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Trouble at the BBC: Time to Demolish, Defend or Democratise?

Gerry Hassan

Sunday National, February 23rd 2020

The BBC is in crisis. Boris Johnson’s Downing Street are floating the scrapping of the licence fee. This when the BBC need to appoint a new Director General after Tony Hall unexpectedly resigned in January against a backdrop of impending negotiations with the government over charter renewal and the funding of the corporation.

On top of this BBC Scotland’s head Donalda MacKinnon has resigned after just three years in the post when the organisation faces future uncertainty, pressures and scrutiny from all sides.

The BBC is one of the most important institutions in the UK. It is in serious crisis, buffetted and shaken by years of criticism from right and left, its funding in relative decline versus competitors such as Amazon and Netflix and its future in question. If that were not enough, the corporation is unsure how to respond to the diverse demands of an increasingly fragmented Britain.

The BBC has traditionally always paraded its independence from government, but it is not fully independent. It is reliant on government for its funding through the continuation and level of licence fee, and its top echeleons – first the Board of Governors, then BBC Trust and now BBC Board – are appointed by government ministers.

This is an organisation which is part of the British establishment. Like many other parts of British society it is a fundamentally undemocratic body whose accountability is not to audiences but to government and politicians. Read the rest of this entry »

Time to consider recall for MSPs in Scotland

Gerry Hassan

Scottish Review, February 19th 2020

Scotland likes to see itself as a modern parliamentary democracy with a new Parliament elected by proportional representation, a circular chamber that reflects its intended way of working, and a committee system designed to hold power to account.

This is very much the view of official Scotland and of much of our political classes. It was the view of Labour and Lib Dems when they governed Scotland and it is the view of the incumbent SNP now.

But in at least one critical respect there is a huge democratic deficit and need for urgent reform – and that is the absence of any popular mechanism to instigate the recall of MSPs should voters wish. This is known the world over as a recall election – providing procedures to allow voters to show their dissatisfaction with their local representative.

This has come to the fore with the Derek Mackay scandal. Since he resigned as a Scottish Government minister Mackay remains the MSP for Renfrewshire North and West but has not been seen in public for two weeks, not made any further public pronouncements since his resignation, and not undertaken any local constituency MSP responsibilities such as surgeries. This has brought condemnation from politicians across the spectrum that this is indefensible and unsustainable, but they are currently powerless to do anything for now. Read the rest of this entry »

A Time for Big Ideas for Scotland

Gerry Hassan

Sunday National, February 16th 2020

Big ideas are important. Boris Johnson is talking about infrastructure projects, committing to HS2 and spending £106 billion of taxpayers’ monies. He also this week announced a review into the feasibility of a 20-mile long Scotland-Northern Ireland bridge that will cost £20 billion.

Irrespective of the merits of these projects, and the obvious point that the Scottish-Northern Irish bridge has next to no chance of ever being built, they mark a different kind of politics at least rhetorically from that of Boris Johnson’s immediate Tory predecessors.

These announcements raise big questions about the role of government, public spending and what is deliverable, feasible and believable. One strand which many on the left will understandably want to resist is that Johnson’s government is embarking on an era of raising selective public spending, a more interventionist state and greater role for government, amounting to a different kind of Conservatism compared to recent decades.

This brings up challenges for Scotland. What do we want to be defined by? What do we want to collectively organise and mobilise to do? What do we want to do which brings lasting change and directly transforms lives – beyond the constitutional question and independence? Read the rest of this entry »

The End of an Era: The Imperial Era of the SNP

Gerry Hassan

Scottish Review, February 12th 2020

The SNP were once the bright promising future of Scotland but all such periods of political promise come to an end. It isn’t possible to permanently remain the new kids of the block with the passing of time. The resignation of Derek Mackay as Finance Secretary and his subsequent suspension from the SNP came like a bolt out of the blue – shocking everyone in his party, fellow parliamentarians and political opponents, and the media.

The SNP stands dominant in Scottish politics with 50% support in the latest polls. Independence is on 50% plus in the last three polls thanks to a Brexit bounce while the political opponents of the Nationalists – Tories, Labour and Lib Dems – are not in a strong position north of the border.

However, the SNP’s poll ratings are not quite the whole story. A palpable sense of unease and nervousness has been building in the party for several years – probably since the 2016 Brexit vote, the 2017 attempt by Nicola Sturgeon to progress an indyref, and the 2017 UK election reverse (which the party won but lost 21 out of its 56 Westminster seats). This is about many things – the party’s direction, culture of leadership, lack of internal democracy, and absence of any semblance of a strategy by senior figures on independence and indyref2. Read the rest of this entry »

What holds Scotland back? Our relationship with England and ourselves

Gerry Hassan

Sunday National, February 9th 2020

Scotland has travelled far in recent decades. The country is more autonomous, confident, self-governing and secure in having multiple identities. This is what we often tell ourselves and there is truth in it. Yet it is also true that after 20 years of the Scottish Parliament we still have many areas in which to progress, and numerous barriers that hold us back and limit the lives of too many.

Much of what restricts us can be directly linked to structural issues and hard power – economic, social, and political. But there are also cultural and psychological dimensions – and all of these can be seen in our relationship with England and its impact on Scotland, and the wider state of our society.

Take the relationship with England. Scotland is 8.4% of the UK population, England 84%. We are one-third the land mass and even more in maritime waters. The population balance means that political power in UK elections does not often sit here but in England. Read the rest of this entry »

The People’s Flag and the Union Jack: An Alternative History of Britain and the Labour Party
Gerry Hassan is a writer, commentator and thinker about Scotland, the UK, politics and ideas. more >
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