Anger at BBC Scotland virtual news blackout of Healey North Sea Oil admission


  By G.A.Ponsonby
BBC Scotland bosses have provoked anger after they employed a virtual news blackout of revelations that the Labour party hid the true worth of North Sea Oil from Scots in the seventies.

  By G.A.Ponsonby
BBC Scotland bosses have provoked anger after they employed a virtual news blackout of revelations that the Labour party hid the true worth of North Sea Oil from Scots in the seventies.
The broadcaster is facing growing accusations that it is refusing to give deserved profile to stories that might harm the campaign against Scottish independence, after it all but ignored an admission from former Labour Chancellor Denis Healey that his party deliberately downplayed the value of North Sea Oil in order to thwart support for independence.

The admission from the Labour peer emerged during an interview conducted by the editor of Holyrood Magazine, Mandy Rhodes, in which the senior Labour politician who was Chancellor from 1974 to 1979 was asked about the North Sea Oil issue in the run-up to the 1979 referendum for Scottish Home Rule.

Lord Healey replied: “I think we did underplay the value of the oil to the country because of the threat of nationalism but that was mainly down to Thatcher.

“We 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 5 per cent on GDP from oil.”

The Labour peer also insisted that an independent Scotland could survive “perfectly well”, but said the rest of the UK “would suffer enormously if the income from Scottish oil stopped”.

He said of Westminster politicians: “I think they are concerned about Scotland taking the oil, I think they are worried stiff about it.”

Lord Healey’s comments were reported on the front page of the Sunday Post and Monday’s Scotsman newspaper, they were also covered on Sunday by STV.  An article based on the full interview itself was also published by the highly respected Holyrood magazine on Sunday.

However despite widespread outrage at the revelations and their obvious relevance to the current independence debate amid claims by the Labour peer that the current UK government were employing the same tactic, BBC Scotland refused to give the story any prominence, limiting mention on the main news programme Reporting Scotland to a 15 second comment from reporter Glenn Campbell.

Quizzed by Newsnet Scotland on why they had adopted a news blackout on their early news broadcasts despite the story already being in the public domain, the BBC refused to reply.

Newsnet Scotland understands that the broadcaster has received complaints from licence payers angry at the decision to all but ignore the story which broke the day before the UK government issued its latest attack on Scottish independence.

The UK Treasury report into the viablity of an independent Scotland’s financial sector dominated headlines throughout the day on BBC Scotland and was repeated in regular news bulletins on TV and radio.

In a statement issued to Newsnet Scotland, Mark Piggott who heads the campaign for a balanced referendum debate, was highly critical of the imbalance.

Speaking last night, Mr Piggott said: “Only two days ago over two hundred people gathered in Glasgow to call for a balanced referendum debate from our broadcasters.  We were even joined by the head of the Scottish NUJ.

“North Sea Oil is arguably the biggest economic issue in this debate and any admission that the UK governments of the past have lied the Scottish electorate is surely worth reporting in at least the same manner as a pre-scheduled Treasury attack, and not limited to a short sentence stuck on the end of another item.

“If a former Chancellor of the UK Exchequer openly admits to manipulating oil revenue estimates in order to dissuade Scots from voting for independence then it deserves at least the same level of coverage. 

“The BBC in Scotland has let itself and the Scottish licence payers down very badly with this decision.”

Newsnet Scotland understands that the issue was also raised briefly by Radio Scotland presenter Gary Robertson in a morning interview with Scottish Secretary, Lib Dem MP Michael Moore.  However we have been unable to determine whether any Labour politician will face questions on Lord Healey’s comments.

The episode follows a recent judgement by the BBC Trust that found BBC Scotland management guilty of distorting news on a Radio Scotland morning programme.

Following an investigation, the Trust also found that senior management at Pacific Quay had issued false information and had sought to mislead a licence payer who had complained after an item on the Glasgow Science Centre was suspiciously missing from an early morning radio show.

It transpired that contrary to management claims, the news piece had been pulled from the show after senior management intervened and overruled the show’s producer.