Professor John Robertson brings his last-but-one analysis of election-time TV news, a week before the May 7 poll.
The prof’s slightly more academic analysis – Propaganda or Professionalism on Pacific Quay – is available here for the discerning to download. It starts with a quote from Chomsky, so that will set the tone for the intellectuals among our readership.
Meanwhile, here is the Professor’s latest report covering April 24-30, which starts in praise of the excellent Sally Magnusson…
April 30: Until I watched Sally Magnusson interview Jim Murphy tonight (30th) on Reporting Scotland, I had planned to leave what had been a quiet (Purdah?) week in the usual chronological order.
Her performance in interviewing a tough candidate stunned me. The previous night, the much vaunted Bernard Ponsonby had, at best, fought out a draw with the motor-mouthed Murphy. Sally Magnusson may have watched it. Whatever, she was more than a match for him.
Asking challenging questions from the outset, about democracy, Labour’s failures and their current ‘neverendum’ distraction ploy, she also refused him time to waffle and to dominate. She interrupted him 21 times by my counting!
The contrast with Jackie Bird and Conservative Leader, Ruth Davidson, the previous night was stark. In the former case it bordered on the cosy, in the latter it was one of the most impressive pieces of speaking for the audience and demanding answers for them I’ve seen in long, long time.
Where does that leave my BBC Scotland/Labour incest theory? Damaged, but only slightly. It’s hard to see Magnusson as part of the Labour-connected inner circle. It reminded me of the time when Isabel Fraser stood up to Ian Davidson on Newsnight Scotland. She moved out of the Newsnight chair, seemingly forever…
Prior to this, Reporting Scotland had pushed the ‘Row over a second referendum dominates the debate’ story. Kezia Dugdale raged about that, and Jim Sillars’ comment calling for one was picked up as if it were a leak of SNP policy.
After the interview, Douglas Fraser showed us what an SNP landslide would look like if it was made of lozenges before Professor Curtice made it clear that tactical voting would have little effect, if the polls were correct.
STV had calmed down a bit after their deluge of flood metaphors the previous night. Labour were able to play their ‘Watch out here comes another referendum’ strategy and the others got a chance to repeat it, in between attempting to stab each other.
The Sun newspaper’s decision to support the SNP was discussed and the idea that newspapers could influence elections much these days was dismissed.
April 24: English votes for English laws.
With a lust for his nation, David Cameron is leading a campaign for fairness to the English taxpayer. STV News and Reporting Scotland rate it the story of the day, let him say quite a bit, then let his opponents criticise. Best of all, for a laugh, Nigel Farage says: ‘We continue to shovel English taxpayers money over Hadrian’s Wall at a level that is unacceptable.’
Does Nigel know that the North face of Hadrian’s Wall is still in England? Those Northern English are so greedy, eh? Does David of England know his Celtic name ‘translates’ from Ancient Welsh / Gaelic as ‘shiny bent nose’. He is shiny.
STV do another quick ‘straw poll’ in the street on likely voter turnout. The sample size seems to be 11 and the results are mixed. The reporter then tells us:
‘And if our rather unscientific poll proves anything it is…” STOP! STOP IT. I’VE TOLD YOU BEFORE. Now I know some will say this was harmless but it’s not because they used the results to make a point, it encourages laziness of thought and given the mass audience of TV news, allows the privilege of access to that audience to be abused. No, I’m not being an auld meanie Prof (yes you are. Ed).
Look at the sentence again. There’s no ‘if’ about it; it proves nothing and wouldn’t even if the reporter stood in that street for a year. You can’t prove anything at all of this kind. It’s just not amenable to proving. If they did stand there all year and got the responses of 20 000, it might suggest something about the people who frequent that street, nothing more.
Saturday April 25: No Nicola for Nick! Cover yer ears, ‘Boomer Broon’ approaches
STV opened with this shock for the SNP. Nick Clegg, leader of Lib Dems, says ‘no deal’ to any coalition relying on the SNP. Watch this one. He’s a man of someone else’s word.
The rest of the report is as expected, with Gordon Brown instead of Jim Murphy, and Nicola Sturgeon left to finish it off with no little contempt for the Westminster boys.
Reporting Scotland didn’t go for the ‘Nick rejects Nicola’ story and picked up on Gordon Brown’s visitation:
‘The former Prime minister, Gordon Brown, said the nationalists were using the UK election to push for another vote on Scotland’s future.’ As is typical, the evidence was shoddy. Allegedly, one SNP MP had told Gordon this, causing him to steam off on a ‘nationalist’ hunt, booming his speech at some folk in Paisley and feeding the BBC ‘news team’.
Sunday April 26: Nicola walks the line while Jim spins a ball on his finger
It was Sunday night-light for both STV and RS though maybe still revealing of their underlying preferences.
STV gave us Nicola walking a bar in a youth club hall. Really, her advisers let her do that? She stayed and autographed a wall. Jim Murphy in a T-shirt, impressively spun a basketball on one finger and looked a bit smug about it. Which voters is he going for?
Both reports opened with Ed Miliband refusing, again, to work with the SNP. Both then let Nicola pull that (you’re a complete wally, pal) face and tell us they will change their tune after the election.
