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They had to do something to divert attention from the shameful behaviour of the opposition parties, especially Labour, over Wednesday’s minimum price for alcohol vote.

The vote that saw Labour join with the Tories and Lib Dems to block plans that would have saved lives, improved health and saved £millions was always going to be a difficult one for the media to contain, so something was needed – anything really.

The story that duly popped up to dominate much of Saturday’s Scottish news is indicative of the level of desperation being felt.

Flat screen TV’s, we are told, are to be bought in order to provide prisoners, or cons depending on what article you read, with home comforts.  According to headlines, the Scottish Prison Service (SPS) are to spend some £250,000 of taxpayer’s cash ensuring criminals can continue to watch their favourite TV shows.

It’s apparently a national scandal, so great is the anger that the BBC have decided that it should take top spot in their online Scottish news section, as I write at 23:00 hrs it is still the top story.  Pacific Quay has also provided regular bulletins to ensure that the populace are kept ‘informed’.

The Daily Record has it as its main story and The Scotsman and Herald are also covering the sensational revelation.  The Record’s Magnus Gardham tells us that: “Taxpayers to fork out £250,000 each year so cons can get 1600 flat-screen TVs ...”.  Labour's shadow justice secretary Richard Baker claims that the move will "shock" the taxpayer.

Given the presentation from the media in Scotland, Mr Baker may well be correct.

But is the story all it appears, is this a national scandal generating ‘anger’ all over the country or is the story yet another example of the influence the Labour party exerts over the media in Scotland?

The story has three main points:

  • 1600 TV sets are being bought for use in prisons at a cost of around £250,000
  • These new sets will replace old ones.
  • 7800 Prisoners have to pay £1 a week each to watch TV.

But is this the hitherto unheard of practice the ‘Scottish’ news media are implying?

Well the figure of 1600, according to the SPS, is the number of sets that they have had to replace annually since 1999, when in-cell TVs were first introduced – not quite the unique sensation readers would have inferred from the headlines.  In fact the tender put out this time by SPS doesn’t even guarantee that they will order 1600 sets.

The other thing of course, given that the party who were in government in 1999 was Labour, is that this is a practice Labour will have known about for 11 years.  So, it seems that for the eight years they were in office the Labour party were only too happy for public cash to be spent on replacing TV sets.  It’s also clear that there would have been an initial outlay in order to purchase the original TV sets.  Did the BBC, The Record, The Herald and The Scotsman inform the public then of this ‘shocking’ practice?

The argument against the replacements this year is apparently due to the cuts to the Scottish budget.  Fair enough, a saving of £250,000 would be welcome.  However the SPS has made it clear that prisoners have to pay £1 per week in order to watch the TVs and almost 8000 prisoners means that there is the potential to raise over £400,000 every year.  Far from costing the taxpayer money, the policy actually pays for itself, indeed it may actually make money.

An SPS spokesman said: "Prisoners are charged £1 per week for televisions and we have around 7,800 prisoners at the moment. There is, therefore, no cost to the taxpayer.”

A Scottish government spokeswoman said:"Prisoners have to pay a weekly fee for this use and any purchase of equipment is paid for by prisoners themselves."

Mr Baker simply ignores the official confirmation that the service costs the taxpayer nothing and says: "Given the fact that we're about to have a budget where there will be swingeing cuts announced, no doubt to important areas of the justice department budget, including the prison service, I cannot accept that this is appropriate use of public money."

So given Mr Baker’s sudden distaste for a practice introduced 11 years ago when his own party were in power, and one that they seemed pretty happy to continue with then one has to ask why the sudden about turn and just what is Labour proposing to do about it?

Well according to The Daily Record, Mr Baker has promised that prisoners will have to “work for perks” if Labour win the next Holyrood election.  What perks is it that Mr Baker is referring to - TVs or something else?  – the articles do not say.    And if prisoners are still to be allowed access to TVs, but this time in return for ‘work’, then will they no longer have to pay the £1 weekly charge?

The truth of course is that the media aren’t really interested in Labour hypocrisy or even questioning Mr Baker in order to gain some clarification for his claims and promises.  In fact the whole story originated from Mr Baker himself after he received a reply from the Scottish government following a parliamentary question he asked on the matter.

The sad thing is that we, the Scottish public, can do nothing to prevent what looks like a blatant attempt at presenting a Labour party press release as major headline news.  We can though try our best to draw attention to the practice if and when we find evidence suggesting it is happening.

Meanwhile
Everyone will, by now, be familiar with the term that is rolled out whenever an SNP policy comes under attack.  The term ‘Flagship Policy’ has been used to describe just about every SNP policy or manifesto pledge since they came to power in 2007.

On Friday/Saturday the ‘Scottish’ media surpassed themselves with their use of the term.  For in a 24 hour period the term, normally used to refer to a single unique item of importance, was used to describe no less than four separate SNP policies.  Incredibly BBC Radio Scotland gave the SNP two flagship policies in the space of half an hour.

For the record the four were:

The Scotsman - Inquiry demanded into new curriculum - Fri 12 Nov
“The professor's comments came after Mr Russell praised the impact of the SNP's flagship curriculum on Scotland's schools during a Holyrood debate on the issue yesterday.”

The Herald - Power chief warns of risk in relying on ‘green energy god’ - Sat 13 Nov
“Alex Salmond has been warned that his flagship policy backing renewable energy risks the “lights going out”.”

Good Morning Scotland – Scottish water - Friday 12 Nov
Nick Rougvie: “It was supposed to be one of the flagship bills of the SNP’s first term in office...”

Good Morning Scotland - Minimum price per unit alcohol - Friday 12 Nov
Gary Robertson: “It’s been a tough week for the SNP government, their flagship proposal for tackling Scotland’s booze culture, minimum pricing....”

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