Ken MacQuarrie, Lord McFall, Donalda MacKinnon and Bruce Malcolm. Above: First Minister Nicola Sturgeon at the opening of the Lomondgate studios.
By Hamish Mackay and Bill Heaney
The Scottish Mail on Sunday (SMS) has revealed that Ken MacQuarrie, a former member of the so-called BBC Scotland ‘Gaelic Mafia’, is being paid £325,000 a year to monitor whether the BBC is biased.
Isle of Mull-born, MacQuarrie, 68, a graduate of Edinburgh University, who stepped down as the BBC’s director of nations and regions in December, has been given the grandiose title of ‘Executive Sponsor Safeguarding Impartiality’ – in other words, the man monitoring anti-bias, and he will train staff on the ‘impartiality’ standards expected of them.
MacQuarrie was one of the principal players in the team that brought BBC Scotland to the converted Strathleven Bond buildings at Lomondgate after extensive talks with Lord McFall, who was Labour MP for the constituency at that time.
Dumbarton man Bruce Malcolm, a BBC accountant, and Donalda MacKinnon, now retired head of BBC Scotland, were also part of the negotiating team who dealt with Diageo, the international drinks company which owned the extensive site on the west side of the A82.
The Mail news report declared: ‘The new post [for MacQuiarrie] follows the BBC’s new chairman, Richard Sharp, telling MPs that the BBC needed to combat accusations of “group think” amid concerns that there is a “liberal metropolitan view governing editorial decisions”‘.
Tim Davie, the BBC’s director-general, has already imposed strict rules to reduce bias among the BBC’s star performers. Measures include social media guidance around the liking of posts and the use of emojis, and instructions that staff should not ‘express a personal opinion on matters of public policy, politics, or controversial subjects’.
Lord McFall, right, at the opening of the road into Lomondgate, Dumbarton, with from left Cllr Ian Robertson, Bruce Malcolm and David Walker. Picture by Bill Heaney
The term ‘Gaelic Mafia’ may, indeed, have been coined in jest by myself, and came to describe the number of Gaelic-speaking staff, predominantly from the Western Isles, who were unduly prominent in the BBC Scotland hierarchy from the late 1960s through to the 1990s – actively cultivated by a former controller of BBC Scotland, Alastair Milne, who went on to become the BBC’s director-general.
Leading members of the ‘Gaelic Mafia’ included MacQuarrie, who was controller and then director of BBC Scotland from 2004 to 2016, and succeeded in the top job by Gaelic-speaking Donalda MacKinnon from 2016 to 2020; former head of BBC Radio Scotland, Neil Fraser; and Maggie Cunningham, who held several top posts at BBC Scotland.
Meantime, a BBC spokesman says: ‘Ken MacQuarrie will leave the BBC this year after delivering new measures to reaffirm the corporation’s commitment to impartiality to the director-general and director of editorial policy. He is also working on a number of other key corporate projects and ensuring a smooth transition with the new director of nations and regions’.