Speech: Rona Mackay says new Scots BBC channel will be underfunded

Speech: Rona Mackay says new Scots BBC channel will be underfunded

The airwaves were buzzing last week with the news that Scotland will have a daily BBC channel from August next year, although I wonder whether the father of television, John Logie Baird, would be rejoicing, 90 years on from his invention, that we are where we are. Of course the new channel is a step in the right direction, but it is long overdue. Our cabinet secretary should be applauded for her work in helping it to come to fruition.

As a former journalist, I welcome the fact that the new channel will create 80 new posts for an hour-long news and current affairs programme, with editorial control over content. I agree with Lewis Macdonald’s comments about that. The new channel will also be a chance to showcase Scotland’s amazing array of national talent in the arts and the media and to encourage future generations to contribute to our rich culture.

Scotland’s new channel is being funded to the tune of £30 million, but that falls well short of the proportionate share being spent in Northern Ireland and Wales. Last year, 55 per cent of licence fee funds raised in Scotland were spent on Scottish network content. In stark contrast, 95 per cent of licence fee funds raised in Wales were spent in Wales, and the comparable figure for Northern Ireland was 74 per cent.

(INTERVENTION) Rachael Hamilton:

Does Rona Mackay agree that, through the new investment and distribution costs, the spend in Scotland will rise to 80 per cent?

Rona Mackay:

I have not figured that out, but would the member welcome the new channel being run on a shoestring? I do not think that that is what we want.

The Scottish broadcasting commission estimated in 2008 that a new channel would cost around £75 million—members can do the maths. It is also worth noting that in Catalonia, which has a population that is just larger than Scotland’s, the public broadcaster’s annual budget is £293 million and it broadcasts six television channels and four radio stations. It should be remembered that the BBC raises £320 million from licence fees in Scotland—members can come to their own conclusions about those figures. Evidently, we have some way to go, but I hope that the new channel is the start of a flourishing broadcasting future in Scotland. We should all wish it well.

It is not easy to outline in a four-minute speech the wider issue of Scotland’s rich and incredible culture, from inventors who changed the world, such as doctors, scientists and engineers, to actors, composers, film producers, comedians, musicians and all the rest.

I look back in anger when I think about what has been done to our Scottish culture over the decades. The lack of Scottish history taught during my time at school still saddens me. I learned more about the battle of Hastings and Oliver Cromwell than I did about the battle of Bannockburn or the Highland clearances. Then there were the generations of children who were belted for not speaking the Queen’s English. Imagine children being denied the right to speak in their mother tongue because it was too Scottish. Thankfully, that has changed and our beautiful Scots language and Gaelic are back on the school curriculum. However, as my colleague Angus MacDonald outlined during portfolio questions earlier, the commitment to invest £1.2 million in BBC Alba falls short of the commitment of 10 hours per week commitment that the channel needs to ensure that it can build on its success.

I will conclude on an optimistic note. I am delighted that the Scottish Government is investing in Wardpark Studios in Cumbernauld, which is home to the fantastic “Outlander” and is soon to produce the new Avengers film “Infinity War”.

The reawakening of our culture has been hard fought for, but I am glad that we are at last making some progress with the new TV channel. The nation of Scotland has contributed so much to the world culturally and it has so much more to give.

 

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