By Martin Kelly
Last week, following the Ian Davidson debacle on Newsnight Scotland where the Labour MP accused Isabel Fraser of having an anti-Unionist agenda and latterly, of conspiring to ambush him, new Herald political editor Magnus Gardham drew attention to another guest on the show.
The legal expert preceding Mr Davidson’s appearance had challenged the claim that the Scottish Parliament did not have the legal authority to hold an independence referendum.

Mr Gardham pointed out that the expert, Andrew Tickell, was an SNP supporter and blogger, and that BBC Scotland ought to have made this clear to the viewer.

He wrote: “Andrew Tickell was introduced simply as an Oxford University lawyer without mention of his role as a high-profile Nationalist blogger, who writes online under the pseudonym, ‘Lallands Peat Worrier’.”

Mr Gardham came in for some criticism following his article with many people, including Newsnet Scotland’s own writers, pointing out that he himself frequently appears on BBC Scotland as a commentator with no mention of his own pro-Union stance.

However, missed in all the kerfuffle was the obvious question: Just why is it that so many commentators are allowed to present their political views on BBC Scotland discussion programmes without their own political leanings being made clear?

Mr Gardham is correct, the political background of pundits who appear on political programmes ought to be made clear to the viewer – it’s actually a no brainer.

However the former Daily Record scribe may have unwittingly opened up a can of worms with his new found desire for transparency in the small broadcasting world of the Scottish political pundit.

BBC Scotland’s political commentators come from a very small pool.  Journalists, ex-spin doctors and academics regularly appear on shows such as Newsnight Scotland and other similar current affairs programmes.  More often than not these pundits are presented as objective analysts of the Scottish body politic who have no agenda.

Viewers are invited to consume the ‘message’ from each of the talking heads and of course some will be influenced by what these ‘neutral’ experts say.

But what if a pundit has an agenda?  What if their view is coloured, or is in danger of being coloured, by their own political background and/or loyalties?

Hence, the seizing of a single Newsnight Scotland episode, that ‘hid’ the background of a legal expert who happened to be pro-SNP, by both Mr Gardham and Mr Davidson.

In Mr Davidson’s opinion, any non-disclosure of an expert or pundits political background is evidence of a conspiracy and merits an apology from the presenter or the BBC.

It is this ‘non disclosure’ habit that Mr Gardham has unwittingly drawn attention to and one that Newsnet Scotland has highlighted on more than one occasion.  The political make-up of BBC Scotland pundits is one of the areas that needs to be addressed in the run-up to the 2014 referendum.

The overwhelming number of commentators who appear on BBC Scotland TV and radio programmes have a pro-Union background.  In the last edition of the Politics Programme, the show featured a three man panel who discussed and analysed the independence debate and Scottish politics.

Not one of the panel gave views from a pro-independence or pro-SNP standpoint, all were pro-Union and their contributions reflected their leanings.  BBC Scotland introduced each of the journalists with no mention of the fact that their writings were very clearly pro-Union, one of them was Magnus Gardham.

Indeed a quick look at some of the regular contributors to BBC Scotland current affairs programmes highlights the extent of the problem and the overwhelming number of pundits who have links to pro-Union parties.

  • Lorraine Davidson (Former Labour Advisor)
  • David Torrance (Former Assistant to David Mundell)
  • Alf Young (Former Labour Advisor)
  • Professor John Curtice (Former Lib Dem candidate)
  • John McLaren of the CPPR (Former advisor to Labour First Minister)
  • Professor Brian Ashcroft (Former Labour party member and husband of former Scottish Labour party leader Wendy Alexander)

The list of journalists with clear pro-Union leanings is just as extensive – Alan Cochrane, Magnus Gardham and Torcuil Crichton to name but three.

All of these pundits are, more often than not, introduced as impartial observers of the body politic which according to Mr Gardham’s new definition of impropriety, calls into question the impartiality of BBC Scotland itself.

