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Paxman is missing point of this debate

IT NEED hardly be said that Jeremy Paxman is utterly wrong in his assertion yesterday that there is a "rising head of steam" in Scotland for a hatred against the English.

The campaign for independence is nothing to do with ethnic tension and everything to do with a desire to be in control of our own destiny and to seize the opportunity to reshape our country.

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Paxman diluted his comments later in the same programme but, together with the similar statements made last year by his BBC colleague Andrew Marr, they suggest that many London-based journalists fundamentally misunderstand the arguments driving the push for independence.

Both Paxman and Marr are primarily political interviewers whose job it is to wring answers from politicians who are often indisposed to providing them. If that involves tough, repeated questioning, so be it. The interests of democracy are being served.

However, Marr's comments during an interview with Alex Salmond to the effect that he believed an independent Scotland would find it difficult to join the European Union did ring warning bells.

Viewers are absolutely entitled to know what Salmond thinks on that matter. Marr's personal opinions are irrelevant and should have remained private.

But do Paxman's comments, and those by Marr, add credence to suspicions that the BBC is institutionally biased against the Yes camp, as some of its supporters fervently believe.

Clearly, journalists at BBC Scotland will be better informed on the nuances of the independence debate than their colleagues south of the Border. It is not easy to find definitive proof to support the accusations of bias often hurled at their reports. The research by Professor John Robertson does not do so — at least not beyond reasonable doubt. Indeed, complaints levelled at BBC Scotland by the Better Together camp, show that perceptions of bias are not limited to just one side. An old journalism adage states that if you are under fire from both sides you are doing your job properly.

The Sunday Herald, which has openly declared its support for a Yes vote in September, continues to publish news reports on initiatives and statements with which we do not agree (and not all of these come from the Better Together camp).

The BBC — unlike newspapers — is under a charter obligation to be impartial in its reporting. Yet it feels justified in broadcasting a slew of negative stories which, although individually "balanced" with quotes from Yes representatives, overwhelm through sheer force of numbers, stories emanating from the other side of the argument.

If that situation complies with its current code of practice then perhaps it's time to admit that the referendum debate is not politics as usual and the code needs re-examined.

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