2007 - 2022

More Nonsense from the BBC

3645726bb932ececa566113a8659ca04By Jim and Margaret Cuthbert

Bella readers may recall, (Bella Caledonia, 8th October), that, soon after the Referendum, we complained to the BBC about Robert Peston’s statement that England subsidises Scotland: a statement that conveniently missed out the fact that Scotland had subsidised the rest of the UK since 1980 by an amount with a worth conservatively estimated at £150 billion. Following the BBC’s initial reply, we were able to establish, (see Bella, 26th October), that Peston had missed out oil revenues from his calculation. We went back to the BBC, but then heard nothing, despite repeatedly raising the matter with the BBC Trust, until a further letter from the BBC arrived in early April.

The BBC are still attempting to justify their position, using, as we will show, a nonsensical argument. The nub of the argument in the latest BBC letter is the following statement, with this quotation from the BBC’s head of statistics:

“If it [oil revenue] is divided on a geographical basis then Scotland had a positive net fiscal balance between 1980/81 and 1989/90. It had a negative net fiscal balance every year between 1990/91 and 2012/13 except for 2000/01. Despite the uncertainty surrounding the data, I think the figures for the last twenty years are strong enough to reasonably conclude that Scotland’s public spending is subsidised by the rest of the UK.”

The essence of the BBC argument is therefore that Scotland’s history of public sector deficits over the past twenty years implies that it is being subsidised by the rest of the UK. As we pointed out in both our earlier letters, however, this type of inference cannot be drawn simply from public sector deficit figures. To illustrate why not, the same data source as the BBC head of statistics uses, namely GERS, shows that while Scotland has been in public sector deficit for 23 of the last 24 years, the rest of the UK has been in public sector deficit for 21 of the last 24 years. And taking a longer time period of 34 years, (back to the start of the Barnett formula), Scotland has been in public sector deficit for 23 of these years, while the rest of the UK has been in public sector deficit for 29 of these years.

In other words, both parts of the UK have been in deficit for most of the past 24 or 34 years, with, over the longer period, the rest of the UK actually being in a much worse position. On the BBC’s logic, these figures would imply that both parts of the UK were actually being subsidised – which is clearly a nonsensical conclusion.

The fallacy in the BBC’s position is that they have mistakenly equated a public sector deficit for Scotland with subsidy. Whereas, of course, since countries (like the UK) commonly run overall deficits, a deficit in one part of such a country in itself says nothing about whether that part is being subsidised by the rest or not. Questions of subsidy cannot be determined simply by looking at deficit figures, as the BBC are attempting to do, or indeed, simply by looking at relative levels of public expenditure. What is required is a much more nuanced calculation, along the lines we laid out in our original letter to the BBC. We have done these calculations for Scotland relative to the rest of the UK, (sent to the BBC with our original letter): the BBC apparently has not.

We have now moved on to the next stage of the BBC’s complaints procedure – namely, taking the complaint to the BBC’s Editorial Complaints Unit. We will report on further developments.

But our interim conclusions are:

a) the BBC really needs to raise its game. It should not be making pronouncements, (particularly such misleading pronouncements), and then be seeking to defend them on the basis of a completely inadequate methodology.
b) the BBC complaints procedure is itself very unsatisfactory. They did apologise for the delay of over five months in replying to our second letter: but an apology on timing is not enough when, at a critical time like this, misleading statements are out there in the public domain, uncorrected. And while the BBC can take more than five months to reply, the respondent has a strict time limit of 20 days to get back to the BBC, or the complaint lapses.

Finally, none of the above is inconsistent with the fact that Scotland has a relatively large non-oil deficit on its public sector account. But this is a different issue, and one which requires a more mature approach than it is getting from the mainstream media at present.

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  1. When we get Broadcasting control very soon the first thing that will go fisrt is the BBC followed by the rest of the poisoned media cabal and good riddance.

    Won’t be soon enough for me or Scotland.

