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John Nicolson: Here’s what BBC Scotland’s new director’s priorities should be

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John Nicolson, the SNP’s spokesperson for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport sets out the priorities for BBC Scotland’s new director, Steve Carson. 

I’m delighted to welcome Steve Carson to his post as director of BBC Scotland. It’s a tough gig. But Steve has all the qualities necessary, a sharp mind, great personal charm, and a background in good quality television production from youth tv, through Panorama and Newsnight before arriving here to launch the new BBC Scotland channel.

As an Ulsterman with years of experience working in the Republic, he will understand the challenges and privileges of working in a small country with a vibrant political culture. He’ll need skills aplenty to navigate BBC Scotland through the challenges of next year’s Scottish elections and indyref2.

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The BBC freely concedes that it haemorrhaged trust during 2014’s Referendum coverage. And Corporate bosses don’t dispute that they subjected the status quo in the shape of the Union to much less assertive scrutiny than the insurgent campaign for independence. Many viewers left never to return.

READ MORE: BBC Scotland appoints new director to start later this year

BBC Scotland looks very different now, thanks in part to the new BBC Scotland channel which Steve launched. Its daily news output – The Nine – is consistently good at tackling the big stories of the day whether national, UK, or World on news merit alone.

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That’s as it should be, but a challenge BBC bosses in London for years resisted, demanding that BBC Scotland’s nightly news output never stray south of Berwick let alone out into the big wide world.

The Nine has been a breath of fresh air with talented, youthful and bright Scottish journalists reporting on global issues – turning the too often insular, coothie and out of touch typecast of BBC Scotland news programming on its head.

The Covid crisis has exposed, starkly, how much Scotland needs its own prime time news show on the BBC’s main channel.

It’s no secret that I wanted a separate Scottish Six to replace the current offering on BBC 1. Indeed, I persuaded my Tory and Labour colleagues in the Commons to support my proposal when we published an all party Culture Select Committee report. It was not to be. But the BBC conceded The Nine instead, and it has more than risen to the challenge.

The time has come, I’d say, for The Nine to be moved onto BBC 1. The Covid crisis has exposed, starkly, how much Scotland needs its own prime time news show on the BBC’s main channel.

The BBC is not, of course, just news and current affairs but a valuable treasure trove of music and arts, radio, comedy, Gaelic and drama. The new director must lobby his colleagues in London to ensure a higher proportion of the licence fee raised in Scotland is spent in Scotland.

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The Culture Select Committee, at my instigation, has recommended that Gaelic broadcasting be given matching funds to that given to Wales’ S4C. Given the huge success of Gaelic medium schooling there’s a whole new market growing up ready for some fresh and innovative Gaelic language output.

Steve Carson has wide experience of innovative programme making and he will have his own priorities. I look forward to talking to him about what they are in due course. But my feeling is that Radio Scotland could do with a revamp and a fresher sound.

READ MORE: BBC presenter under fire for claim Scots ‘wouldn’t get anything’ outside the UK

Political programming is strong – Debate Night presented by Stephen Jardine is an intelligent and engaging watch far superior to the often unwatchable gammon shout fest Question Time. But where are the BBC Scotland politics podcasts?

In the last twelve months Frankie Boyle’s Tour of Scotland has shown that BBC Scotland isn’t afraid to take risks. And in Ally Heather I suspect BBC Scotland may well have found a star of the future. His Rebel Tongue was first rate.

I’m a fan of public service broadcasting. Having lived and worked in the States, I know what happens when media barons gain unchallenged control of the airwaves. I’m optimistic for the future of public service broadcasting in Scotland and know that we’ve a talent pool of rare quality waiting to be unleashed.

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