The referendum date was announced this week – an historic moment regardless of your constitutional leanings as for the first time ever Scots will be able to give their verdict on the Union.
The BBC, unlike Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont, recognised the significance of the announcement from Alex Salmond and bigged up the news.
Their teatime news programme Reporting Scotland actually provided coverage worthy of the event. Radio Scotland’s coverage was decent, if a tad underwhelming, but they did at least allow listeners to hear the First Minister delivering the statement to Parliament although this was tempered by allowing arch Unionist Alan Cochrane to give his own unique take on the event.
However things went from passable to mediocre when Newsnight Scotland aired and Gordon Brewer gave yet another pantomime performance that was in keeping with the deterioration of the programme.
I don’t know what’s happened to Newsnight Scotland, but it seems incapable of providing any in depth analysis of a story and Brewer looks bored with it all. It has also developed a rather worrying habit of ignoring important issues in favour of the mundane.
Earlier in the week, on the day the Scottish Parliament was debating the tenth anniversary of the Iraq invasion, Newsnight Scotland contrived to discuss a rather pathetic confrontation between some football fans and the police in Glasgow.
The illegal march to a football stadium by around 100 odd fans was a bit part story at best and already days old. What it wasn’t was an issue that merited the time spent on it by Scotland’s flagship current affairs programme.
That this non-story featured at all this week is bad enough, but that it did so whilst Labour’s shocking decision to refuse to oppose Tory plans to remove workers’ rights in a House of Commons vote didn’t, calls into question the purpose of this programme.
But Thursday’s announcement of the referendum date meant that it had to provide coverage of the event. That Brewer knew of the date announcment was a minor miracle given his claims in the interview with Nicola Sturgeon, not to know much about SNP policies.
Brewer has developed an irritating and quite transparent habit of feigning ignorance and confusion when interviewing SNP politicians. “Sorry I’m confused” and “What I don’t understand is …” pepper interviews and follow replies from the same politicians that the local village idiot could easily comprehend.
The tactic is actually rather effective when faced with evasive politicians who simply will not answer questions and embark on a meandering trail of obfuscation, but there’s one thing that SNP politicians will do when given the opportunity and that’s be clear what they are spelling out in relation to independence.
What passed for an interview on Thursday evening when Brewer harangued Nicola Sturgeon did the BBC man no favours. This habit of asking a question then interrupting with a provocative interjection before the response has been given serves only to highlight the desire on the part of the interviewer to turn the exchange into a joust.
We’ve said before on Newsnet Scotland when analysing the interview techniques of Gary Robertson and Glenn Campbell, that frequent interruptions and hectoring will result in no information being imparted to the audience.
There is a time and place for interruptions, but when politicians are prepared to answer questions then a respective silence should be observed.
Isabel Fraser, before she was disappeared from BBC Scotland flagship political programmes and sent to the weekend dead zone, perfected the art of extracting information whilst politely interrogating the interviewee.
In the Sturgeon interview Brewer’s rather blatant attempt at creating a headline by deliberately misrepresenting the Deputy First Minister’s remark that other nations would consider it “crazy” to be debating the merits of independence, was unbecoming. Most people can see through this kind of behaviour and the careful editing of the interview couldn’t mask Sturgeon’s puzzlement at some of the points Brewer was making.
In the discussion that followed, Brewer repeated the line currently being pushed by BBC Scotland that the contest is over and everyone is turned off with the referendum. Kaye Adams was “bored” the following day and was urging other bored people to phone in.
We pay the BBC, not to turn people off of the debate, but to actively encourage them to participate. Perhaps instead of pushing the ‘it’s too boring’ line and suggesting the contest is over because the No campaign are ahead in the polls, they could start with some mature analysis and decent programming.
People aren’t bored with the referendum. What they perhaps are tiring of is BBC Scotland’s refusal to provide mature and informative analysis and balance – some quality programming.
Newsnight Scotland is now little more than a late night parade of pomposity watched only by those anoraks (me) who drift over after STV’s Scotland Tonight has ended. Thursday’s Scotland Tonight was far superior to Brewer’s offering that followed with host Rona Dougall giving both Nicola Sturgeon and Alistair Darling an equally hard but fair grilling.
STV also has a wide and varied selection of guests and topics that leaves Newsnight Scotland looking like the antiques roadshow.
There’s only so many times John Curtice can tell us how far behind in the polls the Yes campaign is, that David Bell of Stirling University or the McLaren/Armstrong CPPR double act can be wheeled out in order to inform us of the economic catastrophe that will follow independence or several Unionist MSPs can attack the pre-recorded interview with the lone SNP guest.
So let’s ditch Newsnight Scotland, and let’s give Gordon Brewer a rest.
The money saved could be used to produce a twice weekly 1 hour long special that scrutinises that week’s referendum issue. The people who can make this work are Derek Bateman and Isabel Fraser ... and neither are confused.