Tuesday, March 18, 2014

UK "democracy" does Judge John Deed

I know I should be way, way past this point by now, but my jaw dropped to the floor last night when Alex Massie (a man who in all apparent seriousness claims to be an undecided voter in this referendum) attempted to repudiate Lesley Riddoch's seemingly unanswerable argument that the BBC have a duty to subject Labour's vastly over-hyped 'Devo Dwindle' plans to exactly the same level of hostile scrutiny that has been applied to the detailed proposals for independence. Not a bit of it, Massie insisted, for this referendum is like a court case where the burden of proof falls entirely on the proponents of independence. The No campaign shouldn't be expected to defend themselves or even to make their case at all, beyond picking holes in the dastardly separatists' crazy schemes (which is apparently how the media will be spending all their time anyway).

That proposition is so obviously risible that I would have been tempted just to forget all about it, but then I recalled that Massie's language is disturbingly similar to a key segment of Ian Small's response on behalf of BBC Scotland to Professor John Robertson's independent academic study concerning the broadcasters' bias in favour of the No campaign. The awful realisation suddenly hit me that at least some sections of the BBC truly do see their legal obligation to be scrupulously balanced in precisely the way Massie suggests - that they should provide equal airtime for the No campaign to explain why independence is so ghastly, and for the Yes campaign to answer hostile questioning. That's it. If you're expecting the shortcomings of the United Kingdom as presently constituted (ie. the reason we're having the referendum) to be scrutinised in any way, it seems you should forget it - Riddoch was recently told by a researcher for a London-based network BBC show that there wasn't "time" for any of that, and in any case it wasn't as "interesting" for viewers/listeners.

If that's what balanced coverage looks like, then for the purposes of this particular campaign we might as well be living in Turkmenistan.

Where does the courtroom analogy end? Since the Tories will be the incumbents at the next UK general election, are we to take it that the 'burden of proof' should fall entirely on Labour, and that the media would be deeply impertinent to even think about asking David Cameron a searching question or two? And will the judge acquit the Tories and allow them to continue governing unless the electorate delivers a unanimous verdict in favour of Labour? Or will he be generous and consider letting Miliband into Downing Street on the basis of a mere 80%-20% split decision?

* * *

Give the BBC's Norman Smith his due - he very fairly tweeted earlier today that the most recent poll shows the pro-independence campaign riding high on 45% of the vote. Must be something of a shock to him, though, as that certainly isn't what polls conducted by Aberdeen bridalwear companies were showing the last time he ventured north.


  1. This same argument (more or less) was made by the chair in the BBC debate last night so it does appear to be official policy. (at 42 min: http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b03yq66n/The_Referendum_Debate_18_03_2014/). This nonsense needs to be challenged at every opporunity so it's disappointing that Swinney and Fry didn't take the chance.

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.