Pages tagged with "Media Watch"

Media Watch - Unionists announce attack on Scotland’s Parliament

Those who have been warning that the UK government is planning to undermine and attack the powers of the Scottish Parliament got further confirmation this week from “lord” David Frost in a column in the Daily Telegraph.

Frost is an unelected member of the Westminster Parliament who has held several ministerial posts including that of Brexit Minister. Writing in the Telegraph, he said the time has come to “reverse” the process of devolution.

Scotland cannot protect its Parliament without independence

Despite never being elected, Frost has more power as a member of the UK Government to decide Scotland’s affairs than Scotland’s democratic representatives. 

There is nothing Scotland can do to protect the power of the Parliament without independence. 

Some democratic mandates are more equal than others

Frost and other Westminster Parliamentarians -  including members of the Labour Party - often trumpet their belief that a narrow victory in the Brexit referendum in England was a mandate for forcing a damaging hard Brexit on Scotland and the UK.

Yet, they do not acknowledge that devolution was brought into being by a huge majority at the referendum of 1997, when an astonishing 75% of voters voted “Yes” to the creation of a Scottish Parliament.

Holyrood is important to Scotland. Polling analysed by Professor John Curtice on “What Scotland Thinks” shows that a consistent 75% of Scots want Holyrood to control how Scotland is run. Only 14% think Westminster - where many more members are unelected than are elected - should control how Scotland is run. 

“It’s time to reverse the process [of devolution]”

Writing in the Telegraph, Frost said that the issues facing the SNP were an opportunity to roll back devolution. He added that he believes Labour leader Keir Starmer basically agrees with him, and will likely ignore Gordon Brown’s suggestions for greater devolution for Scotland. 

Frost wrote: "Not only must no more powers be devolved to Scotland, it’s time to reverse the process... Ministers should make clear that, if re-elected, they will review and roll back some currently devolved powers. In particular, Scotland does not need to be an independent actor on the world stage; it should not be able to legislate to disrupt free trade within the UK; and it does not need to have most tax-raising powers currently available to it."

Frost also praised Scottish Secretary Alister Jack for using a Section 35 order to clamp down on devolved powers - and said the UK government must be more 'assertive' in its attacks on devolution, arguing the UK Internal Markets Act "has not been used assertively as it should".

The Scottish Government is being stripped of even its limited autonomy

The Scottish Parliament is already under attack - the Internal Markets Act strips it of powers in even minor areas. For example, Holyrood can’t ban single-use wet wipes despite their environmental damage; it can’t put a deposit on bottles; it may well be prevented from raising the minimum unit price on alcohol despite evidence that this reduces alcohol deaths.

Before Brexit, the Scottish Parliament had a great deal of say over how restructuring funds from the EU were spent. Since then, the UK government decides how to spend that money. It has also reneged on its promise to replace that money, providing less than half. 

The UK government is coming in to fund projects as it sees fit without consultation - such as funding a bridge in Douglas Ross’ constituency. But how can Scotland develop a more coherent transport strategy - which is supposed to be entirely devolved -  if Westminster is funding projects in Scotland based on its own, different, criteria?

The Scottish Parliament has also already been prevented from fully implementing the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child - essentially because the UK Government doesn’t want refugee children to have the same human rights as others. 

The UK does not recognise any sovereignty of the Scottish Parliament or people

The Supreme Court has ruled that in the UK, all sovereignty resides at Westminster - contradicting Scotland’s long and proud tradition that sovereignty rests ultimately with the people. 

They think that it does not matter that the Scottish people voted overwhelmingly to have a Scottish Parliament after long years of campaigning and struggle. It has no legal sovereignty - Westminster has only lent it powers that it can take back at any time. 

Given that Frost and other members of the UK Parliament believe that unelected “peers” have the right to overrule the Scottish Parliament’s elected representatives, their commitment to democracy is questionable. 

The choice is simple: independence protects Scottish democracy while remaining in this failing union will diminish our abilities to make decisions for the benefit of Scotland.  


Media Watch - BBC Radio 4 “Today” gets it badly wrong on how Shell pays tax on Scottish oil

When Shell announced the biggest profits in its history - £32.2 billion pounds for 2022 on Thursday - the BBC morning news flagship, the ‘Today’ programme gave listeners misleading information about how much tax it is paying in the UK compared to other countries. 

The show’s journalists gave the erroneous impression that the UK is getting a similar amount of tax from Shell as elsewhere - but in fact, because of the UK’s tax regime, Shell made no ‘taxable profit’ in the UK in the first three quarters of the year 2022 and paid no windfall tax at all. It may pay a small amount of windfall tax to the UK for the last quarter but the figure is so far unclear.  

Shell produces about 120,000 barrels of oil a day equivalent from the UK continental shelf, 90% of which is in Scottish waters - but it makes no taxable profit on that. 

FT energy correspondent David Sheppard wrote: “A windfall tax that raises a big fat doughnut from one of the UK’s largest oil and gas producers at a time of record prices is, by its very definition, imperfect, even if Shell has indicated it expects to start paying tax in the UK... A system that taxed oil and gas production first rather than zeroing in on profits would ensure the government’s take from the exploitation of an irreplaceable natural resource was never zero.”

Robinson: “It’s a little bit higher in other countries” - hmm, no - it is SO much higher in other countries!

Presenter Nick Robinson said: “There is a lot of tax being paid by these companies already. Shell is paying 75% of its UK-based profits in tax - it is a little bit higher in other countries but not much. We are talking of companies that are paying a lot more in corporate taxes than most.”

Robinson did not mention that Shell, which moved its HQ from the Netherlands to London a year ago, has made no taxable profit in the UK since 2017.  In contrast, Shell paid £3.7 billion to the Norwegian state in 2021 for example, far more than it paid in the UK. where since 2016, its subsidies have outweighed the tax it has paid.  

