Off we go? Within days of Scottish independence debate restart, BBC Scotland attempt to deceive and to create fear on drug treatment figures


Early today and six times before 9:00 am, BBC Scotland’s insert in the Breakfast show, announced:

‘BBC Scotland has found people addicted to drugs are having to wait up to six months for treatment including for methadone prescriptions. Figures show that only 42% of problem drug users are in treatment compared to 60% in England. The Scottish Government says it is investing additional money in drug treatment and that the 42% figure may not represent the full picture.’

So, this damaging and deceptive comparison of Scotland with England, of the kind which Yes supporters are often derided for doing themselves, is repeated six times. This is a time when audiences are more likely to be made anxious and to be influenced by bad news and so the propagandising effect is more powerful that at, say, 6:30pm. See this for evidence on that:

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

The story is told in greater detail on the website, but this too leads with the same claims plus additional personal accounts to further dramatize the BBC claims. It is only after we read deep into the report that we find:

‘In England the number of opioid users in treatment was about 60% – but there were some differences in how the figures were compiled.’

This highlights one of the key problems with the BBC’s comparison of Scotland with England. Are the Scottish Government’s figures actually comparable with the English figures? The difficulty in making in any comparison is compounded by the failure to source the English or, indeed, the Scottish data.

Update: The Scotland/England comparison was dropped for Reporting Scotland at 1:30pm.

However, the English figures are clearly of opioid users only whereas the Scottish figures are of all problem drug users. Is it not possible, even likely, that the percentage of all drug users being treated in England, will be less than 60% or that the percentage of opioid users only being treated in Scotland will be more than 42%?

If the Scottish figures include benzodiazepines (eg Diazepam), methamphetamine (Crystal Meth), cannabis and cocaine and the English figures do not, then the comparison made by BBC Scotland is more than questionable. I understand that the first group, benzodiazepines, can be more addictive than opioids and thus more difficult to treat, making their inclusion n the Scottish figures a key constraint on the usefulness of the BBC’s research and there is hard evidence that this is true. See:

‘This data cannot be directly compared to Scotland due to differences in the definitions and source datasets (opiate and/or crack cocaine use in England versus opiate and/or benzodiazepine use in Scotland).’

The above seems to confirm that English and Scottish data are based upon different sets with the Scottish data, only, including the highly addictive benzodiazepines.

Further, neither the broadcast nor the online reports bothered to conxtextualise the figures with this important fact:

‘[T]he rate of high risk drug users in Scotland is double the rate for England’

If the problem is far greater, overall, in Scotland than in England, viewers should have been told this. This casts BBC Scotland’s already dubious comparison of Scotland with England, finally into the dustbin of research.

Is this the beginning of another media campaign, weaponizing drug problems? We had this only a few days ago:

‘Drug users in Scotland ‘consume most cocaine’ in one session’

The claim was demolished here:

BBC Scotland News misuses research findings to lie and scare about drug use in Scotland

Finally, I’ve been monitoring the early morning broadcasts for several weeks now and I am in a good position to observe any change in the climate following on from announcements such as a date for Indyref2 or, even, the recent announcement by the First Minister of the publication of the SNP’s economic growth commission report later this week.

Footnote: My report was produced well-before Reporting Scotland was broadcast. Any improvements in that do not remove my concerns about these earlier and potentially very influential pieces of propaganda.

Footnote 2: Why is serious drug abuse twice as high in Scotland? Has dependency on the Union been bad for us in some way?

17 thoughts on “Off we go? Within days of Scottish independence debate restart, BBC Scotland attempt to deceive and to create fear on drug treatment figures

  1. Alasdair Macdonald May 22, 2018 / 11:35 am

    Yes, I noticed this blaring propaganda, too.

    I think that they might well be taking note of some of your debunking analyses, because they are making superficial attempts to provide a bit more context, but mainly to slant it to emphasise their Scotland baaaad trope.

    There was a discussion on Call Kaye following GMS, where the first speaker was from a drugs forum and he attempted to unpick the complexity of the data. I thought he made a good fist of things. Unfortunately, I had to go out and so I do not know how the discussion evolved.

    On the previous day there was the report about the call by a physician about the need for greater liberalisation and decriminalisation of drug laws in Scotland. Gary Robertson pointed out that drugs legislation was still reserved to Westminster and that, currently, the Home Office is implacably opposed. While there was a clear attempt at contextualising, particularly in the interview, I felt that there was an element of ‘Isn’t about time the SG did something even though it does not have the power to do so?’

