Friday, March 5, 2010

Exploding a synthetic conviction

I wondered aloud the other day why the SNP hadn't yet made clear whether it would seek legal redress for its exclusion from the main televised leaders' debates. This article in the Scotsman goes a long way towards answering that question, because it appears the party (along with Plaid Cymru) were deliberately kept in the dark about the announcement, and thus hadn't even been given the chance to formulate a view on its strategy when it was forced to give an initial response. This does appear to be an extraordinarily high-handed way for them to have been treated - as has been set out many times here, the case for excluding the SNP from any debates shown in Scotland is extremely thin, but the case for excluding them even from the discussions over the issue, and from the general courtesies of the process, is absolutely non-existent. These are parliamentary elections - we are about to elect a parliament. Sleights of hand about 'Prime Ministerial Debates' do not alter that indisputable truth about the function of the general election, and of the television coverage that will inform voters' choices. To treat a party that has had continuous representation in parliament for the last forty-three years as if it has no stake at all in this process - as if it was some kind of fringe organisation on a par with the Natural Law Party - is genuinely outrageous.

However, it sounds as if - after a period of reflection - the SNP and its Welsh sister party have now come up with the right way forward. Firstly, they will seek the access to discussions they have thus far been denied, and if that is still not forthcoming they can then decide on the merits of legal action. For me, the key line of the article is this - "the SNP and Plaid want to discuss how they can receive a balance of 90 minutes lost to them from the leaders' debates". That zones in on the nub of the issue. When Question Time leaders' specials have been shown across the UK in previous elections, there has always been an equivalent programme shown only in Scotland featuring the SNP leader alone. So the precedents could hardly be clearer. The only thing that can correct the gross imbalance in coverage caused by the 'Prime Ministerial Debates' is a similar programme, or more likely series of programmes, featuring Alex Salmond or Angus Robertson alone. As has been repeatedly pointed out, additional Scottish leaders' debates cannot possibly fulfil the same corrective function, for the very simple reason that the three other parties that have already received their massive bonus coverage will also be invited to take part in them.

The myth, or perhaps it could be better described as a synthetic conviction, that the Scottish debates - which are perfectly welcome on their own merits - can in some way address this issue is what must be exploded in the coming days and weeks.


  1. Perhaps a 30 minute show with Mr Salmond stuck on to the beginning or end of the debates?

  2. It is a stitch-up, quite simple a Unionist stich-up. All the vested parties in this matter, Labour, Tory and LibDems are London based unionist parties and all all supremacy central to London. The BBC which is ~8% funded by tax from Scotland, and only produces 2% of the network output, is the handmaiden of Unionism

    Birds of a feather, flock together.

    The mask is off the future from this lot is revealed. Broadcasting will be a kept a Westminster reserved issue and the BBC is responding in kind to their political paymasters, present and future.

    It is time

  3. sorry

    all are supremacy central to London

  4. There's a very strong argument on this, made by Dougthedug over on Scunnertnation. Hopefully no-one minds if I copy/paste it here:’s not a question of fairness or of internal criteria used by the BBC or other broadcasters to decide who gets on the debates it’s a case of the broadcasters breaching the OFCOM guidelines, the BBC guidelines and the law by keeping the SNP off the debates broadcast in Scotland.

    If you look at the OFCOM guidelines then in Section 6 OFCOM define four major parties in Scotland, Labour, the Conservatives, the Lib-Dems and the SNP. All these parties must be treated equally by broadcasters who fall under OFCOM, namely Sky and ITV and being a major party gets you perks and an automatic right to parity in political broadcast time with the other major parties even on the BBC.

    The BBC guidelines say, “We should make, and be able to defend, our editorial decisions on the basis that they are reasonable and carefully and impartially reached. To achieve this we must ensure that: they are aware of the different political structures in the four nations of the United Kingdom and that they are reflected in the election coverage of each nation. Programmes shown across the UK should also take this into account.”, so they are duty bound to recognise the place of the SNP in Scottish politics.

    Then you have the law on impartially, namely the Communications Act 2003 section 320. It’s the usual legalese but here’s a summary of what it says in relation to TV services and it’s referenced directly in Section Six of the OFCOM code.

    320 Special impartiality requirements

    The preservation, in the case of every television programme service, teletext service, national radio service and national digital sound programme service, of due impartiality, on the part of the person providing the service, as respects of all matters of political or industrial controversy and matters relating to current public policy.

    The impartiality requirement is one that, subject to the OFCOM standards Code, may be satisfied by being satisfied in relation to a series of programmes taken as a whole. OFCOM shall determine what constitutes a series of programs.

    You’ve also got the rules for party political broadcasts. It’s all here in this Parliamentary Briefing note where political broadcasts are worked out not on how many MP’s the parties have but on their candidates, and this is the important bit, by home nation not on a UK wide basis.

    So after all this what does it mean?

    It means by broadcasting a multi-party political broadcast, which is what a debate is, into Scotland and only including three of the four parties defined as major parties in Scotland the BBC, ITV and Sky are breaking the BBC Guidelines, the OFCOM guidelines the procedure on allocating political broadcast time in Scotland and the Communications Act 2003.

    What the broadcasters have done is taken the English impartiality requirements which have only three major parties defined and applied that to the UK as a whole.

    They’ve then ignored devolution and will broadcast a debate mainly about English domestic policies right across the UK even though most of it doesn’t apply to Scotland which will not only be wrong but it will mislead voters.

    It is actually quite sobering to look at what they plan to do. Despite all the talk in the blogs about devolution, independence and the West Lothian question the idea that England is Britain is England is still firmly embedded in the establishment.

  5. Great again James. I've linked to it on my blog.

  6. Ezio Auditore da FirenzeMarch 6, 2010 at 11:06 PM

    Just thought I'd bring this wee blog post to your attention James. Could come in useful on the 'Cameron is a much nicer guy and more fitting for the office of PM than Brown' believing Tories on PB!

  7. Many thanks, Ezio. Even the word 'bully' is used - quite extraordinary. That'll come in very handy the next time someone suggests that I've been looking too deeply into Diane Abbott's eyes!

  8. Ezio Auditore da FirenzeMarch 7, 2010 at 1:30 AM

    Tis always the greatest pleasure to do anything that will wind up some CyberTories, James!