THE BBC’s new director-general Tim Davie last week summarily cancelled the The Mash Report, a programme which satirises the week’s news. As The Mash Report has been running regularly since 2017, one must suppose it generated sufficient audience interest on BBC Two to warrant broadcasting it.However, Mr Davie’s motivation in dropping the show was not professional but political.

According to The Sun newspaper, “sources close” to Davie – doubtless Davie himself – told them that the BBC’s entire satire output (including Have I Got News for You) required radical overhaul as it was too biased against the Tories and Brexit

Davie’s right-wing bias should come as no surprise. Previously, he was deputy chairman of the Hammersmith and Fulham Conservative Party.

The politicisation of the BBC is a key project of the Tory Government. The Corporation’s new chair is former banker Richard Sharp, who advised Boris Johnson while the latter was London’s mayor. Over the years, Sharp has donated around £500,000 to the Conservative Party. He also manages a Guernsey-based investment firm which has been criticised for bankrolling a property company that specialises in cramming homeless people into empty office blocks.

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Against this background, we can expect the BBC to be even more biased against the independence movement in Scotland. Naturally, the Beeb will bluster about its supposed commitment to political neutrality. Why, there is even a nominated representative for Scotland on the BBC board of governors. However, this turns out to be Steve Morrison, the former boss of Granada TV, who gets a cool £40,000 a year fee for the privilege. The epitome of the Beeb’s idea of unbiased, factual reporting is Sarah Smith, its so-called Scotland editor. 

Ms Smith is sometimes gaffe-prone when it comes to the SNP Government. In 2018, she was forced to apologise for getting her figures wrong over the number of people who waited more than four hours in Scottish A&E departments. Last year, Ms Smith had to apologise again after she claimed the First Minister was “enjoying” the pandemic. Recently, she was forced to make another “clarification” after incorrectly stating on a news bulletin that Alex Salmond wanted Nicola Sturgeon to resign.

With all this in mind, perhaps the time has come to consider a campaign to boycott the BBC licence fee, in order to restore some democratic accountability at the Corporation. 
One obvious argument against such a move is that the Tory and libertarian right would be happy to get rid of the Beeb and leave the media broadcasting field open to the likes of Andrew Neil’s openly partisan GB News. 

However letting Boris & Co turn the BBC into an adjunct of Tory English nationalism without raising a murmur will only embolden the right. We need to make some sort of stand.

The current BBC colour TV licence fee is £157.50. This goes up to £159 next month. The licence fee nets the Beeb around £3.5 billion a year. If 1000 indy supporters refused to pay the licence, it would deprive the BBC of around £159,000. If 10,000 of us boycotted the licence fee, that would deprive Mr Davie and Mr Sharp of £1.6 million. Clearly that is insufficient to make the BBC sit up and notice. However, consider two additional factors.

First, suppose any BBC boycott campaign in Scotland persuades folk to donate their licence fee money to a central fund dedicated to financing indy broadcasters such as Independence Live and Broadcasting Scotland. While depriving Her Majesty’s Broadcasting Corporation of £1.5m per annum would be of nuisance value only, that cash could transform indy broadcasting.

Secondly, to force democratic change at the Beeb we would need to extend the licence boycott to England, Wales and Northern Ireland. But that is perfectly possible as a Tory-supporting Beeb threatens progressive values throughout the UK state. 

SCOTLAND should initiate its own boycott and appeal to people in the other UK nations to follow suit. If a million folk boycott the license fee across the British Isles – possible if we mobilise young people – that would hit the BBC budget hard. Even better, there is no way the courts could prosecute that number of non-payers.

How to start? One way forward would be to establish in Scotland a “Committee of 100” prominent figures in civic life who would declare they will not pay the licence fee till Messrs Davie and Sharp resign; till there are clear protocols covering BBC impartiality over reporting Scottish independence; and till it is agreed that licence fee income raised in Scotland is spent in Scotland. The Committee of 100 should set up a bank account to receive fee income from the boycott – both to fund the campaign and to provide finance to local indy broadcasters and programme makers. I would hope that MPs, MSPs, church and union leaders, and prominent independence activists would join the Committee of 100. 

Individual boycotts can leave people feeling isolated and vulnerable, so we will need collective activities to maintain morale. Sympathetic MPs and MSPs should initiate parliamentary debates that expose the right-wing drift of the Corporation under Davie and Sharp, as well as investigating the biased reporting of Neil’s GB News.

There could be demonstrations outside the BBC lair at Pacific Quay and organised mass complaints against specific instances of prejudiced reporting.

Back in 1997, in the run-up to the devolution referendum, I helped organise a campaign to get broadcasting put under the remit of the new Scottish Parliament. 

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This was not a wild idea by any means – substantial powers over broadcasting are devolved in Germany. Alas, the media barons and vested interests were not anxious to submit to local democracy. Gus Macdonald, then boss of STV, used his Labour Party ties to persuade Donald Dewar to keep broadcasting a reserved matter. 

At that time, the SNP and indy movement were blind to how leaving control of the media at Westminster could be used against us. Now we need to do some political catching up.

I realise there are those in the independence movement who are resistant to any forms of direct action or civil disobedience. But mass, peaceful direct action has been central to very many independence campaigns – especially against British control. 

Such campaigns are central to showing to the entire world the full strength of support for independence. That counts double in Scotland now that the Tory Government is engaged in obvious stunts such as moving part of the Cabinet Office to Glasgow.

A campaign to boycott the BBC licence fee should be seen as a first toe in the water for a strategy of peaceful civil disobedience – especially if the Tory Government persists in refusing a Section 30 order after the May Scottish Parliament elections. 

Next Sunday sees the first, online general assembly of Now Scotland, where the indy grassroots will be discussing how to take the movement forward in unity and practical action. I hope the idea of the licence fee boycott will be raised at the Now Scotland assembly, to test support.

The BBC was created by a Presbyterian Scot (John Reith) with the Biblical motto “nation shall speak peace unto nation”. Alas, at the moment, the BBC speaks the language of imperial domination. That must change.