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A sticky situation

Richard Jackson | 12:27 UK time, Tuesday, 10 April 2007

"Get Nicky in a hair-net". That was the, admittedly, rather vague proposal put to the Breakfast programme producer tasked with arranging an outside broadcast (OB) from Scotland which would aim to focus on the forthcoming parliamentary election.

Radio Five Live logoWhy? Well, we wanted to be inside a factory, talking to people who work on a production line. Making politics relevant to people's lives can be a challenge at the best of times. Making the issues of the Scottish elections of interest to a UK-wide audience can be even tougher.

So we decided to try to base our OB away from the traditional political haunts. We didn't want to be in Edinburgh in the shadow of the Holyrood Parliament itself. So we approached Miller McCowan to ask if we could broadcast from alongside their production line.

SweetsThey are famous for making, amongst other things, Wham bars, Highland toffee, bon-bons and mints. Many people around the UK know their products and there was a story too - the company went into adminstration twice in the last two years.

And, most importantly of all, the workers have to wear hair-nets inside the factory in Stenhousemuir.

Nicky Campbell with the infamous hair netSo Nicky Campbell paraded in all his blue-netted glory this morning (listen to the programme here). It made - I hope - for a different sort of political OB. It meant the politicians had to try to address what their policies would mean to people like those on the production line.

It also gave Nicky plenty of room for sweet-related puns. He said to the wannabee First Minister Jack McConnell, "we're surrounded by pinky goo-ey stuff - sounds like your campaign", and there were plenty of references to the political "fudge" which is expected once the votes are counted and the parties have to consider forming coalitions.

We still discussed Scottish independence, the Barnett formula, health spending, oil revenues, taxation - and other political issues. And Stenhousemuir football club too.

But hopefully the location - and the discussion of sweet manufacturing and of listeners all-time favourite confections - made for a good listen. As one person noted - we were trying to sweeten the bitter political pill.

And did it work? Well, as Nicky checked in for his flight from Glasgow Airport, he was greeted by the woman at check-in, "good morning, Mr Campbell - taken the hair-net off then?"

There are other elections coming up too... council elections throughout much of England and Scotland, and the Welsh Assembly election too. The BBC's political coverage does get criticised for being too Westminster based - and this is a good opportunity to reflect a broader agenda. But to what extent do we succeed? Hair-nets aside, how else should we be trying to make connections with these elections?


  • 1.
  • At 01:38 PM on 10 Apr 2007,
  • Frank Fraser wrote:

What a ridiculosly frivolous approach to what is, for many in Scotland, a very serious matter.

With the current support for the SNP at an all-time high, for the first time in a long time, independence is looking like a real possibility.

Does the BBC think that this is a joke?

  • 2.
  • At 02:14 PM on 10 Apr 2007,
  • JG wrote:

Prime example of dumbing down I would have thought!

How do you succeed?

For a start, be less patronising.

It’s a common complaint of journalists that our MPs live within the Westminster Bubble - that politicians are so involved in the politics, conflict and intrigue within Parliament’s protected corridors that they rarely venture outside.

Yet sometimes the same can be true of the media.

For a small party such as ours, an emerging party that is finding great favour with the public we meet, we are finding our greatest obstacle is media blindness. Media exposure is almost guaranteed for a celebrity standing as a candidate or any party that openly incites hatred or has racist overtones, yet we are finding it difficult to make that breakthrough despite having the potential to make an overnight change to this country’s political landscape (not a claim we make lightly).
The broadcasters seem so wrapped up making sure they can justify every second of broadcast time against claims of bias by the main parties that they forget there are other parties out there.

  • 5.
  • At 04:41 PM on 10 Apr 2007,
  • pat wrote:

aren't you being a bit harsh?

the reality is that all politics is boring to most people, and the broadcasters need to make it accessible. if someone listens longer to hear if their comment about sweets is read out, and accidentally hears an interview with the SNP, isn't that good for democracy?

  • 6.
  • At 05:09 PM on 10 Apr 2007,
  • Mark Johnson wrote:

Living in the Home Counties I care little about English politics and even less about what the Scots are up to. Politics is soooooo dull and irrelevant.

Why? When one million people can protest about the Iraq war and nearly two million in an online petition about road pricing yet be summarily dismissed by the government what hope is there for my solitary vote?

Billy Connolly had it right when he said don't vote - it just encourages them!

  • 7.
  • At 05:34 PM on 10 Apr 2007,
  • Manjit wrote:

I just despair at people like Richard Jackson, can he be any more patronising. Is it any wonder that people are put off from politics when we have coverage such as this? I'm getting rather tired of the cynical nature of the BBC's political output.

