The SNP’s latest election graphic will make for uncomfortable viewing at BBC Scotland. As tweeted by Nicola Sturgeon today, the campaign material features a podium branded with the slogan ‘Protect our NHS’. Looming over it are the words: ‘On May 6, every vote counts in deciding who will be First Minister’, and in the bottom-right corner a logo that reads: ‘Both votes SNP for Nicola Sturgeon’.
Electioneering off the back of a pandemic that has killed more than 10,000 Scots is a bold strategy. Especially bold when one-third of those deaths were among elderly residents and your health officials transferred untested and even Covid-positive patients into care homes. But what really stands out is how brazenly Sturgeon has politicised her pandemic platform, a platform given to her by the BBC.
For the past year or so, Auntie’s Scottish operation has been extending to Sturgeon a daily pulpit (bearing more than a passing resemblance to the one in the campaign graphic), carrying her lengthy press conferences, nominally about Covid-19, on the BBC Scotland channel. This has caused consternation because the SNP leader has repeatedly used the platform to mount political attacks — including on Boris Johnson and even on the man who handed her the job in 2014, Alex Salmond.
— Nicola Sturgeon (@NicolaSturgeon) May 3, 2021
There are vital decisions to be taken next week about our next steps out of Covid restrictions. I am asking people across the country to send me back to my desk to take those decisions & keep Scotland on the right track by casting #BothVotesSNP on Thursday. Every vote counts. pic.twitter.com/DUGV861iLn
At one point, the BBC announced it would be scaling back the broadcasts, but reversed its decision after a backlash from nationalists. The decision to continue them into the regulated period of the election (even though Sturgeon hasn’t appeared daily during the campaign) highlights how apparently determined BBC Scotland is to pander to the Scottish Government — and how these supposedly essential updates stopped being essential once the SNP leader had photo-ops to pose for elsewhere
The Nationalists won’t mind being criticised by opponents for putting the pandemic in play, given their dizzying poll lead and seeming teflon shield, but BBC Scotland might not be able to brush aside concerns quite so easily. The Corporation looks like it's allowed itself to be co-opted by the SNP re-election campaign. During the 2014 referendum, nationalists levelled accusations of pro-Union bias at the BBC and demonstrations were held outside its Glasgow headquarters.
Giving Sturgeon an exclusive platform even as she used it for political purposes was perhaps the Corporation’s way of building bridges. Whatever the reason, the overcorrection has not won Pacific Quay any new friends among the nationalists, but it has left Unionists wondering if the only way to get fair treatment from BBC Scotland is to accuse it of bias and demand remedial action. After its cameo in the SNP's election campaign, BBC Scotland may find itself in the worst of all worlds: still hated by one half of Scottish politics and newly distrusted by the other.