The telly’s shite innit, and Scottish telly has always been a special tartan shade of shite. Those of us of a certain age will remember the BBC announcer informing us that we were about to be treated to a hauf daicent movie, before adding: “Except for viewers in Scotland.” We’d be getting something involving Dougie Donnelly instead. Even now, many decades later, the phrase “indoor bowling from Coatbridge” still provokes an automatic wee sigh of bored resignation.
The telly is still shite, despite the fact there are now dozens of digital free to air channels catering to such niche markets as god-botherers, tarot card readers, devotees of badly acted Brazilian soap operas, people who make their own jewellery with offcuts from plumbing wholesalers which they bought on a shopping channel for their weight in credit cards, and a whole lot of sad gits who are turned on by disinterested sex workers squeezing their tits with the same degree of sexual arousal normally found in pensioners checking the freshness of vegetables in Asda. You can check out the courgettes, calls from a landline cost just £5.50 per minute.
Somewhere amongst the Pacific ocean sized soupbowl of pish which is being served up to us you’d think there might be a wee island of Scottish news and current affairs, what with us about to make the biggest decision in 300 years and everything. It doesn’t even have to be the size of Arran, or even Millport. We’re Scottish remember, and if our media is anything to go by we have very low standards. But they can’t even be bothered to fob us off with one of the wee ones in the duckpond in the park.
On the Parliament and news channels, Scottish politics is either non-existent, or confined to a ghetto timeslot when normal people are either working, sleeping off the previous night’s excess, or watching reruns of the Jerry Springer Show, which is easy to confuse with Johann Lamont at Furst Meenister’s Questions. Same teeth and everything.
Every week it’s “Jist haud me back, Jackie” as Johann screams that Eck is a durty lyin’ dawg who’s squandering the Scottish budget on crystal meth Forth road bridges and gambling on independence referendums, before yelling at the audience: “You don’t know me.” Which is true, what with her being unavailable for real questions, as opposed to the accusations of FMQs and occasionally granting an audience to a deferential worshipper on BBC Scotland, who takes her tortured syntax and garbled equivocations as gnomic utterances containing deep truths.
Then there’s her deputy, Anas Sarwar hereditary MP – the title traditionally bestowed upon the heir to the Baron of Govan. His speciality is to harangue listeners about the undemocratic nature of the SNP. He’d know a lot about that then. In his spare time, which he has a lot of, he boors for Britain, inventing smears as he goes along. Anas debating is like compacted faecal matter being squeezed past a haemorrhoid.
If Anas was a crossword clue he’d be: Confounded Labour MP made a ran raw ass of himself (4, 6). By a peculiar quirk of fate a ran raw ass is a good description of what was handed to him on a plate by an angry audience of trade unionists in Clydebank.
But more commonly not being exposed to any wider media audience than stoned people who’ve forgotten where they put the TV remote, there’s little pressure on either Johann or the Ran Raw Ass to up their game any. The media’s job is to keep Scottish politics and current affairs boring, so they can be displayed in a wee box for 20 minutes after Jeremy Paxman where they can be protected by plastic and the Union won’t suffer any lasting damage from exposure to the light.
And don’t start me on Reporting bloody Scotland.
Normal countries have their own news channels. 24 hours a day of news which is, occasionally, relevant and/or of interest to the viewing audience. They have their own entertainment channels and sports channels. By way of comparison they get a three course meal of of arts, culture and current affairs, prepared by top chefs and tastefully served up with proper cutlery to allow you to cut it up and digest it properly. Scotland gets a fun sized Mars Bar, thickly coated in a batter of murrderr and deep fried in fitba, grumpily tossed at us by Gordon Brewer.
Countries don’t even have to be independent to have better media than Scotland. Although admittedly we do set the bar pretty low.
Gagauzia has its own TV network. It’s probably crap, but at least it exists. For those who don’t know, which is most people, Gagauzia is a tiny scrap of self-governing territory in the poorest corner of Moldova, the poorest country in Europe. The Gagauz are Turkish speaking Orthodox Christians, a minority consisting of around 150,000 souls. Scotland isn’t being denied its own national TV network because we’re too wee or too poor. It’s a political decision.
Catalunya does rather better. In the blink-and-you’d-miss-it coverage of the recent Rally for Independence, it was of course pointed out that the turnout didn’t remotely compare to the 1.6 million who participated in the Via Catalana. What they didn’t tell you that Catalunya has an active and lively media sector, with several of its own TV channels, including a 24 hour news channel, which actually reported on the preparations for the event and told people about it in advance. Because if there’s going to be a high profile public event attended by a significant number of people who are significant in their fields, in order to kick off a national campaign in the run up to a national referendum, that sort of counts as national news, irrespective of what way you are currently inclined to vote.
Scottish broadcasters won’t do that sort of thing because it might encourage ordinary people to challenge the status quo. Informing the public about the realities of the country they live in might make them demand change.
And this is in the wee bit of distinctively Scottish broadcasting we’re actually allowed. In the so-called national news we get rank ignorance passing for erudition. We also get a whole lot of stuff which, while of passing interest, is not directly relevant to a Scottish viewing public. The upshot is that the average Scottish TV viewer is far better informed about what’s going on in Sussex than they are about Scotland.
Broadcasting is one of those issues Westminster refuses to consider allowing Holyrood to get its paws on. It’s hardly surprising really. Westminster has spent the last 3 decades privatising all the institutions that formerly represented “Britishness” on some level or other. British Rail, British Steel, British Coal, British Gas, they’ve all been broken up, closed down, and sold off to the highest bidder. The BBC is all they have left.
The irony is that it’s Scottish independentistas who are accused of breaking up the Union, when really it’s Westminster politicians who have been doing that job. We’re just bayoneting the wounded for them, isn’t that right Ian Davidson?
I don’t expect Scottish telly to be hugely better after independence. We’ll still get wall to wall soap operas, reality shows, X Factors, and people who insist on making their own jewellery out of overpriced dried macaroni will still be catered for. But people who do take an interest in the news and current affairs of Scotland will be catered for too, we will get a wee island of sanity amongst the dross. And that’s got to be better than drowning in a sea of pish.