Shell also distributed $26bn to shareholders in 2022 including $18bn in share buybacks. Tax expert Dan Neidle argues that it would be appropriate for the UK to levy a one-off tax on Shell’s UK-based global HQ. “Shell is crying out to be taxed more,” he told the Financial Times.

“It’s not easy to design a windfall tax”, Today’s business apologist - sorry, business editor - explained

Business editor Simon Jack implied that Shell should be allowed to keep its massive profits - the highest a UK headquartered company has ever made - because it “got no subsidy” when oil prices fell. 

Simon Jack told listeners: “It’s not easy to design a windfall tax. Its not the highest in the world - its higher in Nigeria and Norway but it’s one of the highest in the world, and just a reminder that Shell makes 95% of its money and that is taxed elsewhere in the world not here in the UK"

Robinson asked Jack: “How do governments deal with these record energy profits which may be just short term?”

Jack said: “It's very volatile prices. For example, when the price of oil collapsed, Shell will say ‘No-one offered to subsidise our losses when we lost billions in those years so this is the flipside of that’. There is obvious outrage at these numbers, but, like I say, designing a windfall tax is not straightforward for a UK-domiciled company which makes 95% of its money elsewhere in the world and is taxed elsewhere in the world."

Not true - since the oil tax regime changed, Shell has benefited from taxpayer support!

If you look at GERS, the account of Scotland’s finances, you can see a change coming through after 2015/16, when the UK government started to tax the sector differently. The effect of the UK’s tax changes were that many private companies and their shareholders became net recipients of taxpayers’ money.

This was ostensibly done to increase investment and to protect jobs as the oil price fell – but Aberdeen was hit harder than Norway, which continued to tax energy firms at its usual high rate. Rebates were not specifically linked to any commitment to save jobs. In 2016 Shell, having benefitted from tax rebates from the UK Government and having made many thousands of workers redundant, went on to declare the world’s largest shareholder profit dividend that year. 

Could there be a political reason for under-taxing oil production from Scotland?

The UK Government now takes much more tax on oil and gas at the pump or when heating oil is purchased. In 2022-23, fuel duties are expected to raise £25 billion. Very little of that is credited to Scotland’s accounts. 

Some suspect that one reason for changing the North Sea tax regime is to lend weight to the Unionist argument that Scotland is too poor to become independent. 

Energy taxation is reserved to Westminster

Shell is not doing anything illegal - it is the UK government's political and ideological choice to give Shell tax rebates and subsidies. This is reserved to the UK government - the Scottish Parliament has no say on it. 

Westminster gives tax rebates to large oil companies to cover the cost of decommissioning rigs and fields and to explore for new oil fields. These tax deductions include an effective subsidy for any fossil fuel production -  but not for green investment. Writing in the Financial Times, Professor Michael Devereux at the Oxford University Centre for Business Taxation argues this has, in effect, created a subsidy for fossil fuel projects that otherwise would not go ahead.

Conclusion - BBC flagship news show sounds like propaganda

The BBC has come in for criticism recently for being too close to the Conservative Party, and to the world of big business. It has lost the trust of many in Scotland, where 1 in 7 people no longer pay the licence fee. Today’s misleading reporting of Shell’s historic profits, which in the UK came from exploiting Scotland’s energy resources, will do little to rebuild trust. 

5 Things You Need to Know About Labour’s Latest Vow on Constitutional Reform

In Leeds today, Keir Starmer, flanked by former-PM Gordon Brown, unveiled Labour’s plans for UK constitutional reform. There is a clue in that first sentence as to why it's not going to blunt moves towards Scottish independence. This report is about Labour reclaiming its so-called 'Red Wall' seats from the Tories and it offers nothing new for Scotland. In fact, it confirms that Labour are committed to Brexit and therefore the power grab that goes with it. The key recommendations are focussed on England and the English regions, with the devolved nations as an afterthought. Included in the report is the abolition of the House of Lords and further powers for the English regions. For Scotland, we can expect more promises of increased devolution for the Scottish Parliament, a tune we’ve heard played by Brown and Labour time and again.

5 Things to know about this report and what it means for Scotland:

1. Scotland gains no new major powers

The report says that Labour will not abolish the Scottish Parliament, a condescending statement as they already promised that in ‘the Vow’ in 2014, and the people of Scotland would not accept its closure under any circumstances.  The report says that Scotland would be able to enter into international agreements when it comes to devolved matters. Devolved matters however do not include issues of EU membership, retention of nuclear weapons/participation in illegal wars, trade deals and immigration - all the actual powers that would help Scotland's economy. Scotland would also have access to regional support through the British Regional Investment Bank. Not only is Scotland not a ‘region’, this is also a policy that is only required because of decades of Westminster mismanagement of Scotland’s natural and economic wealth. In fact, Scotland already has its own National Investment Bank- evidently Labour is having trouble coming up with original ideas for devolution. 

2. It doesn’t lay a path back into the EU for Scotland

Central to Labour’s plan for the next election is to rebuild the ‘Red Wall’ in the North of England. This requires a full commitment to Brexit that the Scottish people will never accept. 

With 72% of Scots saying they would vote Remain if the vote was held today and with Labour offering no path back into the EU, it is clear that Scottish voices will once again be silenced on this issue. 

Labour have said we need stronger economic growth but won’t rejoin the Single Market, the one thing that would guarantee this. Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme this morning to promote the report, Starmer made the remarkable claim that rejoining the EU and being part of the world's biggest single market wouldn't boost economic growth, saying: “I don’t think it would. And there’s no case for going back to the EU or going back into the single market.” Starmer has previously claimed the opposite, so is he lying now or was he lying then? The OBR has forecast the UK faces a 4 per cent fall in economic growth compared to if we had remained in the EU - so no one can take such claims seriously. Clearly independence is Scotland’s only route back into the EU. 

