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!


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.

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.