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‘Fell short’: BBC scolded over claim about Scottish votes at General Election

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‘Fell short’: BBC scolded over claim about Scottish votes at General Election

The news comes in the wake of a broadcast of Reporting Scotland in January, which sparked a backlash after a journalist claimed: “In most UK elections, Scottish votes have been crucial to deciding who takes power.”

At the time, a BBC spokesperson insisted their journalist had been correct, but the executive complaints unit (ECU) has now overruled them and said the remark actually “fell short of the BBC’s standards”.

Calling out the BBC report in January, Alba general secretary Chris McEleny said it was “completely fake news”.

A House of Commons report from 2010 underlines that, counting every General Election between 1945 and the present day, Scottish votes had a material impact on the results on just four occasions.

In the 2024 General Election, Labour would have won a substantial majority in the Commons without any Scottish seats at all.

McEleny added in January: “Scottish seats have not controlled the balance of power in a UK election in my lifetime. I am sure [the BBC] will be happy to correct this and not intentionally mislead the electorate?”

However, the BBC insisted to The National that it stood by the claim.

A spokesperson dismissed concerns about inaccuracy, saying: “During the piece our correspondent simply articulated the view that Scottish votes in UK General Elections have been crucial not only in determining which party gets a majority but also the scale of victory and the ability of UK governments to hold and wield power over time.”

But now, six months on, the BBC’s executive complaints unit has ruled that the BBC Scotland report “went beyond what the evidence could sustain and fell short of the BBC’s standards of accuracy”.

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In conclusions published on the day of the General Election (July 4), the executive complaints unit (ECU) said it had considered two reports from viewers that, in most General Elections since 1945, Scottish votes had not “been crucial to deciding who takes power”.

The complaints unit reported: “The ECU considered the complainants’ arguments and the analysis offered by the Reporting Scotland team in support of the correspondent’s statement, in the light of UK General Election results in the last 45 years and since the end of World War II.

“It noted that the only occasions on which there could be certainty in the matter were those when the largest party would have had an overall majority even if it had won no Scottish seats (and so would certainly have taken power irrespective of Scottish votes), and that those cases were a minority in both scenarios.

“It considered that, while a case could be made in support of the correspondent’s claim, it necessarily fell short of certainty because it rested on hypotheticals, and concluded that, because it was phrased as a statement of fact rather than an arguable proposition, it went beyond what the evidence could sustain and fell short of the BBC’s standards of accuracy in this context.”

The ECU said that their conclusions had been “reported to the management of BBC Scotland and discussed with the programme team”.

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