So said David Dimbleby on tonight's Question Time during a discussion on the economy, as he made a determined (and clearly premeditated) effort to prevent Nicola Sturgeon making even the briefest comment relating to Scotland specifically, rather than to the United Kingdom as a whole. "We may be in Glasgow," he went on, "but Question Time goes out to the whole United Kingdom". Now, we know that the broadcasters have no political axes to grind, and simply apply perfectly reasonable principles like this with absolute consistency. Therefore, we can rest assured that no political discussion broadcast to the whole United Kingdom, regardless of whether it was broadcast from an English location, has ever focused solely on any of the following topics as they relate to England alone :
3) Criminal justice
6) Local government
7) Environmental protection
8) Agriculture and fishing
And, for the avoidance of doubt, according to the principle Dimbleby laid down tonight, it would in no way be sufficient to merely briefly "signpost" that any discussion of these topics related to England alone - it would plain and simply be inappropriate to discuss them at all.
But what's that you say? They do just that on Question Time every week? And they justified a 90-minute long UK-wide Prime Ministerial (sic) Debate predominantly concerned with purely English matters on the grounds that ten seconds of "clear signposting" by a bored-looking Alistair Stewart was more than sufficient? Well, this is indeed deeply mysterious. Could it be that it's in fact the London broadcasters who have yet to notice that they are "talking to the whole United Kingdom", and not just to one part of it?
I think I have a small clue as to the distorted thinking that lies behind Dimbleby's outrageous intervention tonight, however. A couple of years ago, on another Question Time edition broadcast from Scotland, he stopped Sturgeon in similar circumstances. The issue being discussed was the injustice of innocent people having their DNA stored permanently on a database. Sturgeon tried to explain how the system worked differently in Scotland, but was thwarted by an indignant Dimbleby, who informed her that the discussion was about the United Kingdom position on DNA retention, not the Scottish position. Just one small problem with that - there is no United Kingdom position on that subject. There is a Scottish policy, and there is an English and Welsh policy. That's the way devolution works - the same applies to health, education, and all the other policy areas that I referred to earlier. If the broadcasters want to comfort their audience by implicitly sending them the message that nothing has really changed since 1999, and that "national programmes" are still able to solely concern themselves with "national issues" (leaving the peripheral devolved stuff to "regional" programmes like Reporting Scotland), what they're actually doing is promoting a fiction. Some would put it a bit stronger than that.
It is nothing short of incredible that the broadcasters apparently think it is perfectly reasonable to invite a Scottish nationalist politician onto a programme and then expect her never to talk about Scotland or her nationalism at any point. If it is seriously going to be their policy that UK-wide programmes must be wholly free of 'sub-UK' discussions, then clearly previous practice is going to have to change beyond all recognition, and any future Question Time exchanges on health, for example, will somehow have to cover all four different health systems in the UK simultaneously. How on earth they intend to achieve that is beyond me - but if, as I suspect, what Dimbleby and the broadcasters really mean is "United Kingdom discussion = discussion of the policy that applies in England", then it totally blows out of the water the thin justification they put forward for going ahead with general election debates held exclusively in English locations, that covered many English-only matters (but no matters that related only to other parts of the UK), that specifically excluded non-English residents from participating in the audiences, and that of course totally excluded the leaders of all parties that did not stand in English constituencies.
I think we could sum up the position by saying that the broadcasters imagine they are performing a public service by snuffing out what they see as a politician's attempt to 'hijack' the UK-wide airwaves for a Scottish-only discussion - and yet imagine they were also performing a public service by conspiring with politicians during the election campaign to hijack the UK-wide airwaves for an English-only discussion. I'd really like to see how they can possibly justify that blatant contradiction - but it seems for the time being they won't even have to try, simply because their own regulatory bodies are caught in precisely the same Anglocentric trance.
As an aside, it's also worth pointing out that the first fifteen minutes of tonight's edition of Question Time - broadcast from Glasgow, remember - was taken up with a discussion about a remark made by the Mayor of London, in his capacity as Mayor of London. And yet Dimbleby still couldn't see the irony of chiding Sturgeon for spending just a few seconds talking about a 'non-national' issue later in the programme. You really couldn't make it up...