Answer Time

So today, almost 2 weeks after submitting my complaint, and a week after BellgroveBelle & Go Lassie Go received their similar replies. Mine is slightly different but no less evasive.

Dear Mr Juq

Thanks for contacting us about ‘Question Time’ broadcast on 28th October.

I was sorry to read that you felt this programme was biased against The Scottish Nationalist Party and Nicola Sturgeon. I note that you felt David Dimbleby was negative towards Nicola and Scottish issues.

Impartiality is partly dependent on balance and it’s not possible to achieve that with every report. Programme makers aim to do justice to the full range of views and opinions in particular issues. We aim to report what’s actually happening over a period of time so the audience is in a better position to make up their own minds about what’s going on. I can assure you that we strive hard to be accurate, balanced and fair.

The audience for this edition was selected according to the same principles as are applied to other editions of ‘Question Time’, that is we are looking for a broad but balancing range of views from people who are interested in the topics likely to come up. Applicants are asked detailed questions before they are accepted to establish their views and background. The programme does not claim that in any one programme the audience is “representative” in any proportionate way of the views of the population as a whole. The overall aim is to achieve balance across the series as the audience mix will vary in different locations.

In a fast-moving programme it is extremely difficult for the viewer to make an accurate assessment, based on what they can see and hear of the studio audience, of the make-up of its members. ‘Question Time’ goes to considerable lengths to ensure the audience is appropriately balanced, but then once it’s assembled, the level of applause and audible support for one case or another, is a notoriously unreliable way of judging that overall balance. This is the nature of a live and dynamic debate with real people.
I appreciate the strength of your views on this matter therefore I’d like to assure you that I’ve registered your complaint on our audience log. This is a daily report of audience feedback that’s circulated to many BBC staff, including members of the BBC Executive Board, programme makers, channel controllers and other senior managers.

The audience logs are seen as important documents that can help shape decisions about future programming and content.

Thanks again for taking the time to contact us.

Kind Regards

Christine Thompson
BBC Complaints

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Question Time

I haven’t had an opportunity to blog on much in the past few weeks having been in Vancouver on business, so I thought I’d have a look at Question Time to get me back up to speed.

Many others have already blogged on the matter and I’m still a bit tired from travelling so I’m just going to post the body of my own complaint to the BBC, and a couple of other points that I didn’t include as I don’t believe the BBC can be held directly responsible for them.

I wish to complain about the lack of impartiality shown by David Dimbleby and the BBC in the episode of Question Time broadcast from Glasgow on the 28th of October 2010.

Firstly when the panel is introduced, the Glasgow audience is informed that Simon Schama has recently been appointed by the government to advise on the teaching of history in schools, but fails to mention that the appointment only applies to schools in England as Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish education systems are all devolved. Mr Schama’s appointment, is a matter exclusive to England, but is being referred to a manner that gives it the appearance of applying to the entire United Kingdom.

Roughly 39 minutes into the episode, Nicola Sturgeon is called upon to answer a question, and begins talking about measures the Scottish government has taken, and would like to take in future and is promptly told by Mr Dimbleby that matters exclusive to Scotland are not to be discussed as the program is being broadcast across the entire United Kingdom.

This is of course despite numerous examples of discussions relating to the English health and education systems in previous episodes, as well as episodes concerning Northern Ireland’s unique politics when the program is broadcast from Belfast.

Further around the 44 minute mark, Ed Davey begins to criticise the nations of Ireland and Iceland and argues that had Scotland been independent before the financial crisis it would not have survived, and it is not until Nicola begins to counter that Mr Dimbleby informs us that they are “not here to discuss Scottish independence”.

As the show begins to wind down, at around 54 minutes during a discussion on whether or not the use of torture by the defence community can be justified, Mr Dimbleby brings in his own question to change the course of the conversation:

“Simon Schama, do you think in that context the decision made here in Scotland to release the man found guilty of the bombing at Lockerbie was a sign of being soft on terrorism and sent the wrong signal?”