BBC Scotland’s over reliance on the same people for so called ‘expert’ opinion, has created a kind of Unionist dominated old-boy network where only the views of 'those and such-as-those' are deemed acceptable and is an ever growing problem.

So let’s get behind Labour MP Ian Davidson and Herald journalist Magnus Gardham as they strive to ensure balance and objectivity from our state broadcaster.  Let’s insist on absolute transparency and demand that BBC Scotland make clear the political background of any and all of its guest commentators.

Once established then the next goal will be to ensure an equitable representation of all sides in the independence debate – full independence, devo-max and status-quo.  Let's consign to history the travesty that sees Unionist contributors dominate debate and discussion whilst simultaneously being passed off as impartial analysts.

Now who could possibly object?


# oldnat 2012-08-12 20:19
Good article. Hoisting them on their own petard!

It was only when checking the spelling that I discovered that "a petard was a small bomb used to blow up gates and walls when breaching fortifications."

Gardham just blew up his own defensive position.
# Barbazenzero 2012-08-12 20:50
Rare though they are, oldnat, gaps in your historical knowledge always amuse me. The word pétard is of French origin, deriving from the verb péter - to break wind, an activity at which Messrs Davidson and Gardham seem to be particularly adept.
# oldnat 2012-08-12 21:03
As always, you produce the mot juste. :-)
# nottooweeorstupid 2012-08-13 18:54
I always thought (mainly because my Dad told me) that a petard was a rope of some sort, which make sense if it was for hoisting. Now that the internet has been invented it seems to have become something else!
Whatever it is, Gardham and Davidson have done themselves no favours with it.....
# Barbazenzero 2012-08-13 19:07
The hoist in this case simply means raised.

In modern speech, one could replace the expression with: Blown up with his own firework/grenade,
# border reiver 2012-08-12 21:07
very good article. This could turn out a huge own goal for Davidson. It is quite right to demand the rules and procedures from the BBC are fair and impartial to both sides of the argument. Their is a steady stream of these experts paraded on our screens and we have quite often to rely on the internet to discover what their true political leanings and vested interests are. it should be relatively easy for the BBC to quickly mention these details in their introductions
# oldnat 2012-08-12 21:26

"The Perseid meteor shower will be visible in the sky from Scotland tonight between 00:30 and 03:00."

Makes a change from the shower that often appear on the Beeb!
# Sheltie 2012-08-13 10:11
I have now had a coffee/ keyboard interface malfunction. :-)
# J Wil 2012-08-12 21:29
Like MPs, who are compelled to list their affiliations to causes and companies, the political backgrounds, former and present, of pundits and TV presenters, should be clarified before each discussion or debate takes place.
# CharlieObrien 2012-08-12 22:03
I knew that the majority of the "impartial" experts were of Labour leanings,but I never carried the thought forward,thanks for trying to fix the Labour bias of all the Scottish media,at least I think its all of them.Now some might say that the "Scottish Daily Express" is a Tory paper,agreed but its not Scottish,I read it,habit I suppose,and its because I got it free for years.They have one columnist "Keith Aitkin" he is good,the rest is all brought up from London,with some adverts (very few) added.
# mesmiths 2012-08-12 22:04
Well said Newsnet...yet again!
What an own goal by the unionists to try and draw attention to this can of worms. Laughable, but, I think, they think their media pals will drop the issue for them. Oh for more like newsnetscotland !
Actually the other night when I heard the Davidsonsaurus refer to 'newsnat', not paying complete attention I thought he was having a go at this very site.
# gus1940 2012-08-12 22:31
If ever a 'cunning' plan backfired surely Davidson's performance on NNS and Gardham's beautifully scored follow-up own goal is an Oscar winning example.

I trust that in future we shall all be watching with interest the intros given by BBC Scotland to any participants/ commentators in political debates/news items in future.
# Leswil 2012-08-12 22:34
This is a good article by Martin kelly.
What he has highlighted is a well known normal to us folks who watch these programs.

However, the way martin has pulled no punches in delivering his article is what good journalism should be about.

