Of course, it is not astronomers that give these warnings, but instead, zealots (cults, psychics and assorted charlatans) who have very limited knowledge of the night sky or the solar system in general and who may have another agenda entirely.
In Scotland we experienced just such a perfect alignment on 4th January this year when not planets but the four main Scottish news outlets aligned themselves perfectly and predicted chaos, doom and the end of civilisation .............. in Scotland.
The cause of this imminent disaster was an apparent lack of grit with which to treat our roads and pavements.
The four main news outlets were perfectly synchronised and ran with the following headlines:
- The Herald (Safety fears as drivers warned salt running out)
- The Scotsman (Scotland 'risks running out of road salt' amid Arctic fortnight)
- The BBC (Road grit levels 'critically low')
- The Record (Scotland faces grit panic as cold weather supplies run low)
Well, Fife council had apparently been let down by suppliers and had called on the assistance of the Scottish Government in order to acquire emergency stocks of grit and salt. The council had complained that the supplier who delivered less of the rough stuff than the council had expected and they needed help to source an alternative supply.
Bob McLellan, the council's head of transportation, said: "Our supplier has let us down badly and we are now in the position that we are likely to run out of salt altogether.”
Were other councils in the same predicament that Fife found itself in with regards to levels of grit? The answer is no, Fife council were the only local authority to find itself in this position. Indeed the BBC themselves confirmed this in their Scottish web site.
The only other local authority to express any concern was Renfrewshire council who stated that they were prioritising the use of grit. Further reports confirmed that there were plentiful supplies already arranged for delivery and that 18 councils would be receiving delivery either that day or the next.
So, this was not a national problem at all but a local situation that was being addressed by the Scottish Government who had been contacted by Fife local authority.
How can a local situation be so misreported by not just one news outlet but by four of them in pretty much the same manner and at the same time?
How is it that all four of these news outlets managed to place the same emphasis (salt/grit levels running out) on their respective story?
We don’t know of course, it is possible that they simply misread the situation and misinterpreted Fife council’s Bob McLellan when he said:
"Most, if not all Scottish councils, appear to be in a very similar situation and stock levels are at critically low levels in many councils across Scotland."
However that excuse cannot be used by the BBC who by their own admission had contacted all local authorities to find out the situation. The best they could do was report that Renfrewshire council were prioritising their gritting.
Suspicions are raised though when we see Labour MSP’s appear in these articles attacking the Scottish Government: Labour's John Park was reported in The Record as stating that he had already written to transport minister Stewart Stevenson asking him to investigate the problems in Fife.
Park said: "This situation is now critical and I am calling on the Scottish government to step in now to help Fife Council out of this mess."
This was a strange statement, given that the Scottish Government had already stepped in and helped resolve the situation in Fife.
Later Labour MSP Charlie Gordon also uses the story to attack the SNP:
The Labour transport spokesman said: "The Scottish Government appears to be saying this morning that everything is under control but the evidence does not support that with many roads and pavements still covered by snow and ice."
What the Scottish Government had said was that there was no shortage of salt and grit but that there were ‘pinch points’ like Renfrewshire and Fife – altogether different from the picture that our media were trying to portray.
Charlie Gordon seems to be saying that because we have snow and ice on many pavements and roads that things are out of control. Of course no amount of grit or salt will remove snow and ice from all pavements and roads, we need a thaw for that. However, those local authorities who have allowed pavements and roads to deteriorate to an unacceptable level should be taken to task.
Conflating the original inaccurate allegations of a national shortfall of grit and salt with the policies of individual local authorities looks like a deliberate attempt to mislead the electorate.
That may be what this story was about all along !!
Update: 5th January:
That evenings Newsnight Scotland focused on the situation regarding Scotland's roads and the severe weather. Their reporter Julie Peacock made the following statement:
"John Swinney said that there is enough grit to go around and clear ALL of Scotland's roads"
As far as Newsnet Scotland is aware John Swinney has never made any such claim. What he did say was that there are sufficient supplies of grit in order to satisfy council needs.
A very subtle alteration of the meaning of Mr Swinney's statement by the BBC !!
After the recent apology to SNP Minister Alex Neil one would have thought that the BBC would have been reluctant to yet again misrepresent an SNP minister.
Apparently not .....