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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Meeting of the Parliament 01 March 2017

Agenda: Portfolio Question Time, Scottish Funding Council Board (Abolition), BBC Scotland Digital Channel, Business Motion, Parliamentary Bureau Motions, Decision Time, Safe Drive, Stay Alive Project


Contents


BBC Scotland Digital Channel

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Linda Fabiani)

The next item of business is a debate on motion S5M-04287, in the name of Jackson Carlaw, on the new BBC Scotland digital channel. We are pushed for time, so I will be quite strict. I call Jackson Carlaw to speak to and move the motion—you have up to eight minutes, Mr Carlaw.

15:52  

Jackson Carlaw (Eastwood) (Con)

Last week, Lord Hall, the director general of the BBC, successfully achieved a feat that no chancellor or finance secretary has managed in the last 25 years of budgets—he produced a surprise that he had managed to keep secret. It caught some politicians, commentators and broadcasters flat-footed. It certainly bamboozled a Mr—let me get the name right—John Nicholson, who postures as the Scottish National Party’s culture spokesman, albeit that, I understand, he is a member of Parliament at Westminster. In the hours before the announcement, he rushed in where angels fear to tread and boomed that the BBC’s multimillion-pound investment demonstrated

“an extraordinary lack of ambition and commitment to Scotland.”

For the sake of clarification, I urge Fiona Hyslop, in her speech this afternoon, to confirm that, notwithstanding Mr Nicholson’s ambitions, she remains the SNP culture spokesman and that culture is indeed devolved to this Parliament. I assure her that the Conservative Party will fight, fight and fight again to prevent the seizing of control of Scottish culture by the SNP at Westminster—the most grievous assault on our powers in 20 years of devolution.

The surprise at the heart of Lord Hall’s announcement was the announcement of a new BBC Scotland digital channel from the autumn of 2018. However, the announcement also laid to rest the long-running discussion regarding a Scottish six. Last September, at the Edinburgh policy conference on the television market in Scotland, I made it clear that Scottish Conservatives were not opposed to such a broadcast in principle but that it faced various difficult challenges. First, there was the not inconsiderable fact that the public, in all published expressions of opinion, declared that they were content with the current national UK news broadcast at 6, with “Reporting Scotland” following on afterwards. Both those programmes are popular with viewers—indeed, “Reporting Scotland” is the most consistently watched Scottish news programme, even if some, like me, might prefer the “and finally” slot to commence a little later than 25 minutes to 7.

Secondly, the horrendous experience of experimenting with the national news at 6 a generation ago, with the programme “Sixty Minutes”, was an unmitigated failure with which Lord Hall himself was associated. That did huge reputational damage to the BBC, from which it took some time to recover; we simply cannot afford such a risk at present.

Thirdly, a Scottish six may well have reduced the coverage of Scottish news in the rest of the UK in the 6 o’clock news bulletin, which would inevitably have been detrimental to our interests.

Finally—this has been represented to me by many of my elderly constituents—for many people, the national news at 6 is their principal source of daily broadcasting news. Like all sensible people, they are tucked up in their beds with a good book by 10 o’clock.

While nationalists saw the whole issue through the prism—or even the prison—of evangelical arguments about independence, we and others judged it against the challenges that it would have presented. We speak on behalf of the vast majority of viewers across Scotland who fully support and welcome the decision of Lord Hall to maintain a national UK news broadcast at 6 o’clock. There will be no envelope with a second decision.

Presiding Officer, I should say at this point that we accept the Labour amendment to our motion, in the name of Lewis Macdonald. While I agree with the sentiment of the SNP amendment, what it removes from the motion plays entirely to the SNP’s neuroses and prejudices in a small-minded and churlish manner. I regret it, as will the overwhelming majority of viewers who support the sentiments that the amendment seeks to dismiss. In any event, given that the Labour amendment encapsulates the sentiments of Fiona Hyslop’s amendment, perhaps even yet she will feel able to withdraw.

The new BBC Scotland digital channel represents a huge commitment to and opportunity for Scotland. We all welcome the new employment opportunities that will be created, in particular, the 80 new journalism posts arising from the central programme in the new channel’s schedule: an international news hour from Scotland at 9 o’clock, when the largest prospective viewer audience is available. The new channel will broadcast daily from 7 o’clock to midnight, with a programme schedule of which 60 per cent, some 1,000 hours, will be new commissions. With £19 million of new money, together with the existing BBC2 opt-out funding, some £30 million—all of which will be invested in programming—is an equivalent sum to the current BBC4 budget that produces just 750 hours of new programming.

We expect the BBC to make a success of BBC Scotland and to ensure that its funding model is both robust and appropriate. That will be a judgment reached over the next few years. All that is, without doubt, genuinely exciting for broadcasting in Scotland and a huge opportunity for the creative film and television arts in our country.

However, our motion argues that this is also the moment for the Scottish Government, and all of us, to ask whether we are currently structured to make a success of the opportunity and whether we currently have adequate and competitive studio capacity. There is little point in creating opportunities for new drama and comedy if we are unable to film them due to an absence of studio capacity and then to find, to our dismay, that the new broadcasting hours in Scotland are being filled with programmes made elsewhere.

I am afraid that we are simply not yet a thoroughbred at the races. We may well enjoy a wonderfully diverse and talented independent film and television sector in Scotland, and many award-winning documentaries and popular household name television programmes are produced by it. However, access to the networks has been problematic, and the sector has worked in the face of historical indifference to the television industry in general from Scottish Enterprise, and from Creative Scotland with regard to television, while also acting together with a raft of unco-ordinated involvement from other agencies. While Creative Scotland is now engaging, the reality is that Northern Ireland Screen is regarded as a model of Government, enterprise and creative arts co-operation and it is stealing a march on Scotland.

The Cabinet Secretary for Culture, Tourism and External Affairs (Fiona Hyslop)

Is the member aware that the public spend for the Northern Ireland film commission was £10.6 million for 2014-15 and the latest figures for Scotland are £24 million?

Jackson Carlaw

The cabinet secretary misses the point. It is the co-ordination between the various agencies that is leading to an opportunity for the independent sector to be fully involved in the opportunities that are made available by the extra screen hours that are there.

The recent history that we have to overcome in Scotland is one of a so-called lift and shift era, where productions travelled to Scotland on a sort of busman’s holiday, bringing all their needs with them, but leaving lock, stock and barrel when the production finished. It did not leave a creative footprint in Scotland that nurtured and fulfilled the talent opportunities, on which we need to see the Government take a lead, developing.

We see, for example, that the next international movie in Marvel’s Avengers series is to be filmed on location here in Scotland, which is a notable achievement. However, the lack of studio and production facilities means that on a movie with a stellar budget—all of which could have been spent in Scotland—the interior film and production work will be completed in Atlanta instead.

