How to read a “Scottish” newspaper

On 25 September 2016, The Express newspaper ran a headline: “Scottish MPs enjoyed almost £600,000 worth of taxpayer-funded business-class flights last year, up tenfold on the previous 12 months.

The increase is almost entirely down to the new intake of SNP politicians eschewing economy fares in favour of the more expensive fully flexible tickets, recorded as business-class by the parliamentary watchdog, between London and Scotland.”

The first important technique is to look for weasel words. Alert readers will have had alarm bells clanging everywhere at those weasel words in the second paragraph, “RECORDED AS business-class”. The Express has written it that way because of the inconvenient fact that there are no business-class flights in existence between either Edinburgh or Glasgow and London.

The only airline that flies from either airport to Heathrow is British Airways, and it only offers Economy-class seats. The budget carriers Ryanair and Easyjet have flights to Stansted (twice as far away, at 30 miles), but neither offers business class.

So the Express’ headline about “luxury” flights and its stock-photo picture of a plush business-class seat from an intercontinental A380 Airbus are both complete fictions. (And for some reason the paper’s also chosen as its other illustration a picture of the Holyrood chamber, despite the story being solely about Westminster MPs.)

The article also features this highly-misleading paragraph: “British Airways’ Club Europe business-class service includes access to private lounges, priority check-in, extra space and complimentary food and drink – including Heidsieck Monopole Champagne.” It may well do, but it’s entirely irrelevant to the story as domestic flights within the UK are NOT part of the Club Europe service. On internal flights you get the exact same seats, space, food and drink service regardless of your ticket price.

The Express, however, knows that that line gives the false impression that MPs are living the privileged high life, without the paragraph technically containing a lie. The next paragraph repeats the trick: “According to the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA) rules, MPs can claim for business-class travel only if the ticket costs no more than the most expensive flexible economy fare available at the time of booking.”

Anyone reading that will almost certainly come away with the idea that the SNP MPs named in the article have broken the rules. But since what they’ve all booked ARE actually “flexible economy fare” tickets – because we now know that business class doesn’t exist on the routes – no rules have been broken, all of which the Express then grudgingly notes after it’s planted the misleading falsehood: A[n IPSA] spokesman said: ‘There has been an increase in the number of business-class flights but it is within the rules and we haven’t received any complaints.’

However, an SNP spokesman insisted the jump was down to the way IPSA recorded fares. ‘These fares are booked through an appointed agent in Westminster. They are not business-class flights but fully flexible fares which IPSA records as business-class. It does not mean MPs are upgrading from economy class.’”

The second important technique is to read the piece all the way to the end. Because while the Express is prone to misrepresentation and even fabrication, when it comes to reporting hard facts and figures it’s still obliged to bury the truth somewhere near the bottom of articles. Early in the article the Express says: “This was a huge increase on the previous year, when Scottish MPs claimed only £60,574 for business-class flights, and around three times as much as any of the five years of the previous parliament.” Right at the very end – when, as alert viewers will of course know, most people have stopped reading – it finally discloses the truth about the “huge increase”:

Because in the year since the 2015 election when SNP MPs replaced almost all of the Scottish Labour and Lib Dems ones, the total expenses bill for flights has come DOWN by £9,000 and down by almost £42,000 from the year before that.

(And the 2014/15 figures mostly comprise flights whose type is “not specified”, which presumably means they could have been the flexible type, which would mean the Express’ comparison figure of £60,000 was really anything up to £503,000.)

So what the Express has portrayed as SNP MPs living high on the hog on luxurious champagne travel is in fact a story of them SAVING the taxpayer money and sitting in the exact same seats with the exact same service as anyone else, only with tickets allowing for the uncertain schedule of Parliamentary business.

The lesson is to read critically – don’t just glance at headlines, look for weasel words, and read right to the end!

Expressway to Lietown posted on September 27, 2016 by Rev. Stuart Campbell

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