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The final item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S5M-13742, in the name of Donald Cameron, on celebrating 10 years of BBC Alba. The debate will be concluded without any question being put. Some members have indicated that they will make their contributions in Gaelic. Interpretation facilities are available, and any member can listen by plugging their headphones into the socket on the console.
That the Parliament welcomes the tenth anniversary of the launch of BBC ALBA, which is jointly operated by MG ALBA and the BBC; acknowledges that, since its launch, over £160 million has been invested in producing its Gaelic language content; believes that the station accounts for around 50% of independently-produced hours for audiences in Scotland; commends MG ALBA on working with other Gaelic organisations, including Bòrd na Gàidhlig, to understand the changing trends in Gaelic culture and to implement these in their content; welcomes the news that the channel is investing more in its digital content to reach younger audiences; further welcomes its recent partnership agreement with S4C of Wales, Northern Ireland Screen’s Irish Language Broadcast Fund and TG4 of the Republic of Ireland to invest more in Celtic language output, and recognises what it sees as the ongoing contribution that BBC ALBA makes in promoting Gaelic language and culture to a wider audience in the Highlands and Islands and across Scotland.
It is particularly special that we are celebrating today, because it is 10 years to the very day that BBC Alba was formed as a channel. It was launched with a live ceilidh from Sabhal Mòr Ostaig on Skye and a drama about Elvis. Looking around the chamber at all the musical and dramatical talent present, I wonder whether we could match that tonight.
A lot of work went in at that point to achieve the goal of a publicly funded Gaelic broadcaster, and an immense amount of work has gone on since then to take BBC Alba from strength to strength. Given that I am not fluent in Gaelic, I will not inflict what little I have on the chamber, but I am sure that others will not be so hesitant, and I look forward to hearing everyone’s contributions.
In BBC Alba, we have a broadcaster that has commissioned or created some £160 million-worth of Gaelic television content and which accounts for around half the independently produced hours for audiences in Scotland. One of its parent companies, MG Alba, which I have mentioned, is responsible for 114 jobs in the Highlands and Islands, providing vital skilled employment in the Western Isles, Skye, Inverness and places further afield. In addition, there are multiyear contracts with eight independent production companies that produce in a variety of genres, including the hugely successful “Bannan”, which is produced by Young Films on Skye.
That is a remarkable achievement, considering that it has all been done on an annual budget that is modest compared with what other Celtic networks around the United Kingdom receive. BBC Alba has done a lot with a little. I will return briefly to the question of funding later.
Does the member agree that although debates in English-language BBC have raged for years about a Scottish six, the Gaelic eight, which is the news programme on BBC Alba, has been reporting regional, national and international news from the very heart of Gaeldom for years to an incredibly high standard, and on a fraction of the budget?
I thank the member for that intervention—
I whole-heartedly agree. Having appeared on “An Là” only on Monday night, I know that it is a fantastic programme.
BBC Alba’s overall output, especially its news output, is tremendous. By coincidence, I was lucky enough to spend Monday afternoon visiting BBC Alba’s offices in Stornoway, where I spoke to a number of staff members. They said several things that struck me, which I will share with the chamber. The first, which was obvious, was that so many staff had been involved from the very start and were still there. There appears to be an incredible loyalty to the channel from its employees, which, in my view, is undoubtedly a good sign. The second was the fact that BBC Alba is not one single homogenous organisation but a patchwork collection of producers, editors and presenters, some of whom act as independent freelancers. The third was that the channel has been able to bring to the fore important local issues that simply do not receive enough national coverage. For example, we watched the production of a programme about the geese crisis affecting crofters on the Uists.
It is clear that although Gaelic is a central part of what BBC Alba does, the channel promotes not just the language but the wider community and culture. It has obvious connections with the Gaelic-speaking world in the Highlands and Islands, but it is known to reach many more people beyond the Gàidhealtachd. Indeed, many who watch BBC Alba have no connection to Gaelic whatever.
I will give some examples. I have non-Gaelic-speaking friends who have told me that the only way that they can watch their local shinty team is on BBC Alba. On the very day that Scotland qualified for the women’s world cup next year, BBC Alba announced a three-year deal, making it the home of Scottish women’s football. A member of the Scottish Conservative media team, who, it has to be said, is not known for his love of Gaelic, admitted to me that the only way that he was able to watch his underperforming football team was on BBC Alba, due to the channel’s excellent coverage of the very lowest reaches of the Scottish Professional Football League.
I think that I will leave that hanging.
