Whatever happened to The Road to Referendum?
It is a curious affair. The broadcaster and writer Lesley Riddoch alerted me to the situation last week, and it has taken a while to find out what is really happening to the acclaimed, BAFTA-nominated documentary.
Told in three parts by the noted columnist of The Herald and Sunday Herald, Iain Macwhirter, the hour-long programmes were broadcast by STV last June. They took a historical look at the past 70 years of Scotland's political and cultural life: the first covered from the end of the last world war to 1974, the second covered the first Devolution vote and the Thatcher years, and the final programme began with the Conservative victory in 1992 and ran up to the present day.
Certainly, all the parties involved in the production of the programme expected - whether it was formally agreed or not, which seems to remain a bone of contention behind the scenes - that it would be repeated by STV this year. The expectation was that the show, made by STV Productions and featuring interviews with, among many others, both Prime Minister David Cameron and First Minister Alex Salmond, would be repeated in or by May.
There was also an expectation that the final programme would be altered - involving a significant amount of work, up to perhaps half of the episode - and updated before re-transmission to better reflect how the referendum debate was shaping up heading into the crucial vote in September. The Herald was involved in this show, apart from Mr Macwhirter's contributions. Significant archive material from this newspaper's extensive history was used in the documentaries, as was other archive film.
I am told STV indeed paid a large amount for this archive footage so that the series could be broadcast twice. A publication, reviewed in these pages by the eminent Professor Tom Devine, is also part of the Road to Referendum story: the burgeoning Glasgow publishing house Cargo brought out the official companion to the series, also written by Macwhirter. The publishers were also expecting, I hear, for repeats to tie in with the book.
However, at present, are no plans for STV to re-show the series, or update it. There has been some movement in this stance: this week STV has moved from saying there were never plans to re-broadcast the show to suggesting that, like all plans, this stance may also be subject to change in the future.
So perhaps viewers will be able to see this series again, and maybe it could even by networked so that the entire UK could view what some believe is a landmark series. Why is it not being shown? The series itself made strenuous efforts to be even-handed in its politics. There was a complaint to broadcasting watchdog Ofcom before the first episode was even broadcast: Labour peer George Foulkes complained about Macwhirter's involvement in the show, but it came to nothing.
So why no repeat of this major series, as its major players expected? It would be rash, perhaps, to suspect - as some are - some kind of conspiracy and that the series has been "killed". But surely, in this historic moment, a historic series bears re-viewing?
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