Professor Bill Miller: Appreciation for a peerless academic

Bernard Ponsonby recalls with affection the late, distinguished political analyst Professor Bill Miller.

'Best in his field': Prof Bill Miller worked with STV for decades. STV
'Best in his field': Prof Bill Miller worked with STV for decades.

There have been two seminal elections of the post-war period which ushered irreversible change. Labour’s 1945 landslide entrenched the welfare state and Margaret Thatcher’s victory in 1979 recast economic orthodoxy.

1979 was also the first time that David Dimbleby anchored the BBCs overnight election results programme. He was flanked by the doyen of election studies, David Butler from Nuffield College Oxford, and Robert McKenzie, the Canadian professor with the swingometer.

In the Glasgow studio a young academic offered interpretation of the Scottish results. Professor Bill Miller steered viewers through a night when the SNP lost nine seats and Labour defeated the man who would have been Mrs Thatcher’s Scottish secretary, Teddy Taylor.

The ease, calm and authority with which Miller analysed the results should have led BBC bosses to sign him up as a resident analyst. They didn’t. Their loss was to be STV’s gain as Bill Miller went on to have a 30-year association with the commercial broadcaster.

First Minister leads tributes to pioneering election analyst Read now

Professor William L. Miller was educated at Aberdeen Grammar School, the Royal High School of Edinburgh and at the Universities of Edinburgh and Newcastle.

After finishing a PhD on information retrieval, the mathematician took his career in a different direction and applied for a job teaching politics at the University of Strathclyde, where the driving force was a colossus among political scientists, Professor Richard Rose.

He recalls: “William Miller had a very clear and good mind. But he didn’t want it to be empty and that’s why I hired him.” Rose, like Miller, was a pioneer in a field now dominated by Professor Sir John Curtice.

Former STV producer Henry Eagles remarks: “It is remarkable how three great analysts, Rose, Miller and Curtice have come out of Glasgow’s universities. They sound like a 70s band. They had enormous influence.”


The former Labour minister Brian Wilson said Miller played a major part “in establishing Strathclyde University’s reputation as a centre for psephology at the highest levels” and he paid tribute to the “clarity of his communication”.

James Mitchell, professor of public policy at Edinburgh University says Miller was the best psephologist in Scotland in his time, adding: “His combined strengths in mathematics and politics were evident in his highly innovative approach to the study of political opinion,”

During the Hillhead by-election of 1982, Bill Miller oversaw a telephone opinion poll taking STV viewers through the results. The “by-election of the century”, as it was dubbed, propelled the anglicised Welshman Roy Jenkins to Westminster as the then-SDP leader started a love affair with Glasgow’s west end.

‘The question, ‘Professor Miller, what does it mean?’, was a cue to have the tablets of stone handed down from the master as Bill identified trends, corrected politicians intent on spin, offered wider context and provided a bedrock for solid public service broadcasting.’

Bernard Ponsonby

Bill Miller remained at Strathclyde until 1985 when he crossed the city to become the Edward Caird Professor of Politics at the University of Glasgow. His study areas included elections and the democratic process and he published widely throughout his career as well as spearheading numerous research projects.

Miller belonged to that school of academic who was more interested in the university as a powerhouse to enrich the mind than a business pitching for an eye-catching line in the financial section of the annual report.

I recently came across one of his lectures STV filmed and the rapport with his students was so obviously warm and respectful.

In common with a lot of academics, he was never in danger of becoming a style icon, and tweed, corduroy, gingham and wool ties were never far away. He had a slight air of trying to invent shabby as chic but it didn’t matter, for the crispness and authority of his broadcasting cut through any temptation to pass sartorial comment.


Colin MacKay, STV political editor from 1973-1992, shared many an election studio with Bill Miller. He said: “His presence at pre-election planning meetings at STV lent reassurance.

“Calm, considered, thoughtful yet incisive, he explored with us the Scottish and British party strengths and weaknesses, surveyed the general trends in voting intention polls and mapped out the likely battlegrounds.”

