Picture the scenario:
A by-election campaign is underway in England, the Conservatives currently hold the seat with a healthy majority but Labour are gaining in popularity and there is an outside chance that they might just sneak it.
In the midst of the election campaign David Dimbleby hosts that week’s Question Time from the city where the by-election is to be held. Panellists on the show include representatives of Conservatives and the Lib-Dems, but no-one from the Labour party.
In the middle of the programme an audience member asks a question about the Labour party’s central policy, it is a policy that both the Conservatives and the Lib-Dems vehemently oppose.
For the next ten minutes we witness both the Conservative and Liberal panellists deride the policy whilst at the same time aiming a series of derogatory remarks at the Labour party leader Gordon Brown, audience members then join the orgy of derision and abuse. With no-one to speak for the Labour party or Brown the comments go unchallenged, there is also the distinct possibility that Labour’s local by-election campaign will have been damaged by the broadcast.
Of course, such a hypothetical situation could never happen, the Question Time producers in London’s BBC HQ would ensure that balance was maintained and that the integrity of the by-election campaign was not harmed.
However, switch the location from London and set it in the BBC Scotland HQ in Glasgow and that is exactly what happened on ‘Brian Taylor’s Big Debate’, a weekly BBC Scotland radio show broadcast every Friday afternoon.
The show in question was broadcast from Glasgow on Friday 30th October, right in the middle of the Glasgow North East by-election campaign. The panellists were Anne McKechin Labour MP for Glasgow North, Margaret Smith Lib Dem MSP for Edinburgh West, Joan McAlpine of the Scottish Times and Margaret Gibson of The Prince's Scottish Youth Business Trust, there was no SNP representation.
The show was uneventful until someone asked a question on the SNP’s proposed referendum on Scottish independence.
What followed was a procession of derogatory remarks by the two politicians aimed at First Minister Alex Salmond accompanied by unsubstantiated claims and blatant falsehoods both from these two politicians and some audience members.
Here is a summary of some of the comments:
“[Salmond was] the boy who was bullied at school”
“Alex Salmond’s tactics is he bullies and he heckles”
“[Salmond] shouts enough, it’s the politics of the common room”
“Salmond is a big noise”
“[Salmond] shouts and he bullies”
“The bully of the playground”
“Where’s the huge public support for a referendum?”
“The majority of Scots do want to go through the separation process”
[The Calman commission] “is universally accepted as a very serious piece of work.”
“National Conversations are as flimsy as you can imagine”
It became a virtual Party Political Broadcast of the negative variety, the target was Alex Salmond, and areas relating to independence. The only non partisan and objective comments came from Joan McAlpine and Margaret Gibson.
That the BBC in Scotland provided such a platform for Unionist politicians to traduce the character of Scotland’s democratically elected First Minister in this manner and to make a series of questionable unchallenged claims was bad enough.
However for it to be broadcast from Glasgow in the middle of a Glasgow by-election campaign demonstrates a breathtaking disregard for Scottish democracy. We cannot be sure, but it is reasonable to assume that a majority of that audience were also from Glasgow.
Readers of this blog will be aware that Newsnet Scotland has consistently taken the BBC to task over what we see is its repeated failure to present political news in a non partisan fashion, this latest episode will do nothing to dispel such views.
This happened in the same week that figures revealed that Radio Scotland’s listener numbers are falling. Is it any wonder when they allow such blatantly partisan broadcasts to be aired?
A recording of the programme is available online until 6th November :
Fast forward to 23 mins 48 secs .....