Democracy in action: FOI request reveals government censorship of the BBC

Documents released under freedom of information have revealed that Labour ministers worked with the Conservative leadership and civil servants (who were supposed to be impartial) to apply pressure on the BBC to ensure that a series of television programmes were blocked.

The five programmes were made by the BBC in 1977 and examined how Scotland might look by 1980 if it became independent. In 1977 the SNP had 11 MPs at Westminster and district council elections were imminent in which there was expected to be a surge of support for the nationalists. The pressure on the BBC was successful and the programmes were only screened after the council elections had taken place.

A Labour Minister in the Scottish Office, Harry Ewing, now Lord Ewing, claimed that the implications of the broadcast were "serious enough to warrant intervention by the government at the most senior level".

This news follows the release of a civil service memo under FOI which advised Labour ministers "to take the wind out the SNP sails", while warning of the strong case for Scotland to be independent with access to oil revenues.

Deputy leader of the SNP, Kenny MacAskill, said: "We now have government seeking to undermine democracy. The 1977 district elections were pivotal. The BBC was being leant on. If you interfere with it, then you undermine the democratic process."

Labour and Tories united to foil BBC (The Herald, 6 October 2005)