  2. david says:

    Last year I wrote three times to the BBC asking them to clarify their statement that Professor John Robertson’s analysis that the reporting of the BBC during the referendum was biased towards the unionist case was based on “false methodology”. Since I have some understanding of statistics, I wanted to examine the mathematics of the case the BBC expected us to accept without evidence. They refused to release any information. Finally, in what I could only decribe as a tetchy last response, they suggested I ask Prof. Robertson for his data and analyse it myself. I did, Prof.Robertson sent me about thirty pages of “stuff” and I agree with his findings.

    Most of us grew up assuming the BBC was an impartial source of information. To discover it was just another State Broadcaster like Press TV or Russia Today was a dissapointment.

  3. Fed up with the Lies and Propaganda of the London Media Industrial Complex says:

    Money given to Scotland is always called ” subsidy.” Money given to England is always called ” investment.” Strange that !!

  4. Pam McMahon says:

    Well done for your good work in pursuing this. I, and many others, usually give up at stage 2, which I realise is the whole point of the convoluted BBC complaints procedure.

    One of the many aspects of this process which the BBC should be required to address is why a publically-funded organisation is not legally impelled to publish information about the complaints it receives, numbers of complaints, subjects complained about, time taken to investigate and remedial action proposed to resolve the complaint.

    Other publically funded bodies like the NHS are legally obliged to have this process written into their terms of contract.

    1. John Tracey says:

      I agree with the “Well done!”
      Thank you.

      1. Wul says:

        Yes, “Well Done” indeed, good on you both for keeping at this. It is a very important point.

  5. Dave McEwan Hill says:

    So the BBC is posting without appropriate response that a clever country with more per capita natural resources than virtually any other has been beggared by a union with England

    1. michgael boyd says:

      Well stated, that’s a point that should be raised regularly. The dependency argument always seems like a self fulfilled prophecy. It was certainly one that the San Andrean historian T C Smout looked at when considering whether underdevelopment as part of the Union had created a dependency of Scotland. Generally, Beveridge and Turnbull have a great book-written in the early 90s-on the denigration of the subjects (Scots) and their culture by the( British ) ruling class and their local loyal elite, as typified by the BBC. This formed the foundation of the NO campaign but has long formed the make-up of imperialism.So very frightenly the NO campaign served to demonstrate that Scotland really is viewed as a colony and not an equal partner.

    2. Wul says:

      Good point. They tie our hands behind our back, and then ridicule us for not being able to feed ourselves. (except that somehow we manage it)

  6. Fed up with the Lies and Propaganda of the London Media Industrial Complex says:

    The ” Skintland ” map of Scotland featured on the front cover of the Economist, which is owned by the Rothschilds, it’s Rothschilds in house magazine so to speak, they made their fortune by usury, putting people and nations into debt and charging huge interest on that debt, the word Parasites comes to mind.

    1. michgael boyd says:

      Then funded Napoleon’s wars through the French branch and funded the fight against him through the Anglo arm. Bankers for you! Win either way.

  7. F.Johnstone says:

    Only 13,000 more signatures on this petition guarantees a public Inquiry in to BBC Bias. Please sign to reach the require 100,000 required.


  8. Before the referendum, BBC Scotland carried an alarmist story on its news website, about Scottish Universities losing out on “millions of pounds of research funding”, in the event of a YES vote.

    In one line at the very bottom of the article the BBC stated that these figures were disputed by ‘Academics for Yes’ which they described as a ” small organisation with 30 members”.

    I formally complained through the BBC website complaints link – not on the grounds of opinion or nuances of research funding – but on the factual point that ‘Academics for Yes’ had a membership of 120 Readers and Professors ( which one click on the ‘AforY’ website clearly showed ). Even on the day of its formal launch ( ignored by the BBC ) ‘A for Y’s’ initial membership was 60.

    I received notification my complaint had been received.

    Three weeks later I received another response… the complaints link on BBC Scotland I had used was no longer in use – I was advised to re-submit my complaint through another link to an office in London which handled BBC Scotland complaints ( “value for money for licence payers” ).

    I did this within three minutes of receiving the email.

    One week later I received the BBC’s response… my complaint had “lapsed” because it was now 28 days after the article, I was complaining about, had been posted.