According to BBC Alba, 10 per cent of viewers over 16 in Scotland watch the channel each week. That means that many people who do not speak Gaelic access the channel’s content. Whether people are watching sport, which I mentioned, watching subtitled programmes or simply checking out the original content, the channel is, ultimately, a door to Gaelic for a wider audience. The recent agreement that secured the right to broadcast content from CBBC and CBeebies enhances the channel’s offering to a younger audience.
Although there are a lot of good things to shout about, it goes without saying that there are also challenges to overcome. There is wide acceptance that the number of people watching linear TV is declining generally, and that that is particularly the case for younger viewers, who, more often than not, use social media or catch-up services to view content. We all know about the competition that comes from major platforms such as Netflix and Amazon Prime, and we know that people use social media platforms and make greater use of popular websites and apps, such as YouTube and lnstagram. That presents obstacles to all linear TV, and especially to channels such as BBC Alba.
Another significant challenge is funding. When I spoke to staff in Stornoway on Monday, they told me that when new funding for content becomes available hundreds of different ideas are put forward, many of which are very good. However, often only a small handful of ideas can be realised. At present, the BBC provides the channel with funding. It provides additional net programme funding of £1.2 million per year. That replaces funding that the channel previously received from MG Alba, which has freed MG Alba to make extra investment in the independent sector. There is also the overall BBC contribution of £10.7 million.
When we compare those figures with the £74.5 million that the BBC affords to Welsh-language broadcaster S4C or the €37.5 million that the Irish Government provides to its Irish-language broadcaster, we can see a stark contrast. Although the BBC contributes a significant amount, and it is important to acknowledge that support, in my view it could do more to invest in and support BBC Alba.
Although BBC Alba is a 21st century creation that works at the cutting edge of digital media, using the latest technology, it is worth thinking about the historical context. BBC Alba fits squarely into a much more ancient Gaelic tradition, because, in many ways, the channel is the modern equivalent of the sennachie. The sennachie is the storyteller of old, who would entertain with history, song and verse, touching the local and the wider world and shifting between fact and fiction, and drama and real life, just as now, BBC Alba passes on the stories, legends, songs and customs that are rooted in the people and the land in which they live and work.
The people who are listeners and viewers of BBC Alba drive much of the channel’s content, rather than content being imposed from above. BBC Alba is a service for the whole of Scotland and a standard-bearer for a language and culture that mean so much to so many people, not just here in Scotland but across the world. Therefore, I finish by saying to BBC Alba, “Tapadh leat!”
Mo thaing dha Dòmhnall Camshron airson an deasbad seo a steidheachadh.
A rèir urras a’ BhBC, ’s e dleastanas BBC Alba measgachadh de phrògraman a thabhann, a’ toirt a-steach naidheachdan telebhisein agus an t-sìde. Bu chòir an sianal a bhith a’ frithealadh luchd-labhairt agus luchd-ionnsachaidh na Gàidhlig, agus daoine a dh’fhaodadh a bhith airson Gàidhlig ionnsachadh. Bu chòir an sianal cuideachd a bhith na sgàthan agus na thaic dha cultar, fein-aithne agus dualchas na Gàidhlig.
Bho thòisich BBC Alba a’ craoladh air 19 Sultain 2008, tha an sianal air fàs gu mòr gus na h-amasan sin a choileanadh. An-diugh, tha e a’ tabhann seachd uairean de phrògraman gach latha, agus tha an t-uabhas dhaoine ga choimhead, le ruigse fada nas fharsainge na a’ choimhearsnachd Ghàidhlig. Mar eisimpleir, bidh mòran dhaoine gun Ghàidhlig a’ coimhead gu cunbhalach air prògraman leithid nan naidheachdan laitheil, an t-sreath “Eòrpa”, dràma agus chuirmean-ciùil bho air feadh an t-saoghail.
Agus gu dearbha, tha spòrs air a bhith na phàirt chudromach den t-sianal. Mar neach-leantainn ball-coise mi fhìn, bha mi air leth toilichte na bu thràithe sa mhìos seo cluinntinn gum bi BBC Alba na dachaigh airson ball-coise nam ban Albannach, a’ toirt àrdachadh mòr dha ìomhaigh an spòrsa ann an Alba.
Tha e na urram dhomh Gàidhlig a bhruidhinn sa Phàrlamaid nàiseanta againn, ach tha e na bhriseadh dùil gu bheil cuid de na buill Pàrlamaid againn fhathast a’ cur an aghaidh na Gàidhlig. Is e seo an t-adhbhar a tha mi a’ feuchainn ri beagan a bhruidhinn san deasbad seo. Tha e cudromach gu bheil a h-uile duine a tha taiceil dhan chànan agus dhan chultar againn a’ dìon na Gàidhlig nuair tha daoine a’ toirt slaic oirre nach eil cothromach neo reusanta. Chan urrainn dhuinn a bhith balbh
Following is the simultaneous interpretation:
I thank Donald Cameron for securing the debate.
