The Power of Early Morning Nightmares: Waking up to BBC Scotland and learning to fear an independent future: 16th April 2018


I’m returning to reporting on something I last looked at in September 2016 – the powerful propagandising, by the repetition of scare stories, used by BBC Scotland as part of BBC Breakfast from 7 am to 9.15am every week-day. BBC Scotland have six short inserts of around two minutes, in this time, roughly every thirty minutes. Today, 16th April 2018, the news was all bad, six times. I’ll return to the details and begin the process of gathering and adding up daily evidence of an agenda which may turn out to support the thesis that, over time, they will generate a powerful negative effect on viewers’ perceptions of the case for independence. First, just for today, here’s the explanation I offered back in 2016 of just how, negative early morning news, can more effectively propagandise than the same news offered at later times when we are more ready to deal with life’s challenges:

Dr R Fletcher, ‘Surgeon to the Lunatic Asylum near Gloucester’ 1833 (p.206) wrote this in 1883. I know it’s not a recent and reliable source, as we used to say in Higher Education, but I think it shows that we’ve known about this effect for some time. It was no accident, he wrote, that medieval monks and more recently, private school boarders, got started with their religious indoctrination before dawn so as to catch them anxious, fearful and absorbent of the required sense of superiority and deep racial prejudices necessary for the conquest of lesser peoples.

Making these early hours particularly effective for indoctrination, they often follow on from nightmares:

‘Nightmares tend to occur during the early morning, as opposed to late evening with night terrors, and patients usually have good recall of the events of the dream.’ (Science-based Medicine, 2014)

Moving forward to Scotland in the years after Referendum 2014, as we watch the early news from ‘where you [people] are now’, on BBC Breakfast, does the above matter? Well….

‘I would like to re-emphasise the importance of “bad news” in the genesis of psychopathology, as this does not seem to be generally recognised. Bad news, of deaths and other disasters, is not available to our primate cousins, who are not equipped to exchange gossip, but has been available to our ancestors over the last few million years since language evolved. Since these ancestors lived in groups of about 150 individuals, the amount of bad news they could generate was limited, even if we add in bad news from neighbouring groups. Now, we have available the bad news of many billions of people. Since news of death or other disaster may presage the nearby existence of a predator or of raiding parties from neighbouring tribes, or of disease, it must have been adaptive for bad news to increase anxiety and promote activities to ward off occurrence, such as increased washing, checking of security arrangements, and the advantageous territorial constriction of agoraphobia.’

See that last phrase there? Is that a way of saying ‘Better Together?’ Is Unionism a kind of agoraphobia, a fear of autonomy and wide-open EU spaces?

Back to the present, what stories did BBC Scotland use in its 2 to 3minute inserts, at six intervals between 06:26 and 09;06?

There were four reports at 6.26 but only the first two were repeated throughout the morning:

  1. Increase in autism and lack of support
  2. Output from private firms lower than across UK
  3. Failure to use seatbelts and abuse of mobile phones while driving
  4. High incidence of Lyme disease in Uist

Story 2 had six long sentences reporting an 80% increase in the diagnosis of autism over the last 5 years and an increase in schools from over 8 500 to over 15 000. Most important, an ‘expert’ insisted that they are not served by the current systems. The expert is really a charity head and does not offer any empirical, authoritative evidence of the scale of any failure. By implication, the Scottish government has failed.

Story 2 had four long sentences, based on a bank of Scotland report suggesting ‘mild contraction or ‘very weak growth’ in productivity in parts of the Scottish economy. Most important was the suggestion that growth continued to be ‘weaker than across the UK as a whole.’ The BBC report does accurately represent the Bank of Scotland release but does not, of course, mention the now long-standing rejection of GDP or other production figures as a meaningful measure of economic well-being. See this for further explanation:

How BBC’s Douglas Fraser manages to talk down Scotland’s economy using out-of-date facts and past-it thinking

Stories 3 and 4 were short and may simply contribute to the general air of negativity which is conducive conservatism or fear of change.

Reports from 16/4 to 16/4                                                                Total (previous)

  1. Positive news for SNP / Scottish Government                                    0
  2. Negative news for SNP / Scottish Government                                  1
  3. Positive news for Scottish economy                                                      0
  4. Negative news for Scottish economy                                                    1
  5. Positive news for Scottish health services                                           0
  6. Negative news for Scottish health services                                         0
  7. Other positive news for Scotland                                                         0
  8. Other negative news for Scotland                                                        2
  9. Use of reliable sources                                                                           1
  10. Use of unreliable sources                                                                      1
  11. Reliance on outdated GDP or other productivity figures               1


Hopefully back tomorrow.

Footnote: This research methodology avoids any Jackie Bird terror for me.

8 thoughts on “The Power of Early Morning Nightmares: Waking up to BBC Scotland and learning to fear an independent future: 16th April 2018

  1. gavin April 16, 2018 / 4:26 pm

    Why is there a picture of Reece-Moggy/Walter at the top of the article?


  2. Alasdair Macdonald April 16, 2018 / 8:24 pm

    There is another stratagem that was often used, but, since I retired, I no longer get up early enough to check if it is still used.

    Very often, early in the very first series of ‘headlines’ there would be a statement that the Conservatives – it was always the Conservatives – were ‘condemining’ or ‘slamming’ or other critical verb some aspect of Government policy. There was no report at that time on what the actual policy was, other than a general title, such as ‘housing plans’ or ‘social security.’ The subsequent bulletin would detail what the criticisms were – reading verbatim from the Tory press release.’ This was used whether it was a Labour Government at Westminster or a Lab/LibDem or SNP Rxecutive/Government at Holyrood.

    Later, a minister, MP, MSP, of the governing party would be brought on and be confronted with the Tory assertion. The line of questioning would be of the ‘Have you stopped beating your wife yet – yes or no?’ The listeners still did not know what the policy was and as the interviewee attempted to put some meet on the bones, there would be frequent interruptions pushing the same loaded question. At the next set of headlines the Tory claim was repeated followed by a statement that a government spokesman ‘denied’ or ‘sought to defend the government’s record’.

    By the time the programme ended at 9.00am, the Tory claim would have been repeated about six times, with riders added doling out little snippets of what the policy really was, but, the policy was always in a reactive context.


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