BBC Come A’ Ye

I’ve been learning the words and chords to Freedom Come a’ Ye on the basis that it is now a truly national song encapsulating the spirit and outlook of the Yes movement…that and the fact I’m embarrassed to be seen humming along. It’s funny how using the Scots words connects you with the world they come from…Nae mair will the bonnie callants mairch tae war when oor braggarts crousely craw (a timely anti-war reminder there) or Black and white, ane til the ither mairriet, mak the vile barracks o their maisters bare…

Interpreted into English they make a Dylan-esque peace anthem that can be sung with an American twang. But ripped from the page and driven by suppressed rage in uncompromising Scots they seem to echo down the ages like the dreams of our forefathers expressed in their native tongue. These are the words spoken by the Scottish kings for a thousand years, by King Robert and by Barbour in The Brus, by the Covenanters in secret conventicle on the hillsides and even by Hume who tried to rid himself of them in deference to Enlightenment assimilation into North Britain. Our language. (Unless you’re a Gael). Our history. Our culture.

Hamish Henderson, whom I interviewed about his work and afterwards drove to Sandy Bell’s in Forrest Road, captured the humanitarianism that fights a constant duel with pragmatic self-interest in the national psyche. The Unionist critics like to deride this open-minded righteousness and contrast it with what is often a stultifying reality in modern Scotland, missing the essential truth – that we know what the right course is and we aspire to take it. Nor are we afraid to admit to it. And a black boy frae yon Nyanga dings the fell gallows o the burghers doon. To listen to this anthem sung in haunting solo by Karine Polwart or Lorraine McIntosh is to hear our long-gone Scots ancestors live on in the ancient words. To sing it in company is to join those long-gone Scots and share with them our birthright.

These thoughts coincided with the funeral of radio producer Stewart Cruickshank, someone few will have heard of but whose influence they will have felt. He was one of a legion of creatives working out of Radio Scotland, people who had titles like producer, editor, presenter or engineer but whose talent and passion reached way beyond the confines of departmental bureaucracy. They generated an unstoppable momentum behind programming that was intellectually and emotionally rooted in Scotland and its culture and which showcased the best of new indigenous talent and still embraced the wider world of arts and music.

It isn’t that the BBC was any less hapless and cack-handed than it is today – I’m not looking through rosy specs – but rather that the cumulative ability and drive of the staff overcame the shortcomings. There was a sense of mission in delivering what they believed the audience wanted and needed to hear and a fierce confidence that they knew how to provide it. There was none of the tentative audience-led insecurity you get today in programming based on Tell Us What You Want And We’ll Do It. The Cruickshank generation were experts in their field and had the heady sense of freedom to decide content rather than the prescriptive radio-by-numbers we’re subjected to now by managers obsessed with accounting, RAJARS and corporate process.

Radio Scotland was the cultural hub of the country so that when city theatre managers in Glasgow wondered how to fill the halls with something other than pantomime in the winter weeks, they asked the BBC. Donald MacInnes and Iain Anderson, I believe, and others suggested their mix of traditional music might bring in an audience and Celtic Connections was born. It is now a world event with the best of Scottish music combined with world music. Now over 20 years old, it has shown Scotland to the world and provided content for Radio Scotland. I heard rumours BBC Scotland wouldn’t provide full festival coverage on television in January but that can’t be true.

I have a film documentary on Radio France, their RS equivalent, which shows how the station is widely regarded as ‘a cultural gem at the beating heart of the nation.’ It demonstrates how it reaches all corners, reflecting the interests of the people to become a cherished part of national life. Does that sound like the Radio Scotland you know? Are the presenters national celebrities? Would there be widespread mourning and outrage if it disappeared tomorrow?

