22nd October 2012

Here’s a blog I wrote for The Independent regarding Scotland’s independence and the BBC…


This week the Scottish Labour Party suggested that if Scotland gains independence it will lose the BBC. Despite the popular belief that politicians don’t know what voters really care about, it appears that for once they might actually be onto something.

Yes Scotland, after centuries of neglect, cultural condescension, not to mention The Highland clearances, you could finally sail your ship alone, but it would also mean missing out on Dr Who, so are you sure about this? As a child growing up in Ireland in the 1980s, I advise caution.

Self determination is lovely but having to rely on a small, poorly-funded national broadcaster for your entertainment needs is cultural suicide. I speak from experience; Radio Telifis Eireann, the Irish National Television is, like most modest sized national broadcasters, unrelentingly, grindingly, auntie getting drunk and singing at a family wedding-awful. In my opinion it is every tedious, pointless, vaguely racist local newspaper put in motion. Scotland, imagine turning on your TV and discovering it was stuck on “and now news from your area” for all eternity and ask yourself if you really liked Braveheart that much?

Growing up in Ireland, officially we only two national networks to choose from, spewing out an unappetising menu of American imports, British soap operas, leavened by in-house productions with the budget of a second hand family car. Luckily, thanks to the strength of the signal and Northern Ireland up the road, most Irish households can easily tune British channels in completely free of charge. This unexpected boon of the Partition Act, the national equivalent of peeping through your neighbour’s window, got most of my generation through the pre-satellite, multi-channel age.

There were downsides to our pirating. We didn’t get BBC; we got BBC Northern Ireland, which meant that sometimes instead of the programme advertised in the listings, say Top of the Pops, a documentary about North Antrim fishing communities would appear. There wasn’t ITV; it was UTV, which meant sometimes during Coronation Street, an ad warning against joining a paramilitary group would pop up, which certainly put Deirdre Barlow’s latest infidelity into perspective.

You only really suffered during the big events, when exciting national election counts would flip from the glamour of a studio debate in Westminster, to a grim looking hall in Armagh. Or when forlornly you realised you could never enter any of the competitions in your favourite shows, never win a Going Live mug, never get a picture on Tony Hart’s picture gallery, Jim would never Fix it for you (in hindsight this may be a blessing).

The worst was the annual Children in Need telethon. For weeks you would see the line up trailed, you knew which bands were due to appear, which soap operas were being hilariously spoofed, which TV presenters were going to appear in West End medleys and then just before the fun was about to start, while you and your sisters sat paused in your pjs, perched with pop corn mid flight, vibrating with the giddy thrill that only children up past their bed time can experience, the most dreaded sound of our childhood would boom – “And now we’re going to switch over to the action in your area!” and Take That would be replaced by a grinning team of Northern Ireland newsreaders playing the accordion. I still get mad just thinking about it

Do not kid yourself Scotland. Telling yourself that you can be like Denmark and make top quality, high end thrillers, is like promising yourself, once you move to your new house you will definitely start going to the gym. It will not happen. You will live on digital diet of Gaelic soap operas, Monarch of the Glen and old episodes of Murder She Wrote, no amount of Irn Bru and heroin will get you through it.

You have suffered enough, you deserve better. Your national broadcaster will be poor and make the cheapest, most mainstream bilge they can get away from and no amount of North Sea Oil will change that. Your only hope is that Donald Trump finds out and tries to buy his own channel.

And what of your responsibility to the rest of the Union? If you leave, Wales will soon follow and then who will be left with the BBC? After all those years, an ungrateful, cold-hearted Scotland is abandoning Auntie Beeb to the care of the scatty southern English. And do not kid yourself that at least their grounded Northern cousins will be there to keep an eye on things, do you really think they will get a say in anything? Without your steadying common sense the poor old BBC will be left in the jittery, over-caffeinated, distracted hands of a misguided enthusiasm of London execs and the family motor will be swiftly driven into a wall.

When Alex Salmond appears in his first historic episode of Newsnight as Prime Minister for Scotland and discovers it is now presented by Shane Ritchie you will only have yourselves to blame.

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