Brian Ferguson: Scottish Parliament drama could be big hit

FORGET a '˜Scottish Six', how about a Holyrood House of Cards? asks Brian Ferguson

Is there any good reason why a fictional series could not be set in the Scottish Parliament? Picture: TSPL
Is there any good reason why a fictional series could not be set in the Scottish Parliament? Picture: TSPL

IT is an issue that provokes intense debate and passionate arguments, yet feels like it has been around forever. Politicians are unable to resist meddling in it, its supporters cannot understand why there is even a hint of scepticism, and every two steps forward seems to involve taking one step back.

I could be talking about the saga of the Scottish film studio, which has hardly been out of the headlines over the last year, with little to show for it except for parliamentary inquiries, a demoralised and exasperated industry, and quangos under mounting criticism.

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But instead it is the case for BBC Scotland having its own hour-long news programme that has shone yet another uncomfortable spotlight on the TV industry north of the Border.

One of the best reads on the so-called “Scottish Six” in recent days was by the broadcaster and media commentator Stuart Cosgrove on the Bella Caledonia website, in which he draws up a potential schedule for the show.

There is a hefty element of fantasy journalism involved in his ideas, which would appear to assume almost unlimited resources. But he makes a persuasive argument for “urgent, ambitious and innovative action, not further navel gazing, or worse still fudged compromises” within BBC Scotland.

As others have pointed out, there are widespread concerns, even among long-standing supporters, that the Scottish Six becomes a panacea for the troubles of the TV industry in Scotland. BBC Scotland’s former head of news, Blair Jenkins, fears the whole debate about the corporation’s broadcasting in Scotland is being reduced to an argument about a one-hour programme.

It would be a bitter pill for those involved in television drama in Scotland to swallow if they saw substantial extra resources being ploughed into a news programme that appears to lack public support when so many questions linger over the lack of high-quality serials being made north of the Border.

As a long-time listener of BBC Radio’s Good Morning Scotland, I think there should be no major barrier to a high-quality television news programme being produced from Pacific Quay. But if BBC Scotland really wanted to be bold and imaginative, perhaps much better television could be created if it concentrated its efforts on a truly ground-breaking drama series.

I cannot shake from my head the appeal of a Scottish equivalent of House of Cards, with the biting humour of The Thick Of It at its core. Should we be content to import shows like Spin and Borgen from France and Scandinavia?

Is there any good reason why a fictional series could not be set in the Scottish Parliament? Would it really be a task too far for the nation’s best drama writers to create a series that gets under the skin of modern Scotland?

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Such a show could explores the relationship between the current breed of politicians and journalists grappling with the ever-changing media landscape, while also looking at exactly where power lies in the shadows of the post-devolution establishment. Just like Stuart Cosgrove, I’ve been dreaming a dream too. I’ve been imagining Siobhan Redmond or Blythe Duff as a potential First Minister, and Brian Cox or Ken Stott as their toppled predecessor.

It is incredible to think 13 years have passed since two of our finest actors, James McAvoy and Kelly Macdonald, starred alongside John Simm and David Morrissey in the political thriller State Of Play. Should a show of that quality really remain a pipe dream in Scotland?