3. There’s no commitment to the reforms they’ve promised

Labour is proposing what they say are radical solutions to a widespread constitutional crisis facing the whole of the UK. However, when these policies are examined in detail, the end result is underwhelming. There is a promise to abolish the undemocratic House of Lords, within Labour’s first term. That is a promise they have been making for a century and have failed to deliver on every time they have been in office and had the power to act. The House of Lords represents a serious issue in the political structure of the UK but the proposed reforms are still subject to further consultation - so they will be watered down. If Labour are serious about offering long-term, systemic change as soon as possible, why can they still not commit even now to the most important proposal from this paper?

4. Federalism is unworkable for Scotland

This report once again presents federalism/devolution as an alternative to Scottish independence but this is a pipe dream. England has 84% of the UK population and federalism cannot work under these conditions. To sell Federalism to the wider UK public would require major parties to concede that the UK system is broken beyond repair and commit to truly radical solutions. This would also require a UK wide referendum and England won't vote for it. Also to say they have a mandate to change the constitution with a Westminster General Election majority but that the SNP can't change the constitution as it refers to Scotland with a majority of MPs is just dishonest and antidemocratic. 

Independence is normal but Labour still refuses to give countenance to that fact. Once again, they offer a bland unworkable compromise between unionism and independence, which is actually err…more unionism. While federalism is championed by Labour as the winning democratic solution to save a broken Britain, in practice they do not offer the radical solutions they promise.

5. Labour will ignore the wishes of the people of Scotland

The plans announced by Labour today require that the Scottish people abandon their commitment to independence and accept a bland list of recycled constitutional reforms that should have been implemented last century, dredged up by an ex-Prime Minister who never won a General election and has lost all credibility when it comes to making promises to Scotland. Labour cannot accept that everything changed after the first independence referendum and Brexit which followed.

While this conference and paper did acknowledge the UK is broken, they refuse to admit that blocking a second referendum is the most high-profile example of the British state’s disregard for democracy. Keir Starmer as PM would not listen to the people of Scotland and if any extra powers offered to Scotland don't allow us back into the EU or at least the Single Market then they do nothing for Scotland.  At the press conference for the launch of this report, Gordon Brown stated that Labour would push on with these proposed constitutional reforms even if the people of Scotland reject them at the ballot box - which they will.

In the end, isn't that all you need to know about Brown and how far Labour have fallen?

Media Watch: Times Scotland front page headline changed online after legal rubbishing

Frontpage headlines rarely cause laughter - unless on comics like the Broons.  But listeners to the press review on BBS Radio Scotland’s Sunday Show last weekend may have chuckled as reviewers joked about the Sunday Times Scotland's latest anti-independence splash.

Separately, a law professor condemned the editorial team behind the weekend’s splash headlines as “deeply unserious people” “more interested in scandal-mongering than checking the accuracy of their stories”.  

The story, which was later altered online, fell below the standards of a quality newspaper. On occasion, Times Scotland reads like an anti-independence propaganda sheet. It claims to reach 1.3 million Scots through its print and digital outlets, so this kind of bias is concerning. However, as support for independence rises, the paper may eventually have to change its stance. Proprietor Ruper Murdoch has stated publicly that Scottish independence “feels inevitable”. 

“Straightforwardly false” headlines altered in the online edition

The front page banner headline on the print edition read: “SNP’s indyref spending may be unlawful”. Law lecturer Andrew Tickell told listeners to BBC Radio Scotland’s flagship "Sunday Show" that it was “straightforwardly false”. He said:

“This is the idea we should never have had the court case in the first place, that the SNP should have ignored its mandate and never have gone to the Supreme Court and asked the question. The headline is straightforwardly false. It is not unlawful for them to spend money on this, that is not how the Scotland Act works, and they would know that if they had asked any experts in law to resolve it as Aileen McHarg a professor at Durham University was pointing out on Twitter earlier today.”

Tickell, a lecturer in jurisprudence at Glasgow Caledonian University and a columnist in the National, added, sardonically:

“Their legal source for this story was Alex Cole-Hamiton, who doubtless has many merits but legal education is not particularly among them.” 

“Deeply unserious people”

Professor of Public Law and Human Rights, Durham University, an expert in Scots & UK public law, Aileen McHarg condemned the idea that money spent clarifying a point of law could be retrospectively ruled unlawful if he case was lost, tweeting that It: “only requires a moment's thought to know that it's a ludicrous position to adopt.

“This is a cheap line advanced by people who obviously don't expect that they will actually be in a position where they would have to try to govern under these conditions any time soon. Deeply unserious politicians. And, I might add, a press more interested in scandal-mongering than checking the accuracy of their stories. Also deeply unserious people.”

Later, the online headline and story appeared to be changed to “Spending public money building case for independence ‘may be illegal’” and the story was dropped from the ‘Scotland’ section of the online edition. 

Later in the week the Times carried the headline “Whitehall investigates independence planning by Scots civil service” saying that Sue Gray is to look into the role of civil servants in independence planning. Further down the article the story’s importance was diminished by the explanation that: “the talks…are not seen by Whitehall as a formal review that will lead to reports being published.”

The Times Scotland falls below standard of “newspaper of record” 

The Times Scotland has always been an anti-independence paper - but presents itself as a source of reliable information. Recently, it appears to have sunk to the level of a downmarket tabloid. The headline last weekend was politically biased and not worthy of a newspaper that presents itself as a “newspaper of record”.  

