MPs from Scotland and the other devolved nations are being “marginalised” in BBC journalists’ social media circles, a study has found.

The first qualitative study into how 90 of the broadcaster’s journalists use Twitter revealed a “striking” difference between the number of MPs from England vs those from parties in the rest of the UK followed by reporters, its authors say.

Using data from early 2019, the authors found centrist politicians enjoyed the most attention from BBC journalists with Change UK and LibDem MPs averaging 11.5 and 6.9 followers respectively.

Labour and the Tories were similar, averaging 5 and 5.5. Meanwhile SNP and Plaid Cymru had averages of just 2.7 and 2. The DUP and Sinn Fein saw a similar trend, the authors said.

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As well as seeing fewer BBC journalists follow them, MPs from parties based in the devolved nations were interacted with less than MPs from England.

Researcher Tom Mills, one of the authors of the report, has said the study’s results are “concerning” and have implications for political discourse across the UK.

“I think what we’re seeing here is a measurement of political actors that are thought to be important by BBC journalists,” Mills, a lecturer in sociology at Aston University, said.

“And what it shows is that the core political perspectives and parties from the constituent nations of the UK aren’t seen as being important by the UK-wide BBC journalists, it’s just as simple as that.

“What are the consequences of that? Number one, the devolved politics doesn’t seem to impinge upon national perspectives, but I think this also has an impact on England.”

The National: Researcher Tom Mills Researcher Tom Mills

Mills said a lack of focus on politics in the devolved nations is leading to “a very insular political culture around Westminster” and “little public understanding of the other regions of the UK”. “What you see is the domination of a set of right-wing actors and centrist political actors in England and that becomes the kind of operative political common sense,” the lecturer, also the author of The BBC: Myth of a Public Service, explained.

“And that obviously has implications in terms of polarity but also just the shape of democratic politics. It means particular perspectives just aren’t being heard and aren’t able to influence the democratic process.”

Mills also wanted to emphasise that the study looked solely at the accounts of UK-wide journalists.

“While it’s true that there will be better representation and better following of national politicians by local BBC operations, this is looking at the UK-wide journalists who in their editorial remit should be representing the whole of the UK,” he stressed.

Under BBC guidance, journalists are told they should “reflect due impartiality” in who they follow online.

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And who journalists observe and interact with online matters, argues Mills, since Twitter is now such a central part of the political world.

“BBC journalists have enormous followings on Twitter, they’re very influential political players,” he explained. “They’re also followed by a lot of MPs and other influential figures, so they’re a part of live formation of political opinion.”

Overall, the study by Mills, Killian Mullan and Gary Fooks, found despite Conservative claims of left-wing political bias the BBC appears to be more oriented towards the right.

Keith Brown, the SNP’s depute leader, said that he would be keen to see updated data, but added: “This highlights the problem the BBC network has in grasping the reality that the SNP is a major force in politics across the nations of the UK.

“BBC bosses promise that us Scotland will be the major story next year but repeatedly they fail to turn up or just offer tick box coverage.

“As we head towards next year’s crucial Scottish parliamentary election it is high time that they wised up – or audiences in Scotland will switch off for good.”

A spokesperson for the BBC rejected Mills’s interpretation, telling The National: “We believe that the best measure of the impartiality and range of the BBC’s news coverage comes from consuming our news output itself rather than analysing who BBC journalists follow on Twitter.

“This study seems to assume that we only report on the politicians we are following on Twitter or that following certain politicians means agreeing with their policies. BBC News aims to provide accurate and relevant coverage for the whole of the UK.”