I’ve lived in Scotland since 1975, initially living near Galashiels and then in Edinburgh, with a four year spell in Birmingham before returning to Edinburgh. I had a one year spell in Dundee in 2001 running the local TV Channel Six Dundee. I started working in Scotland as a printer mostly for trades union and political campaigns and minority causes, working with the Anti Nazi League and establishing Rock against Racism in Scotland. My interests moved from representing left and minority interests in print and events to filmmaking for Red Star. The representation of non-established viewpoints may have been even handed in the transcript of TV news coverage, although then and now Glasgow Media Group contest this, but visually coverage of trades unions, CND and the activities of those contesting Thatcher’s policies in Scotland and those against privatisation were often not reported at all or reported with the benefit of police photographs and statistics. Visually those contesting the government’s view appeared on TV as a rag-tag army looking less than equal to their official adversaries. Red Star tried to contest this with its own short newsreels shown at what is now the Storytelling Centre in Edinburgh.
Later in the 1980s it became evident that the scale of broadcasting erred towards representing the national or the national view from near to the capital or, in Scotland’s case, close to the largest city. Edinburgh was probably unique in Europe in not having representation as a capital city as STV and BBC both moved more of their resources to Glasgow.
The internal dynamics of a nation unable to represent itself on a par with the other nations of the UK or of Europe was one issue but so too was the misrepresentation and invisibility if the rural areas in Scotland, the absence and marginalisation of news from the South of Scotland, linked more recently on commercial TV to the service for the north of England.
I’ve spent most of my working life lobbying for local TV, for a form of audio visual representation that both reflects and is answerable to the communities it immediately serves. Cable once offered an opportunity before those services were merged from districts, town and cities into the single UK-wide Virgin operation. Digital terrestrial TV on Freeview still offers an opportunity for greater localisation although this is relatively expensive and has been set up to fail by prioritising a news model that best fits large urban services rather than dispersed rural populations. But the belated launch of local TV glues in the face of a fragmented delivery of TV and of new ways to serve communities of interest. Generally I supported the Scottish Broadcasting Commission’s proposal for a Scottish Digital Network which, after some debate, acknowledged the principle of subsidiarity or local control of input that could both serve smaller outlying communities and for ‘national’ broadcast/broadband service emerging as an aggregate of the best-of local stories combined with nationally resourced input. I supported this view in submissions the following year to the Calman Commission, to find that the majority of submissions also favoured some or all devolution of broadcasting to the Scottish parliament. The responses are documented in the annexes to Calman’s interim report but were ignored altogether in his final report. The net result now is that broadcasting is overlooked in the proposals for new powers agreed by Westminster and Holyrood in 2012.
I think the present print and broadcast media is relatively happy with the settlement as it stands while there is a hidden truth in the phrase that ‘there is no democracy without media democracy’. Unless we have some immediate interest and democratic engagement with the ways they are represented collectively as well as securing individual redress then the world is likely to be represented back to us not as we know it but as others would like us to see it.
This takes me back to the start of Red Star in the 1970s, when those who’d been on demonstrations came to see our films two weeks after filming they were reinvigorated, in the interim having come to believe the absense or misrepresentation of the demonstration or strike in the mainstream media was as the reality and their own fading memories merely a dream.
So yes I am from England and I support Scottish independence as a small step in a greater struggle to devolve responsibility to the smallest workable scale.
Categories: English for Yes