Last night we ran a piece about a story in last week’s Daily Record in which a Scottish Labour official was given free rein to make an extended political attack on the SNP in the guise of a “business student” from the University of the West of Scotland, without his Labour identity being revealed, on the flimsy basis of a petition about college cuts with a few hundred signatures.
As it happens, another UWS student also has a petition doing the rounds at the moment. But it got treated rather differently by the Scottish press.
John Beattie is a PhD student and community activist from Govan, an SNP voter who was also involved in the Yes movement. A petition he organised demanding the new Southern General Hospital in Glasgow revert to its original name (having subsequently been renamed the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital) recently made the news and has so far gathered almost 12,000 signatures.
But it was a different petition from the same author that caught the Scotsman’s eye. Published on the Scottish Government website, it calls for a direct funding boost for foodbanks, to be provided either from the government’s 2014 underspend or from a 1p increase in income tax. (At the time of writing it’s had 120 signatures.)
Scotsman journalist Shan Ross rang Beattie to ask him about the petition, telling him “that she had previously covered stories on foodbanks and that it was something she personally thought was very important”.
But when the article appeared in print, it focused instead on a couple of mild critical comments it had attracted from SNP supporters who felt (ironically, as it would turn out) that it gave Unionists a stick to beat the party with.
We spoke to John Beattie, who told us:
“I was asked what the reaction to my petition had been. I said mainly positive but I did get backlash from SNP supporters. She asked for some examples and I gave them. Next thing I know this is the main emphasis of the story.
The story didn’t even mention the details of my petition, nor anything about the difficulty accessing and signing petitions nor did it even tell people the title of it or where they could find it.
I got very angry and emailed the Scotsman’s editors, deputy editors and news desk. Unsurprisingly, I have not yet received a reply. I feel I have been deceived.”
The letter he sent the Scotsman is below:
I am writing to you in regards to an article in today’s Scotsman containing myself and my food bank petition.
I feel very let down by this article. When I was first contacted, I was led to believe the content of my petition would be the main emphasis of the story.
One of the questions I was asked was about the reaction to my petition, which I said it had generally been positive but I did receive backlash from SNP supporters and when asked, I gave a few examples of this.
This seems to have been rather naive of me and in no way did I think this would be the main emphasis of the story. I feel betrayed and let down by this.
I did not think for a second the whole story would be twisted in the manner it was. I anticipated there would be some backlash to my petition and I’m big and ugly enough to deal with that. But I was led to believe the story would focus on the difficulty people have signing petitions on the Scottish Parliament website and the problem this causes for many people.
I feel you have taken my story and unfairly and unjustly twisted it in a particular manner which has not done my petition any good at all. The article barely even mentions the details of my petition nor does it even promote it.
I want this article taken down with immediate effect.
I look forward to hearing from you
The contrast between the Scottish media’s treatment of the two petitions is striking.
One was created for the purposes of bashing the SNP by a Scottish Labour official, whose party affiliation was concealed and who was allowed to fulminate at length without any counterquote from the other side. The other, whose purpose was to raise funding for starving people and was in no way party political, was sidelined in favour of an absurdly overblown attack on “cybernats”.
We’d be pretty upset if we were John Beattie too. Indeed, we know just how he feels – last year we were forced to threaten legal action against the same newspaper for similarly distorted reporting, eventually securing compensation of over £6000.
It’d be a nice gesture if the Scotsman were to make a donation to the Glasgow South West foodbank by way of apology for the shameful way it’s treated John Beattie. But we wouldn’t advise its volunteers to hold their breath.