Holyrood 2011 week two – The election campaign and the BBC’s input


by G.A.Ponsonby

We’ve had the second week of campaigning and the first of the leaders’ debates.  What have been the talking points, the gaffes and the stories this second week?

Iain Gray’s profile increased slightly, almost entirely due to the leaders’ debate, however it’s safe to say it was a spotlight that he’d rather not have had.  Alex Salmond took the debate spoils and still looks the winner in the profile race with a poll yesterday showing that 85% of respondents recognised the SNP leader whilst only 27% knew who the Labour front man was.

Annabelle Goldie’s stock has risen after suffering early campaign setbacks, she has appeared sure footed and performed well in the leaders’ debate.  Tavish Scott seems stuck in a rut and the awful handling of the North Sea oil plunder has rendered London-based colleagues like Danny Alexander and Michael Moore toxic.

I predicted last week that with things not going well for Labour the Scottish media would try to make Local Income Tax an issue in the second week, and this has indeed proven to be the case.  Labour were in trouble after week one and the party needed to try to arrest the trend of support to the SNP.  The attacks, though, have relied less on the actual merits of LIT and more on a smear campaign based on a newspaper FOI request.  We have heard nothing of Labour’s own promised council tax replacement.

Nuclear power is still lurking in the background and both Labour and the Scottish media do not quite know how to handle it.  It didn’t feature in the STV leaders’ debate but will surely feature at some point.

Friendly Fire:
Mike Russell’s Labour opponent in Argyll and Bute, Mick Rice, is the first Labour candidate to openly rebel against Labour’s policy on new nuclear power plants being built in Scotland.  In a move that may suggest internal dissent over Labour’s pro-nuclear stance, Rice insisted that building new nuclear plants in Scotland was wrong and he would not support such a policy.

The antics of Magnus Gardham over at The Daily Record cannot be doing Labour any favours.  His article the day after the leaders’ debate where he contrived to suggest that Iain Gray had ‘triumphed’ was two days early, April Fool’s Day being on the Friday.

What’s to come:
Labour will unveil their manifesto next Wednesday so expect high profile media coverage with plenty of friendly headlines as the resurrection of the campaign begins in earnest.  Look out for BBC Scotland’s Brian ‘to be fair to Labour’ Taylor providing generous analysis of the ‘substantive’ manifesto launch.

Also watch for Labour trying to introduce the bogeyman of the Tories.  Don’t be surprised to see the media try to suggest some sort of ‘deal’ between the SNP and the Conservatives.  The Labour campaign is currently policy lite and in a mess so expect an increase in anti-SNP headlines using anything to hand.

BBC Scotland’s campaign:
Slow to start but warming up.  Radio Scotland had interviews with the four main party leaders.  Three out of the four leaders were given pretty robust interviews by the station’s seasoned and experienced front man, Gary Robertson – Alex Salmond’s interview was particularly aggressive.

However, for the interview with Labour’s Iain Gray, BBC Scotland quite inexplicably substituted Robertson for an inexperienced female reporter called Hayley Millar.  The difference in tone and probing was stark and questions need to be asked as to why the Gray interview was handled differently from the rest by BBC Scotland.

You should have been able to contrast the Gray/Salmond interviews by going to BBC Scotland’s campaign interviews website.  Unfortunately there’s one interview missing, the one with Alex Salmond.

Newsnet Scotland has conveniently placed a recording of Mr Salmond’s interview alongside that of Mr Gray to allow our readers to form their own judgement.

Reporting Scotland entered the campaign fray in earnest on Wednesday.  BBC Scotland’s chief political editor Brian Taylor popped up to inform viewers that the previous night’s STV leaders’ debate had “proved” that council tax was now central to the Holyrood contest.

The leaders’ debate also ‘proved’ that Iain Gray had a problem when it came to such live TV debates, but Mr Taylor wasn’t keen on highlighting that particular aspect nor on Labour’s council tax freeze U-turn.  In fact, BBC Scotland has all but ignored the outcome of the STV debate and has provided no analysis worth mentioning.  What a change from the so-called Prime Ministerial debates of last year that saw the entire media pore over every movement, word and nuance.

Mr Taylor’s insistence that council tax was now central to the Holyrood campaign proved fortuitous to Labour though.  For within hours of the Reporting Scotland broadcast the LIT Freedom of Information smear story was up and running.

On the subject of Brian Taylor there was also a mini-spat between the BBC Scotland editor and Professor John Curtice on The Politics Show yesterday.  Professor Curtice had insisted that Labour were in trouble and had little by way of policies, needing three key policies in their manifesto launch on Wednesday if they were to turn things around.

Brian Taylor took issue with this analysis from Professor Curtice and insisted that Labour had announced “a raft” of new policies already.  I sense some friction between the good professor and the BBC Scotland man.  You can see the analysis from both in the clip at the bottom of this article.  Note Mr Taylor’s reticence when it comes to acknowledging the trend of the polls.

Site regulars will also have noted the observations of blogger Mark MacLachan who has highlighted BBC Scotland’s very subtle use of images of party figures on its website.  The state broadcaster needs to be watched like a hawk these coming weeks especially when our old friend Glenn Campbell hosts the BBC’s own leaders’ debates.

At the end of round 2 the bookies have Labour at 1/3 from 2/9 with the SNP at 2/1 from 11/4.  Interestingly, ninety per cent of bets this last week have been for the SNP.

The Salmond interview on Radio Scotland

The Gray interview on Radio Scotland