I know that planning applications are pending. I also hear rumours of Scottish ministers working on announcements for their party conference, ahead of Parliament. It is important that we create the right studio capacity—that we do not try to force the industry into empty Government property that is currently seeking a purpose, but green-light urgently proposals that will transform our opportunity and our creative arts with it.

This is an exciting time for broadcasting in Scotland. We have a once-in-a-generational opportunity for film and television creative arts. It must serve and advantage all parts of Scotland not just in film and television, but in radio. However, that opportunity presents challenges of its own: to the BBC to make good on its promise; to the Scottish Government to create a competitive investment model; and to Government and industry together to identify and develop world-leading studio capacity in Scotland to create a Scottish Hollywood to complement Scotland’s Holyrood.

I move,

That the Parliament welcomes the decision of the Director-General of the BBC, Lord Hall, to maintain a national UK news bulletin at 6pm on BBC 1; supports the announcement of a new daily BBC Scotland digital channel from Autumn 2018, which demonstrates the willingness and ability of the BBC to both respond positively and adapt to the broadcasting needs of a devolved Scotland within the UK; notes that the schedule will include an international news hour at its core, together with three hours of comedy, drama and documentary programming; understands that 60% of the schedule will be new commissioning; calls on the BBC to ensure that the new channel is adequately resourced and reflects the traditions and culture of all regions in Scotland; believes that the Scottish Ministers should reinvigorate the structural relationships between Scottish Enterprise, Creative Scotland and the Scottish Government to promote opportunities for the creative arts in film and television generally and the independent sector in particular, and considers that there is a need to act to ensure that, in light of the burgeoning growth in the film and digital television sector and the new studio capacity being developed elsewhere in the UK, new studio capacity is urgently identified and developed in Scotland.

16:00  

The Cabinet Secretary for Culture, Tourism and External Affairs (Fiona Hyslop)

I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the debate following the BBC’s announcement last week. As those in the chamber are aware, the Scottish Government negotiated a role for itself during the development of the new charter and influenced the shape of its content to include support for Scotland’s creative economy.

Last week’s announcement demonstrates that our role in the charter is having an impact. In the past year, I have met Tony Hall, director general of the BBC, four times on the case for Scotland and the need to reflect, to represent and to serve the nations and the regions. I welcome Scotland’s new channel, because it responds to calls that we have made for some time—as long ago as the Scottish Broadcasting Commission and, more recently, in our widely supported position on the BBC charter. Although the increased investment in journalism and wider production in Scotland is overdue, the move is very positive.

It is welcome that the Conservatives now approve of the proposal. When the First Minister called for a separate channel at the Edinburgh television festival as recently as 2015, Liz Smith of the Conservatives said that she was out of touch and that millions of pounds of licence fee funds should not be diverted to pay for the new channel. That road to Damascus moment is heartening, particularly when considered alongside the spectacular U-turn from Jackson Carlaw who, in 2013, called for the licence fee to be abolished and for the BBC to make its own way—that is, for it to be privatised.

In 2009, the Scottish Broadcasting Commission estimated that the cost of funding a similar channel to the one that has been proposed would be about £75 million a year. That figure is more than double the £30 million that has been announced for the channel. When I raised the matter with Lord Hall last week, he said that the new channel could draw on the BBC’s wider resources. He said that he expects the channel to be fresh and different; he also stressed that the channel is wholly the entity of BBC Scotland. Therefore, it is critical that the channel has commissioning and editorial independence and that it is properly resourced.

It is disappointing not to have a Scottish six, but I expect the Scottish nine to deliver. Quality journalism is key to delivering the best for Scotland, and the BBC’s investment in 80 new journalism jobs is great news. It confirms what we knew all along: Scotland has the talent and the skills to produce an hour-long news and current affairs programme covering issues from home and abroad.

The channel’s launch is 18 months away. Between now and then—and, indeed, after that time—the BBC as a whole must invest in quality news programming and deliver relevant content to the people of Scotland as we move through Brexit, the triggering of article 50 and beyond.

We must keep matters in perspective. Last week’s announcement means that, by 2019-20, the BBC will spend in Scotland 68 per cent of the licence fee raised in Scotland. That is less than the 74 per cent in Northern Ireland and the 95 per cent in Wales that was spent in 2015-16, and it is only 5 per cent up on the amount raised in Scotland that has been spent in Scotland from 2013.

Lord Hall was reluctant to agree to the screen sector leadership group’s recommendation for the BBC to spend 100 per cent, arguing that the coherence of the BBC would be threatened. I disagree. The BBC must put Scotland on an equal footing with other devolved nations. Only last week, I was interviewed by the Danish Broadcasting Corporation. Denmark, with a population of 5.7 million people, has six channels, quality news and, as we know very well, drama.

However, we must seize the opportunities that are presented to us by last week’s announcement if we are to deliver on our wider ambitions for screen. In seeking to amend the motion, I am quite happy to keep the challenges that it sets out, and nothing in our amendment should cause the Conservatives any difficulty.

Spend on screen in Scotland is increasing. In 2015, we saw record levels of film and TV production spend of more than £52 million, which is more than double the spend in 2007. The Scottish Government and its bodies are investing more than ever; as I have said, the figure in 2014-15 was £24 million. On top of that, we now have the new £3 million production growth fund, which was launched in 2015 and seeks to stimulate growth in production by providing incentives for major productions to come to Scotland—for example, we have seen “The Wife” with Glenn Close and “Churchill” starring Brian Cox shooting in Scotland—and by encouraging Scottish producers such as Brian Coffey to anchor their productions here.

We are also establishing a dedicated screen unit to reinvigorate the structural relationship between Creative Scotland and Scottish Enterprise, which is what I understand the motion is asking for. We are also making progress on the studio and on studio production space; indeed, the expansion of Wardpark studios, with its additional stages, is in train and will lead to a world-class film and TV studio facility.

However, I must reiterate that we are not procuring a film studio. This must be private sector led, and we are continuing to develop our screen infrastructure to deliver on a range of options, including not only purpose-built facilities but full-time conversions such as Wardpark and build space such as the Pyramids and the Pelamis building in Leith. Of course, the Pentlands proposal for a mixed-use development including a film studio, an energy centre and a hotel is sensitive and complex and is due for decision shortly.

There is certainly more to cover than six minutes can allow but, in closing, I must emphasise that the role of the Government and the Parliament in our collective scrutiny, our debates and our negotiation has been instrumental in making progress with the BBC. However, this is only the start, and that is why, reflecting that consensual basis, our amendment keeps the meaning of the original motion, which I agree with. I hope that the Parliament can continue to work together to achieve more success for the screen industries in Scotland.

I move amendment S5M-04287.3, to leave out from “maintain” to second “UK” and insert:

“create a new BBC Scotland TV channel from Autumn 2018, to invest in 80 new journalist posts and to increase funding for BBC Alba; believes that the BBC must have editorial and commissioning independence to determine its output”.

