Last week an article I contributed to Newsnet, based on analysis I had carried out of BBC Scotland’s flagship morning news programme Good Morning Scotland, was read by more than 9,000 people..
It had followed what I believed to be a lack of coverage by BBC Scotland of the controversial blocking of Scotland Bill amendments by non-Scottish based Westminster MPs. The Scotland Bill issue received belated coverage only after some clever manoeuvring by the SNP, using foxhunting as a lever.
On Tuesday this week a similar situation arose when BBC Scotland all but ignored the Scottish implications of another hugely significant story in the shape of a Labour civil war over the issue of welfare. It followed a decision by UK Labour not to oppose the Conservative Government’s welfare bill. Labour’s bizarre stance was compounded when 48 of its own MPs defied orders to abstain.
Labour’s decision to abstain had been taken with the party’s future fortunes south of the border in mind. It had the backing of three of the party’s UK leadership contenders. The only leadership candidate to vote against the Tory Government was left-wing MP Jeremy Corbyn.
He was subject to an extensive interview on the BBC Radio 4 programme, Today, at 08.05. He was immediately followed by former Labour cabinet minister David Blunkett, who described the party as suffering “emotional trauma” following its general election loss.
Labour was imploding and the BBC’s national news was giving the story top profile. It was the number one headline at the start of the BBC Radio 4 Today programme and the top news item on the same programme. On the BBC’s UK online news site only the Rotherham child sex scandal beat the story to the top spot.
Below is a single recording from the Today programme which gives a flavour of how the issue was reported.
The Today programme gave the issue very comprehensive coverage in its news bulletins. There were clips from every political party, although it did puzzlingly give the Lib Dems priority over the SNP.
In keeping with the newsworthy aspect of the story, the programme’s later interview was conducted with not one, but two senior Labour figures. Ex-minister David Blunkett and leadership candidate Jeremy Corbyn. The BBC UK did not hold back in scrutinising the divisions within the UK Labour party. The entire interview segment can be heard below.
I tuned in to BBC Scotland’s flagship programme Good Morning Scotland that same morning to see how the Labour catastrophe would be reported. The top headline when the programme began at 6 am was based on a press release from a Payday loan lobbying group. The welfare bill though did feature first on news bulletins where the divisions within Labour were reported clearly. This pattern continued throughout the duration of the programme, although with a great deal less melodrama. Below is a recording of the GMS news bulletins which give an idea of how the issue was reported.
The entire recording is only slightly shorter than that of the Today programme, but there are noticeable differences. There is less emphasis on the nature of the split which is entirely down to the party trying to ensure it remains an attractive voting prospect south of the border. It is essentially left versus right.
Bizarrely there is not one Scottish-based MP heard throughout the entire GMS programme. Every clip played by Good Morning Scotland is of a non-Scottish based MP.
Most references to the SNP by the Good Morning Scotland presenters make mention of fifty five SNP MPs having voted against the Tories. At first I, like many, assumed that one of the 56 SNP MPs had failed to vote. I inquired and learned that one SNP MP had taken the role of teller, helps count the votes. All House of Commons votes apparently require two MPs from each side to act as tellers.
Thus, every SNP MP who was able to, voted against the Tory bill. Was the use of ’55’ mischief by someone at BBC Scotland? We’ll probably never know.
Later on in the programme Gary Robertson interviewed Jeremy Corbyn. The Labour MP was pressed on why he had rebelled against Harriet Harman and if his stance had caused his party problems. The interview can be heard below.
Surprisingly there was no interview with any Scottish based politician from either Labour or the SNP. I found this highly unusual for several reasons.
The first is that Good Morning Scotland is supposed to pursue the Scottish dimension of the story. The UK BBC was doing what it was supposed to do by looking at the issue through the prism of the United Kingdom. BBC Scotland should have been analysing the Scottish implications.
Where were the representatives of the mythical beast known as Scottish Labour? The Labour party in Scotland has only one MP, Ian Murray, who is also Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland, yet he was nowhere to be seen. If GMS had asked for an interview but been declined then they weren’t letting us know.
Similarly where was Scotland’s official opposition at Westminster? The SNP provides 56 of Scotland’s 59 MPs, yet not one SNP MP was heard on Good Morning Scotland. Indeed the programme may as well have been called Good Morning North Britain such was the lack of Scottish relevant content.
So we never got to find out whether interim Scottish Labour leader Iain Gray supported the decision to abstain. Nor did we find out what Kezia Dugdale and Ken Macintosh thought. Did any of these MSPs back the decision of the party’s sole Scottish MP, Ian Murray, to abstain?
Ian Murray was later given the opportunity to speak on the issue. He told the BBC that his party had voted against the Tory bill. The BBC broadcast the false claim without challenge.
Seriously, how can it be that not one Scottish Labour politician can face questions when the UK party is imploding due to having to tart itself up in right wing makeup in order to attract the English vote? Moreover, when eventually placed in front of a BBC camera, the sole Scottish Labour MP told what the interviewer already knew was a lie. If Murray was challenged then we didn’t get to hear it.
Did you also know that the 06:25 review of the morning newspapers did not feature the one newspaper which headlined Labour’s ‘spineless’ refusal to vote against the Tory bill. The reason, according to Gary Robertson who again responded to critical tweets, was that there had been no time.
In my last analysis of Good Morning Scotland I noted that BBC Scotland Political Editor Brian Taylor had spent his time covering the Scottish Labour leadership contest instead of the Scotland Bill debate at Westminster. Here again was a debate of significant relevance to Scotland and Taylor was posted missing again. If he has gone on holiday or is unwell, we have yet to be told.
There are some who argue that this lack of quality and in-depth coverage of Scottish current affairs is down to cuts in the BBC Scotland budget. But it wasn’t cuts that ensured not one SNP MP was heard on the flagship morning news programme.
And talking about cuts, listen to the two recordings of BBC political editor Norman Smith. The first was broadcast on Good Morning Scotland.
Now listen to the same analysis which was broadcast by the Today programme.
The final segment of the Today recording is missing from the GMS recording. It just happened to be a reference to the SNP.
GA Ponsonby is author of the book ‘London Calling: How the BBC stole the Referendum‘