Media: BBC beware: Scotland is set to go it alone

Can Auntie remain calm and neutral about the break-up of Britain?

Being a star presenter with the BBC obviously has its perks. Along with the celebrity status and the big fat salary, you need never feel encumbered, like all those nonentities in the newsroom, by the Corporation's tedious rules about impartiality.

So the other day we had Gavin Esler - who is in danger of losing his semi-celebrity status in this country now that he is an anchor on BBC News24 - worrying in The Scotsman about how he has "begun to worry about the English".

As an expatriate Scot, Esler says he is concerned to see developing a "distinct English whine". Old English friends of his have demanded to know why the Scots won't cheer on the English in the World Cup. Another chum, whom he describes as "a Londoner and longtime Labour supporter", was particularly aggressive. "Too many Scots in government," she insisted. "It is like being colonised."

She insisted? Sounds more like a man called Jeremy Paxman, who was whining recently about England being run by Scottish "nabobs". As Paxo put it: "It feels a little like living under the Raj." The Newsnight anchor maybe thought he could say what he liked because he was on a late-night talk show in Australia. Clearly he didn't reckon on the Scottish diaspora, nor the Scottish press which has panned Paxman.

The Daily Record dubbed him "Supersneer" and the SNP leader ribbed him during a recent Newsnight studio debate. Paxo ignored the provocation. He plainly has no intention of joining Jimmy Hill as a major hate figure among the Scots. (Having your sexuality repeatedly questioned by the massed ranks of the Tartan Army is no fun, as the long-chinned Match of the Day pundit can readily attest).

The fact that one presenter and one former presenter of BBC2's flagship news analysis show have dared to venture into the debate about the Union doesn't matter much in itself.

But it does throw into sharp focus a question that should bother broadcasters and politicians alike: can the BBC really be expected to remain calm and neutral about the break-up of Britain? We're talking about the British Broadcasting Corporation, remember. Although it would never allow itself to be described as a state broadcasting service, it would obviously suffer if Scotland split away from the British state. It would lose around a tenth of its licence fees, for a start. This is no longer a wild scenario. A whole batch of recent opinion polls have shown the SNP ahead of Labour in Scotland and support for independence growing rapidly, especially among young Scots. After honouring his party's pledge to establish an elected parliament in Edinburgh, Tony Blair could go down in history as the man who broke up Britain.

The BBC's top mandarins love Britain. Director General John Birt has described the BBC's "extraordinary success" as "in important measure a triumph of British governance and regulation". And the chief executive of the BBC's Broadcast directorate, Will Wyatt, has waxed lyrical about the value of British broadcasting to the nation. The man in charge of the corporation's pounds 1.5bn annual output budget has cited coverage of the VE and VJ anniversaries, along with the acclaimed costume drama Pride and Prejudice and some storylines in the soap operas EastEnders and Coronation Street, as examples of how important broadcasting's role can be in drawing the nation together.

Note how Beeb bosses talk about the nation singular. Pull them up on this point and they swiftly acknowledge that, of course, the UK comprises two nations (England and Scotland) plus the principality of Wales and the province of Northern Ireland.

BBC bureaucrats have traditionally classified Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland as the "national regions" and have been trying to win friends in recent years by commissioning more network programmes from the Celtic Fringe.

Andrew Marr, lately of this parish, has argued that the Corporation is "more important in keeping these islands together than any political party". That's possibly putting it a bit strongly, but there is no doubt that the BBC has served as bonding agent and been a rare source of British national pride in the post-war era. This was especially the case when the Corporation transmitted a single nationwide service and saw its role as "equalising national life" and overcoming "parochialism of outlook". But those days are long gone and will fade even more into the midst of time as the digital revolution unfolds.

BBC Scotland will exploit the new technology and political devolution to opt out of the network schedule more frequently and to push its plan for a separate Scottish channel for digital subscribers. They also ultimately want to produce their own tartanised version of the Six O'Clock News for Scots, code-named Scotland at Six. BBC Scotland bosses will insist, of course, that this has nothing to do with nationalism. They're just providing an enhanced service for Scots and anyone else interested in Scottish affairs, wherever they may be across Britain, they say.

The reality is that national public broadcasters can never be truly neutral when the nation they serve is under threat from a secessionist movement. That is clearly evident in Canada, where broadcasters and politicians alike have had to deal for some decades with a very serious separatist movement in Quebec. Guylaine Saucier, chair of the CBC board, has stated: "CBC is central to my view of what defines Canada. Canada has endured as a nation because succeeding generations have been able to communicate a shared sense of values that has crystallised into an idea of nation that is unique in the world." One again, nation singular.

Yet, at the same time as it talks about "building bridges between the two cultures", CBC has unintentionally contributed to Quebec nationalism (with at least a small "n") by funding separate English and French services. The latter are often staffed by people who would gladly destroy the Canadian confederation and CBC along with it. Much the same situation applies in Scotland. There are some closet Nats in the upper echelons of BBC Scotland, who will do everything in their power to bring about the creation of a separate SBC. There are also some who don't want to go that far and are simply engaged in a little local empire building.

