The BBC and Nicola Sturgeon

Two days ago the first minister gave a speech entitled We need greater diversity both on and behind our TV screens at the Edinburgh International Television Festival. To give credit where it’s due, it was a thorough and well-informed job that spoke well, if not of her, then of whoever wrote it for her. Of course, the same could be said of a well-crafted speech by any politician.

It did contain a touch of hubris in her characterisation of August as a time

when Edinburgh and Scotland are the cultural capitals of the world.

I’m not sure they’ll have noticed that in Sao Paulo or Beijing, but maybe it’s the sort of thing politicians have to say about their home turf. I also wondered whether the impossible claim that

viewers in Scotland and around the world … now have access to an infinite variety, or at least an infinite number, of programmes

was a reflection on the state of maths teaching in Scottish schools.

I also found little to disagree with in the part of her speech dealing with diversity and equality. Some of it was predictable from a politician who’s made gender equality the core of her ‘progressive’ pitch. Some I agreed with wholeheartedly, not least her objection to the fact (I assume the statistic is correct) that

three-quarters of new entrants to journalism had done an unpaid internship.

The progressive bit of me is wholly opposed to unpaid internships: they are yet another barrier in the way of young people who cannot afford to work unpaid, even for a limited time.

This was all about projecting the first minister as stateswoman on an international stage. It’s why, I guess, there was a nod in the direction of ‘the different nations and regions of the UK,’ no overt criticism of the UK itself, and certainly no statement of the SNP’s overarching purpose – independence/separation from the UK. It’s presumably also why there was none of the overt hostility towards the BBC specifically and the mainstream media (MSM) generally that characterises much of the Scottish nationalist narrative at all levels – from senior elected politicians to the conspiracy theorists convinced that the BBC/MSM are all part of a gigantic plot to undermine the nationalist cause.

But if the detailed crafting of the speech was likely to appeal to the assembled great and good of the industry, the careful listener could also discern the persistent rumble of discontent in the latter part of the speech, on ‘Television production in Scotland.’

Here a little background is helpful. If you were not aware, the SNP and other nationalists had campaigned for many years for what was popularly called the ‘Scottish Six,’ a proposed hour of news on BBC1  produced entirely in Scotland, wrenching Scottish viewers away from the combined UK/Scottish bulletins that currently fill that time.

The rug was pulled instantly, and adroitly, from under the SNP’s feet earlier this year when the BBC announced that rather than an hour of news from Scotland, they were starting a whole new BBC Scotland channel that would include an hour of news delivered each evening at 9 p.m. Extra money for the channel and for other programmes to be produced in Scotland was announced, along with more jobs for journalists.

Observe how the first minister dealt with this in her speech.

First, while ‘I warmly welcome the BBC’s moves … I called for that new BBC channel when I last spoke at this festival.’ So, you’ll get the point, the idea was really hers.

Second, although the channel ‘is set to have a budget of £30 million … there are already legitimate questions about whether that will be sufficient.’

And third, ‘the fact that the new channel will only be broadcast in standard definition could limit its appeal. For drama, in particular, viewers increasingly expect high definition to be available.’ Hmm, really? It’s not something I would see as hugely limiting. It smacks more of a special advisors’ brainstorming session in which someone said, ‘Come on, there must be something else we can spin  against this.’

The comment about the budget reflects a constant nationalist refrain that can be summarised as ‘it’s not fair.’ There’s never enough UK money devoted to Scotland, a grievance echoed in a more general point the first minister makes elsewhere in her speech about the BBC:

approximately 72 per cent of the licence fee raised in Scotland will be spent in Scotland. However in Wales and Northern Ireland, it is 98 per cent. Even with the BBC’s new commitment, we won’t have parity with those countries

and, no surprise to many of us, her statement that

it’s hard to escape the conclusion that Scottish broadcasting – for all the undoubted progress of recent years – is still being short-changed.

Curiously, a similar point about fairness and parity was entirely missing from the Scottish government’s response to the latest GERS (Government Expenditure and Revenue Scotland) figures which confirm, yet again, that public expenditure per head of population is significantly higher than elsewhere in Britain and exceeds taxation raised in Scotland.

The BBC was involved in one more development the first minister touched on, the establishment by the National Film and Television School (NFTS) of a new base in Scotland. The Scottish government will support the base and

the BBC is giving significant support to the venture – the school will be based at Pacific Quay, and will be able to use the BBC’s studio facilities.