In addition to showing Mr Dimbleby’s ignorance of the case (there wasn’t a bombing at Lockerbie) this is clearly a deliberate attack on the SNP government’s decision, with Mr Dimbleby then proceeding to ask all the panelists bar Ms Sturgeon their view on the matter. To his credit Chris Bryant found this so shocking he does not answer initially as he believes Mr Dimbleby is giving Ms Sturgeon right of reply rather than looking for another person to criticise the decision. Before Ms Sturgeon is given a chance to comment, further questions are taken from the audience.

I would further like to complain that around 27 minutes in, Mr Dimbleby stops the discussion, to take a question submitted in advance by David Meikle, Mr Meikle is Glasgow City Council’s sole Tory councillor. Had Mr Meikle made his point by catching the eye of Mr Dimbleby, I could perhaps be expected to believe that the BBC were unaware that they were taking the question from a Tory, but in order to take part in the audience of question time, one must fill in a form including your occupation and political persuasion, it is therefore an inescapable conclusion, that the question was chosen by the BBC in full knowledge that he was a Tory plant.

Anyone who wants to submit their own complaint can do so here.

Before I came across Moidura’s own post on the matter I had tried to time it myself and found that Simon Schama spoke for 6 minutes 55 seconds, Hugh Hendry for  10 minutes 19 seconds and Nicola Sturgeon for only 6 minutes 13 seconds.

Amongst the pearls of Wisdom that Mr Hendry came out with, there was:

[Nicola Sturgeon] isn’t going to employ your kids, I might, but she ain’t

As anyone who managed to watch until the end found out, “Hugh Hendry lives in London and is the father of 3 small children”, what he didn’t mention however is that his Cayman Islands registered hedge fund employs a grand total of 11 people. Nicola Sturgeon on the other hand, is Deputy First Minister of Scotland and is responsible for the NHS, the largest employer in Scotland. I know who I’m sending my CV to!

The World’s Real Oldest Profession

Plymouth Council's view of the Sandercocks

This week the Daily Mail wrote a piece about how an unemployed couple living in a house in Devon with two bedrooms and 6 children under 7 years old have been denied a 4 bedroom house. This topic has already been covered by Caron who highlights the need for more council housing and by Malc who questions the “irresponsibility” of having such a large family while living on welfare and who brought my attention to Caron and the original article.

What I want to discuss however is not the “irresponsibility” of the couple in question, but instead the state’s need for people like them, and its irresponsibility in instituting a system that both creates and demonises them.

As a couple, at least one of whom (I am assuming as no ages are provided) is over 25, and are out of work, they will be in receipt of two sets of Job Seeker’s Allowance, one set of housing & council tax benefit, six sets of child benefit, and child tax credits which tots up to somewhere in the region of £25-£30k a year.

Of these only the Child Benefit is guaranteed, and if Mr Sandercock sought out a job, even paying at Iain Gray’s proposed “living wage” would barely make up for the shortfall, the loss of housing & council tax benefit alone would result in. This is just one example of what is known as “the benefits trap”, a subject on which far too much has been written already for me to provide a single link providing more information.

As my father says “people aren’t stupid: only those who think people aren’t going to take advantage are stupid”, so why does our government allow this to happen? The Universal Child Benefit (UCB) was introduced after the Second World War, as part of the raft of measures in the Beveridge Report that form the core of what we know and love today as the Welfare State, and one of the principal aims of the measure, was to help replace the millions of citizens who gave their lives in the struggle, to discourage people from putting off starting a family until the country was rebuilt and rationing had come to an end, and to act “irresponsibly”. It was this measure in part that triggered the post-war Baby Boom.

I’m sure you are already aware that birthrates are falling and the population is ageing. At the age of 30, my grandmother had 6 children, my mother had 2 and my sister has none. Between my gran’s 55th birthday and my mother’s the number of pensioners had risen by 1.7 million, while the number of children under 16 had dropped by 3.4 million, and by the time my sister reaches her 55th it is forecast that almost a quarter of the population will be over 65, and only 18% will be under 16. Without a dramatic increase in the birth rate to compensate, over 40% of the population will be too young or old to contribute to the workforce, not to mention those like the Sandercock’s unable to do so due to the benefit trap.

