ELECTRIFYING, said the Daily Mirror.
A viral hit, said The Guardian, featuring the smiling 20-something on its front page. Scots MP takes Westminster by storm single-handed, said Channel 4.
Watch this 20-year-old legislator completely own the UK Parliament, said the heavyweight Time magazine.
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It’s not often you have an MP trending – but then Mhairi Black is no ordinary politician, said Radio One’s Newsbeat.
One of the best maiden speeches of the 2015 intake, said the normally Nat-bashing Daily Mail.
Amazing, said the Independent, whose veteran political columnist, Simon Kelner, added: “She has helped restore this jaded old cynic’s faith in politics.”
And what did Reporting Scotland make of the phenomenon that was the blockbusting Commons debut of Mhairi Black MP? They talked over a 20-second clip of her speech, but allowed viewers to hear the deputy speaker tell SNP MPs not to clap at the end of it. Twice.
How could any news outlet get that judgement call so very badly wrong?
Within 24 hours of her speech an estimated 6.5 million people had watched the student’s blistering attack on the welfare policies of the Tory Government.
In short, the world and its aunty were paying tribute to this passionate yet bridge-building young woman, who came from nowhere to beat the shadow foreign secretary in his Paisley heartland two short months ago. And yet Auntie herself wasn’t interested.
Now I realise that almost every reader of this newspaper will dismiss that question as evidence of stubborn naïveté and misplaced loyalty. Just as anyone from BBC management will view any criticism as predictable and grinding the old indyref axe. Having worked in the BBC for 25 years, I know the presence of contrasting views simply allows senior editors to shrug and say, “with both sides attacking us, we must be doing something right”. And that’s what makes BBC Scotland’s non-coverage of Mhairi Black’s speech truly significant. For once, it wasn’t just a difference of opinion between Auntie and SNP or Yes supporters. On Tuesday, BBC Scotland was out of kilter with everyone in the mainstream media. Even the Daily Mail was able to see that Mhairi Black was making a little bit of parliamentary history – but not BBC Scotland news.
Now of course everyone and every news editor can have an off day. But July is shaping up to be an off month for BBC Scotland News after a generally-off indyref year.
Just as Mhairi Black was hitting world headlines, London-based BBC outlets on TV and radio were spotting the constitutional significance of David Cameron’s fox-hunting climbdown. News operations such as Radio 4 PM were quick to ask if the Prime Minister might now beef up the English votes for English laws (Evel)proposal since the SNP have abandoned their voluntary decision to abstain from English-only votes in the Commons. The Government’s current Evel proposal – already kicked into the long summer grass through a combination of Tory rebels and SNP pressure – presumed that Scots MPs would not flout the wishes of English MPs in an English grand committee, when their legislative plans come back for approval of the whole House.
But now that the SNP has decided to meet the Tories’ “no surrender” stance over the Scotland Bill with its own hardball strategy – also putting clear red water between the valiant 56 and a Labour Party that’s evidently ready to capitulate over welfare reform – no one can make such gentlemanly presumptions about Commons procedure. It’s a long time since a newly-elected government has been chased into the recess with its tail between its legs. It’s a very very long time since a government attempted to create a de facto English parliament without a debate – and 20 years since the SNP has voted on English affairs.
Predictably, this latter point was the main focus for network interviews with Nicola Sturgeon. Yet “Scotland’s own national news programme”, as Reporting Scotland styles itself, managed to miss all of this as well. “Analysis” was restricted to a lacklustre two-way with a BBC correspondent in London whose message seemed to be: “There’s been a bit of a fuss about nothing down here. Dinnae fash yersels.”
This simply isn’t a good enough service for a nation at the centre of a large and important struggle for identity and political power.
My guess is that since BBC Scotland decided not to show any of the other maiden speeches they couldn’t make an exception for Mhairi Black. But that begs the question – why not? Why not focus on one new MP per night or per week? It would certainly inform, educate and entertain – but it might be too much like hard work, adopting a murder-lite news agenda and getting involved.
Meanwhile, the good news is that Black is on the Work and Pensions Committee, so Scots viewers can catch her on the BBC’s Parliament Channel – even if BBC Scotland continues its policy of radio silence. Given the harsh times that lie ahead with today’s White Paper on the corporation’s future, you’d have thought BBC Scotland might be trying harder to win some friends in high places.