According to the BBC Trust, BBC Alba’s remit is to provide a mix of programmes including television news and weather. The channel ought to make provision for speakers and learners of Gaelic, as well as for people who might want to learn Gaelic, and it ought to be a mirror and a support for culture, identity and Gaelic heritage.
Since BBC Alba started broadcasting on 19 September 2008, the channel has grown, and it has addressed and met all those aims and objectives. Now it offers six hours of programmes every day, and an awful lot of people watch it. The channel’s reach goes much wider than the Gaelic community: for example, many people who do not speak Gaelic regularly watch programmes such as the daily news and “Eòrpa”, drama programmes, concerts from around the world and sport, which is a very important part of the channel’s output. I am a football fan, so earlier this month I was happy to hear that BBC Alba will be home to the women’s world cup, which will greatly raise the image of Scottish women’s football in Scotland.
It is a privilege for me to speak Gaelic in our national Parliament, but it is also a disappointment that some members are against it, which is the reason for my speaking Gaelic in today’s debate. It is important that everyone who is supportive of the language and our culture defends Gaelic when people demean it unfairly and unreasonably. We must not remain silent.
I had already taken off my headphones.
I want to pick up on a very important point, which is people’s perception of the language. Perhaps the politics of recent times has muddied those waters.
What does Ruth Maguire think could be done to improve take-up of Gaelic further among young people and adults outside the areas in which it has traditionally been spoken, including the central belt?
It would probably be helpful if I answer Mr Greene in English.
There is a lot that everyone can do. There is clear cross-party support for Gaelic, and it is not owned by one political party or one bit of Scotland. We need to take that out of the debate and take the opportunity to speak a little bit whenever we can, even if we are nervous about it.
In Jamie Greene’s region, West Scotland, a mountain of Gaelic activity is going on. On North Ayrshire Council’s website he will see that there are Gaelic singing classes, adult Gaelic speaking classes and conversational Gaelic groups. Mr Greene should get involved and lead by example.
The member continued in Gaelic.
Bu mhath leam meal-a-naidheachd a chur air a h-uile duine aig BBC Alba a rinn strì agus a bhios a’ strì fhathast gus an sianal Gàidhlig, agus an cànan fhein, a neartachadh. Is mi a tha a’ coimhead air adhart ris an ath dheich bliadhna.
Following is the simultaneous interpretation.
I offer my congratulations to everyone at BBC Alba on the effort that they have made—and are still making—to strengthen Gaelic. I look forward to the next 10 years.
If my school teachers were here today, they probably would not stop laughing at my attempts to extol the value of languages in our society, especially as my school reports repeatedly stated that I should concentrate on English rather than trying to master other languages that were clearly beyond me. Looking back, I can admit that I could single-handedly massacre the French language at school. When I served in the Army I made a pretty good job of massacring Swahili and making it unintelligible. That is quite an achievement of sorts, given that, although Swahili has verbs, it has no tenses.
Therefore, if I happen to make a mispronunciation today I will not mind taking an intervention—in any language, as long as someone can explain to me what I am supposed to be answering. I would love to take interventions from members who are far more eloquent in Gaelic than I am.
As we celebrate the 10th anniversary of BBC Alba, it is worth noting that 50 per cent of Gaelic speakers live in the Highlands, and that BBC Alba forms a big part of their daily lives. I am proud of the enduring contribution that my party has made to Gaelic culture through introducing, with the Broadcasting Act 1990, the Gaelic television fund, and through the Broadcasting Act 1996, which further improved funding for Gaelic television. Those two acts laid the groundwork for BBC Alba, which was launched in 2008. The channel now has a viewership in excess of the 60,000 speakers of Gaelic, which is testament to the wide appeal of the language and the programming, and of the growing interest in Gaelic culture.
Gaelic production forms a sizeable part of Scotland’s growing television and film industry which, as we know, has generated nearly £100 million in the past year. Production companies, such as the Stornoway-based Mac TV Ltd, are important local employers, which highlights how vital BBC Alba is to the islands’ economy as a whole.
BBC Alba’s sports coverage has come in for some criticism from people who want the channel to focus more on arts and culture, but I do not see why Gaelic audiences should not get live sports in their own language. Football, shinty and rugby draw new audiences to the channel and should act as a gateway to the Gaelic language.
