It should not be boring for Scots to tune in to attitudes south of the Border, for one upshot of devolution is that we will enter a fascinating chapter in English history
Monday 15 September 1997
Drifting in and out of consciousness produced a truly weird sensation. Surely I was dreaming when Kirsty Wark announced that almost two-thirds had voted for a parliament with revenue-varying powers? Did my fellow Scots really cock a snook at one of the iron laws of western politics and vote for higher taxes?
They did, apparently. And there was Peter Snow with one of his snazzy graphics to prove it.
I went to my kip after the first results from the "wee county" of Clackmannanshire and then from the much more populous district of South Lanarkshire. No need to stay up and have the outcome confirmed in every nook and cranny of Caledonia.
But my exhaustion was combined with exhilaration. The Scottish people had staged a totally rational revolution without spilling a single drop of blood. Not only Scotland, but Britain as a whole, will never be the same as a result of this quiet act of courage.
In the run-up to the referendum I frequently found myself babbling away in a small, windowless room. No, I wasn't cracking up at the prospect of the biggest constitutional reform in this Disunited Kingdom since the partition of Ireland in 1922. I was broadcasting to the nation from The Independent's own mini radio studio in the Canary Wharf tower.
Time and time again I found myself being asked the same questions by BBC staffers on both sides of the Border. Did I think the Scottish media was up to the task of covering a Scottish parliament? Would the creation of a tartan legislature trigger a mass exodus of Scottish talent from London newsrooms? Or would devolution simply spark a new parochialism in the Scottish media?
The first question - basically doubting the general calibre of Scottish journalists - was usually posed in rather patronising metropolitan tones. Actually, it was first asked by a member of Radio 4's Mediumwave team, which is based in Manchester rather than London. This just goes to prove that relocating BBC producers to the so-called provinces is no instant cure for metropolitan arrogance and myopia.
Scotland has never been short of top-notch journalists who could compete with the best in London - and not all feel they need to work in London to prove it. But most serious political journalists obviously want to be where the action and drama are. Until last Thursday that place most assuredly wasn't Edinburgh. There are only so many times you can record the woes of a restless nation.
So will London-based Scottish journalists now be heading back in their hundreds to the Athens of the North? Not immediately, I don't think. As I wrote in this space last week, Labour's concept of devolution still leaves a lot to be desired. But this first dollop of autonomy will assuredly introduce an exciting new dynamic into Scottish public life and Anglo- Scottish relations.
ITN has already tripled its representation in Scotland from one to three reporters. Editor-in-Chief Richard Tait proudly boasts that ITN's Edinburgh bureau is now as big as the one in Washington. He cites this as evidence that the company which supplies news to Britain's three commercial networks - ITV plus Channels 4 and 5 - is responding in its own way to the quiet revolution in how Britain is governed.
Actually ITN is running scared of Scottish Television, which is seriously toying with the idea of opting out of News at Ten and producing its own comprehensive Scottish, national and international news service. Tough negotiations are now under way between these two outfits. The outcome is still hard to predict, since Scottish's chairman Gus Macdonald - who first raised the prospect of a tartanised News at Ten in a speech to the Royal Television Society some months back - has started to sound slightly less enthusiastic about the idea.
The fact that he has even contemplated pulling the plug on Trevor McDonald was enough to outrage some observers, who have seized on this story to peddle their fear that parochialism will reign supreme in the Scottish media post-devolution. Obviously there is a danger that Scots' news horizons could narrow when the Scottish news agenda becomes more lively.
It would be not just ironic, but deeply regrettable, if the horizons of Scottish editors were to run out at Hadrian's Wall. Rampant parochialism would certainly ill serve Scottish readers, viewers and listeners. For how the English respond to devolution in the years ahead is certain to have an enormous impact on Scottish politics.
Will the creation of a Scottish parliament produce a domino effect, triggering serious demands for regional government in parts of England? Or will southern taxpayers start seriously to resent Scotland's lavish share of the UK public expenditure cake? And will London newspapers discourage or fan such territorial tensions?
Whatever ensues, it will be in Scots' own enlightened self-interest to tune in very closely to evolving attitudes south of the Border. That shouldn't be seen as a boring chore, for one certain upshot of Scottish devolution is that we are about to enter a fascinating new chapter in English history.
Some of Scotland's shrewdest journalists have already cottoned on. Scottish Television, I understand, is already looking to make a major documentary about England. It would be entitled "Our Friends in the South"n
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