Times owner Rupert Murdoch predicted Scottish independence

For pragmatic reasons, the newspaper may eventually change its stance.  Back in 2015, its owner Rupert Murdoch  Scottish independence was inevitable. He tweeted: 

“Scots may be crazy or not wanting self rule, but who can deny right of self determination? Feels inevitable over next few years.”

The newspaper reported that the first poll conducted in the wake of the Supreme Court ruling showed voters who favoured independence rose to 49 percent, an increase of five points compared with its survey in September 2021. Unionist support fell by two points to 45 percent.

The report concluded:

“The poll mostly made happy reading for the first minister, who has said that she will run the SNP campaign at the next general election as a single issue “de facto referendum”. If pro-independence parties win more than 50 percent of the popular vote, Sturgeon would assume this to be a mandate to begin negotiations with Downing Street about breaking up the UK.”

If the Times wants to continue to expand its readership it will need to reach out to younger audiences who primarily support independence. 

Media Watch - Scotland's poorest students 50% more likely to get to University than in England

Scotland’s Unionist media used this week’s Higher results as an opportunity to attack Scotland’s education system.  They largely did not report that Scotland’s other widening access strategies mean that the percentage of students from the most deprived areas who attend university in Scotland is a whopping 50% higher than England’s. 

These numbers are rising to record-breaking highs for those from the poorest areas and have also risen in nursing - but while STV reported this, most media outlets ignored it, focusing on raw exam results, which showed the poorest students have suffered most from the pandemic. 

STV reported: “The number of 18-year-olds from the most deprived areas in Scotland being offered a place at university is at a record high, according to official statistics. UCAS data shows that the figure is up by 32% since 2019 – the last year there were exams. The figures indicate that the number of students accepting places to study nursing at Scottish providers also increased, up 17% to 2,940 compared to 2019.”

Scotland will likely improve on the tally of around 16% of students from deprived areas who have gone to Uni the last few years - while England’s 11% has been stagnant for some time. Will the UK government face the same hostile press as Scotland’s if it does not improve on this? 

Now it's not our job to defend the SNP but it is our job to fact-check Scotland's biased media. These are not just attacks on the SNP - they are effectively attacks on Scotland.  Newspapers such as The Mail, The Express and the Telegraph aim to put Scotland down - they would be just as negative about a Labour Government in Holyrood. Which makes it all the more embarrassing that Labour politicians play up to them and share the anti-Scottish headlines. 

Biased Headlines.

BBC’s Cook misses the massive attainment gap between Scotland and England

In a negative and political piece, BBC Scotland editor James Cook claimed to look at efforts to close the attainment gap asking

“So how is that going? Badly”. 

By confining the report to raw results without looking at how Scottish universities are working to contextualise them, Cook somehow missed the massive attainment gap between Scotland and England in this area. He was not alone. 

The Express reported

“Nicola Sturgeon's 'shame' as attainment gap widens on Higher and National 5 exam results day”. 

The Daily Telegraph 's Scotland edition read:

“Scotland’s poorest teenagers ‘betrayed’ by Nicola Sturgeon as exam pass rates plummet. ‘Badge of shame’ for First Minister as ‘chasm’ widens between the most disadvantaged and the wealthiest”

Covid impacts the raw exam results of the poorest students more

It is not surprising that the Covid lockdown impacted poorer students’ results more than the middle classes. It is easier to work from home if you have great Wifi, fresh fish for lunch and a well-off parent who doesn't work shifts at the other side of the kitchen table.  

Higher results showed worsening results for the poorest students since schools returned to formal exams. These will likely be echoed when A levels come out in a few weeks. But Scotland has successful policies in place to make it easier for those students to build on what they have managed and go on to achieve a degree. 

Scottish students don’t face backbreaking debt load if they choose to go to Uni

One major difference is that students from deprived backgrounds from Scotland who choose to study for a degree do not have to shoulder the load of debt that UK students do.  The repayment threshold in the UK will be cut from £27,295 to £25,000 for new “borrowers” starting courses from September 2023.

That means that comparatively low-earning UK graduates will lose 9 percent of everything they earn over the earning threshold for 40 years - a tax that the richest students will never have to pay because they can afford to clear the tuition fees upfront. 

That unfairness contributes to the reluctance of poorer students south of the border to aspire to a University degree. Evidence suggests that it is the poorest students who are most put off by this debt - they are aware of the difficulty a lower-paid person can have in clearing it. 

The Scottish tertiary education system provides ramps between different courses

Scottish Unis are encouraged to look at the context of a student’s educational background at every area and have made significant progress. Every Scottish university already takes context into account and there are moves for the sector to work more closely together on this. It is also relatively easy for Scottish students to move from an HNC at a local college into the third year of a degree course.


The problems of poverty are currently being worsened by the UK government’s appalling record on energy and the cost of living. That will impact many children. Who can learn when food and fuel is hard to come by? The cost of living crisis will impact many aspects of society including the attainment gap. 

There is a need for improvement in Scotland and more can be achieved, despite the huge constraints on what the Scottish government can do. However, any honest appraisal of Higher results should look at the wider education picture.

Scotland is already managing to do significantly better than England when it comes to the attainment gap. As an independent country, Scotland would have the levers to do even more. 

Further Reading
Scottish Funding Council report on widening access.

Why doesn’t BBC Scotland tell the truth about Brexit?

As evidence mounts that Brexit is playing a major part in the UK’s cost of living crisis, the national broadcaster appears to be avoiding reporting honestly on the subject. Why is this? One reason is that as Scotland moves towards an independence referendum, the issue of Brexit is particularly sensitive.

Scotland voted against Brexit - it was foisted upon us.  An independent Scotland would be able to rejoin the EU as an associate member immediately, and if the referendum is held in 2023, it could reasonably expect to be a full member by January 1, 2025. 

