AS an indy supporter, I’m divided on saving the BBC (whose fate commanded this week’s headlines). Just as much as the corporation is divided in itself.

It’s hard not to defend it as a maker of drama, entertainment and factual/science programming. I looked at an advance list of their 2022 drama slate – there’s every mode of thrill, from Brum gangsters to posh Westerns; adaptations of books from Sally Rooney to Adam Kay; romances and dilemmas of all kinds, happening between every shape and style of human.

Their “Factual, Arts and Classical Music” department will this year cover the lives of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, Chris Packham on the story of the Earth, and David Olusoga on (yes) a history of the Union.

Not bad – eclectic and inclusive, entertaining because interesting. But then there’s the other BBC: the one which actively constructs the charisma of destructive populists like Nigel Farage (below) and Boris Johnson. The BBC whose investigative powers have been diminished under pressure from the state as their ultimate paymaster.

The National:

And a BBC who, in the case of the first indyref and the demolition of Corbyn, so clearly aligned themselves with British establishment definitions of both as disruptive and subversive.

I would ultimately defend the BBC, and its guaranteed funding under the license fee, against destroyers and barbarians like Nadine Dorries and Rupert Murdoch. But it also returns my thoughts to one of the biggest opportunities for a new Scottish state. Which is to get back to first principles about what the purpose of public service in broadcasting, media and networks might be.

In an age of communications upheaval, how would an SBC (or some other mnemonic) do the original Reithian job for the Scottish population – which is to “inform, educate and entertain” them, as citizens fully in charge of their own country?

It’s a massive question, and I’m only going to take small bites here. One fascinating angle is to address some of the old scare stories. Remember when one of the nerve-twitching shrieks from 2014 was that indy meant no more access to your favourite BBC shows like Strictly, Eastenders and Doctor Who?

Our side’s retort – which was to point to the Republic of Ireland, and multichannel subscriber services, shrugging: where’s the lack of access? – has become even more robust, on its own terms. The expansion of services like Freeview, serving up hundreds of digitally transmitted channels across these islands, surely makes access even less of a thorny question. The transmitters are already physically in place, the contracts already signed: the momentum is surely for continuity, than a vast unravelling.

READ MORE: Scotland is clear: Broadcasting should be controlled by Holyrood, not Westminster

Yet the unasked – almost unaskable – question is: there’s 141 channels on Freeview, and how is there barely anything on? The anti-indy case will scream loudly at this point. Are you consciously threatening to narrow choices, as a by-product of the uncertainties of establishing our own media institutions?

I’m being a bit more judgemental than that. Look in detail at the supposed plenitude of an Ofcom-approved UK digital service like Freeview. Out of the swathes of channels dedicated to shopping, crap old TV series and movies, cooking, comedy…

No channels addressing climate and green issues with authority and depth. No channels exploring science, technology and innovation in a concerted manner (occasion tech-bro flurries on the financial or state-sponsored channels for me is not enough). But there’s plenty of crime, hobbies, un-reality shows.

Science-fiction at least sneaks in though a “Horror” channel. But if you stand back from this, you gawp at the blasted tundras of diversionary, pointless content. Some of it is almost pathologically counter to the planet-conscious, automation-ready lives we should be preparing to lead.

In search of content, many are turning towards – and paying for – streaming content brands like Netflix, Apple+, Amazon Prime, NowTV. Yet far from shredding the case for a publicly funded BBC (or SBC), capable of making drama, cultural and factual material available to a fiscally-contributing population, the experience of these services reinforces it.

READ MORE: BBC funding freeze has ‘serious consequences’ for Welsh public broadcasting

I’m about to make a cull of all the streamers I’m currently paying for. But I know that’s come about because of pandemic conditions. Sealed in our cosy domestic quarantine, we’ve been searching for quality TV, after remote-work and chores are done. This usually means soul-saving, purposeful, intelligent drama (and a leavening of documentaries).

And those streaming brands, who are massively processing our online interactions, know exactly what narrative and emotional baubles to dangle before us. I’m thus paying a stupid monthly fortune to watch In Treatment, Borgen (when it comes back), Baron Noir, various other European/Nordic dramas, sundry dystopian SF worlds…

The worst aspect of it is the feeling that these content merchants have you cornered. They’re making endless bucks out of assuaging your existential and systemic anxiety. And whether it’s escapism or engageism – A Castle For Christmas (a scene from which is shown below) or Bo Burnham’s Inside – their main foe isn’t other companies. As Netflix’s CEO once said: “Our enemy is sleep.”

The National: Cary Elwes as Myles and Brooke Shields as Sophie in A Castle for Christmas. Cr. Mark Mainz/Netflix © 2021

Their friend, however, is a distempered public sphere that regularly pushes us indoors. Recent corporate noises about the “metaverse” – an information space that integrates all content – is sniffing at the same opportunity.

So I think there is a case for a public broadcaster to be supported to make content – but content that isn’t about exploiting our primal emotional buttons. Instead, this should be guided by some conception of what and who needs to be represented – rooted in the demands of culture and citizenship, and aware that we collectively face profound and systemic challenges.

But look! There’s BBC Alba and BBC Scotland now on the Freeview! OK, let’s assess. BBC Alba has its own justification, as an amplifier and nurturer of a struggling language and culture.

But BBC Scotland is a sputtering phantom of what an independent national broadcaster would be. It seems to be obsessed with doing the same kind of pop anthropology as Channel Four, but in a shilpit, more watery fashion. (The forthcoming shows Life On The Bay, about the pulsing catallaxy of a Scottish caravan site, or Secret Body – something to do with a fat suit and diet regimes – are two dreadful exemplars)

Yes, the long-demanded nightly news hour is presented with some verve and intelligence. Yet it’s beset with an obvious limitation: they’re reporting on a devolved Scotland that has only a faltering, highly partial relationship with the affairs of the world. It’s a placeholder for a full service (though one worth having).

The bigger question might be this (and at least this might be Scotland’s question, not London’s or Los Angeles’s). How might a content-making Scottish national broadcaster relate to Scottish digital citizens? And particularly I mean those who have not just made their own content but have also built participative networks and methods, aimed at keeping the energies of a progressive movement in Scotland going.

What could the structural response be to the efforts of Bella Caledonia, IndyLive, Broadcasting Scotland, National Yes Registry, Conter and others, who have doggedly proved that a Scottish digital public sphere is possible and necessary?

In the same way that Nordic countries provide support for diverse media titles – yet still score highest on the Freedom Index for press freedom – could we take the opportunity of indy to reinforce and multiply such initiatives? Whether fiscally or in terms of access to bandwidth or by supporting editorial and creative enterprises?

This points more towards an SIE – a Scottish Information Ecology – than it does towards an SBS (or Scottish Broadcasting Service, as the 2014 White Paper put it). But we should be brave about trying radically new things (while putting our marker down to find funds for that five-part Scandi-level drama adaptation of Lanark). Isn’t that what independence is partly about?