What do you do
When democracy fails you
What do you do
When the rest can’t see its true?
Those lyrics from the Proclaimers will doubtless resonate with many Alba supporters today as they struggle to come to terms with their new breakaway party making no breakthrough in its first election outing. But how could voters possibly see any truth in Alba’s message when they barely got to see Alba? Far more than before, because of the strange, mid-pandemic circumstances in which this election had to be contested, voters were essentially viewers. Consequently, broadcasters had a special democratic duty to ensure this election was conducted fairly. They failed us in that.
As I argued in an earlier post, TV bosses treated Alba almost like the IRA during the Troubles by starving it of the ‘oxygen of publicity’. Alex Salmond was made to feel he was the frontman for a terrorist organisation rather than a distinguished former First Minister attempting a political comeback. This mattered immensely because the Beeb is, by far, the dominant source of news in this country. Mr Salmond himself was in doubt about what it did to his fledgling party, telling STV news as the dismal results were rolling in:
Problems in the campaign? Well, frankly broadcasting. I think STV much less culpable than BBC, but nonetheless in an election where you can’t do the things that a new party would normally do – hold mass rallies to galvanise like that because of the Covid restrictions – broadcasting becomes crucial, it becomes dominating and if you’re not in the big debates, then of course that’s difficult, it makes it very, very difficult. So my regret about the election is not being treated by fairness with the BBC.
It wasn’t only his being excluded from the television dust-ups between the rival party leaders that put Alba beyond the pale. The new party couldn’t get a look-in on the news bulletins either because of the BBC and that other parody of a public service broadcaster Channel 4. Don’t forget the aggressive retrial by media to which Mr Salmond was subjected when he was granted some brief airtime. Then, having done their level best to discredit him in the eyes of viewers/voters, the broadcasters proceeded to act as if his new party never existed. Alba seemed to be the Gaelic word for invisible.
There was no story on Misreporting Scotland about the exodus of female members of the SNP to the new party – including the party’s women’s convener, Caroline McAllister. Surely it was newsworthy that this was happening principally in response to the governing party’s controversial plan to allow men in this country to instantly self-identify as women regardless of what dangers that might present? That was a big story by anyone’s reckoning. But obviously it did not fit the narrative Nicola Sturgeon’s spinmeisters were permitted to impose upon news coverage of the campaign – that there were “significant questions” about the appropriateness of Mr Salmond’s return to public office given concerns raised about his conduct.
Boy were those questions asked and amplified by BBC (and Channel 4) interviewers – despite the former FM being acquitted on all 13 charges laid against him by the Crown during his High Court trial. Why was there no similar continued questioning of Ms Sturgeon about the shady conduct of both her and the SNP’s chief executive (her husband Peter Murrell)? I mean, if the broadcasters were determined to dwell on Salmondgate, why focus on only those angles likely to damage Alba but not the SNP? That doesn’t strike me as impartial.
Now we all know how the powers-that-be at Pacific Quay will respond to this. Just following the Ofcom rules, guv, and the clear guidance from the communications regulator that they were not breaching these regulations by not allowing Alba’s leader to join the leaders’ debates. But there is nothing in the Ofcom rulebook about broadcasters needing to abandon all standard news values during election campaigns. Would there have been no coverage of a mass departure of women members from Alba because of something Alex Salmond said, did or failed to denounce? I think we all know the answer to that.
So, should there be more protests outside the BBC Scotland studios because of its latest attack on Scottish democracy? I don’t think so. Surely the Alba blackout has finally made all of us see how futile those have been. Whenever it comes to any seismic threat to the status quo in this benighted realm – the general strike, the IRA’s armed struggle or the rise of Scottish nationalism – the BBC never has been (and never can be) the pure, unbiased public service broadcaster it purports to be. It is – and will forever remain – the British State Broadcasting Corporation.
I’m starting to sense that a sizeable number of independence supporters would be prepared to go much further than picking up placards again. It seems only a matter of time before a mass boycott of the BBC. Hitting Auntie where it will really hurt – her purse – is the only thing now that will make any difference. Even if only a few per cent of Scottish viewers/voters publicly cancelled their direct debit to the TV Licensing authority this could gain rapid traction. The tube tax might swiftly become as unpopular as the poll tax. Let’s face it, most of us would much rather spend £159 a year subscribing to streaming services such as Netflix or Now TV – or supporting one or two of the indy backing blogs that are doing their level best to counter the legacy media’s endless pro-Union bias.