Rob Brown column
A Scottish parliament, the world's first tele-democracy, won't have any authority over telly or radio north of the border. It will continue to be controlled from Whitehall
Monday 08 September 1997
Last week, I was in Germany again, this time on holiday. The wrong place at the wrong time? Surely the media editor of any British newspaper would much rather have been back in the Big Smoke pontificating about the Princess and the Paparazzi?
Actually, no. This too was serendipitous. To be perfectly honest, I don't think I could have contributed much to the coverage last week.
Had I been in Canary Wharf tower with my colleagues last Sunday I too would have gone on about the paparazzi, only to be reminded the next day of this simple truth: snappers on motorbikes might drive celebrities to distraction, but even a posse of them constitute much less of a road safety hazard than one drunk driver.
Just a few brief thoughts from abroad. Now, firmly back in Blighty, my mind is fully focused on the forthcoming devolution referendum. Unless I engineer a brief escape from London Docklands, I will be in the wrong place on Thursday when my compatriots troop to the polls to pass judgement on the Parliament being offered to them by Mr Blair.
Like any self-respecting Scot who believes in representative democracy, I am hoping and praying for a resounding Yes response to both of the questions on the ballot paper. But I have to confess that in my darker moods I sometimes fear that the struggle for Scottish home rule is going to end up like that Archie Gemmill goal all over again.
Gemmill, you will recall if you are a football fan or have seen the film Trainspotting, scored an absolute cracker against Holland in the 1978 World Cup to give Scotland a semi-miraculous 3-2 victory. The Tartan Army in Argentina - and back in less exotic places like Arbroath and Aberdour - went totally wild. The boys in blue had achieved mastery over the Dutch masters. Easy. Easy.
But it didn't matter. Scotland went out in the first round due to less dazzling performances against Iran and Peru. If Scotland votes for the modest legislature offered by Labour, we may discover quite swiftly that it doesn't matter much, that all Edinburgh has been entrusted with by Tony Blair is a puppet parliament in a kid-on capital.
The building will be physically impressive, of course, bristling with a range of dazzling audio-visual gizmos. Already it is being hailed as the first tele-democracy.
But, as the PM reminded us in his early morning interview with David Frost yesterday, all the really important stuff - including macro-economic management, defence, foreign affairs, social welfare and relations with the European Union - will remain under his control.
That, of course, can change. Politics isn't just a game of two halves. If Scots vote for devolution on Thursday, we are through the qualifying round and can immediately set our minds on the goal of attaining more meaningful political autonomy.
What concerns me at this stage is that the world's first "tele-democracy" won't even have any authority over the telly or the radio or the press north of the border. Broadcasting, like the media in general, will continue to be controlled from Whitehall.
I had better be careful about that word control. Brian Wilson, the Scottish Office minister in charge of industry and education, will accuse me of advocating political thought control - as he virtually did in a recent debate at the Edinburgh TV Festival.
Wilson is determined to ensure that his master's puppet parliament will never develop beyond its initial puny status. He does so by posing as a die-hard defender of broadcasting freedom. The truth, as he well knows, is that the media landscape in every liberal democracy in the world is being constantly shaped and reshaped by government action - or inaction.
There is absolutely no danger of Alba (the Gaelic word for Scotland) becoming another Albania. But the country could do with its own Albanian- sounding Ministry of Culture, Media and Sport. Cultural industries, especially television, are not just major employers in the information age but are important transmitters of national identity and central to the functioning of any healthy modern democracy. No Scottish government seriously committed to transforming Scottish society would leave such institutions under the authority of a Whitehall ministry.
Of course, disentangling the Scottish media from the existing UK legislative framework would be a mighty intricate task. But it's not beyond the wit of man. There are plenty of other countries around the globe where sovereignty over broadcasting is split between legislators - not least Germany, where the Lander (provincial parliaments) have considerable say in this crucial sphere.
Then again, Germany is a fully fledged Federal Republic - something Britain would be on its way to becoming if the people power which shone so magnificently on the streets on London on Saturday weren't just a candle in the windn
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