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How we can put Scottish talent into a starring role

There are many reasons why film and television in an independent Scotland could be bigger, better and benefit audiences, the economy and our wealth of creative talents much more than they do at present.

Clockwise from above,Bill Forsyth's Local Hero, for many the defining symbol of Scottish cinema, Denmark's major international success story The Killing and US TV series Outlander, which is being filmed in Cumbernauld
Clockwise from above,Bill Forsyth's Local Hero, for many the defining symbol of Scottish cinema, Denmark's major international success story The Killing and US TV series Outlander, which is being filmed in Cumbernauld

For the best part of a century, our screen culture and industry have depended on the resources and perspectives of London decision-makers.

At times, this relationship has indeed been beneficial but mainly it has been debilitating. It is true that at some key moments in our screen history, for want of a stronger domestic infrastructure, we have profited from enlightened regimes at the BBC, the British Film Institute (BFI) or Channel 4 which have given Scottish stories and talent support and screen time. Without them, Bill Douglas, Bill Forsyth, John Mackenzie, Lynne Ramsay or Paul Wright might never have reached our screens.

But we shouldn't have to rely on those occasionally benign decisions that expose precisely the highly dependent nature of the relationship. We still lack the size and shape of screen industry that can consistently develop, employ and retain talent in front of or behind the camera without first looking to Soho or W1A for approval.

As a result, we still import virtually all of our screen culture, more than any comparable Western European country. Indeed, it seems that we have almost lost the capacity to imagine any other arrangement, tending to assume that Scottish must mean pawky, parochial or poor quality. Lacking a sense of what a distinct Scottish audience might want, it is little surprise that producers focus hard on meeting the expectations of financiers, distributors, BFI and TV executives for whom Scotland will always be a small part of a bigger picture.

Meantime, Scotland's share of network TV production has edged up from 3% by value in 2003 to just over 4% in 2012 - far from the 9% that our population share would suggest is a reasonable expectation of our public service broadcasters.

What would make things better in an independent Scotland? Since no country's screen industry has succeeded internationally without a strong and growing home audience we could work harder to grow domestic demand. A Scottish Broadcasting Channel that, like most European public broadcasters, was mandated to support domestic film production alongside commissioned TV drama would be a powerful aid to boosting production, jobs and facilities. Of course, it would have to compete, as in Ireland, with UK networks - just as UK networks have to compete with Netflix, Amazon and iTunes. But it would also be a crucial ­platform to develop Scottish talent and companies for whom these new distribution channels are real opportunities.

In the same way, people often overlook the fact that Grand Theft Auto originates in Scotland. In addition, not many people realise that international TV hit The Tudors was developed in Ireland, giving several new Irish directors their big break as well as employing legions of crew and facilities.

Scotland's film success is patchy and stop-start compared to other countries because we operate well under the critical mass required to produce hits with any sort of consistency. If we invested the levels of public finance per head that other similar sized European countries do we could transform Scottish film and TV. Where we spend around £1 per year per person on funding film, Ireland spends £2 and Denmark £10, resulting in a far bigger share of the domestic market than Scotland has. Add control of tax reliefs and incentives and the full range of studio facilities to attract more incoming productions like US series Outlander filming in Cumbernauld and we can see how Scotland could reach Irish levels of production and, perhaps in the longer term, Danish levels.

An independent Scotland in the EU would qualify for country of "smaller audiovisual capacity" status which would bring the same advantage when applying for Creative Europe Media funding that every other small country in the EU enjoys. And if we joined Eurimages, the European Cinema Support Fund, our producers would have access to co-production funds which the UK, as a non-member, does not. Fiscal and regulatory measures to stimulate production are only part of the picture. Alongside a commitment to grow production levels, investment in skills and talent is crucial.

Our screen ecology suffers from a long-term depression of demand. In contrast, Denmark's equivalent of BBC Scotland, home to The Killing and Borgen, employs 40 people in its drama department.

A revitalised film and TV industry in Scotland could offer similar opportunities, providing many more rungs in the career ladder.

None of this means severing our links with industry, institutions or audiences south of the Border. Rather it means reframing those relationships so we can enter into creative and commercial partnerships on a more equal basis.

Of course, there are risks: for instance there might be additional transaction costs that could work against co-production or co-investment. We might discover it's too late, culturally, to reverse audience expectations of wall-to-wall imported screen content. Or we might just not bother to take our screen culture and industry seriously enough to give it the investment it requires. But none of these things are inevitable. We have the potential, the talent and the skills to make a difference.

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