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Sunday, 15 April 2012

BBC Video Furore - Neil Fails

Far be it from me to become a paragon of balance in relation to biased media coverage of the Independence debate but I can't get agitated about the BBC College of Journalism videos that others are so exercised about. Featuring senior BBC figures - Brian Taylor, Nick Robinson, Stephanie Flanders and Andrew Neil - talking to aspiring journalists about the issues, there aren't many areas that I would care to make much of a fuss about. That's not to say that I don't think the BBC, particularly in our Scottish coverage, haven't been guilty of unbalanced reportage - I've written about that very thing previously - but in this instance I remain relatively relaxed about the whole thing.

Brian Taylor, I feel, gives a reasonably cogent analysis of SNP thinking and tactics on the referendum. The only point where I disagree with Brian (and I could be wrong) is on whether Alex Salmond and the SNP actually want a second question on the ballot paper. I know it has become accepted wisdom that the nationalists would like the 'fallback position' as Brian describes it. My intuition is that Salmond wants a one-question' referendum, just as his public statements suggest, and that the second question is being used as a distraction for other parties to concern themselves with.

We know that there are Liberal Democrats, in particular, and some Labour members who see some form of DevoMax/Plus/Lite as their preferred option but who are currently curtailed by party discipline from explicitly expressing that. Goodness, even Cameron has hinted at undefined further powers for Scotland but only after we reject Independence. As we get closer to October 2014, I see that discipline breaking down and all sorts of options being bandied about by the 'united' Unionist campaign. These divisions will be exacerbated by the looming UK General Election and the back-biting will start. I really find it hard to envisage the anti-Independence parties presenting a convincing united front in the lead up to the Referendum. By common consent the sharpest operator in UK politics, Salmond will then start to pick them off.

Nick Robinson made some slightly laboured (no pun intended) remarks about voters in Billericay being worried about post-independence Scottish border controls. While I am certain that Scots voting in the referendum will take due cognisance of the concerns of voters in Essex, I am also certain they'll forgive us if it's not at the top of our priorities.

He also suggests the UK Government could appropriate the term 'Yes' for their own campaign as a measure to deny its 'positive' use to the Nationalists. My only response to that would be that the only politicians who have been given any specific mandate from voters about the Scottish constitutional position are the SNP. No other party has specifically campaigned on the issue and won power either in 2010 or 2011. With that in mind, it seems that the SNP have clearly won the right to frame that debate in whatever terms they wish. If they wish to make it a 'Yes' campaign and a 'Yes' referendum question, I believe the rest will just have to put up with it. This means that the most interesting contribution from Robinson was his statement that Unionist analysts have deduced the wording of the question can make as much as 8% difference to the result. No wonder Westminster want to wrest control of the process. This should be vigorously defended. It is Scotland's referendum and it must be made in Scotland. Let us never forget that the London Government has previous form for subverting Scottish will in a referendum.

Stephanie Flanders dealt with economics and seemed to me to present figures and statistics that didn't actually aid understanding. Never having seen the information presented in the form Flanders employed, I couldn't shake the feeling that some subterfuge was going on. I, though, make no claims to be an economics expert and others may have viewed those differently. In general her presentation (in terms of its wording) was fairly neutral, though I question whether she actually apportioned North Sea assets into the Scottish figures as she claimed.

Which brings us to Andrew Neil. Probably what I would expect from the BBC Political Department's token Tory - a spiteful attack on Scottish independence with equal measures of disinformation and scare stories.

It's never been difficult not to take Neil seriously but his cringe-worthy recent 'adverts' for his BBC political shows have just made it easier. He clearly has a tenuous grasp of Scottish history and has therefore adopted the Anglo-centric view of Darien, ie. Scotland was bankrupt, England bailed us out; which is always a major fail. Or, perhaps he knows more Scottish history than I give him credit for and has decided to use this version that ignores the destructive interventions of the English navy in order to pander to his paymasters in London. In any event, anyone using Darien as an argument against Scottish independence reveals the weakness of their argument. The rest of Neil's presentation re-iterates that weakness.

The UK will still exist, he tells us, as the United Kingdom of England, Wales and Northern Ireland. That's a total of one kingdom in the Union. Curious logic. But again maybe Neil's education is not as extensive as he believes it to be.

He also reveals a lack of understanding of how the Bank of England operates. I can't really blame him too much for this because so few others understand that either. What he (and others) fail to realise is that the Bank of England operates as a private, profit-making enterprise lending money to Government to be repaid on a principal plus interest basis. Despite legislative sleight of hand in 1946 and 1977 it remains just that - private and profit-making. So private, in fact, that it is exempt from providing the same shareholding details that other organisations are required to reveal as well as being protected by its Royal Charter and the Official Secrets Act - a story for another day.

What this means, however, is that rather than there be some doubt about whether the BofE would be prepared to act as a 'borrower of last resort' to an independent Scotland - as Neil asserts - its shareholders would be delighted by such an arrangement as it meant more profits for them. The other point Neil ignores, conveniently, is that despite it's name the BofE is as much Scottish as English. It is the central bank of the United Kingdom, not of England. This is equally true of sterling and any suggestion an independent Scotland would be disallowed from using a freely-tradeable reserve currency, if it chose to do so, should only elicit snorts of derision.

Neil then reveals his and the British establishment's petty and vindictive response to the possibility of Scottish independence by claiming that the 'gloves really come off' in post-referendum negotiations. It makes one suspect that his nickname 'Brillo' refers less to his hairstyle than his abrasive qualities. It is the nature of Brillo pads though that when employed for any length of time they become clogged up with shit. Neil has now worked at the BBC for over 20 years.

Nuff said?

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