The first three hours of election night programmes are an exercise in turning padding and waffle into something watchable. Bill Miller’s command of his subject helped build a sense of anticipation before the inevitable deluge of results.

He spoke softly but quickly and if there was something substantial to report, he became animated to convey that the contribution was significant in terms of the story of the night.

The question, ‘Professor Miller, what does it mean?’, was a cue to have the tablets of stone handed down from the master as Bill identified trends, corrected politicians intent on spin, offered wider context and provided a bedrock for solid public service broadcasting.

STVs long-standing politics and current affairs producer Stephen Townsend said: “Bill was a total joy to work with. On election nights, he commanded the screen with his fresh insights and warm personality.”

My first ever interview for STV was with Professor Miller. For twenty years I worked regularly with him and became acutely aware that working in broadcasting affords the privilege of meeting people who are simply the best in their field. Bill Miller was, quite simply, peerless.

His combination of huge intellect and unassuming manner drew an undiminished affection from students, colleagues and journalists and won the respect of politicians even when his judgements unnerved their desire to tell it as they saw it.

Bill Miller died within two weeks of the passing of his wife, Fiona Miller, to whom he was married for more than 50 years.

He is survived by sons Iain and Andrew and daughter Shona as well as six grandsons. Those grandsons did not know their grandfather in his prime.

Recently, a compilation of his STV broadcasts was sent to the family. Now, those grandchildren too can appreciate the mind of a lovely man who will be remembered with gratitude and affection by everyone he taught and worked with.

Freeman ‘confident’ Test and Protect will be taken seriously

Under scheme households are told to stay at home as soon as anyone experiences symptoms and apply for a test.

Coronavirus: Anyone testing positive will be asked to provide details of people they have been in close contact with.

Health secretary Jeane Freeman is confident people will take the Test and Protect scheme seriously and continue to follow lockdown rules with a “spirit of solidarity”.

It follows polling commissioned by the Scottish Government suggesting a large majority of the public supports the measures aimed at controlling the spread of coronavirus.

Under the test, trace and isolate scheme, households are told to stay at home as soon as anyone experiences symptoms and apply for a test on the NHS Inform website.

Ms Freeman said: “Test and Protect is an essential step in our response to Covid-19.


“We are taking this step now because it’s the appropriate thing to do for this stage of the virus.

“As with lockdown, we need everyone to take this next step very seriously.

“They have done this so far and I am very confident they will step up to show the same spirit of solidarity and care for each other as before.”

Anyone testing positive for the virus will be asked to provide details of people they have been in close contact with to NHS contact tracers, who will then be asked to isolate for 14 days.


A survey of 1037 adults across Scotland, carried out by YouGov for the Scottish Government, found 88% are willing to provide details of contacts if they develop coronavirus symptoms.

The same proportion also said they would want a test – if at all possible – if they develop symptoms.

Asked if they “understand the importance of testing to stop the spread of coronavirus”, 91% of respondents said they do.

The survey was carried out between May 19 and May 21, before both the introduction of the Test and Protect scheme and the controversy caused by the Prime Minister’s senior aide Dominic Cummings flouting lockdown guidance.

Speaking on Thursday after the First Minister announced an easing of lockdown, Scottish Conservative leader Jackson Carlaw said: “Nicola Sturgeon admitted to being nervous about this phase of the exit and no wonder.

“It will only work if testing is up to scratch, and so far that has not been the case.

“We still don’t really know what happened to the 2000 tracers who were meant to be in place by the end of the month, nor how long it will be until the system is in full swing.”


Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard said: “We want to see the Test and Protect system work effectively in stopping the spread of Covid-19 but for there to be confidence in the system there must be assurances from the government that all the testing capacity available is fully used – this hasn’t been the case so far.”

Anyone with the symptoms of Covid-19 – a new continuous cough, temperature, loss or change in sense of taste or smell – can go online to to book a test.

People who cannot access the internet can also call 0800 028 2816.

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Diabetics make up almost 20% of Covid-19 hospital deaths

Almost a fifth of coronavirus-related deaths in hospitals across Scotland have been diabetics, according to figures.

