Proposal to devolve all powers over broadcasting to the Scottish Parliament, and to establish a Scottish Broadcasting Service (submission to the Smith Commission)

1. The principles underpinning this proposal
This proposal is informed by three main considerations. First, it is consistent with the goal of reinforcing democratic accountability for the governance of Scotland. A national, publicly-funded broadcasting service needs to be genuinely accountable to the people of Scotland, and work in the interest of creating a better society. Second, a Scottish television and internet broadcasting will function as a stimulus to artistic and economic growth in Scotland, by supporting creative industries and by enabling the population as a whole, and sections of that population, to engage in dialogue around critical aspects of social life, in ways that will contribute to a sustainable and just future. It is only through full and inclusive national dialogue that meaningful long-term planning can take place. Third, the existence of a locally-accountable broadcasting service is necessary in order to maintain cultural traditions in the face of trends toward the globalization of cultural life. This is particularly important in an English-speaking country. In other small countries (Norway, Denmark, Slovakia) it is possible to maintain cultural identity on the basis of shared language.
2. Assessment of the current situation
At the present time, the BBC is a UK-wide body, with a regional branch office in Scotland. There is broad agreement in Scotland that BBC Scotland does not adequately serve the interests of the Scottish people. Given the history and structure of the BBC, its alignment with the UK establishment, and the basic fact that over 90% of its output needs to meet the needs of people who live in other parts of the UK, it would not be possible to reform the BBC in a manner that would satisfy the requirements of the people of Scotland.
3. The potential advantages to Scotland and the UK as a whole (and/or its constituent nations) of devolving these powers to the Scottish Parliament
Scotland would gain a vital institution that would take a lead role in the renewal of Scottish society. The UK as a whole would have access to Scottish programmes that offered a different perspective on matters of shared interest. Creative industries in the UK as a whole would gain by the establishment of a new creative hub. One of the major advantages to Scotland would be that a new national broadcasting service could be designed in a way that was responsive to current technological and social developments. For example, during the referendum it became apparent that it was possible for a wide range of individuals and groups to make broadcast-quality documentaries that played a significant role in the national debate. It would be possible for a new national broadcaster to devote at least one channel to hosting such programmes, including payment of fees to programme-makers. Another area in which an innovative approach would pay dividends would be in the area of more effective and accessible archiving of programmes. At the present time, public dialogue is inhibited by the fact that many excellent informational programmes are hidden from view within a short time following transmission. There is a need for a internet-based TV ‘library’ that is open to all, along similar lines to book libraries. A Scottish broadcasting service could also form creative and productive links with similar services in other small countries with similar social values and traditions – for instance Nordic countries, Canada, New Zealand, and island communities. Such initiatives would unlikely to be given priority within the current structure of the BBC.
4. The potential disadvantages to Scotland and the UK as a whole (and/or its constituent nations) of devolving these powers to the Scottish Parliament
There would be a risk that the reduced funding received by the BBC would compromise its capacity to make high quality programmes. However, the cut in overall funding of 9% (equivalent to the Scottish proportion of the overall UK population) is not dissimilar to recent cuts in BBC departmental funding arising from other factors, and should be manageable.
5. The extent to which the advantages outweigh the disadvantages
The short-term transition costs of this proposal would be outweighed by longer-term gains, as each part of the UK developed broadcasting services that were appropriate to their particular goals and values.
6. The interdependencies between this proposal and other key issues
7. Practical or legal barriers or difficulties to implementing the proposal
8. The financial advantages or costs involved in implementing the proposal
There would be transition costs, but these would not be substantial.


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