In the classic movie ‘On The Waterfront’ Marlon Brando’s character utters the immortal line “I coulda had class. I coulda been a contender. I coulda been somebody”
Brando’s character was lamenting the fact that he’d thrown away the chance to pit himself against the best, the chance to prove himself.
Last week (Jan 28th) saw quite the most bizarre Newsnight Scotland I can recall for some time.
The programme featured a studio adorned with a huge image of First Minister Alex Salmond and Secretary of Scotland and Labour MP Jim Murphy. Three studio guests were present: Lorraine Davidson a political journalist who worked as a press officer for the Scottish Labour party in 1999, Professor John Curtice a voting expert and President of the British Polling Council and journalist Iain MacWhirter.
I thought that viewers were about to witness an informed debate on matters constitutional and perhaps an insight into general electoral strategies and how they might impact on support for each party – I was wrong.
What followed was perhaps the most blatant promotional broadcast for an MP one has ever witnessed.
The programme starts off by talking about the post of Secretary of State ...... then pretty much descends into a quite nauseating display of sycophancy and adoration as one after another the guests heap praise on the Labour MP, turning only momentarily to heap scorn on the SNP.
Following Brewers intro is a ‘eulogy’ by Derek Bateman who explains how Murphy has “given opponents and the media the run-around” and very helpfully lists some of Murphy’s and The Scotland offices anti-SNP press releases, devolution dividend, bank bale out etc.
Talking heads appear in quick succession to tell us how clever Murphy is and to explain his election strategy. David Torrance (former parliamentary aide to David Mundell MP) and Angus Macleod of The Times both explain how Murphy is taking on the SNP, both also make references to Murphy’s claim regarding generous spending for Scotland.
Macleod suggests that Murphy has tried to end the conflicts between the SNP and Labour at Westminster then hilariously adds that Murphy has at times tried to “cuddle up to the Scottish government”.
Macleod has obviously been asleep when Murphy has been making his now regular press statements attacking the SNP and independence or when he displayed appallingly ignorant behaviour towards Pete Wishart at the recent Scottish Affairs committee at Westminster.
Anyway, the programme continued with Bateman gushing about Murphy’s instinct for survival and how such a characteristic is a prerequisite for leadership. Bateman explains how Murphy is a target for the Tories at the next election, he also explains to the viewer that one of Murphy’s ‘strengths’ is conciliation and the viewer is presented with some images of Murphy attending a Scottish cabinet meeting where the edit appears to show Murphy speaking, with Salmond and the rest of the cabinet listening intently – some serious music adds a bit of gravitas.
In case we hadn’t yet got the message David Torrance helps us out by saying:
“He’s by far the best post devolution Scottish Secretary, the others pale by comparison”.
“Murphy has made a really good fist of this job, he’s taken on the SNP but not appeared too aggressive.”
“He’s shown that the stand alone post of Scottish Secretary in the cabinet can still I suppose be Scotland’s man in the cabinet and not the other way around”
No evidence is offered to back up, what in our view are, some palpably ridiculous claims. The eulogising and glorification of Jim Murphy is one thing but even the most rabid Labour supporter would surely baulk at suggesting that Jim Murphy is anything other than London Labour’s man in Scotland.
By now the programme is beyond parody as Bateman tells us that Murphy is responsible for the Glenrothes by-election and that he may have wrong footed the SNP. Angus Macleod tells us that Murphy has “given the SNP a problem”. There then follows another unintentionally hilarious comment when Macleod says – with a straight face that:
“They [SNP] were so used to being under constant attack from labour’s Scottish Secretary’s that they now have this guy who’s saying that I accept that you’re in control of Scotland and all I want to do is help you govern Scotland better and the SNP don’t quite know how to handle that.”
The eulogy ends with Murphy striding towards camera and some more serious music lending a bit of gravitas.
Back in the studio professor John Curtice has the decency to look a bit embarrassed about what he has just watched. He does though inform the viewer that the SNP will not pose much of a threat to Labour in the forthcoming General Election.
MacWhirter tells us that Jim Murphy has been impressive and has brought to an end a period of “nationalist triumphalism”. He also ‘reliably’ informs us that the Calman commission was a “significant moment” that Murphy’s attempt at expanding devolution was “handled well” and that he didn’t “muff it”.
MacWhirter has clearly forgetting the anger at Holyrood over Labour's refusal to transfer powers immeduately to the Scottish parliament where there was agreement. He also fails to mention Holyrood voting for an immediate transfer of those powers for which there was support and Murphy and Labour continuing to ignore them.
Lorraine Davidson explains the strategy of ‘ignoring the SNP’ in the general election campaign and again very helpfully explains that this is because an SNP vote is a wasted vote. It’s worked well in the past says Lorraine and would you believe it she tells us that it will work even better in this election, the Labour vote will hold up because Scotland is anti Tory.
