The BBC’s announcement of a new Scottish channel is terrific news – a truly imaginative initiative which will create great opportunities for our creative talents. Better still that one of the key intents is to expand access for Scottish content to UK-wide audiences and beyond.
Add the economic benefits which will flow through job creation and support for the independent production sector and there is much to be enthusiastic about. I also welcome the Scottish-generated news bulletin, drawing on the BBC’s vast global resources, to be shown at the peak hour of 9pm.
With so much good news around, who could demur? Well, the last couple of days offered great entertainment in that respect. The gritted-teeth welcomes have been a joy to behold, quickly followed by the procession of caveats, “disappointments” and instant demands for more money. The old grievance narrative is dead; long live the new grievance narrative, hastily compiled.
The really significant factor is that the BBC has gone over the heads of our presiding politicians and their narrow agenda. Instead, it had the gumption to listen to the broad sweep of Scottish opinion. Who in Scotland will not welcome greater choice, a wider offering of quality programmes with Scottish themes and all the other outcomes now in prospect?
What the great majority did not want was the sole demand on which so much political effort was concentrated – diminution of choice through replacing the main BBC news bulletin with a “Scottish Six”. And make no mistake, that was always a political demand rather than a journalistic one.
There are to be 80 new journalistic jobs in BBC Scotland. This should give an immediate boost to confidence for those who are already there. It should also generate a period of self-appraisal and a new willingness to face down politicians and their little helpers who feel entitled to dictate the news agenda.
BBC Scotland has been subjected to a prolonged and utterly dishonest campaign of vilification by the same forces baying for a “Scottish Six” as if national dignity depended upon it. It was Trumpism before Trump – if lies are told often enough and loudly enough, they become truth. One of the 80 jobs should be reserved for an individual whose sole task is to tell the spin-doctors to clear off and mind their own business. That appointment could be made immediately.
It added to the general good humour that Tony Hall’s coup de theatre was preceded by days of patriotic outrage at the anticipated denial of a “Scottish Six”. In all this clamour, there was not a mention of any other aspect of Scottish broadcasting. There could not have been more eloquent confirmation that everything was viewed through this most self-interested of political prisms.
The award for prize chump went to Paul Holleran, who combines being Scottish organiser of the National Union of Journalists and a campaigner for independence. About the “Scottish Six” rejection, Holleran went into fulmination overdrive. It showed that the BBC’s “attitude to Scotland stinks”. The BBC was telling Scots: “We don’t care about you.” The decision presaged “a real blow to TV production in Scotland”.
Someone should advise Mr Holleran that it is not a great idea to comment on a story until one knows what the story is. Never trust a journalist! He and his political cronies now live with the reality that the BBC management they excoriated so extravagantly are the same people who have ushered in a brave new era for Scottish broadcasting, creativity and journalism. Can the same be said for any of the grievance-mongers? Have they ever created anything?
There is a wider lesson for anyone who cares to take note of it. The SNP do not speak for Scotland. At worst, they speak for less than half of it. Admittedly, what they lack in numbers, they compensate for in volume and arrogance. But it is a profound mistake for anybody trying to do “the right thing for Scotland” to listen only to demands being made by the ascendant minority.
That point has urgent application in the context of drum-beating for a second referendum on independence. While all the manoeuvring in preparation for such an announcement provides interminable media fodder, it is much more difficult for the majority who have absolutely no desire for such an event to make themselves heard. The mistake would be to discount them.
Let me offer examples of why there is no case for another referendum on the contrived grounds that Brexit has changed everything. Last week, I suggested that differences over immigration were being greatly exaggerated, that London’s needs in this respect are in line with Scotland’s and that “a solution will be found, just as it always is when the needs of capital dictate”. A few days later, the Brexit minister confirmed much this point when he said it would be “years and years” before immigration from eastern Europe would not be required in the UK.
I don’t know how that debate will pan out but, crucially, neither does Nicola Sturgeon. In the same vein this week, a distinguished Irish academic wrote in the Irish Times about the inevitability of a hard border within Ireland as a result of Brexit, whatever politicians might wish for. Yet the Irish precedent (which isn’t actually one) is the only argument our own Nationalists ever use for insisting that there would be no hard border between Scotland and England.
On all such matters, events are fluid. There are no two clear-cut options on which to vote and to claim otherwise is pure casuistry.
So what is the case against agreeing to a referendum? First, there is not a shred of evidence a majority want it. Second, there is absolutely no certainty about what Brexit will produce, far less what independence can guarantee. Third, it would be a massive distraction during negotiations on which so many Scottish and other UK interests depend.
I believe that most Scots would find these arguments reasonable and sensible, even if there was the inevitable outcry from the Nationalists – but they have to be made, and soon. The Prime Minister should learn from the BBC experience, have faith in the Scottish majority and face down the clamour of the unappeasable.