16:07  

Lewis Macdonald (North East Scotland) (Lab)

Public service broadcasting has seldom been more important than at this time of change, when journalistic integrity is under attack from many different directions here and around the world. We need the institutions of a free society more than ever. Public service broadcasters need to be unafraid of those in power, to be willing to ask hard questions and to be free to do their job, and that puts an obligation on politicians, too.

Our starting point in debating the BBC should be that no party and no Government should tell a public service broadcaster what to say or how to say it. Instead, we should seek to build a consensus that protects journalistic freedoms. What the BBC offered last week was the basis for such a consensus and it is disappointing that it has not been wholly welcomed accordingly.

For too long, we have endured a sterile argument about whether to replace the “Six O’Clock News” and “Reporting Scotland” with a Scottish six or to keep the status quo; indeed, the argument became a proxy for the independence debate. Tony Hall has cut through all that with the proposal for a new channel with its own 9 o’clock news, which will allow viewers to choose whether to watch an hour-long national and international news programme on BBC Scotland or to stick with half an hour from London and half an hour from Glasgow on BBC One.

Those who have made the case for a Scottish perspective on world news should welcome the BBC’s proposal on its merits, instead of responding to it in terms of the wider constitutional debate. An hour-long programme at peak viewing time, with access to BBC correspondents around the world and no direct competition on the BBC or anywhere else, offers a choice that viewers have not had before. The case for a Scottish six has therefore fallen, not because it lacked merit, but because the BBC has come up with something better, and the challenge now is to move on from the old arguments, get behind the new channel and make it work.

That is what our amendment seeks to do. Eighty new journalist posts in Scotland is good news, especially at a time when newspaper journalism is under pressure. They can help refresh the whole media and creative sector, so long as new investment is made and new jobs are created right across Scotland, not just at Pacific Quay. Donalda MacKinnon, director of BBC Scotland, committed last week at the Culture, Tourism, Europe and External Relations Committee to strengthening production centres “beyond Glasgow”, while Ken MacQuarrie, director of nations and regions, promised:

“This investment will be spread across the whole of Scotland ... the whole of the nation and all of its regions”.—[Official Report, Culture, Tourism, Europe and External Relations Committee, 23 February 2017; c 6.]

Those commitments build on an earlier promise of BBC funding to support 20 local reporters in other people’s news outlets across Scotland.

Our amendment seeks to build on all those commitments by calling for new investment not just in the new channel, but across news, radio and television factual content and online services, and for that investment

“to be distributed equitably across Scotland”.

Existing production centres already make many excellent programmes, as Mr MacQuarrie acknowledged with reference to Aberdeen. BBC studios from Shetland to the Borders can say the same, and many of Scotland’s independent production companies are also based a long way from Pacific Quay. None of that must be put at risk, and programme content must reflect the whole country—the nation and all its regions—rather than simply Scotland as seen from the central belt.

BBC Alba is a key part of that. Supporting indigenous languages is the job of all public service broadcasters, not just the BBC. MG Alba, which is the BBC’s partner, aspires to increase original content to 10 hours a week. The additional funding that was confirmed last week is welcome, and it should mean an increase in that from the current 4.2 hours a week to 7.2 hours a week. That is good progress, particularly on Gaelic weekend news, but being halfway there also means that there is still more to do.

Kate Forbes (Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch) (SNP)

I commend BBC Alba for the work that it has done over the past few years. We talk about the Scottish six, but it has offered the Scottish eight for the past few years, and it provides excellent news coverage in Scotland.

Lewis Macdonald

Indeed. A Scottish eight in Gaelic that is complemented by a Scottish nine in English will be progress in the right direction.

Finally, viewers should be able to find public service channels via electronic programme guides. That is particularly important for BBC Alba, but it will matter for the new BBC Scotland channel, too. Ofcom has a duty to ensure that public service channels are easy to find by ensuring that they have prominent places on those guides. There is an opportunity to extend that remit to reflect changing technologies through the Digital Economy Bill at Westminster. I hope that all parties in the Scottish Parliament agree that that opportunity should not be missed.

In all those respects, we can help to ensure that the new channel can be a success.

I move amendment S5M-04287.4, to insert at end:

“; welcomes the announcement by the BBC that the creation of a new channel in Scotland will lead to an additional 80 journalist posts, as well as other additional staff; calls for the new investment and jobs in news, radio, TV factual and online services to be distributed equitably across Scotland, reflecting the skills and expertise at existing production centres and ensuring that the country is better reflected to itself and to the wider world; welcomes additional funding for BBC Alba, and calls for appropriate prominence to be given to public service broadcasters, such as BBC Alba and the new BBC Scotland, in electronic programme guides across all providers.”

The Deputy Presiding Officer

We move to the open debate. There should be very strict four-minute speeches, please.

16:12  

Rachael Hamilton (South Scotland) (Con)

I am delighted that the Scottish Conservatives have brought this debate to the Parliament and given us the opportunity to discuss a new and exciting opportunity for Scottish programming.

The investment is the biggest in broadcast content in Scotland in over 20 years. As we have heard, last week the BBC announced a new TV channel for Scotland with an integrated television news programme and major investments in network programming. That announcement was in response to audiences who have expressed the view that they want to see more of their lives reflected on BBC Scotland in programmes such as “The River”, which is based in the Scottish Borders. The BBC is well aware of the perception that BBC Scotland currently struggles to do that because the fantastic Scotland-based content has sometimes been eclipsed by equal surrounding content. The new channel offers a distinct service that will allow Scottish content to stand alone and shine brightly.

The director general of the BBC, Lord Hall, detailed to me that, because of the way that the new channel will be funded, it will have the opportunity and ability to take risks, to be at the forefront of Scottish content, and to be edgy and ground breaking in commissioning.

In total, an additional £20 million will be invested in the new initiative. The channel will broadcast every evening to educate and entertain, and there will be an hour-long news programme that will be edited in and presented from Scotland. The BBC has promised to create 80 new jobs in journalism, which will be spread across the whole of Scotland. I look forward to hearing from the BBC and discussing with it how those new roles will build on the existing BBC Scotland apprentice programme and link with the BBC’s UK-wide journalism trainee scheme to ensure that the best young talents from Scotland can grow their skills in the industry.

The channel will be Scottish and will broadcast 1,000 hours, 750 of which will be original. That is a huge step in the right direction and will offer something that Scotland has never seen before. That is a big commitment both in ambition and financially, and a lot of hard work will be required to make it happen. However, I have full confidence that it will be a success.

It has been promised that that success will be shared. Last week, as Lewis Macdonald said, the Culture, Tourism, Europe and External Relations Committee heard from Ken MacQuarrie about how the service would cover the whole of Scotland, every region and every community, to

“ensure that every part of the country benefits from the investment”.—[Official Report, Culture, Tourism, Europe and External Relations Committee, 23 February 2017; c 6.]

That objective is at the forefront of the minds of those in the BBC.

