How did Newsnight Scotland get it so wrong on the Better Together donation?

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   By a Newsnet reporter

It was nearly obscured by the death of Margaret Thatcher, but social media and citizen journalism has forced the controversial Better Together donation onto the Scottish news agenda.

Scotland on Sunday followed the Sunday Herald and gave the story a prominent position.  This follows Herald journalist Robbie Dinwoodie’s decision to cover an issue which has forced the Better Together campaign onto the back foot.

By a Newsnet reporter

It was nearly obscured by the death of Margaret Thatcher, but social media and citizen journalism has forced the controversial Better Together donation onto the Scottish news agenda.

Scotland on Sunday followed the Sunday Herald and gave the story a prominent position.  This follows Herald journalist Robbie Dinwoodie’s decision to cover an issue which has forced the Better Together campaign onto the back foot.

The acceptance of the £500,000 donation by the No campaign was a political blunder and the SNP, as is its right, has seized on the opportunity to score political points.  The nationalists couldn’t believe their luck when it emerged Iain Taylor’s company Vitol had links to a Serbian war criminal, Saddam Hussein’s regime, Assad’s Syria and the tax avoidance mechanism – EBTs.

On top of all that, Labour MP Alistair Darling, who leads the Better Together campaign, finds himself in a rather uncomfortable position of having welcomed what some within his own party have described as “dirty money”.

Last week when the story broke, the BBC in Scotland was clearly reluctant to give it a high profile and actively sought to downplay its importance.  On the day that news organisations received lawyer’s letters, leading to one website closing down, the BBC broadcast a rather bizarre ‘interview’ on Newsnight Scotland featuring someone called Severin Carrell.

For those not aware, Mr Carrell is the Guardian newspaper’s Scottish correspondent and one time regular guest on BBC Scotland.  He is also very much pro-Union and regularly attacks the SNP in his Guardian columns.

His appearance on Newsnight Scotland was not so much an interview as a blatant attempt at minimising the significance of the news that had been circulating online for days.  As you can see from the clip below, Mr Carrell also took the opportunity to attack ‘nationalist’ online blogs and sites who have a pro-independence slant.

Unfortunately for Mr Carrell, he had to present a false scenario to the viewer in order to back his spurious narrative that sought to compare independence supporting online journals badly with ‘professional’ journalists … like Mr Carrell himself.

According to Mr Carrell, “Campaigners [sic] perhaps haven’t quite had the experience, knowledge, legal advice that may have prevented some of the problems they are now encountering.”

He then went on to cite National Collective and “other nationalist websites as well” adding that it is “getting quite intense for the independence movement” adding that these nationalist sites are claiming “their right to attack is being suppressed”.

The phrases and language used was designed to portray nationalist supporting online sites as amateur, legally suspect and prone, not to scrutinise, but to “attack”.

None of the narrative was challenged by Gordon Brewer who one would have thought would have at least been aware that it wasn’t just ‘nationalist’ websites that had received a lawyer’s letter but the Herald newspaper also.

Indeed, the credibility of Mr Carrell as an objective and believable analyst falls apart when one learns that the revelation that the Herald had received a lawyer’s letter appeared on his own blog several hours prior to his Newsnight Scotland appearance.

It leaves an uncomfortable question for the Guardian columnist, just why did he deliberately paint a false picture of the events surrounding the lawyer’s letter by omitting the Herald in his Newsnight Scotland appearance.

He also sailed very close to the wind in the use of some of his language by implying that the sites he referred to, and in one case named, were somehow at fault and to blame for the legal situation.  Thus far no-one has publicly conceded anything and this BBC Scotland broadcast may well prove interesting viewing for those currently advising National Collective.

Far from being a ‘handbags at dawn’ story as both men described the Better Together donation issue, it is clearly much bigger than that.  The story has branched off into several areas, with claims that the lawyer’s letter is an attempt at closing down debate, the emergence of attacks on Mr Taylor by Labour MPs and of course the outrageous claims by those at the top of Better Together of a coordinated campaign led by Alex Salmond.

On the evening of this peculiar interview, STV had Yes Scotland’s Blair Jenkins and Better Together’s Blair McDougall on the excellent Scotland Tonight which reflected the significance of the story and provided clear balance.

The story itself has seen little by way of coverage from BBC Scotland’s weekday news programmes.  Derek Bateman, as expected, covered the issue on his weekend morning slot, but there has been nothing like the coverage it deserved.

BACKLASH?

Even BBC Scotland’s Sunday Politics show ignored it completely and instead gave a platform to a right wing Republican and former aide to George W Bush, Franklin Miller, who helped the Unionist cause by launching an attack on the SNP’s NATO plans.

A clue to the coaching that Mr Miller may have received was evident in his description of an independent Scotland as “separatist”.  It’s also not surprising to see Mr Miller wheeled out by the BBC given the report he wrote along with former Labour MP George (now Lord) Robertson in 2010.

Interestingly that report conceded that there were “risks” associated with siting nuclear weapons on a nation’s soil.

Worse followed when show host Andrew Kerr asked a question that will have done his reputation no good.  Just why he thought it appropriate to ask if a newly independent Scotland would face a “backlash” from the USA should Trident be removed, was not immediately evident.  There has, as far as we can tell, no indication from anyone anywhere that the USA would retaliate in this manner should Scotland’s government remove Trident from the Clyde.

Unionists are reeling right now and their campaign is in disarray – they need something to help hit back.  If we cast our mind back to the Megrahi release then we can see that the BBC and the rest of the Scottish media need little encouragement to headline claims of a US backlash.

Let’s hope that Kerr’s brazenly loaded and evidence free question doesn’t lead to such headlines.  However the following question was just a cheap stunt and unbecoming of the BBC.

The show did though provide an interesting set piece debate between SNP MP Angus Robertson and Labour MP Jim Murphy.

 

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