    Enforcement of drugs laws depends on how Police Scotland decide to enforce it and if the operational policy becomes more in the way that the Violence Reduction Unit approached its task, buy recontextualising violence as a public health issue, then perhaps a liberalisation can be achieved by other means. However, the media over recent months has really set up Police Scotland as a bete noir. So, if the policing practice changes, you can be sure that the msm will let loose the dogs of war about ‘needles in Gordon St’, ‘Junkies swamping my local pharmacy’, etc.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Alasdair Macdonald May 22, 2018 / 3:28 pm

      The BBC website has allowed a ‘Have Your Say’ on this report. It is overwhelmingly the swivel-eyed right wing loons who have posted, with the ‘tags’ being familiar UK wide posters. It is all very fascist, unsympathetic stuff. I suspect this is an example of a concerted response group, such as Better Together organised, but the database was leaked to one of the pro-independence blogs.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. johnrobertson834 May 22, 2018 / 12:59 pm

    Update: The Scotland/England comparison was dropped for Reporting Scotland at 1:30pm.


    • harrihormone May 22, 2018 / 2:39 pm


      You do sterling work here and I know I shouldn’t criticise but it does your post predate the update so to speak? (according to your date stamp of the posting)


      • johnrobertson834 May 22, 2018 / 4:28 pm

        Does look odd. Did them both within seconds of each other after the broadcast, around 1.50. Clock om my PC is correct too. A WordPress thing?


  3. Legerwood May 22, 2018 / 4:47 pm

    Do not know where the BBC got their figures but I found some on the ISD web site which do not support the BBC story.
    National drug and alcohol treatment waiting times.
    MAIN POINTS from the report published in 27th March 2018 covering Oct-Dec 2017. From ISD Scotland web site:
    In October-December 2017,
    • 93.6% of the 10,435 people who started their first drug or alcohol treatment waited three weeks or less, similar to the same quarter last year (94.9%).
    • For the 6,187 people seeking alcohol treatment, 94.7% waited three weeks or less, similar to the same quarter last year (95.3%). o For the 4,248 people seeking drug treatment, 92.0% waited three weeks or less, similar to the same quarter last year (94.3%).
    • At the end of this quarter, 2,621 people were waiting to start their first drug or alcohol treatment, of which 309 (11.8%) had been waiting more than six weeks. This is an increase from the same quarter last year when 160 (6.8%) people were waiting more than six weeks.
    • • The quarterly trend over the past three years shows little change in performance.
    • • In prisons, 1,175 people started their first drug or alcohol treatment between OctoberDecember 2017, with 98.0% waiting three weeks or less and 75.3% waiting one week or less.
    • • All NHS Boards met the Local Delivery Plan standard, except NHS Borders, NHS Highland, NHS Lothian and NHS Tayside.
    Do not see anything in this report about people waiting for 6 months although the numbers waiting more than 6 weeks had increased compared to the same quarter in the previous year, 2016. But as you say it is all in the definitions.

    Other Web sites


    • johnrobertson834 May 23, 2018 / 1:23 pm

      Thanks very much for doing this Legerwood. you enhanced this piece quite a bit.


  4. Gerry Robertson May 22, 2018 / 5:04 pm

    As always any bad news particularly when perceived to be the Scot Gov’s fault is the first news item on the Red button with BOE Governor commenting on separate Independent Scottish currency deferred down the list. I’m afraid Nicola’s optimisim that the new BBC Scot news will be an opportuinity to restore confidence is misplaced.


    • johnrobertson834 May 23, 2018 / 1:22 pm

      Yes, I’d hope she too had learned the lesson Salmond had learned in 2014.


  5. Contrary May 22, 2018 / 9:15 pm

    Well, I don’t know about the timing of all the reports, but GMS, as Alasdair above says, lambasted us on Monday morning – just the ticket to jolly you into the start of a shitty working week – comparing 60% in Scotland (by the end of their programme I was almost convinced we were all secret drug addicts, it was that intense) to 40% in England – so thank you on the clarification John! When they carried on with their incessant wailing about drugs this morning, even pursuing a phone in on the subject, I only vaguely noticed the lack of comparison figures (thought I just kept missing the reference), so now I know!! I just thought the huge amount of air time given over to a fairly bland report meant they were desperately obscuring other actual news – maybe something super-big & important is going down right now?

    They really are a nasty bunch, no morals, no consideration. Etc. I noticed also that Gary did indeed clarify that the legislation is a reserved matter – he is generally the best out of them at keeping things straight. Sometimes.

    So GMS have failed to put in more than a passing mention of our devolution settlement being trampled over, and at risk of ending – a matter for concern to the entire Scottish electorate – but what did we get on the radio Scotland phone-in (‘we talk about what’s in the news’) Monday: chat about a royal event that has been well documented as having no interest to Scottish public, and Tuesday: drugs. News where we are: historic abuse in N Ireland (ah, maybe that was nuns selling children, I think), church person getting convicted of knowing about historic abuse in Australia, more drugs, and some bloke in England working for the Bank of England saying something about – can I swear here? – currency in an independent Scotland. [in their 2014 Soundbite, chuck it in there style]. And, oh yes, some folks accusing labour of being racist. So, what IS happening in Scotland? I don’t have a clue.

    So, looks like the BBC are ramping up for an independence debate AND another GE (rubbishing labour – though how they do that by accusing them of racism and not call out any of the mysogynistic, openly racist, bigoted, short-sighted, fascist, anti-poor, etc Tories I cannot fathom) by my reckoning.

