2007 - 2021

Broadcasting Democracy

tvAll this week we’re publishing articles by English people who support a Yes vote in September. 

I’ve lived in Scotland since 1975, initially living near Galashiels and then in Edinburgh, with a four year spell in Birmingham before returning to Edinburgh. I had a one year spell in Dundee in 2001 running the local TV Channel Six Dundee. I started working in Scotland as a printer mostly for trades union and political campaigns and minority causes, working with the Anti Nazi League and establishing Rock against Racism in Scotland. My interests moved from representing left and minority interests in print and events to filmmaking for Red Star. The representation of non-established viewpoints may have been even handed in the transcript of TV news coverage, although then and now Glasgow Media Group contest this, but visually coverage of trades unions, CND and the activities of those contesting Thatcher’s policies in Scotland and those against privatisation were often not reported at all or reported with the benefit of police photographs and statistics. Visually those contesting the government’s view appeared on TV as a rag-tag army looking less than equal to their official adversaries. Red Star tried to contest this with its own short newsreels shown at what is now the Storytelling Centre in Edinburgh.

Later in the 1980s it became evident that the scale of broadcasting erred towards representing the national or the national view from near to the capital or, in Scotland’s case, close to the largest city. Edinburgh was probably unique in Europe in not having representation as a capital city as STV and BBC both moved more of their resources to Glasgow.

The internal dynamics of a nation unable to represent itself on a par with the other nations of the UK or of Europe was one issue but so too was the misrepresentation and invisibility if the rural areas in Scotland, the absence and marginalisation of news from the South of Scotland, linked more recently on commercial TV to the service for the north of England.

I’ve spent most of my working life lobbying for local TV, for a form of audio visual representation that both reflects and is answerable to the communities it immediately serves. Cable once offered an opportunity before those services were merged from districts, town and cities into the single UK-wide Virgin operation. Digital terrestrial TV on Freeview still offers an opportunity for greater localisation although this is relatively expensive and has been set up to fail by prioritising a news model that best fits large urban services rather than dispersed rural populations. But the belated launch of local TV glues in the face of a fragmented delivery of TV and of new ways to serve communities of interest. Generally I supported the Scottish Broadcasting Commission’s proposal for a Scottish Digital Network which, after some debate, acknowledged the principle of subsidiarity or local control of input that could both serve smaller outlying communities and for ‘national’ broadcast/broadband service emerging as an aggregate of the best-of local stories combined with nationally resourced input. I supported this view in submissions the following year to the Calman Commission, to find that the majority of submissions also favoured some or all devolution of broadcasting to the Scottish parliament. The responses are documented in the annexes to Calman’s interim report but were ignored altogether in his final report. The net result now is that broadcasting is overlooked in the proposals for new powers agreed by Westminster and Holyrood in 2012.

I think the present print and broadcast media is relatively happy with the settlement as it stands while there is a hidden truth in the phrase that ‘there is no democracy without media democracy’. Unless we have some immediate interest and democratic engagement with the ways they are represented collectively as well as securing individual redress then the world is likely to be represented back to us not as we know it but as others would like us to see it.

This takes me back to the start of Red Star in the 1970s, when those who’d been on demonstrations came to see our films two weeks after filming they were reinvigorated, in the interim having come to believe the absense or misrepresentation of the demonstration or strike in the mainstream media was as the reality and their own fading memories merely a dream.

So yes I am from England and I support Scottish independence as a small step in a greater struggle to devolve responsibility to the smallest workable scale.

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  1. mary vasey says:

    I agree that we need more local news/ input. Coming from Aberdeen I get especially frustrated with news programs. Yes I want international news but I also want first rate local news. We get 1/2 hr of inter /national news i.e. English news then 10mins of central belt news. Neither concerned with areas out with that. This also has some import on independence as I’ve had quoted to me up here ‘ we don’t want governed by central belt so I’m voting no ‘ Personally I am a YES voter as I believe in social democracy.

