SNP Depute Leader writes to BBC over serious concerns about Brexit debate

Dear Lord Hall,

I am writing in relation to the proposed BBC TV debate on Brexit to take place on Sunday 9th December and would like to raise a number of concerns with you at this point.

Under section 7.2 of the Ofcom regulations you are required to be fair in your dealings with potential contributors. Having made contact with the BBC ourselves, the SNP has been told that we cannot be told the details of the proposed programme, to which we are apparently to be invited to participate in some fashion, until other potential contributors – to whom the outline of the programme has been “pitched” – have confirmed their position.

Such actions on the part of the BBC are clearly not in line with the obligation to act fairly and leave the Corporation open to the clear impression that you are acting on behalf of the Prime Minister’s office, a position I am sure the BBC would not wish to be in.

In relation to the format of the debate itself, it appears from media reports that the intention is to have two politicians, both of whom support Brexit, forming the main part of the debate – with those who hold other views invited to contribute only from a side panel.

Under your own editorial guidelines, you are required to be “inclusive, reflecting a breadth and diversity of opinion” and reminded that “the omission of an important perspective, in a particular context, may jeopardise perceptions of the BBC’s impartiality.”

We would question whether the current proposals – which do not in our view meet the requirements under Ofcom for due impartiality, nor ensure that an appropriately wide range of views are represented and given due weight in the debate (Ofcom 5.5 and 5.12 and 5.13) – are in line with those guidelines.

The proposed format, as we understand it, would not give suitable representation to the devolved governments or parliaments, where distinct views on Brexit are held; to the position of Scotland and Northern Ireland, both of whom voted remain; or to the SNP, which is the third largest party within the House of Commons, the governing party of Scotland and the second largest political party by membership in the UK.

This format would also not suitably represent either the support for Remain across the whole of the UK, or the growing public and political support – including from the SNP, the Greens, the Liberal Democrats, Plaid Cymru and an increasing number of members of both the Labour Party and the Conservatives – for a second referendum in which the option

of remaining in the EU could be put to the people. That is a position which repeatedly secures support in opinion polls.

As you will know, up to 6 options for the UK’s future will be voted on in the House of Commons on 11th December. To fully debate only the Prime Minister’s view and that of the Leader of the Opposition – views which have been televised repeatedly in recent weeks, and which are simply different versions of Brexit, whilst positioning other options on the side of the debate – would be to prevent the public benefitting from a full understanding of the options and potential outcomes facing the UK as a whole and as a result would be a severe dereliction of your public duty.

I understand this matter is being discussed with the First Minister’s Chief of Staff at present and hope that in responding to this letter a substantive and more satisfactory approach to the debate will be forthcoming.

Kind Regards,

Keith Brown
Depute Leader of the Scottish National Party