I’ve begun down that slippery path of complaining to the BBC. Don’t worry, it won’t become a habit, but yesterday’s Question Time was rather irritating. The three topics discussed were state surveillance, Scottish independence and intervention in Syria. However the Scottish independence issue was clearly at the forefront, the debate being held in Edinburgh with an audience of 16 and 17 year olds (due to the voting age for the referendum being reduced to 16). If we accept this, can we agree that a panel consisting of four unionists, one advocate and one middle-ground is pretty uneven? Scottish National Party MP Angus Robertson pointed this out but was dismissed by David Dimbleby, who argued that the audience was split 50-50 on the issue. But if that’s the case then surely it should apply to the panel as well?
Yesterday, Scottish Green Party co-convener Patrick Harvie tweeted his irritation at the composition of the panel, which included no representatives from the Green Party nor the Liberal Democrats. Despite the Greens being among the loudest voices in favour of independence, this wouldn’t need to be an issue if the other panelists represented a range of views relevant to the debate. Instead, we get Nigel Farage and George Galloway. I don’t wish to add my voice to the chorus of cries at “BBC Bias”, as I don’t think there’s anything malicious in their decisions of panelists. What I do think is a problem is that entertainment seems to have become a greater priority than providing a good debate. Farage was clearly chosen because of his recent misadventures in Scotland and Galloway because, well, he’s loud. No doubt it was hoped that Galloway and Farage, sitting on opposing ends of the political spectrum, would go head-to-head in a ‘highly amusing’ shouting match. What actually happened was something of an unholy alliance where they agreed on most issues.
This isn’t the first time Farage has been on Question Time. In fact, according to this article he has appeared more frequently than any other individual since the last general election -closely tailed by George Galloway. Why is this? Both UKIP and Respect do have representation (well, in England) so I don’t object to their inclusion from time to time, but I don’t think either figure is popular or relevant enough to warrant this sort of exposure. I’m convinced that they only get invited on because they’re controversial enough to be entertaining but not so extreme as to draw immediate criticism and complaint. But if they’re giving minor parties this level of exposure then it’s only fair it be divided equally to other parties with similar popularity – to the Greens also and, indeed, the BNP.
I guess the ultimate question is: What do we want from the BBC’s main show for political debate? Entertaining pantomime or reasoned arguments? It scares me that the answer isn’t clear.
(As an aside, I’m astonished at the level of condescension and scorn towards young people I saw on Twitter last night. With a couple of exceptions, I thought the audience had very good points and expressed them well. Should we not be allowed opinions?)