Electoral Data Analysis

BBC deliberately misreported Scottish local council election result

The BBC as the state broadcaster should set the standard in impartial and factual reporting of election results, but in the case of the Scottish Local Council elections it has failed on both counts.

The media narrative on the results has almost unanimously been that the Conservatives have done well and that the SNP lost seats, and so given that the Conservatives campaigned on a platform of ‘say no to a second independence referendum’ that means that the Scottish people don’t want another referendum.  This narrative has largely been driven by the BBC election results posted on their website and broadcast on the election programmes.

There is, however, a slight problem with that narrative – it is completely untrue.

Here are the election results from the council elections 2012 compared with last week’s, to avoid any dubiety I have sourced the results from the BBC 2012 and 2017 results pages.

BBC 2012 Results  BBC 2017 Results Actual Seats +/-
SNP 424 431 7
Conservatives 115 276 161
Labour 394 262 -132
Independent  201 172 -29
Lib Dems 71 67 -4
Greens 14 19 5
Seats Contested  1219 1227 8

Misleading seat count changes reporting narrative

As you can see, the SNP increased its number of councillors by 7 and the Greens by 5, meaning the pro independence parties increased their number of elected councillors by 12 (according to BBC figures). However, our screen grab from (right) the BBC 2017 results page shows the SNP as having lost 7 local councillors.  This is patently not true and the parties /candidates that are not standing on a pro -independence platform have in fact lost a combined total of 4 seats.

The Conservatives have done extremely well in triangulating the No vote and have therefore essentially stolen No voters largely from Labour, from the independents and even a few from the Lib Dems who were already at bedrock levels of councillors anyway and not likely to lose any more.

BBC 2012 results page – starting point for parties

In other words, although the SNP and the Greens largely fought this election on local issues, the Conservatives tried to make it a pseudo referendum on having another Scottish referendum and the result is clear: the Pro independence parties increased their councillor numbers by 12 and their opponents lost 4. More startling is the difference in the lead that the SNP has in councillor numbers over the second placed party.  In 2012 the SNP won that election with 424 councillors when compared to Labour in second place with 394 – a win by 30 councillors. Whereas in 2017 the SNP won the election with 431 councillors, a win over second placed Conservatives by 155 councillors.

This is an unprecedented change in the balance of power meaning that unless the Tories and Labour are willing to team up across Scotland the SNP will be in a position to be the lead group in most councils and certainly in every major city (often in partnership with the Greens).  Were the SNP to be blocked from council leadership by Tory/Lab pacts the silver lining for the SNP is that they would have a big stick to beat Labour over the head with in the June General election, by saying “A vote for Labour is a vote for Theresa May”.

I also listed the seats contested as a sum of the results reported in both years by the BBC and as you can see by the BBC numbers there would seem to be an additional 8 council seats up for grabs in 2017 compared to 2012, following changes made by the Boundary Commission. On analysing these boundary changes, the BBC has guessed that they would have meant that the SNP would have won 14 more seats than they actually did in 2012 and so they believe that winning 431 seats means that the SNP has lost 7 seats and not won 7 more.  This is nonsense and totally non factual – it would have been appropriate to state that the boundary changes may have favoured the SNP but not to state clearly the incorrect analysis that the SNP had lost 7 seats when they had not. We are not making a political party related statement here but as a leading independence campaign supporting body BfS sees the BBC’s misreporting as impacting negatively on the the independence campaign.

In this case, the BBC has failed in its duty to represent a factual analysis but also on providing incorrect data that it must have known would change the narrative of the immediate reporting of the results. Headlines such as The Telegraph’s “Ruth Davidson hails ‘fight back’ after Scottish Tory council surge” and claims of a “voter backlash against indyref” flow from that misleading results statement, but the Daily Record’s: “They’re back: Tories invade Scotland after sweeping local elections”, may well only serve to send a message to Labour voters that they can’t tactically switch to Conservative in the General Election without  increasing Theresa May’s majority over Labour at Westminster.  Labour’s response to the Local elections from Kezia Dugdale was “send Nicola Sturgeon a message” and reject a referendum on June the 8th, word for word the same pledge made by Ruth Davidson before the council elections. So Labour seem more intent on winning switchers back from the Tories than anything else on June 8th and tactical switching may not be as large as the Tories hope.

