MPs have rejected an attempt to increase the pressure on the BBC over a ‘Scottish Six’ news programme as the SNP attached a demand for broadcasting to be devolved in the corporation’s latest charter agreement.
One Conservative MP slammed the nationalists’ bid, branding the move the latest ‘tool adopted by a party hell-bent on destroying the UK’
Seeking to amend the motion agreeing the latest ten-year deal on BBC funding, the SNP’s Westminster culture spokesman John Nicolson claimed the BBC was ‘not delivering for Scotland’.
And South Leicestershire MP Alberto Costa was mocked by SNP members after claiming a ‘Scottish Six’ would deny Scots the chance to see the ‘good work’ of the Conservative government elsewhere in the UK.
Mr Costa also argued against the SNP’s wish for changes to the news output in Scotland, with the nationalists calling for the next BBC charter to offer ‘maximum devolution of broadcasting’, including the so-called ‘Scottish Six’ news bulletin.
Mr Costa vowed to speak to Conservative MPs who had backed a ‘Scottish Six’, adding that they may have ‘unwittingly fallen foul of the SNP’s propaganda to pretend this will somehow further devolution.’
Mr Costa added: “All [the amendment] wants to do is drive a wedge between Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom.”
Matt Hancock, the minister for culture, communications and creative Industries, told MPs that ‘the BBC is the nation’s broadcaster’ and hit out at efforts to exert ‘political control’ over its output.
Mr Nicolson, a former BBC Breakfast presenter, said audiences and BBC staff wanted greater control over programming in Scotland.
The move was rejected by both the government and Labour.
The BBC is already preparing a new set of pilot programmes in an effort to enhance its news coverage in Scotland, which is led by the Reporting Scotland broadcast that follows the national news.
Mr Hancock said: “The new charter includes the implementation of recommendations from the Smith Commission, which did not recommend that broadcasting or the affairs of the BBC be devolved.
“It is vital that the BBC is editorially independent so that politicians cannot interfere in editorial matters, and a vote for the amendment is a vote for political control of the BBC.” He added: “The SNP may want political control of the BBC, but we say no.”
A report by the Commons culture committee backed a Scottish Six, and the SNP amendment to the draft agreement for the next BBC charter called on the government to “deliver maximum devolution of broadcasting” for Scotland, including its own evening news bulletin.
During a Commons debate, Labour’s Ian Murray also suggested Mr Nicolson was politically interfering in the BBC, but the SNP spokesman insisted it was ‘perfectly reasonable’ to argue for ‘structural changes’ such as full devolution of broadcasting.
Mr Nicolson said: “I believe in the concept of a separate Scottish Six, but at that point politicians should stand back and allow the BBC to decide the form of that programme and the content.
“For a significant period of time it’s been clear the BBC is not delivering for Scotland in the way it should be.
“Without a fairer share of the licence fee, without greater control over its own budget, without the authority to make commissioning decisions, BBC Scotland too often relies on the decisions of executives in London.
“Meaningful editorial and financial control must be transferred north of the Border.”
He added: “You don’t have to take my word for it – that’s what the BBC says itself, and it fully acknowledges that this is a problem.”
Mr Murray, Labour’s former Scottish secretary, suggested the amendment was ‘pushing the government to make a decision about the Scottish Six, rather than leaving it in the hands of the editorial commissioning of the BBC.’