Brian Monteith: New BBC channel could bind us to UK

BBC Scotland's Pacific Quay HQ in Glasgow. Picture: John Devlin
BBC Scotland's Pacific Quay HQ in Glasgow. Picture: John Devlin
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Let’s face it; the BBC was between a rock and a hard place. It has been lambasted, jumped upon and had demonstrations outside its Glaswegian HQ – facing demands for resignations and the dismissal of one its reporters during the independence referendum. That was one of the more distasteful moments of the campaign, and there were quite a few to choose from.

The calls for the BBC to invest more money in Scotland and in particular create a so-called Scottish Six news programme have since then continued. ‘Auntie’ has become a Bogey Man for many nationalists, being elevated into a representation of British colonialism in Scotland.

Hibs players and fans celebrate victory in this week's derby. Picture: Ian Georgeson

Hibs players and fans celebrate victory in this week's derby. Picture: Ian Georgeson

By contrast, many among the majority that voted for Scotland to stay in the UK have been concerned that the BBC would capitulate to political pressure, changing to become an introverted parochial purveyor of Brigadoon and Kale Yard sentimentalism. Anything likely to make us feel British, including the news, would be cast out, as the UK is balkanised into different grudge-bearing nationalities.

This week the BBC came up with its response and it was better than I, and others I know in broadcasting feared, for it trumped the calls for a Scottish Six by going one better and creating a new dedicated channel that will have its own hour-long news programme at 9pm. It will have a budget of £30 million a year and will be free-to-view with many Scottish-only programmes such as Sportscene, switching to that channel.

What that means is that the main channels such as BBC One or Two will not be tartanised with more opt-outs – instead it will be for us to choose by selecting the channels on offer. If we want more Scottish-only content then we can have it, but if we want to watch British programming (that will still be made in Glasgow, Cardiff, Salford, Bristol and London) that will not be denied to us by the imposition of programmes that narrow our vision.

Once the new channel starts and beds in, it will be interesting to see the viewing figures, especially of the ­different news programmes. If it is really to make its mark it will be the production of drama and comedy that will bring in viewers, not news.

My reasoning for believing this is simple enough. All the outrage about BBC bias was no more than a distasteful political ­confection designed to convince voters to rebel against alleged establishment news manipulation. Such a conspiracy about the BBC being biased could not have been further from the truth. You only had to watch the BBC debates to see how the corporation bent over backwards to be impartial. Some felt they went too far and pandered to nationalists.

For an institution that has over the years served Scotland well, and was built by that great Scot John Reith who, by his strenuous efforts, defined culturally what Britain was and is, I thought the BBC was surprisingly unbiased during the independence referendum.

Likewise, during the EU referendum I thought the BBC – again, being under the microscope of heightened public scrutiny – was, on balance, fair.

Now, after Brexit has become a reality, it appears to revel in any bad news, but it was ever thus – bad news is always easier to report than good news. Losers of jobs and investment tend to make more noise than winners in rising car production, economic growth and employment.

But for all this white noise I sleep easy at nights.

Firstly, there is competition in news and opinion – and if the BBC descends into being the oracle of a patronising, holier-than-thou establishment that thinks it knows better than us – as it can sometimes do – I simply reach for the remote.

Secondly, viewers are not stupid. They usually can tell when they are being manipulated or lied to and therefore tend to treat all reporting with a cynical realism.

The BBC is right to introduce the new channel. Rather than be a sop to narrow nationalism it could provide a further cord that binds us to being British. If that’s how it pans out it would have had John Reith’s blessing.

Omens line up for more Hibs glory

Could it actually happen? Could it be that having broken the 114-year-old spell of losing in Scottish Cup finals that Hibs, freed from the pressure to deliver, might just actually win the cup again?

Last year Hibs beat Hearts after a replay before going on to win the cup and after Wednesday night’s convincing derby win the parallels are being drawn again. There are still three more victories required to do it, and I don’t want to jinx the team’s chances simply by mentioning it here – but we’ve seen this sort of thing happen before.

The Jambos were barren of silverware for 36 years after winning the League Cup in 1962 and were becoming regular bridesmaids at Hampden – but once they broke their own hoodoo, winning trophies became easier. It’s all about belief, ending self-doubt and having a winning attitude.

When Hibs or Hearts lift trophies Edinburgh is a cheerier, happier place. Let’s not get too excited just yet, but at the moment my glass is half full.

Drams all round to toast Brexit

SPEAKING of good news, sales of Scotch have been given a boost by the fall in the value of the pound after the Brexit vote.

Latest figures show an increase in overseas sales by both value (up 3.3 per cent) and volume (up 4.1 per cent) – but it’s the detail behind these figures that is most interesting.

Before the Brexit referendum exports were up by volume but down by value – after the vote, sales picked up significantly and turned 2016 into the best year of growing sales for a decade. Hopefully that news might just get broadcast by the BBC, whatever the channel or news programme.