There is some good output on Radio Scotland but I know of no one who prizes it as a national jewel with must-listen programming. It has been yanked around so much in the last 10 years during which it became fearful of intellect, mistaking it for snobbery, prostrating itself before the lowest common denominator with audience-generated content like phone-ins. It has programmes named after presenters as if that meant anything, just like local radio. It sacked the newsreaders who gave it the BBC tone and gravitas and binned the continuity voices that eased you from one show to another. Now programmes crash into each other without coherence never mind elegance. It has 1980’s style musical stings with heavily-accented voices growling that this is Rrrradio Sco’laand. There is sometimes a querulous element to issues in the news as if they don’t want us to know how dirty and dangerous the world is…it seems to say: Don’t worry, it’ll be alright. Now here’s Robbie Shepherd

The music that used to define it and give it a unique pitch seems to be confined to the late evening when audience numbers dwindle into the single figure thousands.

It’s also almost impossible to tune into as you travel north of the Great Glen – you’ve more chance of getting Radio Four from London or Radio Two. Radio was once the Senior Service, now it is the poor relation.

Radio Scotland needs more than a scheduling shake-up every five years. It needs leadership. It needs profile. (Does anybody know the Head of Radio Scotland?) It needs a sense of national mission. And it needs confidence. If the winds of change have blown through Scotland, how difficult would it be for the national radio station to feel the draught too?

Roch the wind in the clear day’s dawin

Blaws the cloods heelster-gowdie ow’r the bay

But there’s mair nor a roch wind blawin

Through the great glen o the warld the day.

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19 thoughts on “BBC Come A’ Ye

  1. Guid airticle. Forby, the BBC should stairt producin TV & radio programmes in Scots. Mebbe ae day even the Scots equivalent o Radio nan Gàidheal & BBC Alba an aw. Whit for is Scots amissin fae the airwaves?

  2. “When MacLean meets w’ hisi freens in Springburn …”

    Annual John MacLean Rally
    Sunday November 29
    1 pm for Oration at MacLean’s Grave Eastwood Cemetery, next to Thornliebank Railway Station,
    Speakers: Gerry Cairns SRSM,
    Alan Stewart Yorkshire Commun SRSM,
    Gather 1. 15 pm Across the Road,
    Corner Boydston Rd & Thornliebank Rd.
    March to John MacLean Cairn, Shawbridge Arcade Square.
    Speakers & Scoriach Inside Shawbridge Tavern, G43 1LY
    Across the road. £5 Admission, Children Free.
    Group: White Rose. Speakers.
    Tommy Sheridan, Solidarity. Iain Ramsay, 1820 Society & Celtic League. James Scott, Scottish Resistance. Alan Stewart SRSM. RCP Speaker. SWP speaker. A..N. Other.
    All Welcome.

    • 20 Calle Mitges , El Borne , Barcelona

      I grew up in Carnwadric in the 50’s and 60’s and played and passed through Eastwood Cemetery and had no idea until i saw the above notice John MacLean was buried there ; surprising as my parents were both dyed-in-the wool socialists , my Ma would often sing the ” John MacLean March ” ; maybe they did mention that he was buried there it but i never knew the significance at the time

      • Annual John MacLean Rally
        Sunday November 29
        1 pm for Oration at MacLean’s Grave Eastwood Cemetery, next to Thornliebank Railway Station,
        Speakers: Gerry Cairns SRSM,
        Alan Stewart Yorkshire Commun SRSM,
        Gather 1. 15 pm Across the Road,
        Corner Boydston Rd & Thornliebank Rd.
        March to John MacLean Cairn, Shawbridge Arcade Square.

        Speakers & Scoriach Inside Shawbridge Tavern, G43 1LY
        Across the road. £5 Admission, Children Free.
        Group: White Rose. Speakers.
        Tommy Sheridan, Solidarity. Iain Ramsay, 1820 Society & Celtic League. James Scott, Scottish Resistance. Alan Stewart SRSM. RCP Speaker. SWP speaker. A..N. Other.
        All Welcome.

  3. Totally agree Derek. I used to listen and enjoy Radio Scotland, even as a teenager in the late 1970s.

    But it has dumbed down and sold out to the extent that it has become almost a parody of itself – largely devoid of any meaningful or inspiring content.

