Thousands of angry nationalists surrounded the BBC’s Scottish headquarters in Glasgow accusing the corporation and its political editor, Nick Robinson, of broadcasting “lies” and being “biased” in favour of retaining the Union.
The protest was mounted amid claims that the BBC is institutionally biased against Scottish independence and has been spreading “propaganda” to keep the Union intact through its news reports.
In scenes likened by one commentator to Vladimir Putin’s censorship of the media in Russia, Yes supporters waved Scottish flags, banners and placards, branding the BBC the “British Brainwashing Corporation”, demanding the sacking of “Liar Robinson” and claiming the annual TV licence was a “licence to lie”.
The demonstrators’ anger centred on two events: an alleged failure of the BBC to broadcast the true scale of a Yes rally in Glasgow on Saturday; and accusations that Mr Robinson had connived with the Treasury to spread lies about the dangers to business and financial services of an independent Scotland.
The crowd chanted “BBC – shame on you” as hundreds of police surrounded the main entrance to the building in Pacific Quay. “Come next week – we’ll clear out this building and put in our people,” shouted one demonstrator. Another accused the BBC of being part of “corrupt” polls that “failed to show the true scale of the Yes support”.
Scottish independence: What will happen to key British institutions?
Scottish independence: What will happen to key British institutions?
1/7 The 2015 General Election
If it votes for independence, Scotland won’t leave the union until 2016 meaning, under current arrangements, that if Scots decide to go it alone they will still vote in the 2015 general election. The possibility of Scotland swinging the vote in favour of the government with which it will negotiate their independence has led some to call for the elections to be delayed. Downing Street has said, however, that it has no plans to postpone the election despite claims a yes vote could lead to a constitutional crisis.
2/7 The NHS
Alex Salmond has said a Yes vote in the referendum is the only way to save Scotland’s National Health Service. This claim was undermined, however, yesterday when research published by the Institute for Fiscal Studies determined that Scotland’s devolved government spent less in real terms on its health service than England. Despite this, the splitting up of the NHS would be more straightforward than other institutions, as it is already managed from Holyrood.
3/7 The BBC
The Licence fee in Scotland currently raises around £230m which the Yes campaign says it would use, along with the assets of BBC Scotland, to create a Scottish Broadcasting Service or SBS. It says the SBS would continue to provide original content to the BBC and Scotland would receive access to all current programming, including BBC1, BBC2 and national radio stations. The government has said since February that an independent Scotland would lose any automatic rights to BBC programming.
4/7 The Pound
The No Campaign is hoping that doubts over whether or not Scotland will be able to keep the pound will sway the referendum in its favour. George Osborne has said that the UK will not let Scotland keep the pound if it votes to leave the union and the leader of the Better Together coalition, former Chancellor Alistair Darling, has called the Yes campaign’s suggestion that it keep the currency “mad”. Alex Salmond has claimed repeatedly that Scotland will be able to retain the pound and has said speculation to the contrary is little more than fear mongering.
5/7 The Army
Britain’s involvement in the Iraq war and the stationing of the Trident Nuclear fleet north of the border are unpopular in Scotland. The Scottish Nationalists have railed against the war saying they would scrap Trident and create a new Scottish defence force based on existing Scottish regiments.
6/7 The Royal Family
Scotland would keep the Queen as a head of state under current plans proposed by the Yes campaign, as Elizabeth Queen of Scots. It would also remain part of the Commonwealth. However a second referendum could be held to determine what form a new Scottish state would take.
Scotland’s Rugby and Football teams would remain as they are if Scotland voted to leave the UK but the British and Irish Lions could be forced into a name change. What would happen to the British Olympic Association also remains up for debate. Scotland’s most successful Olympian Sir Chris Hoy has said he is wary of independence because of the number of Scottish athletes living and training in England and what their status would be.
Police numbers increased steadily throughout the day. The weekend staff inside BBC Scotland was low, but those attending work were told to keep away from the windows.
Those leading the demonstration denied that it had been co-ordinated by the Yes campaign. One group said that in the event of a No vote on Thursday, “We will take to the streets. We will not be robbed of victory by a conspiracy which has the BBC at its centre.”
Alastair Campbell, Tony Blair’s former director of communications, said the demonstration may amount to media censorship. “Had my run ins with BBC, but organised protests like the one going on now is beyond Tebbit, and not far off Putin. Vote YES for intimidation,” he wrote on Twitter.
Alex Salmond, Scotland’s First Minister, said in an interview published on Sunday that the corporation was unconsciously slanting its coverage in favour of the Better Together campaign because its London-based journalists “don’t realise they’re biased”.
The SNP leader was speaking to Scotland’s Sunday Herald newspaper shortly after a press conference on Thursday in which he had accused the BBC’s political editor Nick Robinson of “heckling” him.
Asked if the BBC’s coverage of the referendum had been biased, he replied: “Yes, absolutely. Of course it is. The problem with Nick…I mean, don’t get me wrong, I like these folk, but they don’t realise they’re biased. It’s the unconscious bias which is the most extraordinary thing of all.
“If the BBC were covering, in my estimation, any referendum, in any democracy, anywhere in the world, they would cover it impeccably, in a balanced fashion. What they don’t understand is they’re players in this.”
Mr Salmond added that the BBC’s correspondents who are usually based in the South East had displayed ignorance about the referendum, reacting to old news as if it was new.
“The coverage of the last few days, for example, the whipped up metropolitan media coverage, ‘My God, Bob Dudley [BP’s chief executive] has commented! Standard Life has issued a statement!’ For the metropolitan BBC journalists this is extraordinary news,” he said.
“I’m not really laying this charge at BBC Scotland. I just think metropolitan BBC has found this whole thing extraordinarily difficult, to separate their own view of the world from their view reporting Scotland.”
Another critic of the BBC’s coverage has been Paul Mason, Newsnight’s former economics editor who is now at Channel 4 News. “Not since Iraq have I seen BBC News working at propaganda strength like this. So glad I’m out of there,” he wrote on his Facebook page.
On Twitter, he also posted a link to a YouTube video claiming that the BBC had been “completely biased and unbalanced in their reporting of the referendum”, adding the comment: “Media students, journos, (coughs loudly) this is well worth watching.”
He said later that his post on Facebook was “not meant as any great statement other than weariness”. When The Independent asked him if he would like to say anything further, Mr Mason replied: “Nope.”
A petition demanding an independent inquiry into the allegations of bias at the BBC on the website 38 Degrees had yesterday attracted almost 70,000 signatures. “The BBC news is the flagship of TV news. It has been distressing and cringe-worthy watching the obvious BT [Better Together] bias,” wrote one supporter.
A BBC spokesperson said: “We believe our coverage of the referendum has been rigorously impartial and in line with our guidelines on fairness and impartiality.”