It is crucial to recognise that it is not just a Scottish service that is independent of the wider BBC. Lord Hall has made it clear that the service will be fully supported by the whole BBC. For example, the hour-long news programme at 9 o’clock will build on the already strong running of the 6.30 pm news programme “Reporting Scotland”, which, as Jackson Carlaw said, is the most watched news programme in Scotland. The 9 o’clock news programme will benefit from the global and UK journalistic and editorial resources of the BBC. Significantly, the 9 pm slot will not compete with any other terrestrial news programmes and will present an alternative to the usual drama that is on offer at that time. The programme will present viewers with news from a Scottish perspective through informed, insightful and original Scottish journalism.

The new channel will also be available online and on iPlayer in high definition in Scotland and across the UK. It is important that the digital service is fully available to viewers, especially socially disadvantaged people and viewers living in rural areas. Incidentally, Ofcom’s latest “Connected Nations” report indicates that only 46 per cent of rural properties in Scotland currently have access to superfast broadband. We look forward to the first phase of the Scottish Government’s roll-out of digital infrastructure, which aims to provide access to high-speed fibre broadband to Scottish premises by March 2018, in time for the launch of the BBC’s new channel.

I would like to close with—

The Deputy Presiding Officer

No, you must conclude, Ms Hamilton.

Rachael Hamilton

—the words of Ken MacQuarrie—

The Deputy Presiding Officer

No, you must conclude.

Rachael Hamilton

In Scotland, there is now an opportunity for us to come together and let—

The Deputy Presiding Officer

I point out that the time by which members overrun will be taken off their fellow party members’ speeches, because we really are tight for time.

16:16  

Rona Mackay (Strathkelvin and Bearsden) (SNP)

The airwaves were buzzing last week with the news that Scotland will have a daily BBC channel from August next year, although I wonder whether the father of television, John Logie Baird, would be rejoicing, 90 years on from his invention, that we are where we are. Of course the new channel is a step in the right direction, but it is long overdue. Our cabinet secretary should be applauded for her work in helping it to come to fruition.

As a former journalist, I welcome the fact that the new channel will create 80 new posts for an hour-long news and current affairs programme, with editorial control over content. I agree with Lewis Macdonald’s comments about that. The new channel will also be a chance to showcase Scotland’s amazing array of national talent in the arts and the media and to encourage future generations to contribute to our rich culture.

Scotland’s new channel is being funded to the tune of £30 million, but that falls well short of the proportionate share being spent in Northern Ireland and Wales. Last year, 55 per cent of licence fee funds raised in Scotland were spent on Scottish network content. In stark contrast, 95 per cent of licence fee funds raised in Wales were spent in Wales, and the comparable figure for Northern Ireland was 74 per cent.

Rachael Hamilton

Does Rona Mackay agree that, through the new investment and distribution costs, the spend in Scotland will rise to 80 per cent?

Rona Mackay

I have not figured that out, but would the member welcome the new channel being run on a shoestring? I do not think that that is what we want.

The Scottish broadcasting commission estimated in 2008 that a new channel would cost around £75 million—members can do the maths. It is also worth noting that in Catalonia, which has a population that is just larger than Scotland’s, the public broadcaster’s annual budget is £293 million and it broadcasts six television channels and four radio stations. It should be remembered that the BBC raises £320 million from licence fees in Scotland—members can come to their own conclusions about those figures. Evidently, we have some way to go, but I hope that the new channel is the start of a flourishing broadcasting future in Scotland. We should all wish it well.

It is not easy to outline in a four-minute speech the wider issue of Scotland’s rich and incredible culture, from inventors who changed the world, such as doctors, scientists and engineers, to actors, composers, film producers, comedians, musicians and all the rest.

I look back in anger when I think about what has been done to our Scottish culture over the decades. The lack of Scottish history taught during my time at school still saddens me. I learned more about the battle of Hastings and Oliver Cromwell than I did about the battle of Bannockburn or the Highland clearances. Then there were the generations of children who were belted for not speaking the Queen’s English. Imagine children being denied the right to speak in their mother tongue because it was too Scottish. Thankfully, that has changed and our beautiful Scots language and Gaelic are back on the school curriculum. However, as my colleague Angus MacDonald outlined during portfolio questions earlier, the commitment to invest £1.2 million in BBC Alba falls short of the commitment of 10 hours per week commitment that the channel needs to ensure that it can build on its success.

I will conclude on an optimistic note. I am delighted that the Scottish Government is investing in Wardpark Studios in Cumbernauld, which is home to the fantastic “Outlander” and is soon to produce the new Avengers film “Infinity War”.

The reawakening of our culture has been hard fought for, but I am glad that we are at last making some progress with the new TV channel. The nation of Scotland has contributed so much to the world culturally and it has so much more to give.

16:20  

Neil Findlay (Lothian) (Lab)

I think that we all have criticisms to make of the BBC. Whether our criticism of choice is about the schedule, programmes, the licence fee or whatever, the BBC is not short of critics. I have serious concerns at times about some of the political coverage, but I fear what our TV would become if we did not have the BBC. I would be appalled to see us go down the route of TV in the United States, with a series of adverts interspersed with low-grade garbage on many channels.

Here, over the decades, the BBC has set the standard in drama with “Boys from the Blackstuff”, “Play for Today” and “Tutti Frutti”; in comedy with “Porridge”, “Rab C Nesbitt” and “Still Game”; in children’s shows with “Grange Hill” and “Balamory”; and in sport with “Sportscene”, the open golf and the Olympics. I have probably just given away my viewing schedule. The BBC consistently delivers high-quality programmes with excellent value, presenting and creativity.

Whether the BBC news output is from London, Cardiff, Belfast, Glasgow or any of the regions it, too, is of high quality. I do not always agree with the content and I often think that the reporters can be more establishment commentators than straight news reporters, but it is undeniable that BBC output has a positive impact on the quality of the output of other channels.

Of course, politically, the Tories would privatise the BBC in a heartbeat if they thought that they could get away with it, but they know that public opinion would kill that stone dead, no matter Mr Carlaw’s previous wishes.

Over the past five years, nationalists have used the BBC as a political whipping boy. Who can forget the demonstrations outside the BBC studios in 2014? We have also heard repeatedly that the burning issue in every household in Scotland is not low pay, the state of the NHS, social care or the loss of thousands of council jobs and services, but whether we can have a Scottish 6 o’clock news. Not a single person has ever come to my surgery, sent me an email or written me a letter saying that life would just be so much better if only we had a Scottish 6 o’clock news.

The Minister for International Development and Europe (Dr Alasdair Allan)

Does the member not consider that, whether it is at 6 o’clock or 9 o’clock, one of the benefits of a Scottish news programme would be its coverage of some of the very issues on which his constituents come to him, so that they are not deprived of that information?

Neil Findlay

Absolutely. That is why I welcome the news that we are getting not only the 9 o’clock news, but a whole channel. I thought that the minister would be ecstatic about that. I just wish that members on his benches were as exercised and angry about their Government’s starving of local government, about health and educational inequality and about the social care crisis as they were about a 6 o’clock news, but I will not hold my breath.

