The Better Together campaign has made a formal complaint to the BBC about political bias which it said is damaging the Unionist cause.
A spokesman said: “Since Parliament returned we’ve had nothing but a stream of BBC stories highlighting Labour statements and suggesting they are items of meaning. It’s obvious to anyone that they are made up by Paul Sinclair, Johann Lamont’s adviser, in order to cover up the lack of policies and to smear the First Minister.”
Key members of Alistair Darling’s team are worried that the BBC’s relentless focus on Labour is exposing the party to ridicule. This week’s suggestion of corruption over the sale of land for the Glasgow Airport rail link project backfired when no evidence of wrong-doing was provided and a businessman demanded an apology.
“This sort of thing is deeply damaging to the Union. It was a made-up story full of holes and innuendo and only underlines that Labour have nothing meaningful to say and it makes us all look shifty and opportunistic,” said the Better Together official. “Why can’t the BBC see that and stop covering Labour so much in all their output on radio and TV? Where’s the balance? Couldn’t they focus on Willie Rennie or Ruth for a change. They could even give the Nats fair coverage. Anything would be better than this. ”
Another problem for Unionists is that to illustrate Labour claims, clips of Johann Lamont at First Minister’s Questions are endlessly replayed. “For God’s sake”, he said. “We’ve had enough. Watching it once is bad enough. We know from focus groups that it’s a turn-off. One participant said he couldn’t stand it and broke down. He said it reminded him of the dinner lady at school scowling when he said he didn’t like cabbage.”
Better Together is now urging the BBC to end it’s automatic coverage of anything Johann Lamont and Jackie Baillie say. “They are supposed to exercise journalistic scrutiny and treat everybody the same and challenge what they are told. But with Labour they just broadcast without thought. It’s not good enough. We’re demanding BBC impartiality for all.”
What worries the Unionists is that the Yes campaign is delighted at the coverage.
“No wonder they’re pleased”, he said. “We get made to look stupid and have James Kelly representing us on Newsnight. Anybody would think Unionists were intellectually challenged, vocabulary lite and devoid of the basics of political debate. We believe the choice of guest is engineered deliberately by producers.”
The BBC said there had been no change of policy. “We have always treated Labour with more respect than they deserved and have given them more favourable coverage than the others and we have no plans to change now,” he said. “Consistency is our watchword in turbulent times.”
Meanwhile there is now a growing theory that Ms Lamont is having an unforeseen effect on voting intentions. Professor John Curtice said one reason why the Nationalist percentage had stalled in the polls followed a speech by a councillor at a Labour For Independence rally in which he said Labour should look forward to governing after a Yes vote with Johann in the First Minister’s office. “That was met with a deafening silence as the reality struck home,” said the professor. More Yes voters now realise that might come true and are reconsidering. “We’re asking people if the thought of Johann as First Minister is shocking them into changing their minds. Some are now Don’t Knows and some are going straight over to No,” he said. “If this is a clever Labour tactic to win the referendum, it could work”. The Yes campaign now expects posters reading: Independence – Johan for First Minister to start appearing.
Sources say that hardened Nationalists have been shaken by the prospect of Ms Lamont in Bute House. The First Minister was given a briefing and was left depressed. “I wouldn’t say he had a wobble as such,” said one aide. “He is still committed to independence but he’s begining to see the downside. A ministerial photo with Johann in front flanked by Iain Gray wearing Alistair Darling’s cast-off suit and Paul Martin with his Kray brother’s smile and Jackie Baillie waving from the back would be too much.”
He denied Mr Salmond was being helped by counselling.
Professor Curtice said this might be a Labour tactic. “It’s known among psephologists as The Scunner Factor,” he said . “Labour deployed it successfully in 2008 by making Iain Gray party leader in the knowledge that they would lose so many votes that Salmond would win a majority and be obliged to bring forward the referendum sooner than he wanted.”