Take some of the comments that Mr Jackson makes in blog article:
'Making politics relevant to people's lives can be a challenge at the best of times.' - What a damming indictment of Radio 5's current affairs output then, perhaps they should stop producing Daily Mail style radio phone's and start producing some quailty.

'Making the issues of the Scottish elections of interest to a UK-wide audience can be even tougher.' - How dumb is the average Radio 5 listener these days? People realise the importance of the upcoming Scottish elections, what we object to is being constantly patronised on BBC News and Radio.

  • 8.
  • At 05:40 PM on 10 Apr 2007,
  • Peter Thomson wrote:

This election is important to Scotland and will determine whether we move further down the road of devolution towards independence or become a back water, with our hands out for alms from Westminster.

The media coverage is too busy looking at the independence argument in terms of the Union rather than the subtler nuances that are in play in Scotland.

Westminster has taken its eye off the ball with its devolution fudge and failed to read the growing sense that Scotland is fed up being portrayed as a nation of spongers by the national media and Westminster and sickened by the antics of 'New Labour'. The impact of Brown's budget on small businesses in Scotland for many has been the final straw.

If Scotland is a backwater to Westminster thinking then it is time we were gone from Westminster, send Trident to Plymouth.

  • 9.
  • At 05:54 PM on 10 Apr 2007,
  • Adam wrote:

I guess we now know the answer to the question asked in another blog here a few days ago: "Dumbing down?"

  • 10.
  • At 10:06 PM on 10 Apr 2007,
  • John Smith wrote:

The national broadcaster... following a serious election... and the best you could manage was "a series of sweet related puns"?

There's a reason people are turning off politics - trivialisation like that only accelerates it.

  • 11.
  • At 10:24 PM on 10 Apr 2007,
  • CONNELL wrote:

Equal Representation in the UK.

Legislative devolution is tearing the UK apart will the BBC Editors permit an alternative to be explored?

Legislative devolution must be repealed and a policy of equal representation (equal and common parliamentary procedure, precedent and practice for all 646 UK constituencies) introduced.

  • 12.
  • At 11:55 PM on 10 Apr 2007,
  • Craig wrote:

I hope Scotland do go for Independence, so that we, in Wales can follow!
I've seen a lot of Plaid Cymru posters up with people supporting them, this could be the year for the nationalists :D

  • 13.
  • At 12:53 AM on 11 Apr 2007,
  • John Edwards wrote:

as a Welshman I think the conditions in Scotland - i.e. the Scottish economy, political infrastructure, and national opinion are all ready to stand up and become an independent federal state within the EU, just like other small countries with a history of colony-status within bigger empires, such as Ireland and the Netherlands.
The case for Welsh independence has perhaps passed, as the demographics and culture are largely integrated with England, but Scotland's distinctive national status is unambiguous and its people deserve the chance to decide if they want to manage their own affairs and resources. Without citing history it is obivious the Scots have a deep sense of nationhood based of their separate historical and cultural heritage which saw the early development of Scotland as a separate nation, made from Gael, Pict, Brython and other groups to form a very different cultural and linguistic entity to that of Anglo-Saxon England.
Finally, the politics of Scotland, like Wales have been historically socialist during the last century, a trend at odds with the recent shift to appease capitalist forces (corporations) in the Westmister Labour party, the aspiration for a more compassionate and less competition-driven social model may encourage the Scots to break their dependence and link with the political mainstream which is forcing the UK as a whole into a liberalised, de-regulated and privatised economy, typified by the breakdown of the NHS, privatisation of schools as 'academies', university tuition fees, privatised (hence chaotic) transport systems and poor/ de-regulation of industry and labour, resulting in poor working conditions for staff across the state and private sectors. One can see how the Scots could be looking to emulate the balanced economic model seen in the Scandanavian countries, reflecting their growing economy but also consideration for social justice. Finally, politics aside, the Scots are apparently unhappy about the recent Wars undertaken by the Labour government and other international policies which have arguably drawn the UK deeper into conflicts across the world and particularly damaged the image of the UK across the middle east. Scotland as an independent country could make its own voice heard on such matters and could at least reflect the views of the Scottish people rather than be led by the voice of the UK as a whole - with its main voice in Westminster.
Further, Scotland's taxes have been used to finance both the recent wars (a figure apparently in the tens of billions) and other contraversial projects (also costing billions) largely located in England, such as the new millenium stadium and the forthcoming Olympic games. Surely Scotland could better use its considerable tax revenues for purposes important to Scotland rather than waste this great tax chest on English projects which arguably bring only notoriety and business to England? Other contraversial laws imposed on Scotland could would also be avoided or debated on a national basis in the interests of Scotland, such as the new gambling laws, 24 hour licencing, revised road pricing model, benefits changes etc.
Also, the period of relative prosperity in which we live affords a window of opportunity for Scotland to say 'yes the conditions are here' and from there develop Scotland's economy without the hidenarnce and holding-back of Westminster which seeks only to siphon off Scotland's resources.
I wish I were so confident about Welsh independence!

