky and interviewed a bemused American tourist. Glenn also informed those of us who pay his wages that 12 seats from 59 meant a Con – Dem mandate to govern Scotland. In fact Newsnight Scotland the previous evening saw Glenn adopt the role of SNP spokesman by telling viewers that the SNP had now conceded such a mandate and had dropped their earlier claims – perhaps Campbell should have a word with the First Minister who, only a day later, repeated his belief that no such mandate existed.
Missing of course was any attempt at locating the Scottish Labour MPs who had publicly rejected any alliance with the SNP, their outbursts probably sabotaging the progressive alliance that would have prevented a Tory government.
This takes us to the the second of the weeks major events, the failure of Labour to negotiate a deal with the Lib Dems.
The public statements of rejection of SNP support for such an alliance from those Scottish Labour MPs had huge implications for Scotland. Only Jim Sheridan endorsed speaking to the SNP.
Remember the media reaction South of the border when the resignation of Brown and the talks between Labour and the Lib Dems threw the Tories onto the back foot?
The English media were furious. It dominated the English news, for the sole reason that the party deemed to have ‘won’ their election might be prevented from taking office. One needed only to watch the Adam Boulton/Alistair Campbell verbal brawl on SKY to see how such a scenario was being covered and the strength of feeling involved.
In Scotland however the capitulation of Labour and the sabotaging by Scottish Labour politicians of any deal with the Lib Dems was met with a virtual media silence. Any references to Scottish Labour’s ‘days of shame’ by the SNP were pretty much airbrushed out of the political coverage. BBC journalists openly attacked SNP spokesmen who highlighted the Scottish Labour duplicity that claimed a vote for Labour was the only defence against a Tory government.
So, the contrast North and South of the border to the respective alliance discussions was stark. There was an English media outcry when it looked as though the Tory alliance was being undermined, there was a Scottish media silence after ‘our’ preferred alliance was sabotaged.
And so to the third ‘event of the week’ and the pantomime known as First Ministers Questions.
This section sees Newsnet Scotland introduce some new technology with which to emphasise our point – the embedded clip. We would have liked to use it in the previous sections, particularly to show Jackie Bird’s performance – alas the BBC’s iPlayer encountered more ‘technical difficulties’ that meant the programme in question was not available.
Fortunately the BBC Scotland charade that passes for critical analysis of First Ministers Questions emerged unscathed and can now be seen by a wider audience.
First Ministers Questions saw Labour’s Iain Gray face the First Minister in the Holyrood chamber for the first time since Labour’s general election defeat, so it was bound to be an interesting session.
The punditry came from BBC Scotland’s Brian Taylor and Hamish Macdonell, a journalist not known for his love of the SNP. Newsnet Scotland has divided up each Q/A from Gray and Salmond in order to provide our own ‘commentary’. We then finish on the pundits view of events – how accurate and balanced were they?
Let’s see shall we?
Gray – Question 1:
Gray asks a simple question – he surely could have done better.
Salmond – Answer 1:
Salmond answers fully, and used the opportunity to highlight the need for more economic powers to Scotland.
Gray – Question 2:
Gray focuses on the election result and proposals to reduce NHS head count and working hours by some health boards.
Salmond – Answer 2:
Salmond explains that the NHS budget for Scotland has gone up this year despite Labour reducing the Scottish budget by £500 million. Salmond addresses the election result and, amidst shouting and jeering from the Labour benches, makes the point that Labour rejected the offer to protect Scotland from a Tory government.
Gray – Question 3:
Gray again focuses on proposals to reduce NHS head count, this time citing a Glasgow Health board. The suggestion is that the SNP are not protecting the NHS.
Salmond – Answer 3:
Salmond repeats that the SNP have provided more funds for the NHS. Salmond suggests that Labour were happy for the Tories and Lib Dems to form an alliance due to the dreadful mess they [Labour] had made of the economy.
Gray – Question 4:
Gray suggests that the NHS board proposals are the fault of the SNP. Gray highlights the word ‘cuts’ repeatedly and attacks Nicola Sturgeon. He also suggests that Salmond is part of a ‘cuts’ alliance that includes the Tories and the Lib Dems.
Salmond – Answer 4:
Salmond draws attention to Alistair Darling’s remarks when he admitted that Labour would have made worse cuts than Thatcher. Salmond also again points out that voting Labour did not protect Scotland from a Tory government. Salmond ended by asking Labour to abandon previous opposition and join the Scottish government in calls for the Fossil fuel levy, Olympic consequentials, borrowing powers and capital acceleration to be forthcoming from David Cameron.
All in all the Gray/Salmond session covered a few areas:
NHS job losses, Election result, Labour refusal to prevent a Tory Government and calls for powers & funding from David Cameron. There is also the question of who performed better in the chamber.
Let’s see how the Brian Taylor and Hamish Macdonell described the Salmond/Gray part of the session:
Well, there you go – according to Taylor and Macdonell it was a magnificent performance from Iain Gray who was “liberated”, “buoyed up” and “confident”, Salmond on the other hand did not answer questions.
Taylor described the NHS board proposals to reduce the head count as “spending cuts”. This is strange given that the NHS budget has increased, even Iain Gray did not make that accusation. Gray in fact called the job losses simply ‘cuts’ not ‘spending cuts’ – a mistake by Taylor.
Macdonell’s claim that the SNP blamed the Tories and the Lib Dems for any spending cuts is simply not true. Salmond clearly held Labour responsible for the £500 million cuts to the Scottish budget, a point raised by Taylor but ignored by Macdonell who continued to paint the ‘cuts’ as the SNP’s responsibility alone.
Macdonell continued with the anti-Salmond theme throughout, using favourable terms for the other two party leaders Goldie and Scott (their contributions not shown here). His opinion that Iain Gray had ‘won’ the session was therefore predictable and more than a little questionable.
Perhaps the strangest omission from the ‘analysis’ was the failure to acknowledge the other substantive points raised by Salmond. Namely the failure of Labour to pursue an anti-Tory alliance and the calls for Labour to join the Scottish government in requesting funds to be released, capital expenditure acceleration (supported by Gray previously) and borrowing powers to be given.
There also needs to be some kind of critical analysis of the claims by Iain Gray. To simply adopt the language of the Labour Holyrood leader and take his claims at face value is not journalism, there needs to be some kind of scrutiny.
If the BBC in Scotland wishes to be taken seriously then they must cease with this continual sidelining of the SNP. By all means highlight the points raised by Gray, Goldie and Scott but surely there ought to be mention of the counter points made by the First Minister?
The BBC also needs to accept that continually loading political programmes with pundits who are more often than not hostile to the SNP will lead to a skewing of the political debate and a further erosion of their own credibility.
Finally: In his BBC blog Brian Taylor describes an Iain Gray joke as:
“…the best gag on offer: he did a few sums on the SNP performance in the UK election, by contrast with their forecast.”
Judge for yourself the ‘success’ of his joke – you can see it if you replay Iain Gray’s second question.