Every mention of Brexit damage is a boost for the Yes campaign - and presumably, this is one reason why the Unionist British Broadcasting Corporation goes to Orwellian lengths to avoid telling the truth about its contribution to UK inflation - in April they edited out the word “Brexit” in the middle of an interview with Scotland’s National Farming Union President Martin Kennedy. They then blamed tailbacks at Dover on holidaymakers not extra Brexit checks, and now inflation is being blamed on the Ukraine war not the post-Brexit slump in the British pound.

Bloomberg, the Financial Times and other international outlets report the Brexit effect

High-quality, independent news media outlets like Bloomberg and the FT report the UK has worse inflation than similar G7 countries. Since the Brexit vote the pound has slid against the dollar and that is leading to extra steep inflation. It is also weakening against the Euro and Bloomberg predicts a Euro will be worth 90p by the autumn. 

“Citigroup Inc, Bank of America Corp and Standard Bank all see the UK as an outlier in the developed world because of the economic damage wrought by the decision to cut ties with the European Union. Even as price pressures start to fade elsewhere, they say UK inflation will be higher-than-normal because of immigration controls and supply chain disruption.”

Bloomberg, June 22.

The Financial Times BIg Read a day earlier explored the negative consequences of leaving the EU on the shrinking economy, the falling pound and the flatlining investment curve.  It was headlined  "

The BBC appears unwilling to acknowledge what international outlets do

But the BBC seems unwilling to report this in the same way as these respected international sources. In a long item on BBC Scotland’s flagship “Good Morning Scotland” on June 22, for example, reporters discussed the effect of higher prices on Scots. That pattern was repeated in a report by the BBC’s economics editor Faisal Islam on the BBC News at Ten on June 20. Neither show reported the Brexit effect on inflation. 

Good Morning Scotland and other news shows such as “the Bottom Line” discuss the impact of higher costs on agriculture and food prices. They do not explain to viewers why items like oil, gas, diesel, fertiliser cost more for UK buyers.  Lower trust in sterling, lower trust in the UK's direction of travel means a pound buys less on the international markets. 

Food imported from Europe costs more

Imported food - fresh fruit, salad, pork, tomatoes, jam etc - which predominantly came from the EU, have experienced a substantial Brexit effect. Brexit increased average food prices by about 6 percent last year - and that is likely to increase.

The UK has the lowest growth in the G20  bar Russia - OECD

The UK’s inflation rate hit another 40-year high in May, reaching 9.1 percent, its highest level since 1982. The Bank of England expects the inflation rate to exceed 11 percent in October.

The UK is lagging behind the rest of the G7 in terms of trade recovery - business investment, trails other industrialised countries, in spite of Treasury tax breaks to try to drive it up. Next year, according to the OECD think-tank, the UK will have the lowest growth in the G20, apart from sanctioned Russia. 

Brexit has shrunk the UK economy by £100bn a year

The Office for Budget Responsibility first predicted in March 2020, that Brexit would reduce productivity and UK gross domestic product by 4 percent compared with a world where the country remained inside the EU. It says that a little over half of that damage has yet to occur. 

That level of decline, worth about £100bn a year in lost output, means lost revenues for the Treasury of roughly £40bn a year. That money might have enabled them to inflation-proof the Scottish budget - the money “gifted” to Holyrood by Westminster which is being slashed in real terms by inflation, despite the Treasury pulling in extra billions through a windfall tax on Scotland's assets.

Sterling fell 10 percent after the Brexit referendum

Sterling fell almost 10 percent after the Brexit referendum in June 2016, against currencies that match the UK’s pattern of imports. It did not recover. This sharp depreciation was not followed by a boom in exports as UK goods and services became cheaper on global markets, but it did raise the price of imports and pushed up inflation. 

While the UK was still in the EU and during the Brexit “transition phase”, there were no significant effects on trade flows. But this has changed since stricter border controls were introduced at the start of 2021, imposing no tariffs, but significant checks and controls at the formerly frictionless border. 

Scotland makes a third of the UK”s food and drink exports so it takes the hardest hit

Scotland accounts for a third of the UK”s food and drink exports and many smaller Scottish businesses are struggling to absorb the extra costs of the non-tariff barriers. Many have stopped exporting to the EU completely. The Scottish economy is now trailing behind Northern Ireland which benefits from the protocol, which keeps a door open to the EU single market.

But BBC Scotland is failing to report the effect of Brexit on Scotland’s economy, which is worsening over time.  

The UK’s threat to rip up the Northern Ireland protocol means Scotland's universities have now been excluded from the world’s biggest science funding stream, Horizon, losing one billion Euros and the international prestige that would have brought. BBC Scotland has failed to cover this issue. 

The Scottish Highlands and Islands were particularly dependent on summer workers from EU countries. Summer visitors will notice the lack of facilities due to shortage of seasonal workers. That means those businesses will pay less in taxes. Farmers chose to plant less this year and that will lead to higher prices for food. But BBC Scotland has largely ignored the Brexit effect on agriculture. 

Is the BBC taking an anti-independence stance?

The BBC is a UK institution, at its core the BBC doesn't want change. It has now institutionally accepted Brexit and therefore despite Brexit being the foundation for mass inflation, disruption at ports and airports and loss of economic growth the BBC ignores it as "not news". The BBC is a very top-down organisation run from London - journalists who try to discuss the Brexit effect will soon be sidelined. People who want to get promoted try to please the bosses - and that means not using the B word. 

The issue is particularly sensitive in a Scottish context. Brexit was forced on Scotland without consent or even consultation. BBC Scotland now seems desperate to avoid acknowledging what international publications like Bloomberg and the Financial Times regularly admit - that Brexit is playing a major role in driving inflation. Is the BBC’s reluctance to report the truth about Brexit also motivated by concerns it will feed into support for independence?

