What shall we do with the PSP?

Ofcom, the independent regulator of the UK telecommunications industries, plans to analyse the economics behind of the provision of public service digital media content to try to work out if there is any "shortfall in provision". I doubt that means another overhaul of the BBC however.

Behind the scenes Ofcom has been consulting many people in the digital media industry about using online to deliver public service "audio-visual content" but there remains a question over where any intervention is needed.

The options up for debate are the creation of a "Public Service Publisher" (PSP) which either helps citizens navigate to other sources of public service content or acts as a fund for public service content, rather like a VC. In the former case, since Google, Yahoo! and MSN all spend billions of pounds every year on making their search engines work as a business, it does seem a tad optimistic that a bunch of civil servants and private contractors are going to be able to come up with a web site which beats the GYM club when it comes to algorithmic search.

In the latter case, Ofcom's research has not turned up much enthusiasm for the VC route, with this proposal pointing out that there is no consensus on the required scale or source of potential funding. They are not that keen on an open rights model either, despite the lobbying no doubt from the Open Rights Group.

Meanwhile some ideas about what the PSP should do are coming in from different quarters.

Recently, The power of information report by the founder of mySociety, Tom Steinberg, and chief executive of the National Consumer Council, Ed Mayo, set out a roadmap for the government to help online communities create and reuse information for the benefit of citizens.

This found that by supporting the existing innovation of citizens, with facilitation and greater access to information; government will be creating opportunities for people to become empowered to make informed decisions and create solutions to improve their lives.

Tom Steinberg, founder and Director of mySociety said: “Around the world, the first phase of Government use of the Internet is coming to an end with public services and information largely online. We are now at the start of a new era, where Government starts to learn how to support citizens' own ways of making, finding and re–using information.”

In other words, this seems to suggest either that there IS a funding route for the PSP - supporting new projects financially - or that government should put in a better framework around the media industry which allows citizens to "re–use" information in a creative way.

But that puts us back into the DRM debate and open access to data and information. This story will run and run...

How Jim Murphy's mistake cost Labour - and helped make Ruth Davidson

Scottish Labour's former leader's great mistake was to run away from Labour's Scottish referendum, not on it.

The strange revival of Conservative Scotland? Another poll from north of the border, this time from the Times and YouGov, shows the Tories experiencing a revival in Scotland, up to 28 per cent of the vote, enough to net seven extra seats from the SNP.

Adding to the Nationalists’ misery, according to the same poll, they would lose East Dunbartonshire to the Liberal Democrats, reducing their strength in the Commons to a still-formidable 47 seats.

It could be worse than the polls suggest, however. In the elections to the Scottish Parliament last year, parties which backed a No vote in the referendum did better in the first-past-the-post seats than the polls would have suggested – thanks to tactical voting by No voters, who backed whichever party had the best chance of beating the SNP.

The strategic insight of Ruth Davidson, the Conservative leader in Scotland, was to to recast her party as the loudest defender of the Union between Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom. She has absorbed large chunks of that vote from the Liberal Democrats and Labour, but, paradoxically, at the Holyrood elections at least, the “Unionist coalition” she assembled helped those parties even though it cost the vote share.

The big thing to watch is not just where the parties of the Union make gains, but where they successfully form strong second-places against whoever the strongest pro-Union party is.

Davidson’s popularity and eye for a good photo opportunity – which came first is an interesting question – mean that the natural benefactor in most places will likely be the Tories.

But it could have been very different. The first politician to hit successfully upon the “last defender of the Union” routine was Ian Murray, the last Labour MP in Scotland, who squeezed both the  Liberal Democrat and Conservative vote in his seat of Edinburgh South.

His then-leader in Scotland, Jim Murphy, had a different idea. He fought the election in 2015 to the SNP’s left, with the slogan of “Whether you’re Yes, or No, the Tories have got to go”.  There were a couple of problems with that approach, as one  former staffer put it: “Firstly, the SNP weren’t going to put the Tories in, and everyone knew it. Secondly, no-one but us wanted to move on [from the referendum]”.

Then again under different leadership, this time under Kezia Dugdale, Scottish Labour once again fought a campaign explicitly to the left of the SNP, promising to increase taxation to blunt cuts devolved from Westminster, and an agnostic position on the referendum. Dugdale said she’d be open to voting to leave the United Kingdom if Britain left the European Union. Senior Scottish Labour figures flirted with the idea that the party might be neutral in a forthcoming election. Once again, the party tried to move on – but no-one else wanted to move on.

How different things might be if instead of running away from their referendum campaign, Jim Murphy had run towards it in 2015. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.

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