Ie, exposing injustices. For too long the BBC and media at large have been, and still are Unionist to the core, and as such, have a Unionist agenda to employ.

Which of course the do with gusto at every opportunity, there is too much evidence to deny it. IT IS REAL!

It is, as I have stated many times an affront to democracy and to the Scottish people.

These same tactics of media manipulation, TV, Radio, Newspapers, Interviews were used somewhere else, not so long ago.

These failures of democracy were reported to the western world before, and was roundly condemned.

This took place during Putin's election in Russia, and who report all these failures in the democratic process, live from Moscow?
Yes, our very own BBC!!

Clearly they understand Putin's ways now, and appeared to have learned from them.
Or was it the other way around??

The BBC is no longer fit for purpose in Scotland their treachery is becoming legendary.
# peter,aberdeenshire 2012-08-12 22:49
This again shows the cosy little relationship with the media and especially the Labour party in Scotland. There is a small group of individuals who are either Labour party members or supporters, pro Unionist journalists etc who feature in BBC Scotland programmes or discussions.
But things are changing, the corruption is being exposed and this is a positive step.
# oldnat 2012-08-12 23:18
But things change!

There's a new group “Women for Independence, Independence for Women” starting tomorrow. It's backers aren't just the "usual suspects" like former SNP candidate and left-wing campaigner Isobel Lindsay, the ex-Scottish Socialist MSP Carolyn Leckie and blogger Kate Higgins.

Jeanne Freeman, formerly a special adviser to then-First Minister Jack McConnell, and Susan Stewart, the first “Ambassador” for the Scottish Government in Washington DC are also active supporters.

Many of us assumed (wrongly) that the latter two were part of the Labour "establishment" in Scotland.

There are the Unionist crony group, but we need to be aware that a fair number of those who worked with Labour in the past to try to benefit Scotland, now (maybe always did) support independence as the best way to help Scots folk live in a fair society.
# Marga B 2012-08-12 23:27
OT but interesting article about McLeish in the Scotsman today "Independence may be the “shock” required to invigorate Scottish confidence, according to a former Labour first minister."

However, he's still against it! If anyone was at this Book Festival talk, maybe they can make some sense of what he was getting at.
# chicmac 2012-08-12 23:29
Good article. Far closer to the truth re BBC bias.

However, for every on NNS reader who reads that, there will be 100 who will be fed the 'BBC are pro-indy biased' nonsense of Davidson.

Evil but true.
# Angry_Weegie 2012-08-12 23:34
I can't agree with the majority view expressed in these postings.

Sure, in a perfect world, it would be obvious that pundits' political views should be made known before they speak, but how will this happen. No one is going to force BBC Scotland to introduce a rule to that effect. All that will come of the Davidson debacle is an impression that BBC Scotland has an independence bias because they 'ambushed' the poor man. No one in the MSM is going to point out the inconsistency, so no punter will realise that it applies to unionist leaning pundits as well, more than independence supporters.

I know I've said it before, but this smells to me as a stitch up, with both Slab and BBC involved.
# Liam 2012-08-12 23:36
Hold on, let's get a reality check here. The Oxford University lawyer doesn't work for the SNP, I'm not even sure he's even a member, he's merely just someone who supports the SNP. The fact is EVERYONE has political opinions. Are we seriously suggesting every guest on every political programme should have to reveal party affiliation? And how to you ascertain their private political views? Fine if they're open about their views, but what if they're not? Then you have a situation where SOME guests' allegiances are revealed and others are not! That's hardly fair. I agree the BBC should try hard to balance views, esp pro- and non-Unionist, but trying to prove party political allegiances just opens a whole can of worms.
# Hillside 2012-08-13 01:19
Agreed, and that's why Davidson and Gardham are being so silly.
# snowthistle 2012-08-15 21:45
He does write a very good Independence supporting blog under the name of Lallands Peat Warrior, so I think to say he is "just someone who supports the SNP" (not sure he does, actually) is disingenuous.
# Jiggsbro 2012-08-15 21:59
Everybody and their mother-in-law writes a blog these days. He's not exactly Guido Fawkes.
# snowthistle 2012-08-15 22:10
Each to their own, I guess. I rate him
# pmcrek 2012-08-13 01:16
The natural conclusion of this is that the Scotsman, Herald, BBC et al. are legally forced to put a banner saying "Pro-Union News" in a box on their respective publications and TV graphics.

