WHEN I was growing up, the BBC had an aura of permanence and incorruptibility. It was Britain’s most cherished nationalised industry. But now, every possible political movement or party has a gripe with its “bias”, and many want the national broadcaster abolished altogether.

Like royal family gossip and immigration scare stories, accusations of leftist bias at the Beeb are part of Britain’s weekly newspaper routine. For the Daily Mail, even Benedict Cumberbatch’s turn as Sherlock Holmes counts as a loony left conspiracy. Of course, there’s also a Labour counter-critique of right-wing bias. Owen Jones, for example, points to the Young Conservative roots of BBC News’ Nick Robinson and the rabidly anti-welfare views of flagship presenters like John Humphrys.

And then there’s Scotland.

I was speaking at the SNP conference this week, at a fringe meeting opposing the Tories’ anti-trade union bill. When I arrived at the conference centre, I heard from a fellow panellist that a few delegates had stormed out of a bad-tempered session on the BBC, after being denied the chance to sound off about anti-Scottish bias. In truth, it wasn’t a debate at all. Virtually everyone in the independence movement agrees that the referendum coverage was poor. Alex Salmond even suggested that the BBC’s biased coverage was a key reason that we lost the referendum.

I’m not sure if he knows it, but Salmond was actually paying the BBC an unintentional compliment with that claim. After all, if we’re talking about bias, why not talk about the open, toxic bias of the privately owned media? Almost every capitalist channel or newspaper took a frankly pro-UK line. I doubt that the BBC is simply to blame. Salmond was angry at the BBC because, the truth is, we expect a degree of impartiality from a public service broadcaster. And so we should, after all: I can happily choose to avoid purchasing The Sun without fear of fines or jail time, but the licence fee is a different matter.

Controversially, though, I think the independence movement must defend the BBC’s mission. There’s a danger that, in our rush to condemn the Beeb, we forget how utterly grotesque private media can be. There’s a deeper danger, too, that we abandon the search for common truths in favour of partisanship. And there’s an inevitable danger that we subsequently see bias in every probing question directed at the independence movement. Therein lies madness.

Don’t misread me. The BBC’s performance on the referendum was dire. Unlike many others, I wasn’t offended by “aggressive” quizzing of Salmond. That’s to be expected. What I found appalling, though, was the comparatively fawning deference towards Treasury officials, UK think tanks, and Better Together leaders.

Underlying this was a deep-seated metropolitan contempt for the independence movement, perhaps the most important grassroots event in Scottish history. The BBC barely noticed it. Curiously, Kenneth Roy, in an anti-independence, pro-BBC rant in Scottish Review, admits this problem. “No is dull,” he concedes, “No is boring”. By contrast, the Yes movement was vibrant and creative. “Why should the BBC be obliged to pretend that No is anything but the deadest of ducks?” Roy asks. “Why shouldn’t vibrant Yes be rewarded for its greater effort, its ability to pull a crowd, its miscellaneous brilliance?”

Roy has a simple answer: “I have always feared the crowd, more or less any crowd, even one that sounds innocently exuberant and wholly benevolent”.

Fearing the mob, Roy defends the BBC’s right to protect “democratic freedoms” by ignoring a “wildly jeering patriotic crowd”. And there, ladies and gentlemen, we have the Scottish establishment in a nutshell. The jeering patriots are the wrong sort; we must shield the public from this uncouth menace. UK think tanks are tasteful, the “right sort” of people: let’s feature them as often as possible.

That’s how bias works in practice. And it extends far beyond the referendum. Business leaders are nineteen times more likely to feature on BBC News reports than trade unionists. Israeli dead are far more likely to be “humanised” (personalised back story, names reported) than the far more numerous Palestinian dead, who are treated as mere statistics. The occupation, by the way, never gets a mention. Republicans are far less likely to gain airtime than toadying monarchists.

DESPITE all this, the solution isn’t to abolish the BBC, and let Rupert Murdoch run the airwaves. That’s hardly going to be a boon for Palestinians, trade unions and republicans, is it? Instead, we must make proposals for reform. In the first place, let’s stop mucking about pretending BBC Scotland serves the nation. Let’s create a genuinely Scottish Broadcasting Corporation – not because Scotland is a better country, but because we deserve the right to hold our unelected bigwigs like Kenneth Roy to account.

How can we ensure that the Scottish corporation will be better than the entity it replaces? First, we should demand that certain minimum standards are defended. Trade unionists should feature as often as business leaders, and if not, there must be repercussions. If Israeli dead are named, and Palestinian dead are numbered as an afterthought, then the controller must be held to account.

Nothing will ensure complete impartiality. But personally, I’d like to drop the idea that bias is a party political matter. This is a relic of the British two-party system which needs to go: the two main Westminster parties agree far more than they disagree. Simply giving Labour (“left”) and Tory (“right”) equal billing therefore solves nothing, and instead sterilises public debate. You can’t correct bias by giving parties equal airtime. While every party is entitled to its say, a nationalised broadcaster’s main aim should be correcting errors in public knowledge that come from bigotry and ignorance in the private media.

The public has been the victim of mass misinformation from the tabloids. Refugees and immigration are classic cases. But since both UK parties are chasing the same votes, their equal platform on the BBC never corrects public ignorance. Instead, it reports our media-generated ignorance back to us, reproducing a vacuous mono-culture.

So, let’s say the tabloids are repeatedly peddling a myth – that immigrants carry diseases, that public spending caused the crash in 2008, that a national economy is like a household budget – any myth that can be easily disproved. And let’s say we provide evidence that this myth-peddling is creating public ignorance. I’d like a broadcaster that actively corrects the distortions of the tabloid media.

If Scotland gets broadcasting independence, we should see bias in this broader sense. A national broadcaster’s first duty should be informing the public, not just reporting a tabloid consensus that both parties parrot.

If we win that argument, public sector media has a strong future, and the mission, if not the practices, of the BBC will be with us for decades to come. Under a regime like that, I’ll happily accept a rigorous interrogation of the independence movement’s economics and politics. Bring it on: we’ve got nothing to hide.