Friday, April 16, 2010

Clegg averts calamity by playing his Brucie Unionist Bonus

There was a new full-scale Scottish YouGov poll of Westminster voting intentions yesterday that, remarkably, showed our prospective new party of government slipping back to a humiliating fourth place behind the Liberal Democrats. The SNP remain in second place, but their lead over the Lib Dems now stands at just three points, which raises a question that would have seemed laughable until very recently - could the Lib Dems just possibly maintain their second place in the popular vote from the 2005 election? To be clear, if that actually happens no Lib Dem will be able to claim with a straight face that they've achieved it on the merits of their pitch to the voters. Look no further than what happened in 2005 - the Lib Dems performed well in Scotland because they were opposed to the Iraq war and had a telegenic leader. But guess which other party also had both those advantages? The only - but ultimately telling - difference between the Lib Dems and the SNP was that the London-dominated media allowed one party to be heard and not the other. With the hyperbole over Clegg coming out on top in the first of the rigged leaders' debates last night, it looks almost certain that the gulf in the level of coverage is going to be even more obscene this time round than in 2005. Make no mistake - if the SNP can withstand this outrageous, anti-democratic loading of the dice against them and come out in second place, it'll be as phenomenal an achievement as winning the 2007 Holyrood election outright.

On the presentation of the debate itself, I suppose we should be grateful that Alastair Stewart at least went through the motions of flagging up when a question related to matters that are devolved in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, but there were still huge shortcomings. Why couldn't he simply have clarified the point properly by adding "which means that the discussion you're about to hear relates to England only"? It would only have taken five seconds to do so. As two of the audience questions flatly contradicted his disclaimer by using phrases like "across Britain" and "throughout the UK", I haven't the slightest doubt that many viewers in Scotland will have been misled into thinking that the answers relating to health, education and crime had at least some relevance to Scotland, whereas of course they had none whatsoever.

The other point on which viewers were cynically misled was when Stewart claimed - without any qualification at all - that the studio audience was 'representative'. It categorically was not. Residents of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland were specifically barred from being members of the audience (as they will be in all three debates), and thus by definition the roughly 3% of the UK population who typically support the SNP or Plaid Cymru were not merely under-represented - they were literally not represented at all.

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