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The squeaky wheel gets the grease

Posted on May 08, 2012 by

It’s been interesting to watch how the mainstream media position on last week’s council elections has shifted over the last couple of days. The instant narrative was that of a huge victory for Labour and disappointment for the SNP, as noticed by Mark MacLachlan over on The Universality Of Cheese. All the papers proclaimed Labour’s holding of Glasgow as the key story of the day (reducing the rest of Scotland to the catch-all “elsewhere“), and contrasted it with the SNP’s underachievement, despite that even on Friday it was apparent that the nationalists had won majorities in two councils and increased its total number of councillors significantly.

Most of the media chose to run with a set of misleading figures first produced (we think) by the BBC, which showed that Labour had made the most gains, and by Saturday that spin had turned into outright lying. A fascinating piece on Newsnet Scotland revealed that the BBC’s figures ran contrary to the Corporation’s own official guidelines on how election results should be reported.

Over the weekend, angry nationalists kicked up a loud fuss over such chicanery (though in fact, this blog had called it around Friday teatime), and as a result subsequent coverage of the elections has adopted a markedly different tone. Even the Scotsman was forced to admit, albeit extremely grudgingly and piling on caveats, that in fact the SNP had won the popular vote for the first time ever. Over in the Herald, meanwhile, Iain Macwhirter performed a remarkable 24-hour “reverse ferret”. First the commentator penned a Friday column headlined “SNP in a spin” and talking of Alex Salmond’s party suffering “a huge psychological blow”. The very next day, though, another Macwhirter column, headedThe SNP won it“, included this line:

“the local elections were in no way a disaster, or even a setback for the SNP”

The second column explicitly (if grumpily) noted the angry nationalist reaction to the previous day’s print and broadcast coverage. For all the opprobrium so often directed at the “cybernats”, it’s hard to dispute their influence in keeping an unwilling and hostile media at least partly honest. By swiftly disseminating accurate counterpoints to Unionist spin, they make it far harder for that spin to maintain traction.

(And as an aside, Newsnight Scotland viewers will also have noticed that the BBC has very recently started introducing regular commentator Lorraine Davidson as a former Labour spin doctor, in the same way it’s always done with former SNP adviser Ewan Crawford but never previously did for pundits with Labour connections.)

An excellent analysis by Gerry Hassan yesterday reveals the final reality of Thursday’s results. Not only did the SNP win the popular vote for the first time and gain more seats than Labour, it increased its share of the vote by 7.1% to Labour’s 4.6%, thereby enjoying a swing from Labour to SNP of around 1.3%.

And even in Glasgow – scene of Labour’s great triumph – the truth turned out to be that the party had shed a whopping 14,000 votes in the low turnout, while the SNP managed to gain just shy of 800. (2007 results, 2012.) In other words, Labour’s great Glasgow “fightback” actually saw it losing nearly a fifth of its core vote in the city, while the SNP increased its support despite the much lower number of people voting overall. In the cold light of day after Labour’s hasty victory party, we suspect it will be looking at that alarming crumbling of its heartland through much more sober eyes.

Without the SNP’s army of online activists, it’s highly unlikely that such information would ever reach the public. But by making a loud noise, they make it impossible for the mainstream media to speak to the masses over their heads. And for that reason, as the focus of Scottish politics turns fully to the independence referendum, this blog suspects the nationalist juggernaut isn’t lying in a ditch yet by a long chalk.

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  1. 09 05 12 11:47

    So Who Won? | laidbackviews

23 to “The squeaky wheel gets the grease”

  1. Barbarian

    The anger at the figures was justified, and I think the Burd was quickest off the mark (and with the perfect descriptive as well!). The Guardian website was even more confusing although I think it was more accurate.

    But too many nationalist blogs are making out that it was a disaster for Labour. It wasn’t. The SNP did not make the expected inroads into the Labour vote. I honestly expected Glasgow to go to the SNP. Despite the volume losses, Labour’s votecount basically held up.

    The nationalist juggernaut hasn’t crashed, but it is on cruise control when it should be accelerating. And this with an opposition akin to the Keystone Kops Traffic Division.


  2. pistonbroke

    excellent ! excellent ! excellent !

  3. Rev. Stuart Campbell

    “But too many nationalist blogs are making out that it was a disaster for Labour.”

    Got any examples? I haven’t seen a single one calling it a “disaster” or anything remotely close to it. It was clearly a good result for Labour – as you note, if nothing else, they seem to have slowed the SNP’s momentum, if not quite stopped it.

    As I said before the election, though, anyone expecting the SNP to win Glasgow, or even be the biggest party, this time round was mental. Depriving Labour of a majority was the absolute MOST they could have hoped for, and while they’ll be disappointed not to have pulled that off, they made tangible and not-insubstantial progress.

  4. Rev. Stuart Campbell


    “The anger at the figures was justified, and I think the Burd was quickest off the mark”

    Nope, we were.

