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The Scottish Six must come with a change in management or not at all

bbc scotlandBy GA Ponsonby

For what it’s worth, I support calls for a Scottish Six [S6] in principle. It’s an idea that should have been implemented years ago.

However my backing for it is qualified. A national news programme with world-wide scope, broadcast by BBC Scotland will be worthwhile only if the current management at Pacific Quay are moved aside.

BBC Scotland is, in terms of its political output, institutionally corrupt.  It's incapable of producing a programme of this scope.

Had the S6 been given approval when first mooted back in the 1990s it would have evolved and matured long before the SNP secured its historic majority, and with it the guarantee of an independence referendum. That referendum has changed everything as Scottish Labour’s capitulation in last May’s general election showed.

In 2008 Unionists joined the SNP and backed a dedicated Scottish digital channel. In the current climate, there’s little hope of similar backing from the SNP’s main rivals. Indeed if last week’s debate between Lesley Riddoch and Labour MSP Ken Macintosh was anything to go by, we’ll be lucky to retain the word ‘Scotland’ in the broadcaster’s name if Labour ever get back into power at Holyrood.

The ‘debate’ over a S6 is academic anyway. The BBC had already decided to go ahead with a pilot. The leaking of the story to the Daily Mail served only to generate a ridiculous non-row with the NUJ. The story ensured that the commentariat yapped and jabbered as they were meant to.

On Monday The Guardian newspaper reported that the row was no longer:

‘NUJ members at BBC Scotland’s headquarters voted unanimously on Monday to support proposals to test the idea with three not-for-broadcast pilot programmes after Ken MacQuarrie, the BBC Scotland controller, agreed to increase staffing and resources for the pilots.’

NUJ officials told the Guardian:

“We only need our management to start doing their jobs, and the BBC to invest properly in a newsroom which has suffered from five years of rash, deep cuts, and a bullying management culture.

“Hopefully we have turned a page. We have a new head of news at BBC Scotland, and that’s a good start. We wait to see whether the senior management in Glasgow and London deliver on that investment, and show some faith in the journalists and their work.”

We are now celebrating crumbs when we should have been applying pressure for more meaningful autonomy.

We’ve all seen what results when management at BBC Scotland do their jobs. The referendum showcased their ‘talents’.  Do you really believe the likes of Glenn Campbell, Eleanor Bradford or Jackie Bird will change how they report political news if they are working with the same news gatherers, editors and producers?

Will more cash for the news gatherers who provide us with our daily dose of 'NHS Crisis' and 'SNP Council Cuts' be used in order to provide genuine in depth scrutiny of all parties and all issues?  Will increased investment result in a more representative cross section of views on discussions or debates, instead of the conveyor belt of pro-Union main stream journalists?

The new head of news at BBC Scotland has made absolutely no difference.  The same template and practices that has eroded trust in this corporation north of the border remain unaltered.

It’s why anti-SNP stunts like the trade union demos outside Holyrood, led by Labour politicians, are filmed and used as the opening sequence on Reporting Scotland.  It’s why reporters like Glenn Campbell still try to link the SNP with the Tories at every opportunity.  It’s why a blog by a former policy advisor to Ed Miliband can be described as an ‘independent report’ and paraded across news headlines all day.

BBC Scotland couldn’t produce a replacement for Newsnight Scotland in the midst of the most important democratic campaign in our history. Thus, the portents are not good for the S6.  It is a disaster waiting to happen.

Independence supporters will reject it at the first sign of manipulation of political news. The general public will reject it if it appears cheap and unprofessional. How many Scots will back the devolution of broadcasting if they believe we are unable to produce a single news programme?

scottish six

Of course the BBC has a vested interest in seeing this fail. The BBC remember is the glue that binds the United Kingdom.

And there’s the rub.  Any loosening of that glue puts the Union at risk. London doesn’t want to hand over any control of broadcasting.  In 1998 BBC Governors rejected the idea of a Scottish Six.

As things stand, unless a change in management is part of the S6 package then it isn’t worth the risk.

Instead of arguing over a news programme that might not satisfy anybody, indeed might set us back, the Scottish Government should instead press for more autonomy to increase cultural content.  Let’s see our writers, film-makers and actors given the opportunity to show what they can do.

I'd much rather see a few contemporary dramas in the mould of Just Another Saturday or Just A Boy's Game, or a period piece based on the works of Walter Scott.  Documentaries would allow the gaps in Scottish history that came from an anglo-centric education system, to be addressed.

After May, should the SNP achieve an even stronger majority at Holyrood than it did in 2011, then it will have very real political power.  We already know there will be no outright commitment to a second independence referendum.  The next best thing would be a clear manifesto commitment calling for significant devolution of broadcasting to Scotland.

Even the BBC can’t ignore a democratic mandate.


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