There was a sizeable turnout on Sunday for a demonstration outside the offices of BBC Scotland in Glasgow, protesting against the blatant bias displayed by the Corporation in its coverage of the referendum debate. Organisers estimate the attendance at around 2000, making turnout approximately the same as the estimate published by Craig Murray on his blog for attendance at Saturday’s Armed Forces Day in Stirling.
The Armed Forces Day events are supposed to be in honour of those who served or have served in the armed forces. It honours and remembers those who fought and died and sacrificed. At least that’s what it’s supposed to be. But choosing to hold the event in Stirling on the anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn was a shamefully transparent attempt to politicise what ought to have been a solemn and non-political event in order to use it as a stick with which to beat the Scottish political opponents of the Westminster parties. That’s a perversion of the stated purpose of Armed Forces Day. If you honestly believe that it was sheer coincidence that the event was held where it was and when it was, I have a Stirling Bridge to sell you.
Craig Murray’s estimate for Armed Services Day is probably too low, as it does not include those who lined the parade but who did not go on to the main event, however it is questionable how many of those could be regarded as attendees, as opposed to people who happened to be in the area anyway but who paused to take in a free show. There’s a difference between an attendee and a passer-by but we have no means of distinguishing between them for the purposes of arriving at a reliable attendance figure. The BBC and the MoD have clearly decided to count everyone who was in the general vicinity as an attendee. Despite this, attendance was not huge. It was noticeable that during the wall to wall coverage of the event on the BBC yesterday there were few panning shots showing the entire crowd.
There is also a significant difference in the nature of the two events. Armed Forces Day was not a static event, it began with a parade from the esplanade of Stirling Castle to the fields where the commemoration was held. The BBC protest was a static event, there was no prior march. It could be argued that counting those who lined the Armed Forces Day parade is equivalent to counting as demonstrators those who witness a protest march as it winds through a city centre. When you want to make a valid comparison, it’s important to compare like with like. So it’s valid then to restrict our comparison with the BBC demo to those who turned up for the static event outside the town.
Another important distinction is that all those who attend a protest demonstration can legitimately be described as protesters, but many of those in attendance at Armed Forces Day were there in an official capacity of one sort or another. Alicsammin and several of his staff members were there – but I don’t think anyone would claim they are supporters of the Union. Others came as representatives of their workplaces or organisations, yet others because they were working at the event. For starters, we should discount all the press and TV crews, those providing catering and other services. So again this will inflate the attendance figures of those at the Stirling event.
Then there were the service people in attendance as part of their duties. According to the Armed Forces Day official website, the parade consisted of “400 Service personnel, including soldiers from the 4th Battalion the Royal Regiment of Scotland who recently returned from Afghanistan, marched from the Esplanade of Stirling Castle through the streets of the historic city. They were joined by more than 1,200 veterans, and 200 cadets.” These 1800 people were not there as ordinary members of the public turning up to show their support for David Cameron, Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg. Many of these current and former servicepeople will have been accompanied by family and friends who came along in order to show support for their loved one. Others were there because they have personal or emotional ties to the armed forces and wished to honour the sacrifice made by a long deceased relative. We can make no judgement as to their views on the official portrayal of the event as a celebration of coming together in Great Britishness.
At least one attendee interviewed on the BBC news said that he was there to honour the sacrifices of servicepeople, “the politics is a different matter,” he added.
We can however be pretty certain that all those who turned up at the BBC demo are pissed off with the BBC. The number who turned up at the Armed Forces Day event explicitly in order to demonstrate their support for a United Kingdom and the Westminster Parliament was almost certainly much smaller than the attendance at the BBC demo. Whatever the Armed Forces Day event represented, and it will have meant very different things to the individuals in attendance, it was not a mass popular demonstration in favour of keeping Westminster rule.
Whatever the exact figure, attendance at Armed Forces Day was well short of the 35,000 claimed by the Ministry of Defence and the BBC, and judging by the photos on Craig Murray’s blog, did not come close to approaching 5,000. The photos in this link show computer generated graphics of crowds of various sizes and densities and are useful for estimating the size of a crowd in a photo.
However arguments over exact crowd size are essentially little more than exercises in dick waving. What is important is not the exact size of turnout and whose is bigger than whose, what is important and relevant is that a protest against BBC bias which had no prior coverage in the mainstream media allowing people to plan to get there, no institutional or official support, and without the promise of Red Arrow displays or demonstrations of blowing things up, attracted an attendance of the same order of magnitude as a national event which was heavily touted in advance as a fun day out for all the Great British family.
That tells us two things. It tells us that there is no massive popular support in Scotland for the UK or its institutions, and it tells us that there is massive public anger about the way in which the BBC has been representing Scotland. Whatever happens in September, BBC Scotland is already the big loser.
That’s news, that’s relevant. However the demonstration rated a few seconds at the end of the BBC Scotland evening news broadcast, and attendance was described as “hundreds of people”. Interesting is it not that one event’s attendance was inflated to 35000, while the other was reported as a vague low estimate. The protest did not rate three film crews and live coverage throughout the duration of the event followed by endless analysis and discussion afterwards. A demonstration against BBC bias itself demonstrates the bias that the demonstration seeks to highlight. BBC management don’t do irony.
The BBC is hopelessly compromised. Like the Labour party in Scotland, the BBC has no intention of reforming itself to make itself accountable to the ordinary people of Scotland. We have to make it accountable, and force it to change. The only way to do that is by voting Yes in September.