The Crisis of Scottish Broadcasting

The cultural richness of Europe depends on its diversity and of this both Scotland and England are important elements. Both have evolved over many centuries diverse and rich cultures which are distinct from the rest of Europe and from each other.

The Union of 1707, which destroyed the political independence of Scotland, was a threat to the survival of Scottish distinctiveness: but, for many years, this was more potential than real.

Scotland preserved its own church, legal system, education and local government. These had much more influence on Scottish opinions and attitudes than a distant Government in London.

During the 19th century, England intervened in Scotland to suppress Jacobitism and the Highland clans and, disastrously, to introduce lay patronage in the church. Otherwise, as Walter Scott said in his Malachi Letters, Scotland “was left under the guardianship of her own institutions to win her silent way to national wealth and consequence”.

This changed in the early 19th century when England began to show a desire (to quote Scott again, and this was the reason for his passionate protest in Malachi) “for extending the benefits of their system, in all its strengths and weaknesses, to a country which has hitherto been flourishing and contented under its own”.

Even so, these interventions had at first little effect on cultural matters. It is true, of course, that London as the base of the royal court, of fashion, wealth and politics, was a powerful draw to the ambitious. On the other hand, it could be said, because of the Scottish Enlightenment and the extraordinary response to the Waverley novels in England and over the whole of Europe and North America, that Scotland had more cultural influence on England that the other way round

There was a drastic change with the introduction of broadcasting, starting with radio in 1922.

Especially with the subsequent invention of television, this became by far the most powerful means of cultural expression and influence and it was almost entirely controlled by London. Consequently the great majority of radio and television programmes have given the impression that English institutions, attitudes and ideas are universal, in this island at least. Literary adaptations are almost all English and so is history.

Broadcasting has therefore given many Scots the impression that Scotland has no history, no culture and no achievement of any kind worth speaking about. Many Scottish schools in the recent past have been nearly as bad, but broadcasting as a life-long influence is probably even more destructive. All of this has misled Scots about their own country and has drastically undermined self-confidence.