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Detective Jackson Brodie is divorced, dysfunctional – and just possibly the face of Scottish television if the country votes for independence.
The Edinburgh-based star of crime drama Case Histories has not been on British screens since last year, with the BBC apparently deciding that his ratings did not merit a further commission.
He could be one beneficiary of the Yes campaign’s promise to create a Scottish broadcaster to replace the BBC, and to increase homegrown shows by two-thirds by 2017.
“We want more local production in Scotland and to ensure Scottish viewers receive more content about and for Scotland,” Fiona Hyslop, Scottish culture secretary, said this month.
“The BBC has yet to demonstrate it can take strong commissioning decisions extensively outside of London.”
That stance reflects longstanding nationalist frustrations about the BBC, the public broadcaster that was founded by a Scottish Presbyterian, Lord Reith.
Scottish politicians have complained the BBC does not reflect events at their parliament. The BBC has also been “too late and could do better” at commissioning programmes from north of the border, said David Strachan, managing director of Scottish production company Tern TV.
The BBC remains popular in Scotland, however, with three in four Scots watching BBC One every week. And it is unclear that the Yes campaign’s proposed Scottish Broadcasting Service would have sufficient funds to acquire the rights to BBC shows – such as Sherlock and Match of the Day – and to invest in additional Scottish content.
“Scale is everything. That’s the beauty of the BBC model,” said Alice Enders, a media analyst at Enders Analysis.
The BBC raises about £305m a year from Scotland in licence fees, and spends £205m on programming, such as sitcom Mrs Brown’s Boys, Rab C. Nesbitt and How Auld Lang Syne Took Over The World. The remaining £100m pays for Scotland’s share of non-Scottish content – such as most of BBC One, the BBC website and the iPlayer.
If Scotland became independent, the BBC would probably relocate UK programmes such as Question Time, which is made north of the border. But more could be spent on domestic productions.
“I wouldn’t want to stuff the network full of tartan and haggis,” said Mr Strachan. “But economically and culturally, if you’re taking money from [Scotland], you should invest it in productions from Scotland.”
The hope is that Scotland’s TV industry might punch above its weight, as Denmark has with its crime thrillers. But the proposed Scottish broadcaster would have a budget a tenth of the size of the BBC, and its local studios are strong on documentaries but not in top-quality drama.
“Small countries can produce content that sells internationally, but it’s not the norm,” said Ms Enders.
Alex Salmond, Scottish first minister, has avoided open attacks on the BBC during the referendum campaign, perhaps wary because of its popularity with many voters. Nonetheless, for Scottish production companies, the independence debate is a chance to call for attention from London-based commissioners.
“If it’s a No vote, don’t be saying: job done, because this issue won’t go away,” said Mr Strachan.
Broadcaster accused of bias
Such is the resentment among some Scottish nationalists at the BBC
that hundreds have demonstrated outside its Glasgow HQ to protest at its referendum coverage.
The protesters complained that the BBC was favouring the pro-union side in its news reporting, a bias they argue reflects the viewpoint of the London-based broadcaster seen by many as the embodiment of Britain.
Critics seized on research by John Robertson, a professor at the University of West Scotland, which concluded that mainstream television reports, particularly those from the BBC, tended to be unfair and unbalanced, “which seems likely to have damaged the Yes campaign”.
The BBC rejects the claims, saying its coverage of the referendum is covered by the editorial guidelines on fairness and balance that it applies to all news stories.
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