What would an independent Scottish BBC look like?

How many things can Scotland afford to give up with if it decides to go independent? Alex Salmond has already been told he’ll lose the pound and have to reapply to join the EU. He may even have to form his own “Scottish Intelligence Service”, aka the McMI5, as London will be obliged to view his fiefdom as a potentially hostile foreign power.

Now, though, we learn that Scotland may also have to part company with another great British institution: the BBC. Maria Miller, the Culture Secretary, said yesterday that a vote for Scottish independence would involve leaving Auntie’s fond embrace.

“If the vote is no, then it’s a vote to leave the institutions of the UK, and the BBC is one of those institutions,” she told an audience in Oxford on Wednesday.

Will Alec be your new Auntie? Scotland may have to have its own BBC?

True, judging by views of many Telegraph readers, freedom from the BBC could well compensate for other aspects of life in Salmondistan. And as an expat Scot myself, I’d enjoy hearing my country being catered for instead by the BBC World Service, which will no doubt refer to it as an “oil rich kingdom on Europe’s celtic fringe”, or some other earnest phrase.

However, there is a downside to Scotland forming its own BBC, or SBC, or whatever. And that is that they will make Scottish programmes for Scottish people. Which, if I remember correctly from own childhood in Scotland, were not exactly enthralling. Here are a few.


The Beechgrove Garden

Scotland’s answer to Ground Force, this featured two elderly men – Jim and George, I think, or possibly George and Jim – discussing the planting of potatoes, cabbages and the odd hardy flower in a patch of garden at the BBC’s studios in chilly Aberdeen.

Where’s Charlie Dimmock when you need her? The Beechgrove Garden lacks the glamour factor

For any child who thought Percy Thrower was boring on the Blue Peter Garden down in London, this was a reminder that things could be much, much worse.

The Beechgrove Potting Shed

Yes, believe it or not, there was a sister programme which was broadcast on BBC Radio Scotland. For some reason it was axed in 2012.


The White Heather Club

A Scottish variety show that was prime time viewing in the 1960s. The drawback being that all it showed was varieties of Scottish country dancing, presided over by Jimmy Shand and his Number One Band, who made the Beechgrove Garden pair look racy. Presenting what is charitably described as a “tartanised world view”, programmes like this will presumably feature prominently in an independent Scotland. It was described as one of the 20 worst TV shows ever by The Penguin TV companion of 2006.


Acha’ird Tumnus!

Apologies if this is incorrectly spelt. This was a Gaelic language  programme, designed for Gaelic speakers in the Western Isles and broadcast to baffled mainland audiences during children’s television in the summer holidays. It documented the lives of Gaelic speaking children, showing them getting up, going to school, and playing games. In other words, doing the exactly same things as their English-speaking counterparts.


Late Call

Post-pub entertainment. Rikki Fulton on Late Call.

A televised version of Radio Four’s Thought for the Day, this was a reminder that Scotland, in the 70s anyway, was still more religiously observant than England. Screened as the last item of the day, it featured various Church of Scotland elders delivering their homilies, apparently unaware that most of their viewers had just got home from the pub.


Glen Michael’s Cartoon Cavalcade

Back in 1970s Scotland, when nothing whatsoever was open on a Sunday, this was the only thing that made life worth living. Michael had somehow acquired the licensing rights to cartoons such as Asterix and Bugs Bunny, which compensated for Michael’s irritating companion,  a talking lamp called Paladin who sounded like a Glaswegian who had drunk too much metal polish.

More on Scottish independence

Standard Life: another disaster for the Yes campaign
Don’t believe the Nats’ hype about Salmond closing the gap
Should an independent Scotland bring back the Stuarts?

He also read out selected children’s birthday cards if they sent them in. The odds of getting picked were limited, but with Scotland having only five million people, they were a lot better than getting a work of art shown in the Gallery on the BBC’s children’s arts programme, Take Hart.

Naked Video

A Scottish comedy programme in the late 1980s, this helped make a star of Gregor Fisher. His Govan wino character, Rab C Nesbitt, started life as a sketch on this show. Before the advent of Taggart, it was one of the few good things to come out of Scottish television. Having said that, like Scotch and Wry, starring Rikki Fulton, it got most of its best laughs from making fun out other distinctly Scottish programmes, including irreverent versions of Late Call and The Beechgrove Garden.

Rab C Nesbitt… an icon in 1980s Scotland

So there you have it. Scottish programming, or my experience of it, has much to learn if it is to encourage Scots to vote Yes. But then again,  if ever there was a recruiting sergeant for the cause of Scottish independence, it was the way in which Blue Peter only ever featured exhibition and events that were in London. For generations of schoolkids living north of the Watford Gap, that alone was proof of the capital’s imperial dominance.

More by Colin Freeman

Did US evangelists inspire Uganda’s anti-gay laws?
Has Britain’s promotion of gay rights in Africa backfired?
Britain wants Gertrude Bell to be brushed from history



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