THE dramatist Peter Arnott is famous for his definition of Scotland as “not a country, but an argument”. Our major Scottish news story this week is, to some degree, about how we can even have that argument – if what is argued over suddenly disappears into a digital and legal void.

The BBC’s triggering of YouTube’s takedown of two indy-supporting bloggers and their video archives – Stuart Campbell (aka Wings Over Scotland) and Peter Curran (aka Moridura) – has been a stramash for connoisseurs of the form.

But like most decent stramashes, it features both low-level fumbling and high-level implications.

Much of the former was available on BBC Scotland’s Media Review this Thursday, hosted by the avuncular and judicious John Beattie (and startlingly, actually available as a downloadable podcast on iTunes).

I felt somewhat for the Dickensianly-named Ian Small, head of BBC Scotland’s corporate affairs, sent up over the trenches. But in trying to defuse a giant bomb marked “BBC Bias Against Indy Definitively Proven”, he revealed some of the deeper issues at stake here. Which isn’t just about bias – but what kind of media can best serve a lively, networked citizenry.

The news that the BBC is to “review” their behaviour – when it comes to the balance between defending online copyright, and copied material serving the public interest – is no surprise. Their inconsistencies are so glaring.

Take the copied news videos used by all political parties’ media operations, and particularly by the not-less-than-ideological Spectator magazine – all them evading the BBC’s long arm. Never mind Salmond’s own impish observations about the curious legal-digital status of his own interviews.

All these dead mice were laid at Small’s feet. One of his responses was to muse that copying might be permissible “if news clips were kept to only a few minutes”. But c’mon: it may well be that seven, 10, 15 minutes or even longer are required, for the mendacity (or maybe even, on some occasions, the lucidity) of a politician or public figure to fully unfold.

On even this minor issue, there’s a mighty example of how contradictory the BBC is. Guide your browser to the world-famous This is a beloved San Francisco institution which tries to record every webpage ever put out in public, and lots of other public-domain material besides. Search there for “BBC Sept 11 2001”. Instantly, you will find an entire archive of the BBC’s news channels’ output on that day.

Does it bust copyright? In the strictest terms, outrageously so. Is it a vital public, indeed, civilisational record (along with all the other news channels that sampled that day)? Inarguably. I’d like to see them try a take-down on Archive’s redoubtable magus, Brewster Kahle.

For the moment, our own wee incident might well have excellent local consequences. Particularly if it makes more robust the “fair-dealing” rule, in which copyright considerations can be waived for (as the UK Government’s guidelines put it) “criticism, review or quotation… and for the purpose of reporting current events”.

But in the big picture and for the long term, what a bloody mess of law, technology, media and civil society this reveals.

And the thing is, it didn’t have to be like this. Indeed, in this very newspaper in 2015, I once celebrated an ambitious internal revolution against the copyright hawks in the BBC, which seems to have gone into abeyance.

Back then, there was heady talk of the BBC creating something called a “digital public space” (DPC). This would essentially be an open repository for all of public broadcasting’s radio and TV assets. Historically paid for by the public, this material should henceforth be regarded as a digital “commons” – a nationally shared resource that citizens and users should have full access to.

This would, obviously, include news clips copied and curated by active citizens.

The DPC’s leading advocate was the then head of the BBC’s archive, Tony Ageh (who originated the iPlayer). Ageh left the Corporation in 2016, poached for a similar public digital archive job at the New York Public Library. “I feel I could have more impact on those kids in Walthamstow [citing his own working-class background] from New York, than I could from W12 [the address of BBC HQ]”, he said rather sharply during his departure. “Everything I told the BBC to do they didn’t understand or do.”

Why didn’t they get Ageh and his big idea? One could argue it’s because the BBC, having faced the delights of a hostile and commercially-minded Tory government for a decade, have surrendered themselves to a market-centric worldview. “Our public funding is perpetually under threat”, is the imaginable mantra. “We must maximise all revenues whenever possible.”

It’s a poor, pinched, cowed attitude, but one can imagine how “cock-up” – or maybe more like “knee-jerk” – might also be as plausible as “conspiracy” here.

In the maelstrom of our media age, billions of uploading humans may overwhelm even the most powerful of detecting algorithms. So whenever a clear infringement pops up out of the mad torrent of bits, whether nabbed by software or informed by a human, you can imagine legal-eagle apparatchiks in the bowels of BBC Television Centre gladly seizing on the opportunity.

This automaticity explains to me why BBC Scotland has actually covered the story so well and fairly, across flagship news shows on radio and TV. Somewhere deep in the London legal and digital bureaucracy of the BBC, a logic has clicked into operation – and its consequences have thundered down on the Scottish branch as implacably as on anyone else. They’ve been evidently trying to distance themselves.

No wonder. In a climate where their claims to balanced reporting around Scotland’s political future are critiqued daily, with their London bosses using copyright power to shut down the BBC media archives of two prominent Scottish nationalists… Well, it couldn’t look worse.

How could it look – and maybe even be – better? Here’s my bid for taking the high road. I think the indy-minded should seize on the idea of a “digital public space”, and make it one of the leading institutions we propose for our new nation-state.One of the things that independence affords is a media “jurisdiction”, a legal and regulatory regime which allows for “doing things differently, as opposed to just doing different things” (to borrow Tony Ageh’s words).

A Scottish digital public space wouldn’t just ensure that activists could continue their digital media monitoring. It could also encompass arts, history, documentary, public-made content, open-access academic work, and other data sets relevant to the public interest.

It would be a world first (although Norway’s National Digital Library is also moving in this direction). Here’s the ideal, as expressed in FutureEverything’s 2014 paper on the topic: “This is intended to constitute a public space that supports many activities and can sustain private, political, cultural and commercial uses without being dominated by any or appropriated by one group or model.”

Isn’t that ambitious enough for a new country? And given that it’s a BBC idea anyway, couldn’t everyone eventually get on board? Small matter of a massive constitutional shift required, I know. In the meantime, the principle of “fair use” (and those fair users) must be stoutly defended.

But our arguments can be big-picture, as well as biff-bash-your-fault, in the stramash called Scotland. Isn’t that the whole point?