    I wrote back, forwarding my original complaint and proof of its timeline, stating I had complained through the route recommended on the BBC Scotland website within 6 hours of the factually inaccurate article appearing….. that was 9 months ago… I’ve heard nothing since.

    In October I wrote to the BBC’s Editorial Complaints Unit…. I’ve heard nothing since.

    Whilst my complaint was purely on the grounds of inaccuracy in reporting the membership numbers of ‘Academics for Yes’ it is interesting to report that we voted No and… Scottish Universities have subsequently lost out on “millions of pounds of research funding”!

    Good luck, Bella, in pursuing your complaint … but, for God’s sake, don’t hold your breath.

    1. My understanding is that BBC Complaints are outscourced and handled by Capita, say no more !

  9. Jockeasy says:

    Look…….there’s no shock that the BBC is pro-union….but whay aren’t we challenging every time they use the term “breaking up the union”?
    Why don’t we INSIST that they use the more accurate “wish to LEAVE the union”??……….after all, if they are insistent that the Scots presence is so vital that their “union”can only exist WITH our participation, why don’t they tackle those ( largely english) morons who insist that we should be ‘thrown out’ of the union…………..and what part of the Act of Union puts the “chucking out” of the Scots within the gift of these cretins??

    1. Fed up with the Lies and Propaganda of the London Media Industrial Complex says:

      ”use the more accurate “wish to LEAVE the union”??”

      Or more accurate, regaining our independence.

  10. Thistle says:

    Independence Live are currently doing a crowdfunder please donate here: http://igg.me/at/goingforward/x

  11. Connor Mcewen says:

    I think WWW scotlandowntwofeet.blogspot.co.uk and Business for Scotland etc. would have something to say about this.
    But do not hold your breath for a reply from dear old auntie leer

  12. ScottieDog says:

    FFS, I didn’t realise the BBC had been so simplistic in their approach. They attribute our deficit to them supporting us.
    So a country shouldn’t be independent of it can’t generate a surplus. How many countries in the world run a surplus?!!
    Going by this thinking, the UK shouldn’t be independent either then.

    Good luck with this but I’ll be surprised if they relent. They are just another cog in the neo-liberal wheel. This is why people have actually been brainwashed into thinkng deficits are very bad and that we can in any way compare balancing of the household books to the wider economy.

  13. Jim Bennett says:

    Excellent article.

  14. John Mooney says:

    The BBC.is as biased as Fox News,it is the establishments mouthpiece always has been the proof is in its name the “British”broadcasting corporation,BBC “Scotland” is the same as “Scottish”Labour just another branch office accountable to the maw of the great Wen!

  15. muttley79 says:

    The BBC is an integral part of the British state. It exists to serve the British establishment. BBC Scotland is a branch office, like Labour in Scotland is a branch office of the British Labour Party. The BBC’s job in Scotland is to present news, culture and politics through the prism of Westminster.

  16. emilytom67 says:

    Why doesn,t anyone question Broonies selling off of the gold costing the country billions and his involvement with Goldman Sachs at that time?why? are we having to partake in a rail project that goes only as far as Manchester and costing 60+billion with no benefit to Scotland,why? are our politicians staying stumff on the epidemic of paedophilia in the establishment of the UNITED KINGDOM,Silence of the Bams” no doubt.

  17. Fiona McLeod says:

    bbc will dig, research and invent statistics or propositions to suggest Scotland is subsidised – that’s their job, they are the british state broadcaster. Dismiss any notion of fairness when you examine how they report on Scottish affairs, the clue is in their name – “b” bc.

    When Scotland leaves the uk, there will be wild celebration in Scotland, but britain will have the embarrassment of accounting to the international community, how did you loose part of your country? The English people, mostly, see britain and England as synonymous, that’s what fuels their resentment and it’s what the tories are exploiting now, that and the junior partner having some clout.

    When it comes to subsidy, look at London, has the bbc ever published or conducted strenuous research on the extent to which london is subsidised – no. The establishment, which bbc is an integral part of, would not permit this!

    What really annoys me about the bbc is that they seem to go out of their way to report on bad news about Scotland, shunning positive news. Its as if they have been told by their political pay masters to keeping gnawing away as Scots set confidence.

