Nats, Maps, and (Misguidedly) Feeling Small

     One of the more humorous aspects of the referendum was the complaint from some Nationalists at how Scotland appeared on the BBC’s weather maps. At first, I had thought of it was something of an in-house joke among such Nationalists, but quickly realized that they actually believed that the BBC was deliberately – and with malicious intent – making Scotland appear small in relation to rest of the United Kingdom, especially England.

     It was, they claimed, proof positive of a BBC bias against Scotland – a way of “keeping Scotland down” and “putting it in its place.” It confirmed that there was a systematic view of Scotland being insignificant within the UK, and as the campaign ground on, this view became entrenched in the minds of many people who saw the BBC as the enemy of Scotland and the pro-independence campaign.

     In today’s post-referendum environment, the weather maps continue to provide a source for manufactured nationalist grievance against the supposed injustices against Scotland by the BBC.

     Over the weekend however, this went to a whole new level as SNP members of Parliament got in on the act and used their position as public servants (and their substantial following on Twitter) to “raise awareness” and take shots at the BBC as well as people who support keeping the UK together.

     First, there was the recently-elected MP for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross, Dr. Paul Monaghan. On Friday, he tweeted out a GIF image showing the BBC’s weather map of the UK and Ireland as it appears during a broadcast, then drawing a red outline featuring an alternative view of the UK to show how the bottom part of the country (lower England and Wales) on the weather map appears to be normal, but Scotland appear smaller by comparison. The message in the tweet was: “How the #BBC works to make Scotland literally appear less significant: ‘The BBC Versus Reality’.”

     Then there was Ronnie Cowan, MP for Inverclyde, who said that “a weather map should be to scale and the BBC image is certainly not in a scale I recognize”, and Angus MacNeil of the Western Isles chimed in to say that his first political act at Westminster was an Early Day Motion (EDM) to complain about weather maps.

     Of course, a streak of SNP whining over the weather maps could not be complete without the wisdom Pete Wishart, the veteran Nationalist MP for Perth and North Perthshire. On his Twitter account, he accused pro-Union Scots (whom he refers to as “yoons”) of being “never happier than when Scotland is diminished and shown to be small and distant.”

     Looked upon separately, these musings would appear to be isolated and occasional rantings and ravings from eccentric individuals among the rank-and-file of the party. However, these are elected MP’s and leaders in their party, and in Wishart’s case, the SNP’s Shadow Leader of the House of Commons.

     As has been seen however, the senior members of the SNP are not immune from making ludicrous statements about the BBC, or anything they wish to see as insults against Scotland. Former leader and first minister Alex Salmond has repeatedly attacked the national broadcaster during and since the referendum campaign for its coverage, and recently condemned it for being “a national disgrace” and “guilty of sustained bias against the national cause.” (Note how he says “national cause” as though separation is the cause of all of Scotland - and it is not - as opposed to the “nationalist cause” which is the cause of the SNP.)

     This attitude toward the BBC from the upper echelons of the SNP have the effect of feeding into the general paranoia which already exists, and therefore legitimizes and encourages it, which in turn causes more people to believe the nonsense of invented slights such as the weather maps as part of a vast conspiracy by the Beeb to treat Scotland as a non-entity, or with less respect than it deserves. The result, among other things, was the ugly protests outside of the Corporation’s headquarters in Scotland during the referendum.

     In reality, the weather map issue is much less dramatic and exotic, but by no means boring – at least for those of us interested in geography and mapping methods. The BBC uses weather maps based on geostationary satellite images which are taken from a location approximately 22,300 miles over the equator, which means that the areas closest to the equator will always appear bigger in the picture than the areas further away from it because of the angle produced by virtue of the satellite being over the equator and the curvature of the Earth. Examples of them can be seen at the website of the Dundee Satellite Receiving Station of the University of Dundee, as well as this live map at

     Weather maps produced from these satellites are quite common and popular with news broadcasters because they require little or no reorientation, and I have seen them featured in several times for weather new and forecasts, including the ones the BBC produces when they report on the weather in the US and Canada . As the camera moves around the map from north to south, the northern parts of Canada and the US (including individual states and provinces) appear smaller while the southern parts appear large by comparison. This is very similar to the way the Beeb presents the weather in the UK, with the camera moving from north to south, and northern areas appearing smaller and southern areas appearing larger. In the case of Scotland-only forecasts, this results in the Highlands and Islands looking smaller compared to the rest of Scotland. As with everything else mentioned, this comes to where the satellite is positioned, and not part of conspiracy or bias on the part of the BBC to make Scotland and Scots feel small, insignificant, and/or inadequate.

     I’d like to believe that some in the SNP – especially those in leadership positions – understand this, but hey-ho, why let facts get in the way of lucrative grievance-mongering?

     Make no mistake, the only people who see Scotland as small and insignificant are the Scottish nationalists, because they are the ones who have an unhealthy inferiority complex about Scotland and themselves being part of the United Kingdom. Day in and day out, they bang on about how wee and powerless Scotland is within the Union – portraying Scotland as some sort of abused victim that has been relentless beaten and flogged senselessly. They look for anything which might be seen or can be construed as a slight against Scotland, and the weather maps are part of this in an effort to stoke more division and resentment in their obsession to break up Britain.

     What they fail to realize is that the decision to use certain weather maps has nothing to do with Scotland, and that most people across the UK (including Scotland) actually tune in to see what the weather is going to be like and then promptly move on their lives – as opposed to getting obsessed about how any one part of the UK looks in relation to another.

     To make this point more clear, I don’t believe the BBC has a pro-Cornish bias simply because Cornwall appears as the biggest part of the UK on the weather map; Cornwall just happens to be the southern-most area of the UK and is therefore closest to the geostationary satellite from which the maps are based. Furthermore, the southern part of the Republic of Ireland (not in the UK) appears larger than Northern Ireland (in the UK) for much the same reason – geographic happenstance.

     Perhaps the Beeb should change its maps to flat projections which ignore the curvature of the Earth. It really does not matter so long as the weather is properly forecasted and reported, but if it shuts up the more whiny Nationalists out there, then I’m all for it.

     However, while they whine about how small Scotland is, we need to talk about how significant Scotland is as a part of the UK – how it and its people have contributed immensely to the country economically, politically, and socially and culturally, as well as to its sense of self and purpose over the centuries.

     Now that’s a positive and encouraging story worth telling about (as opposed to whipping up corrosive, negative, and manufactured grievances), with the hope that it may guide future generations of Scots – proudly alongside their fellow Britons in the rest of the UK – to continue making invaluable contributions for a long time to come.

     As for the more eccentric Nats (including the aforementioned MP's), they can keep on feeling small and inadequate if they want while everyone else moves forward.