I mentioned earlier how although it is unlikely that Mr Sandercock will ever find an entry-level job which better provides for his family, he still receives benefits and is treated as a “job-seeker”, but what is still more ridiculous is that so is Mrs Sandercock. The state insists that in order to receive £65 a week, between breakfast, taking the eldest three children to school, nappy changes, cleaning, washing, ironing, and then picking the kids up from school again, she should be keeping up the charade that she is sending away application forms to Argos for Christmas staff or checking the Plymouth Herald for vacancies and reporting to her local Job Centre Plus to speak to an “advisor” once a fortnight.

I defy anyone to say that raising six children is not a full-time job, and yet we have developed a system where this woman is forced to engage in the pretence that her plate is not full, she is “actively seeking” something to do and that until she finds it the press will call her and her husband “spongers”, “wasters” and “work-shy”. The likes of the Star and the Mail fill their column inches with examples like this, and politicians inform us they will be as tougher than the rest in their pursuit of those “inappropriately claiming benefits” and more forceful in their efforts to get these people back into work, all the while green-lighting white elephants like Trident and submitting dubious expenses claims far in excess of even the most ambitious estimations of what they’ll save by tackling benefit fraud.

The fact of the matter is that looking after children is work, it is an economic activity that adds value to the economy, improving the lot of the nation. If one of those six children, worked for 40 years in a minimum wage job, they would pay almost £120,000 in income tax and National Insurance, in addition to taxes such as VAT being paid on the products they buy and the added value their occupation provided to the economy at large in the first instance. What’s more, if something happened to Mr & Mrs Sandercock and the children entered the foster care system, the state would be paying somewhere in the region of £20-30k per child per year to their foster parent.

Our government should follow Venezuela's example...

In Venezuela, article 88 of the constitution recognises:

“The equality and equity between men & women in the exercise of their right to work. That work within the home is an economic activity that creates added values and produces social welfare and wealth. Housewives are therefore entitled to remuneration through Social Security.”

From February 2006, mothers are no longer pressured to look for work, and instead of receiving benefits and the stigma that comes with them, are now in receipt of a salary, equivalent to the minimum wage (as it is not taxed) and the dignity that comes with that. These payments are guaranteed whether their husband is out of work or not, providing no incentive for him not to look for work, as children grow older and attend school freeing up more of the day time for mothers, they are able to look for work during the day, or as many choose to do, volunteer at local community projects around their town. Those women who choose to re-enter the workforce no longer have a blank space on their CV to account for, with “mother” being an accepted occupation providing skills and experiences that employers regard highly, to quote Selma James of the Global Women’s Strike

“Caring for others is accomplished by a dazzling array of skills in an endless variety of circumstances. As well as cooking, shopping, cleaning, laundering, planting, tending, harvesting for others, women comfort and guide, nurse and teach, arrange and advise, discipline and encourage, fight for and pacify. Taxing and exhausting under any circumstances, this service work, this emotional housework, is done both outside and inside the home.”

One area however where Venezuela’s system is found lacking, is that it is only women, and widowers, who are able to take advantage of it. There is currently no provision, for stay at home fathers to be paid this salary, while the mother returns to her higher-paying job.

If an independent Scotland, or indeed the UK as it is, wants to crack the problems of the benefit trap, it could do a lot worse than to look to Venezuela.

Nation Shall Speak Unto Nation

I came across this story about a review looking into setting up a public service broadcaster in Scotland shortly after my post last week concerning the Glasgow list. It has been sitting on the back-burner, percolating away and as I’ve been stuck for something to write here I thought I’d share my thoughts with you, perhaps generating a bit of a discussion and who knows maybe even some comments.

Whether it’s the interminable episodes of Question Time where the hour passes solely discussing matters of English domestic policy (with of course some final question about who the panel want to win come dine with me, or whether or not they are wearing tartan knickers) or a Reporting Scotland that only skimmed the surface of that thursday’s FMQs because they also had to find time to tell us about Mrs McGlumphy’s cat and what various Old Firm players are having for their tea, the level of coverage of distinct Scottish affairs simply isn’t good enough and I’m sure you remember the furore over the SNP’s exclusion from the “Leader’s debates” in May.