The programme continues in this quite astonishing vein – remember that we are compelled to pay for this via the licence fee and we are supposed to be receiving partial, objective reporting – what we are witnessing is unbelievable.
12 minutes into the programme and Brewer eventually asks about the SNP’s tactics. However the comments do not follow the same pattern for Murphy’s promo video.
There is no explanation of the rise of the SNP or what its election strategy might be – none of the praise heaped on Murphy is provided for the any SNP politicians. Instead we are treated to pretty much a Labour inspired stream of ‘reasons’ why the SNP are irrelevant in Westminster elections. They are simply mocked and ridiculed with Lorraine Davidson asserting that the referendum bill isn’t significant as: "it won’t get passed anyway" and adding “who cares”.
The picture painted of the SNP is of a party in turmoil, with no strategy led by Alex Salmond whose utterances are harming the party.
Professor John Curtice then states that on the recent Nuffield report: “They [SNP] didn’t come out particularly well out of the argument”.
The Nuffield report, or rather the misinformation contained within and eagerly snapped up by the Scottish media, has been dealt with by this Newsnet Scotland blog – indeed in the next issue of Newsnet Scotland we will be covering the communications between the Scottish government and the Nuffield prior to the reports publication.
To say though that the SNP did not come out well is to twist the truth upside down. The Nuffield has already been forced to admit that statistics forming the basis of conclusions were wrong. The SNP pointed out that their data was out of date – and that the report itself did not consider quality of care.
Iain MacWhirter then launches into a speech that any Labour politician would have been proud to deliver himself. The Scottish parliament is described as lacking excitement, Scottish politics is the quietest he can remember, SNP plans are in the doldrums, independence is “not going to happen” and “people are not really thinking about tinkering with the constitution right now”.
Let’s stop for a moment and take a look at MacWhirter’s claims. To say that there has been no excitement at Holyrood is again laughable. We have seen Unionists pushing and shoving one another over the Calman report. Iain Gray is being soundly thrashed by Alex Salmond each and every week at Holyrood and Salmond’s popularity remains very high.
The politicisation of the Megrahi release saw Holyrood exposed to the world as never before. The Unionists and the media tried to use it in order to destabilise the SNP government but failed. The European elections saw the SNP trounce Labour for the first time ever – more recently the budget negotiations were underway and the SNP at that time looked well on track to have it passed and see out their term in office, the independence bill is about to be published.
So boring is the Scottish political scene that the media are throwing everything they can at the SNP, we are told that education is falling apart schools are falling down, criminals are escaping and running wild and that the SNP discriminates against Glasgow. Even appalling behaviour on the part of Unionists, when they abused Margo Macdonald’s terminal illness bill, is ignored by many in the Scottish media in favour of contrived stories and Labour press releases.
It’s possible that what MacWhirter recognises these planted stories and what he describes as boring is evidence of a government in control and governing reasonably well in contrast to the shambolic efforts from Gordon Brown.
Also let’s look at the assertion from MacWhirter where he says that people are not interested in changing the constitution and thus the SNP momentum has stalled.
Remember earlier when praising Jim Murphy MacWhirter alluded to the extra powers proposed by Labour and cited it as further evidence that Jim Murphy had got things right.
Yet, MacWhirter completely switches his stance when it come to the SNP. Apparently no-one is interested in more powers and the next stage of independence is not going to happen.
Either more powers is a strategic master stroke or there is no interest in them – it cannot be both Iain.
So, 12 minutes devoted [a more apt word it is difficult to find] to Jim Murphy and telling everyone how clever he is whilst 6 minutes are spent traducing the SNP.
“I coulda had class. I coulda been a contender. I coulda been somebody”
Said Marlon Brando’s character.
Even the punch drunk bum that Brando played realised that you cannot be considered great until you have been tested. We do not know if Jim Murphy is what the BBC has portrayed him to be until Jim has been tested.
The irony is that the institution charged with carrying out this task is the media – however they have systematically refused to scrutinise Jim Murphy since he became Scottish Secretary, no hard TV interviews no headlines when he blunders – nothing.
His false claims over the Dunfermline Building Society are ignored, his diplomatic blunder when he caused outrage when describing Ireland, Iceland and Norway as an ‘arc of insolvency’ was also suppressed.
Murphy and The Scotland office issue press release after press release, many of which are no more than contrived propaganda using highly questionable figures in order to attack Scotland’s fiscal potential and or the SNP.
Loading a BBC programme with Unionist politicians and the like is no substitute for reasoned and informed debate and proves nothing about the relative merits of either Salmond or Murphy - we licence payers deserve better.
Is Murphy a contender, can he be somebody or is he just another British Unionist Mp given an easy ride by a compliant media?
Who can say, but if a political Oscar does indeed go to Jim Murphy then in his acceptance speech he will surely thank the Scottish media and BBC Scotland for all of their support ....