Without perspective, all information is worthless


Derek Bateman: Scunnered after a week of political niggling

Two aspects of our debate today which are connected and leave me scunnered.

Derek Bateman being introduced to his microphone
Derek Bateman being introduced to his microphone

First, read this reply to my correspondent Anne from the BBC when she complained about Kaye Adams on Morning Call challenging the idea that Gordon Brown used the term Home Rule before the referendum vote.

BBC Scotland letter

“Dear Miss Galloway
Reference CAS-3094324-D21TT4

“Thank you for getting in touch regarding Morning Call presented by Kaye Adams which was broadcast on Friday 9 January 2015, and posed the questions: Do you want Home Rule and does the price of oil make a difference?
“We have received a wide range of feedback on this matter so the response below strives to address the majority of those concerns raised but may not address all of the specific points you have mentioned. We forwarded your complaint to the Senior Producer of Morning Call, who has responded as follows:
(Morning call producer):

“1 ) In no way did Kaye attempt to mislead the audience over Gordon Brown’s stance on Home Rule because either she or the BBC have a particular agenda.
“During the debate with our guests (Mark McDonald, SNP MSP for Aberdeen Donside and Lewis Macdonald MSP, Labour member for North East Scotland), Mark McDonald stated that home rule had been exactly what Gordon Brown had been promising with regards to ‘The Vow’ prior to the Referendum.

“2) Kaye at this point asks the question: “I don’t think he used the term Home Rule, did he?”

“Immediately jumping in, Lewis MacDonald says “No” repeatedly, denying that this was said. Mark McDonald then says that what Mr Brown offered was a “new federalism” – effectively Home Rule – which again Mr MacDonald denies. The conversation then moves to the support for home rule and from there back to the listeners calling in.

“From listening back to this section 3) it is quite clear that Kaye is probing to clarify and asking a question, which I concede could certainly have been phrased more clearly. Both politicians then give answers of yes, no and also a “version of federalism”. This is not Kaye lying about what was said, nor is it Kaye making a statement that Gordon Brown did not offer home rule. Lewis MacDonald is in fact the person throughout this section who denies it was ever said or offered by the former PM.

“Morning Call is a fast and fluid programme and on that day we received over 70 calls, 18 of which got on air. As ever, the listeners dictate where the conversation goes and as we moved on we discussed oil price volatility, the continued fallout of the referendum and callers in favour and not of Home Rule. Some 40 minutes and five calls later, caller Chris took the opportunity on air to go back to what Lewis MacDonald had said and told Kaye that he was certain that Gordon Brown had used the term, to which Kaye replied that she had found it difficult to get an absolute on it, but that she accepted that was what Chris recalled. ”

Lewis Macdonald: Denied Brown had promised "home rule"
Lewis Macdonald: Denied Brown had promised “home rule”

We fully accept that in the lead up to the referendum, Gordon Brown said of proposed additional powers: ‘These proposals are radical. And we are putting them forward as a Labour Party. They change not just Scotland, but they change Britain. They move us closer, or as close as possible to Federalism as you can, in a country where 85% of it is one nation; England. They are equivalent of what Keir Hardie was asking for when he called for Home Rule for Scotland. Home Rule for Scotland within the United Kingdom, where we have powers over own affairs in these areas but still we recognise the benefit of pensions, health care, economic decision making, defence and security as part of the United Kingdom.'” (Newsnet.scot italics)

Production is a team game

I have italicised three sections – 1) because I don’t believe she is deliberately trying to mislead (or lie). I know many now believe that is what BBC journalists do and the track record is checkered to say the least, but wilful distortion is not credible in my view.

2) For Kaye ‘not to know’ that Brown did indeed use the term is barely believable. Why? Because it is central to the referendum outcome and no one across government, opposition or politics generally, disputes that Brown was to a degree instrumental in the final decision. If you follow Scottish affairs, you know this. If you follow professionally, it is in your memory bank.

