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The National (Scotland)
The National (Scotland)
Hamish Morrison

Tories met with BBC Scotland to discuss ‘pro-nat’ dossier

SCOTTISH Tory party officials met with BBC Scotland to discuss coverage, the Sunday National can reveal.

Party staff met with editors at the corporation’s Glasgow headquarters at Pacific Quay on the morning of Monday, January 23.

A source told the Sunday National the party had prepared a “dossier” of evidence of “what they see as ‘pro-nat’ coverage”.

The party confirmed the meeting took place but refused, along with the BBC, to say what was discussed and who attended.

A Scottish Tory spokesperson said: “This was just a routine meeting that all parties have with broadcasters periodically.”

Another source, who has experience with these types of routine meetings between political parties and the state-funded broadcaster, said they functioned as a forum for parties to air grievances about coverage and “level” with senior editors while making criticisms of the broadcaster.

The former SNP staffer said: “The absolute brass neck and lack of self-awareness by the Tories to be saying there’s any sort of impropriety within the BBC that favoured the SNP at a time when the BBC’s chairman is up to his fucking neck in sleaze with his links with Boris Johnson and the £800,000 loan is mind-boggling.”

Richard Sharp, who took over as chair of the BBC’s board in January 2021, was revealed earlier this month to have connected Johnson, who was serving as prime minister at the time, with a wealthy businessman to secure an £800,000 loan because he was struggling financially.

The source added that the meeting was more than likely initiated by the Scottish Tories.

He said: “You probably do your research, you probably find the examples, you probably go into the meeting with the three or four things that you would like to see addressed – but like all of these things, they’re done in a very professional, courteous way because these are people you have to work with day in, day out. You can be firm, sure. Most of the time there’s some room for compromise.”

Parties could “play hardball” with the broadcaster, he said, but that approach tended “not to work”.

Asked who would likely have attended the meeting, the source said at meetings he had been involved in attendees included BBC Scotland’s head of news – a post currently held by Gary Smith – and senior political or production editors.

On the party side was the SNP’s head of communications and party officials, including figures such as SNP HQ’s lead on communications, and occasionally Peter Murrell, the party’s chief executive, would attend.

The equivalent of Murrell attending for the Scottish Conservatives would be James Tweedie, the party’s director.

The Commissioner of Public Appointments is currently conducting an investigation into the appointment of Sharp as chair of the BBC though he denied any impropriety.

But the broadcaster also came under fire by the Scottish Tories this month after a presenter called First Minister Nicola Sturgeon “our leader” during an interview with Rishi Sunak.

The party said the choice of words would have been “jarring” for viewers and said that Scotland had two leaders – the Prime Minister and Sturgeon – not one.

A BBC spokesperson said: “BBC Scotland regularly meets with representatives of parties who have elected MSPs at the Scottish Parliament. All Scotland’s political parties will have their views about BBC coverage and we’re always happy to hear from them – but we don’t provide commentary every time we meet key stakeholders in Scotland.”

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