A few days ago, I took a first look at the schedules of the new BBC Scotland channel and came to a sudden conclusion that the whole thing was a sham. It seemed to me that the BBC were so determined to finally settle the Scottish Six issue without making space on BBC1 that they were quite prepared to construct an entire channel of repeats around a single programme. Since the channel actually launched, my mind has been set to rest to some extent, because a lot of what looked like probable repeats have actually turned out to be new shows (or at least 'first looks' at shows that will appear on BBC1 later). But tonight I watched the first edition of the Scottish Six substitute, known as The Nine, and a different concern started to form in my head. Is the very programme the channel has been built around itself a sham? In a nutshell, is The Nine actually the integrated Scottish, UK and international news programme that was supposed to be the whole point of the exercise, or is it a different sort of beast entirely?
In fairness, the show kicked off with a genuine news story - Jeremy Corbyn finally committing Labour to a second EU referendum. But there was no actual report to cover that story - just a couple of two-ways with BBC journalists in London and Brussels, and then a live interview with Neil Findlay of all people. The subsequent stories were packaged more conventionally, but none of them (as far as I could see) covered actual 'news of the day' events. They were more like 'magazine' items that you might see on Scotland Tonight, or Eorpa, or in some cases even on an entertainment programme like The One Show.
A lot of people are complimenting The Nine for its relaxed presentational style, and are suggesting that sort of distinctiveness might carve out a niche and help attract viewers against the stiff competition from the network news programmes. But the thing is, if you depart too far from what is recognisable as a news bulletin, you're defeating the whole purpose of winning those viewers. I mean, if something almost indistinguishable from Scotland Tonight qualifies as "an integrated news programme", what have we actually been campaigning for all these years?
It's early days, of course. Maybe there were a disproportionate number of pre-cooked stories simply because it was the opening night. We'll see what the rest of the week brings.
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For what it's worth, Jeremy Corbyn's decision has not changed my long-standing view that we are unlikely to be heading towards a "People's Vote". Both the Tories and the DUP are opposed to a referendum, and those two parties still hold a slender majority in the Commons between them. That essentially means pro-referendum Tory rebels would have to outnumber anti-referendum Labour rebels if the government is to be defeated. And as it happens, Stephen Bush (who in the past has often proved himself to be near-omniscient on such matters) seems pretty confident that the Labour rebels handily outnumber the Tory rebels. He's not completely ruling out the possibility that the arithmetic might change, and that being the case it can maybe be said that Corbyn's change of heart has made a referendum a bit more likely - but only a bit. Frankly, even in the unlikely event that parliament votes for a referendum, I think Theresa May would be brazen enough to sidestep it.
The real significance of tonight's announcement may be to staunch the Labour bleeding - ie. to deter further defections to the Independent Group, and maybe even to reverse some of the recent damage in the opinion polls, assuming that Remain-minded voters in England now start to coalesce around Labour as the best available vehicle for frustrating Brexit.