  • 14.
  • At 09:50 AM on 11 Apr 2007,
  • Marian wrote:

It would have been far more relevant to the important debate on Scotland's future which is being decided at the 3 May election if the Editor had used his time to seek the answers to the following questions:-

If Scotland is the economic basket case that New Labour in Scotland claim it is in their “GERS” report then why has New Labour allowed it to remain so?

Why has New Labour failed to redress their economic failure in Scotland?

Why is it that Scotland has the highest business rates in the UK?

Why is it that ever larger sums of public money are needed in Scotland by New Labour just to meet existing commitments?

Why is it that New Labour in Scotland state that "economic growth" is a priority, yet allocate so little for it in the Executive budget?

Why is it that in the six years to 2006 the enterprise budget in Scotland appears to have grown by just 1 per cent against an increase of 38 per cent for the UK as a whole?

Why is it that the New Labour Executive in Scotland can burn its way through an annual budget that has almost doubled since devolution to £30 billion and yet have so little to show for it?

Why are Countries which are very similar to Scotland and facing the same world economic problems as Scotland i.e. Denmark, Eire, Finland, and Norway, not economic basket cases as well?

What is so different between the economy of Scotland and the successful economies of Denmark, Eire, Finland, and Norway?

What economic advantages have Denmark, Eire, Finland, and Norway?

What changes would New Labour make if elected, during the life of the next Scottish Parliament, to reverse the overall economic decline of Scotland's private sector industries?

What changes would New Labour make if elected, during the life of the next Scottish Parliament, to reverse the overall economic decline of Scotland?

Why are New Labour alienating English Voters by telling them that Scotland is an economic basket case dependent on England's largesse?

Perhaps if a reporter from Scotland covered the English council elections by reporting from a Morris Dancing meeting you would see how absurdly patronising the above story is and why Scotland needs and independent media such that stories from Scotland do not need to have some sort of silly angle, tartan, or moody Celtic music playing in the background to be newsworthy.

The story is the Scottish general election and the possible breakup of the UK as a result, and you are talking about a hair net?

  • 16.
  • At 02:58 PM on 11 Apr 2007,
  • Rich wrote:

HAHAHA! You Scots take things far too seriously... I suppose I am another patronising Englishman to you?!

I have been studying your elections very closely and a few months ago I would have said that the break up of the Union would be a disaster, it is still a long way off for granted, but... I mean what about all the "little" things... the GB Olympic team, Davis cup and everything else we do together, jobs, blah... it's not just about politics. Sometimes I can't help but think it's about what happened 500 (or so) years ago for you guys; I was not born then by-the-by! The SNP have so blatently used the 'Braveheart' approach in their elections it's funny, and you seem to be taking the bate... anyway I believe I am rambling...

Just do what you will, break it up and that way we can just get on with life and the 'important' things; make of that what you will.

  • 17.
  • At 04:05 PM on 11 Apr 2007,
  • Alister M wrote:

Rich, no you are not another patronising Englishman. In order to be so you would need to have some sort of command of the subject matter. The 500 hundred years reference - was that aimed at the Act of Union or William 'Braveheart' Wallace? Either way you were only a couple of centuries out.

  • 18.
  • At 06:33 PM on 11 Apr 2007,
  • Simon Storey wrote:

I agree with Craig - I too hope that both Scotland and Wales take the independence route. That way they can stop bloody moaning about it, and we can all get on with out lives.

In all seriousness though, as the national broadcaster the BBC has it's responsibility to the licence payer, many of whom (such as myself) really couldn't give a damn about politics, be they English, Scottish, Albanian or none of the above. I think that in this case the BBC succeeded in making a political report even an idiot like myself might find some interest in.

  • 19.
  • At 06:42 PM on 11 Apr 2007,
  • Dave wrote:

One thing is a certainty in this allection, which ever party forms the goverment will give them self's a pay rise.

Give the same amount of airtime on the UK News to the Scottish and Welsh parliaments as you do to discussions about English issues (health, education etc. - the equivalent of what the other Parliaments cover) at the Westminster parliament.

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