  5. Arbroath1320

    I think the behaviour of the MSM, in particular everybody’s favourite’s broadcaster the BBC, has proven beyond any doubt that there is only one way of reporting political news, at all costs increase the good news for the unionist parties and decrease the good news for the Independence leaning parties.
    Any one from outside these isles would have thought that the SNP were in deep deep trouble, politically speaking. That is if they actually read any print media or broadcast media over the weekend. However, as mentioned in Rev Stu’s article something rather strange happened. If “our visitor from outside these isles” returned to Scotland on Monday they would surely be left thinking that somehow another election had taken place.
    As others have pointed out the impression of another election is due, no doubt in no small part, to the humongous outcry by SNP supporters and others around the country. This is the first time I can remember where the print media has gone with one version of a political election story only to change their view within 24/48 hours. I think this is about the clearest indication possible that the print media do appear to adopt an entirely lazy approach when reporting on elections. Perhaps in future the print media should do their own donkey work and stop relying on the BBC for their detailed information.
    Following this fiasco of the BBC misinforming and misleading not just the public but now, as is apparent, the media I think the time is getting ever closer when there will be outright country wide protest against the BBC and its unmistakable pre-ordained agenda of “Scotland shall always remain within the U.K.”, or put another way “Thou shalst never become Independent!”
    The first of these protests is about to take place. Obviously there is no better place to kick off a protest against the BBC than their H.Q. and so on May 25th there is to a protest against the BBC at Pacific Quay. Of course being the quiet, silent type I like to keep this sort of news to myself so I’ve only told one or two people…W.o.S., Russia Today, Al Jazeera………:D
    I would urge anyone who is within shouting distance of Pacific Quay to give this protest a bit of serious consideration and go along to support what is in my view a worthy cause. Hell if R.T. and Al Jazeera take my e-mails seriously enough who knows you might end up with some International recognition! 😀
    Here’s a link to the protest facebook page.

    Oops! sorry folks didn’t mean to rant on for so long. 😀

  6. Suth

    Labour could have put a video on TV of them trampling over a road paved with live babies and people would still have gone out in droves to vote for them, especially with a Tory-Lib coalition government. If Labour really did badly it would have been astonishing in that ideal scenario for them. I and pretty much anyone else was expecting them to get some good news. Other than media hype I didn’t see any of the worthwhile bloggers (or presonally meet anyone who understands the politics) seriously suggest that Glasgow would go SNP in the relative blink of an eye, one election to the next. Making the inroads they did was more than good enough and the direction they need. It was obvious it would take some time (and more than one election) to slowly move in, not unlike their Hollyrood success.
    On the up side it will hopefully mean Lamont will stay in charge. Couldn’t ask for better leadership of your opposition than that. Not sure if the others who didn’t come away with something to show for it will be so secure now.
    Glad to see people are getting quicker to spot and then shout out about errors or deliberate falsehoods in the media. The public is learning.

  7. Dál Riata

    @ Barbarian

    You talk of “… an opposition akin to the Keystone Kops Traffic Division.”  – a fair enough analogy!

    But you fail to mention what that opposition has in its favour – the entire MSM, both print and broadcast.

    Do you honestly believe that Labour’s vote would have, as you say, “held up” as it did if the tables had been turned and the MSM had done all it could to disparage Labour, and especially its leader in Scotland, Johann Lamont for days, if not weeks, before the voting took place?

    I cannot remember seeing a “Lamont Accused…” headline during the build up to the council elections, or anything at all really that smeared or vilified her or her party. Compare and contrast with Alex Salmond and the SNP …

    The fight for independence will, in all honesty, be a fight against the MSM in the UK – from Scotland, and especially that from London.

    The MSM still has an amazing power in the UK to shape, manipulate and form opinion and many people, if not the majority – particularly within the older demographic – still rely on it for their source of ‘news’.

    The print media is somewhat easier to repudiate as they are being forced to move online where their agendas can be dissected by websites such as this, bloggers, social media, and even on their own websites if (and it can be a big ‘if’!) they allow comments to stand BTL from contributors. 

    The real power for political persuasion, though, is from the broadcast media, as our ‘friends’ at the BBC know only too well! How to counteract this in a really meaningful way has, as yet, not been definitively recognized. That is where the pro-Unionists have a great advantage – so far. With two-and-a-half years to go before the independence vote, finding a method to counteract the bias at organizations such as the BBC is crucial. 

    It will be one hell of a scrap. Just think of it as all the bullies in the one area ganging up to try and beat down the little guy who has the audacity to want to –  and knows they actually can if given the chance – stand up for themselves.

    Fair? Of course not. But a fight against the odds can bring out the best in people – that’s when the true heroes come to the fore. Scotland has had plenty of them before and more will appear between now and Voting Day, 2014. Through adversity comes triumph.   

  8. Colin Dunn

    Dal Riata says:
    “The fight for independence will, in all honesty, be a fight against the MSM in the UK – from Scotland, and especially that from London.”

    Nail on head. 

  9. Macart


    Yer a wee mixer! 😀  But yer not wrong.