    It has become quite nepotistic too with cushy presenting jobs for those “in favour” many with no real broadcasting experience or apprenticeships behind them. They then go onto to invite their pals on to their shows.

    It reminds me now so much of Gregor Fisher’s “Radio Outer Hebrides” from Naked Video – “But first here is the weather – it will be pishing down again today”.

    Frankly if it stopped broadcasting tonight that wouldn’t register even with me and I wouldn’t miss it.

  4. We should call that loose woman, Kaye, and ask her why Radio Scotland has bottomed. Or maybe not bother? This morning my wifi was down and the, “great glen o the world the day”, internet radio offering of Spanish music and song from Latin America was reluctantly replaced with BBC Radio Scotland. We had one caller getting short but polite shrift when he was cunning enough to sneak through the caller vetting barrier to ask why the program was dealing routinely with it’s regular trivia when the UK was about to embark on another course of war involvement in the middle east. Well done to him!

    I don’t particularly care for phone in programmes but the editorial management of this one is certainly abysmal. Why do we have to put up with this drivel from the banal. Maybe its time to stop discussing now-YES and still-NO in the context of every persons democratic right to a vote and start looking instead at how mainstream broadcasting uses our funding to play its part in keeping the masses as well and truly under informed as it possibly can. Those of us with a bit of a brain are already regularly listening, reading and watching elsewhere.

  5. BBC? oh yes, I remember. Then I had my eyes and ears opened and what had seemed fair and equal if staid and conservative now looks like naked propaganda and as you say it has been trivialised beyond enduring. I do not watch, I do not listen. If my wife would drop the scales from her own eyes we could not pay either.

    Maybe we could resurrect something worthwhile after Independence but it will need to happen soon for there to be any audience even halfway goodwill to build on left.

  6. Dave McEwan Hill

    It should be our national anthem as you suggest, Derek, though I’d like to add another verse. Hopefully we will before I’m called to the great glen of the sky.
    As I understand it Hamish Henderson was disembarking with the Argylls (of which he was an officer) at Sicily when the heard the tune to which he later put the words. The tune is “The Bloody Fields of Flanders” composed by Pipe Major Jock MacLellan of Dunoon who wrote the finest ever selection of pipe tunes.
    Check out 5 Hand Reel with Dick Gaughan’s rendition of this great song

  7. The bbc in Scotland is determined to keep Scotland in its place. Perhaps the bbc’s mediocrity is a deliberate ploy? But the way to fight the bbc’s BritNat propaganda is to boycott it – in all its slimy tentacled forms. Even better: don’t pay the licence tax.

  8. “It needs a sense of national mission”

    It has one. The perpetuation of the british establishment and the united kingdom.

    It seems that, barring a couple of notable exceptions, the whole organisation is hell-bent on denying the case for independence any fair debate whatsoever.

    Combined with the denigration of the SNP and the undermining of Holyrood at every opportunity the bbc has become the de facto opposition to Scottish independence.

    Unionists are almost never challenged on any matters of real import while SNP politicians are constantly challenged and then endlessly interrupted when trying to answer.

    Audience participation in anything other than getting to request a music track is largely confined to “what kind of cornflakes did you have this morning? We’ll have an expert from the Eat your Cereal campaign to tell you what kind of cornflakes you *should* be eating.”

    We have doubting Dougie Fraser, Glen “it was Megrahi” Campbell, Eleanor deathstar Bradford, et al pontificating from on high but daring no conversation with their audience.

    They’ve made it perfectly plain that they will brook no dissent and will listen to no criticism. I’m afraid it will be a battle to the death with the bbc. It could have been so different.

  9. And even today, when the ‘big stations’ were talking about a Russian jet shot down, followed by a discussion on the arguments over re financing trident, oor ain local radio chose to discuss men doing women’s jobs.
    If you follow the normal order of things, the various phone in programs will choose the same topics on a daily basis. It is when they diverge that the truth of thier true purpose is revealed.
    Keep them gossiping and ignorant, a true radio Scotland motto.

