THE BBC is facing questions after a Unionist man attacked the Scottish Government on two political debate programmes in five weeks.

David appeared on Debate Night on February 24 to criticise the Scottish Government’s lockdown easing, before telling the Leaders’ Debate audience his views on independence this week.

The National understands David is part of a pool of contributors that the BBC will be utilising throughout the election period, meaning other faces may pop up more than once across political debate shows.

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However, other questions remain following the BBC Leaders’ Debate programme this week. The show has come under fire for putting several similar questions to participants Nicola Sturgeon, Douglas Ross, Anas Sarwar, Lorna Slater and Willie Rennie.

Three consecutive questions in the first half hour focused on the timing of an independence referendum.

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Sarah Smith went to the virtual audience, with members asking:

  • “Nicola Sturgeon said to us she is focused on Covid, and all that goes with it, if that’s the case how did she find time to put an independence bill through parliament?”
  • “Back in November 2020 Nicola Sturgeon was pushing for another independence referendum so is the focus really on a Covid recovery, or is your focus on a referendum?”
  • “I’d just like to ask why can’t we actually get through the pandemic instead of just focusing on another referendum?”

Later, David, who had appeared on Debate Night just a few weeks prior, said: “Wouldn’t it be better, just imagine how much we could accomplish, if we all came together – if we targeted the hospitals with the money that would otherwise be spent on setting up an independent Scotland, the billions that would be spent, targeting the faults in education, targeting the faults that we’ve got in the hospitals and social care, mental health, as other panellists and other people have said. Why do we have to look forward to go back to the old ways?”

The National: Scottish leaders' debate 2021 BBC Holyrood election

In his Debate Night contribution, David praised Boris Johnson’s detailed list of dates for Covid restriction easing and criticised the Scottish Government for being less specific.

Here’s what we asked the BBC about the Leaders' Debate and pool in general:

1) How was this pool of contributors chosen? 

2) Is membership of the pool based on political allegiances which are proportional to the Parliament, or how Scotland votes?

3) Why did the same man appear attacking the Scottish Government twice in the space of five weeks, when other members of the pool are yet to make reappearances? 

4) What procedures are in place to prevent the same people appearing several times?

5) How were questions chosen for the BBC Leaders' Debate? 

6) Why were three nearly identical questions on independence and the pandemic asked consecutively? 

7) How was it decided who would put forward questions, and who would simply contribute to the debate?

In response, a BBC spokesperson told The National: "The audience was selected to reflect the broadest range of views and diversity of opinion, across gender, age, ethnicity, geography, sexuality and disability.

"The audience was drawn from our Voters Panel which was formed following an open invitation to anyone in the public who would like their say.

"Producers spoke to scores of people across the country who applied to make sure a wide range of views were represented. Members of the panel will be informing our output across all platforms with their stories, opinions and questions.

"The debate covered a variety of issues which are of significance to voters and which are likely to feature throughout the campaign.

"Ahead of the debate, an explainer giving details on how the audience and questions were selected was published on the BBC Scotland news site."

The spokesperson provided a link to the explainer, which was posted on the BBC's live blog

The SNP were tight-lipped when approached for comment, but it is understood the party has concerns over how the Leaders' Debate was presented.

The National:

Previously failed Ukip candidate Billy Mitchell (above), also known as “Orange Jacket Man”, managed to notch up four appearances in the Question Time audience.

Mitchell claimed he had been invited by producers who wanted more conservative representation in the audience, and that the BBC sent him “offers for tickets all the time”.

The BBC told The Times that the programme did occasionally invite people to ensure a balance of views but denied that this had happened with Mitchell.