Tuesday 19 May 2020

Stooshie Time

The BBC's Scotland Editor Sarah Smith (daughter of the former Labour leader John Smith) felt compelled to recant her words on last night's BBC One News at Ten no less than four times today.

Today she dressed herself in non-literal sackcloth and ashes, but last night on the BBC she had her equally-non-literal party frock on and an unfortunately literal laugh in her voice and said this:
The Scottish Government are planning to publish a document, a route map, on Thursday this week, which will outline how they plan to cautiously and gradually ease some lockdown restrictions, but no changes will actually be introduced until the 28th of May at the earliest. So it will be the end of the month before people in Scotland can sit in the park, play a game of golf or tennis, visit a garden centre or maybe even restart some outdoor work like on construction sites. And the Scottish Government say that, like all of the UK nations, they base their advice on expert advice that they are given and that it has got nothing to do with politics, but it has been obvious that Nicola Sturgeon has enjoyed the opportunity to set her own lockdown rules and not have to follow what's happening in England and other parts of the UK. The gamble is whether people will continue to support her taking a different path when they are living under more stringent restrictions than other people in the UK.
Her first pair of contrite tweets came after Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon took to Twitter to respond to an SNP supporter's tweet railing against Sarah's "shameful" report, with Ms Sturgeon responding:
Never in my entire political career have I ‘enjoyed’ anything less than this. My heart breaks every day for all those who have lost loved ones to this virus.  
Two hours after Ms Sturgeon's tweet, the BBC's Sarah replied:
I do not believe that Nicola Sturgeon is enjoying this crisis. I had meant to say on the ten o’clock news that she has “embraced” the opportunity to make a policy unique to Scotland. I said “enjoyed” by mistake. Not suggesting she is enjoying crisis but embracing devolution. 
On last night’s News at Ten I said Nicola Sturgeon had “enjoyed the opportunity to set her own lockdown rules”. I should have said she was “embracing” the opportunity to set a separate policy for Scotland. I never meant to suggest she is enjoying this crisis. Of course she is not.
Nicola Sturgeon then responded:
I’ve made clear my view on this report. I’m not ‘enjoying’ or ‘embracing’ an ‘opportunity’. I’m just doing what I judge best in very difficult circumstances. That said, I understand the scrutiny that comes with it and accept Sarah’s clarification. For me, the matter is closed. 
And Sarah Smith replied with two more strongly apologetic apologies:
For the avoidance of doubt, I am sorry that by mistake I said last night that Nicola Sturgeon was “enjoying the opportunity” to set a different policy. 
For the avoidance of any doubt. I am sorry that by mistake I said on the news last night that Nicola Sturgeon was “enjoying the opportunity” to set lockdown policy in Scotland. That was not what I meant to say and I apologise to her for my error.
All's well that ends well then? The BBC's Sarah Smith misspoke. First Minister Nicola Sturgeon objected. The BBC's Sarah Smith 'clarified' what she'd said. First Minister Nicola Sturgeon accepted Sarah's 'clarification'. The BBC's Sarah Smith then apologised twice more. All very civilised. 

That's not how everyone sees it though. (This is Twitter after all).

I'm seeing two diverging lines of dissention: 

The first, reflected in the 'trending' hashtag #sackSarahSmith, came from the usual hordes of angry, ultra-loyal cybernats. Unlike the canny Ms Sturgeon, many of them aren't for forgiving the daughter of a former unionist Labour leader, or the 'pro-union' BBC. They want Sarah's metaphorical head - i.e. for her to be sacked - and brand it as deliberate bias.

Meanwhile, some on 'our side' of the Twitterowebosphere think that Sarah Smith was right all along and have smelt metaphorical knuckle dusters from the SNP - and equally metaphorical grindingly repentant kissings of the Godmother's ring from the cowardly BBC. They think it is obvious that Nicola Sturgeon of the SNP has been enjoying the opportunity to set her own lockdown rules and are amazed at the BBC for apologising when they were actually, 'for once', right.

Partisans must do what partisans must do, alas. So: Did Sarah Smith misspeak, or did she report fairly and state the plain truth, or did she betray anti-SNP bias? And was she right to apologise or wrong to apologise? 

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