    Can you imagine the Irish accepting their view of the world to be informed, shaped and dominated by a London elite / clique? The Irish laugh at the british and their exploits in the Falklands, Iraq and Libya, etc. Ask an Irishman or woman to go fight in Iraq, response would be a puzzled no and why?

    bbc without reform has no place in Scotland after Thursday.

    There are examples of fairness, yearning to learn and genuine interest in understanding Scotland in this election, e.g Jon Snow’s report last week from Inverness. Jon went out of his way to present a balanced and well researched view. Sadly, Jon Snow and Channel 4 are not typical of the british media. I’ve often wondered what John Pilger would make of current british intervention in Scotland.

    he Bostonians got it right “no taxation without representation”, for those living in Scotland with respect to the bbc “no license fee without representation”

  18. Drew Campbell says:

    Been following this with great interest, Jim & Margaret. I honestly believe you’re on to something but acknowledgement of that by the BBC could have huge repercussions; it would effectively upend the whole narrow, simplistic consensus about the UK, debt, deficit, Scotland and subsidy.

    Ioportant work. More power to your elbow.

  19. Lochside says:

    Thank God for Jim and Margaret. The obfuscation and deliberate lying on a daily basis by imposters and poseurs like Peston is an affront to democracy. The BBC is an out and out propagandist for the Brit/English State and is being steadfastly challenged by people such as the Cuthberts, who have a proper grasp of economics.

    The primary five stuff presented on the BBC news is an insult to our intelligence and an example of how dumbed down the BBC has become, never mind how devious its reporting is now shown to be.

    I gave up complaining, like many others, because of the ludicrous petulant and factually incorrect responses I received from the BBC complaints Dept. The fact that we are unable to comment on the BBC sites devoted to Scottish politics, unlike ‘National’ ones is an absolute disgrace and must be a clear breach of the BBC’s charter.

    One day we will find out the full truth about Scotland’s subsidies to England and it won’t make pleasant reading.
    The fact that people like Tony Benn and other ‘anti-establishment’ (really?) types turn out to have colluded in robbing Scotland of its oil wealth by separating it into an ‘Extra-Regio’ account, which refers to a separate but non-existent ‘region’ of the UK,which fed completely into Westminster’s coffers is beyond belief.

    The fact that they planned a divide and conquer tactic of giving Shetland council an oil fund, denied to the rest of Scotland shows they were prepared to undermine any backlash from the get go. Aberdonians who voted ‘NO’ may want to ponder why Aberdeen never attracted a similar ‘disturbance’ fund..if that is what is was.

    I still meet people on the doorstep who have never heard of the Extra-Regio con trick, nor of its corollary of the Scottish adjacent water boundary order of 1999 when Blair and ‘Father of the Nation’ the benighted Dewar signed over 6000 sq. miles of Scottish Territorial waters to English control. This allows the grotesque fact that looking out to sea from St. Andrews you are staring at English waters! Why the SNP leadership never bring this up is beyond me…it knocks the £7.4 billion bullshit into a cocked hat every time.

    1. Mary Connell says:

      “This allows the grotesque fact that looking out to sea from St. Andrews you are staring at English waters! Why the SNP leadership never bring this up is beyond me…it knocks the £7.4 billion bullshit into a cocked hat every time.”

      We can argue about where the line is drawn, but a geographic share under the current “line” would have worked out, for instance, at Scotland getting 96% of oil production in 2012 (see: http://www.gov.scot/Resource/0044/00446179.pdf#page=45).

      Eating into that extra 4% isn’t going to make much difference to the calculation of our fiscal position, though of course the exact split of how much a geographic share of oil is changes from year to year.

      1. Fed up with the Lies and Propaganda of the London Media Industrial Complex says:

        ”Eating into that extra 4% isn’t going to make much difference ”

        If it doesn’t matter, why did Liebour move it then ?

