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What could happen to Freeview if Scotland voted to become independent?

What could happen the broadcasting in the UK if Scotland decided to leave?

The date proposed for independence is 24 March, 2016, just one and a half years after the vote.
  Photograph: Shutterstock
The date proposed for independence is 24 March, 2016, just one and a half years after the vote. Photograph: Shutterstock
published on UK Free TV

When will Scotland vote?

As you probably know, there will be a vote in Scotland on 18 September 2014 to ask the population "Should Scotland be an independent country?"

When would it happen?

Although Scotland has always retained its separate legal system the current Scottish Parliament operates under the devolved jurisdiction of the British Crown and the Parliament of the United Kingdom at Westminster.

This means that during the period of 18 September 2014 until 25 March 2016 the current level of powers would remain.

Given the short timeframe, it seems that issues of the currency to use and membership of the EU and NATO would be highest on the minds.

The most relevant figures

So, what would happen to broadcasting in general?

The powers to alter the law in Scotland for broadcasting would only pass to the Scottish Parliament when independence is provided. The Parliament could not pass any laws transferring powers until that date.

Legally, the status quo would be retained. Ofcom would still be the regulator, any current contracts would stay in place, and the Licence Fee would still be collected and distributed as it is now.

Voting "yes" in the referendum does not provide any specific mandate to the Scottish Parliament on any matters: the Scottish Parliament would need to seek a democratic mandate for any changes to the broadcasting arrangements.

What would happen to the Licence Fee?

The Scottish Parliament (SP) would have to provide a law to update the Wireless Telegraphy Act if they wished the funds to be collected and redistributed in Scotland. Until they do that the BBC would be lawfully required to collect the LF in Scotland and spend it on BBC services.

About 9.2% of UK households are in Scotland: whilst £320 million sounds like a lot of money, it is only enough to fund a BBC One budget channel for three months a year.

What would happen to the BBC in Scotland?

The BBC is an independent non-governmental body, so the assets of the BBC in Scotland would continue to belong to the BBC as a whole.

It is likely that a independent Scotland would wish to be seen as a good place for businesses and would not wish to be seen grabbing assets of independent organizations.

The proposals on the table are that the SP will legislate at some point to take control of the Licence Fee and the BBC access to Freeview multiplexes and use it to establish a Scottish Broadcaster. It is not clear if this would be a state-broadcaster, or an independent body like the BBC.

The SSB would not have automatic access to programmes made by the BBC; it would have to buy them in, as the Irish Broadcasters do.

The level of funding requited to set up such a broadcaster is unclear, but if the SSB is required to provide a full domestic and international news service, it may not have funds to provide anything other than a selection of BBC programmes.

Of course Scottish viewers will still be able to watch BBC English programmes directly from satellite!

What of the Channel 3 and 5 companies?

Given that STV operates two of the three franchises for Scotland; it is unlikely that there would be a large difference on the third channel. How sustainable ITV Border Scotland would be is good question.

Channel 5 is operating under an Ofcom licence. It would probably continue to do so as SP will no doubt honour long-term broadcasting contracts.

What would happen to Channel 4?

Channel 4 is an independent broadcaster, much like the BBC, but with no direct funding. It is regulated by Ofcom. As the state does not own the Channel 4 Corporation, it would not be an asset the UK could share with Scotland.

If the SP decided to change the Channel 4 arrangements it could: this is very likely to stand as a UK-wide legacy for some considerable time. However, Channel 4 would continue to be London based.

What would happen to the Freeview transmitter network?

The 230 mast network belongs to Arqiva and would continue to do so. It is worth noting that is an extensive network for the 2.4m homes in Scotland. The costs of distribution are high in Scotland as it has one third of the UK land-mass, but 8.4% of the population.

Taking the current £222m a year the BBC spends on distribution, 6% of the budget. If we assume that this is a cost per mast, then this works out at £2.48 in England, £8.07 in Scotland, £12.49 in Wales and £4.72 in Northern Ireland.

This would make the BBC Scotland distribution budget £43m a year, or 14% of the £320 from a Scottish Licence Fee!. This could be a low estimate: BBC Radio Scotland takes 3.2m a year for distribution, which is 60% of the costs of each UK wide radio service.

Under the current UK-wide arrangements this represents a significant operational spend per-viewer compared to England. If the BBC is replaced by a SSB then the lost of the current effective subsidy would remove funds from the SSB, or require a much higher Scottish Licence Fee.

What of the regulators?

The SP would doubtless be unhappy with Ofcom in London running things for Scotland, so you would expect a photocopy of Ofcom to be set up in Scotland as soon as the SP can legislate.

Next time ... what would happen to radio?

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Thursday, 13 February 2014
5:50 PM

I spend an equal amout of time living in the UK, where I have a full TV license, and the other part of the time in southern europe. Like everyone else down here and all over Spain, Italy etc most of us have Freesat and COULD enjoy seeing all UK tv channels, that is up until now. Over the past 2 weeks all of the UK BBC/ITV/C4/C5 have been switched off, on the grounds of copyright, as we are outside of the copyright region of UK. Would I be correct in my assumption therefore that if Scotland became an independent country that similarly the BBC/ITV etc would be unable to allow broadcast to Scotland for the same reasons?

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ian's 2 posts PT flag

6:01 PM

ian: wrong ian. the UK channels on Astra2 have switched to a UK spotbeam with limited European overspill to protect programme rights to the UK only;it's a shame but deemed necessary.

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Anthony's 70 posts GB flag
Friday, 14 February 2014
7:18 PM

whats wrong in what I said??
My main piint is will Scotland be considered outside of a UK narrow beam, if not why not, they will not be able to use sterling, thank god

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ian's 2 posts PT flag
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