It’s difficult to get overly enthused about proposals for a Scottish Six, an hour long Scottish news programme to replace the BBC Six O Clock London News With The Occasional Nod To The Provinces and the sub-tabloid Reporting Scotlandshire, a news show which makes the Sunday Post seem like Woodward and Bernstein. Asking the BBC to report on Scotland fairly and in an unbiased manner is like expecting a zombie on the latest BBC show Great British Brain Eaters to get enthused about a vegetarian diet.
The BBC is by definition the British broadcaster, it exists to promote and foster Britishness, so by its very nature it’s going to be incapable of giving equitable cover to all sides in a debate in a country where the great political divide is about whether to be British or not. Blue Tories and the Red Tories of Labour spent the last few decades privatising and selling off all the state owned insitutions which fostered a sense of Britishness, British Rail, British Steel, British Coal, British Gas are all no more. The British state has become so attenuated that the Westminster parliament, the royals, the armed forces and the BBC are the only remaining British institutions.
And no one, not even Nicholas Witchell, could seriously argue that Willnkate’s airbrushed anodyne affectations are going to be the glue that keeps the disparate parts of the United Kingdom together in the face of Tory onslaughts on what’s left of our public services. The Clean For the Queen campaign was not received with any enthusiasm in Scotlad despite the best attempts of the British establishment to get us excited about cleaning public spaces because that same establishment has taken an axe to public cleansing services so that they can reward themselves even more. And moreover to do it on behalf of an obscenely rich woman who won’t even pay her own palace cleaners a decent wage. When the dug does a crap in the street I always pick it up and put it in the bin, clean for the Queen makes me want to pick it up and post it to Buckingham Palace.
That just leaves the BBC and the armed forces as the last remaining agencies to keep us all British. The army isn’t going to do it, not as it becomes ever more involved in unpopular wars at the behest of even more unpopular politicians. It’s no coincidence that as Britishness has declined elsewhere that we’ve seen a growth in the public cult of glorification of the military and the Corporation has become desperate to stick a Union fleg on pursuits as diverse and trivial as cake baking, ballroom dancing and sewing. An institution which is one of the last remaining bastions of Britishness isn’t about to give a fair airing to people who question the entire concept. People who want an independent Scotland don’t fit into the narrative of the Great British sponge cake.
A proposal for a dedicated hour long Scottish news programme has been around for the best part of 20 years. It’s a proposal which is ridiculously, embarrassingly, self-effacingly meek and mild. Asking for a Scottish Six reduces Scottish news coverage to begging for spare change on the pavement outside Broadcasting House in London. It’s a small, unambitious request belonging to the dark days of the cringe. A wee squeak begging to be noticed by those who make no bone about considering us unworthy. Please Sir, can we have another 30 minutes of news where we are?
Yet 20 years after Scotland got a Parliament with law making and tax raising powers the country still doesn’t have a national news programme capable of informing the Scottish populace of what their own government is doing. People in Scotland still hear more about the English NHS and the English education system than they do about their own. We still have politicians like Ken Macintosh, who used to work in TV, arguing that Scotland doesn’t need news and home-grown journalism. The fact that after almost 20 years of Scottish self-government Scotland’s news is tacked on as an addendum to the news from London is testament to the Ebeneezer Scrooge like grasp of BBC’s London management on power, and the airing given to embarrassments like Ken who are ashamed of their own country and frightened by its potential.
A Scottish Six would be welcome, like a stale crumb is welcome to a starving man. But it already looks like BBC’s London managers are setting it up to fail. Under-invested, produced in a rush by a demoralised staff without support or resources, the BBC’s London bosses hope to produce a Scottish Six that’s going to be the current affairs equivalent of an Audience with John Barrowman. Then when the viewing public reject it they can claim there is no demand in Scotland for Scottish produced broadcasting.
If we had real ambition, if Scotland’s broadcasters dared to believe that we could be as good as any other European nation, we would not be asking meekly for a glorified Reporting Scotland. We’d be demanding what any self-respecting self-governing European nation of our size takes for granted. We’d be demanding a Scottish national broadcaster with two channels in English, one channel in Scots, one channel in Gaelic, and a 24 hour dedicated Scottish news channel. That’s what Scotland deserves, that’s what other European countries our size take for granted. It’s only with a proper Scottish broadcasting service that Scotland can invest in and develop Scottish journalistic and reporting talent. It’s the only way that we can have a media that actually represents Scotland in all its thrawn and disputatious glory.
Anything less leaves us short changed. Proposals for a Scottish Six distract us from what we ought to be campaiging for, for a proper Scottish public broadcasting service. Let’s reach for the televisual stars, not scrabble in the gutter for the BBC’s dregs. We need a Scottish public broadcasting service, not a sixty minute opt out giving the news where London isn’t when the rest of the time the Great British Brain Eaters of the BBC’s London management still set the televisual agenda and still call the financial shots.
BARKING UP THE RIGHT TREE Barking Up the Right Tree has now been published and is an anthology of my articles for The National newspaper. You can submit an advance order for the book on the Vagabond Voices website at http://vagabondvoices.co.uk/?page_id=1993
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