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Nurses are being made to share equipment, one says.

Almost a fifth of coronavirus-related deaths in hospitals across Scotland have been diabetics, according to official figures.

The statistics have sparked calls for protection and guidelines for those with the condition as lockdown restrictions begin to ease.

It follows similar reports diabetics made up 30% of fatalities in hospitals south of the border.

Figures obtained by the PA news agency from the National Records of Scotland show 554 of those who died with Covid-19 mentioned on their death certificates up to May 24 also had diabetes.


That is almost 15% of the 3779 total coronavirus deaths at that time.

Out of the 1760 people who died in hospital with the virus, 341 were diabetics – 19%.

Angela Mitchell, national director at Diabetes Scotland said: “The recent statistics underline the urgent need to ensure people with diabetes are protected and supported, especially as lockdown measures are eased.

“There must be assurances that people with diabetes should not be put in a situation that puts them at risk at work.


“Employers must put measures in place to keep people with diabetes safe, either by supporting people to work at home or, where this is not possible, by putting people with diabetes on furlough or by putting measures in place to allow stringent social distancing for those key workers who absolutely must be at work.

“We need to make sure that the new Government workplace guidelines work for people with diabetes.”

The figures also show 10% of people who died in care homes had the condition – 175 out of 1749 – and diabetics made up 14% of those who died at home – 38 out of 264.

Both type one and type two diabetics are included in the numbers, without a breakdown.

The most recent Scottish Diabetic Survey shows there were more than 304,000 people with the condition in Scotland in 2018, making up 5.6% of the population.

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “We recognise the challenges faced on a daily basis by people living with diabetes.

“Specific support programmes are in place for people living with Type 1 and Type 2 Diabetes.


“We keep all clinical guidance under review and continue to work with our advisors – including a specific diabetes speciality advisor.

“If anyone with diabetes has any concerns about their condition, they should contact their GP or their diabetes clinical team.

“They will be able to provide specific advice and support based on their individual circumstances.”

What’s it like being pregnant during a pandemic?

Mums-to-be feeling even more concerned during what is already an anxious period of their life.

Pregnant women are in the ‘vulnerable’ category during the coronavirus pandemic.

That’s left many feeling even more concerned during what is already an anxious time in their life.

Scotland Tonight spoke with mum-to-be Lauren McNally about what she’s going through.

You can access the latest NHS advice for pregnant women and Covid-19 here:

Jonny Hayes to leave Celtic after three seasons at Parkhead

The 32-year-old is coming to the end of his contract having made 67 appearances for the club.

Leaving: Jonny Hayes.

Jonny Hayes has announced he is leaving Celtic after three seasons at Parkhead.

The 32-year-old is coming to the end of his contract having made 67 appearances for the club since arriving from Aberdeen.

The Irishman wrote on his Instagram account: “From the lows of breaking a leg to the highs of winning a treble, the last three years have been an enjoyable journey, in which I’ve worked under some terrific staff and shared a dressing room with some unbelievable guys!

“Football at times brings tough decisions, so I’d like to thank you for all the support received along the way! Stay safe everyone!”


The Republic of Ireland international proved a reliable servant, often deployed at left-back instead of his preferred position further forward.

Hayes’ Celtic team-mates past and present sent him their best wishes as they responded to his message.

Skipper Scott Brown said: “Going to miss you my man. What a man and what a player. Hard going in the dressing room to replace x.”

Former Hoops left-back Kieran Tierney added: “What a guy mate. Memories nobody can ever take away.”


Mikael Lustig said: “Honestly the best teammate you can have! Top player and decent stories. Was a pleasure to sit next to you during our years together. All the best in the future my friend.” 

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Outdoor forestry operations to restart from next week

New guidance has been published setting out safe working procedures for Scotland's forestry sector.

Outdoor forestry operations can restart from next week.

New guidance has been published setting out safe working procedures for Scotland’s forestry sector in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Rural economy secretary Fergus Ewing said the documents contained “clear guidance to help a gradual and safe restart over time”.