Old chestnuts from the New Statesman

The New Statesman is as Unionist as any publication in Britain despite its left-wing image. That stance is evident in articles about both Scotland and Northern Ireland.

A recent issue saw the nightmarish prospect of nuclear attack by Russia in terms of the UK”s constitutional question. It argued that Scots would not wish to become independent if it meant getting rid of Trident.  Andrew Marr, now able to take a more explicitly Unionist stance having left the BBC, wrote:

“Putin didn’t start a war to damage the SNP, but that’s what he’s doing.” 

Marr did not consider whether Putin’s current nuclear threats actually do the opposite - by suggesting that the doctrine of MAD - Mutually Assured Destruction - may not be as reliable a way of averting nuclear war as had been hoped. That makes the “nuclear umbrella’ an outdated concept. 

Marr claimed the Ukraine war means the Scottish independence movement risks:

“subsiding into a normal, social-democratic managerial machine in decline, just like the Parti Québécois after it lost its independence referendums.”

Marr didn’t mention the many differences between Quebec and Scotland.  Quebec’s independence movement is based on a particular ethnic identity and language. Canada’s response was also unlike the UK”s. Quebec has the right to call an independence referendum if it ever wishes to do so; it controls immigration, social security and administers more of the public spending budget than the central Government does. Quebec’s Parliament is consulted over international trade deals. Canada also has more claim to be a democracy than the UK. An increasingly sore point for Scotland is the 800-seat member House of Lords where Evgeny Lebedev and Malcolm Offord have more right to rule over Scotland than anybody elected in Scotland. Canada in contrast has a Senate with just 105 seats,  appointed on a geographical basis - Quebec has 24 Senators. 

On Labour’s performance in the council elections, in the current issue, Chris Deerin comments:

“Scottish democracy would undoubtedly benefit from a better and stronger challenge to the dominant, overweening nationalist machine, and closer political competition.”

Those who vote for Scottish independence-supporting parties don’t see it that way. In fact, since Brexit, a series of acts such as the internal Markets Act, the Nationality and Borders Bill and the Electoral Reform Act have been pushed through without Holyrood’s consent. These all threaten Scotland’s devolution settlement - which was supported by 75% of the electorate in 1997. Independence is the only way to confirm the rights of Scotland’s elected Parliament. 

Northern Ireland gets the same treatment. In a profile piece on Michelle O’Neill, the New Statesman writer Martin Fletcher quoted the Daily Mail which dubbed her:

“the beauty from a family drenched in blood,”

referring to Republican sympathisers in her family.  The piece was a cuttings job without insight. Most of it seemed lifted from a piece in the Sunday Times that attracted criticism for its focus on O’Neill’s teenage pregnancy with the sexist headline “from pregnant schoolgirl to Northern Ireland’s next leader”. (The headline has been changed on line but still appears in the URL)

In the April 27 issue, Fletcher introduces a piece entitled ‘Is a United Ireland now inevitable’  by remarking “It is a far cry from the last time I was here. That was in July 1998,”- therefore perhaps, he is not well qualified to opine on the province’s future?  

The New Statesman looks at Northern Ireland through an anglocentric, Unionist lens, much as it does Scotland. Fletcher concludes his piece with a string of wizened chestnuts:

“I have a great affection for Northern Ireland and its people. My family and I spent two happy years in the province in the late 1990s. But, as I return to London, I recall Reginald Maudling’s famous comment as the home secretary flew back from his first visit in 1970: “For God’s sake, bring me a large Scotch. What a bloody awful country.” Or Winston Churchill’s after the First World War: “The whole map of Europe has been changed… but as the deluge subsides and the waters fall short we see the dreary steeples of Fermanagh and Tyrone emerging once again.” 

Fletcher uncritically reports the DUP’s analysis that: ”The UK is the world’s fifth-largest economy. It gives Northern Ireland up to £15bn a year, access to the NHS and a welfare state.” All of that is disputed - many argue that Northern Ireland’s potential has been wasted and its economy ill-served by British rule.

Fletcher does not consider the fact that unification would be likely to trigger large-scale investment in Northern Ireland from both the EU and the USA. The EU invested heavily in supporting Germany’s unification process. The USA’s Irish diaspora would be keen to see new Ireland make it. This investment could help unleash Northern Ireland’s huge productivity and development potential. 

For many who support independence, there is much to celebrate in the prospect of a new future for the islands of the British archipelago where independence for Scotland and Wales and possible unification in Ireland will bring democracy. 

Scottish election results treated as an afterthought by UK broadcasters

There is no dedicated TV show to focus on Scotland’s detailed election results they come out today. Scotland’s council voting is on the Single Transferable Vote which is more complicated to count. That is one reason why the decision was taken to do it in day-time rather than through the night. 

Watching votes being counted, seeing the results announced live, hearing them analysed by people who have insight into the process builds trust in democracy. It is a vital role for a national broadcaster. 

Yet, the BBC’s national results show on BBC Two finishes just when the Scottish results start coming out.

On Radio Four’s supposedly UK-wide news show Today, the new political editor Chris Mason was urged to get some sleep before Any Questions this evening - no mention was made of the importance of recording and discussing the results from the devolved nations as they emerge this afternoon. 

Some people took to social media to voice their disgust. Former Labour voter and SNP supporter William Irvine tweeted his disappointment with the BBC’s efforts: “On BBC One Scotland now they are showing the same crap programmes. On BBC Alba-  nothing. BBC Scotland - nothing. Three channels and not one has a Scottish council election special on them, everything going through BBC England.”

