Scottish Independence – Just why are Scots so poorly informed?

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  By G.A.Ponsonby
 
It’s the new referendum tag-line – the undecided voters need more information.  The independence debate is all about point scoring we are told and both sides have to “do more” in order to up the standard of debate.
 
Well, I agree with the sentiment in part, the Scottish electorate – aside from the political anoraks – are indeed poorly informed.  But just whose fault is it?

  By G.A.Ponsonby
 
It’s the new referendum tag-line – the undecided voters need more information.  The independence debate is all about point scoring we are told and both sides have to “do more” in order to up the standard of debate.
 
Well, I agree with the sentiment in part, the Scottish electorate – aside from the political anoraks – are indeed poorly informed.  But just whose fault is it?

The newspapers have less influence than they once had.  The Daily Record and Sun have little by way of political content and the so-called quality journals, the Scotsman and the Herald, are struggling as circulation figures plummet.

Even if they wanted to, the newspapers couldn’t address the political ignorance prevalent in today’s Scotland because they simply do not have the penetration they once had.  Similarly, the internet can play a role, but there exist a great number of people in Scotland who have either no access or do not know how to use this new medium.

The only vehicle capable of talking directly to the public and supplying them with information is the broadcast media.  And the only broadcaster with the means and the financial resources to carry out this role is the BBC.

Excluding online, the mediums of choice for BBC Scotland as it seeks to bring the independence debate into the homes of Scots are a mixture of Radio and TV.  Radio relies primarily on Good Morning Scotland and Newsdrive, with perhaps Call Kaye and Brian Taylor’s Big Debate.  On TV, the BBC gives us Reporting Scotland and Newsnight Scotland.

How do these programmes, which we all pay for through our £145.50 licence fee, impart information to the audience?

Newsnight is on too late for most ordinary Scots and has a format that doesn’t lend itself to attracting the attention of those most in need of information.  It’s either worthy talking heads telling us what they think or Gordon Brewer badgering some politician in an interview style designed to shed no light on the topic under discussion.

Good Morning Scotland and Newsdrive employ a standard template of news bulletins, interlaced with travel and weather with interviews scheduled at regular intervals.  The news bulletins will simply parrot whatever statement has been issued by whatever body is deemed worthy of news coverage that day.

Any interviews are the same with the interrupter/interrogator’s technique again similar to that of Brewer, and extracting or imparting information from politicians seems to come a distant second to point scoring.

Call Kaye is probably the worst in that it not only fails to inform the listener, but will regularly misinform by allowing politically partisan callers to state as fact, opinions that are at best suspect or worse, down right false.

Reporting Scotland is the flagship news programme.  It suffers from a dreadful lack of confidence.  Over reliant on violence and football, the political content allows no challenge to whoever or whatever is making the headline claim.

The independence debate has suffered badly through its presentation on Reporting Scotland.  The programme does not allow challenge which means that claims are simply parroted by newsreaders and that of course means that the viewer can remain virtually ignorant of facts or evidence that may undermine the claim.  Other ‘regional’ programmes across the BBC will allow challenge of politicians on the tea time news programme but Reporting Scotland does not.

It’s not unusual to see the anchor, usually Jackie Bird, interview one of her colleagues in order to provide a ‘balance’ to the political story.  Of course we know that there are several reporters employed by BBC Scotland who have links to the Labour party or are known to hold pro-Union views.  The template is a recipe for misinformation and ripe for corruption.

The programme should be extended by fifteen minutes each evening to allow the referendum issue of the day to be debated by opposing campaigners.  The audience would then be able to determine the merit or otherwise of that day’s press briefing or report from the respective body.

Last week I wrote of the over-reliance by BBC Scotland on ‘reports’ from worthy bodies and organisations which, although presented as impartial and independent [some once were], are now often no more than conduits for pro-Union propaganda.  The OBR, CPPR, Fraser of Allander Institute and a clutch of other similar think tanks, pepper the headlines and broadcasts of BBC Scotland.

Last Friday, the day after the ‘one year to go’ marker until the referendum, the day’s worthy body was the Institute of Fiscal Studies (IFS).  It published a report based on Office of Budgetary Responsibility (OBR) oil revenue forecasts and was billed and presented by the BBC as a neutral look at the independence debate.

It was nothing of the sort.

The language used by the IFS spokesman in the resultant Good Morning Scotland interview was recognisably Unionist with words such as “uncertainty” and “volatile” employed to describe oil foecasts.  The headlines that day focussed of course on the negative aspects of the report, which was its intention.

In terms of informing the independence debate, it was a fraud.  It could have been summarised thus; One pro-Union body (the OBR) deliberately forecasts pessimistic oil revenue, another so-called ‘independent’ body (the IFS) uses the figures in order to draft a report that calls into question the economic benefits of independence.  The report is headlined by an ‘impartial’ broadcaster (BBC Scotland) and thus seeps into the public consciousness.

The independence debate has been framed by these, and other similar reports that have rendered mature debate impossible.

BBC Scotland has helped promote the myth that there exist no answers to the nebulous list of questions posed by ‘concerned’ Unionists.  Scares involving NATO, the EU, the Commonwealth, Pensions, Defence, Oil, Banks, Renewables, Currency, Borders, University funding, the NHS, BBC have dominated the narrative as the debate itself has been edged out.

Those Scots crying out for information are faced with a crescendo of white noise as each and every Unionist claim morphs into a headline.  Stage managed debates with partisan audiences are rendered impotent as each of the scares are repeated ad-nauseum.

There is no information because those tasked with disseminating it are refusing to do so.  Instead the ‘black hole’ of scares and negative Think Tank reports ensure that everything gets sucked into the vortex.

On Sunday’s Politics Show, Johann Lamont stated that the SNP had not yet explained what currency a newly independent Scotland would use.  The comment went unchallenged by the BBC host Andrew Kerr.

If such a blatant lie can be broadcast unchallenged by the BBC then is it any wonder some people believe that no information exists that will answer some of the key questions and claims posed by Unionists.

Never reported is the easy to find list of questions and answers helpfully compiled by the pro-independence Yes Scotland campaign.  They themselves may be challenged, but that would take us into the area of mature debate and our media ain’t gonna let that happen.

Ignorance is bliss … to one side of this debate.