Newsnet of course have to legally and morally put a "supporting independence" banner on the.. oh wait between the "A-Z of unionist myths" and "Independence March" banners, its pretty much already there.
# Barontorc 2012-08-13 01:23
Now we have MacCarthy-ism!
# Early Ball 2012-08-13 05:40
OT Scotland on Sunday had a world map pull-out yesterday.

Scotland does not feature. I am definitely getting paranoid.
# UpSpake 2012-08-13 07:25
So riven with Labour placemen is the BBC that this leopard cannot change unless as a species, it is allowed to die out entirely. It feeds on its own excrement so its food source of this type is guaranteed by its very existance.
Sever its lifeblood on the other hand and the job is done. There is no other way. Even driving a stake through its heart won't cure the ills.
Nope, even demonstrating outside its glass covered edifice won't make the slightest bit of difference. Nor, indeed, a powerful demonstration outside the venue for the Television Festival as the 'boys in the London Club' will band together to protect their own.
Foreign media might react but how many really watch Al Jeezera or RT ?.
Nope the one and only sure way to silence the BBC is to withdraw its funding stream. Immediately !.
# Ready to Start 2012-08-13 07:38
Magnus Gardham in full anti SNP mode this morning in The Herald. He is basing a SAlmond "secret push" for Devo Max option on an Email sent by a government press adviser to Martin Sime on a Unite poll with the sole comment "Read this".

Gardham then comments that Alex Salmond "has given up on their (nationalists) great cause"................ what piffle the SNP is in favour of independence and is not going to commit £1 million to the YES campaign if it didn't believe in the success of the YES campaign.
# gus1940 2012-08-13 09:37
If The Herald had possession of a copy of said e-mail why didn't they publish the full text thereof?
# nottooweeorstupid 2012-08-13 19:17
They did! The full text was, 'Read this.'
You couldn't make it up, you really couldn't.
Very obvious hardening of stance in the Herald today, compared to the relative and unusual balance of the last few weeks.

Darkened Room, anyone?
# scottish_skier 2012-08-13 19:33
"Very obvious hardening of stance in the Herald today, compared to the relative and unusual balance of the last few weeks"

Well, the 2012 Great Festival of Britishness (now complete) clearly didn't work, so what next?
# isleofskye 2012-08-13 08:27
Been buying the Herald for 35 years - really can't stomach it any more. Every headline has a snide undertone, even when the article turns out to be fairly benign. I think we will see a full on attack on independence now, under Gardham's political editorial watch. Even the Scotsman manages a pro-independence opinion piece every now and again....
# NkosiEcosse 2012-08-16 12:30
The "Cochrane" on the telegraph is usual self, but at least normally you can comment on his dribble. The other "Sottish Editor", Simon Johnson, is more sneaky, some of the stuff is worse than Cocky's but no comments section is available. But that is their way, they brook no opposition to their despicable actions in trying to deny the Scottish people freedom and true democracy.
# Training Day 2012-08-13 09:04
Do not buy the Herald or read it online. With Gardham as political editor, it is dead, it is an ex-paper, it has joined the choir celestial..

Yet still the question niggles.. who is underwriting the collapsing circulation of the MSM?..
# gus1940 2012-08-13 10:07
I formed the opinion several years ago that, in the absence of any logical reason why The MSM should be so keen to alienate their loyal readership with the consequent fall in circulation, they must be receiving financial support from some sort of Westminster Slush Fund.