  20. Darien says:

    In addition to identifiable tax revenues, however estimated, there is the rather large matter of tax avoidance. Much of Scotland’s ex public utilities were sold off by the Tories, such as energy, airports, major ports etc and are now owned by offshore equity funds who pay little if any tax. Whisky likewise is a massive industry owned outside Scotland which ‘massages’ its true value, and aggregates likewise. Then there are the land taxes we should be having but are avoided. This is why ‘they’ need Scotland – for the wealth that is not taxed and hence does not show up anywhere in the books. Its not only oil, or the massive discoveries off Shetland they are keeping quiet about – as BP quietly enters into 7 year charters for offshore tonnage in that area. Scotland is a very rich nation, but like mushrooms its people don’t know very much about that.

    1. Fed up with the Lies and Propaganda of the London Media Industrial Complex says:

      ”but like mushrooms its people don’t know very much about that.”

      You mean like the majority of Scots are oblivious to the fact that in 1999 ”Doctor” John Reid and ”Scottish” Liebour moved the Anglo Scots Sea border thus Scotland lost 6,000 square miles and 6 oil wells, just to thwart Scotland’s economic independence. With friends like that who needs enemies.

  21. gerry parker says:

    And try complaining to your MP like I did.

    His response?

    Complaints regarding the BBC should be made via their website, he very helpfully gave me the url.

    OK I know I shouldn’t have asked Tom Clarke anything complicated, but there you go.

    I’ve been on the useless articles case ever since and won’t stop till he’s removed, hopefully this Thursday.

  22. Rhisiart Gwilym says:

    “…both parts of the UK…” Oh. Isn’t Cymru currently part of the ukstate then? Or Kernow? That makes four parts at least, even if you don’t count Shetland as a possible fifth genuine part in its own right. I think you mean the northern and southern halves of the island of Britain, don’t you?

    Otherwise, though, this piece is well up to Bella’s usual way-above-the-corporate-lamestream-media standard, as usual.

  23. Mary Connell says:

    If you look at GERS over the last 16 years (which is as far back as you can go meaningfully under the current methodology) you’ll see Scotland had a higher deficit (or lower surplus) than the rest of the UK in 12 of those years. In only four years would we have been better off all things being equal if our spending was proportionate to our revenue.

    Whether we call that being “subsidised” or not, that’s the calculation that really matters to the argument and we very rarely see it actually being mentioned. Here’s a good chart of those figures from the last 16 years: http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/politicsandpolicy/files/2015/03/Ashcroft-fig-2.png

    I don’t call it being “subsidised”, as it happens, because I think it’s perfectly reasonable that a part of the UK which has a lower population density should receive marginally more spending than it generates in revenue (given it’s more expensive to provide public services in rural areas). But we would be worse off under full fiscal autonomy/independence all things being equal (assuming GERS is accurate). There’s no real debate about that if you look at the figures unless you either go back decades or make a “we’ll boost productivity and make up the shortfall” style of argument.

    1. Kenny says:

      That’s only half-true though. Things like disproportionate amounts of “National” infrastructure spending in England (especially London) and the concentration of things like the Civil Service and the like in England (especially London) make London look deceptively productive and Scotland look deceptively poor. Once you factor in the difference in employment levels, tax take, size of the economy overall and the actual infrastructure improvements themselves, you can see pretty clearly that Scotland would be far from its current alleged poverty if it were a normal country. But we’re not a proper country. We’re a colony paying tribute to the Empire.

    2. Alan Weir says:

      But the period to go back to is the 70s when the Labour government lied to the Scottish people, told them the opposite of what their own expert was telling them, in order to block a massive swing to the SNP and move to at least something like full fiscal autonomy with a Scottish Oil Fund, as recommended by their expert. It is, morally, exactly like being lied to by an investment consultant, except on a much more gigantic scale and similarly requires compensation.

      And then one must bear in mind that the enormous surpluses, about 25% of GDP, Scotland ran in the first half of the eighties and sent down to England (look what thanks we are getting for that from the Daily Mail and co!), would not have been put under a pillow in Bute House. Even conservative estimates, such as the Cuthbert’s who model putting it in gilts, shows that the deficits you talk about would not have happened (given actual public expenditure levels) had we the revenue or GDP boos from those surpluses; Scotland would currently be at least £150 billion to the good, rather than £125 in deficit or whatever.

