The New Coalition

What have they unleashed? One of the immediate consequences of the tripartite Unionist front dictating currency policy to Scotland is a hardening of anti-British sentiment. Those who have been pretending this is about questions of personal wealth – give me £500 and I’ll vote Yes – are realising that the real divide is between Scotland and Britain.

The line-up of all of the Westminster parties AND, uniquely, the Civil Service, in an embodiment of the British state, addressing Scotland like a colony, denying us access to what is ours by right and dictating policy without negotiation, is the encapsulation of everything we detest about London rule. It is Better Together’s Spitting Image moment.


By pulling together and stating effectively that retention of the Union supersedes all policy differences is a seminal moment. Had they come together to plead with us for a No vote, it might have been an illuminating event. But when they colluded to put us in our place with their London Master threats they may have made the second biggest mistake of the campaign after rejecting a second question.

For Labour to be enrolled in a united campaign to “save the Union” is one thing. To act jointly with the Tory-led Coalition on a specific area of policy is another. A generalised, pro-Britain stance is logical for Labour but when they conspire to create individual policy along with the Tories they are getting into bed with the people who are wrecking lives in Britain. Their claims from now on to be deeply opposed to everything from the bedroom tax to salary tax rates are compromised by the alacrity with which they can co-operate when its suits them. And why is “saving the Union” a greater crusade than saving the dignity of the unemployed? Why does the perfectly normal arrangement of a currency deal supersede zero hours contracts and welfare cuts for the disabled? For a socialist what is the motivation to bury all differences with the hard right in order to send a brutal message to the Scots – that we don’t co-operate, we dictate. We don’t negotiate – we assert?

I wrote this week that Balls is conflating his loathing for the SNP – and his fear of it – with the Scots generally. His message doesn’t just hit Nats, it falls on all Scots and brands everyone as somehow an enemy, even Unionists. What is the likely result? He stirs deep-rooted resentment about London diktat, brings to the surface irritations over subsidy jibes and leaves undecided Labour voters wondering what exactly it is they are supporting. Many of them are already Don’t Knows leaning towards Yes and this is a sharp reminder of how they are really viewed even by their own leadership, as dumb ruminants to be shepherded by the master’s whistle. They haven’t been able to take the next step to Yes because independence is seen as Salmond’s project – he owns it. But when their own leadership is doing the Tories’ work for them against Scotland’s interest, those doubts disappear.

If they are looking for explanation from their “Scottish leader” they may look long. One of the most fascinating aspects of the whole campaign so far is the near invisibility of the “Scottish leader”. Isn’t it an amazing fact that at this critical time in Scotland’s history someone who has not long ago been anointed the first-ever “leader” of all the Scottish party has played virtually no role? Indeed, as a keen observer said to me yesterday, Ruth Davidson has played a bigger part with more interventions that Johann Lamont. One can only assume that her advisers, the some ones who have steered her into “something for nothing” and “nationalism is a virus”, reckon it’s safer to keep her out of the front line for their own sake. I am assuming that this week she will appear beside Balls and express her support and be questioned on the currency position. If she fails to, it wont only be voters who grasp that she doesn’t lead but it will intensify MPs’ contempt for her and their opposition to her Devolution Commission proposals.

Tuning in to the BBC it was striking how different James Naughtie’s interviews were with Salmond and Alexander. As ever, he was beside himself with Salmond, barely letting a whole thought or sentence finish, nipping away in the background, adopting a challenging tone. It made for a frustrating listen and  his truculence extended to an ironic remark about Scottish government anonymous briefings in reply to Salmond pointing out the Herald’s story that the coalition might not recognise the referendum outcome…a pretty serious development. Some of this of course is acceptable except when contrasted with his Danny Alexander interview minutes later. He was positively sheepish and I don’t think he stopped him once. Alexander was allowed to make prolonged statements, adding idea after idea, to promote party lines and criticise the Scottish government while Naughtie went to sleep. He asked what the Coalition would do if there was no agreement on the debt – would they refuse to accept the independence result – and Alexander simply didn’t answer. He answered a totally different question and Naughtie didn’t pull him up. Then Alexander made a number of unchallenged assertions including that Scotland would start off poorer because of a large deficit. I pricked up my ears awaiting the mighty Naughtie intervention but, again, nothing. Yet we know according to the FT that: an independent Scotland could also expect to start with healthier state finances than the rest of the UK. And the numbers show every person in Scotland £1300 better off immediately of nearly £6000 for an ordinary family.  And of course the only reason Scotland  shows a deficit in government tables in the first place is because they add in a share of their debt to our accounts. Shouldn’t a journalist have some ammunition in an interview? This Naughtie experiment isn’t working. Jim simply can’t stop himself railing against the SNP and seems to have a personal issue with Salmond. I defy anyone at PQ to listen to these two efforts side by side and say they are remotely similar in approach or fairness or that a listener couldn’t justifiably deduce there was bias. Has anyone got the balls to tell him? Or does it just confirm our worst fears that content is the last thing on the BBC’s mind?

