In the next episode of Yes/No: Inside the Indyref, Brian Little, referring to English colleagues who came up to Scotland in 2014, will make the explosive claim:
‘I’m not cynical about [BBC DNA] that but I was quite surprised by some of my colleagues failing to understand their own assumption that the Yes side was wrong. He added that some colleagues thought that our responsibility was to produce a series of pieces to demonstrate how foolish it would be to vote Yes.’
I don’t doubt Little’s evidence is genuinely recalled, but it is anecdotal and from a BBC bubble insider with emotional ties to the BBC in Scotland predisposing him to look elsewhere for fault.
Today, with Gordon Brewer, on Sunday Politics (Scotland), we hear the same narrative being developed to counter the conspiracy theories suggesting BBC Scotland was institutionally biased against the Yes campaign. Here’s an excerpt:
Blair Jenkins OBE: ‘He’s come out with something much more nuanced than the usual view you get on this. The usual view that tends to be expressed on this are ‘100% BBC were systemically biased’ view or ‘there was nothing wrong’ view and the truth lies in between as is so often.’
Jenkins reveals his mere journalistic background and deep conditioning here. Leaving aside the straw man of extreme polar opposite views on BBC bias which do exist, but which are not dominant, Little’s account was not more ‘nuanced’ but just simply blamed the English, coming up here with their misunderstandings, for any bias that did emerge and let his Scots buddies off the hook. A more nuanced account might be one like this:
You don’t need a conspiracy to get overwhelming bias in liberal democracies. All you need is institutions with an overall mission to promote Britishness, staffed by people who are products of an education system which, in the main, also promotes Britishness, led by career professionals with ties to, sometimes past employment with, the three Unionist parties and a climate is created in which Scottish independence seems deviant. Some of the reporting staff may well be pro-independence, some of the senior and editorial staff may be sufficiently non-aligned to ‘leave behind their own opinions’ as Ken McQuarrie put it, but in 2014, the head of the news unit had strong links, including a marital one, to the Blairite Labour party and many reporters were frankly afraid of him. Judging by the output, those not afraid were, perhaps sub-consciously, making decisions about what to report and how to report it, which over time damaged the Yes campaign.
At the time, I was more than worried about the appointment of Jenkins to lead the Yes campaign. His deep conditioning within mainstream Scottish journalism, strong connections in BBC Scotland and his acceptance of a Most Excellent Order of the British Empire badge, should have made him clearly unsuitable. His subsequent performance, diffident, lethargic and dull, could only have knocked points of the result.
As for blaming the English reporters, that’s laughable. Many times, an English newspaper or BBC 1 news at 6 would report on developments where the situation was better in Scotland than in England, leaving Reporting Scotland to follow on, helpless, unable to contradict. They weren’t trying to help the Yes campaign, but they were determined to report news that might damage the Westminster Tories. Two years ago, I was able to write:
‘On more than a few occasions, I’ve thanked BBC Salford at 6pm for telling us about the endless crises in ‘Hard Tory England’ before BBC Scotland come on tell us how bad things are here without even a sniff of comparison or context. If you were only to switch on at 6:30pm you might never know of the repeated strikes by junior doctors, the regular and massive failures of mental health boards, the collapse of respect for police forces there or the endless stories of corporate corruption and fat cat enrichment at the expense of their staff and us. You might even miss the falling-apart of the Conservative Party as it fights within itself over Brexit. Watching BBC Scotland’s fawning over their new ‘Champion of the Union’, Ruth Davidson, you’d never think she was in the same dysfunctional group. You certainly won’t hear of Ruth’s nauseating fawning to the Tory elite and playing the loveable rascal Scot who might steal your cutlery and damage your furniture if you leave them alone in the room. If she was black and saying those things, imagine the reaction?’
It was quite difficult to search the blog archives for this kind of report, so I only have these five examples: