By a Newsnet reporter
What’s been the biggest political story this week? Yes, that’s correct; it’s David Cameron’s announcement of an In/Out referendum on EU membership for the UK.
In one fell swoop Cameron put Scotland’s future EU membership in doubt whilst at the same time grabbing Eurosceptic Middle England from underneath Ed Miliband’s nose. The Tories are now a shoe in for the 2015 UK general election and UKIP have been neutered.
Now ask yourself just how damaging is this EU referendum is to the pro-Union Better Together campaign? Right again, it’s extremely damaging.
Alistair Darling and other assorted Unionists have been arguing for months that Scotland’s EU membership is secure only from within the UK. The only threat to that EU membership was independence.
That argument is now shot to pieces.
What then you may ask, was the top political story on the BBC Online news on the morning of Cameron’s speech? The answer is a poll, the headline of which informed readers that independence was at its lowest since devolution – sitting at, we were told, 23%.
On Good Morning Scotland it took host Gary Robertson just 1 minute 50 seconds before reporting on the Scottish Social Attitudes Survey (SSAS) poll. Robertson and his co-presenter Hayley Millar then wasted no time in performing the daily ritual that hears them read out newspaper headlines from exclusively pro-Union news vendors.
“Lots of coverage of the Social Attitudes survey” said Robertson – and he wasn’t joking as the usual suspects received their daily free advert, courtesy of the licence payer.
Thus, the ‘spoiler’ was off and running and damage limitation - or ‘news’ as BBC Scotland would describe it - had begun.
But just how accurate was this survey? The opinions were apparently taken between the summer and autumn of 2012. Some of you might remember two high profile events took place last summer, events that some might say could have influenced some Scots who took part in the survey.
The Queen’s Jubilee and the Olympics were Union Flag waving jamborees receiving wall to wall coverage. It was ‘British this’ and ‘Team GB that’ as Unionists wallowed in the billion pound spectacles and no doubt laughed their way to the ‘polling bank’.
That this poll showed a healthy ‘pro-Union balance’ after the Britfest isn’t surprising. It was also mostly carried out before the Edinburgh Agreement at a time when Unionists were attacking the timetable and legality of any referendum.
There is also the small matter of the questions asked in the poll:
Scotland should become independent, separate from the UK and the European Union
Scotland should become independent, separate from the UK but part of the European Union
Now here’s something that might surprise you – I don’t want Scotland to be “separate” from the UK and the EU, heck I might have voted against. Leaving aside the fact that it is quite impossible to be separate from the UK – like a bad marriage it will just end after independence - I want to keep a relationship with our closest neighbours.
And what of this word “separate”? I seem to recall this word being favoured by those of a pro-Union persuasion in order to describe independence.
In the previous four years of this survey, support for this ‘separate independence’ has been 24%, 28%, 23% and 32% respectively, so 23% and 24% have been markers in recent years.
Now it isn’t the fact that this poll has been covered in the news – it was newsworthy, indeed some of the results were very interesting. But as ever with BBC Scotland, the editors and producers took a tabloid approach and instead of supplying professional and objective analysis, they applied the same partisan editorial line as pro-Union newspapers did and ‘spun’ the 23% aspect.
Last year the poll revealed that almost two thirds of Scots would back independence if they were £500 better off. That particular ‘man bites dog’ figure was a headline – it was unexpectedly high, but the 23% figure from this poll isn’t the surprise news that the headlines and profile suggested.
Indeed the poll was out of date having been overtaken by events and other more up to date polls.
But it served to deflect from the EU story – which was good luck to the survey report’s co-author, Professor John Curtice, who managed yet again to appear across the entire broadcast spectrum offering his well-worn opinions on how disappointing the results were for the Yes campaign … etc, etc.
The story worked for Thursday, and things looked bleak for the No campaign on the news front when it emerged that Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon was to make a speech in Ireland on Friday which would focus on Cameron’s EU referendum.
But BBC Scotland had a cunning trick up their sleeve in the shape of Raymond Buchanan and ‘the question’.
Raymond became the latest BBC Scotland reporter to ask ‘the question’ that has no answer until Westminster ask it. What would the status of an independent Scotland be in the EU?
Surprisingly and rather disappointingly, Ireland's European affairs minister Lucinda Creighton said a newly independent Scotland would be thrown out of the EU and have to re-apply. Not only that, but according to Ms Creighton, the re-application would be a lengthy process.
Manna from heaven to BBC Scotland who now had the ‘spoiler’ they could run instead of focussing exclusively on the Deputy First Minister.
