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This is getting silly

The English elite’s scare tactics in the run-up to the Scottish referendum involved promising to stop the game by taking away their balls – the pound, the pensions, Queen Elizabeth (1st of Scotland, notwithstanding) and, of course, the BBC. Some threats clearly addressed real matters of difficulty but, says Brian Winston, the removal of the BBC was merely silly.

‘Are you a “yes” man or a “no” man’, asked the Glasgow taxi driver even before I had settled in my seat. Of course, living in 5th borough the of the Danelaw (my part is now known as Lincoln), I had no vote in the referendum on Scottish independence and it would be hubristic to add to the cacophony of voices one way or another.

However, Claire Enders in Guardian on Monday last clearly felt no such inhibitions. Post independence, she assured us, that the ‘SNP will embark on a process of “nation building” which they will see as justifying the fostering of nationalist sentiment wherever possible, and certainly in the media’. One can only assume – apparently with her—that the “Scots” (well, the scare quotes go with the “nation” a few of them want to build, surely) will be unprepared for this. Never having experienced, say, the last night of the Proms etc etc, they will be ripe for the seductions of the SNP whose Ministry of Propaganda and Public Enlightenment is no doubt even now being planned in a cellar of the Palace of Hollyroodhouse.

The SNP’s proposed Scottish Broadcasting system ‘by definition’, she writes, ‘cannot have the traditions of impartiality and independence of the BBC and of other public service broadcasters’. ‘By definition’? Why ever not? Even Sky News behaves (as she might see it) itself. Was STV a bastion of pusillanimity in the old ITV system? Was Grampian an unthinking source polluting the purity of commercial television with official propaganda? Was there an MI5 man in the basement of the old BBC studios in Queen Margaret Drive, Glasgow (or was one only to be found the bowels of Broadcasting House in London?)

And, conversely, I just wonder what galaxy houses this paragon of broadcasting impartiality and independence because it surely isn’t the one which is home to our over regulated broadcast media system. And, anyway, she cant possible have in mind our Beeb with its reliance on the goodwill of the political class and its persistent history (in so far as we are allowed to know it) of – more or less – perfidy (more or less) always whenever the occasion demands.

It’s ‘fantasy’ says Ms Enders that there will be no additional costs to the Scots -- as if they wouldn’t begin by saving the license fee; as if broadcast signals were respecters of borders; as if there was no i-Player. And, above all, as if the BBC were not in the business of selling programmes to all comers.

The point here, as was clear when Salmond’s White Paper was first published, is that independent Scotland could not live with the BBC. As presently constituted, it is a crucial instrument of the state Ian Nairn once christened ‘UKania’ – and whose birthyear, 1927, it shares. Ms Enders makes the ideological nationalistic function of the British (as artificial a “nation” as any) Broadcasting Corporation nakedly clear. For the which, much thanks.

However, when I put her views to my taxi driver in Glasgow he merely passed me a ‘Yes’ button.

About the author

Brian Winston is lincoln professor at the university of Lincoln. He is the author of numerous books on the media, has run media studies departments at universities in the UK and the USA, and, in 1985, won an Emmy award. 


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