Friday, February 24, 2017

Coping with Copeland

Before any important English by-election, I always try to work out which result would be best for us from a strategic point of view.  ("Strategic" isn't really the right word for something we have no control over, but you know what I mean.)  There are often arguments pointing in more than one direction, but for yesterday's double-header in Copeland and Stoke I had come to the firm conclusion that the most desirable outcome would be two Labour wins, and that Copeland was the more important of the two contests.  This was my reasoning...

* A win for the Tories in Copeland would reverse the cut in their slender majority they suffered at Richmond Park, and thus lessen the SNP's bargaining power in the Commons.  It would also reduce the chances of the majority being completely wiped out (or very substantially reduced) before 2020.

* Although a win for UKIP in Stoke would not officially increase the government majority, it would probably slightly weaken the chances of the government suffering defeats on the floor of the Commons, because ad hoc anti-government coalitions are harder to cobble together if UKIP are an indispensable part of them.

* It shouldn't have to be this way, but the SNP, UKIP and the Lib Dems are locked in a dogfight for recognition as the most important third party in the eyes of the London media.  Getting their leader into parliament would be a coup for UKIP and might weaken the SNP's hand somewhat.

* Whether it's because Jeremy Corbyn is genuinely a poor leader, or whether it's because Labour MPs and Labour-friendly commentators have made it impossible for him to lead the party effectively, there can't be much doubt that he has become an asset for the SNP and the wider independence movement, and that it would now be desirable for him to remain in harness for as long as humanly possible.  Defeat for Labour in one or both by-elections might hasten his departure date, and would therefore be a bad thing.

So taking all of those factors into consideration, what actually happened yesterday was grim news, although it could have been even worse if Stoke had fallen to UKIP.  The other consolation is that the slight strengthening of the government majority may make a snap general election prior to 2020 less likely. A working Tory majority of 16 is not a great situation to find ourselves in, and it offers only limited opportunities for the SNP to hold the balance of power on individual issues.  But it's a hell of a lot better than a majority of 200 - which is the sort of disaster we'd be looking at if there was an election any time soon.

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Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Auntie Backwater?

Because the announcement of the new "BBC Scotland" channel was genuinely unexpected, I've been struggling to get my head around it and work out what I think.  First of all, I find it hard to understand why some past supporters of a Scottish Six are now saying that this new package is somehow superior.  (Those people are in the minority but they do exist.)  No matter what happens from here, we can very safely say that the audience for the "Scottish Nine" will be a tiny fraction of what the Scottish Six would have attracted.  The point of having this programme is not the sheer satisfaction of knowing that it exists - if it isn't watched, it's a complete waste of time.  So without a doubt, this is an inferior consolation prize.

Beyond that, all I really have are a series of questions -

1) Will there be some sort of token content on the channel during the hours of the day when it is not properly on air?  BBC Alba currently does that, and it's surely a necessary step in building up and retaining an audience.  If this is to be a genuinely part-time channel, it will suffer from an enormous handicap.

2) Is this channel being set up to fail?  In other words, will the BBC take direct responsibility for making sure people watch the channel by relentlessly promoting its content on BBC1, BBC2, BBC radio stations, and the BBC website?  Or will it be ignored, thus sealing its fate as a minority backwater channel, and allowing the BBC hierarchy to use its "failure" as proof that there is no demand for Scottish-produced news or drama?

3) Will the diversion of Scottish programming from BBC2 help to build prestige and credibility for the new channel, or will the reverse happen?  Will the audience figures for those programmes be allowed to tumble?

4) Will Pacific Quay embrace the channel as their flagship operation, or will they still regard scraps from the table on the network channels as being more important?

I'm sure there must be plenty of other questions, but those are the ones that immediately spring to mind.

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If you've enjoyed my writing in recent months and feel a strange inexplicable urge to 'buy me a hot chocolate', bear in mind that my fundraiser from two years ago is still open for additional donations - it can be found HERE.