With Scotland now in phase one of Nicola Sturgeon’s four-part plan for easing out of lockdown, outdoor forestry operations can restart from next week.

According to the guidance, some activities within the sector – such as travel to and from sites – will need additional control measures to enable social distancing, with enhanced hygiene regimes also required.


It also highlights the need for the cleaning of shared equipment and welfare facilities on sites, and says only the minimum number of people needed for a task should be working.

Mr Ewing said the forestry sector had “already made a vital contribution to the current Covid-19 response”, with workers producing materials used in the building of emergency coronavirus hospitals set up throughout the UK, as well as the pallets necessary to transport food and medical supplies.

As Scotland moves out of lockdown the sector will be involved in the “green recovery” that ministers want to see, he added.

The guidance has been produced by the Scottish Government together with industry bodies Scottish Forestry, Forestry and Land Scotland, Confor, the Forest Industry Safety Accord and the Forestry Contracting Association, with unions and workers’ representatives also consulted.


Mr Ewing said: “Easing out of lockdown will only be successful if we do so gradually and cautiously.

“The focus of the Scottish Government remains on tackling the virus, protecting public health and saving lives, but we are also acutely aware of the need to support vital sectors of the economy, such as forestry, to resume their activities safely.

“I welcome the fact that outdoor forestry operations can all now restart beginning next week, but it is vitally important that physical distancing is observed at all times to ensure this is done safely, and which reassures everyone that no-one’s health is put at unnecessary risk.”

Man charged in connection with deaths of two men

Emergency services were called to Balloan Road, Inverness, on Thursday at around 10pm.

Police: Significant presence will remain in area.

A 23-year-old man has been charged after two men were found dead at a property in Inverness.

Emergency services were called to Balloan Road in the city on Thursday at around 10pm.

Two men, aged 28 and 35, were pronounced dead at the scene.

A 27-year-old woman was also found injured and was taken to Raigmore Hospital.


The man is expected to appear at Inverness Sheriff Court on Monday in connection with the deaths and the injuries to the woman.

Detective Chief Inspector David Hadden said: “A significant police presence will remain in the area while inquiries continue and I would like to thank residents for their patience and co-operation during this time.”

Furloughed workers can return part-time from July 1

Chancellor Rishi Sunak also confirmed employers must start paying towards staff costs from August.

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Rishi Sunak: Chancellor gave update on furlough scheme.

Furloughed workers will be able to return to work part-time from July 1, the Chancellor has announced.

Giving the latest update on the UK Government’s job retention scheme, Rishi Sunak confirmed businesses must start paying towards their staff’s salaries from August – initially just 5% of it.

He also said a final self-employment coronavirus grant is to be made available for freelancers in August.

They will be able to claim up to £6570 from that date, giving those workers access to a total coronavirus grant of up to £14,070 each.


Businesses will also have to start paying National Insurance and tax contributions for staff in August, ramping up to 10% of furloughed wages in September and 20% in October.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak had previously announced the plan to get businesses to contribute to the scheme but he laid out further details on Friday.

He also said workers can return part-time without losing any furlough payments from July – a month earlier than previously planned, following lobbying from businesses.

But businesses must start bearing the costs and from August all companies using the furlough scheme must start paying NI and employer pension contributions.


In September and October, overall contributions from employers will rise to 10% and 20% respectively, the Chancellor added, but workers still furloughed will keep getting 80% of their wages up to £2500 a month.

The government will cover 70% of wages up to £2190 in September, the other 10% of wages paid with the employer, along with NI and pension contributions, making up 14% of the gross employment costs.

The following month, the Treasury will pick up 60% of wages up to a cap of £1875, with employers paying tax contributions and 20% of wages, representing 23% of the that worker’s costs.

The government added that only 40% of businesses had claimed the pension contributions since the furlough scheme was launched.

Companies can be flexible with their definition of “part-time” as long as a full-time employee has not returned to normal hours, say officials.

The Treasury said: “Individual firms will decide the hours and shift patterns their employees will work on their return, so that they can decide on the best approach for them – and will be responsible for paying their wages while in work.”