  10. Alasdair Macdonald

    It is, indeed, disappointing how far Radio Scotland has fallen. Although not everything was to my liking and although there was often a cosy ‘couthiness’ of some of the output, it played a substantial role in keeping the cultures of Scotland alive. As a primary school pupil in the 1950s the education programmes on the radio were keenly awaited, not just for the break from routine school work, but because they were actually interesting and spoke to us of a place we knew and some accents were accents we spoke, too. It gave us people like Billy Kay and Finlay J Macdonald. Of course, there was an ‘imperialist’ accent to many things. There are still good programmes, but you have to look for them and had to get up at all hours to hear them, until the advent of the iPlayer. But, since the pirate Radio Scotland and the nascent Radio Clyde, pap music assumed a greater role. The so called flagship programmes like Good Morning Scotland, and Newsdrive are barely disguised unionist propaganda and, determinedly mediocre.


  11. Radio Scotland can be summarised in two words “Call Kaye” = trivial nonsense. Radio Scotland to me is childhood and mid-adult memories. I no longer tune in.

  12. Derek,

    Once again thanks for your article. Freedom come aw ye is great.

    I sent the below info re the BBc to Wings, it may interest you. I would love to see the day when I can support it again.


    As one of the many people who frequent this site I was very interested in the work done by its author with regards obtaining information from the BBC – particularly with regards viewing figures. I was saddened, but not surprised, when the BBC refused to disclose these under the Freedom of Information Act.

    I wondered if a different approach might release some information in a similar vein, and began to read up the enforcement of the BBC Licence Fee, and how these statistics might relate to Scotland since 2012 up to 1/10/15. 2012 is used as a benchmark prior to the referendum build up.

    In particular I was looking to see if there had been a noticeable increase in the number of households in Scotland no longer holding a TV Licence during the time period of the Independence Referendum.

    Prior to sending off a request I found a lot of useful information on this tax system at>wiki>Television.

    The above link provides the BBC figures of evasion rates

    2005/6 4.7% considered to be a record low
    2010/11 5.2%
    2012/13 5.5%
    2014/15 between 5 – 6%

    And quotes information provided by the BBC that evasion rates are not uniform across the UK. In 2012/13 it recognised that Scotland has far higher rates and provided an explanation that a lack of money in households is part of this, in addition to people deliberately evading the licence fee due to dissatisfaction with the BBC.

    One fact that might interest the Scottish Government in particular, is that in 1980 detected licence fee evaders were a 50/50 split between men and women. Now it stands at 70% women.

    From this I submitted the following FOI Request,

    When pursuing unlicensed households the BBC sends out 3 types of letter, Customer Service Letter, Collection Letter and Enforcement Letter.

    This request asked the following

    How many Customer Service letters pursuing BBC TV Licence were sent to unlicensed household addresses in Scotland in

    2015 (up to 1/10/15)

    The same question, over the same time period, was asked for Collection Letters, and Enforcement Letters.

    The BBC has replied as follows, “as all mailings sent to unlicensed addresses constitute ‘enforcement’ letters, I am providing you with approximate figures for the total mailings sent to unlicensed residential properties in Scotland during the time periods specified.”

    Figures highlighted are authors, not BBC’s

    Calendar year Volume of Unlicensed Numerical increase %>
    Mailings sent from 2012

    2012 1,978,724

    2013 2,299,906 321,182 16.23

    2014 2,983,543 1,004,819 50.78

    2015 (30/9/15) 2,281,298 302,574 15.29

    Also included in this request was the question, how many Withdrawn Implied Rights of Access have you received from addresses in Scotland during the following time periods?

    The BBC answered as follows, and once again the figures highlighted are my own:

    Calendar year WOIRA requests Increase from 2012 %>

    2012 94

    2013 514 420 446.81

    2014 2422 2328 2476.60

    2015(1/10/15) 127 33 35.11

    The next request over the same time period asked how Scottish households had notified the BBC that they were ‘No Licence Needed’.