      I think the Scottish government has been far too timid on restitution for this. One way it could occur, partially, is to hold the unionist parties to their promises of a ‘union dividend’ of £10 billiion plus a year whilst rolling out FFA tax and welfare powers over the next few years.

  24. Hamish McPhee says:

    Congratulations Jim and Margaret, stick with it and see it through to the end.

    If I recall correctly, John Jappy from the Black Isle, Inverness West branch produced similar work, derived from when he work as a civil servant in London in 70s & 80s.

    1. Hazel says:

      he does, here is his blog https://www.blogger.com/profile/04537551777982612769 I am copying the URL of his blog and this article to as many on Twitter that I see repeating the lie about Scotland being subsidised. Maybe inch by inch, drop by drop the population can be educated enough to see through the obfuscation of those about to lose power?

  25. Kenny says:

    I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – making complaints to the BBC is only one small step in the campaign. The real answer is for a licence payer to sue for breach of contract. You paid for fair, impartial and accurate news. On Scottish issues, we have ample evidence of failure. Once Birt and Blair and Boothman and Paxman and Peston get dragged into court to testify to their behaviour, the truth becomes unavoidable.

    1. Fed up with the Lies and Propaganda of the London Media Industrial Complex says:

      ”The real answer is for a licence payer to sue for breach of contract.”

      Or do as I do, just don’t pay it !!

      1. Kenny says:

        That only has any real impact if EVERYONE does it though. It doesn’t really force anything to change and at the end of the day it’s almost impossible to organise a boycott on the scale required. A legal case would be a news story for the rest of the media, though, so the story would be out there, and if/when the good guys won, there’s every chance the BBC would be forced to repay the licence fee for the relevant period to everyone who had paid it. That would absolutely force some significant change out of them.

  26. Ken says:

    How much could Scotland have saved from Trident/illegal wars, banking fraud and tax evasion. Billions.

  27. Jim Murphy lies when he tells pensioners who are already drawing their pension today that they will get less in the event of devo max or full independence this is just a blatent lie Even the conservatives (no friends of me)are saying he tells blatent lies

  28. Eduard Klak says:

    The real elephant in the room,

    To see what is really going on, both here in Scotland, and elsewhere throughout this sad old world we all have to inhabit; t’is but simplicity itself……………..!!!

    SIMPLY – follow the money, and it will lead you directly to the doors of those who’s sticky fingers are all over it. Then, you can’t possibly go wrong. Also consider who are the real so called establishment, and who are those on their payroll?

    From whence do the establishment take their orders? and equally importantly, who is almost single-handedly guilty for all of the misery currently being heaped upon mankind, particularly so in the middle east, and that whole geopolitical area?

    Some folks thrive on misery and turmoil, it helps grease the money making wheels of the world wide empire of evil they have created. Good neighbourliness, fellow feeling and caring for your fellow humans merely diverges funding from their unwilling, and ignorant donors out of their heavily laden coffers.
    So it well serves their purpose to create havoc and turmoil. Where that doesn’t work, they will stuff the mouths of their willing self interests supporters, mainly those of the political classes, and their fellow travellers with pieces of silver.

    Haven’t you got it yet? Think about it a while. But shhhhh….., because we’re not allowed to say who the real Elephant is in the room. Merely follow the money.

  29. I did a short stint of contractor work at the BBC, mostly in Scotland. One day, I got into a very interesting debate with the editorial news team. It because very obvious, very quickly, that they are of the mindset that mathematical facts are not something that can be dealt with by the general public.
    This was based on their own inability to do simple mental numeracy, as in O level maths. They believe that facts as seen in friendly newspapers are always correct, and it would be unprofessional to question experts on methodology – especially statisticians!

    However, I also read an another interesting study regarding how people see facts during my stint.

    People naturally believe the first facts they are given when they don’t have any data at all. It means, when contradictory facts are presented to them, they would prefer to dismiss them than to accept they were originally wrong. To change your mind is perceived as a weakness.

    The BBC have known this forever – remember George Orwell used them as his inspiration in 1984 – and so even if they were to announce tomorrow that Scotland could easily pays its way, hardly anyone would change their view of Skintland!

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