The item on Reporting Scotland from Buchanan was predictable – focusing in the “humiliating” Irish bank bailout and then a poorly edited video clip of Ms Creighton making her claim, followed by Michael Moore repeating the claim. As ever, Sturgeon was broadcast addressing the negative claim extracted by Buchanan’s question.
Just what mechanism would be used in order to throw Scotland out of the EU on independence day didn’t appear to interest Mr Buchanan who, from the evidence presented didn’t ask.
Neither was the BBC Scotland man interested in the fate of Scots currently living and working throughout the EU or the EU students currently studying in Scotland who would face repatriation from Scotland if Ms Creighton is correct.
Buchanan wasn’t the first to explore Europe in search of politicians willing to tell him of the uncertainty and doom that awaited an independent Scotland in the EU.
Glenn Campbell was at it last week when he managed to get the required headlines after visits to the Czech Republic and Slovakia.
One of the BBC headlines -’Slovakia's Lajcak says no clear answer to independent Scotland's EU future’ - was actually a misrepresentation. Miroslav Lajcak had actually refused to give any opinion on Scotland’s position, but the BBC made one up anyway.
The Czech Republic’s Karel Schwarzenberg on the other hand was less reticent and volunteered his opinion – warning that Scotland would lose out if it became independent. Cue another headline.
But what questions have BBC Scotland actually asked the European Commission on the subject? Since Jose Manuel Barroso gave his interview last month, just how many times has BBC Scotland sought clarification from the EC President?
Have they asked by what mechanism states such as Scotland and Catalonia might be expelled, as is being claimed? What provisions, if any, have been made to facilitate the smooth transition should independence be achieved?
Freedom of Information
To find out what information our intrepid BBC Scotland reporters, paid for by us, had attempted to extract from Mr Barroso’s office we sent a Freedom of Information request to the BBC asking them.
They refused to tell us.
As revealed by Newsnet Scotland in the article – The Untouchables – the BBC are indeed untouchable.
Here’s what they said:
The information you have requested is excluded from the Act because it is held for the purposes of ‘journalism, art or literature.’ The BBC is therefore not obliged to provide this information to you and will not be doing so on this occasion. Part VI of Schedule 1 to FOIA provides that information held by the BBC and the other public service broadcasters is only covered by the Act if it is held for ‘purposes other than those of journalism, art or literature”.
The BBC is not required to supply information held for the purposes of creating the BBC’s output or information that supports and is closely associated with these creative activities.1 You may not be aware that one of the main policy drivers behind the limited application of the Act to public service broadcasters was to protect freedom of expression and the rights of the media under Article 10 European Convention on Human Rights (“ECHR”).
The BBC, as a media organisation, is under a duty to impart information and ideas on all matters of public interest and the importance of this function has been recognised by the European Court of Human Rights. Maintaining our editorial independence is a crucial factor in enabling the media to fulfil this function.
The problem of course is that there is absolutely no evidence whatsoever that BBC Scotland has asked any further questions of the EC and Mr Barroso since his interview just before Christmas. If they had done then surely they would have broadcast and published the answers.
We suspect that BBC Scotland has no intention of asking questions that might serve to cast doubt on claims that Scotland will be thrown out of the EU and have to re-apply. They won’t press any EC politician or official to explain the mechanism that will see Scots stripped of their rights as EU citizens.
They most certainly won’t pursue the suggestion by a leading American professor that both Scotland and England will be treated as equals should the Union end. Nor will they press the UK government on just why Westminster is refusing to take up the offer made by First Minister Alex Salmond to have a joint approach to the EC in order to clarify the issue.
The whole coverage of the membership issue as presented by BBC Scotland, as everyone knows, is a charade. There is no certainty because there can never be certainty, the situation is unprecedented.
Asking the dumb question of European politicians who are in no position to give a definitive answer is designed only to keep the membership ‘uncertainty’ going.
Scotland’s continuation within the EU is one of probability and it can be determined with relative ease if an independent Scotland is more likely to be booted out or allowed to negotiate from within. The debate, if it were honest, would focus on that and inform the Scottish people.
“Do you think Scotland will be thrown out of the EU if independent?” would be an interesting question to ask. Buchanan, Campbell and the rest will no more pose that question than they will read out a headline from Newsnet Scotland on Newsnight.
Now, what was the big story this week … something about David Cameron? … Oh, I can’t remember … ach it couldn’t have been that important.
[Notice - Newsnet Scotland has been made aware of a planned rally/march scheduled to take place on Saturday February 23rd at around 4pm in Glasgow. The rally will call for an open and balanced referendum debate from broadcasters but will be strictly non-partisan. We will provide further details as and when we receive them.]