BBC’s Brian Taylor backs ‘committee ambush’ MSPs


BBC Scotland’s political editor Brian Taylor has voiced his support for under fire Scotland Bill MSPs Wendy Alexander and David McLetchie.

Mr Taylor said the tactics employed by the Labour and Tory MSPs who subjected two respected academics to aggressive questioning at a committee hearing was “entirely legitimate”.

Mr Taylor was responding to the furore after Professors Drew Scott and Andrew Hughes-Hallett had complained about the treatment they received at the hands of the two Unionist MSPs as they attempted to give evidence to the Scottish parliament’s Scotland Bill committee.  The academics complained to Presiding Officer Alex Fergusson and revealed that research papers had been acquired by the committee without permission and had “masqueraded” as evidence in order to attack their academic reputation.

Speaking on his blog ‘Blether with Brian’ the senior BBC Scotland reporter acknowledged that it would have been better to have started the session off with questions about the Scotland Bill but that the line of questioning was appropriate because the Scottish government supported full fiscal autonomy.

Mr Taylor said:
“However, it was entirely legitimate to pursue the issue of fiscal autonomy, given that it is the suggested alternative to the measures in the Scotland Bill and has been advocated by the Scottish Government, drawing upon work by the two profs.”

The BBC’s political editor also implied that the Scottish government had deliberately altered the wording of the professor’s research papers in order to back their own fiscal autonomy claims adding:

“In an academic paper in March, Prof Hughes Hallett and Prof Scott noted that “a 1% point increase in fiscal devolution {share of local expenditures in total government spending for that region} . . . might be expected to raise GDP by 1.3% after 5 years above what would otherwise have been the case.

“However, in quoting this point, the Scottish government would appear to have altered the wording slightly, saying that “a 1% increase in fiscal devolution {the proportion of revenue and expenditure devolved} might be expected to raise GDP by 1.3% after five years above what would otherwise have been the case.”

However when questioned on this very matter by David McLetchie, the professors themselves appeared to dismiss any suggestion that the SNP had misrepresented their research in any way.

David McLetchie asked: “Can we just get this on the record: When the Scottish government takes your analysis for its assertion that a 1% increase in fiscal devolution as it defines it might be expected to raise GDP by 1.3% after 5 years above what would otherwise be the case and makes that without any qualification as to the policies that you would pursue under a regime; that is a false and inaccurate assertion and is not a fair representation of your position; is that correct?

Professor Scott refused to agree with the Tory MSP and replied: “I think that it [SNP definition] is a fair representation of the empirical record.” … “ I think that is a fair reflection of the evidence”. (1)

However the BBC Scotland reporter said this and claims by Labour and Tories regarding research by Professor Lars Feld of the University of Freiburg made the claims by the SNP government “controversial”.

Mr Taylor’s blog itself is not without controversy.  In his first blog of the year there was a systematic removal of comments from posters angry at BBC Scotland’s news blackout when Labour’s Iain Gray caused a diplomatic row after linking Montenegro’s independence with ethnic cleansing.

Last year Mr Taylor caused anger after publicly stating that Labour had published a document that backed claims made by their Holyrood leader Iain Gray in Holyrood relating to Skills Development Scotland.  Mr Gray accused the agency of planning to “waste” £555,000 on a name change and £1.68 million on marketing for the re-brand.

It subsequently emerged that Skills Development Scotland had decided against any name change two months previously on 30th March.

(1 hr 57 mins)