SOMETIMES social media can raise profound issues which are submerged by fleeting fights and political point-scoring.

Recently, David Smith, the ­director of Screen Scotland raised a ­pertinent question which had been posed at the Edinburgh International Television Festival.

During a panel discussion, a manager of SVT – the biggest TV network in Sweden – ­discussed the role of intellectual property (IP) within the Swedish TV market and concluded that a programme could not be officially recognised as Swedish unless the intellectual property was retained in ­Sweden by a company based there.

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If this idea was introduced to public ­service broadcasting in the UK, it would be transformative for Scotland and all but end the cap-in-hand culture that has dogged Scottish production for decades.

And for that very reason, it is unlikely to happen. It would be resisted by the main broadcasters and by London-based media companies that exert a powerful ­influence on the programme supply ­market. ­Furthermore, the Westminster system that oversees broadcasting would not get close to this kind of forensic examination of the complex area of rights ownership.

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I was cheered by Smith’s ­observations, which he admitted in the vernacular of social media were ­personal views and not that of his employer. It was ­welcome because it is unusual for a ­leader of a cultural organisation in ­Scotland to be outspoken about the ­barriers that impact cultural production here.

But before that, a bit of history. For more than 50 years now, Scottish producers have been ­fighting for fairer access to the television market, which is overwhelmingly based in London. That has been a long weary journey that many of our most ­cherished producers have trudged, but despite ­numerous setbacks, there has been a ­welcome surge in drama production in Scotland in recent years.

Television production brings high ­quality jobs to Scotland and ­notwithstanding the impact of Covid and the current bleak outlook for a contracted market in factual television in 2024-2026, there is evidence of historically higher production figures.

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More evidently, infrastructure has ­improved exponentially with greater ­studio capacity than ever before in ­central Scotland.

A report by Screen Scotland records a major boost in inward investment and high-end TV production. The production spend has increased by 110% from £165.3 million in 2019 to £347.4m in 2021. Now from Leith to Glasgow, there are a whole range of studios capable of housing drama production.

The increased availability of ­high-quality studio space has been a key factor in ­unlocking new business and the heightened ambition of producers, ­including our own domestic ­talent. ­Undaunted by the hurdles at home, ­several Scottish ­producers have broken into new markets, especially the globally powerful streaming services like Netflix, ­Apple TV+ and Amazon Prime.

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Whilst studio infrastructure has been a key factor in Scotland, attracting more major productions, there has also been a laser-like focus on skills and sector-specific training. A new filmmaking course has been launched in Scottish secondary schools, from Argyll and Bute to ­Inverness. Scotland now has industry training programmes stretching from new entrant and social diversity applicants to high-end studio and show-runner skills.

In the last seven days alone, two ­major new initiatives were announced. Sir Sean Connery’s family revealed plans to open a new film and TV talent school in Leith Docks next year, and the Outlander ­franchise has announced an ­opportunity for drama freelancers by offering a ­structured training programme on the globally successful series.

Many will shrug their shoulders at all of this. Most people consume media and ­entertainment based on taste and are, in the main, less interested or knowledgeable about how or where it is produced.

There is a settled acceptance that ­London’s domination of the UK ­television market is the natural order, it is “just the way it is”. But when confronted by the realities, most reasonable people would rear up if it was suggested that all high-quality universities be sited in London, or all children’s hospitals be based there to be close to Great Ormond Street.

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Although comparisons across other public sectors are inevitably contentious, it remains the case that most content commissioners in the UK are London-based and publicly funded, either ­directly through the BBC’s licence fee or ­indirectly by the valuable publicly owned spectrum granted to Channel 4, ITV and Five.

The history of programme commissioning and current industry practice favours London over any of the other creative ­cities of the UK and that is underpinned by a long-standing bias in the distribution of public finances.

WE cannot even say with confidence that the broadcasting policy has been well managed. The stewardship of the Department for Culture Media and Sport which has centralised power over broadcasting has passed through the questionable hands of seven different ministers since 2017, among them Matt Hancock and Nadine Dorries. The former minister Michelle Donelan, appointed by Liz Truss, lasted five months, barely a series of Bake Off The political failings of the Union apart, there are many reasons why Scotland and Sweden are not directly comparable. One obvious reason is language.

Most Swedish books from the ­globally successful Scandi noir crime ­tradition are originally written in Swedish by ­authors based and published there. So, like ­well-trained pigeons, ­intellectual property rights have an in-built homing instinct.

This is less true of Scotland. Our ­major authors write in the English ­language, most have agents and publishers in ­London and when television versions are produced, they are often optioned by ­drama companies in London.

No one can doubt the huge reputational value that writers like Ian Rankin, Irvine Welsh and Val McDermid bring to Scotland but the rights market they operate within, delivers much greater value from outwith Scotland, and the acquisition of options to dramatise Scottish books will almost always come from a London indie.

The public-funded television ­market ­assumes that London is the centre, and other nations and regions have been ­expected to lobby for a better deal through Ofcom and the London-based Department for Culture, Media and Sport. It has been a long and painful process with some scant rewards.

Channel 4 now has a commissioning presence in Leeds, Bristol and Glasgow but the powerful programme planning function remains in London. The BBC has studio presence in Glasgow, Salford and London but whilst its nations-to-network policy ostensibly diversifies ­funding out of London to the smaller nations, the elusive green light remains a London privilege.

Even the small victories of increased regional production targets have been easily circumvented by powerful London companies setting up temporary branch offices in say, Glasgow, Cardiff or Belfast.

In his brief social-media analysis of the network market, Smith advanced his ­argument by saying: “Let’s twist this a ­little. Say we live in a world where all TV wealth and commissioning power sat in Belfast, and London had been ­allocated a quota, based on its share of UK ­population at 13% by volume & value. Then folk in Belfast set up London-based production companies to sponge it up. How would that play?”

Smith’s scenario is a satire of the so-called brass plate and branch office ­culture that has too often stymied ­Scotland’s economic, political and ­creative development.

Throughout my professional life, there have been numerous attempts to ­challenge the status quo and make ­relocating ­London companies rise above mere ­temporary convenience – but all of this starts with the presumption that ­London will always retain the largest share of commissioning wealth.

Progress in the Scottish sector deserves to be roundly applauded, but however we welcome growth, the barriers of centralisation remain stubbornly intact.