PETER Russell (Letters, May 21) urges “every lover of free speech and public scrutiny of our political classes to [apply for Question Time’s audience] when it comes to your town”, but in so doing conceals a great deal.

First, when he speaks of “our political classes”, I suspect it is not the entire political class he refers to, but that Question Time is an opportunity for one part of the political class to hound another part, usually those in power. Perhaps he still longs for the days when that was Labour?

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In any event, if one examines those whose appearance has led to allegations of unfairness – for example, “orange jacket man” (conveniently located in the middle of the front row), or a now-retired Conservative MSP presented as an ordinary “punter” – it becomes even clearer which part of the political classes he is suggesting should be the scrutineer.

On last Thursday night’s programme Fiona Bruce called for SNP supporters to put their hands up so that she could ask them to speak. Audiences at Question Time, we are told, are representative of local opinion, so since recent polls suggest an SNP vote at or just over 40 per cent, while in Moray in 2017 Angus Robertson still secured 38 per cent of the vote even though he lost to Douglas Ross, one might have expected something like two-fifths of the audience to put their hands up. Yet despite her claim that “We know there are plenty of SNP supporters in the audience”, only a few did. This can only be explained in one of two ways. Either they were there but were too bashful, which seems rather improbable. Or they weren’t there, in which case there are serious questions about how “representative” that audience actually was.

Mr Russell suggests that “It is a sign of both the weakness and the authoritarian instincts of nationalists that they wish to silence such voices [of complaint]”. Well, during the programme, a young man, interrupting a statement by John Swinney, claimed, to considerable applause from the “representative audience”, that the local SNP council had “within a few months of taking over announced cuts to local services”. Mr Swinney’s reply to this was that the SNP had only recently taken over, and, citing an Audit Commission report, that they had had to address “years of mismanagement under the Conservatives”. Is this the kind of highly selective ill-informed, and misleading "scrutiny" that Mr Russell has in mind? Or has responding, or, yes, arguing back, become the definition for Mr Russell and his fellow travellers of abuse, or seeking to silence others?

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Lastly, Mr Russell speaks of “toadying professional journalists”. I rather suspect that Mr Russell’s list would be shorter than my own. Perhaps he might include Isabel Fraser for her role in Ian Davidson’s notorious interview on Newsnight Scotland, a few years ago? Or “Newsnat” as Mr Davidson referred to it, illustrating the old Labour maxim that “if you are not for us, you are against us”.

Alasdair Galloway, Dumbarton.

Read more: BBC Question Time defends audience selection process

PETER Russell’s contributions to the Letters Pages are always entertaining, even if I seldom agree with his views or judgements.

However, his opinion that the BBC’s Question Time should be lauded cannot go unchallenged at a time when the show has come in for a barrage of criticism over alleged bias regarding the audience selection for the show. The format of the programme has altered little since its inception in 1979, yet since the Brexit referendum in 2016, lively debate and discussion appear to have been supplanted by anger, intolerant abuse and polarisation amongst much of the studio audience. There is no doubt that the issues arising from Brexit have caused dissension, division and anxiety across the country and that this will certainly be reflected in a Question Time setting.

However, I fear that the current vituperative responses of some observers to what appears to be gerrymandering of audience selection for Question Time may have some basis in fact.

After some individual analysis, it is clear to me that participants appear to be picked by unaccountable and opaque means. The BBC has repeatedly been less than transparent in offering a fair or open rationale when asked about how an audience member may be chosen. The official Question Time audience selector is Alison Fuller Pedley, who is known to be a supporter of Vote Leave and has liked social media posts from far-right groups.

Ms Pedley has been active in the past in inviting members of the English Defence League (EDL) onto the show, an action that was strongly condemned at the time by the local Conservative Party MP. In my opinion there is tangible evidence to suggest that audience selection is tainted by a political agenda and that this continues, not only to discredit the programme itself, but to raise major concerns regarding the very nature of the show in a representative, democratic country.

The BBC is a public service broadcaster for which we pay an annual licence fee. The makers of Question Time have a responsibility to people of every political hue in the UK to be fair, open and impartial.

Changing the head of audience selection could go some way to restore public trust in a programme and indeed, an organisation, that has left an increasing number of people disillusioned and questioning their credibility.

Owen Kelly, Stirling.

PETER Russell misses the point over criticism of last Thursday’s BBC Question Time programme from Elgin that projected a false narrative of modern Scotland, where well over 60 per cent now support remaining in Europe and around 50 per cent back independence.

What is the point of BBC Question Time moving out of London if it doesn’t reflect the different politics whereby a welcoming Scotland is moving towards our Nordic neighbours, who enjoy the highest quality of life, whereas our southern neighbours, led by xenophobic right-wing politicians, are moving towards Donald Trump’s vision of America?

For decades political consensus recognised that there was a democratic deficit in Scotland whereby politics on TV merely reflected a London viewpoint. The Unionist parties opposed devolving broadcasting and this lack of accountability is illustrated when some local commercial radio stations are getting away with cutting out Scottish news coverage.

Mary Thomas, Edinburgh.

PETER A Russell comments about “the hostility of the SNP and its supporters to any kind of criticism”. This is paranoia, defined as the irrational and persistent feeling that people are “out to get you”. Those who are paranoid are potentially or actually dangerous, prone to overreact to perceived slights.

William Durward, Bearsden.