The BBC charter has been renewed, and now BBC Scotland is going to stop being a branch office of the Union. It will accurately reflect the fact that half of the population want independence and will be independent of London and wholly controlled and funded within Scotland. In other news, Ruth Davidson has admitted that her party came a very distant second in last week’s election and she doesn’t have any power to do anything, least of all block a second independence referendum, Kezia Dugdale took the pledge of allegiance and added a caveat swearing blind that she’d never say SNP bad ever again, and Wullie Rennie has been taken seriously.
It turns out that very little will change now that the BBC charter has been renewed. Despite the Tory culture secretary’s claim that the BBC will become more accountable to the devolved nations, it’s a long way short of giving Scotland what every other self governing nation in Europe outside the UK has, its own national broadcasting channel. As long as Scotland is without its own national public broadcaster, the claims of the Unionists that Scotland has the most powerful devolved parliament in the world are meaningless.
As this blog is forever pointing out, Catalonia has five TV channels of its own including a 24 hour news channel. Scotland gets 30 minutes of murrdurr, fitba and wee cute kittens after the news where we aren’t. Even tiny Gagauzia, a self governing territory in Moldova, with its 150,000 people is capable of sustaining a national broadcaster yet it’s one of the poorest parts of the poorest country in Europe. The Faroe Islands with their 49,000 population have a national broadcaster too, as does Greenland with its 56,000 people.
The only reason Scotland with its rich culture and economy and 5 million people doesn’t have its own national broadcaster is because Westminster is terrified of the idea of a public broadcaster that it doesn’t control. It’s got nothing to do with Scotland’s ability to run a public broadcaster, of course Scotland has the wealth of talent and skills. It’s got everything to do with politics. The real reason that Westminster won’t allow Scotland to have its own public broadcaster is because it was control of the airwaves that won it the last independence referendum. It’s as simple and as cynical as that.
We’re now promised that Scotland is going to become a BBC centre of excellence. Whatever that means. What it doesn’t mean is that Scotland will get a national broadcaster that will accurately reflect the range of opinions and views in this country. What it might just mean is a tacit admission from the BBC that BBC Scotland has been anything but excellent up until now. However BBC Scotland becoming a centre of excellence most likely means that we’ll get pedigree kittens and those nice middle class murrdurrs with posh people killing one another terribly politely like you get on Midsomer Murders. The fitba will still be rubbish though, this is Scotland after all.
The biggest change is that the BBC Trust made up of middle class British nationalist appointees who are not democratically accountable is to be abolished and replaced by a board made up of middle class British nationalist appointees who are not democratically accountable. You’ll still get Strictly, those inane game shows involving people in lycra throwing themselves at inflatable bouncy castles floating in a pond, and lots and lots of royalist sycophancy. There will still be lots of programmes with Great British in the title, trying to make out that everything from pottery to sewing is somehow uniquely British. Because they don’t make china in China, and haut couture is really based in Swindon. And if you’re a politics junkie, don’t worry, you’ll also still get Question Time and David Dimbleby being sneery about independence supporters.
You can also be certain that another thing that won’t change is the utter inadequacy of the BBC’s stonewalling policy, otherwise known as its complaints department. The BBC doesn’t respond to complaints as its definition of impartiality is when it gets complaints from everyone. Complaining to the BBC is the very definition of futility. In many billions of years, when dark energy has stretched out the universe into infinite nothingness, there will still be people waiting for an adequate response to their complaint that BBC Question Time is as reflective of Scottish opinion as a UKIP party meeting in Kent. The BBC doesn’t care, because it doesn’t have to. Their complaints department consists of a brick wall for you to bang your head off of.
Criticisms have been made that the Tory government intends to appoint almost half of the new board members directly and that this is a threat to the independence and impartiality of the corporation. I’d be a whole lot more worried about the independence and impartiality of the BBC if it was actually independent and impartial, but from the perspective of an independence supporter in Scotland, the BBC is the propaganda arm of the British state. That’s not about to change either.
What will change is that the licence fee will be imposed on people who watch TV online. So there can be no escape from the British propaganda tax. We might get a few sops thrown our way, like a Scottish Six. But unless there’s a root and branch overhaul of how the BBC is structured and the licence fees paid by Scots remain in Scotland, what we’re likely to end up with is a glorified version of Reporting Scotland or the replacement to Scottish Newsnight that no one watches.
As long as we have a BBC that’s controlled outside of Scotland it’s going to be force-feeding us a British agenda and will treat the independence movement as the enemy without. It’s licenced to shill for the British state. A corporation that sees itself as the voice of Britain and the sustainer of British identity is institutionally incapable of dealing with a democratic movement that rejects Britishness and defines itself as Scottish. That’s why Scotland needs a public broadcaster that reflects Scotland, not one whose goal is to impose a British identity on us all. The point of a public broadcaster ought to be to give a platform to the voices in a nation, not to shape its debates in a particular direction. Scotland isn’t going to get that as long as we remain a part of the UK. In the UK we’re always going to have the voice of Britishness telling us what Scottishness is supposed to be, and a Scottish population that increasingly treats the BBC like the BBC complaints department treats complainers, as something to be ignored.
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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