The BBC have announced both their plans for a new BBC Scotland channel beginning in 2018 and the decision to dismiss their original concept of a ‘Scottish Six’ news programme in favour of a ‘Scottish Nine’. Running from 7pm to midnight, this new channel will air Scottish drama, factual documentaries, comedy and most importantly, an hour long news programme at 9pm focusing on stories from Scotland, as well as the rest of the UK and the world. This is both progressive in its move to prioritise Scottish requests within the BBC’s broadcasting system, and a highly politicised move towards further devolution of power within the union.
The purpose of this new investment, which will be run on the same £30 million budget as the current BBC 4 and provide 80 new journalistic jobs, is to reduce the amount of irrelevant news broadcast to Scotland concerning English and Welsh news – education and transport, for example – which often dominates and makes less accessible the 6pm and 10pm shows on BBC One. It seems unnecessary for the Scottish population to be plagued with a lead headline focusing purely on the dire situation of Southern Rail, when they live more than 500 miles away.
Nicola Sturgeon, First Minister of Scotland and leader of the SNP, has hope that the creation of this new programme shows a “sign of new thinking”, but she has called the dropping of the Scottish Six ‘disappointing’. The BBC have made it clear they would not prioritise Scottish news so much as to provide a news programme on their central channel BBC One and made this compromise.
Placing the news slot at 9pm provides a new platform for the dissemination of news with a Scottish focus, but the newly formed BBC Scotland channel does not interfere with the current BBC One news slots at 6pm and 10pm. We are currently so bombarded with news programming, across various channels and differing formats, that it invites the question: why has the BBC so easily agreed to distinguish Scottish news?
The BBC could easily be buying Scotland off with a cushy £30 million deal, cloaked in the glamour of a shiny new channel with new creative opportunities. This could give BBC One news further opportunity and justification to prioritise English news and side-line Scottish issues in the future.
With talks of a second independence referendum building, this step to further devolution perhaps indicates that the new channel could become a vital platform for the independence cause. The use of a consolidated news body is a remaining element of unity throughout the United Kingdom, led by the supposedly neutral BBC, and this is a step away from that. The new Scottish Nine channel, with BBC Scotland, will form a community of discourse prerequisite to an independent nation – but this is limited by the fact it will be framed by an ostensibly pro-establishment outlet.
Recent comments by both Sadiq Khan and Jeremy Corbyn have made it very clear that there is still a level of ignorance with relation to Scottish issues. Talking at the Scottish Labour conference in Perth, Corbyn mistakenly complimented the SNP by referring to Labour Members of the Scottish Parliament as SNPs, instead of MSPs.
Sadiq Khan took this casual contempt for Scottish parliamentary figures further, claiming that Scottish nationalism could be construed as being equivalent to racism and bigotry. He revised this comment in a later speech, where he qualified that he compared it to race and religion only in the sense that it pitted one entity against another; a division of us and them.
This only serves to further clarify the political gulf that is widening between Scotland and the rest of the UK. Tony Hall, the Director-General at the BBC, has said that he believes this new service will give people a “real choice between UK services and Scottish services” from a positive perspective.
However, will this new broadcasting channel in fact provide a “real choice” between the union and Scottish independence?