To give credit where credit is due though, the BBC may be seen from the above to be failing in its Reithian aim of informing the Scottish public, it is certainly still educating & entertaining, the recent series by @ProfBrianCox on the solar system, and the crowds at the St Enoch centre when Karen Gillan was there recently promoting Doctor Who are proof enough of that.

This could prove to be one of the early stumbling blocks for a new Scottish National Broadcaster (SNB), if competing with the BBC rather than replacing it in Scotland, then this new channel will have to appeal to commercial interests rather than the licence fee, it may struggle to come up with advertisers for a channel dedicated to the current events in Scotland and would certainly find it difficult to match the BBC if it chose to commission its own entertainment shows or documentaries.

There is one other area of the BBC produce that could help and that is their sports coverage, Hamish McDonnell of the Caledonian Mercury has on multiple occasions highlighted the poor treatment of Scottish rugby by the BBC (although home games for the Magner’s League are to be shown on BBC Alba this year), but just as snooker was introduced to the nation consciousness by a young upstart named David Attenborough at BBC2 in the 60s to attract people to new station, perhaps the SNB could try to use curling or basketball in the same way.

I think though, while an SNB would be welcome in the interim, the focus should really be on bringing about a successor to the BBC rather than a competitor, having the benefits of the BBC’s facilities and personnel in Scotland, as well as a share in the litany of BBC output already in existence and spot 101 on your EPG is probably going to be the only way the channel will be able to have a real impact.

The Glasgow List

I apologise for not having kept us this blog over the last week, a combination of events left me with very little time to consider the political goings on, and when I did I was often pipped to the post by other bloggers.

On monday, I received my ballot paper for the Glasgow Regional List, and on saturday I thought I’d pop along to the hustings,there are a total of 11 candidates standing for the list, 8 of the 9 constituency candidates (with John Mason deciding not to stand) and 3 list-only candidates.

At one point I was planning on giving a critique of each of them and then stating how I was going to rank them all, but when considering all the candidates I didn’t feel as if it was as clear-cut as I was hoping. There were a few points worth considering however.

I was a bit uneasy with the way that James Dornan referenced allegations of sexual harassment being made against Labour councillors in his biography on the ballot list and that uneasiness was compounded when I saw the way he erupted at one member of the audience at the hustings who questioned certain aspects of his strategy as group leader.

There are two Asian candidates, both only contesting on the list and not standing for a constituency, and while both were young, clearly capable men there was a marked difference between the two. In Humza Yousaf, we have a candidate with plenty of experience of the political machinery, having spent most of his professional life in the offices of SNP parliamentarians. Mr Yousaf during his hustings speech, spoke about his Pakistani heritage; of how his father was amongst the first Asian members of the SNP, and that he didn’t believe his ethnicity should play a part in member’s decision-making process.

On the other hand Sid Khan is still new to the world of politics, having made his living in financial services and latterly in the construction industry, Mr Khan was clearly nervous when addressing the hustings talking quickly and at one point having to be asked to speak up. Interestingly, Mr Khan didn’t reference his Asian heritage during his speech, and because of that I think he made Mr Yousaf’s point more effectively than he had, in fact during his speech, Mr Khan spoke of the proud heavy engineering traditions “we have in Scotland and particularly here on the Clyde” while references to “we” in Mr Yousaf’s speech were never so inclusive, tending to refer to the young Scots-Asian community.

I think of the two, it would be Sid Khan’s experience in the private sector and outside of the parliamentary bubble which would be of most use to the SNP team, and the Scottish Parliament as a whole, but in all likelihood it will be Mr Yousaf who will finish with a higher ranking on the list.

The others all delivered strong cases for their respective returns to parliament, and while I said I wouldn’t be providing a full ranking from 1 to 11, I think there is one clear front-runner.