Channel Four,  Sky cover Scotland like a foreign country - STV shows load of old cobblers

Channel Four will be showing Countdown, as usual. Despite its claim to be less Londoncentric than other UK broadcasters, it spends 4% of its budget in Scotland, and has one news correspondent. It employs more staff in Vietnam than Scotland.

STV is showing an antiques show and two quizzes this afternoon. Sky has a rolling news channel and will no doubt scroll Scottish results across the bottom of the screen - but they have one Scottish correspondent and cover Scotland like a foreign country. Everything will be filtered through London - where many commentators are unfamiliar with the Scottish scene and do not appear to understand proportional representation. 

There may be some newspapers who offer a bit of coverage on YouTube - but, unlike the English, Scots won’t have the privilege of seeing their democratic results taken seriously, discussed and analysed by experienced commentators who can grasp underlying trends and put the results in historical context.  

Refugees voted - and canvassers joined in a successful protest to stop a deportation

There are unique features of the Scottish election - for instance, refugees were able to vote many for the first time. In an extraordinary protest in Edinburgh yesterday, many people involved in local elections stopped their canvassing to participate in an intervention where a crowd formed to prevent Home Office officials deporting someone from a local restaurant. 

Chief Exec of Scotland’s refugee council Sabir Zazai tweeted: “Tonight I am even prouder of a big decision I made 5 years ago today to move to #Scotland. Today #refugees voted in #LocalElections for the 1st time and a Home Office enforcement van was sent empty, thanks to #NicolsonSquare protest. Couldn't have wished for a better anniversary.”

The London Bureau Chief of German TV station ARD Annette Dittert commented: “They did it again. Scotland is quite something,” with video footage of the crowd. The demonstration was not covered on the evening TV news in the UK.

Other unique features of the Scottish election are that 16 and 17-year-olds were able to vote, as they are in Wales. 

Another feature of the STV system that Scotland uses in local elections is that it is more likely to lead to coalition councils, because it is a proportional representation system which tries to reflect the preferences of the electorate in a fairer way.

Boris Johnson will carry on regardless - Scotland doesn't count

Scotland is likely to elect a large majority of independence supporting councillors. And when the results are assessed on a national basis, Boris Johnson’s party is likely to slide into third place north of the border. But these results will have no effect. Senior Conservatives have already proclaimed that Boris Johnson will survive as leader, after the party performed better than expected in England. 

The UK’s London-centric politicians and media groups have united to disparage Scottish independence supporters, proclaiming that the war in Ukraine makes a referendum impossible. They do not want to know about the growing anger in Scotland and so prefer to ignore it. Scotland’s results will be given an item on the evening news, and then dismissed. 

Scotland’s sense of engagement and interest in the results of its democratic election could be damped by the feeling that it is being relegated to an afterthought.  A strong democracy should be accessible, transparent and accountable to the public. The lack of coverage and analysis on mainstream TV on our democratic systems contributes to Scotland's democratic deficit.

There are many Scots who distrust the robust voting system we have, but that trust could be renewed by being able to see more of the process. Mainstream TV coverage is a vital access point.

Another experience of having to accept this treatment from anglocentric broadcasting organisations that don’t understand Scotland’s needs will likely feed into a desire for independence. The sooner broadcasting is regulated by Scotland's democratically elected Parliament the better. 

Conservative northern branch, Zero to offer Scotland

Murdo Fraser accuses the Scottish Government of being a Potemkin Government but the increasingly Scotiaphobic Tory northern branch has nothing to offer Scotland. Scottish voters know it and Murdo knows it, which is why he was silent about his own party’s record in government. 

Just three months ago the Conservative northern branch leader Douglas Ross won some plaudits calling for Johnson’s resignation for attending boozy parties while the rest of the country was in lockdown and in February Tory MSP Russell Findlay was too busy painting his bathroom to meet the PM on his furtive foray into Fife. A recent poll shows that even Labour’s moribound northern branch has overtaken the Tories.

Now with the war in Ukraine muting rebelliousness in northern branch ranks, Murdo is hanging his party's meagre hopes on a depressed local election turnout in May, which underscores its vacuousness.

After 12 years of a UK Conservative government, the wreckage is pervasive. Public services have been starved of funding, poverty and inequality have risen, and the English NHS is being privatised by stealth, with Scotland’s next in line. The UK’s Covid death rate is among the highest in Europe, government corruption is rife and ministers routinely flout the law.

Then there’s Brexit, a disastrous own goal that will depress GDP by 4%, inflicting twice the damage done by Covid. UK economic growth lags behind Germany, France, Spain and Italy. Between 2019 and 2022, trade with Germany crashed 18%, and Germany’s exports to the UK are down nearly a quarter. The UK’s investment attractiveness took a 17% hit in 2020/21. Foreign investment in strategic growth sectors like software fell by a third while advanced engineering, the environment, infrastructure and transport plunged 25%.

Scotland’s export driven economy has lost billions. The Australia and New Zealand trade deals negotiated by the UK Government give beef and lamb exporters with lower costs and animal welfare standards unfettered access to the UK market, undercutting Scottish farmers, crofters and food producers. Exports of Scottish whisky and salmon are significantly down since 2019. For the first time since 1997, the UK now spends more on importing goods from the rest of the world than it does from the EU.

Inflation is at a 30-year high, interest rates and regressive taxes are up, National Insurance rates have risen punishing the working and not the wealthy and Sunak’s spring statement did nothing to alleviate the suffering of millions. Safe from a windfall tax, private energy companies profiteer while Scottish renewables producers’ pay ten times in grid connection charges than their southern counterparts and Scottish consumers pay among the highest electricity standing charges in the UK, an absurdity given Scotland’s status as a net energy exporter.

