Glasgow Labour and the BBC – In the headlines and in trouble.


By a Newsnet reporter
They say a week is a long time in politics, and so it proved when in the space of seven days two hitherto untouchable institutions found themselves in a scrap with the SNP.
We witnessed the BBC’s reputation for fairness questioned as the Scottish Government handed BBC Trust Chair Chris Patten a dossier containing what it claims is evidence of questionable behaviour in the corporation’s coverage of Scottish politics.

The BBC story had the added spice of coming only days after First Minister Alex Salmond had an invitation to appear on a light hearted BBC rugby show withdrawn by a London based political adviser.

And if that wasn’t enough, Labour’s sudden meltdown in its Glasgow heartland was as dramatic as it was unexpected.
What seemed like a handful of disaffected Labour councillors at the start of the week became a crescendo by Thursday as Stephen Purcell’s replacement, Gordon Matheson, found himself fighting for his political survival.

You had to pinch yourself to ensure it was really happening.  The untouchable BBC under fire from the SNP and Labour caught in a spiral of self-destruction in Glasgow.

Glasgow is the Labour stronghold, it is supposed to be impregnable, yet here was Labour being ripped apart by a civil war.

Yes, the party are in trouble nationally, Johann Lamont’s poll ratings are a testament to that.  But Glasgow is supposed to be a red Labour oasis amid a sea of SNP yellow.  So to see this once dominant party scrabbling around begging and bullying for votes was something to behold.

Labour’s sudden meltdown just prior to a crucial vote last Thursday was further compounded that same evening when one of the Labour rebels revealed that a veiled threat had been made to her in an attempt at persuading her to support her former colleagues.

Both BBC Scotland and STV provided high profile coverage of Thursday’s vote on their evening news programmes, twitter had been buzzing all day with speculation that Labour might lose so it was a no brainer really – they had to be there.

However the unexpected claim of bullying involving the disabled son of a Labour rebel took the story into a completely different arena, one that could have significant implications for Labour in Glasgow.

Twitter was again alive with speculation over the identity of the Labour councillor who allegedly threatened Anne Marie Millar.

Realising the story had a fresh angle, STV maintained its relatively high profile TV coverage of Labour’s tribulations.  It was, after all, video footage from STV of Ms Millar breaking down that introduced the new ‘bullying’ development.

BBC Scotland on the other hand seemed to take fright when the new bullying claim emerged.  Friday’s Good Morning Scotland covered the events from the day before without actually mentioning Anne Marie Millar’s accusations.

On Friday’s Reporting Scotland the Glasgow Labour story barely featured.

But worse than the reluctance to report Ms Millar’s claims, was the quite blatant attempt to divert attention from the potential scandal by using what can only be described as a rant by Donald Trump.

Scotland has few forums that allow the general public to engage in political debate and make known their views on the big stories of the day.  Such engagement is often used in order to widen public awareness of issues or events and of course to keep that awareness alive.

Sadly BBC Scotland is not well endowed in this department, having only ‘Brian Taylor’s Big Debate’ and radio phone in show ‘Call Kaye’ offering a limited opportunity for public interaction.

Given the scarcity of such programmes one might have thought that the Glasgow Labour story or even the BBC/SNP row would feature as a topic for discussion.

But neither did.  In fact Call Kaye used the Trump ‘anti-windfarm’ rant in order to provide a platform to the same anti windfarm voices that we have heard time and again, and will continue to hear.  The phone-in contained the now obligatory description of the First Minister as a “dictator”.

Why was this chosen as a subject?  Who knows.  We can all speculate of course, but unless the shows editor deigns to inform us it will remain just that, speculation.  One thing it did do though was provide credence to Trumps complaints and of course to the four pages the Scotsman newspaper gave over to the nonsense.

Brian Taylor’s Big Debate was equally uninspiring and elevated the same rant from Mr Trump to an undeserved level of seriousness by giving it pride of place in the list of questions sanctioned by whoever’s job it is to do so on Mr Taylor’s show.

I listened to a recording of Mr Taylor and would recommend readers do the same if only to listen to his asides as panel and studio audience make their points.

Mr Taylor gives the impression of being a tad irritated by the SNP’s complaints against his employer, the BBC.  Sadly those complaints, along with the events at Glasgow Council, were either not deemed worthy of discussion or the audience did not wish to discuss them.

Again, we will never know why neither was considered worthy of inclusion in the programme.

Call Kaye, we now know, is lowest common denominator radio.  It’s sad to say, but the incisive and objective scrutiny of topical items that the show’s former host, Lesley Riddoch, used to carry out is now a thing of the past.

However not only is Taylor’s show billed as a ‘Big Debate’, but it is the only audience participation programme of its kind on BBC Scotland.

One would expect at least one of the two biggest stories that week to feature on the only show capable of providing discussion and analysis.

Actually, it’s worse than that.  This show has an obligation to discuss such issues – we pay for this through our £145.50 licence fee.

Taylor’s show is now a ‘must listen to’ every week for all the wrong reasons.  I now look forward to finding out what subject will be ignored, what local issue will feature on a supposed national discussion programme and what ‘Unionist scare story’ will allow the Unionist panellists to gang up on the SNP representative.

If and when Lord Patten’s much vaunted new guidelines for political reporting in Scotland are eventually drafted it will be interesting to see what changes are required to be implemented at BBC Scotland.

Sadly though I fear that such is the entrenched anti-SNP culture at Pacific Quay and the clear bitterness that is now routinely exhibited by a handful of high profile presenters towards the party, that such guidelines will merely been seen as obstacles to be circumnavigated and not standards to be adhered to.

BBC Scotland needs a clear out of the top level management.  It also needs to accept that there is indeed a problem and that new faces are needed if trust is to be restored.

Most of all though, Scotland needs a state broadcaster that is controlled by a body answerable to our democratically elected Scottish Parliament and not dictated to from London.