BBC Scotland targets council tax freeze the week before a crucial by-election


  By G.A.Ponsonby
Most of Scotland’s journalistic fraternity have been transfixed by the revelatory blog of former BBC Scotland presenter Derek Bateman.  Mr Bateman’s articles – one satirical and one serious – have, amongst other things, shone a light on the goings on at Pacific Quay.

  By G.A.Ponsonby
Most of Scotland’s journalistic fraternity have been transfixed by the revelatory blog of former BBC Scotland presenter Derek Bateman.  Mr Bateman’s articles – one satirical and one serious – have, amongst other things, shone a light on the goings on at Pacific Quay.
Running through the respected journalist’s almost daily offerings has been a belief that there is no anti-independence bias in operation at BBC Scotland, that there is no conspiracy against the SNP.

This may well be true, but as most people will be all too aware, institutionalised practices can – if unchecked and unchanged for decades – result in an inability to challenge the status-quo that put them in place.

Yesterday saw BBC Scotland indulge in one of its most favoured practices – trying to surreptitiously influence an election.

For reasons known only to those in charge of news at Pacific Quay, the broadcaster thought it a good idea to ask councils if they believed more jobs would go over the next few years.

‘Hundreds more’ council jobs to go, the BBC Scotland online site told visitors in the morning where it was top story.

BBC Scotland had decided now was the time to publish results of a survey which had asked “how staff numbers had changed over the past year, whether they expected to cut more staff and what budget savings they anticipated.”

The question was a no-brainer and was never going to produce any other answer than staff numbers had decreased and there was probably more to come.  Budget savings would be made but would be masked by the usual politico speak … efficiency.

But alarm bells rang when one read further and three words stuck out – Council Tax Freeze.

Indeed, it appeared, waiting in the wings having no doubt been tipped off by the BBC about their ‘survey’, were officials from the public sector union Unison.

According to BBC Scotland, Dougie Black from Unison said he believed the council tax freeze was no longer sustainable.

“But, as in all walks of life, choices have to be made and at this moment in time local authorities are clearly the losers.

“Local authorities need to be able to raise more finance themselves in order to be a bit more innovative about how services can be provided.”

In an interview on Radio Scotland, Mr Black also raised the spectre of cuts leading to industrial action.

So there it was, the BBC were trying to undermine the Council tax Freeze and, for good measure, there was a suggestion it might lead to strike action.

If there were any doubts as to the agenda behind the so called ‘survey’ then they were dispelled when Gary Robertson took to the airwaves to question Local Government Minister Derek Mackay.

Robertson is utterly predictable now and it wasn’t long before the BBC presenter showed his hand.

“But aren’t their hands tied in terms of not being able to raise any extra cash because of the council tax freeze…”

Before we go any further, Robertson, along with the rest of the critics who regularly try to attack the Scottish Government over the council tax freeze, ignored the fact that the Glasgow Labour group themselves pledged a five year council tax freeze at the last local elections.

Despite this, Robertson’s interview again dredged up the old Labour line that rich people benefit more from the freeze than any other group.

This tiresome line of attack was used by Gary Robertson last month when interviewing John Swinney, when the BBC man used Labour’s “millionaires” soundbite in order to try to discredit the council tax freeze and free prescriptions.  Strangely it conveniently disappears when Ed Miliband’s energy bill freeze for all home owners is discussed, surely those in big houses will benefit more?

But why was BBC Scotland trying to discredit the council tax freeze you may ask and why now?

Well, look no further than the Dunfermline by-election campaign and Labour’s emerging problems over school closures.  Johann Lamont’s leadership will come under serious scrutiny if her party fail to win a by election for which they require a less than one per cent swing.

The Labour candidate, Cara Hilton, is having a dreadful campaign due to Labour’s school closure plans, and her one out card has been to highlight Miliband’s energy price freeze.  The SNP has countered effectively by pointing out that the council tax freeze already saves households over ten times the amount that freezing energy bills will save.

Within hours of the BBC homing in on the council tax freeze, Scottish Labour MSP Sarah Boyack MSP released this statement:

“This news reiterates our fears that the Scottish Government’s underfunded council tax freeze will lead to significant cuts from local authorities.

“The SNP are attempting to absolve themselves of any blame despite the cuts originating from their budget.  It is left to councils that have been backed into a corner to take tough decisions and unfairly deal with the consequences.

“We are only now beginning to see the impact on local communities of cuts to services and increased charges that are taking place under Alex Salmond’s watch.

“If the Scottish Government was genuinely concerned about the loss of jobs, closure of schools and libraries then they would properly fund local government throughout Scotland, cease their centralising agenda and let local councils get on with delivering the services they were elected carry out.”

So, the Scottish Government is responsible for the closure of schools and libraries.  No doubt this will help Labour’s Dunfermline candidate explain the decision she and her Labour council colleagues took when they voted to consult on the closure of a local primary school – how very convenient that the BBC ran this ‘survey’.

The BBC has effectively planted seeds of doubt into the constituents of Dunfermline over the council tax freeze, which is precisely why they conducted such a lame brained and completely unnecessary survey in the first place.

For those who doubt our state broadcaster would behave in such an underhand manner, the BBC has form in this regard. 

Prior to the 2011 Scottish elections the BBC conducted a survey to find out what policy area the Scottish public deemed the most important.  A Labour policy on health ‘won’.

Not surprising really given that Labour had just launched its manifesto which received widespread media coverage – not least on the BBC.  The SNP manifesto had not yet been launched when the survey was carried out.

Few people will be aware that on the eve of last week’s local authority by-election in Govan, the BBC allowed Ed Miliband to appear on the consumer programme Watchdog in order to answer questions on his energy price freeze.

24 hours before a crucial by-election, the leader of the Labour party was allowed a prime time slot on the BBC.

Last night Newsnight Scotland turned on Scotland’s renewables industry whilst giving another plug to Miliband’s energy pledge.  In a studio debate in which Gordon Brewer appeared to have made his mind up that renewables was an albatross around the neck of the poor homeowner, he said at one point: “the political tide has turned against renewables”.

One of the other issues being used against the SNP in the Dunfermline by-election is the growth of wind farms.

So here we are, one week to go before another important by-election in Scotland and this institutionalised monstrosity is at it again.  The Scottish Labour party has been handed a nice little by-election boost, courtesy of the Scottish licence payer.

Is there a political news department anywhere in the western world more corrupt than the effrontery that is BBC Scotland News and Current Affairs?

I don’t think there is.