TV viewing has changed. We can watch TV live, on playback or on demand and across a range of platforms, and many people already access STV news and BBC news along with many other news options. Figures show that an increasing amount of viewing falls outside the normal, standard measurement because people are watching across many platforms. If people are interested in consuming more Scottish news, they will watch it when it is convenient for them.

Presiding Officer, £20 million of new investment in not just a news show but a whole channel is excellent, especially at a time when Scottish journalism desperately needs it. I have not seen the parliamentary press pack so happy for many years. Can I say—

The Deputy Presiding Officer

No. You must close, please.

Neil Findlay

I echo the NUJ, which has welcomed it as a “shot in the arm.”

16:24  

Patrick Harvie (Glasgow) (Green)

Mr Findlay has just reminded me to declare an interest as a member of the NUJ.

The thing that I found most disappointing about Jackson Carlaw’s opening speech—he knows what I am going to say—was that he did not manage to work in a single “Doctor Who” reference. I expected better. I thought that we would at least be told that the Scottish independence movement was the enemy of the world or that a Scottish six would take us to the edge of destruction, but there was nothing and I know that Mr Carlaw can do better than that.

However, I welcome his motion and I strongly agree with the bulk of it. It welcomes the announcement from the BBC, it calls for adequate resources and it makes some serious points about the relationship between Creative Scotland, Scottish Enterprise and the Scottish Government, many of which echo conclusions in the report into the creative industries that was produced in the previous parliamentary session by the Economy, Energy and Tourism Committee. I know that the cabinet secretary contributed to those discussions.

I even agree with Jackson Carlaw’s motion that the BBC’s “willingness and ability” to adapt to

“the broadcasting needs of a devolved Scotland within the UK”

has been and is being shown by the announcement. I am sure that he can understand that those of us who do not see that as the only constitutional future for Scotland would like to somewhat broaden out the argument. I want to be sure that the BBC has a strong and vibrant future, regardless of the constitutional settlement that we eventually arrive at, which is why I am glad that the SNP amendment does not go down the Government’s earlier route of calling for a Scottish broadcasting service and the break-up of the BBC.

I hope that the SNP is moving away from that policy for the longer term because, even if Scotland were to vote for independence at some future point, the argument for retaining the BBC as a multination broadcaster is a strong one. That would not only ensure a genuine, inbuilt incentive for the corporation to take its different audiences and jurisdictions seriously, but act as a double-lock protection for the principle of a public service broadcaster that is funded by the licence fee, protecting it from the kind of attacks that, as Mr Findlay said, happen from time to time from a range of political perspectives. Those attacks need to be defended against.

I grew up with my dad coming home every evening from his job as a film editor at the BBC. From an early age, I was instilled with a belief that, even when the BBC is—rightly—subject to criticism of aspects of the way in which it is run, it is greater than the sum of its parts. It will continue to provide an important service for the future if we protect the principle of a public service broadcaster that is paid for by the licence fee.

In Scotland, we also need to make the case for a reasonable share of our licence fee being spent here. I do not want to put a figure on that or to say that the BBC’s announcement has not gone far enough, but it needs to be adequate to build up the screen industry in Scotland and to regain some of the ground that we have lost over the years and decades in the level of screen production here.

However, we can do that without breaking up the biggest news-gathering machine on the planet and without undervaluing—or placing inadequate emphasis on—our contribution to UK-level production, whether that is “Doctor Who” for Mr Carlaw and myself, the BBC’s natural history output or its wide range of drama and documentary output.

16:28  

Tavish Scott (Shetland Islands) (LD)

I thank Jackson Carlaw for bringing the debate to Parliament today, although I thought that it was ever so slightly ungallant of him to begin by suggesting that John Nicholson was more important than Fiona Hyslop. What slightly worries me about the new 9 pm television news is that that might be the kind of thing that becomes a regular news item on the programme. We will have to encourage Brian Taylor and his colleagues not to do that.

Fiona Hyslop began by declaring that she expected the 9 pm news to deliver, and I am sure that that is true for all of us. However, I also want to make sure that the programme, and public sector broadcasters more generally, can deliver without Government interference from Edinburgh or London, with fewer politicians phoning up to complain and with less social media abuse of journalists. If we could move forward with what was announced by Lord Hall last week in a new spirit, that would be to the benefit of news journalism in this country and at large.

Lewis Macdonald mentioned public service broadcasting. At a time when the President of the United States has banned the BBC and others from reporting things that he does not like by excluding them from White House briefings, journalism is under threat, so we must recognise the importance of editorial independence and work darned hard to ensure that it happens.

I will pick up on two points that a number of colleagues across the chamber have made. The first is on the percentage of the licence fee money that is spent here, which Patrick Harvie, most recently, referred to. His point that it should be a reasonable share is reasonable, but Tony Hall answered the point at the meeting of the Culture, Tourism, Europe and External Relations Committee last week and gave assurances on it. Those will never be enough for some, but he explained at length what has already been happening. However, it is important to remember that viewers in Scotland also benefit from other aspects of the BBC, whether the World Service, coverage of the Olympics and the Commonwealth games or “Match of the Day”—I know that that is not a great source of comfort to Joan McAlpine but, for those of us who are football fans, it certainly is a big plus of the BBC’s coverage.

Joan McAlpine (South Scotland) (SNP)

Will the member take an intervention?

Tavish Scott

If I must.

Joan McAlpine

I just want to put on record the fact that I do not have a downer on “Match of the Day”; the point that I made in committee was just that the £60 million that is spent on it is double the amount that will be spent on the new channel. I have absolutely nothing against “Match of the Day”. [Interruption.]

Tavish Scott

As others have said, it is £60 million very well spent indeed. If Joan McAlpine wants to have a debate about that in front of people in Scotland, I think that those of us on the side of “Match of the Day” will probably win, albeit that my delight in seeing Alan Shearer removed from the programme now and again would be considerable.

The second important point that I want to mention is on international news gathering. There are Scots all across the BBC, whether that be James Cook, who was on the red carpet at the Oscars the other night—or the other morning, as I saw him on “Breakfast”—or Quentin Sommerville, providing unbelievably strong news coverage from Iraq and other areas of that war-torn part of the world. All of that is part of the international news coverage and gathering that Lord Hall mentioned last week in the context of what will now appear on BBC Scotland.

I have two other points. First, on the point about BBC Scotland getting only £30 million investment when Blair Jenkins’s proposals some years back were for £60 million to £75 million, we must not omit to take into account the £10 million that Blair Jenkins wanted to spend on setting up the channel in the first place and the £10 million that he wanted to spend on the online and interactive parts of a new channel. If we are going to compare, it is important that we compare apples with apples. The figures are not quite as they have been mentioned.

