At first glance, it should be brilliant news. The BBC’s director general Tony Hall has unveiled a new TV channel for Scotland, due to start broadcasting in 2018.
It will be called BBC Scotland (a label that already exists, confusingly), and means the creation of 80 new journalism jobs – a boon at a time when the traditional news industry is floundering. While the details are yet to be finalised, it means that a Scottish watcher will be able to turn on the TV at 7pm and flick to a Scottish-produced channel. Crucially, it will have a flagship news programme at 9pm.
The BBC is pumping £19m into the channel and digital developments, as well as another £1.2m for BBC Alba (Scotland’s Gaelic language channel). What’s not to like?
One thing in particular, according to the Scottish National Party. The announcement of a 9pm news show effectively kills the idea of replacing News at Six.
Leading the charge for “a Scottish Six” is John Nicolson, the party’s Westminster spokesman for culture, media and sport. A former BBC presenter himself, Nicolson has tried to frame the debate as a practical one.
“Look at the running order this week,” he told the Today programme:
“You’ll see that the BBC network six o’clock news repeatedly runs leading on an English transport story, an English health story, an English education story.
“That’s right and proper because of the majority of audience in the UK are English, so absolutely reasonable that English people should want to see and hear English news, but equally reasonable that Scottish people should not want to listen to English news.”
The SNP’s opponents think they spy fake nationalist outrage. The Scottish Conservatives shadow culture secretary Jackson Carlaw declared: “Only they, with their inherent and serial grievance agenda, could find fault with this.”
The critics have a point. The BBC has become a favourite punch bag for cybernats. It has been accused of everything from doctored editing during the independence referendum to shrinking Scotland on the weather map.
Meanwhile, the SNP’s claim to want more coverage of Scottish policies seems rather hollow at a time when at least one journalist claims the party is trying to silence him.
As for the BBC, it says the main reason for not scrapping News at Six is simply that it is popular in Scotland already.
But if the SNP is playing it up, there is no doubt that TV schedules can be annoying north of the border. When I was a kid, at a time when #indyref was only a twinkle in Alex Salmond’s eye, one of my main grievances was that children’s TV was all scheduled to match the English holidays. I’ve migrated to London and BBC iPlayer, but I do feel truly sorry for anyone in Glasgow who has lost half an hour to hearing about Southern Railways.
Then there’s the fact that the Scottish government could do with more scrutiny.
“I’m at odds with most Labour folk on this, as I’ve long been a strong supporter of a Scottish Six,” Duncan Hothershall, who edits the Scottish website Labour Hame. “I think the lack of a Scotland-centred but internationally focused news programme is one of the factors that has allowed SNP ministers to avoid responsibility for failures.”
Still, he’s not about to complain if that scrutiny happens at nine o’clock instead: “I think the news this morning of a new evening channel with a one hour news programme exactly as the Scottish Six was envisaged is enormously good news.”
Let the reporting begin.