I have always defended the licence fee. Not because I believe the BBC does a good job as Scotland’s nominal public service broadcasting organisation, but because the licence fee represents the independent funding that is essential for there to be any public service broadcasting at all. My concern has always been that the precious baby of public service broadcasting would be thrown out with the soiled water of the BBC.
In addition, I have tended to regard the BBC AS AN INSTITUTION to be an excellent model for a public service broadcaster despite the fact that the BBC AS AN ORGANISATION was failing Scotland so abysmally.
If the licence fee is to be boycotted as a means of protesting the BBC’s unarguable failure to provide an acceptable level of service in Scotland then I would wish to be assured that public service broadcasting would not be collateral damage.
Having said all that, it must be acknowledged that the situation has become intolerable. As a nation, Scotland needs a national broadcaster. The BBC as presently constituted simply cannot be that broadcaster. A national broadcaster is the nation talking to itself about itself and talking to the world about itself and its view of the world. BBC Scotland is the broadcasting arm of the British establishment. It is the British establishment broadcasting TO Scotland rather than being the public service broadcaster IN Scotland.
BBC Scotland can only become Scotland’s national broadcaster when it ceases completely to be a part of the British establishment. This will require that all powers over media should cease to be withheld from the Scottish Parliament. It will also require a wholesale transformation of BBC Scotland AS AN ORGANISATION while striving to save as much as possible of the BBC AS AN INSTITUTION.
We are entitled to ask why powers over broadcasting are being withheld from Scotland’s democratically elected parliament. The only parliament with democratic legitimacy in Scotland. The only parliament that truly speaks for the people of Scotland. The reason cannot be that having powers over broadcasting held by a parliament furth of Scotland and not elected by the people of Scotland and unqualified to speak for Scotland results in a better service for Scotland. Not only is this jarringly counter-intuitive it is most definitely not borne out by the evidence.
We must conclude, therefore, that the reasons for withholding powers over broadcasting from the Scottish Parliament are entirely or primarily political. The British establishment wishes to maintain its voice in Scotland and does not want Scotland to have a voice of its own. The imperatives of British Nationalism dictate that this should be so. Scotland having its own national broadcaster is incompatible with the objective of eradicating distinctiveness and subsuming Scotland in a monolithic English-as-British state.
Scotland’s voice is suppressed because British Nationalists fear what that voice might say. They fear the loss of the British establishments voice in Scotland because they would lose a massively powerful means of manipulating public perceptions of Scotland. They fear that were the people of Scotland to see their nation truly reflected in their media they would quickly realise the deleterious impact of the Union.
I want Scotland’s independence restored because I want Scotland to have the ability to develop its own distinctive identity. That distinctiveness is anathema to British Nationalists. Their ambition and aim is to eradicate the distinctiveness of what they regard as annexed territory – the troublesome periphery of their glorious ‘One Nation’ British state. A periphery which would be even more troublesome if it had its own distinctive voice reflecting and reinforcing Scotland’s distinctive political and social culture.
If Scotland is to remain a nation then powers over broadcasting must be restored to the Scottish Parliament. If the licence fee is to be abolished then it must be replaced by guaranteed funding from general taxation in Scotland. If BBC Scotland is to become Scotland’s national broadcaster then it must undergo a transformation which will displace all those who find themselves unable to adapt to the organisation’s new role as Scotland’s national broadcaster.
If legal non-payment of the licence fee helps to bring this about then it is a worthy campaign. Personally, I doubt that it will be any more effective than pleas and demands from Scotland’s democratically elected representatives. BBC Scotland is too valuable to British Nationalists as a propaganda tool for them to ever let it go – even if it has to be funded entirely by England’s taxes.