Friday, June 14, 2013

Question Time DNA

Yesterday afternoon, our old friend Duncan Hothersall launched a half-hearted defence of the ludicrously unbalanced choice of panel for the Edinburgh edition of Question Time by querying whether it was really true that the show was intended as an independence referendum special.  People keep calling it that, but where's the evidence, he asked.  Well, I only saw the last twenty minutes or so of the programme, but from the way David Dimbleby was talking it was fairly clear that a full five-sixths of the show had been devoted to the referendum.  It seems to me that if you walk like a duck five-sixths of the time, and quack like a duck five-sixths of the time, you must at the very least have a fair amount of duck DNA, and the composition of the panel should therefore have been duck-oriented.

I'll be interested to see the earlier part of the programme to find out whether Angus Robertson and Lesley Riddoch attempted to raise the issue of bias, and if so whether they were allowed to talk about it at any length.  Certainly when Nick Griffin was on the show the entire debate seemed to revolve around whether the producers had been right to allow him a platform, so I see no reason why a similar discussion shouldn't have been permitted this time given the huge level of concern expressed.  What particularly troubles me about the Question Time production team is their macho attitude - we saw it before in their arrogant reply to the criticisms of the notorious Glasgow edition of the programme in 2010.  It's as if their default response to negative feedback from Scotland is not to pause for reflection, but instead to pat themselves on the back and bizarrely treat the criticisms as proof that they must be getting it right at "UK level".  Scotland is terribly parochial, don't-cha-know, so if the Jocks don't like what we're doing we must be pretty much on the right track.

Hmmm.  Wouldn't it be better to at least go through the basic process of working out whether your detractors' logic has some validity?  As noted above, this was to all intents and purposes an independence referendum special, which in normal circumstances would entail parity of representation between the two sides of the debate.  If for some reason there wasn't to be exact parity, where should the balance have fallen?  55% of the members of the elected Scottish Parliament are pro-independence.  51% of the list vote in the most recent opinion poll went to pro-independence parties.  Two of the five parties represented at Holyrood are pro-independence.  Therefore, if there were to be five representatives of political parties on the show, it seems clear that the correct number of pro-independence politicians was either two or three.  How the producers could conclude that a 4-1 split in favour of the anti-independence side was appropriate is beyond me, particularly as they had to bus in two English-based politicians (representing essentially English parties) to achieve that imbalance.

The case for the defence from the producers seems to be that the programme had to be "of interest" to non-Scottish viewers, which necessitated the bringing in of box office names like Farage and Galloway.  Clearly that argument is fatuous beyond words, but even if we take it at face value, why should that be inconsistent with a balanced panel?  For instance, if we had to have a firebrand socialist with box office credentials, why couldn't it have been pro-independence Tommy Sheridan rather than anti-independence George Galloway?  Or how about Margo MacDonald - wouldn't she have been just as good a watch in Finchley as in Fintry?

One last specific point - the producers' excuse for excluding the Greens does not inspire a huge amount of confidence that they in any sense "get it" about the distinctiveness of the Scottish political system...

"The Question Time panel is chosen carefully across the series and the Green party has appeared on the programme twice in the last four months. The Scottish Greens will be invited to appear on the programme in a future edition recorded in Scotland."

Is it just me, or do you get the distinct impression that they're not even aware that "the Green party" they're referring to is the Green Party of England and Wales, which is entirely separate from the Scottish Green Party?  That's hardly a pedantic distinction either, given the Scottish Greens' participation in the Yes campaign.  So it seems a primary rationale for the obscene under-representation of the pro-independence side last night was to avoid at all costs the appalling danger of giving slightly too much prominence to the Green Party of England and Wales "across the series".

Bonkers.  Utterly bonkers.  Who exactly is it that's being "parochial" here?


  1. I see that you are still getting spam. You might have to bring back some kind of moderation although I know it is a hassle to you.

    Last nights programme only received 2.36 million viewers over all of the present UK according to Digital Spy. So not much in the way of viewing figures but I think the BBC got a bit rattled about the protest yesterday. From the accounts of others on the internet they tried to get their own back with a rather skewed report this morning.

    The next time Questiontime comes north of the border the SNP should step asside and let some one else from Tes Scotland on such as Dennis Canavan or Margo McDonald.

  2. Yes, I saw a bit of the report this morning - it seemed to be a bonus party political broadcast for UKIP, with Farage ranting about the SNP. Is the poor chap ever going to get a word in edgeways in Scotland?

    I don't think the SNP should be standing aside for Denis Canavan - the likes of Canavan should be on the panel in addition to make up the balance (unless of course Anas Sarwar, Farage and Galloway are willing to stand aside in favour of Ruth Davidson as their sole representative!).

    I wouldn't actually need to introduce moderation to deal with the spam, but I would have to reintroduce word verification, which might discourage people from leaving comments. The reason I disabled word verification in the first place was that Subrosa mentioned that she had tried and failed to post a comment.

    It's so frustrating, because initially the spam trap worked perfectly, but now at least 20% of spam makes it through. Why a spam trap would become progressively less effective is anyone's guess.

  3. Blogger seems to be pretty useless with spam. In a year and a half I've never had a comment escape Akismet on WordPress. Might be worth considering a transfer, WP has a Blogger import function.

  4. Maybe means nothing, but you had 2 spam posts about erectile dysfunction. I noticed that on your last post about Mr. Hothersall you also had Viagra spam.
    Maybe the link is a lack of confidence or self belief, as that can cause impaired function.

  5. Of course the one overwhelming advantage of Blogger is that it's completely free. So I'll probably keep putting up with the spam, at least for the time being.