    After I saw the Rev had a wee spot on a Sunday politics broadcast with the BBC the other day, I was waiting for the ‘news’ to be bad (‘look at how fair and impartial we are!’). I should note that they broadcast a bit of John in a committee meeting – for 5 seconds – then interviewed some bloke from glasgow university that was talking through his arse about how terribly balanced the BBC was – 3 minutes. Ah so impartial. That bloke said something along the lines of ‘if it’s bad news for one side, you have to report it & interview the relevant people, you can’t just make up good news to balance it’ ,,, hmm, it wasn’t that, but I’m not watching it again. I just thought – well, how does that work, when the BBC ALWAYS interviews Ruth Davidson WHATEVER the news, including specifically SNP news?? He sounded like he was supporting the BBC but really just declared them as totally, fully, biased, and actually not reporting the news to us at all.

    Anyway, happened to have an article with the Londons Calling video on it, so I watched that again – the first time I saw it, I sought out John on the Internet, you know – you do have an excellent telly presence John, come across very well, you do – and again was shocked at their level of manipulation & serious lies & propaganda – with no comeback. Perhaps we should all have another watch of it to remind ourselves?

    It’s what they DON’T report as much of the warped version of what they do report that’s important – it does influence people. I would like to declare that I’m not impartial for anyone reading this far, just in case it is hard to tell.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. johnrobertson834 May 23, 2018 / 7:47 am

    Yes, bias by omission. 10 stories reported. Thousands of events take place. ‘Editorial judgment’


  7. Sam McComb May 24, 2018 / 9:30 am

    Hi John

    This is how clients are categorised in England regarding substance abuse (drugs and alcohol)

    Click to access Adult-statistics-from-the-national-drug-treatment-monitoring-system-2016-2017.pdf

    “Individuals presenting to adult alcohol and drug treatment services are categorised by the
    substances they cite as problematic at the start of treatment. They are categorised by the
    following hierarchal criteria:
    • any mention of opiate use in any episode would result in the client being categorised as
    an OPIATE client (irrespective of what other substances are cited)
    • clients who present with non-opiate substances (and not opiates or alcohol) will be
    classified as NON-OPIATE ONLY
    • clients who present with a non-opiate substance and alcohol (but not opiates) recorded in
    any drug in any episode in their treatment journeys will be classified as NON-OPIATE
    • clients who present with alcohol and no other substances will be categorised as

    And the characteristics of clients presented 2016/17 was:

    “During 2016-17, NDTMS reported 279,793 individuals aged 18 to 99 in contact with structured
    treatment. This total includes all individuals in treatment for either problematic drug use, alcohol
    use or both. Figure 4 below presents how the 279,793 individuals are segmented by the four
    substance groups used throughout this report. Just over half the clients in contact with
    treatment during the year (52%) had presented with problematic use of opiates, a further 19%
    had presented with problems with other drugs and just under a third (29%) had presented with
    alcohol as the only problematic substance. ”

    The mention that 60% of opioid users are in treatment in England comes from this website (offering a summary) which provides a link to the more detailed report – the link to which is up above.

    I cannot find what the reference to 42% of those in treatment in Scotland really means. I assume it means all treatments for all substance abuse. If that is the case, the comparison made by the BBC is fairly meaningless. It includes only 52% of those in treatment in England but 42% of all those in treatment in Scotland. We really need to know more about that 42% figure and that (meaningless) “up to 6 months wait”..

    There are interesting things to me (a layman) to tease out in both reports.

    Are you able to get more information from the BBC about the references to 42% and the 6 month wait? i would be glad to have more information that might make a complaint to the BBC stronger.

    I am a fan of your work here.

    Best wishes

    Sam McComb


    • johnrobertson834 May 24, 2018 / 10:36 am

      I am now a fan of your work too, Sam.
      Thanks very much for all your detective work here.
      I think the 42% is based on a BBC request (FOI?).
      Ironically BBc don’t have to reveal anything as FOI act doesn’t cover them.
      Best with the complaint


  8. Sam McComb May 24, 2018 / 11:54 am

    It is interesting is that a large number of treatments in England are listed as starting within a couple of days of the individual putting him/herself forward for treatment. I doubt very much if this is when any methadone is administered. These are high risk people of whom there are many more in Scotland per head of population than in England. There may be different approaches in the two countries to recording when treatment begins.


  9. Sam McComb May 24, 2018 / 12:11 pm

    I am thinking about making a complaint to the BBC and, I guess, Ofcom about this. You are right, I think, to mention the Union making things worse. There is I think correlation in the degree of income inequality and drug/alcohol abuse. That is in the Spirit Level, I think. Also, i think Dame Sally Macintyre’s Ministerial Review 2013 says alcohol and drug abuse are “downstream” effects of the “upstream” fundamental causes of health inequalities.

    Have you a readership that might organise itself into a group to put in complaints to the media based on your initial research?


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