BBC Bias row escalates as Labour MP makes new ‘conspiracy’ allegation


By a Newsnet reporter

A Scottish Labour MP at the centre of a row over claims of BBC bias, has today made fresh allegations that he may have been the victim of a conspiracy.

In a new twist, Labour MP Ian Davidson claims that a legal expert who challenged his view that Scotland did not have the legal power to hold a referendum, should have been introduced by Newsnight Scotland presenter Isabel Fraser as an SNP supporter.

In a statement issued today, Mr Davidson says: “It’s outrageous the BBC should act in this way, presenting an SNP activist and blogger as an impartial academic.

“The issue for me is whether Isabel Fraser knew his background.  If not, she was incompetent. If so, this was a conspiracy.

“I was clearly being set up by someone for an ambush.  Either way I deserve an apology for the way this programme was conducted.”

Mr Davidson’s comments are reported in an article in the Herald newspaper, written by Unionist leaning commentator and journalist Magnus Gardham, himself a frequent guest on BBC Scotland political discussion programmes.  

In the article Mr Gardham draws attention to the political leanings of the Newsnight Scotland legal expert, Andrew Tickell, who is a supporter of the SNP.  Writes Gardham: “Andrew Tickell was introduced simply as an Oxford University lawyer without mention of his role as a high-profile Nationalist blogger, who writes online under the pseudonym, ‘Lallands Peat Worrier’.”

However, many will question Mr Gardham’s suggestion of this being an example of pro-SNP bias given that he himself, along with several pro-Union political commentators, regularly appear on BBC Scotland discussion programmes with no mention of their Unionist leanings.

The row exploded this week after Davidson launched an aggressive verbal attack on the female presenter Isabel Fraser after she questioned his claim that the Scottish Parliament did not have the legal power to hold an independence referendum.

Davidson responded by accusing Ms Fraser of being anti-Unionist, he also repeatedly referred to the programme as ‘NewsNat Scotland’ and revealed that the Labour party had complained several times to the BBC.

Although refusing to confirm whether Labour has in fact complained, the BBC has rejected Mr Davidson’s claims of pro-SNP bias.  In a letter to the Scotsman newspaper, Ian Small, head of public policy and corporate affairs at BBC Scotland, writes:

““Ms Fraser did what BBC journalists do week in, week out when she robustly, but fairly, challenged the views of Ian Davidson MP on Tuesday evening’s show.

“It may be uncomfortable for some when we ask the questions that our audiences want asked – but that is what we will continue to do and will do so as professionally as Isabel Fraser did on Tuesday.

“To suggest that by asking these questions she holds or promotes a particular opinion is, quite fundamentally, to misunderstand political interviewing.

“Audiences expect fair and impartial journalism from the BBC and they expect those who hold power to have their arguments robustly challenged.

“That is what we will continue to do on their behalf.”

The row threatens to engulf the Labour party in Scotland and there have been repeated calls for leader Johann Lamont to make a public statement condemning Mr Davidson’s aggressive manner towards Ms Fraser, and his claims of bias and a conspiracy.

Commenting today, SNP MSP Sandra White repeated her call for Johann Lamont to intervene.

Describing Davidson’s latest claim that he was set up for ambush as “nonsensical” Ms White said:

“The Labour Party in Scotland is becoming increasingly desperate and Ms Lamont’s inability to speak out on this won’t help her party’s stagnant ratings in the polls one bit.

“Johann Lamont and the Labour leadership will be privately very embarrassed over Mr Davidson’s hostile manner and his bizarre claims on Newsnight Scotland, but their public shoulder-shrugging reveals how rattled they are.

“For Ian Davidson to accuse anyone else of bias – after his supposedly impartial committee produced a completely one-sided report – is frankly ludicrous.

“Labour continue to back the Tories in an anti-independence pact which offers nothing to the people of Scotland so is little wonder their party ratings are languishing, while the SNP poll higher than we did in last year’s landslide Scottish Parliamentary election result.

“Mr Davidson’s anger has spread from his perceived BBC bias to the other guests, despite it being both routine and reasonable for Newsnight Scotland to invite experts on the show without scrutinising their every detail.”