Since Bashir Ahmed’s tragic death in February 2009, Anne McLaughlin has become one of the most well-kent faces in Glasgow, not just for her tireless constituency work from Cranhill to Govanhill but also for her work on behalf of Florence & Precious Mhango and cases like theirs. The list system exists in part to ensure that people like Ms McLaughlin who have supporters all over the city rather than concentrated in a single constituency, have a chance to  be elected, and I would urge you to give her your #1 ranking to ensure they get that chance in May.

Going Dutch

If I asked you to think of “The Kingdom of the Netherlands” you may imagine a flat landscape strewn with tulips and windmills on its country roads and hash bars and whore windows on its city streets, rather than palm trees and Caribbean beaches.

When it's spring again I'll bring again, peanuts from Oranjestad.

The Caribbean islands to scale with the Kingdom's European territory.

However the Dutch Kingdom, much like our own United Kingdom, is a group of countries that share a monarch; as well as the European country commonly and erroneously (but for my purposes in this article conveniently) called Holland, the Kingdom also includes the European nation’s former colonies in the Caribbean, Aruba and the five island colonies which form the Netherlands Antilles.

All three countries have their own money (the Aruban florin, Antillean guilder and Euro), their own teams in FIFA and people are proud to be Aruban, Antillean or a Nederlander, but all three have Dutch (and by extension EU) passports.

The Kingdom has a similar level of asymmetric devolution to our own; like London, Amsterdam serves as the capital of The Kingdom and of Holland, the Dutch parliament in The Hague serves as both the domestic parliament of Holland, as well as dealing with the Kingdom-wide matters such as defence and foreign affairs and like England, Holland is the largest country in the Union dwarfing the others with just shy of 98% of the Kingdom’s area and just over 98% of its population.

Oranjestad and Willemstad both house their respective national parliaments which legislate on those devolved matters affecting their respective nation, and the Prime Minister of each parliament is responsible for assigning the nation’s Minister Plenipotentiary to the Dutch cabinet (the equivalent of the FM of Scotland getting to name the Scottish secretary).

As the Dutch parliament doesn’t have constituencies per se there is no “West Leeward Question”, it is simply accepted that the people of the Caribbean fringe choose to vote for parties based on reserved policies.

By now you are probably wondering why I’ve decided to bring this up on a blog that asserts to pertain to Scottish politics. On the 10th of October, most of what you learned above will no longer apply because the people of the Netherlands Antilles have voted to end their own Union. Multi-option referenda have been held on all five islands giving the islanders four choices.

  1. To remain part of the Netherlands Antilles
  2. To leave the Kingdom of the Netherlands and become fully independent
  3. To have their island recognised as a nation within the Kingdom
  4. To have their island absorbed into Holland

The two largest islands, Curacao and Sint Maarten have chosen option 3, and while St Eustatius actually voted to preserve the Union, it will be going along with the other islands Saba and Bonaire and will become council areas within the province of North Holland on the 10th, with 5 years to prepare for Holland’s laws to take effect.

Now when a friend of mine from Leiden explained these goings on to me recently, I appreciated the insight into the quirkyness of the Dutch constitution but didn’t really see what it had to do with us here in Scotland. Until she told me that in the cases of Sint Maarten and Curacao these are the second referenda within twelve years.

Sint Maarten voted / percentage in 1994 / percentage in 2000

  1. To remain part of the Netherlands Antilles / 59.6% /3.7%
  2. To leave the Kingdom of the Netherlands and become fully independent / 6.2% / 14.2%
  3. To have their island recognised as a nation within the Kingdom / 33.1% / 69.9%
  4. To have their island absorbed into Holland 0.9% / 11.6%

Curacao voted / percentage in 1993 / percentage in 2005

  1. To remain part of the Netherlands Antilles / 73.56% /3.74%
  2. To leave the Kingdom of the Netherlands and become fully independent / 0.49% / 4.82%
  3. To have their island recognised as a nation within the Kingdom / 17.93% / 67.83%
  4. To have their island absorbed into Holland 8.02% / 23.61%

These figures, particularly those of Sint Maarten are quite astonishing, within the space of 6 years, the centre of Antillean politics had shifted to such an extent that 55.9% of those who had voted in favour of preserving the Union felt such a position was no longer tenable, and that the island was ready to move on to bigger and better things.

