BBC Scotland and the lie that almost brought down a government

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The Met have admitted last Monday’s weather forecast was wrong.
The head of Cosla has said that last Monday’s weather forecast was wrong.
The Chief of police has said that last Monday’s weather forecast was wrong.
The Chief Engineer for roads said that last Monday’s weather forecast was wrong.
The Scottish government has said that last Monday’s weather forecast was wrong.

BBC Scotland claim that last Monday’s forecast was accurate.

Last Saturday saw the resignation of Stewart Stevenson from the Scottish government.  Mr Stevenson resigned his position as Transport Minister after heavy snowfall brought chaos to Scotland’s central belt the previous Monday.

Keith Brown is now at the helm and as I write this he is preparing for a long Wednesday night as severe weather is forecast, 20cm of snow was mentioned on Radio Scotland at the beginning of the week – huskies are running for cover.

Mr Stevenson had presided over a disaster, motorists had spent 12 hours stuck in their cars – there was gridlock on the M8 and nothing was moving. The SNP’s Transport Minister compounded the misery by not appearing in public sooner and then appearing on the BBC that evening and describing the response from the authorities as “first class” – his resignation gave the opposition at Holyrood their much sought after ‘first scalp’ – there was delirium.

It’s over now and to use the old cliché it is time to move on.

But before we do we need to highlight the role of BBC Scotland in this resignation, and do not fall for the nonsense that the BBC have been an innocent bystander merely reporting the ‘facts’.  Pacific Quay has been central in creating the hype and the feral atmosphere that allowed the opposition wolves to pounce.

The headline of this article mentions ‘the lie that almost brought down the government’.  It isn’t as melodramatic as it sounds, for we very nearly witnessed Holyrood’s first ever bloodless coup.

It’s an aspect that no-one has come close to acknowledging, the role of the BBC in this governmental crisis – and it was a crisis.  Had Iain Gray tabled a motion of no confidence in Stewart Stevenson then it could very well have brought down the SNP government.  We could have faced a situation where Iain Gray became First Minister and Charlie Gordon would have been in charge of transport – ponder that.

Stevenson made mistakes and admitted so, as did the government; the communication on ‘white’ Monday was not good.  However in our opinion such an error is not a resigning offence.  Last week there were countless countries who suffered similar blizzards; Germany, Poland and across the pond in North America and Canada.  In Poland people died on the roads – in Scotland the only thing killed on our roads last Monday was time, lots of it.

The moment that the opposition realised that they had an opportunity came on the Tuesday afternoon when it was clear that BBC Scotland had crafted a narrative. 

The Newsnight Scotland interview on Monday evening was merely candyfloss, an attempt at getting Stevenson to either admit he was culpable or to portray him as refusing to apologise – the BBC wanted a sound-bite and this was an attempt at readying the patsy.  The “first class response” was a gift from a decent man whose words were taken completely out of context and who struggled in an interview where information and explanation were the first casualties.

The BBC narrative was to be based on one key line, which was that the Transport Minister had not prepared for the weather that had been forecast.  Once that had been sold to the Scottish public then the rest was pretty straightforward, the “first class response” was just garnish along with the rolling TV clips of the angry driver calling for the Transport Minister to resign.

The newspaper images and headlines (curiously absent on Tuesday) fell into place and the opposition politicians duly emerged from their bolt holes.

It was nonsense of course, contrived and dishonest.  No one forecast the extent of the snowfall, certainly not the BBC.  Anyone who listens to the clips of the weather forecasts broadcast by Radio Scotland prior to the snowfall or listens to the weatherman in the TV clip that the BBC are endlessly re-running can hear this clearly for themselves.

The list of officials who now agree with the Scottish government, that forecasts did NOT predict what eventually arrived on Monday morning is damning for BBC producers, editors and reporters.  It is one thing to accuse an SNP Minister of being unprepared but are the BBC really asking us to believe that all of the organisations mentioned above somehow missed the BBC’s weather output?

The episode is a sobering indication of the power of the BBC in Scotland.  That such blatant news manipulation can go pretty much unchallenged is worrying.  Former Times and now Scotsman columnist Joan McAlpine is thus far the only high profile journalist to openly criticise the BBC’s coverage of the snow chaos.  We have to ask where are the others?

From start to finish BBC Scotland’s handling of this story is an affront to honest journalism and to a society that calls itself democratic.