IT’S a quietly moving photograph. On a somewhat Baltic day, hundreds of Scottish jazz, classical and folk musicians assembled themselves on the steps of Glasgow’s Royal Concert Hall. The cultural reference was the 1958 snapshot, known as A Great Day In Harlem, which caught the elite of black American jazz performers on a Manhattan stoop.

In this time and place, the title was A Grey Day In Glasgow. And the occasion was pretty sombre. Led by saxophonist and educator Tommy Smith, this was an “act of solidarity across the genres”, as Tommy put it. Their shared complaint was the axing of crucial jazz, classical and folk programmes by BBC Radio Scotland.

The heads of two of our leading music and arts festivals, Donald Shaw and Nicola Benedetti, have stoutly objected to this – as has the head of music at Creative Scotland.

The jazz programming cuts are particularly egregious.

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World-class Scottish artists like Fergus McCreadie, Georgia Cecile and Ewan Hastie are winning awards all over the place. The scene has never been so vibrant. Indeed, as Tommy says, it’s “the envy of the planet”.

Petitions are burgeoning, large ears are being seriously bent, and I don’t expect that these cancellations will persist. Being “on the BBC”, where a radio performance is also often a video performance, provides a huge boost to an artist – both as a chunk of promotional material (getting them more gigs and work) and as psychological validation.

I hope there are some obvious cross-subsidy conversations going on between the Beeb and Creative Scotland, if budgets really are the issue.

But it’s a mis-step that bespeaks a much deeper malaise. I have memories of a BBC Radio Scotland that was much richer culturally; more intellectually and politically bold. I’ve been shaking my tree of old media contacts. A composite picture has emerged.

One explanation derives the sharp fall-off in quality and ambition for BBC Radio Scotland’s output as largely a matter of cash.

The National:

It’s what happens as a result of the relentless attack on liberal, non-Telegraph-like public media by Tory governments. The only remaining criterion is ratings.

For example, I’ve scoured the Scottish schedules of BBC Radio Scotland for factual, non-news programming. It’s tiny, much less than in previous decades. I’m told that this is because a radio documentary is the most expensive form of radio to make, as well as having comparably low audiences What does get made is shunted onto digital and podcast, and seems to be mostly about murdurr and fitba.

So when you look at BBC Radio 4’s schedule, by comparison, you assume they must still have radio budgets. Next week’s offerings include features on boat migrants, the failure of psychiatry, culture wars, a range of science, finance and history series, and of course their 9am big-picture slot – comprising Start The Week, More Or Less, and In Our Time.

This is brain-starting and ideas-friendly programming. But more importantly, it’s a spectacle of a nation taking itself seriously.

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Hold on, a devil’s advocate might say: what nation do you mean? Am I suggesting Radio 4 is solely an English service? Surely it casts its intellectual and cultural riches across all parts of these islands? And can’t the same case be made for Radio 3? Isn’t its dedication to classical and jazz relevant across the archipelago?

But this logic is relentless. What about Radio 2’s delivery of mainstream music and chat – or Radio 5’s debate formats and sports coverage? Doesn’t Radio 1 (and its spin-offs) cover every scintilla of demand for popular music? Really, how much extra work does Scottish radio broadcasting have to do?

The answer to any of these questions is blunt. If you are an independent, democratic nation-state, your public media has a few core jobs to do. One is to inform citizens, as best it can, about issues, events and knowledge that will make those citizens’ exercise of power wise and considered.

Another is to nurture and develop the traditions, experiences and aspirations of that national public, through all the forms of arts, including explanation and documentary. This doesn’t happen in a defensive, protective way. Instead, it becomes a tiller by which to steer a path through our demanding planetary condition. And in ways that entertain as well as educate.

But Scotland isn’t that independent nation state, is it? And it’s worse, as some of my Radio Scotland veterans informed me. There is a sense within the BBC’s higher echelons in London that the No vote in 2014 indicates not too much attention needs to be paid to any “Scottish deficits”.

In terms of advances in Scottish broadcasting, the politics of self-determination has been a ratchet, clicking things forward. Radio Scotland was birthed in 1978, as a wave of constitutional activism (and SNP electoral success) came to its peak.

My own engagement with Radio Scotland from the early to mid-nineties was a time when resources could be found to send us to three continents, staffing a high-quality nightly arts show, as well as a full complement of drama and features.

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But this took place with considerable winds at its back – namely the second wave of 90s constitutional activism. It also couldn’t be ignored that many of the writers, dramatists, musicians and poets we dealt with in our shows were active in, or supportive of, this process.

This cycle would seem to have clicked forward again, when well over a decade of independence-advocating government finally resulted in a dedicated Scottish national channel. After much petitioning, we even secured a nightly TV news hours, assuming a Scottish “world-view” on the global affairs of the day.

Yet beyond the news programmes, both the TV and radio versions of “BBC Scotland” share the same mediocre sensibility. There are endless shows and voices from the “real lives” of Scots, following the routines of their work (or their leisure). There are very few shows that (like the average weekly schedule of Radio 4) bring the big ideas and edgy stories, preparing those Scottish citizens for their turbulent future.

Even where Scottish history is served up on BBC Radio Scotland (a weekend show called Time Travels, presented in a depressingly chippy manner by comedian Susan Morrison) it’s by means of quirky morsels, darting about from Glasgow fashion boutiques in the 1960s, to Mary Queen of Scots’ relations to poetry, sometimes in the same show.

Why is there such a prohibition against intellectual seriousness, the grander narratives of Scotland’s past, present and future, and the major concepts that could frame and explain them?

I would suggest that such a lack of seriousness goes against the grain of the times. Podcast culture is very much driven by concerned and frazzled citizens, taking themselves out on long and thoughtful walks, filling their ears with good, authoritative explanations about the craziness of the world.

According to the most basic criteria of responsibility to Scottish culture, these music shows should not be shut down. But they are the epiphenomena of a much deeper problem with Radio Scotland.

Like Australia’s Radio National – go and search out its comprehensive range of programming – we need a radio station that shows how seriously we take ourselves. Assuming we do, that is.