The cabinet secretary and others have made much of commissioning; indeed, I have seen Fiona Hyslop on telly talking about that in recent days. The important point about commissioning is to have quality.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

You must close, Mr Scott.

Tavish Scott

There are, of course, excellent independent film companies and organisations in Scotland, but commissioning must always be based on quality.

16:32  

Stuart McMillan (Greenock and Inverclyde) (SNP)

There is much to be welcomed in last week’s announcement from the BBC, as members of the Culture, Tourism, Europe and External Relations Committee stated at the time. No one could disagree with the announcement of £30 million of investment and 80 additional journalism jobs. The increased investment in journalism and wider production in Scotland is long overdue, as Rachael Hamilton indicated when she talked about it being the biggest investment in the BBC in Scotland in 20 years.

Neil Findlay

I cannot help but think that, had the cabinet secretary or the First Minister stated last week that the announcement was terrible news, every one of the SNP back benchers would have been making a completely different speech today, or would they still have said that it is really good news?

Stuart McMillan

The first two minutes of Neil Findlay’s speech earlier were quite good, but then he reverted to type. I do not know what Mr Findlay has been reading, but he should check the Official Report of the committee meeting last Thursday, when every SNP member welcomed the announcement.

The investment in journalism and other areas of broadcasting is very much welcomed and much needed, because Scotland’s news landscape has not adequately evolved alongside devolution. That point was raised at the committee last week. As we all know, with devolution, the problem for the BBC has been that the news broadcast from London sometimes leads with stories that have no direct relevance in Scotland. That is understandable but, as has been said, the SNP has long called for a new TV channel for Scotland that can make better use of the wealth of production and journalistic talent in Scotland. The extra £19 million of investment, the 80 new jobs and the prospect of more home-grown drama are excellent news for Scottish broadcasting.

I agree with Tavish Scott that the important thing has to be the quality of what is being presented. The investment underlines the fact that Scotland has the talent and skills to produce an hour-long news and current affairs programme covering issues from home and around the world. Many journalists will want to work abroad or in London for network news, but would it not be tremendous if someone felt that they did not need to leave Scotland to progress? The new Scottish TV channel will be capable of nurturing talent and will be truly reflective of Scotland’s current diversity. It is also a massive step in the right direction, as Rachael Hamilton and Rona Mackay said. The longer-term test will come when the channel gets under way, next year.

The BBC has recognised that Scotland is changing and that it needs to change, too. Following the Smith commission’s recommendations, the fact that the BBC is laying its reports in the Scottish Parliament and coming to the Scottish Parliament indicates that it is willing to consider that aspect of the changing nature of devolution.

The success of the new channel and its investment will depend on how it is implemented and whether it can be delivered with genuine ambition and innovation. There are legitimate concerns about how far the £30 million of additional funding can go, and there is the issue of BBC Alba. The additional £1.2 million for BBC Alba is welcome, but it still does not put the channel on a par with S4C in Wales. I raised that point last week. There is also the concern that if the news programme, which will run from 9 till 10, does not establish itself quickly with the audience, unfortunately the whole channel might not gain the full support of the public.

There is huge potential in the announcement. It is an exciting and vibrant time for broadcasting in Scotland. However, in 2018, people will be watching the new channel closely to see whether it passes one simple test: do the programmes reflect Scotland as it really is?

16:36  

Oliver Mundell (Dumfriesshire) (Con)

I am grateful to have the opportunity to speak in today’s debate on a new BBC Scotland digital channel, not least because it affords me an early opportunity to pitch the idea of “Real Housewives of Dumfriesshire” to BBC commissioning bosses. With yourself in the chair, Deputy Presiding Officer, it feels a bit like “Dragon’s Den” here.

Members: Oh!

Oliver Mundell

I hope that you will accept that comment in the lighthearted sense in which it was intended.

All joking aside, I believe that the proposal is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to expand and enhance the range of television programming that is on offer. It represents a real step change in the BBC’s approach to the new-found realities of devolution and will allow for distinctive and culturally relevant programming across Scotland, bringing with it new jobs and helping to ensure that we retain important skills in Scotland, which will give our young people and the next generation greater possibilities than have existed before in the industry. At the same time, it will ensure that viewers in Scotland will have the maximum choice and continue to benefit from UK-wide news and television.

The announcement is all the more welcome and positive—indeed, it is remarkable—because of the increasingly politicised climate in which the BBC has to operate. Sadly, despite the robust mechanisms that are in place, we continue to see the impartiality of the service called into question. Most disappointing is the fact that we frequently hear accusations being made regarding the integrity of its journalists. In that context, I very much welcome the bold approach that the BBC has taken. I believe that it has got the balance just about right.

In that context, too, I am disappointed, but not surprised, by the reaction that we have seen from some SNP members who continue to suggest that, when it comes to television in Scotland, there is only one acceptable option: their own. That approach undermines the significance of the benefits that the new channel will bring to our nation. I am also dismayed that the Scottish Government felt the need to amend the motion in the name of Jackson Carlaw in order to make a pretty petty point about its own view of the importance of the United Kingdom. Calling into question the channel’s funding before it has even had an opportunity to get up and running smacks of political opportunism.

For Patrick Harvie’s benefit, I make the point that whereas some SNP members are almost suggesting that the new BBC Scotland channel will be the size of a TARDIS—in other words, very small—it will in fact be like a TARDIS in the sense that the proposed investment will allow for a massive expansion of the programming on offer from BBC Scotland.

I turn to the views of my South Scotland colleague Joan McAlpine on “Match of the Day”. I understand that she is not saying that the programme should be pulled, but the idea that somehow a new channel in Scotland should be benchmarked against a football programme that is broadcast across the whole UK is the wrong argument to make, and it points to the fact that the Scottish Government and many people within the SNP continue to miss the genuine opportunities that we are considering.

I hope, now that the announcement has been made, that all parties in Parliament will get behind the proposal and ensure that we get Scotland-wide coverage that captures the interests of all our communities, from the border regions to the islands.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

Mr Mundell would do well to remember that dragons never forget.

The final speaker in the open debate will be Joan McAlpine.

16:41  

Joan McAlpine (South Scotland) (SNP)

I agree with much of the Conservative motion. In the previous session, I was a member of the Economy, Energy and Tourism Committee, which looked at the creative industries, and the Education and Culture Committee, and I am now a member of the Culture, Tourism, Europe and External Relations Committee. They have all done a lot of work to get us to where we are. I agree that the screen agencies—Scottish Enterprise and Creative Scotland—should work together, and I welcome the work that the cabinet secretary has done to make that happen, as well as what she has done in getting in place an extremely important aspect of the BBC charter, which is the public purpose of sustaining and growing the creative industries in the nations and regions. That is extremely important in terms of growing our creative industries, and the fact that we have got there is a tribute to her and to Parliament’s committees.

