Nation Shall Speak Unto Nation

I came across this story about a review looking into setting up a public service broadcaster in Scotland shortly after my post last week concerning the Glasgow list. It has been sitting on the back-burner, percolating away and as I’ve been stuck for something to write here I thought I’d share my thoughts with you, perhaps generating a bit of a discussion and who knows maybe even some comments.

Whether it’s the interminable episodes of Question Time where the hour passes solely discussing matters of English domestic policy (with of course some final question about who the panel want to win come dine with me, or whether or not they are wearing tartan knickers) or a Reporting Scotland that only skimmed the surface of that thursday’s FMQs because they also had to find time to tell us about Mrs McGlumphy’s cat and what various Old Firm players are having for their tea, the level of coverage of distinct Scottish affairs simply isn’t good enough and I’m sure you remember the furore over the SNP’s exclusion from the “Leader’s debates” in May.

To give credit where credit is due though, the BBC may be seen from the above to be failing in its Reithian aim of informing the Scottish public, it is certainly still educating & entertaining, the recent series by @ProfBrianCox on the solar system, and the crowds at the St Enoch centre when Karen Gillan was there recently promoting Doctor Who are proof enough of that.

This could prove to be one of the early stumbling blocks for a new Scottish National Broadcaster (SNB), if competing with the BBC rather than replacing it in Scotland, then this new channel will have to appeal to commercial interests rather than the licence fee, it may struggle to come up with advertisers for a channel dedicated to the current events in Scotland and would certainly find it difficult to match the BBC if it chose to commission its own entertainment shows or documentaries.

There is one other area of the BBC produce that could help and that is their sports coverage, Hamish McDonnell of the Caledonian Mercury has on multiple occasions highlighted the poor treatment of Scottish rugby by the BBC (although home games for the Magner’s League are to be shown on BBC Alba this year), but just as snooker was introduced to the nation consciousness by a young upstart named David Attenborough at BBC2 in the 60s to attract people to new station, perhaps the SNB could try to use curling or basketball in the same way.

I think though, while an SNB would be welcome in the interim, the focus should really be on bringing about a successor to the BBC rather than a competitor, having the benefits of the BBC’s facilities and personnel in Scotland, as well as a share in the litany of BBC output already in existence and spot 101 on your EPG is probably going to be the only way the channel will be able to have a real impact.

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You’ve got to spend money to make money

So on last night’s Newsnight Scotland, Joeseph Stiglitz, former Senior Vice-President and Chief Economist of the World Bank, said that the UK Government’s current “austerity drive” were “mostly wrongheaded” explaining that the UK is not in the same position as Greece and still has access to capital markets and further borrowing. He went on to say:

The real point that I emphasize is, not so much how much we’re spending, but what we’re spending it on. Every business borrows, it borrows to make investments, and investments in the public sector can yield returns, every bit as high and even higher than in the private sector.

While not a Nobel prize winner myself, I have been of the same opinion as Professor Stiglitz for some time now. We know that in the past, the United States and Germany didn’t pull themselves out of depression by cutting spending but rather by increasing investment in public works, and trying to promote local industries. Roosevelt and Hitler were both responsible for setting up their respective nation’s motorway network at that time, and FDR managed to go further by encouraging parents not to take time off of work to look after their children in the summer, but instead to send them to one of the new “summer camps” the government was helping to set up all over the country – a scheme so successful, that last year 10 million American children attended one.

Now Scotland isn’t in as bad a position as the US or Germany found themselves in the 1930s, but that isn’t to say there isn’t work that could be done. All but the staunchest Greens would say that our own road network couldn’t do with vast improvements, as could our railways not only in terms of upgrades to high speed rail but also the long awaited Glasgow Crossrail that will finally unite all services up and down the West Coast without having to cross the city on foot, and if SNP plans to bring Scotrail back into public ownership when First’s franchise expires go ahead then investment now could yield those great returns that Professor Stiglitz alluded to.

There’s also the new renewables industry and it’s spin-offs, if we are soon to have whisky powered cars is it too much to ask the manufacturing plant be based in Scotland? We could even try to introduce an entire industry from nowhere like the American summer camps, there are hundreds of ways in which a government that cared about Scotland, and had the powers at its disposal could help this country.

But it obviously isn’t as simple as throwing money anywhere as Professor Stiglitz goes on to say:

There is lots of room for cutting back, in the US where I know the data a lot better, we’re spending hundreds of billions of dollars on weapons that don’t work against enemies that don’t exist. Military expenditures like that do not lead to a stronger economy, that’s something you can pull back. So there are lots of room for redirecting spending and that’s where the focus ought to be.

And so it begins…

So the other day I was watching Newsnight Scotland, and Gordon Matheson was going on about how he felt Glasgow City Council had to put up council tax. He said that doing so wouldn’t “cost the government a single penny” and that it would be fairer than the current council tax freeze, which applies to everyone and isn’t “means tested”

Aside from the fact that a rise in council tax would result in either increases to the number of applications for council tax benefit, increasing both the council’s costs, and the total welfare budget of the UK (or more defaulters, resulting in a rise in the council’s costs, and the justice budget rising as more people are taken to court), the second point that the council tax freeze is not means tested, that is particularly  cretinous.

As I’m sure you are aware, council tax is also not means tested, it is paid based on the value of your home, had it been sold in April 1991, with councils normally splitting these into valuation bands.  This means that a single mother of two, with a three bedroom flat will be liable for the same amount of council tax, as the three recently graduated students who share the flat across the landing from her.

What’s more council tax doesn’t really take into consideration the size of the property, so if her two children leave for university and she decides to get a one bedroom flat, she may find that it actually costs her more.

If Gordon Matheson, and any of his other Labour colleagues who agree with him,  truly want a means tested method of paying for our muncipal services then they should support the SNP’s calls for a Local Income Tax.