Nutty professor predicts jobs ‘apocalypse now’ … or maybe later … or maybe never


By a Newsnet reporter
It was good news day for Scotland yesterday as far as employment was concerned, a third successive fall in unemployment despite the economic gloom and top of the UK foreign investment league for the second successive year.
The UK unemployment figures also fell but not by as much proportionally – 51,000 UK wide included 14,000 from Scotland, which meant we contributed over a quarter to the UK figures.

It should of course have been heralded and perhaps Finance Secretary John Swinney given some credit by BBC Scotland’s resident voice of economic doom Douglas Fraser.

But BBC Scotland had other plans.

Catriona Shearer on Wednesday’s late news bulletin stated that a jobs Armageddon awaited Scotland because of the financial crisis in Greece or Spain.  According to the BBC newsreader the Fraser of Allander Institute had “forecast” 50,000 job losses in Scotland if Greece left the euro, and 144,000 job losses if every country left the single currency.

Within minutes, Gordon Brewer was at it also with the word “forecast” and a face that looked as though his job would be first to go.  Later, as Newsnight Scotland started, Brewer decided forecast wasn’t quite strong enough and it was replaced with “predicts”.

In the item that followed we were told about the economic uncertainty “caused” by the independence referendum.  Not claimed mind you, but “caused”.  BBC Scotland once again stating as fact that which was evidentially not true, if one looks at the official investment figures from Ernst and Young.

Brewer tried to redeem himself when interviewing Professor Ashcroft by admitting, with a wry smile, that some “modelling” had been applied to produce the figures.

Problem was of course that this was not an academic excercise in the usual sense.  There was no forecast, nor any prediction.  The Institute itself had made it clear that what they were indulging in was fanciful speculation based on nothing more than wild imagination – or “what if”, to give it its official term.

Even the BBC’s own online news where the ‘jobs Armageddon’ story sat throughout the day made it clear there was no forecast, saying:

“The institute said this was a ‘what-if’ scenario and not a forecast.” A quote repeated by the professor himself on Newsnight Scotland.

So why was BBC Scotland peddling the fib that this was a “forecast” to viewers?

The answer is of course that the state broadcaster’s Scottish franchise was yet again indulging in what is known as news management and manipulation.

The BBC in Scotland were, with the help of report author Prof Brian Ashcroft, ensuring that the very good news on Scottish employment and investment would be overshadowed by what now looks like politically motivated speculation.

Actually to call it speculation is to bestow a degree of logical thought that it doesn’t merit.  This is as far from academic research and educated guesswork as it is possible to get.

Greece has just voted in a Government that most people believe will ensure the nation remains within the euro.  There are problems within the Eurozone, no question, but to extrapolate these to then suggest that every single nation will revert back to their old currencies was simply nonsense.

It ill behoves either a respected academic and a self-proclaimed impartial broadcaster to publish and promote politically mischievous drivel like this.  Could the explanation be that the aforementioned Professor Ashcroft is also the husband of one Wendy Alexander, former Scottish Labour leader in Scotland.

Mr Ashcroft was once, and maybe still is, a member of the Labour party.  As such, it is surely incumbent on the BBC to apply rigorous scrutiny to anything emanating from the academic.

In this case the ‘forecast’ was nothing more than pseudo-academic gibberish and should have been treated as such.

We can all play the game of ‘what-if’, but we don’t all get to have our wild fantasies promoted by the state broadcaster to the detriment and overshadowing of very real factual news.  Again, where was the report by Ernst and Young?

Job losses in Scotland are happening right now, and it is down to a double dip recession – anyone remember that?

Perhaps the time of BBC Scotland and Professor Ashcroft would have been better spent highlighting the Scottish Government’s continual urging of Chancellor George Osborne for funding for our 30 or so ‘shovel ready’ projects.

A capital spending boost of £300 million could create over 4,000 jobs.  Not a bad deal when you consider £1 billion has just been earmarked for Trident submarines and will generate 300 jobs … none of them north of the border.

And finally … why does BBC Scotland insist on holding up a front page of (usually) the Scotsman newspaper most nights at the end of Newsnight Scotland?  The story on the front page was, you’ve guessed it, “Ashcroft’s Armageddon”.  It was also read out on BBC Radio Scotland as well, along with the headlines from almost every other news vendor – with the exception of this one.