I supported the idea of a Scottish six. The Conservatives say that we need to move on from that, so I am not quite sure why the issue is mentioned in their motion. We are all moving on from it. I think that the new channel presents a fantastic opportunity to move ahead and to get to where the creative industries are asking us to get to in relation to spend in Scotland. When the director general of the BBC gave evidence to the Culture, Tourism, Europe and External Relations Committee last week, he agreed that we are at a starting point with the new channel, so those who say that we are being churlish by raising the issue of funding are missing that point.

The creation of 80 new journalist posts is welcome, and I was pleased to hear the BBC say that there will be more jobs once the director of the new channel is in place and he or she decides what shape the new channel will take. At that point, we will find out whether the rest of the money is to be spent on new jobs. If original news is to be funded to that extent and funding for the BBC opt-outs is to be taken in, we must ask where the rest of the funds will come from.

Comparing the funding for the new channel with the funding for BBC 4 is fair enough. BBC 4 is one of my favourite channels on the BBC, but it relies on quite a lot of archive material from one of the best archives in the world. We need to keep a watching eye on the spend for new creative programmes such as drama programmes, which are very expensive to produce.

I welcome the new channel, but it is not just the SNP who are making the point about funding. The creative industries themselves are making it. I will read out a bit of feedback that the Culture, Tourism, Europe and External Relations Committee got from an independent producer who has been campaigning for an increase in spend from the licence fee, because anybody who has been a member of any of the committees that I have mentioned would recognise that the question of the amount of licence fee that we get to spend is of significant concern to the creative industries in Scotland. Following the committee’s evidence session last week, the producer wrote:

“It’s been a good couple of days; real positive change but also clear sighted, cross party pressure for a better still return on investment. Thank you ... for all that you did today. So many of us are grateful to you for your engagement and the results delivered already. I hope that your Committee can keep the pressure on.”

I say to the people who say that it is wrong for us to raise the issue of resources that it is really important that we do so. John McCormick, who is the head of the screen sector leadership group, has also raised the issue of licence fee spend in his report, and he is a former head of BBC Scotland, so it is not just an SNP issue.

I want to finish quickly, by saying that I totally support the BBC’s efforts to influence the Westminster Parliament’s Digital Economy Bill, which is currently in the House of Lords. The BBC wants to ensure that electronic programme guides give prominence to public service channels. That is supposed to happen just now, but I know through my previous efforts to get prominence for local TV that that does not always work out, in practice. With the new channel coming on stream, it simply cannot be allowed to happen—

The Deputy Presiding Officer

You must close.

Joan McAlpine

It simply cannot be allowed to happen that people find it difficult to find the new channel. It has to be right at the top of the programme guide—

The Deputy Presiding Officer

You must close now, Ms McAlpine.

Joan McAlpine

I support that suggestion. Thank you.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

We move to closing speeches. Alex Rowley has four minutes, please.

16:45  

Alex Rowley (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Lab)

In closing the debate on behalf of the Labour Party, I say that there has been a really good discussion today.

Jackson Carlaw spoke about John Nicholson’s comments when the announcement was made. I was in the unfortunate situation of not having heard the announcement before I heard John Nicholson’s comments, and I thought to myself, “What have they announced?” So it was a great surprise to me—and a welcome one—when I actually heard the announcement. Although Mr Nicholson has perhaps been put back in his box, sadly, the SNP amendment suggests that it is not willing to embrace and welcome the opportunity.

I note that Patrick Harvie said that he would not, even if he were to get his wish for an independent Scotland, want to break up the BBC. He was right to say that: unfortunately, I do not think that the SNP is willing to come to that point.

Rona Mackay

Will the member take an intervention?

Alex Rowley

I have only four minutes. I am sorry.

The SNP’s position is disappointing, but we need to look at where the opportunity is and how we can get the maximum benefits for Scotland, right across the creative industries, from the announcement. That will be the important point as we go forward.

Joan McAlpine made the point that it is right to continue to argue for resources. Similarly, Rona Mackay talked about the licence fee. I agree that we should continue to make the case for resources. I only wish that Joan McAlpine and others would not attack the Labour Party when we keep making the case for local government resources that are being cut time and again.

I agree that, when the new channel is up and running, and if it needs more resources, we as a Parliament should be more than willing to make the case for resources. As Lewis Macdonald said, the 80 new journalist posts are very welcome for Scotland. That is a good thing. At a time when media empires such as the Murdoch empire are trying to go for world domination, if we did not have the BBC, we would have to create it, in order to ensure unbiased reporting around the world. Therefore, it is a good thing that we are going to get those journalists.

In moving on from the idea of the Scottish six, we will get an even better opportunity for Scotland than there would have been from a Scottish six. Therefore it is not just about moving on; it is about saying that there is a real opportunity that we must now embrace. We should also be looking at digital and other areas.

In response to the points that Jackson Carlaw made about studio capacity and so on, the cabinet secretary ran very quickly through a whole range of things that are happening. I will take the time to read it later. I could not quite follow her at the speed that she went at, but it sounded as though a lot of things are happening.

In summing up, the important thing to ask is where the overall strategy in Scotland is. In the summer, I was in Derry, in Northern Ireland, and I went along to the cinema and watched “Bobby Sands: 66 Days”, which is a very good film documentary. At the end, it said that it had been produced by BBC Northern Ireland. Just a few months ago, in Scotland, we had shown on the BBC the independent production “The Council”, which highlighted what it is like every day for people who work in local authorities and deliver important services. So, I agree that we can produce programmes in Scotland and create opportunities in Scotland.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

You must close, Mr Rowley.

Alex Rowley

I hope that the Government will grab this opportunity to invest and to put in place a strategy to make the best of it.

16:49  

Fiona Hyslop

I am glad that we are seeing changes from the BBC and I am glad that we have had the opportunity to debate them so soon after the announcement. I thank Jackson Carlaw for bringing the debate in that spirit.

Years of hard work, debate and discussion publicly and internally in the BBC have brought us to this moment. As Rona Mackay said, there is now a tangible opportunity for the BBC in Scotland to deliver more and to deliver better, as a key driver in the creative growth and sustainability of our cultural sector, for the benefit of our economy, society and democracy. The will of the BBC is needed to deliver that, and the will of our public bodies to deliver together strategically and in partnership is needed to help with that.

In many ways, the BBC is playing catch-up. It is notable that STV has already taken the lead by planning an hour-long Scotland at 7, which will be an international and domestic news programme. Reflecting on Kate Forbes’s intervention, I point out that in 18 months we will be able to watch news on BBC UK at 6, on STV at 7, on BBC Alba at 8, on BBC Scotland at 9 and on ITN at 10.

Jackson Carlaw

As the cabinet secretary knows, the crucial difference is that the BBC programme will be networked across the whole of Scotland. The STV programme will be available only on Freeview in the cities where STV has achieved a city contract. The STV’s news programme will not be nationally networked, but the BBC’s will be.

Fiona Hyslop

In terms of content, of what we can deliver and of journalistic standards and opportunities to reflect the news to Scotland through a Scottish lens, STV is to be congratulated for what it is doing.

