Independence: BBC criticised for MSP Indyref role

BBC Scotland has been criticised for paying a Labour MSP to co-present a new programme which will debate key independence referendum issues.

MSP Kezia Dugdale will host a Radio Scotland political show. Picture: Ian Rutherford

Senior staff at the corporation have expressed disquiet over the appointment of Kezia Dugdale, Labour’s education spokeswoman, in a paid role as a presenter of Crossfire, a Radio Scotland political show set to debut this Sunday.

The arrangement contradicts a ruling from the BBC’s governing body that payments to a then Labour shadow minister at Westminster for her part in a similar programme breached guidelines.

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It is understood BBC Scotland was last night considering late revisions to the programme. The corporation refused to confirm or deny Ms Dugdale’s involvement in Crossfire but said it was still “formalising the format” for a show that “will be presented by a journalist” with pundits from across the political spectrum.

However, Radio Times lists Ms Dugdale as one of two presenters, the other being Andrew Wilson, a managing partner at strategic communications company Charlotte Street Partners, who served as an SNP MSP until 2003.

Both recorded a pilot on Sunday for the programme that is replacing the long-running Headlines.

A BBC Scotland source said management have failed to adhere by their own rules by appointing Ms Dugdale, a member of Scottish Labour’s Truth Team – set up to “monitor all SNP and Yes Scotland interviews, press statements and briefing papers” – in the run-up to September.

“[Kezia] is being paid. How much, I don’t know. Enough that she will have to declare it,” the source explained.

“They can’t hide behind Andrew [Wilson]. He has been out of the parliament for 11 years. Kezia is a front-bencher. She should not be being paid. But I know she is expecting pay, as she has said to a colleague that it will have to be declared.”

The BBC’s editorial guidelines make clear it “should not normally pay MPs, or others clearly identified as representing political parties, for appearances or other contributions to any BBC output in which they are speaking as a member of their party or expressing political views”. They can, where appropriate, receive a “limited and realistic disturbance fee” along with expenses.

Contrary to independence referendum guidelines, it is believed Ms Dugdale’s appointment was agreed before Alasdair MacLeod, BBC Scotland’s head of editorial standards and compliance, and Ric Bailey, chief political adviser, were informed.

In 2012, the BBC Trust upheld a complaint over five payments of £839 and one of £869 to then shadow public health minister Diane Abbott for appearances on BBC1’s The Week over a 15-month period after she joined the Labour front-bench. The trust ruled that “a realistic disturbance fee would have been appropriate under the guidelines”.

Former Radio Scotland presenter Derek Bateman said: “This is another example of dismal mismanagement and not knowing their own rules.”

SNP MSP Clare Adamson, a member of the education and culture committee, said: “Impartiality is covered by the editorial guidelines of individual broadcasters. As part of the historic Edinburgh Agreement, both the Scottish and UK governments agreed the importance of ensuring that broadcast coverage during the independence referendum period is impartial – and it is important that all programmes adhere to these standards.”

A spokesman for BBC Scotland said: “We are formalising the format for a radio programme that will begin this Sunday.

“It will run for 12 weeks up to the referendum, will be presented by a journalist, and will feature a number of pundits from both sides of the referendum argument. We will release further details of the programme, including the line-up of the first programme, in due course.”

Despite repeated inquiries from The Scotsman asking if Ms Dugdale’s remuneration for Crossfire went beyond nominal fees, her office did not respond.