I wasn’t planning to write a blog piece today, because Friday is the day that the Dugcast is released, but the farce that is BBC Question Time cannot pass unremarked. The programme is, frankly, a disgrace. BBC management were aware that the programme was tired and past its glory days, and so we got a shiny new presenter in the shape of Fiona Bruce. However that’s like replacing your curtains and touching up some paintwork when your house is structurally unsound, its roof is half off, its walls are falling down, and it’s built on top of a mineshaft that’s collapsing. Question Time is past saving, and Thursday’s atrocity of an episode from Motherwell proved it.
You would never know from watching BBC Question Time that this is a country where the SNP has more MSPs and MPs than Labour and the Conservatives combined. You’d never know that opinion polls in Scotland strongly suggest that in the event of a snap General Election the SNP would gain seats. And you’d certainly never know that half the population of Scotland supports independence and 59% of the people of Scotland think independence would be better than a no-deal Brexit. I was brought up in North Lanarkshire. But thanks to BBC Question Time I now know that the area is a hotbed of support for the Conservatives and Brexit.
There is absolutely no point in taking a debate programme to different towns and cities across the UK if the audience is not representative of the local population. It becomes nothing more than lip service paid by the metrocentric BBC to regional and national diversity within this so-called union. If the audience were truly representative of the population of the area from which the show is broadcast then you would expect strongly Tory audiences in the leafy English shires. You’d expect a Labour leaning audience in the towns of northern England or South Wales or the inner cities. And you’d expect that in Scotland around half the audience would support independence. In fact you’d expect a majority to support independence in places like Dundee or Motherwell which returned Yes majorities in the referendum of 2014.
But that’s never what happens. The audience is selected according to arcane BBC views on what constitutes balance. That’s a balance which seems to skew heavily towards support for Brexit, opposition to immigration, and a nasty rightwing intolerance which views compassion as a weakness and cruelty as a virtue. It’s a balance which invariably detests the very notion of Scottish independence. It’s a balance that gives us an abundance of plummy accented Tories in the working class Yes voting city of Dundee. It’s a balance which gave us a Motherwell, a town in North Lanarkshire with a Yes majority, a town with an SNP MP and constituency MSP, which appeared to be predominantly inhabited by right wing leaning British nationalists.
There was naturally a starring role for BBC Question Time’s very own Scottish Nigel Farage. Billy Mitchell is a man who is a failed UK council candidate, a founder member of an Orange flute band, and a fan of Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin. He is even less representative of Scottish public opinion than David Coburn, or indeed of Michael Forsyth who for some reason graced the panel. Yet Billy crops up more often on BBC QT in Scotland than a herpes sore at a clap clinic. He’s a bawhair away from getting mentioned in the programme credits.
It’s not easy to get on BBC Question Time. It’s even less easy to get picked to ask a question. It’s less easy still to have that question tweeted by the production staff. But Billy keeps on doing it. We can rule out him being the luckiest man in Scotland. So as an explanation that only leaves a breathtaking incompetence on the part of Question Time production staff, an incompetence which oddly only ever seems to favour right wing Ukip types, or there is systematic bias on the part of the programme. Neither of those is a good explanation for a BBC which insists on the right to raid our bank balances.
There’s the strange case of Billy Mitchell, but there’s the even stranger case of the framing of questions about independence. Questions about Scottish independence ought to come from Scottish audiences which are evenly balanced on the subject. You’d think that ought to mean that questions directly about independence ought to be evenly balanced on whether the questioner is positive or negative towards independence. David Dimbleby infamously refused to allow the topic of independence to be addressed, however when a question about independence is asked, the framing of the question is invariably negative – as The National has pointed out.
Clearly, what we are dealing with here is not an isolated instance that has rubbed independence supporters up the wrong way. What we are dealing with here is a consistent and persistent pattern of anti-independence framing and bias from BBC Question Time. Only some questions are fit to be asked. Those would be Great British Questions suitable to our Great British Broadcaster.
This is a serious issue. Scotland, as we all know, is denied the right to a national public broadcaster of its own. All we have is the BBC, a BBC which anyone who owns a TV set is legally obliged to pay for. Yet that BBC consistently refuses, or is incapable of, depicting the Scotland that actually exists. Instead we get a Scotland refracted through a British nationalist lens held up from London. We get a British nationalism which is regarded as the norm against which all other political views must be compared, and usually compared unfavourably.
The BBC’s charter, as decided by the British government, obliges the Corporation to “promote cohesion” between the nations of the UK. As one of the last remaining British institutions, the BBC is institutionally incapable of reporting fairly and in an unbiased manner on an independence movement within one of those nations of the UK. BBC Question Time demonstrates that failure on our TV screens every Thursday evening. It doesn’t reflect the Scotland that exists, it reflects the Scotland that British nationalism wants to see. That’s BBC Question Time’s definition of balance. It’s failing us all. It’s failing itself. It has become an unfunny joke.
BBC Question Time has some very serious questions to answer. It’s a safe bet that they won’t. Scotland doesn’t need the biased propaganda of BBC Question Time. It’s time the BBC was questioned.
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