How do you solve a problem like the BBC in Scotland?

I’m feeling frustrated about the BBC in Scotland. For me it’s difficult to call them BBC Scotland, because they don’t appear to be doing much that’s Scottish. They have offices and staff in Scotland, but don’t seem to have much that’s Scottish in their outlook.

I posted this over on Derek Bateman’s blog a couple of days ago –

“Like others, when the Kezia Dugdale to present (OK co-present) a show story broke I really thought it was a wind up, and internet borne fantasy. But it’s not.

I really worry about the power of the BBC. It has to be the wall-to-wall appearances Nigel Farage on the BBC which gave UKIP the result we’ve seen. If they’d given the Greens the same amount of airtime we’d have had a Green landslide. There’s no way to prove this, but it just feels that that is what happened.

The BBC has now tried, tested and proven it’s power. It knows it can get the public to respond in the way it wants. The beta test is over.

So they put a new figurehead on a show, to get the public used to the sound of that voice. Then increase, to being on the screens. Get the public used to seeing that person in their living rooms, their name on on our PCs. All the time. It’s not even subliminal. It’s blatant. We know it’s happening, they know we know, but they really don’t care. Who is pulling these strings?

Unless we, the public, are prepared to risk a Criminal conviction we can do nothing about it. It seems to me that the biggest threat to a YES vote is the BBC. In gameplay you’d say it was playing in “God mode”. Outside the normal rules and controls. Is it time to revitalise a “Can Pay, Won’t Pay” campaign? What alternatives do we have? I can only think that we all need to be wearing our YES badges, have YES stickers on our cars, on our business vans. be talking to colleagues, friends, social groups. Word of Mouth is the best method we’ve got.

Can you imagine waking up on the 19th Sept to hear it’s been a 51:49 vote to NO. “If only I’d got up and talked to people”, “If only I’d gone along to that meeting”.

Word of Mouth, Conversations. They’re even more important than you think.”


Since then, I’ve thought a bit more about the selection of a serving politician to present a show. Now I don’t care which party the politician represents. If they are an MSP then that’s their job. To represent the people who voted for them and then the party of which they are a member. So why is the BBC giving airtime over to a person who can’t help but have a bias? Especially during a period of time when impartiality and even-handedness is expected of this publicly funded organisation. I don’t know. I really don’t. To be clear – I don’t care which colour of the rainbow the MSP represents. It’s surely just fundamentally wrong to have a serving politician fronting a current affairs (or any programme really) in the run up to an election or referendum. Yet this is exactly what the BBC in Scotland is doing.

I took the time to call the Electoral Commission to ask them if this was within their area of influence. They were very nice and helpful people to talk to. I called their main phone number in London and they called me back from Edinburgh and I had a friendly discussion with their lady in Scotland. Turns out that the Electoral Commission has zero powers over the media. They told me the only mechanism for registering a complaint about the BBC is to complain to ………. the BBC. Or perhaps to Ofcom, but they weren’t sure if Ofcom had any powers over the BBC. The BBC is its own judge, jury and non-executioner. There’s plenty of evidence of the “efficiency” and the “impact” of making a complaint about the BBC to the BBC on other blogs.

So what else can a concerned licence payer do? Could a “Can Pay, Won’t Pay” campaign cause them any problems? The licence fee is £145.50, which is approx. £12/month. There are just under 4 months left to the Referendum so if I put my £48 into an escrow account instead of paying it to the BBC then would that make any difference to them? No. Of course it wouldn’t. It might make me feel better, but I’d be risking a criminal charge – small risk, but it’s still there.

Now, if lots of people did the same thing then would they notice, well maybe I thought……. So let’s have some fun with numbers.

If there are about 2 million households in Scotland, then that’s about £290M pounds paid in licence fees to the BBC annually. I’ve seen higher estimates on other blogs. If there’s one third of the year before the referendum, then you can extrapolate that one third of the licence fee is due in this time – about £100M. That’s a lot of money. Would they notice if that stopped? Well yes, probably, but it would depend on every single licence fee payer in Scotland adopting a “Can Pay, Won’t Pay” attitude and that’s not going to happen. If 10% of the licence fee payers adopted this attitude would they notice? That’s about 200,000 household – a massive number to get behind any campaign but it’s only about £10M. Sadly I doubt if the BBC in Scotland would notice even if it could happen. It’s only the equivalent of what they pay the likes of Clarkson + a few others in one year.

So it brings me back to my point of frustration – how do you solve a problem like the BBC in Scotland? And I admit I don’t know. The bias is obvious, the reach and influence is the biggest and best.

Back to word of mouth I guess.



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