The BBC’s own news item on the subject spells out the government’s own contribution a little more fully – £475,000 – and confirms the corporation will contribute with the government to a bursary fund for students. I suspect that, taken together, its commitment and that of the School itself is significantly more than the government’s.

Wouldn’t all this – the news hour, the new channel, further investment in Scottish TV production, the NFTS – be an occasion to say simply and wholeheartedly ‘I congratulate the BBC for their commitment, their actions and their funding’? But no, that’s not the narrative. The facts have to be acknowledged but enthusiasm and gratitude cannot be made explicit. The whole approach remains as grudging as the SNP’s attitude to anything that is British.

A final detail from the speech. Channel 4 are apparently considering, or are being urged to consider, a move of their HQ out of London. Thus the first minister:

One other issue which I know will have been discussed a lot over the last few days is Channel 4’s proposed relocation … Glasgow would be an obvious base.

If you were running a major UK TV channel, would you move it to a city where the main aim of the dominant political party is to put it into a foreign country? Answers on a postcard to David Abrahams, chief executive of Channel 4.

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9 Responses to The BBC and Nicola Sturgeon

  1. jim says:

    in one word Roger NO Channel 4 are many things but they are not stupid not packed with Nationalists as BBC Scotland is

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Scotland and broadcasting have an interesting history. I could wax lyrical here regarding the original Radio Scotland (swingin’ for you on 242) and its owner Mr Tommy Shields – a true broadcasting enthusiast. Or on how Scottish Television was lucky to escape the 1967/8 ITA franchise round, when TWW (Television Wales and West) were disenfranchised…

    As a young man, growing up near Cardiff, and who later trained as an electronics engineer at Cardiff Institute (now Cardiff Metropolitan University) – I was very familiar with the studios and broadcasting of BBC, HTV, S4C, as well as the numerous smaller production companies within the city during the 1980s.

    In the early years S4C was a flop, the two radio services from BBC Welsh Home Service morphed into BBC Radio Wales and Radio Cymru were not much better. But then something organic and rather wonderful happened.

    OK – ITV in England & Wales has, through successive buy-outs become a single entity where regional studios are no-longer required to anywhere like the extent of the early days – those were the days when all the individual ITVs produced good television in order to endeavour to get it onto the network – that was the driver here – this has all gone!

    But what of Cardiff? Cardiff had a reasonably large number of TV production companies and still does – BBC Cymru/Wales drama is very good – good cinematography and good production values, Casualty, Dr Who, Life on Mars, Hinterland, Torchwood to name a few, and it is this which drives broadcasting, not stuffy government interference. Even S4C puts together some television worth watching, which maintains these standards – Contrast this with “BBC River City” as BBC Scotland is colloquially and somewhat derogatorily known on various discussion boards.

    If Scotland wants to become a great broadcasting nation – then not only the BBC, but STV and independents (like the late Tommy Shields) need to up their game and make the good stuff – by their fruits shall they be recognized; and success will breed more success.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. ellenham2016 says:

    You’ve done your homework Roger, excellent blog 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  4. arabest1 says:

    The invective aimed at the BBC is relentless from nationalist circles because the BBC is arguably the single most important institution in promoting a positive sense of ‘Britishness”. I hear the all round lads-MacLad, Stuart Cosgrove review the weekly media stories every Thursday on Radio Scotland, (that’s BBC Radio Scotland), relentlessly whining about the lack of a ‘Scottish perspective’, in a weekly toe curling display of insularity from a man who has made a nice living from the nefarious “mainstream media’. The reaction to Nick Robinson’s, albeit cack-handed editing, of his exchange with Alex Salmond looked to like another example of SNP Brown Shirtery, so many of their number simply cannot tolerate a challenge to their world view or warped circular reasoning…..especially if it is on the BBC. Here’s the rub though, for all its faults, and there are many, people like the BBC, people in Scotland like the BBC, and millions enjoy it’s output. The big stumbling block for the snp and their indy movement is the general comfort so many Scots have with the connectedness across these islands, the BBC perhaps being the most egregious example.

    The Channel 4 story was revealing. Do those advocating ‘independence’ really think, they can maintain the benefits of being part of the UK and jettison only the elements where we make a contribution? Yet more in a long list of insipid having and eating of cake.