    The results are as follows:

    Calendar year NLN Claims Increase since 2012 %>

    2012 42,806

    2013 44,835 2029 4.74

    2014 53,684 10,878 25.41

    2015(1/10/15) 44,836 2030 4.74

    The last question asked, which received an answer, is

    How many Scottish addresses have been ‘No Licence Needed Claim Confirmed’ (this is done with a visit) over the same time period?

    Calendar year NLN Claim Confirmed Increase since 2012 %>

    2012 6,169

    2013 11,298 5,129 83.14

    2014 8,118 1,949 31.60

    2015(1/10/15) 5969 -200 -3.24

    There were 2 questions, again covering the same time period, which the BBC declined to answer.

    How many Enquiry Officers / enforcement officers pursuing this issue are allocated to cover Scottish addresses?

    How many Scottish addresses have received visits from Enquiry/Enforcement Officers during this time period?

    The BBC confirmed that they do hold this information, however, they are withholding it ‘because they consider it is exempt from disclosure under section 31(1)(a),(b),(d) and (g) and 2(a) of the Act, I.e. Disclosure would or would be likely to, prejudice the prevention of or detection of crime, the collection of the licence fee and the BBC’s ability to discharge it’s public functions in respect of such matters, as it would provide information of use to those seeing to evade and or assist others in evading paying the licence fee.’

    Interestingly, the article linked at the start of this report by Wikipedia states that as of August 2013 there were 334 enforcement officers employed by Capita (who have the contract for licence fee collecting) making around 4 million visits per year. These being UK figures as a whole. I do hope that by giving you this information I’m not inciting you to break the law in any way. Difficult to see it as an inflammatory paragraph.

    So it appears the BBC are withholding information which is already (at least partially) in the public domain. But in fairness, their reasoning does hold water, if given the sizeable increase in workload, they haven’t increased the workforce to deal with it.

    The Wiki article also provided that as of March 2014, 7299 households had Withdrawn Implied Rights of Access. Again this is a UK wide figure and we don’t know the starting point, but interestingly the Scottish figure for the whole of 2014 is 2422 = 33% of that figure and quite a lot considering Scotland only has approximately 10% of the UK population.

    Obviously there are many, many ways to crunch these numbers, but on a simple scale, since 2013 to the 1/10/15 the BBC have posted out 1,628,575 EXTRA letters chasing up licence fees, over and above the 2012 level of 1,978,724.

    If you divide that number by 3 (to allow for the 3 different types of enforcement letter) it amounts to 542,858.

    Now not all of them will have stopped paying the fee as a protest at BBC bias, but I know I did. Maybe you did too? And if, just if, 500,000 of these people did decide to withhold their payment out of protest, what has it cost the BBC?

    500,000 x £145 = £ 72,500,000

    Which is something to think about isn’t it?

    How does that BBC motto go again? ‘Nation shall speak peace unto Nation’. Well, money talks too. I suspect just now it’s saying, ‘It’s Scotland’s pound and you can’t have it.’ Now wouldn’t that be poetic.

  13. Sorry, my last input, the tables keep getting mangled in the cut n paste. Hopefully it can be deciphered well enough.

  14. Maybe some day Derek, but right now we have an entity we don’t trust feeding us a narrative and programming we don’t want.

    So, some day it’ll have to be.

  15. Derek, your comments about a Radio Scotland ‘Golden Age’, or similar, are exlemplified by one situation I always much enjoyed – it was Colin Bell discoursing and declaiming his appreciation for contributions by one Lesley and one Derek.

  16. All said above helps identify the mind numbing mediocrity of Good Morning Scotland and the bulk of the programming on Radio Scotland.
    I listened with incredulity to the morning news headlines at 8.00am on Wednesday when the priority news from Glasgow’s docklands was not the tinderbox situation in the Middle East where a Russian fighter aircraft had been downed on the Turkish/Syrian border but the reported enquiry into an apparent acounting discrepancy of an MSP; yet again SNPBAD although any enquiries are still to be determined and another fair indication of the priorities at BBC Scotland.

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