Alex Massie

Dimbleby Fail

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I didn't watch Question Time last night, but there seems to be some stushie over David Dimbleby's refusal to allow Nicola Sturgeon to talk about fiscal autonomy. "This is for a UK audience!" squawked our host, shutting down any discussion of a matter that, whatever he may believe (if he knows anything about the subject) is not in fact of merely local, tartan interest. 

I don't quite agree with everything Joan McAlpine writes here but many of her points are well-made. Dimbleby's attitude - assuming it has been reported correctly - reflects a London-based parochialism that does neither him nor the Corporation any credit. This is not a Scotland vs England affair; rather it reflects a presumption that while it is taken for granted that viewers in the rest of Britain should be interested in discussions about tube strikes in London or the next round of Boris vs Ken, matters of more local interest in Glasgow or Manchester or Cardiff cannot be expected to interest the wider audience. (The exception to this general rule seems to be when the programme vists Ulster.)

But if this is the case then one wonders what is the point of taking Question Time around the country anyway? As it happens, I think what happens in London should interest people in the rest of the UK and vice versa. Instead, however, it's hard to avoid the impression that the programme brings the metropolis (or rather, the Westminster Village) to the provinces where, as Rod Liddle noted last week, Ministers are shocked to discover that people have different perspectives and even, sometimes, priorities.

In any case, the question of fiscal powers for Holyrood is not a Scots-only affair since, by definition, changes in how Scottish public spending is financed have an impact on public spending in England and Wales too, to say nothing of the longer-term constitutional impact it may or may not have. (Incidentally this is also why, thanks to Barnett, the funding of English universities is also a matter for Scottish MPs at Westminster.)

Since Question Time rarely comes to Scotland (and Wales), it's not unreasonable to suppose that it might be able to devote, say, 20 minutes to discussing Scottish (or Welsh) issues once a series. The same might be said of its travels to northern England or the west country.

Relatedly, moving Radio 5 to Manchester is a good thing and those BBC Executives scared of northern deprivation should be told to seek alternative employment.

UPDATE: Gerry Hassan has more to say on this. So does Lallands Peat Worrier while James Kelly observes the irony that much of the first 15 minuted of last night's programme was spent discussing the London housing market, rendering Dimbleby's suggestion that "We may be in Glasgow, but Question Time goes out to the whole United Kingdom" doubly comic and ironic.

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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