    The media coverage for independence and the SNP has been awful, but the past three weeks has been vile. No more hypocritical horseshit from the apologists, the UK media is politically biased, directed and motivated. Yet we are asked to apologise for setting up independence led websites and blogs????? The amount of poo we’ve had chucked at us over the past year could feed the roses at the botanic gardens for the next decade. They need to get used to it, we’re here for the duration. 🙂    

  10. rableather

    Do you really think we have it licked? Sorry I cant see it myself. Next time something happns there will be the media Labour hype, calming down later when folk have lost interest in the stories and only the die hards remain.  

    When standing at the polls last Thursday the Labour Cllr remarked that FB and Twitter have a lot to answer for. I suppose he was refering obliquely to the Mr Salmond Snr comment, but i have a real bee in my bonnet about this and informed him the reason Cybernats were so hated was because for the first time we have a voice and you are not used to it. He mumbled something under his breath and walked away from me. 

    No social media may change governments and cause revolution but I dont see it changing the establishment press. 

    IMHO (-; 

  11. mato21


                  Have you got the date of the protest right? I thought it was 26th 

  12. Barbarian

    Sorry Rev, I thought Burd was first. Let’s not start a war!

    Erm, NNS is making this a disaster for Labour, but that is no great surprise.

    Dal, the SNP does have the Sun on its side, and Joan McAlpine’s column in the DR. But the SNP have to take responsibility rather than blaming everyone else all the time. This constant attack on the BBC is achieving nothing. OK, they screwed up the election figures. But be honest, how many people really pay attention to the results? Only 30% voted in the first place. But remove the BBC, and you will have the Scottish version of Fox News.              

  13. Angus McLellan

    @Barbarian: STV aren’t quite Fox News. Sky News is nothing at all like it either.
    But why would there be no public service broadcaster? Commercial broadcasters have a legitimate gripe with the BBC size and scope, not with its existence. Are – looking at BBC1 yesterday – East Enders, Silent Witness and the Graham Norton Show really what public service broadcaster should be doing?

  14. Arbroath1320

    mato 21, you’re correct it IS the 26th. I knew what I meant! 😀
    Thanks for the heads up about my wee typo!
    If you can get the facebook page up it DOES say 26th on their poster.

    Oh Macart, I thought you knew me well enough by now. I have a unique little speciality act where I light the blue touch paper and stand back……….. WELL BACK! 😀

  15. Doug Daniel

    I have to take exception at two points in the comments.

    1. Angus – while I agree that far too much BBC money is spent on making and promoting tat such as Eastenders and paying the wages of people such as Norton, it should be noted that the excellent Scandinavian dramas such as The Killing, Borgen and The Bridge have all been made by Denmark’s public service broadcaster, paid for by licence fees. In fact, The Bridge was co-made with Sweden’s public service broadcaster. So although Silent Witness isn’t a patch on any of those, I would omit that from your list!

    2. I reckon I was the first person to notice the BBC’s jiggery-pokery. I have no evidence for that, other than I twigged on almost as soon as they started announcing some results.

    So, I win 😛

  16. Rev. Stuart Campbell

    Ah, but can you prove it with a timestamped tweet? We were calling it at 7pm on Friday 4th:!/WingsScotland/statuses/198471771878465536!/WingsScotland/statuses/198472504338157571


  17. Megz

    how labour managed to hold onto Glasgow? Deals with the orange order

  18. Morag

    Well, not the only factor I suspect.  Elsewhere it has been pointed out that the gene pool of SNP candidates was a bit on the shallow side, all the heavy hitters and kent faces having been elected to Holyrood a year ago.  Conversely Labour had a positive embarrassment of riches, including some who had lost their Holyrood seats at the same time.

    Voter recognition can be a big factor in the polling booth.

  19. Arbroath1320

    There is another possible factor. I read somewhere, sorry my brain has gone walk-a-bout so I can’t remember where :D, that there was an anti SNP campaign, of sorts, amongst the Glasgow Rangers and Celtic fraternity. Apparently a significant number of Rangers and Celtic supporters are unhappy about the anti sectarian bill that was passed in Hollyrood so they decided to show the SNP that this bill wasn’t wanted and they voted against the SNP.
    Children, I just don’t know. Take away their toys and they go into the huff! 😀

  20. Arbroath1320

    I’ve just seen an update on facebook for the British Brainwashing Committee (BBC) protest on 26th May. It was scheduled for 2 o’clock but it has been brought forward to 11 o’clock (a.m. just before Macart gets his awe in :D)
    Looks like they are hoping to get the maximum number of people there by around 1 o’clock. Methinks this could be building up to a wee bit of a surprise for the good old BBC.:D

  21. Macart

    Mair lik shock and awe!

    Wish I could be there for that stooshie, looks like it could be lively. 😀 

  22. Arbroath1320

    Now here’s a thought.
    What are the chances that the protest on 26th will be covered in any detail, reported or even mentioned by BBC Scotland or the BBC in general for that matter?
    Don’t all rush at once to answer now, take your time and think about it. 😀

  23. By the time I had read all the comments I forgot what the article was.So a quick look back and aye the media was rubbish and lazy ,cant spell integrity,they have no idea where they left their honesty,all that is true.
    All I would like is for one real newspaper to start being non-partisan,as in the long term all this will back fire on them.

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