MP target of online abuse after BBC holds indy debate in private school


  By Anne-Marie O’Donnell

An MP who took part in a live radio debate broadcast by the BBC has spoken of being targeted online by pupils from the fee paying school that acted as host.
Perth MP Pete Wishart has revealed that students at the boarding school posted abusive messages on Twitter after the MP appeared as a guest on Brian Taylor’s Big Debate on BBC Radio Scotland this week.

The debate was recorded in Strathallan school, a private boarding school previously attended by golfer Colin Montgomerie, and in the aftermath Mr Wishart said he was subjected to abuse on social media from pupils of the school.

Some of the tweets, which can still be seen online despite having been deleted by the posters, refer to Mr Wishart as a “gimp” and a “yeswanker”.

The offensive messages are believed to have resulted from Mr Wishart’s observation, made during the broadcast, that the audience makeup appeared to have been overwhelmingly anti-SNP and anti-independence.

Three quarters of the way through the debate, Mr Wishart, having apparently noticed an imbalance in the audience, directly queried how many of the 200-strong audience members would vote in favour of independence at the upcoming referendum.  To his astonishment, only three people raised their hands. 

The SNP MP told the listening audience: “Just for the benefit for people on the radio there is about two hundred people here, and I have one person who supports Yes at Strathallan school.”

A show of hands for Yes supporters at the request of BBC presenter Brian Taylor revealed another two people, including a teacher.  A similar request for No supporters resulted in a huge number of the audience raising their hands.

Mr Wishart was met with loud jeers and boos when he remarked that it wasn’t a surprise to find such an imbalance at a fee paying school.

The MP tweeted on later: “Well, that was an interesting BBC Brian’s Big Debate. The audience of 200 were all No supporters, bar 3, at Strathallan private school.”

Alongside the SNP MP on the panel were journalist Ruth Wishart, chair of the Scottish Youth Parliament Kyle Thornton, Labour MEP David Martin and Conservative MSP Liz Smith.  Later that day, Mr Wishart tweeted that he had been targeted with abuse after taking part in the debate.

“The Nos go in [sic] about cybernats but you will not believe what I’ve been called by private school kids from Strathallan private school,” he wrote, adding: “Maybe the reason the privately educated #Strathallan kids were so abusive is they’ve been taking their lead from the negativity from the Nos.”

Mr Wishart later posted that tweets were being deleted following him bringing attention to the abuse, but pointed out that a Twitter capture service had recorded some of them.

Some tweets appeared to boast of the affluence of the families of pupils at the private school and referred to Mr Wishart as a “c**t” and a “pr**k”.

The incident is not the first to see the school become embroiled in controversy.  In 2005, Strathallan was named as one of 50 private schools in the UK to have been part of a price-fixing cartel aimed at driving up fees.

In 1998, a female teacher who alleged she had been sacked because she was unable to coach rugby at the mostly-male school tried to sue over discrimination.

The school has around 550 pupils in total and accepts both boarding students and day pupils.  The school’s motto reads: “At Strathallan we aim to provide an outstanding education, academic, social and extra curricular, which give opportunities for all pupils to excel, thus developing their ability to benefit themselves and others.”

The decision by BBC Scotland to allow an almost exclusively pro-Union audience to participate in such a live debate which was heavily dominated by issues related to independence, has cause outrage on social media, with pro-independence supporters demanding to know who sanctioned such a decision.

The criticism comes at a bad time for BBC Scotland with news that Holyrood’s Culture Committee is to examine a recent study by a University academic that indicated a pro-Union bias in news coverage of the independence referendum.

Dr John Robertson revealed that his study had found early evening news broadcasts on BBC Scotland and STV favoured the No campaign by a ratio of three to two.  The BBC has questioned the methodology and the validity of the study, claiming that many of its conclusions are inaccurate and lack validity.

The study was published just one week after the BBC Trust revealed it had found BBC Scotland guilty of having broken editorial guidelines on accuracy.  The Trust ruled that a Reporting Scotland item on the EU membership of an independent Scotland had misled viewers by suggesting a foreign official had said a Yes vote would result in Scotland being forced to leave the EU.