Daily Mail Print Version

Edit Tue May 9th – there have been a few comments asking for proof that other media outlets have reported it differently, so here is a photo from the Daily Mail (print version) who would not complain about being called anti-independence.   The Mail and others have now started to report the BBC figures. The Herald, the Scotsman, the Sun and the Express all reported SNP gaining seats.




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About the author

Gordon MacIntyre-Kemp

Gordon MacIntyre-Kemp is the Founder and Chief Executive of Business for Scotland. Before becoming CEO of Business for Scotland Gordon ran a business strategy and social media, sales & marketing consultancy.

With a degree in business, marketing and economics, Gordon has worked as an economic development planning professional, and in marketing roles specialising in pricing modelling and promotional evaluation for global companies (including P&G).

Gordon benefits (not suffers) from dyslexia, and is a proponent of the emerging New Economics School. Gordon contributes articles to Business for Scotland, The National and Believe in Scotland.


  • It is a pity but people living in England have been fed on BBC bias all their lives and believe they would be better off if they didn’t have to support Scotland I am a Scot and hear this all the time living in England ,it causes bad feeling against Scots . Why dont Westminster keep their noses out and let Scotland decide for itself . If the pm and his pals had not broken the rule of purdah Scotland would b independent and be better off by now!

  • Slowly buy surely some of you are finally letting the scales fall from your eyes, the biased broadcasting company is the external Tory party spin doctor. Do not forget how Laura Kuensberg and Andrew Neil sought to create the news and dictate the agenda completely ignoring the BBC tenets set in tablets of stone, to Inform, Educate & Entertain. ( https://www.google.co.uk/amp/s/tompride.wordpress.com/2016/01/07/bbc-producer-deletes-blog-where-he-admits-political-manipulation-before-pm-questions/amp/) The BBC’s reputation for world class reporting is now a distant memory and particularly in Scotland where its image is tarnished beyond redemption.

  • Interesting analysis, as a floating voter I’m really keen to get to the bottom of the claims of BBC bias and how accurate they are. It’s such a subjective view that reporting and analysis of the facts could easily be swayed by personal political bias or agendas. This website, is it not generally a pro-independence website? It’s a good article but I still cant help wonder if hidden bias still dictates the path of this article?

    I’d love an independent inquiry to investigate this issue, ideally by someone neutral outwith the UK. I’d love to put my mind at rest on this subject once and for all. When I watch the BBC news I personally just don’t recognise the bias people describe, but I’m open minded and it worries me.

  • Thanks for this. I do however doubt I get any accurate informatiom after the bbc and many being extremely biased during the independance referendum. These are decisions that will change the future for every young person in this country forever so I am absolutely appalled that it is allowed to be broadcast.

  • Whilst I agree that it is ridiculous to suggest a tory win, I can’t get my head round some of the figures.
    How do you come to the conclusion that the opponents of the pro independence parties lost 4 seats?
    161 – 132 – 4 = 25
    This would be a gain of 25 seats? Can you explain your calculation here please? Are you including independent candidates and if so which ones?

    • We have included independents and worded it “This is patently not true and the parties /candidates that are not standing on a pro-independence platform have in fact lost a combined total of 4 seats”. We can’t be 100% sure that all the independents who lost their seats were not standing on a pro-independence platform however every one we can find and thats not many was a unionist if not so overtly as the Tories are.

      • OK, let me be devil’s advocate for a minute:

        1. Your stats are based upon the assumption that all independants who lost their seats were “not standing on a pro-independence platform” based on limited evidence – this may well be correct but is not proven. How does this differ from the BBC’s projection of seats based on the new boundaries – which may or may not be correct but is not proven.