  2. Colin says:

    I’m from Edinburgh but have lived in Aberdeen for the last 27 years, and I have been told by many people that they don’t want ruled by the central belt, one lady even told me she would rather be ruled from Westminster.
    Where does this viewpoint come from?

    1. yerkitbreeks says:

      I grew up in Fraserburgh, then Aberdeen before becoming an economic migrant in London, and understand perfectly where these opinions come from.

      Aberdonians simply couldn’t understand the accent and language of Glaswegian politicians, mainly Labourites who seemed to dominate the Scottish political scene and made no effort up there.

      As a boy our MP was the Tory Robert Boothby, you remember, the one who was bonking Macmillan’s ( of “you’ve never had it so good” fame ) wife. He had no interest in NE Scotland so you may wonder how he got in ? Dinner parties, my dear, the Lord Lieutenant system and wealthy farmers ran the local “democracy”.

      Actually there will be a continuing issue here since the accents of our present Scottish Cabinet ( I listened to them in Selkirk yesterday ) are not too different.

      I am no lover of the socially divisive “British” private schooling system, but can see perfectly well why it was an excellent construct for running an Empire. Look it up – the ethic of the “prep” school was to take a boy ( no private girls’ schools then ) and by the end of that stage of education one could not tell which county he came from.

      Excellent, otherwise can you imaging a Geordie District Commissioner in Tanganyika speaking to a Brummie one in India over the ‘phone – they wouldn’t have understood a word each other said !

  3. Big Jock says:

    Don’t look for logic in it Colin.There are some pretty foolish people in Scotland who think London will be kinder to them than Edinburgh.The myth is perpetuated by the likes of Tavish Scott by appealing to the little Scotlanders.It could be argued that if you live in Stranraer or Stornoway London would be better than Edinburgh as the central belt nonsense goes on with the daft logic brigade.There is an easy answer.80% of Scots didn’t vote Tory.Yet they rule our country from London? Independence would produce a government the majority voted for in Scotland.Whether its in Edinburgh or Inverness the important thing is that its the government the whole of Scotland voted for.Aren’t parliaments usually in the capital city of the nation I.e Edinburgh.So if someone in Glasgow doesn’t like Edinburgh they would switch it for Tory rule from London.God help these type of people!

  4. Iain says:

    That’s an interesting article. Scottish broadcasting did seem to wake up in the post-79 period, but then Gus McDonald at STV got converted to Thatcherism (I worked there during his reign) and the BBC chose an obedient nice laddie to run the Scotland branch for them. They have both fulfilled their remits. They are both well pensioned. For them, that’s success. Job done – pension invested. Result!

  5. Seanair says:

    I didn’t understand your reference to the Scottish Cabinet resembling Boothby. Most of the SC went to Scottish state schools, Mike Russell has an English accent, but so what?

    1. Brian Fleming says:

      I think the idea was their voices resemble central belt Labour politicians, not Boothby.

    2. yerkitbreeks says:

      Not too different – from former Glaswegian politicians, of course.

      Spoke to Mike Russell yesterday, by the way. He doesn’t have an English accent. Where have you been ?

      1. Seanair says:

        Born in Bromley, Kent and has brought an English kind of accent wth him. I said that I didn’t care what accent he has.

  6. Capella says:

    Great article. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have a real broadcasting service that reflected our reality. But just listen to the output of Radio Scotland and count the number of items sourced from outside Glasgow!
    Those in the North East who say they don’t want to be ruled from the Central Belt are usually Tories. By promoting Westminster rule they generally get a Tory government despite the majority of Scottish voters rejecting neo liberalism. Unfortunately, central belt Labour does nothing to enhance their reputation, but simply parrots neo-liberal ideas from their London bosses.

  7. Capella says:

    Lenathehyena is Aberdeen blogger who had some very sharp observations on BBC Scotland’s central beltness. See

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