Your Call presenter Kay Adams
Your Call presenter Kay Adams

If you do this as a main presenter – whose programme is entitled Do you want Home Rule? (that’s the clue) then it is to the forefront of your mind and on the tip of your tongue. Whenever a Unionist attempts to duck out of the Devo Max commitment, as Lewis Macdonald shamefully did here, your job is to jump in with: “Gordon Brown said we’d get Home Rule…’”

Macdonald’s repeated denials here are unworthy of a man of his standing and reputation.

3) Kaye may indeed be “probing to clarify” but that only confirms point 2) above. Why the Hell is she having to clarify one of the seminal points of our recent history? Probing to clarify in this context is tantamount to saying the presenter doesn’t know the basic information on the subject she is speaking about – and is supposed to the guiding the nation through.

Now I have to concede, because many a BBC producer reading this will have a wry smile, that I too have found crucial information not to be on my radar at the key moment. It happens – through laziness, rush, badly-drafted briefings or just forgetfulness. (I’ve even sat looking at a guest who has arrived in studio and realized I’ve completely forgotten their name until my look of horror is translated through the glass and the identity is dropped in my ear. (* Editor’s Note below).

And right there is the answer to Kaye’s dilemma – she is only one of a team and while the public understandably relate to the presenter, the real work is done by the unseen and under-valued production team, or should be.

So when the presenter blurts out “Gordon Brown didn’t say Home Rule, did he?” the studio producer must immediately come on talkback and confirm he did indeed. Or, if unsure, get someone to check the actual detail and then tell the presenter. That no one, it seems, on the programme team and no one listening out in the newsroom was able to intervene to correct the output is deeply worrying. It speaks of lack of care and professionalism, of lack of bodies to do the job properly and a lack of engagement in Pacific Quay with the accuracy and quality of output.

The net effect of course is to leave the BBC with egg on its face

The net effect of course is to leave the BBC with egg on its face and confronting charges of bias because Kaye appears to those better informed to be supporting the mendacious Macdonald line.

I know it’s easier just to conclude that BBC presenters will lie on air to damage the SNP, but whatever her personal leanings, I don’t believe Kaye Adams was doing that. But it is an insight into how professional failures at PQ have become endemic, how management appears unconcerned at patchy standards and how, ultimately, it doesn’t matter because they get away with it.

Where is the external scrutiny that should make senior managers anxious to keep up standards by, for example, resisting job cuts instead of rushing them through? The regulatory architecture lacks authority and the overriding mindset is complacency.

There has been no parliamentary demand for a retrospective examination of BBC output which makes it look as if there was no problem in covering the referendum, despite scientific evidence of bias. (BBC Scotland Director) Kenny McQuarrie who has presided over it all, has not been pensioned off. I hear (BBC Scotland Head of News) John Boothman, thankfully recovered from illness, is back in charge of news to the despair of all staff.

The annual report will be produced in due course where staff will be congratulated on an excellent performance. No mention will be made of widespread distrust of BBC news, of embarrassing ignorance by London correspondents, of threats to academics who offered evidence of partial coverage, of the three-to-one programme guest configuration or of the broadcaster’s role in helping to elect a UKIP MEP…and so on.

Lies, Damned Lies and…Falling Oil Prices

Which brings me to the associated point of telling the truth, or a reasonable version of it, over falling oil prices. Just as Lewis Macdonald made a fool of himself for posterity in his desperation to avoid responsibility for arming his country with the powers promised, so the one-dimensional, catch-phrase attack on the SNP smells putrid for the opportunistic gambit it is.

An identity parade of chancers has reduced a vital industry, our economy and thousands of jobs into a facile mantra…Blair McDougall (is there anything he could say you would believe, up to and including Hello?), Jackie Baillie, the Queen of Cant, whose fake indignation and smug condescension sends an icy shudder through our house, Kezia Dugdale, the Jackie Baillie Mini Me, and Margaret Curran whom I sometimes suspect of weeping into her pillow at the deceitful and self-serving claptrap she utters.

They are not so much interested in the oil industry as in their own self interest and it is farcical for any Unionist to claim otherwise when successive governments have run it like a slot machine and saved nothing – not a brass farthing.

