Osborne’s currency threat is indeed a defining moment

0
574

  By G.A.Ponsonby

Did you know that the BBC has demanded an apology from Newsnet Scotland?  Well, OK not the whole BBC just London correspondent Tim Reid.

Tim was upset by an article published by Newsnet Scotland the day before George Osborne made his speech in Edinburgh in which the Chancellor ruled out a currency union with an independent Scotland.

By G.A.Ponsonby

Did you know that the BBC has demanded an apology from Newsnet Scotland?  Well, OK not the whole BBC, just London correspondent Tim Reid.

Tim was upset by an article published by Newsnet Scotland the day before George Osborne made his speech in Edinburgh in which the Chancellor ruled out a currency union with an independent Scotland.

The article, based on a blog by Tim’s BBC colleague Nick Robinson, reported that the Chancellor would not, as was being reported by BBC Scotland, categorically rule out any currency union, but would instead rule out one defined by UK Treasury officials.

In the end up Mr Osborne couched his language well and cleverly left the impression that he would indeed rule out any and all attempts to form a currency union, without saying it in words that would leave no doubt.

I’m told that one of the Newsnet team considered telling Tim to submit his apology through our online form – and that we’d aim to reply to him within forty days – just like the BBC.  However the idea was rejected in favour of a short tweet explaining that in the opinion of Newsnet Scotland, Mr Osborne had in fact ruled out only the currency union defined by his own Treasury Officials.

You have to hand it to Osborne.  He knew just where to turn in order to get his story the widest possible coverage in Scotland … without even having to say anything.  A quiet word with BBC Scotland’s man in London and the story was off and running.

Rarely has so much coverage been afforded a speech that hadn’t yet been given.  BBC Scotland ran the ‘ghost’ story for two days before Osborne said anything, with headlines and bulletins as presenters interviewed colleagues and pundits.

I cannot recall the BBC running a story of such national importance on so delicate an issue, with nothing but an unconfirmed briefing.

Remember the Osborne briefing also ensured that two very damaging stories (for the No campaign) that had taken place were kept out of the headlines when Barclays and RBS both rubbished suggestions that a Yes vote would harm their businesses.

But the agenda had been set, and so Gordon Brewer on Newsnight Scotland set about grilling head of Yes Scotland Blair Jenkins and Gary Robertson tried to break Nicola Sturgeon on Good Morning Scotland.  The mantra was repeated – Osborne’s speech was a blow, it was a challenge to the SNP … What was Plan B? … Will you default on the debt?

It was all quite surreal as the SNP and Yes campaign found themselves being attacked by BBC Scotland and yet George Osborne had said nothing and answered nothing.  Incredibly, the No campaign faced little or no scrutiny.  What a lottery win.  It seemed that the BBC had geared up only to scrutinise the Yes campaign.

When Osborne eventually arrived to make his speech, he refused all but three questions and scuttled off in his chauffeur driven wagon.  In a show of contempt for Scotland, Osborne gave a virtual two fingered salute to STV who at least had sought to question the chancellor.

Perhaps Bernard Ponsonby could have a word with Tim Reid and ask the BBC man to pose the questions on his behalf.  That is if Tim actually bothered to ask any questions when he was handed the club with which the BBC was to ‘pound’ the Yes campaign.

And pound they did, as Thursday became the third day of coverage across the UK which now included views from the UK Treasury’s top civil servant Nicholas Macpherson.  Danny Alexander and Ed Balls also waded in.

No-one yet knows if the currency threat and the unholy alliance of Labour/Tory/Lib Dem will benefit the No campaign or turn people to Yes – it’s a gamble from Better Together.  But the beeb has ensured that the No campaign has been put under minimal scrutiny.

The media onslaught has resulted in a few panicky Yes voices urging the Scottish Government to change to Plan B – such a move would be madness and would play into the No campaign’s hands.  No-one yet knows how the markets will react to Osborne’s threats, and to ditch a sensible proposal because your opponents and their media pals are demanding you do, is not how to run a campaign.

One thing is clear though, the BBC is prepared to put its massive broadcasting resource at the disposal of those who oppose independence.

It’s a defining moment, most observers have opined, of the moves by the Westminster Government.  That is an understatement.

It has also served notice to those who think they will get balanced and informed coverage of the referendum campaign from the BBC.

If you doubt this, then ask yourself a question.  If, by simply briefing a reporter at the BBC of their intentions days hence, the UK Government can commend days of uncritical wall to wall coverage on BBC Scotland then what’s to prevent them doing it again?

Over to you Tim.