Many people are outraged at the extent to which the Scottish Nationalists deliberately lie about the numbers which appear on their marches.
It is a fact that without A Force For Good diligently attending these events, standing up for the United Kingdom, and filming and counting the marchers, then the truth would never be known, and complete lies would be written into history, and the truth would be completely unavailable.
Unfortunately, here in Scotland, we also face a mainstream media which seems to have given up on trying to report, much less find, the truth!
Back on 11 January this year, the nationalist group "All Under One Banner" held a march through Glasgow. AFFG was there, and we filmed and counted them at 10,156, passing in 84 minutes. You can see our video evidence here.
Of course, the SNP-supporting march organisers pretended there was 80,000 people. This figure was reported without challenge in several newspapers and on the television.
For example, Ian Blackford SNP MP repeated the "80,000" lie on BBC 2's Daily Politics (14-1-20) without being questioned on it by the presenter, Jo Coburn.
When we opened the Glasgow Evening Times on Monday 13 January and saw another hugely misleading headline, we decided to do something about it.
THE INDEPENDENT PRESS STANDARDS ORGANISATION (IPSO)
The IPSO has an Editor's Code which attempts to hold newspapers to certain standards. The IPSO 'Editor's Code of Practice' is here.
We believe the headline breached the guidelines and we decided to make a formal complaint.
The IPSO recommends that a complainant first attempt to settle a dispute with the Editor before approaching their organisation. So we wrote to the Editor of the Evening Times (who is also the Editor of The National ) on 15 January.
We pointed out that his figure of 80,000 was a significant inaccuracy, misleading and a distortion of the facts. We asked for his opinion of our correct point of view because we were minded to contact the IPSO.
We also published the letter on our Facebook Page on 16 January here.
We gave it to 15 February, one month later, to hear back from him...
But answer came there none!
So we wrote to him a second time. We waited another month, and by 17 March, having given the Editor two chances to respond, we finally wrote our formal complaint to the IPSO.
OUR FORMAL COMPLAINT TO THE IPSO
We stated that the article above, published in the Glasgow Evening Times, dated Monday 13th January 2020, p.4 (with pics on p.5), headlined "HUGE MARCH FOR INDYREF2 VOTE", with the sub-heading "Row over referendum rolls on as politicians join 80,000 on march" was in contradiction of the IPSO Editor's Code, specifically Clause 1 (Accuracy), particularly paragraphs i and iv, which state:
i) The Press must take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information or images, including headlines not supported by the text.
iv) The Press, while free to editorialise and campaign, must distinguish clearly between comment, conjecture and fact.
It was our contention that this headline, which mentions the figure 80,000 (without quotes), was a significant inaccuracy, misleading and a distortion of the facts – given that A Force For Good counted 10,156 marchers, and given that the Evening Times would be in possession of such knowledge at the time of publication.
Furthermore, we emphasised that we have a stake in this matter!
As Scotland's foremost campaigning unionist organisation, our figures should not be ignored. For example, here are the figures we have counted so far:
Inverness 25-1-20: Scottish nationalists said 10K: Actual 2,892
Glasgow 11-1-20: AUOB said 80K: Actual 10,156
Edinburgh 5-10-19: AUOB said 200-250K: Actual 11,286
Perth 7-9-19: AUOB said 20K: Actual 3,160
Aberdeen 17-8-19: AUOB said 12K: Actual 2,563
Campbeltown 27-7-19: AUOB said 2K: Actual 974
Ayr 6-7-19: AUOB said 13K: Actual 2,762
Oban 15-6-19: AUOB said 7K: Actual 1,757
Galashiels 1-6-19: AUOB said 5K: Actual 2,122
Glasgow 4-5-19: AUOB said 100K: Actual 8,796
Edinburgh 6-10-18: AUOB said 100K: Actual 12,789
Dundee 18-8-18: AUOB said 16K: Actual 3,538
Inverness 28-7-18: AUOB said 14K: Actual 3,386
In this case, there was plenty of time for the Evening Times to know our accurate figure. We had published our evidence on the evening of the march on this page of our Website. And we immediately spread the figure and the link widely on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram from 10.40pm. For example, our Tweet below which was sent at 10.48pm on 11 January rapidly picked up 404 ReTweets and 85,000 Impressions.
This was plenty of time for the Glasgow Evening Times (and indeed all the Scottish media) to spot this and to know the alternative figure being promoted by the unionist side of the argument!
In our formal complaint, we summarised our case thusly:
1. We are Involved: As a Unionist group, who attend these marches, film them, count them and publish the evidence, we have a stake in the matter and our figures should be consulted and reported.
2. Poor Reporting: There was plenty of time for the Evening Times to find our alternative figure and to report upon it – rather than ignore it entirely.
3. No Balance: The Evening Times has a duty to provide balance, yet no alternative figure is reported from the unionist side of the argument – even though unionism is a majority view in Scotland.
4. No Evidence: The Evening Times has absolutely no evidence whatsoever upon which to make its "80,000" claim, other than the word of the organiser of this march, who is reported as estimating this number in the text.
