"Edinburgh's disgrace", Calton Hill: the lack of a national 6 o'clock news is a big problem for Scotland. Photo: Getty
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The lack of a Scottish Six O’Clock News is a major democratic flaw

Viewers in Scotland have to sit through half-hour bulletins that may have no domestic news relevant to their lives, before Scottish news is broadcast as a budget regional news programme. 

In last week’s New Statesman interview, Alistair Darling likened Alex Salmond to Kim Jong-il for remarking that Ukip’s unexpected success in Scotland was partly due to the extent to which Nigel Farage had been “beamed” into the country during the European election campaign. Yet Salmond’s observation was spot on. It highlighted a fundamental problem affecting Scottish television. This used to revolve around the argument over whether there should be a separate Scottish Six O’Clock News, given that since devolution national BBC News coverage of health, education, policing and many other matters has been irrelevant north of the border. Now, the problem has got much worse.

The blanket coverage of Farage in Scotland almost certainly helped Ukip enjoy its first success here – and it is not the SNP that might have won that sixth European seat but the Greens. Ukip won 10.4 per cent of the vote, the Greens 8.1 per cent. For anyone to argue that the two parties had equal coverage is preposterous. I rarely saw a Green candidate on television, whereas Farage was rarely off it. This is because the BBC’s priorities and allocation of airtime reflected the parties’ positions in the UK as a whole (read England), so we in Scotland had to suffer wall-to-wall Farage even though before the campaign his party barely registered in opinion polls north of the border.

The lack of a Scottish Six O’Clock News is a major democratic flaw. Every night, BBC viewers in Scotland have to sit through half-hour bulletins that may have no domestic news that is relevant to their lives. We have to wait for the end of the bulletin before the most important stories get aired – and then on a regional news programme starved of resources and talent.

The independence campaign has thrown up a new problem, quantified by Professor John Robertson of the University of the West of Scotland as a bias in BBC coverage of 3:2 towards remarks favourable to the No side. Now that the official campaigns have started, there are rules governing how much time is given to each side; however, practice shows that it is not about minutes measured with a stopwatch but about attitudes and assumptions.

I have been taking notes. One notorious lapse in impartiality was Andrew Marr’s interview with José Manuel Barroso, in which the BBC journalist failed to challenge the European Commission president when he likened Scotland to Kosovo and declared that EU membership would be “difficult, if not impossible”. Later, interviewing Alex Salmond about Barroso’s comments, Marr felt free to interject: “I think it would be quite hard to get back in [to the EU], I have to say.” That was something a BBC presenter certainly did not “have to say”.

On another occasion, Gavin Esler hosted an edition of Dateline London in which the four guests mocked Salmond, though neither the SNP leader nor any representative of the Yes campaign was there to give balance. Discussing whether Scotland might have to join the single currency, Esler opined: “Scotland will have to take the euro, that’s the deal.” Really? A deal, surely, will come at the end of negotiations and given there is no rule and no precedent regarding a region seceding from an EU member state, neither Esler nor anyone else should be making such categorical statements.

Standards of broadcasting are at the heart of democracy. As Scots search for facts shorn of opinion and bias, the BBC needs to sharpen up.

Angus Roxburgh is a former BBC Moscow correspondent

This article first appeared in the 11 June 2014 issue of the New Statesman, The last World Cup

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The UK is dangerously close to breaking apart - there's one way to fix it

We must rethink our whole constitutional settlement. 

When the then-Labour leader John Smith set up a report on social justice for what would be the incoming government in 1997, he said we must stop wasting our most precious resource – "the extraordinary skills and talents of ordinary people".

It is one of our party’s greatest tragedies that he never had the chance to see that vision put into practice. 

At the time, it was clear that while our values of equality, solidarity and tolerance endured, the solutions we needed were not the same as those when Labour was last in power in the 1970s, and neither were they to be found in the policies of opposition from the 1980s. 

The Commission on Social Justice described a UK transformed by three revolutions:

  • an economic revolution brought about by increasing globalisation, innovation and a changing labour market
  • a social revolution that had seen the role of women in society transformed, the traditional family model change, inequality ingrained and relationships between people in our communities strained
  • a political revolution that challenged the centralisation of power, demanded more individual control and accepted a different role for government in society.

Two decades on, these three revolutions could equally be applied to the UK, and Scotland, today. 

Our economy, society and our politics have been transformed even further, but there is absolutely no consensus – no agreement – about the direction our country should take. 

What that has led to, in my view, is a society more dangerously divided than at any point in our recent history. 

The public reject the status quo but there is no settled will about the direction we should take. 

And instead of grappling with the complex messages that people are sending us, and trying to find the solutions in the shades of grey, politicians of all parties are attached to solutions that are black or white, dividing us further. 

Anyone in Labour, or any party, who claims that we can sit on the margins and wait for politics to “settle down” will rightly be consigned to history. 

The future shape of the UK, how we govern ourselves and how our economy and society should develop, is now the single biggest political question we face. 

Politics driven by nationalism and identity, which were for so long mostly confined to Scotland, have now taken their place firmly in the mainstream of all UK politics. 

Continuing to pull our country in these directions risks breaking the United Kingdom once and for all. 

I believe we need to reaffirm our belief in the UK for the 21st century. 

Over time, political power has become concentrated in too few hands. Power and wealth hoarded in one corner of our United Kingdom has not worked for the vast majority of people. 

That is why the time has come for the rest of the UK to follow where Scotland led in the 1980s and 1990s and establish a People’s Constitutional Convention to re-establish the UK for a new age. 

The convention should bring together groups to deliberate on the future of our country and propose a way forward that strengthens the UK and establishes a new political settlement for the whole of our country. 

After more than 300 years, it is time for a new Act of Union to safeguard our family of nations for generations to come.

This would mean a radical reshaping of our country along federal lines where every component part of the United Kingdom – Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and the English regions – take more responsibility for what happens in their own communities, but where we still maintain the protection of being part of a greater whole as the UK. 

The United Kingdom provides the redistribution of wealth that defines our entire Labour movement, and it provides the protection for public finance in Scotland that comes from being part of something larger, something good, and something worth fighting for. 

Kezia Dugdale is the leader of the Scottish Labour party.