There are also a few naive souls who don't realise the possible effects of broadcasting devolution. It will undoubtedly have some political effect. Anything that turns up the Scottish dimension in Scots' lives simultaneously dims the British dimension. A more Scottish BBC will contribute to making Scots feel more Scottish and less British, a process that is already well under way. And Scottish viewers are Scottish voters, as Jeremy Paxman, Gavin Esler and the rest of the BBC need to remember as they struggle to deal with a digital, devolved Scotland.

Arts and Entertainment
Richard E Grant as Simon Bricker and Elizabeth McGovern as Cora, Countess of Grantham
Downton

Arts and Entertainment
Lynda Bellingham stars in her last Oxo advert with on-screen husband Michael Redfern

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Minchin portrait
arts + entsFor a no-holds-barred performer who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, Tim Minchin is surprisingly gentle
Arts and Entertainment
Clara takes the lead in 'Flatline' while the Doctor remains in the Tardis
tvReview: The 'Impossible Girl' earns some companion stripes... but she’s still annoying in 'Dr Who, Flatline'
Arts and Entertainment
Joy Division photographed around Waterloo Road, Stockport, near Strawberry Studios. The band are Bernard Sumner (guitar and keyboards), Stephen Morris (drums and percussion), Ian Curtis (vocals and occasional guitar), Peter Hook (bass guitar and backing vocals).
booksNew book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Tuttle's installation in the Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern
artAs two major London galleries put textiles in the spotlight, the poor relation of the creative world is getting recognition it deserves
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman
film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
On top of the world: Actress Cate Blanchett and author Richard Flanagan
artsRichard Flanagan's Man Booker win has put paid to the myth that antipodean artists lack culture
Arts and Entertainment
The Everyman, revamped by Haworth Tompkins
architectureIt beats strong shortlist that included the Shard, the Library of Birmingham, and the London Aquatics Centre
Arts and Entertainment
Justice is served: Robert Downey Jr, Vincent D’Onofrio, Jeremy Strong and Robert Duvall in ‘The Judge’

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Clive Owen (centre) in 'The Knick'

TV

Arts and Entertainment
J.K. Simmons , left, and Miles Teller in a scene from

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Team Tenacity pitch their fetching solar powered, mobile phone charging, heated, flashy jacket
tvReview: No one was safe as Lord Sugar shook things up
News
Owen said he finds films boring but Tom Hanks managed to hold his attention in Forrest Gump
arts
Arts and Entertainment
Bono and Apple CEO Tim Cook announced U2's surprise new album at the iPhone 6 launch
Music Album is set to enter UK top 40 at lowest chart position in 30 years
Arts and Entertainment
The Michael McIntyre Chat Show airs its first episode on Monday 10 March 2014
Comedy
Arts and Entertainment

Review

These heroes in a half shell should have been left in hibernation
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Flanagan with his novel, The Narrow Road to the Deep North
books'The Narrow Road to the Deep North' sees the writer become the third Australian to win the accolade
Arts and Entertainment
New diva of drama: Kristin Scott Thomas as Electra
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Daenerys Targaryen, played by Emilia Clarke, faces new problems

Sek, k'athjilari! (That’s “yes, definitely” to non-native speakers).

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Polly Morgan

art
Arts and Entertainment
The kid: (from left) Oona, Geraldine, Charlie and Eugene Chaplin

film
Arts and Entertainment
The Banksy image in Folkestone before it was vandalised

art
Arts and Entertainment

Review: Series 5, episode 4 Downton Abbey
Arts and Entertainment

Music
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

    'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

    If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
    James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

    The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

    Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
    Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

    Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

    Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
    Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

    Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

    Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
    How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

    How to dress with authority

    Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
    New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

    New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

    'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
    Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

    Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

    The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
    Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

    Tim Minchin interview

    For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
    Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

    Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

    Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
    Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

    Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

    Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album
    Hugh Bonneville & Peter James: 'Peter loves his classic cars; I've always pootled along fine with a Mini Metro. I think I lack his panache'

    How We Met: Hugh Bonneville & Peter James

    'Peter loves his classic cars; I've always pootled along fine with a Mini Metro. I think I lack his panache'
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's heavenly crab dishes don't need hours of preparation

    Bill Granger's heavenly crab recipes

    Scared off by the strain of shelling a crab? Let a fishmonger do the hard work so you can focus on getting the flavours right
    Radamel Falcao: How faith and love drive the Colombian to glory

    Radamel Falcao: How faith and love drive the Colombian to glory

    After a remarkable conversion from reckless defender to prolific striker, Monaco's ace says he wants to make his loan deal at Old Trafford permanent
    Terry Venables: Premier League managers must not be allowed to dictate who plays and who does not play for England

    Terry Venables column

    Premier League managers must not be allowed to dictate who plays and who does not play for England
    The Inside Word: Brendan Rodgers looks to the future while Roy Hodgson is ghost of seasons past

    Michael Calvin's Inside Word

    Brendan Rodgers looks to the future while Roy Hodgson is ghost of seasons past