What Murdo Fraser fails to understand is that an independent Scotland won’t be dominated by a single political party, there will even probably be a true Scottish Conservative party to replace the London led unionist tory party and there will be several other parties to better reflect the nation’s political diversity. The difference is they will represent Scotland’s interests, not those of another country but that probably does mean there will be no room for politicians such as Fraser. 

Scottish TV industry should double following independence

The UK Government's plans to sell off Channel Four, alongside regular hints that they want to scrap the BBC licence fee, reveal their unwillingness to support the idea of public service broadcasting.  It also exposes Scotland’s marginal status and lack of decision-making power when it comes to how public sector broadcasting is regulated and funded. 

Programme-makers like Alan Clements of Two Rivers Media and Dorothy Byrne have said selling C4 will damage Scotland’s independent production sector. However, Scotland gets only 4% of C4’s spending and it has a much weaker television industry than most similar-sized EU countries. 

An independent Scotland would be in a much stronger position to support public service broadcasting. An overwhelming majority of Scots (75%) according to a recent poll would like to see power over broadcasting move from Westminster to the Scottish Government.

C4 Spends A Smaller Proportion of its Production Budget in Scotland than even the BBC

Channel Four may be widely respected for its nightly news, but actually spends a far smaller percentage of its content budget in Scotland than the BBC does - less than 4% in 2020, half a UK population share. The BBC spent 6.5% of its production budget in Scotland in 2020 and was still criticised for failing to meet its charter obligation to spend 8%. 

C4’s news team has won plaudits for robust questioning of Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries over Partygate, replacing Boris Johnson with an ice sculpture at a climate debate and so. But they have little presence in Scotland - covering it like a foreign country with just one Scotland Correspondent Ciaran Jenkins. No other member of the news team is based in Scotland, according to the C4 website

More C4 Employees Live in Vietnam than in Scotland

According to LinkedIn, more C4 employees live in Vietnam than in Scotland. Also according to LinkedIn, only about 3% of C4 employees graduated from Scottish universities. C4 has committed to spending half its production budget outside the M25 next year, but more than half of its 1,700 UK employees still live in London. Of the 57 job opportunities it currently lists, the vast majority are in London with a handful in Leeds. None is in Scotland. 

C4 doesn’t make any specific Scottish content - the best-known show produced in Glasgow is Location, Location, Location. But it did open a Creative Hub in Glasgow in 2019 and the £19 million it spent on content in Scotland in 2020, despite being a small part of the £550 million total, was nevertheless important funding for production companies in the city. 

Channel Four actually makes much specifically “British” content - for example, the Great British Bake Off (although that show was criticised for lacking a Scottish contestant last series), The Great British Dig, The Great British Truck Up, The Great British School Swap, Great British History Hunters etc. Arguably, in an age where the sense of Britishness appears in decline, C4 is an important engine of Unionist cultural identity. 

Rethinking How Broadcasting is Funded

An independent Scotland would be in a position to rethink how public service broadcasting is regulated, funded and supported. It could consider creative suggestions, such as replacing the licence fee with a universal broadband package which could include funding for content production. 

Scotland possesses a much smaller broadcasting base than most EU countries.  All the Scandinavian countries have thriving broadcasting sectors. The largest is the Norwegian which turns over more than 600 million Euros annually. It was formerly funded by a licence fee but in 2020 that changed to funding through general taxation. 

Denmark is introducing a Netflix tax, mandating that 5% of turnover is re-invested in Danish content and that the streaming service provides insight into how its algorithms serve up suggestions.  In France, rules that gave producers rights over TV shows have been extended to streaming services and companies like Netflix are being forced to invest 20% of turnover back into French content. 

France gives independent producers rights - and companies must reinvest 

The FT reported that Call My Agent (Dix pour cent) was first commissioned and financed in France under a regime where producer rights for traditional television were protected by law. This meant ownership of the show eventually returned to its producers — in contrast to most Netflix originals.  After years of heavy lobbying from producers, France extended the Call My Agent model from traditional television to global streaming services, bolstering local producers who want to retain rights to their work. 

Using powers under an EU directive adopted in 2018, France has required big global platforms to invest at least 20 percent of their French turnover in European productions. As a result Netflix, Amazon and Disney have in total committed to invest at least €250mn in France every year from 2022. Furthermore, 85 percent of those productions must be in the French language — and most must be “independent” works where producers retain rights.

French public sector broadcasting is currently funded by a licence fee - and a debate about its future is part of the current election campaign with President Emmanuel Macron promising to scrap it if elected in order to help with the cost of living squeeze. There is no clarity over how this would be replaced. 

Wales of course, has SC4, a national Welsh-language channel that was launched at the same time as C4 in response to widespread direct action by Welsh protestors who occupied TV studios, picketed and refused to pay the licence fee.  It was originally funded by the Department of Culture but that has now been transferred to the BBC.

Scots producers and viewers rely on scraps from UK companies

At the moment, the Scottish Government has no say over how broadcasting is funded, regulated or supported. Scotland must rely on scraps from the UK broadcasters who spend less than a population share of independent production north of the border. They also have often been guilty of a London-centric perspective which has often failed to serve Scotland.  

During the 2014 independence referendum, crowds of protestors gathered outside Pacific Quay to protest BBC bias against the case for Scottish independence. Channel Four was not subject to those kinds of protests - but it did not produce much coverage.

Veteran BBC journalist Alan Little has reflected on the ignorance of London-based BBC decision-makers about Scottish affairs and the assumption many of them made that the “Yes” side was chippy, foolish or simply wrong in 2014. In the next independence referendum, Scots will probably have to share less well-funded content on social media rather than rely on broadcasters. 

It’s is not unreasonable to suggest that after independence the TV broadcasting sector in Scotland should at least double in size and become a strong pillar of a dynamic Scottish culture.