    Liked by 4 people

  5. arabest1 says:

    Just had the chance properly read this blog and have a look at the indyref2 site and its media watch stuff. Excellent analysis Roger, don’t know how you find the time but please keep it up…..these people are quite creepy, their attempt at ‘exposing’ the bbc is the stuff of undergraduate media students, who have read the back cover of a Noam Chomsky book, they appear to lack lack basic understanding of what ‘balance’ is and how the media should function in a democratic society… wonder there are so few names attached!

    I cannot remember if I shared this article on here, it is about last summer and the labour leadership campaign, but as I read it it reminded me very much of the indy ref in Scotland the constitutional debates since.

    Many thanks for your efforts.

    View story at

    Liked by 1 person

  6. SJ NM says:

    “…when Edinburgh and Scotland are the cultural capitals of the world.”

    Wow, and you Scots call the English arrogant. Just a point on culture, it would help if the self-appointed Cultural Capital of the World didn’t speak another country’s language. Remind me, how many “Scots” speak Scottish again?

    Yours, a proud Sassenach.


    • Roger White says:

      I think we’re on the same side here but a couple of points. The lesser one is that there really isn’t anything spoken called ‘Scottish,’ it’s ‘Scots.’ There are innumerable debates about whether it’s one or umpteen dialects or a separate language. These questions are quite sensitive here! The bigger point is ‘you Scots.’ Don’t confuse the loud shouty nationalists with the majority of Scots. Most of us are British too and want to stay British – our 2014 referendum proved that. On the ‘cultural capital’ point, Edinburgh in festival time is wonderful but I agree with you. Nationalists always tend to see the world as focused on their own wee patch of this earth. They’re deluded on that point (and on many others). Thanks for commenting.


      • SJ NM says:

        In my own experience many Scots are arrogant, and ascribe for themselves a superiority over the English which, if expressed in relation to any other nation would be described as racist.

        Many of my interactions with Scots proceed thus: I will assert that Scots have an almost ancestral hatred of the English, to which the Scot will assert that they “don’t hate the English” (or “English”, as some state it), but they do consider themselves a much more enlightened, tolerant, progressive, open-minded, generous, intelligent or educated people than those poor people down south. I then proceed to call them out for their arrogance and misplaced sense of superiority, to which the reply is usually an assertion that I suffer with English Arrogance (a tautology in the minds of many Scots), and Brexit will then be cited as an example of such arrogance.

        Another example of your arrogance (by your I mean Scotland’s in general) is the attitude towards Brexit; this is often written off as an expression of English Nationalism, then such English Nationalism is described in a comment in the Guardian website last night: “…English Nationalism; exclusive, arrogant and ignorant of what modern Europe stands for. Catalonia as myself as a scot (sic) wants to be part of Europe and my utopia would be of a federal Europe at peace and prospering for all. Not a Tory vision of some neoliberal social and economic car crash”. The correct kind of nationalism (the Scots kind – cuddly-wuddly, accepting, internationalist and progressive) as posed to the wrong sort (ie English) of nationalism, which it seems is actual nationalism since it rejects federalism is fine, but the wrong kind – English – is beyond the pale.

        It’s amusing when you glimpse the SNP’s response to the “English” nurse’s question to Nicola Sturgeon, stating that she needs to tighten her belt; this is often what the Tories are accused of being – heartless and insensitive, as opposed to the generous-minded and tolerant Scots. Is this the “generous spirit” of the authentic voice of the authentic Scot or simply a desperate political party looking for a way to debunk a critical voice, or as I see it an example that the Scots are nothing like how they like to portray themselves?

        So maybe you’ll understand when I cite the arrogance of the Scots (a justified and accurate description of many of your countrymen in my own experience) in future.


      • SJ NM says:

        I can’t edit my post, so I’ll include the correction to the garbled passage

        “The correct kind of nationalism (the Scots kind – cuddly-wuddly, accepting, internationalist and progressive) as posed to the wrong sort (ie English) of nationalism, which it seems is actual nationalism since it rejects federalism is fine, but the wrong kind – English – is beyond the pale.”

        which should read

        “The correct kind of nationalism (the Scots kind – cuddly-wuddly, accepting, internationalist and progressive) is fine, as opposed to the wrong sort (ie English) of nationalism, which it seems is actual nationalism since it rejects federalism. This kind of nationalism is beyond the pale in the eyes of many a Scot.”

        Also, the reference to the English nurse is in relation to this piece:


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