Pro-Yes Brian Cox says no to splitting up BBC

Brian Cox said he hoped independence would bring a greater sense of equity to a still-united BBC. Picture: Greg Macvean
Brian Cox said he hoped independence would bring a greater sense of equity to a still-united BBC. Picture: Greg Macvean
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HOLLYWOOD actor Brian Cox, one of the leading cultural voices in favour of Scottish independence, has spoken out against the prospect of Scotland having a separate state-funded broadcaster.

The X Men, Bourne Identity and Hannibal Lecter star said he would not want to see the BBC broken up in the event of independence - despite that being one of the key policies of the Scottish Government.

The Dundee-born actor also dismissed claims that BBC Scotland had been biased in its coverage of the independence debate. Hundreds of pro-Yes supporters have turned out to demonstrate at BBC Scotland’s Pacific Quay headquarters in Glasgow.

Ministers believe they would be able to set up a new broadcaster entirely funded by the licence fee and based on the existing assets and staff of BBC Scotland. Culture secretary Fiona Hyslop said last month that the proposed Scottish Broadcasting Service would seek a “joint venture” with the BBC to provide the current level of content from Scotland in return for “on-going access” to BBC services.

However the BBC has steadfastly refused to discuss the SNP’s plans publicly in the run-up to the referendum, in case it “compromised perceptions of the impartiality and balance of our coverage.”

Cox, who appeared along with fellow Scottish actor Alan Cumming at the launch of the Yes Scotland campaign, was speaking ahead of a keynote speech he is making at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe tomorrow, when he will predict that the country will “re-emerge as a nation of ideas, intellectuals and innovation” in the event of independence.

Cox dismissed fears that a vote in favour of independence would lead to a lack of Scottish content on the BBC.

But the 68-year-old told The Scotsman said: “I don’t want to see a separate Scottish broadcaster.

I’m in favour of having a broadcasting institution which has a sense of equity about it.

“I thimk the BBC is great. We actually forget that it was started by a Scotsman, John Reith. He said this wonderful thing to his head of drama, Michael Barry, in the 1950s, who asked him what his brief was. He told him it was very simple: ‘The best possible drama to the maximum number of people.’

“I don’t believe that independence also means separatism. I believe it is a case of drawing up the contract again.

“BBC Scotland does a great job, but it is always dependent on the kindness of strangers and it depends on its masters down in London.

“I don’t know if things would improve with the BBC under independence, but at least we’d get a shot at it. It’s not very good as it is.

“What independence means is your name on the door. We’re not separate, we’re too close to be separate, but we can be particular. We’ve got five million people here and we could serve five million people properly.

“I’m a fan of the BBC - it has served me well over the years. I’m not altogether sure it is correct to say that the BBC is biased on independence.”

Cox has made a number of appearances in BBC productions in recent years, including the BAFTA-nominated comedy series Bob Servant Independent and Adventures in Time and Space, a drama about the creation of Doctor Who, broadcast last year to mark the science fiction show’s 50th anniversary. He also recorded a one-off drama with Billy Connolly which was broadcast on Radio Scotland on Christmas Day.

But the actor said the BBC was guilty of deep-rooted “institutional racism” when it came to Scotland. He said he had been left furious when he was asked to “tone down” his accent when he was filming the drama series Shetland.

“Institutional racism is still there within the BBC, of course it is. I’ve seen it all my life. I’ve had experience of it myself recently.

“When I did Shetland I was asked to tone down my accent. I had to stay in the studios until I changed it. It’ll probably end my career talking about it, but I don’t care.

“I did it in a Shetland accent. I had a wonderful teacher and found these wonderful words, but the people in London in the BBC wanted me to tone it down. I think the director had his head in his hands. It was needless.”

Meanwhile Cox, who admitted he does not have a vote in the referendum, dismissed the letter from more than 200 public figures - including actors Dame Judi Dench, Simon Callow, Helena Bonham Carter, Jenny Agutter, Dominic West and David Morrisey - urging Scots to vote against independence as “patronising nonsense.”

The letter states: “We want to let you know how very much we value our bonds of citizenship with you, and to express our hope that you will vote to renew them.”

But Cox said: “I don’t mind if people want to ‘love bomb’ us, but please do it from some kind of position from intelligence, not some position like: ‘we love you and we want you to stay.’

“It is very nice and touching that they want us to stay. But they don’t actually look at our history, they don’t look at where we’ve come to and the journey we’ve made to get to this point.

“The only reason we’ve come to this point now is because of a failure of social democracy. It has actually failed in England more so than it has in Scotland. The Westminster parliament so longer represents the body of England. It should be actually taken out of London.”

Cox encouraged anyone intending to vote in the referendum to dig into the history books to chart the path that had taken Scotland to brink of the landmark vote.

He added: “They should understand where we are, how we have got to where we are and why we are having this referendum.”