During last month’s independence march and rally in Edinburgh we were outdoors, marching and rallying. (Duh.) So we obviously didn’t catch the teatime news, and when we got home we were intrigued to hear tales of some strange goings-on on BBC Scotland’s six o’clock TV bulletin.
The footage didn’t reappear on any later shows, so for several days we scoured the iPlayer, which had archived just about every news programme broadcast anywhere in Britain except that one. It never did show up, and it’s only thanks to the hard work of an alert reader that we’ve finally been able to get hold of it.
It’s well worth a view.
The bizarre part starts 54 seconds in, when the BBC leaves Calton Hill and moves to an unspecified location in “another part of the capital”. In an otherwise completely deserted street, four people in the space of nine seconds march very briskly and directly towards a “Better Together” activist and take leaflets from him.
(Someone else just out of shot appears to be blocking the way and guiding them towards the leafleter, but nobody chooses to go round the other side.)
These members of the public conveniently make up a box-ticking demographic mix of two men, two women, various ages and ethnic minority representation. Nobody else is visible for 200-300 yards down the street, with everyone in the vicinity who’s alive and awake apparently concentrated in a few feet of pavement.
Anyone who’s ever done any leafleting in the street for any cause or purpose will be marvelling at this level of public engagement. (We were out a couple of weeks ago in a nearby town where a gang of Mars representatives were handing out free full-size bars of Galaxy chocolate and they still couldn’t get 100% of any group of people to come near them.) It was an impressive performance.
But on watching it several times we can’t shake the feeling that a performance is exactly what it was – a setup faked for the cameras, in which the state broadcaster must have colluded. The interview with a Labour MP afterwards sees the street continue to be totally empty of anyone but activists, bar one woman leaving a paper shop who seems oddly less keen to meet and greet our happy band of No campers.
(In fact, we see more “Better Together” activists than ordinary citizens of Edinburgh. There were at least seven No campaigners there, not including Ms Gilmore.)
So just to lay our doubtless-unwarranted cynicism to rest, we thought we’d double-check and see if any of you recognised any of these random members of the public. It’s not overly paranoid – “Better Together” has something of a history of presenting political activists as ordinary people when it’s making propaganda.
“Stephen from Edinburgh” on those links is in fact Stephen Donnelly, chair of Scottish Labour Students and a keen No activist, a fact BT never quite gets round to identifying.
(Which is a bit ironic given the big hypocritical fuss they make about other people allegedly pretending to be something they’re not, but that’s another matter.)
So do let us know if any of these faces rings a similar bell, just so we can definitively eliminate once and for all any thoughts that the BBC might have been collaborating with the No camp in faking and broadcasting misleading stunt footage.
Because that wouldn’t be acceptable, would it?