Lord Smith, Home Rule and Broadcasting

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By Richard Lewis

We heard a lot of talk during the referendum campaign that somehow the artistic well being of this country would be under threat from independence. Indeed, the phrase used in one article (Alan Massie writing in the Scotsman) article was that independence ‘could rebound on artists, musicians and writers in a new country.’

Frightening stuff – but what did it actually mean?

Though Convener of Culture at City of Edinburgh council by day, I’m also a part-time lecturer at the RCS in Glasgow and have long been used to the fact that 90% of my students graduate and leave Scotland – indeed, it was also the case for myself. For years opportunities to work in the arts have only existed on a small scale in this country and emigration (for at least a period of time) has always been seen as inevitable. But does this have to be the case?

Allan Massie went on to say ‘all the instruments of public policy with regard to the support and financing of the arts are in the hands of the devolved Scottish Government’. This is patently not the case. It is important to remember that broadcasting represents the largest single amount spent on artistic endeavour in Scotland – employing actors, writers, designers, musicians, make up artists, technicians etc. The amount we spend on the arts in terms of our national companies is dwarfed by what the BBC spends – but this is an area, under devolution, over which Scotland has NO control.

Now earlier this year year we did a debate on broadcasting at Edinburgh City chambers in which we heard about the loss to the capital of 5 departments and approximately 100 personal since the closure of the BBC studio in Queens St.

It can hardly be overstated what the effect was in losing this major resource to the city. Can you think of any capital city in the world where, after an overwhelming vote for setting up its own parliament in 1997, the national broadcaster takes the decision to massively reduce the service on offer to the capital? From a a 150 staff base in Queen st we now have 30 odd working at the Tun (near Holyrood) and a large tent which sits on Bristo Square for the three weeks of the Festival – hardly the stuff artistic dreams are made of. And if the argument was that it was all done in order to prioritise the major investment in Glasgow at Pacific Quay that might have been some sort of consolation – the reality is, however, that the BBC is reducing even the level of funding to its Scottish headquarters in Glasgow.

Let us be clear – if the £300million raised per year by the BBC licence fee in Scotland were spent in Scotland the arts scene would be transformed. At present about a half of that sum is currently spent here and that will decline to a third (just £96 million) next year. Now to those on the NO side who (bizarrely) claimed that by sending the bulk of our monies south means we were sharing in the ‘wider BBC product’ – which seems to me a bit like arguing that purchasing a ticket for a summer blockbuster is somehow having a ‘stake’ in Hollywood – the reality is that investing this money here would give Scotland a great chance of becoming a good size broadcasting hub in itself, attracting further investment (including perhaps the Internatinal Film studio often talked about) and crucially encouraging more creatives to relocate to Scotland

Having worked at Danish broadcasting over a number of years I know just how substantial their offering is – across television, radio, recording, and new commissioning – and the resulting flood of programmes from Scandinavia (the so called ‘Nordic Noir’) is just one manifestation of this. The argument that ‘Brigadoon-esque’ programming would dominate any future SBC output is simply insulting – no one would suggest that the setting up of Scottish Opera, Scottish Ballet and the NTS has resulted in anything other than top quality product in the performing arts, so exactly why should the future of a Scottish broadcasting post-independence be any different?

Finally, I am not suggesting for a moment that Scotland should attempt to ‘compete’ with London – our population is too small and aspects of the London scene – particularly it’s commercial West End – are only matched internationally by New York. But what Home Rule can bring about is a more strategic look across the whole Arts sector (crucially including Broadcasting) enabling Scotland to undergo the sort of transformation that the mere ‘devolution’ of certain services could never bring about. We can (and in my view) should aspire to becoming an artistic hub on the same level as Copenhagen. And for 12 months of the year, rather than just for the three weeks of our summer festivals.

Let’s all hope Lord Smith seizes this opportunity, takes seriously the case for repatriation of broadcasting powers and helps bring about the change in the sector which both Scotland and it’s artists so urgently require.



Categories: Media

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12 replies

  1. There is tons of talent in Scotand that is going by the wayside because of this scaremongering. Well if the BBC is taking its ball home we shall just have to dig deeper and make an SBC OF OUR OWN.

  2. It is also important to understand what constitutes current BBC Scotland output. Question Time, a UK programme is a BBC Scotland product. But it is more complicated than that – it is a BBC Scotland commissioned product, so it is privately produced hence its desire to show its worth through ratings rather than public interest – hence Farage’s appearance 26 times to date. So Scotland may only get a third of what it contributes, but BBC Scotland has effectively bought into a UK broadcasting agenda because so much of its paid for output is for the UK market. This fact may also help, in part, to explain their overt bias during the referendum. There jobs were tied to a UK agenda.

