Culture Secretary John Whittingdale wants to ask “hard questions” about the size and ambition of the future BBC. The corporation responds by claiming that this implies “a much diminished, less popular BBC”.

Prepare for much more rhetoric from both sides as the decennial battle for the soul of public service broadcasting begins. It is usually more fun for observers when there is a Tory government, as ministers arrive at the virtual negotiating table cheered on by backbenchers and right-wing leader writers baying for the death of the licence fee and all those overpaid BBC management types.

In many ways, the BBC could not visit the table at a worse time. Since the last charter renewal in 2006, we have witnessed the Savile affair, the sacking of a director-general, various scandals concerning executive pay and a botched IT system. To some, the supervisory BBC Trust appeared to lose its purpose somewhere along the line.

Then there is Scotland. There is no surer way to fire passionate debate about the BBC than to mention its coverage of last year’s referendum. The blue touch paper ignited during the campaign and has diminished little since.

The perception among Yes supporters that the BBC played its part in ensuring a No vote is illustrated by the revelation this week that only 48 per cent of Scots believe that the BBC’s news and current affairs output “is good at representing their life”, compared to 61 per cent in England and Northern Ireland and 55 per cent in Wales.

The battle over whether the Government wants a smaller BBC that cedes audiences to its rivals, and whether the licence fee survives only until a workable subscription method is found, will rage over the coming months. In a sense, government and corporation seem at odds, but in other ways they combine, as they have recently.

Consider this: two weeks ago the Treasury announced that the BBC would in future take on the cost of free licence fees for the over-75s at a cost of £600 million. Then it emerged that the definition of the licence fee would be extended to cover access to BBC services via non-linear services like the iPlayer, bringing the BBC a similar amount. Coincidence? Probably not.

The Scottish dimension looms over this debate. Under the terms of the Smith Commission, the Scottish Government will have a consultative role in broadcasting, including appointments to the regulator Ofcom and the Gaelic TV service, BBC Alba. The BBC and Ofcom will set their reports before Holyrood for committee scrutiny.

The BBC appeared to be wrong-footed by the SNP victories of 2007 and 2011. As budgets were cut and familiar faces departed, the corporation left itself open to the charge that it no longer cared about its news output, a theme that was hammered repeatedly during the heightened referendum atmosphere.

This week the Scottish Government protested that already its consultative role in relation to the BBC was being ignored. It was not told about the over-75s’ agreement and the new renewal advisory body includes no Scots.

These issues will not go away. The SNP envisions a BBC that spends a lot more of the £320m it raises in Scotland on Scottish programming on both radio and TV. The Green Paper leaves that question untouched, and no doubt an emboldened SNP Westminster group will make the most of that.

And here is the opportunity for the BBC. It has a chance to use licence fee renewal as the catalyst for a positive dialogue about broadcasting in Scotland, what we want from it and how it will be delivered in future.

It is more than a decade since the BBC debated whether or not Scotland should broadcast its own “Six O’clock News”. That would have sent a signal that the BBC really does believe Scotland is a “nation”, albeit one within the UK. (Mr Whittingdale did dismiss an SNP point about his Green Paper light-heartedly yesterday by pointing out that the body is “British”).

The Government and Fleet Street will weigh in at one end of the renewal debate, the BBC and its supporters at the other. It is not immediately clear whether the Scottish Government or Parliament will have much influence.

But if the BBC is to improve its audience support north of the Border, and underline its relevance to life and culture here, it cannot ignore the Scottish dimension.

Maurice Smith is a former Herald journalist and BBC Scotland business editor. He is contributing to a forthcoming book – The BBC Today: Future Uncertain, Edited by John Mair, Professor Richard Tait and Professor Richard Lance Keeble; to be published by Abramis Bury St Edmonds in September;