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A vibrant Scottish media is not just for the referendum

IF there is one thing Scotland is not short of these days it is predictions.

We have had the Governor of the Bank of England musing over the implications of a currency union; the chief of BP is concerned about "quite big uncertainties" surrounding independence; while Vince Cable, the UK Business Secretary who makes Cassandra look like the Easter Bunny, has sounded the alarm over the possible relocation to London of Royal Bank of Scotland.

But there is one looming catastrophe that has so far slipped under the radar. Citizens of Scotland, steel yourselves for a national shortage of lip gloss, hairspray, panstick, and those butterfly clip thingamajigs used to pull jackets in at the back and take a few pounds off the anchorman or woman. Yes, with the announcement of a new nightly news programme from the BBC to boost the corporation's referendum coverage, Scotland is now officially a broadcast media luvvietown, an empire of egos, the land where the autocutie (men as much as women) rules.

James Naughtie is already ensconced on the radio on Good Morning Scotland, Scotland Tonight is having a rare tear every evening from 10.30pm on STV, there are Scotland-themed documentaries galore lined up on several channels, and it has been announced that Sarah Smith is to leave Channel 4 News to front a new BBC programme, Scotland 2014, from May.

My, if we in the old, dead-tree print media knew you were all coming we'd have baked a cake. Or at least we would have stocked up on Elnett with a view to making a killing on the black market when the crunch comes. But on a more serious note, as anchor people like to say, should Scotland be celebrating this blooming of a thousand broadcast flowers (or a few anyway) as terrific news for democracy, or is this resurgence temporary, slight, and designed to flatter as much as enlighten?

Before we start a non-studio discussion about that, we should pause here to wave cheerio to Newsnight Scotland. There is no official confirmation that the BBC programme is to go the way of the Dodo and impetigo, because that would be far too bold and unpleasant a move for Auntie to make publicly. Start apologising for Newsnight Scotland and where will it end?

But with Scotland 2014 taking over the 10.30pm slot, and Newsnight from London moving to 11pm, it is hard to see Gordon Brewer's programme coming back after the referendum. Perhaps there will be mass demonstrations, on a par with the anti-Iraq War marches, calling for it to return. And maybe Lucifer, on his new ice skates, will win the men's figure skating gold at the Winter Olympics.

Viewers and readers might be wondering what to make of all this moving and shaking going on in the media. The creation of Scotland 2014 looks like a double-whammy manoeuvre: first to put the concrete boots on Newsnight Scotland, and then to take on the increasingly impressive Scotland Tonight on STV. The lean and keen STV, unencumbered by layers of bureaucracy and free of the swaddling provided by the licence fee, was too quick off the mark for the BBC. The programme might have its good and not so good nights, but at least it has turned up for work.

Scotland Tonight features the same old formats of studio discussions, two-ways and short films, but it has a refreshing, "let's do the show right here" sparkiness about it. There is none of the whiff of entitlement that has a tendency to creep into BBC interviews, the sense that the corporation is doing everyone a huge favour, the viewer as much as the interviewee, by deigning to discuss the matters at hand. Far from shedding light on subjects, such an attitude merely generates lots of shouty heat.

We should probably be grateful that this broadcast media renaissance is at least being led by Scots. Sarah Smith said it had been "impossible to resist the opportunity to return to Scotland at this crucial time". Glad we could be of service.

Still, it remains the case that the BBC are shipping up London-dwelling Scots to do jobs that their own Scotland-based people could do easily, given the chance. One hopes this Scottish media by Scots and for Scots will extend all the way up to the referendum on September 18, and that there will not be a Berlin airlift of Dimblebys and Paxmans on the big night.

That is not to be parochial; it is simply to state the obvious: that Scotland is best reported by a media made up of people who live and work here, who know their John Lamonts from their Johann Lamonts. A media, moreover, that has invested, and continues to invest, time and money in generating news and analysis.

If that sounds like the beginning of a party political broadcast on behalf of the print media that is because it is. While the broadcast media renaissance is to be welcomed - come one, come all if it leads to a better served electorate - it is no substitute for what print brings to the table.

Frankly, without newspapers to break and develop stories, the broadcast media bulletins in Scotland would be nothing but fitba, court cases and weather blether. While newspapers are happy for stories to be picked up after publication, we would be even more chuffed if credit was given where credit was due. Quality journalism, of the kind Scotland needs now more than ever, costs.

Just as it would be rude to stand in a newsagents reading a paper for free, so it is the height of cheek for the broadcast media to present what was a print story as their own. If nothing else, readers and viewers are not fooled.

It is those readers and viewers who matter most. Like everything else to do with the independence debate, what happens in the Scottish media in these coming weeks and months will have long-term implications.

Will the BBC in Scotland, for example, given all this extra airtime to call its own, really be expected to revert to the status quo in the event of a No vote, or is the Scotland 2014 programme the first step towards a dedicated Scottish Six bulletin with news from home and abroad?

Further, should viewers and readers, supplied with well-funded news and analysis pre-vote, be expected to settle for anything less after the referendum?

Barbs about lip gloss and hair products aside (although I hear Naughtie is a holy terror when it comes to his sculpting mousse), there is a serious matter at stake here. A vibrant Scottish media, like a puppy at Christmas, is not just for the referendum. It matters day in day out, year in, year out.

It matters because a free, spirited, financially thriving media, print to the fore, is still the best source of informed news and comment, still the best way to hold the powerful to account. If you want to know about a currency union, pensions, education policy, and the rest, who are you going to call on? Twitter?

So a big, warm, Scots welcome to all our new broadcast friends from the south, and their accoutrements. It is grand to have you here, and we hope you stick around. Stay classy, folks. And easy on that hairspray.

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