5. Misleading Headline: The headline does not make it clear that this is an estimate provided by the organiser of this "All Under One Banner" march himself!
6. Absurdity: The figure of "80,000" is a massive number which is easily disproved by the laws of physics alone. For example, our evidence demonstrates that the entire march took 84 minutes, as can be seen at our video embedded on the above page link on this Website, and on our YouTube page below.
For example, 80,000 people would mean the impossibility of 953 people passing per minute! Therefore, it is not difficult to disprove these wild figures. We believe it is astonishing that the Evening Times has taken the organiser's wild figure of 80,000 at face value and has held it out as a fact in its headline!
We concluded our Complaint by saying:
Consequently, we believe that the Evening Times headline of 80,000 – which is followed by the article which fails to provide a unionist-counter balancing figure, even though one was readily available – represents a significant inaccuracy, is misleading and is a distortion of the facts in contradiction of the IPSO Editor's Code, specifically Clause 1 (Accuracy), paragraph i; and furthermore the headline does not properly distinguish between comment, conjecture and fact, in contradiction of paragraph iv.
IPSO RESPONSE TO AFFG's FORMAL COMPLAINT
We received a response from a Complaints Officer on 3 April 2020, as follows:
You said that the article breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) because it reported that 80,000 people were in attendance at the March, when your organisation had only counted 10,156 people. We noted that the article did not state as a fact that 80,000 people were marching, but instead said that this was an estimate, and attributed it to the organiser of the March. On this basis there was no possible breach of Clause 1. You are entitled to request that the Executive's decision to reject your complaint be reviewed by IPSO's Complaints Committee.
AFFG's REQUEST FOR REVIEW
We responded on 8 April 2020 as follows:
We would like to request that this decision is reviewed by IPSO's Complaints Committee please. This is because we continue to believe that this article is in breach of Clause 1 (Accuracy), para i of the Editor's Code.
That is, the headline is "not supported by the text".
We are aware that the small print of the article states, "organiser Gary Kelly estimated around 80,000 took part." However, the headline clearly states 80,000 as a fact, whereas the text of the article mentions that it is "estimated".
There is no doubt the headline states this figure as a fact. This is because it does not put it in inverted commas.
The clear takeaway from the headline is the apparent fact that 80,000 were on the march.
Only if the reader checks the small print do we see that this is an "estimated" figure.
Hence the factual headline is not supported by the text.
If the 80,000 figure in the headline had been in inverted commas then that would have suggested that it was someone else's debatable estimation, and the headline and text would have been in accord – and we would not have bothered to complain.
IPSO RESPONSE TO REVIEW
We received their review on 5 May 2020 from a Complaints and Arbitration Officer.
He stated (our emphases):
The Committee noted your concerns. However, in this case it considered that the headline claim was clarified by the text as a whole and the basis of the '80,000' figure was therefore evident to readers. The headline was supported by the text. For this reason, and the reasons already provided by IPSO's Executive, the Committee declined to re-open your complaint.
WHAT DO WE MAKE OF THIS?
Firstly, it should be made clear that the IPSO has not in any sense endorsed the figure of 80,000. It is not taking a position on the accuracy of that matter. Its concern is only whether the newspaper has "clarified" "the basis of the figure"; which it believes has been done in the text.
However, it does seem that we are to conclude that it is acceptable – in the eyes of the IPSO – for a newspaper to plaster any old figure in a headline, and hold it out boldly as an apparent fact to the casual reader – and without inverted commas which would indicate it is a potentially disputed figure – providing the newspaper "clarifies" somewhere in the small print "the basis" of this figure, even if "the basis" is simply a wild "estimation" from the organiser of the march itself!
Politically, for us, this is a serious concern, since the initial political damage is done with the headline!
After all, many people will only read the headline and move on. This is especially so in online posts, for example on Twitter, where people scroll down, read only the headline, and don't bother to click through to the article.
There is a serious danger that as the years pass, this tendency for the mainstream media to be allowed to misrepresent the strength of Scottish Nationalist support by a factor of (take your pick) 10 to 22 times or more, could have serious political consequences for Scotland, and the rest of the UK.
For our part, every time it happens from now on – in print or social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter – and to the extent that we are able to as an organisation, A Force For Good will continue to hold the mainstream media to account by making official complaints to the relevant authorities.
Perhaps we will continue to get the same old responses but at least our concerns will be brought to the attention of those who are spinning these lines by accident or design, and they will know that we are watching them!
Perhaps we can encourage the mainstream media to start to treat the Scottish Nationalist claims with a pinch of salt. Perhaps we can encourage journalists to recognise that the SNP has an agenda here. Perhaps we can encourage the TV presenters to start questioning such claims. Perhaps we can encourage the journalists to say "Where is the proof for that number?"
It is not good enough to sit quietly and listen to the SNP MPs and MSPs talk their nonsense. We must act!
That is the least that AFFG can do.
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The author of this article, Alistair McConnachie, has a degree in Scots Law.