SNP THINK THE BEEB IS BRO­KEN BE­CAUSE IT IS BRI­TISH

Scottish Daily Mail - - News - COM­MEN­TARY by EUAN McCOLM

THE BBC’s coat of arms bears the motto ‘Na­tion shall speak peace unto na­tion’ – words, in­spired by verses from the Old Tes­ta­ment books of Micah and Isa­iah, which de­fine the cor­po­ra­tion’s pur­pose.

When the motto – we’re prob­a­bly sup­posed to call it a ‘mis­sion state­ment’ to­day – was adopted in 1927, the lack of peace across Europe was the dom­i­nant is­sue of the day. The First World War had ended only nine years pre­vi­ously and the se­cond would be­gin just 12 years later.

But al­though it is a motto in­spired by times dur­ing which it was cre­ated, its mean­ing has been adapted to now speak of the im­por­tance of truth; the pre­sen­ta­tion of facts with­out fear or favour.

The SNP would pre­fer to re­phrase that guid­ing prin­ci­ple. If the Scot­tish Govern­ment had its way, the BBC’s coat of arms would state: ‘Na­tion­al­ist shall speak govern­ment-ap­proved truth unto na­tion­al­ist.’

Yes­ter­day, SNP min­is­ters pub­lished their pro­pos­als for ‘strength­en­ing’ BBC Scot­land. They claim to be stand­ing up for ‘ bet­ter, more rep­re­sen­ta­tive’ con­tent for Scot­land.

But scratch the sur­face and a sin­is­ter truth emerges: the SNP wishes to ex­ert political con­trol on the BBC, chip­ping away its in­de­pen­dence and mak­ing it com­pli­ant to the wishes of min­is­ters. The party doesn’t want a state- owned broad­caster so much as a state-con­trolled one.

It de­mands a de­cen­tralised BBC struc­ture, with man­age­ment in Scot­land given greater con­trol over bud­gets and com­mis­sion­ing, a new Scot­tish-fo­cused ver­sion of the six o’clock news, and the cre­ation of new Scots TV and ra­dio chan­nels.

Fur­ther­more, the SNP wants a new semi-au­ton­o­mous Scot­tish board to hold BBC Scot­land to ac­count. This board would be ac­count­able to the SNP dom­i­nated Scot­tish par­lia­ment.

OF c ourse, t he SNP en­tered t he char­ter re­newal process with the view that the Bri­tish Broad­cast­ing Cor­po­ra­tion is not fit for pur­pose. But, then, in the na­tion­al­ist mind­set, no Bri­tish in­sti­tu­tion is. To the SNP, the BBC is fail­ing Scots. And all the party is do­ing is stand­ing up for the rights of Scot­tish li­cence-fee pay­ers.

Any­one who heard for­mer First Min­is­ter Alex Sal­mond speak at the SNP’s spring con­fer­ence in Glas­gow last March, might har­bour doubts that this is so. To rap­tur­ous ap­plause, he said it was es­sen­tial that con­trol of the BBC be de­volved to Holy­rood so that its sup­posed anti-na­tion­al­ist bias could be ‘re­solved’.

Hav­ing spent a great deal of the ref­er­en­dum cam­paign com­plain­ing that per­fectly le­git­i­mate ques­tions – on is­sues such as cur­rency, Nato, and the EU – from BBC jour­nal­ists demon­strated i nsti­tu­tional bias against his de­sire to split the UK, Mr Sal­mond clearly felt there was a score to be set­tled.

The mood in the room that day was not one open to de­bate over the f uture of broad­cast­ing. Whipped up by their for­mer leader, SNP mem­bers wanted pay-back for what they saw as the BBC’s cen­tral role in thwart­ing their in­de­pen­dence dream.

The lan­guage of the Scot­tish Govern­ment’s sub­mis­sion to the char­ter re­newal process might be more tem­per­ate than that used by Mr Sal­mond (whose de­scrip­tion of ugly protests, where Nats called for the sack­ing of then political editor Nick Robin­son, as ‘joy­ous’ re­mains a low point of a ca­reer punc­tu­ated by tantrums) but the in­ten­tion is the same: the SNP wants a BBC that takes its line with­out ques­tion.