Alex Salmond has made his position clear on holding further referenda after a hypothetical defeat in the first, believing that another referendum would not be possible for a generation but I think that these results show that such a stance is perhaps misguided. A vote to remain part of the UK isn’t necessarily a “No” vote, just a “Not Yet” vote, and that plenty of these voters can be persuaded by good governance, effective campaigning, and perhaps even some Dutch courage.

You’ve got to spend money to make money

So on last night’s Newsnight Scotland, Joeseph Stiglitz, former Senior Vice-President and Chief Economist of the World Bank, said that the UK Government’s current “austerity drive” were “mostly wrongheaded” explaining that the UK is not in the same position as Greece and still has access to capital markets and further borrowing. He went on to say:

The real point that I emphasize is, not so much how much we’re spending, but what we’re spending it on. Every business borrows, it borrows to make investments, and investments in the public sector can yield returns, every bit as high and even higher than in the private sector.

While not a Nobel prize winner myself, I have been of the same opinion as Professor Stiglitz for some time now. We know that in the past, the United States and Germany didn’t pull themselves out of depression by cutting spending but rather by increasing investment in public works, and trying to promote local industries. Roosevelt and Hitler were both responsible for setting up their respective nation’s motorway network at that time, and FDR managed to go further by encouraging parents not to take time off of work to look after their children in the summer, but instead to send them to one of the new “summer camps” the government was helping to set up all over the country – a scheme so successful, that last year 10 million American children attended one.

Now Scotland isn’t in as bad a position as the US or Germany found themselves in the 1930s, but that isn’t to say there isn’t work that could be done. All but the staunchest Greens would say that our own road network couldn’t do with vast improvements, as could our railways not only in terms of upgrades to high speed rail but also the long awaited Glasgow Crossrail that will finally unite all services up and down the West Coast without having to cross the city on foot, and if SNP plans to bring Scotrail back into public ownership when First’s franchise expires go ahead then investment now could yield those great returns that Professor Stiglitz alluded to.

There’s also the new renewables industry and it’s spin-offs, if we are soon to have whisky powered cars is it too much to ask the manufacturing plant be based in Scotland? We could even try to introduce an entire industry from nowhere like the American summer camps, there are hundreds of ways in which a government that cared about Scotland, and had the powers at its disposal could help this country.

But it obviously isn’t as simple as throwing money anywhere as Professor Stiglitz goes on to say:

There is lots of room for cutting back, in the US where I know the data a lot better, we’re spending hundreds of billions of dollars on weapons that don’t work against enemies that don’t exist. Military expenditures like that do not lead to a stronger economy, that’s something you can pull back. So there are lots of room for redirecting spending and that’s where the focus ought to be.

And so it begins…

So the other day I was watching Newsnight Scotland, and Gordon Matheson was going on about how he felt Glasgow City Council had to put up council tax. He said that doing so wouldn’t “cost the government a single penny” and that it would be fairer than the current council tax freeze, which applies to everyone and isn’t “means tested”

Aside from the fact that a rise in council tax would result in either increases to the number of applications for council tax benefit, increasing both the council’s costs, and the total welfare budget of the UK (or more defaulters, resulting in a rise in the council’s costs, and the justice budget rising as more people are taken to court), the second point that the council tax freeze is not means tested, that is particularly  cretinous.

As I’m sure you are aware, council tax is also not means tested, it is paid based on the value of your home, had it been sold in April 1991, with councils normally splitting these into valuation bands.  This means that a single mother of two, with a three bedroom flat will be liable for the same amount of council tax, as the three recently graduated students who share the flat across the landing from her.

What’s more council tax doesn’t really take into consideration the size of the property, so if her two children leave for university and she decides to get a one bedroom flat, she may find that it actually costs her more.

If Gordon Matheson, and any of his other Labour colleagues who agree with him,  truly want a means tested method of paying for our muncipal services then they should support the SNP’s calls for a Local Income Tax.