"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

Photo: Getty Images
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What do Labour's lost voters make of the Labour leadership candidates?

What does Newsnight's focus group make of the Labour leadership candidates?

Tonight on Newsnight, an IpsosMori focus group of former Labour voters talks about the four Labour leadership candidates. What did they make of the four candidates?

On Andy Burnham:

“He’s the old guard, with Yvette Cooper”

“It’s the same message they were trying to portray right up to the election”​

“I thought that he acknowledged the fact that they didn’t say sorry during the time of the election, and how can you expect people to vote for you when you’re not actually acknowledging that you were part of the problem”​

“Strongish leader, and at least he’s acknowledging and saying let’s move on from here as opposed to wishy washy”

“I was surprised how long he’d been in politics if he was talking about Tony Blair years – he doesn’t look old enough”

On Jeremy Corbyn:

"“He’s the older guy with the grey hair who’s got all the policies straight out of the sixties and is a bit of a hippy as well is what he comes across as” 

“I agree with most of what he said, I must admit, but I don’t think as a country we can afford his principles”

“He was just going to be the opposite of Conservatives, but there might be policies on the Conservative side that, y’know, might be good policies”

“I’ve heard in the paper he’s the favourite to win the Labour leadership. Well, if that was him, then I won’t be voting for Labour, put it that way”

“I think he’s a very good politician but he’s unelectable as a Prime Minister”

On Yvette Cooper

“She sounds quite positive doesn’t she – for families and their everyday issues”

“Bedroom tax, working tax credits, mainly mum things as well”

“We had Margaret Thatcher obviously years ago, and then I’ve always thought about it being a man, I wanted a man, thinking they were stronger…  she was very strong and decisive as well”

“She was very clear – more so than the other guy [Burnham]”

“I think she’s trying to play down her economics background to sort of distance herself from her husband… I think she’s dumbing herself down”

On Liz Kendall

“None of it came from the heart”

“She just sounds like someone’s told her to say something, it’s not coming from the heart, she needs passion”

“Rather than saying what she’s going to do, she’s attacking”

“She reminded me of a headteacher when she was standing there, and she was quite boring. She just didn’t seem to have any sort of personality, and you can’t imagine her being a leader of a party”

“With Liz Kendall and Andy Burnham there’s a lot of rhetoric but there doesn’t seem to be a lot of direction behind what they’re saying. There seems to be a lot of words but no action.”

And, finally, a piece of advice for all four candidates, should they win the leadership election:

“Get down on your hands and knees and start praying”

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.