As na­tion­al­ist par­ties are wont to do, it fre­quently con­flates it­self and the na­tion. In the case of it at­tempts to un­der­mine the BBC, this is pre­cisely what’s hap­pen­ing. Thus, the party is pub­licly fight­ing for a bet­ter deal for Scot­tish users of the BBC when the re­al­ity is it wants a sup­pli­cant cor­po­ra­tion.

When the SNP’s pro­pos­als were greeted with less than uni­ver­sal en­thu­si­asm yes­ter­day, MP Pete Wishart – who can be re­lied upon to opine with­out think­ing too hard – ex­pressed his frus­tra­tion, tweet­ing: ‘Some of the re­sponse to the le­git­i­mate de­sire for a Scot­tish-pro­duced news ser­vice is the Scot­tish cringe at its most parochial worst.’

There it was in the stark­est terms: fail­ure to slav­ishly sup­port an SNP po­si­tion was cow­ardly and weak.

But why on earth should the ma­jor­ity of Scots rally be­hind the SNP in this in­stance? The re­sult of the ref­er­en­dum was em­phatic: most wished to stay within the UK, to ben­e­fit from our shared in­sti­tu­tions, among which the BBC stands as a fine ex­am­ple of co-op­er­a­tion across th­ese is­lands.

The Scot­tish Govern­ment might want to see more spent on dis­tinc­tively Scot­tish pro­grammes, but there is lit­tle ev­i­dence that this is a de­sire shared by any­one but that party’s true be­liev­ers.

The BBC raises £323mil­lion a year from li­cence-fee pay­ers in Scot­land. Of this, £123mil­lion is used to fund Scot­tish- only out­put, £ 82mil­lion pro­vides Scot­tish-made shows for the UK net­work, and the re­main­ing £132.5mil­lion is in­vested in UK pro­grammes and ser­vices – such as the pop­u­lar iPlayer – which are avail­able to Scot­land.

This rep­re­sents a pretty fair deal, and – to some de­gree – mir­rors the con­sti­tu­tional pref­er­ence of the ma­jor­ity, which is in favour of both shar­ing and de­volv­ing pow­ers. The SNP pro­pos­als seek to dis­tort that re­al­ity, tak­ing the BBC as close to break-up as is pos­si­ble.

The na­tion­al­ists’ pref­er­ence is for an in­de­pen­dent Scot­land with a broad­cast­ing cor­po­ra­tion of its own. Since this is not the de­sire of the ma­jor­ity of Scots, min­is­ters want to push the bound­aries, cre­at­ing a BBC that dances to its tune.

NO ma­jor in­sti­tu­tion is per­fect, i nclud­ing the BBC. And this news­pa­per has never shied from hold­ing it to ac­count when it has failed to main­tain ex­pected stan­dards. But there is a world of dif­fer­ence be­tween jour­nal­ists keep­ing a check on the BBC and grudge­ful politi­cians dic­tat­ing to it which edi­to­rial de­ci­sions it should make.

With the Nats now dom­i­nat­ing Scot­land’s political land­scape, it is more im­por­tant than ever that the BBC is free to ask dif­fi­cult ques­tions of min­is­ters. That would rep­re­sent the best deal for view­ers and lis­ten­ers.

At its best, the BBC pro­duces bril­liant dra­mas, breath­tak­ing na­ture doc­u­men­taries and hard­hit­ting news pro­grammes. Long may that con­tinue.

A BBC that met with the ap­proval of any govern­ment – be it SNP-con­trolled at Holy­rood or Tory-run in West­min­ster – would be worth­less.

Na­tion­al­ists are en­ti­tled to make their views on the fu­ture of the cor­po­ra­tion known. Those over­see­ing the char­ter re­newal should feel equally en­ti­tled to ig­nore those views be­fore the BBC in Scot­land be­comes lit­tle more than the pro­pa­ganda wing of the SNP.

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