When BBC Scotland gives huge prominence to a thinly sourced story about something that’s never going to happen, but which provides the anti-independence parties a platform from which to attack the Scottish Government, and moreover does so just days before the ruling is published in a court case which has the potential to destroy the traditional foundations of Scottish Unionism and wipe out the generations long claim that the United Kingdom is a voluntary partnership of nations, it would be wonderful to live in a Scotland where we could look on in bewildered perplexity and ask ourselves, “what were they thinking? and for that to be a genuine and not a rhetorical question.
However in this Scotland where we actually live, we all know exactly what they were thinking. They were thinking that they had a convenient stick with which to beat the Scottish Government and to scaremonger about the ability of Scotland to sustain the health service as we have always known it. It’s a very convenient distraction just days before Scottish unionism as it has always been sold to the people of Scotland by generations of British politicians could be killed and buried by a UK Supreme Court ruling which might find that the law in the UK has no place for Scotland’s inalienable right to self-determination.
It did not escape notice that BBC Scotland pulled a very similar underhand trick just two days before the independence referendum in 2014, another thinly sourced story which the BBC spun into a major scare about the ability of Scotland to maintain a publicly owned and free at the point of use health service.
Instead of putting pressure on anti-independence politicians about how they will respond if the UK Supreme Court tells Scotland that they have been lying for decades when they told us that it’s up to the Scottish people to decide whether Scotland remains a part of the UK or not, the BBC is giving those politicians a megaphone and a stage that allows them to demand the resignation of the Scottish Health Secretary, a resignation which they are demanding because of something which has not happened, and which even more importantly, is not going to happen. Still, perhaps we should count our blessings because it did at least stop them from banging on about the bloody ferries for five minutes.
This story is based on the leaked minutes of a meeting of health service executives, a meeting at which Humza Yousaf the health secretary was not in attendance. The executives apparently indulged in what management speak is wont to call ‘blue sky thinking’ the activity of trying to find completely new ideas to solve an existing problem, irrespective of whether those ideas are desirable, practical, or feasible. The existing problem in this case is the problem of the long term sustainability of NHS funding. One of the ideas that the executives reportedly mooted was charging the better off for all or part of their medical treatment.
The first point to note here is that such an idea runs counter to the foundational principle of the NHS, that medical care should be free at the point of use for everyone, the second point is that even if this idea had survived an initial brainstorming session, NHS executives do not have the power or the political authority to make such a fundamental change to the policies and principles of the NHS, only the Scottish Government can do that and the Scottish Government has always made it clear that it is committed to free health care for all and has resisted the creeping privatisation which blights the Conservative run NHS in England. Moreover the Scottish Government and the Health Minister were neither present at the meeting nor had any input into what was discussed.
However the BBC then gleefully reported that the NHS in Scotland was considering the introduction of charges for health care, and considered this non story to be important enough that it was not only broadcast as the lead story on the BBC Scotland news and on Reporting Scotland at 6.30pm, but also gave it considerable prominence on its UK wide broadcasts, thus giving viewers in the rest of the UK the highly misleading impression that Scotland is poised to introduce charging for healthcare and end the principle that the NHS should be free at the point of use.
Not only did this give the anti-independence parties a highly convenient if fictitious excuse to work themselves up into a lather of self-righteous SNP baddery, it also provided the dual purpose of giving the Conservatives in England some cover which they could use to shelter themselves from justified criticism of their woeful management of the NHS in England.
The story, and the misleading way in which it had been framed and presented naturally provoked a furious backlash, Humza Yousaf described the BBC story as ‘complete baloney’ and Nicola Sturgeon issued a statement reiterating the commitment of the Scottish government to a national health service that is publicly owned and free to use. There was less chance of the proposals aired at that meeting being implemented as there is of the BBC complaints procedure finding in favour of the complainant and issuing a grovelling apology and a correction.
By Monday evening the BBC was still broadcasting the story but was obviously stung enough by the criticism to publish a mealy mouthed defence of its actions on Twitter, claiming disingenuously : “Reporting on the NHS in Scotland is a very important story for our audience. They have a right to know what those leading the NHS in Scotland are discussing – and that’s what we have been reporting today.”
But the point here is that it’s the Scottish Government and the Health Secretary who lead the NHS in Scotland. The people attending that meeting do not determine policy, and those who do determine policy are absolutely not discussing what the BBC so gleefully reported today, far less are they considering implementing it.
What the BBC did was shameless and grossly irresponsible tabloid style sensationalist scaremongering of a kind which would not have been out of place in the Daily Express, a publication which once gave us a breathless report of an interview conducted via a medium with the ghost of Princess Diana. At this rate we can look forward to a report on Reporting Scotland telling us that the ghost of the Queen had told a medium that she didn’t want Scotland to become independent and she thought that Humza Yousaf should resign. It would have as much substance as their reporting on Monday.
BBC Scotland has lost all credibility as an impartial news provider – it should just rename itself BBC Scotland is British and be done with it.
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