We’ve been writing for quite a while now about the absurd-yet-deathless “Project Fear” scare story that an independent Scotland would lose access to BBC broadcasts (and thereby shows like Strictly Come Dancing, Match Of The Day, EastEnders, Doctor Who and, we dunno, Homes Under The Hammer or something), which was given another tired run-through last week by UK government culture secretary Maria Miller.
We’ve pointed out in some detail that it was complete nonsense, because the BBC is a commercial organisation which would actively seek to sell the rights to its output to Scotland, but what we haven’t been able to do previously was put a figure to the likely cost. Thanks to an alert reader, though, we can now fill in that gap.
The table above – click to enlarge – is an extract from the published 2012 accounts (page 92) of Irish national broadcaster RTE. In the middle row you can see how much RTE paid for “Acquired programmes – overseas”: 25,179,000 Euros, or £20.7 million at current exchange rates.
That’s a bit more than the totally arbitrary £14m figure we plucked out of the air for illustrative purposes last November, but it’s of the same sort of order of magnitude. (We also have to assume it’s not ALL for the BBC, and that RTE has presumably bought in programming from some other countries too.)
More importantly, though, we now have a solid number that we can put on the cost of a Scottish broadcasting service that still retains all of Scots’ favourite shows – because the RTE deal gives Irish viewers the entirety of BBC 1, BBC2, BBC3 and BBC4, not just individual programmes.
Ireland’s population of 4.6m (Republic alone) is very close to Scotland’s, so we have to assume Scotland would pay a roughly similar sum. Which leaves us with this:
SCOTTISH LICENCE FEE INCOME: £300m
BUDGET OF BBC SCOTLAND IN 2016/17: £86m
COST OF BUYING BBC CHANNELS: £21m
MONEY REMAINING: £193m
In other words, an independent Scotland, if it charged the same licence fee as now, would be able to spend THREE TIMES as much on the SBC as the BBC will be doing on BBC Scotland if we vote No, and still have an extra £20m sitting in the coffers.
It could afford to pump transformational amounts of money into Scottish sport and culture in exchange for TV rights, while at the same time making them available to all rather than only satellite/cable subscribers. (Imagine Sportscene not being made for £2.50 any more.) It could reverse BBC Scotland’s budget and staff cuts. It could create and fund a Scottish film studio, revitalising the Scottish movie industry.
We could debate the possibilities all day. Do those things, or cut the licence fee, or divert the money elsewhere, or some combination of all? Everyone will have their own view. But the point is that we can now say with some certainty what the reality of an independent Scotland’s broadcasting finances would be.
The phrase “embarrassment of riches” seems the most accurate summary.