Scots currently pay around £300m a year in licence fees to the BBC. Very roughly one-third of that money is spent on BBC Scotland (TV and radio combined), with most of the rest contributing towards the BBC’s UK-wide output. By 2016, the total budget of BBC Scotland is scheduled to be just £86m.
So if an independent Scotland kept the licence fee the same as it is now, it could afford to pay for the full state broadcasting service currently provided by BBC Scotland, and still have £214m left over. (Commercial TV and radio would of course be unaffected by independence.)
The full range of BBC channels is already available in Ireland, which has a broadly similar size of population to Scotland. The BBC and the UK government both refuse to reveal what the BBC charges for supplying them to Irish viewers, but the 2012 accounts of the Irish state broadcaster RTE suggested that it paid a maximum of £20m a year for the rights.
(That figure was in fact for ALL overseas programming, but in order to be generous to the No campaign we’re assuming the BBC made up most of it.)
Scotland already owns 8.4% of the BBC, so common sense suggests that we’d pay even less than Ireland, but certainly no more. Therefore, if an independent Scotland replicated the entirety of BBC Scotland, and bought in ALL the existing BBC channels on a commercial basis, it’d still have the best part of £200m spare every year.
That money could be invested in new programming or in production facilities. It could pay for a full-scale international movie studio to take full advantage of Scotland’s recent success at attracting Hollywood productions and help us catch up with countries such as Ireland and Denmark.
Less than 10% of it would be enough to bring top-level club and international football back to public television rather than satellite broadcasters (putting much-needed money into the game at the same time, and maybe even helping Scotland qualify for the World Cup), along with broadened coverage of other sports. There’d be plenty left over to spend on journalists to boost staffing levels on news and current affairs output at home and abroad. And so on.
Without a single penny being added to the licence fee, Scotland would have one of the best-funded broadcasting services per head on the planet, on top of all the TV and radio we enjoy now.
Q: “But don’t Irish people have to pay for iPlayer?”
A: Yes, they do - around £5.50 a month. But such a charge simply isn’t feasible in Scotland, because of the way the internet works. (To cut a long and exceedingly technical story short, due to the way internet providers allocate things called “IP addresses” there’s no way for the service to reliably distinguish between customers in Scotland and anywhere else in the UK.) So iPlayer would have to be included in the agreement between Scotland and the BBC, because there’d be no way to prevent Scottish people using it anyway.