        2. Assuming all independent candidates were “not standing on a pro-independence platform” this leaves a result of 450 pro independence councillors vs 777 against. This seems unlikely and unrepresentative.

        3. Your comments regarding the lead over the second place party ignore the fact that the vote was split between labour and tory (both gaining a similar amount of seats).

        • 1) Most independent candidates from the limited research we were able to cary out made no statement either way on the constitution, for example the Rubbish Party etc. So they cannot be counted by and large as either for nor against independence. However we can say that they did not stand on a pro-independence platform, that is not the same as saying they are anti independence.

          2) see above

          3) No we fully accept that the extended lead over the second place party has been caused by the fact that the unionist vote was split , but didn’t feel the need to point that out as it was obvious and actually the point we were making. Whatever the cause it has unintentionally increased the SNP’s influence unless Labour and the Tories team up – we point out in the article that teaming up to stop the SNP taking over Edinburgh etc would likely have negative consequences for the Labour Party.

          • 1. You state above:
            “the Pro independence parties increased their councillor numbers by 12 and their opponents lost 4”.
            This suggests you are assuming all independents were anti independence.

            2. You can’t have your cake and eat it. Either independents are unknown and irrelevant, so opponents to independence gained 25 seats, or, the pro independence parties have 450 seats while their opponents have 777.

            3. Agree completely.

  • Nicola Sturgeon, or Angus Robertson, should demand an apology from the BBC to flag up to everyone how corrupt they are in service of their Westminster masters. It doesn’t matter if they get one, but the ‘oxygen of publicity’ would certainly do no harm.

  • You are the one misleading people and blatantly telling lies. If you had not cropped the screen grab of the BBC website everyone would be able to see the text where they clearly explain the 2012 are estimates based on the boundary changes.

    • We clearly state that is the case in the article and we clearly state that it is an incorrect way to present the data and other reporters and TV channels are presenting the SNP as having gained 6 councillors. There is no justification for presenting notional unless you want to skew the way the result is portrayed in the media. Even the Daily Mail has the SNP up six!

  • Hi,please excuse my previous comment,my bad,had another look,still say sneaky but expect nothing less from BBC….Thanks

  • According to Wikipedia, SNP won 425 seats in 2012, therefore their gain in 2017 was 6 seats.

    • I’ve checked the electoral commission figures and they say 424. It was easier back in the day when I just believed the news.

    • I agree it wasn’t 7 seats but I used the BBC 2012 figures which suggest it was and this is about BBC data not the reality, hence the use of their figures.

  • Nice article,in addition what really annoyed me,the SNP not being put at the top of their so called ‘scoreboard’…on the ‘scoreboards’ for England and Wales the the BBC did list the parties correctly,but not for Scotland,these sleekit,wee things do not go unnoticed BBC.

    Pity I cannot threaten to not pay the licence fee as I have already stopped doing that 😉

    • I totally agree with you its high time the bbc was made pay to view like Sky and the other companies ,don’t think they would last 3 months without more money from the thieving Westminster toffs club there is nothing on bbc that interests me so why should I have to pay for something I don’t use

    • It’s primarily ordered by the number of councils with a majority then secondarily ordered by the number of councillors with the exception of no overall control.

      As Independents control* 3 more councils than anyone else they appear first despite having fewer councillors than the either the SNP, Labour, or the Tories, while in the rest of the UK the number of councils with a majority scale with the number of councillors.

      *Independent isn’t a party and it is arguable that for the purposes of measuring councils that have a majority they should not be measured as one.

  • You say that to defeat the SNP the Tories and Labour would have to cooperate right across Scotland. Not a huge leap for them as they have done so in 5 Councils already.

    • Indeed they can but that somewhat undermines any ideals of a true “Union”, it would obviously be Westminster against Scotland ,or of Labour offering any kind of opposition to Conservative rule.
      Such a pact for Labour would be selling your soul to the devil, any last vestige of credibility would be lost, Labour would be devastated at the General Election and the Conservatives would be the beneficiaries. Sellout doesn’t even begin to cover it.

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