  3. Excellent blog which should be sent in its entirety to the Smith Commission asap!

  4. Perhaps those PTB in Scottish positions have noted the unfavourable media voice and will now endeavour to balance the role broadcasting plays in our society. Being dictated from London or Salford or wherever is not in our best interest for those seeking an opportunity into media. I saw Jackie Bird (nothing personal) celebrated 25 years on BBC camera the other night, that sums it up, sadly for me.

  5. Or the White Heather Club as Ian Gray predicted!

  6. A very telling analysis about the domination of our media which is out with our control, and why it is so vital to take it back through Home rule and then full Independence. It would transform the artistic life of Scotland which has been suppressed for so long.

  7. Brigadoon was a Broadway production of 1947 written by an American librettist and an Austrian/American composer. Nothing to do with Scotland other than the fantasy theme.
    If you travel to Europe you find that all the major cities have their own Opera House and theatre, not just the capital, which of course, has the State Opera House and Theatre. Scotland doesn’t have even one Opera House. Nor does it have a home for Scottish Theatre. People like Alan Massie must know that the impoverishment of our arts is cultural colonialism.
    Years ago a Radio 4 arts programme visited the site of a new small opera house being built for London because, as the interviewer pointed out, there was plenty space for large opera productions but London lacked a small intimate space for smaller productions. Heart rendering. Happily, that deficit has been rectified.

  8. ‘Allan Massie went on to say ‘all the instruments of public policy with regard to the support and financing of the arts are in the hands of the devolved Scottish Government’. This is patently not the case. It is important to remember that broadcasting represents the largest single amount spent on artistic endeavour in Scotland – employing actors, writers, designers, musicians, make up artists, technicians etc. The amount we spend on the arts in terms of our national companies is dwarfed by what the BBC spends – but this is an area, under devolution, over which Scotland has NO control.’

    This is not completely accurate.

    The BBC in Scotland does not spend most of it’s money (which is grossly exaggerated in the article) on Scottish based talent.

    Example.

    Waterloo Road:

    Instead of Scotland being allowed to produce it’s own drama for BBC UK wide distribution, we were given an English based drama to continue to produce north of the border. The majority of actors. techies and so on are the same, just moving north for the days of production – they are all English based. Yes, some local talent has been employed, but the majority are based in England. The real benefactors of this production have been local hotels putting up the travelling crew members.

    Wallander (Kenneth Branagh)

    A BBC Scotland co-production. Filmed in Sweden, Swedish crew mainly, English actors.

    These productions are paid for out of BBC Scotland’s budget through Scottish licence fee payers. They are of little or no benefit to Scottish talent. Saying that a series or programme is made by ‘BBC Scotland’ does not mean it has benefitted TV professionals who live in Scotland.

    70% of a TV budget is spent on the actual shooting and editing of a programme, and until you get programmes that are made 100% by Scots then the BBC Scotland budget we are told we are given is a gross exaggeration.

    Someone above pointed out Question Time as another example, there are many more. Remember 60% of all BBC output is still produced in London, despite them only having 10% of the UK population.

  9. I’m leaving Copenhagen in two weeks after 5+ happy years living here. Despite the excitement of coming home, I still know I’m going to miss it terribly – it’s a ridiculously beautiful and culturally vibrant city. Sadly, this article lays out a number of reasons why broadcasting will be one of the number one red lines for the Unionist bloc.

  10. The current spend of £150 million quoted is way off and considerably less. BBC manipulates quotas of BBC Scotland production in overall spend by use of repeats, location and talent. For instance, repeats of Balamory, that shot its last episode some years ago, still counts as production. A Scottish producer role in a production that has no other Scottish connection or theme can count as Scottish. Sometimes this can lead to ridiculous situations. For instance, ‘The Challenger Disaster’ with William Hurt 2013 was heralded by BBC as an example of a unique Scottish production. It certainly was, having an entirely US story and cast with non-Scots writer and director. I have heard from contacts that Pacific Quay is seen mainly training facility for upcoming London crew and a ‘bit of a joke’.
    Radio is not much better – really a series of cheaply made phone in shows with tired overworked staff badly in need of fresh talent and voices. England has 39 local channels and is home to all major national R1-7 channels and digital output. Meanwhile, Scotland has 1 FM BBC Radio channel. I say 1 channel but it hands over to Radio 5 overnight. There is a lack of original radio drama, documentary and international perspective to news. Radio Scotland news frequently interviews national BBC correspondents on stories.

    There is no argument against broadcasting being devolved in Scotland other than it is politically and economically advantageous to the BBC and UK establishment.

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