There’s no point in beating about the bush, for a long time it’s been obvious that BBC Scotland’s commitment to neutrality and even handedness has an unwritten rider saying *except when it comes to Scottish independence, but now the Corporation is just taking the piss. It is well known that young Scots are more inclined to support independence than those of older generations, this is a pattern which has been deeply entrenched in just about every opinion poll since the independence referendum of 2014. Amongst the youngest age cohort, those under the age of 24, majority support for independence is overwhelming, people in Scotland under the age of 24 support independence by a factor of two to one.
At least young Scots support independence by a factor of two to one, except when they are young Scots who feature in a BBC online article entitled: “Scottish independence: Is it still a priority for young Scots?” The online article was a trailer for a report due to be broadcast on BBC2’s Newsnight Programme on Tuesday evening.
It does not auger well for the broadcast report. It appears that BBC young Scots not only oppose independence by a factor of two to one, but the two opponents of independence featured alongside a single supporter of the SNP are also former candidates for the Labour and Conservative parties, a fact which the BBC did not see fit to disclose. The piece glosses over the consistent and long established pattern in different opinion polls from different polling companies which find that by a very large majority young Scots favour independence and indeed the only age cohort in which there is a majority opposed to Scottish independence is the very oldest.
Nowhere in the article was there any acknowledgement of that reality, far less any attempt to examine why it is that younger people in Scotland apparently reject a British political identity and see Scotland’s future as an independent state. Neither was there any awareness that Britishness as a political construct is far weaker in Scotland than elsewhere in the UK and what role this weakening sense of Britishness might have to play in leading a large majority of young Scots to see Scotland’s future as an independent nation.
It could be argued that it is this weaker appeal of Britishness in Scotland which leads Scots as a whole, and young Scots in particular, to be less enthusiastic about big royal events than people elsewhere in the UK, or that it might be responsible for Scottish opposition to Brexit. It is plausible to argue that for Scots in general and young Scots in particular, a European identity and a European future are far more attractive and appealing than a British identity or a British future. This has been thrown into even sharper relief since the Brexit vote, now British and European futures are seen as standing in opposition to one another. The Better Together claim during the 2014 referendum campaign that by voting No Scotland could have the best of both worlds has been unmasked as a cruel joke.
All the piece has to say about the long established demographic pattern of large pro-independence majorities amongst younger age cohorts is :”Polls suggest Scots aged under 24 are more likely to back independence than the average person.” Then it quickly goes on to speak with one SNP supporter, one Labour supporter, and a Tory. The BBC certainly does not want to suggest that Scots under 24 are more likely to back independence ” than the average person,” an odd phrasing which suggests that if you do back independence you are somehow no longer an average or ordinary person.
This is not reporting in an unbiased way on an important story, it is not an honest and transparent attempt to inform the public in the rest of the UK about a very real and well established demographic fact in Scotland, a fact which is a demographic time bomb for the United Kingdom in its current form. What the BBC published is a clear and deliberate attempt to shape an anti-independence narrative.
Instead of a serious attempt to look at what the factors might be that are leading a large majority of young Scots to support independence, we got the usual BBC idea of ‘balance’ which is to stick on one person from the SNP and one each from the other large parties. In this case that turned the two to one support for independence amongst people under 24 on its head and gave us young people who two to one oppose independence. As noted above the BBC did not think it important to disclose that the Labour and Tory supporters had both been candidates for those parties. You might think that their own personal political ambitions would have a bearing on their views on Scottish independence, but not if you’re the BBC. In the BBC universe these two party candidates are more representative of the ‘average person.’ So that’s you telt, independence supporting youth.
However there was another and more insidious form of BBC bias on display here, the piece framed the independence debate through a party political lens. This is a framing which favours the anti-independence case as it portrays independence as being entirely about the SNP and so encourages people who may be sympathetic to the idea of independence but who are not necessarily SNP supporters to associate the concept of Scottish independence with a political party that they do not favour. This framing also avoids looking at more deep seated structural issues within the British state as being factors which have a role to play in creating a desire for independence. It means that the Westminster parties and the Westminster system do not need to look at themselves and their own failings, the wish for Scottish independence can then be conveniently blamed on ‘nationalism’ and the ‘grievance mongering’ of the SNP.
The BBC isn’t even pretending to cover Scottish independence in an even handed way any more. As SNP president Mike Russell said: “The BBC is now not even trying to hide its institutional bias against independence. This is not just lazy and shoddy programme making, it is an attempt to skew the debate. Those responsible shouldn’t be working in broadcasting.”
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