BBC Scotland undermines the independence movement by playing down public support for the SNP. SNP support is massive. Seven out of every ten Scots who are members of political parties are members of the SNP; and in the 2018 Holyrood election, the SNP won half the votes and took all but half the seats:
This makes the SNP virtually as large as all the other parties put together, and leaves them fragmented and scrabbling for scraps from the table.
So how much time did Scotland’s party of government get allocated in BBC Scotland’s recent pre-conference interviews with leaders?
That’s right – the SNP, huge in terms of membership, came third in inteview time. There’s an enormous discrepancy there. And if you thought that, despite the shorter time, the treatment would be even-handed, then think again:
Massively more interruptions, and massively more hostile comment from the interviewer, for Ian Blackford than there was for Ruth Davidson.
There are those who say that this is just the rough-and-tumble of political debate, and that the independence movement is out to nurse a grievance, but BBC Scotland’s discrimination is more pervasive than that.
A letter to BBC Scotland making these points is below.
Dear BBC Scotland,
I’m writing to ask for clarification on your policy regarding political interviews, specifically the six interviews broadcast by Reporting Scotland on 13th September with Vince Cable, 20th September with Jeremy Corbyn, 27th September with Theresa May, 30th September with Ruth Davidson, 5th October with Keith Brown, and 7th October with Ian Blackford. In those interviews, you did not reflect the respective strengths of political parties in Scotland, and you discriminated against some politicians.
a. In what follows, I use Scottish data rather than UK data. Given that the name of your organisation is BBC Scotland, I expect it to take a Scottish perspective, and this expectation was reinforced not only by the name of the programme which broadcast these interviews, “Reporting Scotland”, but also by the strapline on its website saying “Big stories from across the country”. For UK perspective, listeners will look not to yourselves but to BBC London.
b. The amount of time you gave to the four shorter interviews did not reflect the relative strength of the parties in Scotland. SNP support is broad, not to say overwhelming: seventy-four percent of all those in Scotland who are members of any political party are members of the SNP; the SNP has half the seats in the Scottish Parliament; and it took 45 percent of the vote in the Scottish 2016 Parliamentary election. The remaining parties share what members, seats and votes are left over. But your interview times were roughly similar for all four parties, with each party taking between 20 and 30 percent of the available time, and the SNP – which is larger than all the other parties put together – placed third. All the features I describe here are documented in the attached two supporting charts.
c. You also discriminated against some politicians. Forty-four percent of the time spent on interviewee interruptions was used to attack Jeremy Corbyn, 39 percent to attack Ian Blackford, and only 17 percent to attack Ruth Davidson; by contrast, Theresa May, Vince Cable and Keith Brown were not interrupted at all. Interruptions reduce the length of a speaker’s turns, making it more difficult for them to be coherent and persuasive, and this is shown in the reduced turn-lengths for Blackford and Corbyn, at 11 percent and 7 percent respectively of the total relative turn-lengths for all speakers. The underlying data for the supporting charts can be found at http://www.derek.uk/bbc (type the URL into your browser address-bar – there’s no link from elsewhere).
Your disfavouring of the SNP leaves me, rightly or wrongly, with the feeling that I have a grievance. I can see that you might wish to undermine a political party whose first stated aim in its Constitution amounts to destroying the United Kingdom, but your job as the public broadcaster for Scotland is to represent all strands of opinion fairly. Can you tell me what policy decision has led you not to reflect the strength of party support, and to discriminate against some parties?