Which brings me to Kirsty Wark who produced a disturbingly strident performance on Newsnight with a cleverly patient and unruffled Salmond. Her tone was shrill, impatient and kind of patronizing, the way she might speak to her puppy if it poohed on the carpet. You know the interviewer has got it wrong when you end up watching her/him instead of the interviewee. My theory? Wark and Naughtie are used to feeling in charge, playing an interview like a fish on the line. They both know with Salmond that he is a master of the form and always has an answer, knows more than they do and will not be bested. Therefore they are all wound up in advance not to let him away with too much and the result is they get the tone all wrong, make the viewer sympathise with Salmond and look unprofessional. Shame.

92 thoughts on “The New Coalition

  1. So Barroso links Scotland with Kosovo? Catalonia has it rougher: our foreign minister has linked Catalonia post-Yes with Abkhazia and South Ossetia (Caucasus, in case you didn’t know) and Somaliland. Nice to know their looking after our interests!

  2. […] in non-tv reality, the new consensus of the New Coalition is clear. From Alistair Darling promise that if Labour is re-elected public spending cuts will be […]

  3. So I complained to the BBC using their online complaints process. Having digested the reply, I do continue to feel differently. I’m now left wondering if Gerard Magennis was listening to the same programme and also wondering of his previous job was as a primary school teacher.

    I said –

    Complaint Summary: James Naughtie’s interviews.

    Full Complaint:
    I listened to Good Morning Scotland yesterday, Friday 14th Feb. Jim Naughtie conducted two interviews on the current referendum topic about whether or not Scotland can use the pound after a Yes vote. Having listened to the both interviews I find it quite shocking how he continually interrupts Alex Salmond and adopts a very adversarial tone. He then interviews Danny Alexander in a convivial manner with one half hearted attempt at an interruption throughout the whole interview. Alex Salmond had to work very hard to get his points across and Danny Alexander was given such an easy time he might as well have been allowed to make a speech. Bias like this is not appropriate on Radio Scotland at this time or any other time. I think James Naughtie should be taken off this programme as he is obviously incapable of holding his own bias in check. I expect a higher standard of professionalism and fair play from my licence fee.

    They replied –

    Dear Mr Foggo

    Reference CAS-2571976-56S76B

    Thank you for contacting us. Your comments were passed to the Editor, who has asked that I forward his response as follows:

    “Thank you for getting in touch.

    James Naughtie’s interviewing style is certainly combative, but this is a style he uses with all his guests, regardless of which political party or other organisation they might be representing.

    Mr Naughtie and indeed the rest of the editorial team are well aware of the BBC’s commitment to impartiality and the maintenance of the highest journalistic standards, particularly at this important time in Scottish politics.

    While courtesy should always be observed, it’s worth noting that politicians are no less professional in handling questions than our presenters are in posing them. The task of informing the public sometimes demands a degree of persistence which would be out of place in ordinary social conversation. Mr Naughtis’s job is to ask the questions likely to be in the minds of informed listeners, and to seek answers. This can lead to forceful and persistent questioning, but in our experience politicians expect their views to be scrutinised and they respond with corresponding firmness.

    I realise you may continue to feel differently but I hope my response goes some way to explain our view and the thought that goes behind such matters.

    Thank you, once again, for taking the time to contact us”.

    Details of the BBC complaints process are available online at
    Kind Regards

    Gerard Magennis

    BBC Complaints

  4. I could not believe the sheer mendacity of BBC/BetterTogether’s Reporting Scotland lead item this evening -gleefully falling over themselves to tell us that “Standard Life WOULD leave Scotland if it voted for independence”. NO THEY WOULDN’T, THEY DID NOT SAY THAT!!! In their press release SL said “…we COULD transfer PARTS of our operations if it was necessary to do so. This is purely a precautionary measure…”. Next theBBGlee reporter gave the response of two members of the public, one elderly woman said it would be a disaster if all the jobs were to go, and another woman said it was crushing to the Yes campaign. We never heard the question which was put to the women, only their replies (no doubt Prof John Curtice would term this as “leading” if it emanated from a Yes interviewer).
    Were their no positive responses from members of the public who supported independence or did the BBC only use those which suited their purpose? The Beeb has clearly gone viral in it’s manipulation of news, it has gone from reporting news to making it up to suit their unionist agenda and STV were no better. Do they think the Scots are not genetically programmed to identify utter mince when they hear it? Roll on the Yes vote in September, until then the Scottish MSM will only get worse. Thank goodness their is some honest debate to be found with on-line forums.

  5. […] has been frequently criticised by a former presenter of the same programme, Derek Bateman, for a failure to display an even-handed tone when questioning representatives of the Yes and No […]

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