Thursday 26 November 2015

Gaelic TV loses £1m in cuts, UK gov loses influence

Gaelic television is to lose £1 million of UK government funding as part of the Comprehensive Spending Review.

That shouldn’t be a surprise, given that the Department of Culture, Media and Sport has a budget cut of five per cent and S4C, the Welsh channel, has had a chunk of funding cut too.

But the £1 million represents 100 per cent of the UK government’s  stake in Gaelic broadcasting.

The funding, about five per cent of the Gaelic channel BBC Alba’s total budget, is not a huge amount of but its loss has cultural and political symbolism which appear to have escaped John Whittingdale, the Culture Secretary. 

BBC Alba, the Gaelic language TV service (you’ll find it on Sky ch143) is funded from a combination of public sources.

The service was set up the in the 1990s by the then Tory government with funding of £8 million a year, and a dedicated channel came along in 2008 and is well supported by viewers, both Gaelic and English speakers.

It is now funded by the Scottish government to the tune of  £13.8 million, with £1 million from the Department of Culture Media and Sport in Whitehall and £8 million from the BBC in terms of cash and technical services.

In television terms it is not much, but with £1 million the channel was able to produce a drama series, Bannan, which is in its second run.

The loss of the DCMS funding will be a disappointment for MG Alba, which had lobbied for the cash stream to be maintained.

The funding was guaranteed by Danny Alexander, the Lib Dem Highland MP, when he was chief secretary of the Treasury.

He understood the value of the small amount of support, but Gaelic now has few friends inside government, and no one was on watch in Westminster looking out for it. 

Culturally, it now looks as if the UK government is just turning its back on one of the country’s oldest indigenous cultures and the medium it has become most accessible in.

In political terms it is a bigger mistake. The funding was the last toe-hold the UK government had on Gaelic broadcasting.

Earlier this month the Scotland Bill included a little-noticed clause devolving power to make appointments to the governing board of the channel to the Scottish government. Now the UK government has surrendered its financial influence too.

Politically, the SNP government wants control of state broadcasting in Scotland,  and in terms of Gaelic it now shares that control with the BBC, as well as the responsibility for funding it.

It is only a hop and a step to extend that argument to English language broadcasting too. 

It may be that the DCMS is cutting the cash to prime the argument that the BBC ought to step in to fill the gap.

There is a BBC review going on right now, which openly questions the value of minority broadcasting and makes some unfavourable comparisons.

Anyone with an interest in Gaelic broadcasting (or a stake, as I do myself as a freelance contributor) should respond to that consultation.

Pressure ought to be brought on Whittingdale and the Scotland Office to revisit the decision,  it is not a lot of money after all.

How much of that pressure will come from the SNP, in whose interest it is not to have UK departmental involvement in Scottish broadcasting, remains to be seen.

SNP up and down the hill on Syria

My Daily Record column today
Jeremy Corbyn’s not the only politician exposed in the searchlights over Syria. 

On an issue as serious as war, Nicola Sturgeon began showing leadership worthy of the Grand Old Duke of York.

Trapped in no-man’s land between being on the right side of the  party activist base and the wrong side of public opinion, the SNP’s spin operation was uncharacteristically skittish.

First Alex Salmond, the party’s Foreign Affairs spokesman and hefty voice in the party, ruled out backing for UK airstrikes. So far so predictable.

But he was countermanded by the First Minister.

She was “prepared to listen” to the case for airstrikes.

Westminster leader Angus Robertson held that line on Sunday morning. He sounded more sceptical by Wednesday.

Then up popped his colleague Stewart Hosie, party deputy leader, saying “at the very least” UN support would be needed for the SNP to back UK action.

Everyone knows there will be no UN security council motion approving air strikes. China and Russia would veto that simply to keep the UK out of the conflict.

Then, on the same day as the First Minister handcuffed her leadership to the sinking stock of Natalie McGarry, she sharpened the position.

“It has got to be action that is right, that will make a positive difference, rather than make the situation worse,” said Sturgeon.

This was beginning to sound like war policy driven by opinion polling.

It may be with the world on a knife edge after a Cold War skirmish that downed a Russian jet that public opinion, hardened by the Paris attacks, has cooled again.

Cameron makes the case for war today, but aren’t we at war in Syria, anyway?

A Freedom of Information request reveals the UK has flown 196 armed drone missions over Syria in the last year, with no civilian casualties the MoD insist.

We have special forces on the ground, RAF pilots flying with Nato allies, a Royal Navy frigate escorting the French carrier,  with our Cyprus airbase and  surveillance and refuelling facilities on call. 

Though the SNP do try to overstate their importance in Commons vote  when it comes to bombing ISIS, Downing Street calculates nationalist votes will be irrelevant.

From Cameron’s point of view, the most important minority votes are these of the eight Democratic Unionist Party MPs.

They’re on board, and we’re well down the road to war in Syria.

We've been expecting you, Mr Monaghan

The SNP’s Paul Monaghan MP might not be paranoid, but it doesn’t mean they’re not out to get him.

With MI5 on high alert for a jihadi attack the Caithness MP thought the best use spy time was to ask if he was subject to personal surveillance?

In the Home Office written answer (they cost £164 on average) the spooks hilariously refused to confirm or deny what they were up to. 

Poor Paul, he’ll have to keep looking over his shoulder, though I suspect James Bond has better things to do.