Editors welcome U-turn by SNP over media access to leadership hustings


Humza Yousaf, Katie Forbes and Ash Regan.

The Society of Editors has welcomed a partial U-turn by Scottish National Party bosses following its previous decision to bar media access to the party’s upcoming leadership hustings events.

However, West Dunbartonshire Council’s ruling Labour Group continues to impose its sanctions on Democrat editor Bill Heaney who was banned from speaking to its press officers after he complained about the sound in the council chamber and the press and public being unable to identify councillors and officials involved in meetings because the seating was arranged in a way that saw most of them sitting with their backs to the public gallery.

Heaney said they had questioned his status as a journalist despite the fact that he has edited both local newspapers and has been a media adviser to a former First Minister qt Holyrood and the chair of the Treasury Committee at Westminster.

Heaney is a life member of the NUJ and a member of the Society of Editors.

Heaney said: “The whole thing is a joke, but not a funny joke. I thought it was only the SNP who were anti Press Freedom, but it seems Labour at local level here don’t give a fig about it either. Mediocrity is written across our town hall here.”

When the SNP hustings ban was announced at the weekend Heaney said he thought it was unbelievable that Murray Foote, a former editor of the Daily Record, would have anything to do with such nonsense.  Following widespread criticism of the national decision, described in a statement yesterday by the Society as “outrageous”, it has now been announced that broadcaster STV will be permitted to send one camera to record the first hustings at Cumbernauld Theatre this evening (Wednesday 1 March 2023) with a single print journalist and one radio journalist also able to attend. It is understood that all would be attending on a pooled basis whereby they cover the event on behalf of the entire media.

Responding to the announcement, Dawn Alford, Executive Director of the Society of Editors said. “While the Society welcomes the decision by party bosses to U-turn on allowing the media access to this evening’s event, the default position should always have been in favour of openness and transparency.

“It is essential that proper media access is permitted for all the upcoming hustings events to ensure proper scrutiny of the candidates for the benefit of the Scottish people.”

The previous decision to prevent the media from attending the hustings events had been taken by the SNP’s National Executive Committee and justified on the basis that they had been designated a “safe space for members to ask questions of the three candidates”.

The decision was branded “outrageous” in a statement by the Society of Editors which added that there was “a clear and unequivocal public interest in the media’s ability to report on the hustings” given that the leadership election would likely determine the next First Minister of Scotland.

Following the announcement, the BBC, STV, ITN and Sky also joined together to challenge the ban.

The SNP’s media relations would doubtless receive a boost were Ash Regan to win the leadership battle since she is a former public relations adviser, but she is trailing behind Kate Forbes, whom Heaney asked to help him but did not reply to his e-mail, and Humza Yousaf, the hapless health secretary who has suffered from an unprecedented bad press in Scotland.

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