Since it was launched, the job retention initiative has been used by one million businesses to support 8.5m jobs in all four nations of the UK, at a cost of £15bn so far.


The scheme is expected to cost a total of around £80bn, or £10bn a month, although the Office for Budget Responsibility is set to publish detailed costs next week.

Business groups had asked the UK Government to ensure that those industries suffering hardest were most protected.

But the Treasury said it was not always clear which sector a business was in, insisting it would not rule out future support if required.

The Chancellor said: “Now, as we begin to reopen our country and kick-start our economy, these schemes will adjust to ensure those who are able to work can do so, while remaining amongst the most generous in the world.”

Sunak had faced calls, including from a cross-party group of 113 MPs, to extend the scheme for self-employed workers, which has so far seen 2.3 million claims worth £6.8bn.

The new grant will be worth 70% of their average monthly trading profits, paid out in a single instalment covering three months’ worth of profits, and capped at £6570 in total.

To combat fraud, employees will be able to report any concerns to HM Revenue and Customs.

Scottish Premiership clubs can return to training in June

The SPFL has set a 'firm target' of starting the new top flight season on the weekend of August 1.

Scottish football: Training can resume for top flight clubs in June.

Scottish Premiership clubs have been given permission to return to training from June 11.

The SPFL has set a “firm target” of starting the new top-flight season on the weekend of August 1.

Competitive professional sport can only restart in Scotland once the country reaches phase two in its routemap out of coronavirus lockdown.

Talks are ongoing about restarting football in the lower leagues.


Neil Doncaster, SPFL chief executive: “We are delighted that the Scottish Government have given the green light to the resumption of football training in June.

“We now have a firm target of starting the 2020/21 Premiership season on the weekend of August 1 and that’s a major step forward.

“We will continue working with the Championship, League 1 and League 2 to gauge their ability to start the season and if so, when – which may vary hugely between clubs.

“We clearly welcome the prospect of resuming matches, but we have to take all necessary steps to ensure we can have a sustainable league campaign.


“That means a safety-first approach, with games initially played behind closed doors and a range of measures to protect players and staff.

“The return of crowds is something we all want to see and we will be working with clubs, government and medical professionals to return safely to playing in front of fans as soon as we can.”

In pictures: Scots enjoy the sunshine as lockdown eases

People are flocking to sun traps to reunite with loved ones as the first phase of the journey out of lockdown begins.

Sunbathers are out in force after the gradual route out of the coronavirus lockdown kicked off on Friday.

With temperatures expected to hit as high as 29C, people are flocking to parks and sun traps to safely reunite with loved ones.

As of Fridaymorning, Scots are allowed to meet friends or relatives from one other household outdoors.

Golfers can return to their local courses and keen shoppers can visit garden centres for their summer essentials.


People are also permitted to go outside as much as they like, sit in parks and other public spaces and soak up the sunshine.

Sunbathers gather at Kelvingrove Park in Glasgow.
People descend on Troon Beach as lockdown measures begin to ease. SNS Group.
Locals gather next to the seaside. SNS Group.
Many take a dip in the sea as temperatures soar. SNS Group.
People head to Portobello Beach in Edinburgh to enjoy the heat.
Locals soak up the sun next to the Clyde.
Cyclists take advantage of the weather in Glasgow.
Sunbathers take their spots on the grass at Glasgow Green.
Locals enjoy the weather while social distancing.
Customers at Dobbies Garden Centre in Edinburgh. SNS Group.
Shoppers browse summer range at the garden centre. SNS Group
Shoppers browse plants at Cardwell in Gourock.
Shoppers queue outside the garden centre.
Golfers return to the links at Royal Troon as lockdown restrictions are eased. SNS Group.
Signage asks golfers to keep two metres apart at Cathcart golf club. SNS Group.
Staff at Bruntsfield Links show Covid-19 warning signs for the return of golfers. SNS Group.
Warning flag on display. SNS Group.
Social distancing guidelines as golfers return to action. SNS Group.
Golfers take advantage of the weather and rule changes. SNS Group.

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