Andrew Neil hits out at BBC for giving Nicola Sturgeon’s SNP ‘a free ride’ in interviews

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The TV veteran weighed in on a social media debate following Thursday night’s BBC Question Time which saw the SNP’s leader in Westminster Ian Blackford tackle Labour’s Emily Thornberry and Tory James Cleverly on a range of hot topics. Mr Neil, who this year left his job at the BBC following a 25-year stint, responded to commentator Iain Martin’s tweet accusing the BBC of giving soft treatment to the SNP.

Mr Martin said: “Classic BBC Question Time on Scotland – Blackford (waistcoat) gets two minutes to burble on uninterrupted, treated like a neutral.

“Labour and the Tories constantly chivvied and interrupted.

“Fine. Do it to the Nats (nationalists) too.”

Mr Neil responded by saying that type of scenario frequently happens on the BBC.

He said: “Happens all the time. It’s because London-based presenters know so little about Scotland that they don’t have the confidence to question or interrupt.

“So SNP get a free ride.”

Ms Sturgeon’s push for a second independence vote was one of the topics discussed on last night’s episode aired in Windsor.

One online audience member said while he believed “devolution has been a roaring success” many politicians handed increased powers under the arrangement had used them to forward their own ambitions.

He said one of the main concerns floated during the devolution campaign in the mid-Nineties was “that it would be used by the nationalists as a vehicle for launching their own independence ambitions.”

The audience member told the panel: “Twenty years on, we’re seeing the opportunism of the likes of Nicola Sturgeon who are taking advantage of the situation and are pushing an agenda which is far beyond what the devolution campaign originally intended to achieve.”

Mr Blackford said Scotland had “changed tremendously” since the transfer of power.

Former Labour Prime Minister Tony Blair was the prime architect of the changes in 1999 which saw a Scottish parliament set up in Edinburgh.

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Earlier this week Mr Johnson was reported as having told a virtual conference of Tory MPs that devolution had worked out to be a “disaster” in Scotland.

The SNP and Labour criticised the prime minister for his comments.

Mr Blackford told BBC Question Time: “What Boris Johnson has shown by his remarks is disrespect to the people of Scotland and disrespect for devolution.”

Boasting about the SNP’s performance since winning every election since 2007, Mr Blackford claimed there was “massive public satisfaction with the way the government and the first minister, in particular, are dealing with the pandemic.”

Ms Sturgeon has been accused of using her daily coronavirus briefings as a platform to push her political ambitions.

Leader of the Conservatives in Scotland Douglas Ross said “more often than not” the press conferences aimed at providing updates on coronavirus measures had strayed beyond public health to criticise the UK government.

He said: “Now that the Scottish parliament is up and running, the place to make these announcements and to inform the public is in the chamber of the Scottish parliament where democratically elected MSPs can challenge the first minister and her government if they think they need to be challenged.”

On Friday at 6pm the SNP government’s strict new COVID measures will be implemented, which will see Scotland’s border with England sealed off for non-essential travel.

Opposition MSPs have raised concerns about the sweeping new measures, and questioned if it was in the first minister’s control to close the border.

Scottish Conservative MSP Adam Tomkins said lawmakers had “grave doubts” about the legitimacy of the new orders.

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