9th April 1946

Scottish MPs call for an independent BBC Scotland

“I have rarely met, in Scotland, anybody of any grade of society, or in any walk of life, who has expressed himself as satisfied with the BBC programmes in Scotland,” said Colonel Gomme-Duncan, MP for Perth and Kinross. Speaking in the House of Commons, he explained that the BBC was, in short, far monolithic, and rarely considered the value of regional discussion on national matters. “At present the system, broadly speaking, limits Scottish broadcasting to purely Scottish subjects, and frequently matters which we should like to discuss in Scotland from a purely Scottish point of view must be ruled out, because they have already been dealt with by the BBC at headquarters. This is quite unsound, and tends to create a sort of parochial outlook. or at least an appearance of parochialism, to the rest of the world.”

Moreover, Scottish talent was underpaid, and the BBC’s Scottish managers were answerable to London, which “cannot satisfy Scotland’s cultural needs… [or] adequately give Scotland’s contribution which she had to make to the thought and art and culture of the world”.

A truly Scottish board

Gomme-Duncan’s suggested remedy was a dedicated board of governors for Scotland, which would sit in Edinburgh rather than London and “not subject to the overruling of the Director-General or a board in Loondon, but working in complete harmony with them.”

He wasn’t the only member of the house concerned by the parochial nature of Scottish broadcasting, either. Eustace Willis, MP for Edinburgh North, noted that while the BBC’s Scottish director “can interpret Scottish life… he is not free to interpret the world outside Scotland to the Scotsman”.

Malcolm MacMillian, MP for the Western Isles, went further, hinting that even so early in the history of broadcasting the BBC was at risk of losing listeners to its nascent rivals. “As a Highlander and a Gaelic speaker who does listen carefully to the Scottish Highland and Gaelic programmes, when I get the opportunity to do so, that the quality of these is by no means a compliment to the Gaelic listener… Gaelic listeners feel very often that they get much better value if they turn across to Athlone and listen to the Irish Gaelic programme, if I may call it that. One finds that that programme is extremely popular among those who want a good Gaelic concert.”

The cost to Scottish listeners

But for Sir William Darling, MP for Edinburgh, South, it wasn’t so much the quality of the content that mattered, but the cost, and whether Scotland was getting value for money. The licence fee raised £900,000 a year from the people of Scotland, but how much was being spent on Scottish content? “You must be aware, Mr. Speaker, that, in Scotland, we think far more of broadcasting than they do in England and Wales. The Scotsman is a man of economical tendencies, and, when he spends 10s. on a licence, he is not content merely with turning on the wireless at 9 o’clock and hearing the news,” he said. “His ear is attuned almost continually to his machine, and he gets a greater degree of value from the Corporation’s appliances than those careless, indulgent and wealthy English. This is a very proper and fitting subject for discussion.”

The debate ran into the evening, but was summed up by the Assistant Postmaster-General, Wilfrid Burke, who was MP for Burnley, who agreed that Scotland had an important contribution to make and should have the facilities to make it. Unfortunately, the £900,000 figure that William Darling claimed was raised by the licence fee was almost double the actual amount, which stood at £496,000. Of that, around a quarter of a million was spend on Scottish salaries and premises, but the cost of engineering, rights, royalties on news and so on were paid outside of Scotland, so, said Burke, “it may be argued that the whole of the money raised in Scotland from licences – £496,000 – should be spent in Scotland”.

Scotland as part of a bigger broadcaster

Ultimately, argued Burke, a separate BBC for Scotland would be a poor imitation of the service that the country already enjoyed, as it would be unable to call on the resources of the larger organisation, and would lose access to programmes created in London for national broadcast. “It might pay to have a purely Scottish programme for a limited time,” Burke said, wrapping up the debate, “but it would be wrong to expect to receive, without payment, the programmes from other parts of the country which are so generally accepted and widely enjoyed by Scottish people.”



Other events that occured in April

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