In the interim, I have seen no evidence to contradict my original opinion.
# setondene 2012-08-13 15:18
The circulation drop is also happening to English papers, so is unlikely to be (entirely) due to the Scottish press' hostility to independence. The employment of Magnus Gardham at the Herald marks a new low for what has always openly declared itself to be 'a unionist newspaper'. It has probably dawned on them that the great british summer is not having the desired effect of turning Scots into Brits, and I think they have now upped the tempo of their anti-independence campaign. The trouble is that the Herald has been so de-staffed that there is now very little real news from real journalists. It is full of space fillers about canoe accidents in Dorset etc.
# Glenn Outrage 2012-08-14 17:06
Quoting setondene:
The circulation drop is also happening to English papers, so is unlikely to be (entirely) due to the Scottish press' hostility to independence. The employment of Magnus Gardham at the Herald marks a new low for what has always openly declared itself to be 'a unionist newspaper'. It has probably dawned on them that the great british summer is not having the desired effect of turning Scots into Brits, and I think they have now upped the tempo of their anti-independence campaign. The trouble is that the Herald has been so de-staffed that there is now very little real news from real journalists. It is full of space fillers about canoe accidents in Dorset etc.

Delighted to announce that my staff suggestion to cancel the daily subscription to the Herald to save money has been approved by my boss. When I heard that Magnus had joined it seemed the right thing to do.
It's the wee things that give the most joy sometimes!
# Boris Broon 2012-08-13 11:11
Bit of a lapse from Davidson in that picture. Surely the box should say 'Separation Questions'?
# Magua 2012-08-13 17:54
There is a clear pattern here: two lone voices have been silenced - Eilidh Whiteford MP's "doing" precluded the only pro-independence member from Davidson's Parliamentary Committee and his "unprepared" attack on the integrity and impartiality of Isabel Fraser was made in an attempt to obscure the REAL bias in BBC Scotland - a hard-core of New Labour apologists and Unionist supporters. The brazen attack on the First Minister for his "contacts" with Rupert Murdoch and News International is the final piece of the puzzle. As a socialist and trade-unionist, I detest this organisation with a vengeance, but Lamont & Co. think the Scottish electorate have short memories and are stupid; meaning they could exploit this by condemning its rabid, right-wing agenda while, inadvertantly, forgetting to mention New Labour's despicable and continuing history with this company. So, even the "lukewarm" support for the SNP from the SUN - the only newspaper doing so - had to be be eradicated! Other than a few "token Nats" like George Kerevan and Joan McAlpine MSP, we have a "one nation", unionist state-media, ALL against Scottish independence. Therefore, I believe the time has come for a register of the political affiliations of all major journalists to be published - and, if necessary, used in an SNP party political broadcast (the only medium the MSM can't interfere with) to expose the "hidden" majority lined-up against the independence camp. Then, and only then, will the Scottish people realise they have been duped, used as pawns, and should, therefore, act accordingly!
# Scotlandfirst 2012-08-14 15:41
Magua, for Davidson to suggest that BBC Newsnight Scotland is anti unionist is ridicules. I have watched it many a night, and they are out and out unionists, anti SNP and the independence move and I'm not even Scottish.One can see that now the Scottish Labour mafia are excercising their protection programs or else.
# Rafiki 2012-08-15 15:21
The Herald issue reminds me of a quote from the late Oliver Brown; "All a man needs in life is a good cause, and the enmity of the Glasgow Herald, and he can be assured that if he has the first, then the second will automatically follow."
# Clydebuilt 2012-08-15 20:56
Could The Herald survive a boycott by Nats?

Good article

email it to your contacts

Increase the readership of Newsnetscotland .com

Reduce the readership of The Herald
# Ranting Robbie 2012-08-16 17:59
Taking things a tad further. I note a letter in today's Herald from one Alex Gallagher which seems extreme. Perhaps the editor would enlighten us of the affiliations of the writers of the letters published so we may judge where their views are coming from.

Know thine enemy !

Setting up a database would be a sensible precaution.

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