But there is a point behind their blethers – the oil price IS important and would be in an independent Scotland. The trouble is that in their rush to condemn, they haven’t made the case and got it to stick.

I would stop pretending the SNP is responsible for oil.

Here is how I would present the case and why I’m not John McTernan.

I would stop pretending the SNP is responsible for oil. Anyone who is Labour and toying with the SNP has already been awakened to this game of cheat. It’s only four months since they were telling the same people that oil had to remain in the UK’s control and the SNP shouldn’t get their hands on it. In other words, don’t pretend they can change North Sea policy, accept the reality of it as a UK responsibility. Then, ‘even with the UK, the price is volatile and cannot be maintained by any one country. We are at the mercy of global forces which don’t care about the UK, let alone wee Scotland.’

Don’t kid people that anyone saw the fall coming – the SNP’s figures were the same as the Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC). On Radio 4 this week a presenter suggested the fall from the SNP estimate meant they “couldn’t be trusted” in dealing with a Westminster government. Duh…

Previous governments should have set money aside for the bad times, but didn’t. That was a mistake and we regret it. But the fact is they didn’t and we can’t begin one now. Much of the money came to Scotland in additional spending anyway.’

Scotland would not have been independent yet after a Yes vote, but how much more difficult would the negotiations have been if Scotland’s economy was facing a bigger shortfall? The loss of revenue in the meantime would need UK financial support, reducing the likely settlement.

Buzzard oil fieldA high oil price partly underpins the rate at which Scotland would borrow, so unless there is a substantial rise in the price in the short to medium term, those costs would go up.

Unionists also need to find a way of expressing what failed them throughout the campaign – hope. And resilience. They must constantly say that the price will recover in time and show belief in the sector. Right now, they sound as they did on renewables – doom-laden and negative.

The fall in oil price after the referendum is a bit like the collapse of Royal Bank before it…an existential blow to the Nationalist momentum that forces a change of tone if not direction (and plays into Patrick Harvie’s Green fingers). But Scots shrugged off Royal Bank knowing the dust would settle and, since there is nothing we can do about the oil price, they will repeat in the knowledge it will return to the peaks (when Unionists will remain silent). They will also grasp that the oil industry is not in decline – it planned housekeeping on expenditure and staffing before the fall and 200 onshore jobs lost doesn’t suggest Armageddon – yet.

And they now know they are NOT voting for independence when the oil price would have focused minds. The Unionists are still pretending that is an option when it isn’t – the referendum’s over. They are voting for the best representation for Scotland to deliver what was promised (Home Rule, Kaye). They look at the dismal list of Labour failures at Westminster and most will conclude that a jaggy thistle or two on the green benches is just what’s needed.

Meantime, I point you to the BP website where any sense of panic and gloom is manifestly missing:

“BP has been present in the North Sea for many decades and we intend this to continue for many decades to come…we are investing a further £10billion in the North Sea by 2017… BP has a healthy exploration and appraisal programme in the UK and Norway, which is designed to look for additional opportunities to develop the existing business.

“Last year, we announced a two-year multi-well appraisal programme to look at the potential for a third phase of development in the Clair field. In the UK’s 27th offshore oil and gas licensing round, BP was awarded licence interests across 14 offshore exploration blocks, our most successful round since the 1990s…BP has an active exploration and appraisal programme in the North Sea, and announced in October the Vorlich discovery in the central North Sea…BP is pleased to announce the start of production from the Kinnoull field in the central North Sea. Kinnoull is BP’s seventh and final major upstream project start-up in 2014.”

Without perspective, all information is worthless. I fear the panic and hyperbole in Unionism is the clearest sign they too can smell the air and know what’s coming. It isn’t North Sea oil that is about to disappear over the horizon.

* The editors of BatemanBroadcasting.com and Newsnet Radio have asked us to point out that, since their studio doesn’t have a glass partition, they have perfected a technique of flicking rolled up balls torn from old Indyref leaflets at Derek whenever he forgets who he is interviewing. To date, no complaints have been received.