By a Newsnet reporter
The BBC has come under fire after it allowed a Tory MP to make a documentary that claims the border between Scotland and England is a “pernicious scar”.
MP Rory Stewart was allowed to make two hour long documentaries – Border Country: The Story of Britain’s Lost Middleland – promoting the idea that a borderless Britain was normal and that told viewers the nations of England and Scotland were artificial constructs.
Stewart, who is planning a mass demonstration near the border between Scotland and England in an attempt at promoting a No vote in the independence referendum, is an outspoken opponent of Scottish independence. Speaking in February this year, the Tory MP from Cumbria announced his intention to hold a mass rally against independence.
He said: “On 19 July this year I’m hoping that 100,000 people will gather along that old, foreign, Roman wall – English, Welsh, Irish, Scots, holding hands, linking arms across that border.
“Because in the end what matters is not the wall that divides us but the human ties that bind in the name of love.”
However, the decision to grant the Tory MP two hours of air time in which to broadcast his views was slammed by SNP MSP Stewart Maxwell.
Mr Maxwell, who convenes the Scottish parliament’s education and culture committee, said the BBC had handed “a two-hour party political broadcast to the No campaign”. and added: “It’s ridiculous that, five months out from the referendum, you can have a politician campaigning for a No vote on the airwaves in this way, dealing with issues at least tangentially connected to that.
“At the very least this was naive and insensitive, if not downright crass. A lot of people in Scotland are demanding that the BBC live up to the high standards they set for themselves as a neutral national broadcaster.”
The decision by the BBC is further evidence of the growing failure of the broadcaster to maintain impartiality in its coverage of the independence referendum. Earlier this year an academic study revealed Scottish TV news output was favouring the No campaign by a ratio of two to one.
Commenting on the situation, a Scottish government spokesperson said: “As the BBC itself has said, it needs not just to be impartial but to be seen to be impartial in the context of the independence referendum. The Scottish government and the people of Scotland will be watching to see them demonstrate that on the journey to September 18.”
There was further anger this weekend, when an item on the Sunday Politics Show blatantly promoted No campaign arguments over the area of defence. Introduced by presenter Gary Robertson, the so-called ‘referendum animation’ appeared to have been put together by un-named trainees and featured heavily loaded terms and arguments against independence.
This weekend, Newsnet Scotland revealed that new guidelines drawn up by the BBC Trust specifically for the independence referendum, were not rules which had to be enforced. According to the BBC’s political advisor Ric Bailey, referendum output would be policed using the same complaints system that currently exists.