And finally... the dirks are out for an English McDonald

A television takeover would bring a Scottish version of News at Ten to screens north of the border. By Rob Brown
Scottish Television's bid to take over neighbouring Grampian hasn't quite made the opening bongs on News at Ten. But Trevor McDonald, the programme's anchorman, should be unnerved by this move towards further consolidation of the ITV network. For, if it goes ahead, Scots north and south of the Highland line could soon be chorusing: "Goodnight, Trevor - forever."

As first revealed in The Independent, STV served notice recently that it would like to ditch News at Ten and produce a replacement show in Glasgow comprising Scottish, UK and international news. The station says the case for such a programme will become unanswerable after the restoration of a Scottish parliament. The domestic news agendas in Scotland and England should certainly diverge dramatically after devolution.

ITN is refusing to be drawn into a public debate about the matter at this stage. But outrage is being voiced by some Scots. Alan Cochrane, one of the rent-a-rants hired by the new editor of The Scotsman (an Englishman), has written: "The people of Scotland may well have voted for devolution in huge numbers, but did they really vote to replace Trevor McDonald with whichever pawky wee STV presenter finds that its his or her turn to read the news?"

This is a splendid example of the Scottish inferiority complex which the successful production of a comprehensive news programme from Glasgow should go some way towards reducing. That, anyway, must be the hope of programme-makers at STV, who have managed to make appealing programmes in every other genre. But the plan for a tartanised News at Ten probably hinges on Scottish merging with Grampian. The Scottish Media Group, which owns STV and Glasgow's two leading newspapers, would need a pan-Scottish audience to justify such a change to City analysts.

Gobbling up Grampian will give it 4.7 million out of Scotland's 5.1 million viewers. (Border Television, based in Carlisle, accounts for the rest, so Trevor McDonald will remain a household name for some miles north of Hadrian's Wall).

Will the merger go ahead? City investors obviously think so: Grampian's shares soared when it emerged last week that the board of the Aberdeen- based company was engaged in friendly talks with Scottish, led by its high-profile chairman Gus Macdonald.

So what does Gus Macdonald have against Trevor McDonald? Nothing, really. As a former World in Action editor and presenter of Channel 4's Right to Reply, he has spent a large chunk of his career in London. But Macdonald, who is approaching 60, plainly wants to pull off one further big achievement before he bows out of the broadcasting business and indulges his twin passions: reading about Scottish history and hillwalking in the Highlands.

When ITV merger mania first erupted, he boldly declared that he was peering over Hadrian's Wall looking for an opportunity to invade. But Scottish failed to acquire any ITV stations south of the border. Macdonald then concentrated his energies on building a cross-media in Scotland. He persuaded STV's shareholders to shell out pounds 120m for the Glasgow Herald and Evening Times. Now he is arguing that the Scottish Media Group must absorb Grampian - at a cost of pounds 105m - to make it less vulnerable to takeover.

Macdonald has also subtly served warning that he will be prepared to play the nationalist card and appeal for protection by Scotland's politicians if any English predator starts sizing up his mini-empire. But he has invoked the wrath of some northern Scottish MPs by bidding for Grampian. Malcolm Bruce, the Liberal Democrat MP for Gordon, has warned that "if Grampian is taken over by Scottish, the area will become a province of Glasgow".

Scotland has long had its own north-south cultural divide. Inhabitants of the highly populated central belt, stretching from Glasgow to Edinburgh, love to parody Highland "teuchters" and Aberdonian "sheep shaggers". But the ITV transmission map does not reflect this. Scottish and Grampian both transmit to entirely artificial regions which contain bits of both Scotlands.

STV's head of programming, Blair Jenkins, hails from Elgin, a town located between Aberdeen and Inverness; he can hardly be accused of having a Lowland biasn

Comments