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The BBC and the definition of ‘political’

Salmond’s views on rugby opens up a difficult question for balanced discussion of Scotland’s future

I find it a little difficult to get overly worked up about the BBC decision not to allow Alex Salmond to give his thoughts on Scotland’s Six Nations rugby match with England. This is the sort of ‘soft’ political appearance that is ubiquitous since Tony Blair started turning up on sofas the length and breadth of daytime TV and to be honest as a general rule I can personally live without it. On the other hand, I do quite like to get some sense of politicians as humans and Salmond would probably have been good fun.

But while I may find it difficult to care too much one way or the other, it does again raise the issue of the way in which broadcasters define what is political. We have Scottish local elections coming up in about three months and a bit more caution on political neutrality in the run-up to that is to be expected, although this does seem a bit early to veto politicians who aren’t even standing in that election. I’m not sure the UK precedent but I doubt it’s been applied like this.

What bothers me more is the definition of ‘Scotland’ as being ‘controversial’. It’s almost as if we’ve all been put on a watch list and leaves me with the very slightest sense that someone is checking up on us through our bars to make sure we ‘don’t do anything stupid’. It seems like a rather big step to categorise a nation as a political controversy and to do so years before the controversial event in question (a referendum). Will every comment on air about Scotland and her place in the UK now be treated as a political question to which strict balance will be required? I’ll be watching with interest.

But either way this is a problem. To define the dominant issue which will affect Scotland for the next few years are being one continuous controversy will have genuine impact. It forces a wide range of potential discussion (both for and against independence) out of mainstream national discussion and into a party-politically defined ghetto. London may be worried but Scotland still needs to be able to function like a normal democracy.

I always worry about what is defined as political and what not – it almost always works in a certain direction. So broadcasters chop out any mention of politics by Tommy Sheridan and George Galloway when they appear on a reality TV show but Ann Widdecombe peppers her appearance on a talent show with lots of reactionary little digs about ‘health and safety gone mad’ and so on and that just makes her quirky? Just like the decade just past where business leaders calling for deregulation was a business issue but campaigners calling for greater regulation was a fringe political issue.

People respond differently to agendas when they are seen to be ‘dangerous’ or outside the mainstream. Scotland can’t afford to be placed in an isolation chamber for the next three years and certainly not as a result of a loss of nerve (or anything worse) at the BBC.

Robin McAlpine