STV allow Jackson Carlaw, Tory, to tell us a deal would be disastrous and that the SNP were after another referendum. Sir Malcolm Bruce clearly aiming at the strategic voters, reminded us that the Lib Dems were safely in centre, centre, centre…
RepScot gave us Ruth Davidson ruling out a deal with the SNP! Wasn’t that always off? Ruth suggested, also, that Labour and the SNP were already on the way to the wedding. Willie Rennie told us the Tories were despicable and that they were ‘festering English nationalism.’ Can you ‘fester’ something (active verb) or do you have to let it fester? Did he mean ‘foster’?
Finally, on that theme, UKIP’s David Coburn says he is a libertarian. Didn’t they have orgies and stuff back in the 19th Century? Whoooop….there goes my lunch. Coburn seems to have modified the proud, upstanding Cockburn name and gone for a safer form in politics, by taking much of the cock out. Too far, Ed? (What? Eh? Sorry, must have dozed off there. Ed)
Notice the silence in the last few days – no NHS crises, SNP did deals with Gaddafi, stories from Reporting Scotland? Are they saving something big or are they just done? (No, we told you, it’s “purdah”. Ed)
Monday April 27: Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz..CARNAGE!…zzzzzzzzzzzzz It’s standard coverage. Everybody gets a chance to say a sentence or two. Brian pontificates little and concludes wisely that we’ll find out when we find out. On the latest opinion poll, STV’s Claire Stewart says it is ‘dire reading’ and Bernard Ponsonby delights in snarled ‘Carrrnage for Labour!’
Back on Reporting Scotland, they feature Unite trades union leader, Len MacCluskey expressing his admiration for Nicola and telling Ed to work with any ‘progressive party’. Don’t they know Jim Murphy doesn’t like his pals speaking to his enemy, Len?
Wait a minute, here’s Eleanor Bradford at the new hospital. She likes it. It’s apparently not seriously flawed. Back to sleep.
Tuesday April 28: Where have all the health service crises gone?
It’s quiet, awfully quiet. Both STV and RepScot give even billing to the big four parties. They say the same thing again. Jim, if I remember, promises 100 000 new houses. Has Ed Balls signed the deal off we wonder?
STV start their evening with the Scottish Government promising to give £6m to a fund for the redundant Tullis Russell paper mill workers. Nobody gets to say anything negative. Told you STV were going SNP!
If things don’t pick up, I’m going home.
Wednesday April 29: Landslide, surge, tsunami…..engulfing Scottish Labour
STV have another poll and it’s grimmer for Jim Murphy. They launch the show with a deluge of their own:
General election landslide!
SNP could win every single seat!
54% will vote SNP!
A surge reaching tsunami proportions!
A tidal wave that could engulf Scottish Labour!
The once mighty people’s party faces total wipe-out!
A landslide victory is forecast with Nicola Sturgeon’s SNP capturing every single seat in the country!
Are STV’s team enjoying this just a little too much? I mean, ‘the once great people’s party?’ Who is writing this stuff – a schooldays’ victim of one of the Lanarkshire Labour hard men?
The show then calms down a bit. Jim is in the bookie’s, telling us that it’s great news for David Cameron followed by Prof Bogdanor who warns of a constitutional crisis if the Tories win and Scotland gets another government it doesn’t want. Nicola tells the Prof to chill and says the SNP will work across the UK.
Landslide without precedent!
More than 50%!
Bernard Ponsonby steams in with more sharp-edged commentary just in case the beast doesn’t know it’s deid. Wonder what Reporting Scotland will make of all this? Not much really. It’s just another poll after all.
First, the poll gets no mention until well on. Jackie says David Cameron’s pledge to freeze tax rates is the story of the day. Tell that to Labour in Scotland, Jackie.
Ruth driving a tank seems to be another big story and Willie Rennie playing footie is another, it seems. Both are up for the fight/gemme with Willie apparently quite sure ‘tactical voting’ will bring his team home victorious.
Jackie slips in: ‘No seat is safe as several recent polls have suggested.’ Is that right, Jackie? Did you have any particular types of seats in mind or is it no seat at all, including the current SNP-held seats? Surely she heard STV’s version of the day’s events?
Suddenly we’re at the swimming pool. I’m told they’re no ‘the baths’ anymore. Brian does mention there’s been another opinion poll for STV and that the SNP’s lead ‘may have stretched still further.’ Hear that Ponsonby? Brian also reassures with the reminder that, from what he’s heard, no one at the SNP really thinks this will happen.
Then it’s the big interview with Ruth Davidson. It’s different. Jackie does ask her hard questions but she can’t hide some kind of mix of respect/liking for Ruth.
You know my view is that STV is getting ready for a more SNP-dominated world to do business in. Have we had more evidence today? Reporting Scotland and Labour, for that matter, are quiet again. They seem to have no attack agenda any more. Where’s Eleanor Bradford? What about Ian Davidson, Gordon Brown, Alistair Darling and John Reid.when the going gets tough?
Seven days to go and I think I’m gonna make it!
Professor john Robertson, University of the West of Scotland, Ayr, 30th April 2015