Friday, May 11, 2018

How does the SNP's near-total exclusion from BBC Question Time compare to the treatment of the Liberal Democrats when they were the UK's third party?

There's an indisputable fact of political arithmetic that our broadcasters need to be urgently reacquainted with.  The SNP are not only the third largest party in the elected chamber of the UK Parliament, they're also an unusually strong third party by historical standards.  They have 35 seats at present.  Compare that to the Liberal Party, which was of course the third party for almost all of the period from the end of the Second World War until they were merged out of existence in March 1988.  During those four-and-a-bit decades, the Liberals never won more than 17 seats in a general election - less than half of the SNP's current tally.  Things didn't improve much for the new Liberal Democrat party in the immediate period after the merger with the SDP - they started with 19 seats, and only won 20 in the 1992 general election.  They didn't make a significant breakthrough until 1997, when with the help of massive anti-Tory tactical voting they won 46 seats - although even that wasn't dramatically better than what the SNP currently have.

It's true that there was a very brief spell between 1981 and 1983, when - simply because of defections from Labour to the SDP - it can be argued that the third force in British politics was slightly stronger in parliamentary terms than the SNP are now.  But in the 1983 election, the vast majority of the defectors lost their seats, and the Liberal-SDP Alliance fell back to a combined total of just 23.  That means for fifty of the fifty-two years between 1945 and 1997, the third-largest force in the Commons had fewer seats than the 35 held by the SNP at the moment.

The BBC's Question Time programme has been running since 1979, so it covered the last eighteen of those fifty-two years.  Here's the obvious question: how did the show treat the Liberals, the Liberal-SDP Alliance and the Liberal Democrats during the period between 1979 and 1997?  Answer: much, much, much, much more favourably than it currently treats the SNP.  It's true that there wasn't a Liberal representative on the panel every single week, but there was certainly one on the majority of occasions, and there were long spells where the absence of a Liberal was an exception rather than the norm.   To take a random example, let's look at the spring of 1994 - a time when the Liberal Democrats had just 22 seats in the Commons.  On 24th March, Liz Lynne was on Question Time.  In the next edition on 14th April, Shirley Williams was on.  The following week on 21st April, David Alton was on.  The week after that on 28th April, Charles Kennedy was on.  The next edition was on 12th May, and Menzies Campbell was on the panel.  And on and on it went.

By contrast, and despite their 35 seats, the SNP have been included in just TWO of the last TWENTY-TWO editions of the programme.  This is in spite of the fact that there are now five spots on the panel every week, rather than the old standard of four.  There's actually space for more plurality than there was in the 1980s and 1990s, and yet somehow we end up with less because there simply must be a comedian, journalist or "broadcaster" on the panel, instead of the UK's third-largest political party.

What the BBC are doing is so blatant, it's almost getting to the point of being funny.  Almost.  How can they possibly justify such an extreme disparity between their current treatment of the SNP, and their treatment of former third parties?  They would probably pray in aid the fact that the SNP has a smaller share of the UK popular vote than the Lib Dems did in the early-to-mid 90s.  But nevertheless we have the electoral system we do, and you can't just pick and choose when it suits you to acknowledge the result that the system has actually produced.  Broadcasters are expected to have regard for both the popular vote and a party's strength in terms of elected representatives.  That being the case, if the Lib Dems were on Question Time almost every week when they had 20-odd seats, the most natural compromise would now see the SNP appearing in roughly half of all episodes.  Not one episode in every eleven.

22 comments:

  1. On the flipside of course UKIP will continue to appear every other week even when there's no MPs, no MSPs, no MEPs, no local council members, no activists or membership or visibility and there's just one person left in some dark corner of the country clinging onto a crumpled, battered UKIP rosette.

    Out of interest what's the UKIP representation like over the same previous 22 episodes?

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  2. QT is the biggest load of drivel invented by the BBC. It is an opportuniy for politicians and the public to grandstand and moreso for the public who think they can mouth off and change things.

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  3. But QT says they will include SNP only when in Scotland.. despite programme being produced by BBC Scotland.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Question_Time_(TV_series)

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  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  5. ...and how many times has there been a libdem on the panel in the last 22 episodes?

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  6. Anonymous, in pointing out the irrelevance of Scottish votes to both the government and institutions of the UK, makes a case for independence as succinctly and effectively as any I've seen.

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    1. The standard of QS is so low and the Scottish Nat sis cannot get a seat on it.

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    2. Anonymous has not commented yet! It is still on another thread.

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  7. Kangaroo says
    James, you forget that the English State is in a fight for its life against the vile natsis who would see it destroyed by making england stand on its own rather than bleeding wealth from its partner kingdom.

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    1. Pope Charlie Bonnie fae CardrossMay 12, 2018 at 1:46 AM

      If we could just have the old Scottish days when we could bugger the weans.

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    2. Those were the days.

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    3. Numpties. The pair of you.

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    4. Fadder O'HolliganMay 12, 2018 at 11:24 AM

      Vote SNP and YES, bring back the good old days.

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  8. Focus James! Eurovision comes on in 16 hours and we have no guide! On logo in usa...at least that's on my cable now! Why not BBC America?

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  9. If the SNP started to put forward candidates in Wales & England then they’d become a UK wide party and get more representation when QT goes to Welsh & English cities. The SNP are always present when it’s in Scotland.

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    1. Why should candidates standing in Wales or England be the criteria for appearing on a UK wide program .
      Neither labour ,tories or liberals stand candidates UK wide

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  10. BT otherwise known as Brexit Time has become a tedious bore. I haven't watched it in an age and there is little point in the SNP being on because Dimbleby talks over every answer they give anyway.

    I am sure the SNP appeared more often when they weren't in power and had so many MPs but perhaps I am mis-remebering. They certainly weren't heckled all the time in the past. As far as I can see the panels are an odd representation of the political reality and the audiences are frequently stacked with plants...often of a distinctly UKIPPY lean.

    In short it is more like a rigged game show than a serious political endeavour. A visual representation of spEak You're bRanes. I would starting watching again if they make Chris Morris the chair.

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  11. The above comment about qt being like a rigged game show is on the button. Myself I haven't so much as glanced at it for years, why would I?

    As to the daft question about "why" the SNP aren't represented more on it, anyone with at least half a brain knows perfectly well why, we don't need to waste time asking why. More to the point, do we care?

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  12. Agree QT is a disgrace, particularly as it is apparently a 'Scottish' programme. I assume that means we pay for it specifically through our licence fee.
    have just been checking Radio 4 Any Questions from Dumfries with the other Dimbleby.
    Kirsty Blackman is on with Richard Leonard and Liam Fox, plus an American. I expect Kirsty can demolish Richard and Liam, unless prevented by Dimbleby. Fox currently trying to justify getting British navy ships biult abroad - he is apparently UK Trade Minister at a time when the UK trade balance is probably about its worst everdeficit.

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  13. The SNP have much more chance of getting a seat in the Commons than on the Question Time panel. For others, the reverse is true.

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    1. On both occasions they are irrelevant but at least they do not get to engage with the working class who attend food banks in Scotland.

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  14. The SNP are localised to Scotland though. What relevance would an SNP panel member have in a southern English city for example?

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