Some of the important themes in the debate have been about the importance of public service broadcasting, which a number of members raised, and its quality. The editorial independence that Tavish Scott and Lewis Macdonald mentioned is absolutely critical, which is why we refer to it in our amendment.

The point about EPG that was made echoed Jackson Carlaw’s point: if we want quality news—or, indeed, quality drama or other broadcasting content—it has to be accessible. It is important that we take that forward in our on-going scrutiny of what will be involved.

In the debate, we have not had much time to think about commissioning, which was a big issue for this Parliament’s committees in previous sessions. The additional £20 million-worth of network commissioning for Scotland is welcome, but we have yet to pin down what it means, as Tony Hall acknowledged. When I spoke to him, he also acknowledged the fact that, with the new channel, the spend in Scotland of the Scottish licence fee will be closer to 68 per cent. I say that in response to what Rachael Hamilton said.

We have not talked about radio. There is an opportunity for two stations, which we have called for: one for speech and one for music. They would be welcomed.

On Lewis Macdonald’s point about BBC Alba, I say that we still have a journey to go on and we still need details following last week’s announcement, but we should press for 10 hours of original production. That will be very important. The funding that is coming from the BBC to cover the £1.2 million-worth of Gaelic programmes that have previously been funded by BBC Alba is also very welcome.

We have much to look forward to. There are great expectations of the channel and of the wider sector. The role of the independent production sector has been scrutinised by Parliament. We have opportunities with the channel and with new commissioning.

Members should remember the skills that we have; we have great talent in Scotland. The fact that we will have 80 new journalist jobs is very much to be welcomed. In terms of attracting and being able to sustain film and high-end television production, it is the skills of our talented crew that bring people here. In all the discussions that I have had with the BBC, I have impressed on it the fact that, as part of its strategic role, it has a responsibility not just to use existing talent but to grow and develop our creative industries in partnership with them.

I have just received the screen sector leadership group’s report. I recommend it to members who have not read it—especially Alex Rowley, who will find it very interesting, in particular in relation to film strategy. We will respond to it more fully in due course. The report has been produced by well-respected leaders in the industry, and it provides a considered direction for all our agencies and the industry to follow. We ask the BBC to follow its recommendations, as well.

The opportunities for the creative industries and the screen sector are strong. Together, the public sector and private industry interests can realise the ambitions of our sectors, precisely as Patrick Harvie set out—in a way that helps us to realise our full potential as a free nation. I urge members to act as they have done—collectively and consensually. I hope that they can support our amendment, so that we on all sides of the chamber can take forward the spirit today’s debate.

16:54  

Jamie Greene (West Scotland) (Con)

Although it is not current, I ought to declare an interest for the purposes of today’s debate, in that I worked for more than a decade in the television industry at the BBC and in the independent production sector.

When one thinks of culture, perhaps nothing is more ingrained in our country’s fabric than the BBC. It is not just a landmark institution, nor is it just an iconic brand. Those three squares represent a world-renowned source of news. It is an entertainer, an informer and a producer. The BBC brings us everything from the Olympics to Wimbledon, from angling to “The Archers”, and from Elgar to Eurovision.

Its evolution has seen it grow from the early days of analogue black and white to the digital transformation that today sees 290 million requests a month to the iPlayer and 18.3 million downloads of stories from the CBeebies Storytime app. That evolution is how the BBC has survived many decades of increased commercial competition, and we are now in the latest chapter of its evolution, which means a brand-new, multi-platform, peak-time, dedicated Scottish TV channel.

I would expect a tailor-made BBC channel for Scotland to be unequivocally and warmly welcomed by all in the chamber, and I am pleased that there have been some positive contributions today. However, for some, more is never enough. I will address some of the critique later, but I will first focus on some of the positives.

The 80 new jobs that the new channel will create were welcomed by a number of members, including Rona Mackay and Stuart McMillan, although they highlighted that the posts should be spread across Scotland. That is a fair point. My colleague Rachael Hamilton asked how the new roles will build on the existing BBC Scotland apprenticeship programme and link with the BBC’s UK-wide journalism trainee scheme. I am sure that the BBC will reflect on those issues.

The cabinet secretary said that the Scottish nine must deliver, and I agree. The problem that we have with the Government’s amendment is that it pretty much removes from our motion any reference to the UK.

Lewis Macdonald made the valid point that we should judge the new channel on its merits and not on the wider constitutional debate or on old arguments about the BBC. We are happy to support his amendment and that sentiment.

Neil Findlay made a curious point about the privatisation of the BBC, but failed to mention that it was a renewed BBC charter under a Conservative Government that enshrined a publicly funded public broadcasting service through the licence fee model.

Patrick Harvie showed renewed enthusiasm for the BBC, but he, too, made a curious point. His was about retaining the BBC in a hypothetical independent Scotland, although he completely missed the point about how it would be funded.

Stuart McMillan made some interesting points about the career opportunities that the new channel might create. I was one of those people who headed to London for a career in TV because there were no such opportunities in Scotland at the time.

Stuart McMillan

Mr Greene felt that he had to go because of a lack of opportunities in Scotland. My point is that it will be good that people feel that they want to stay here because of the increased opportunities in Scotland.

Jamie Greene

There is nothing there that I would disagree with. I thank the member for making that point.

Some really good points were made about how the BBC should deliver on the promise that it made last week, and I have no doubt that the Parliament will hold the BBC to account. However, there are some logistical issues to resolve, such as the matter of PSB prominence in the EPG, which can only really be achieved through Ofcom regulation and is already causing the owners of various TV platforms to twitch nervously.

Oliver Mundell highlighted that members who raised the parochial argument about the portion of licence fee money that is raised in Scotland versus what is spent in Scotland are missing the point entirely. The BBC raises £320 million in Scotland through the licence fee, but a Scottish viewer or listener has access to more than £3.5 billion-worth of BBC infrastructure and content, including £2.2 billion-worth on TV and £600 million-worth on radio, online content and so on—I could go on. In fact, 86 per cent of all the content that is consumed in Scotland is UK-wide network content because that is what consumers want.

I know that this will be hard for some in the chamber to believe, but most people at home right now in Scotland are watching not our proceedings but “Flog It!” on BBC One. Members might be pleased to know that, at 5.15, “Pointless” is coming on—and no, that is not another Government debate on Brexit.

The critics asked the BBC to respond to the needs and demands of a modern, devolved Scotland. It responded. They asked for a Scottish six and they got a Scottish channel. They asked for an hour of news and they got 1,825 hours of content. They asked for more money for BBC Alba and they got a 20 per cent increase in its funding. They asked for more money for content and another £20 million is being added for Scottish content. The reality is that, as a family of nations, we collectively share resources and talent, and consumers across the UK benefit from that.

In closing, I ask the chamber to collectively and unanimously welcome the news of a new BBC channel and support our motion.