Let us not forget that BBC Alba exists to support the learning of Gaelic and, alongside Gaelic education in our primary and secondary schools, acts as an engine of growth for the language.
BBC Alba is a big success story for the Gaelic language, so I am delighted to mark the channel’s 10th anniversary today.
Today’s debate is a reminder of the importance of the Scottish Government’s target, which was set more than ten years ago, to ensure
“that by the 2021 census, the proportion of Gaelic speakers is back up to 2001 levels at the very least.”
I support the Government in that goal. BBC Alba will be central to achieving the target, so I urge the Scottish Government—and people across Scotland—to continue to support the channel.
Taing mhòr gu Maighstear Camshron airson an deasbad seo a stèidheachadh agus cothrom a thoirt seachad dhan Phàrlamaid 10 bhliadhna de BhBC Alba a chomharrachadh.
Tha cuimhne agamsa air nuair a dh’fhosgail BBC Alba. Bha mise aig a’ chèilidh, agus chunnaic mi am prògram mu Elvis cuideachd. Bhon là sin, tha BBC Alba air fàs agus air dol seachad air iomadach clach-mhìle—nuair a thòisich e air Freeview, mar eisimpleir. Mar a thuirt Mgr Camshron, an-diugh tha an iPlayer cho cudromach. Tha an linn òg seo a’ fàs suas gun sgaradh sam bith nan inntinn eadar an t-eadar-lìn agus an telebhisean, agus tha BBC Alba ag aithneachadh seo.
Tha e doirbh a chreidsinn nach robh BBC Alba ann 10 bliadhna air ais. An-diugh, tha e a’ dèanamh a h-uile seòrsa prògram mu eachdraidh is cultar na h-Alba agus an t-saoghail air fad: prògraman cloinne, prògraman spòrs, naidheachdan agus a-nis dràma. Tha prògraman mar “Eòrpa” a’ dèiligeadh le ceistean eadar-nàiseanta ann an dòigh nach eil prògraman sam bith eile ann an Alba no ann an cànan sam bith. Agus aig an aon àm, tha BBC Alba a’ dèiligeadh fhathast le cuspairean beagan nas aotroime. Tha cuimhne agam air aon phrògram a bha a’ rannsachadh claon-bhreith an aghaidh daoine le falt ruadh. Bha mise a’ gabhail pàirt anns a’ phrògram sin.
Tha buaidh mhòr eaconomaigeach aig BBC Alba, chan ann dìreach air a’ Ghaidhealtachd agus sna h-Eileanan. Tha Riaghaltas na h-Alba a’ cur faisg air £12 millean not a-steach air an t-sianal sa bhliadhna, ach tha an t-àm ann a-nis airson ceann-oifis a’ BhBC fhèin a bhith a’ pàigheadh nas motha, a’ dèanamh cinnteach gun gabh 10 uairean de phrògraman a dhèanamh sa chànan gach seachdain, mar a tha a’ tachairt leis a’ Chuimris.
Taing do BhBC Alba, tha fhios a-nis aig muinntir na h-Alba gu bheil a’ Ghàidhlig ann, agus chan eil mi cinnteach gum biodh sin dìreach cho fìor a ràdh anns na làithean ro BhBC Alba.
Aon rud a tha misneachail mu BhBC Alba, ’s e sin an taic air a shon thairis air na pàrtaidhean politigeach. Feumaidh mi ràdh, ge-tà, gur e briseadh dùil a th’ ann nuair a bhios neach no dhà ann am poilitigs no anns na meadhanan a’ dol an aghaidh an aonta seo bho àm gu àm. Mar a thuirt Ruth NicUidhir, cluinnidh tu fhathast cuideigin a’ gearan uaireannan mun dòigh sa chunnaic e no a chuala e facal no dhà de Ghàidhlig aon turas na bheatha, agus mar a bha sin ga chur droil.
Chluich telebhisean pàirt mhòr ann an crìonadh na Gàidhlig. Tha mi an dòchas a-nis gu bheil telebhisean a’ cluich pàirt ann an dùsgadh a’ chànain. Dìreach mar a tha cuilean son na beatha agus chan ann dìreach son na Nollaig, chan eil a’ Ghàidhlig ann dìreach son a bhith a’ bruidhinn mu dheidhinn na Gàidhlig. Tha BBC Alba a’ tuigsinn sin.
Anns an spioraid sin, tha mi cìnnteach gum bi mi fhèin a’ cleachdadh na Gàidhlig anns a’ Phàrlamaid, chan ann dìreach airson a bhith a’ bruidhinn mun Ghàidhlig mar a tha mi an-dràsta, ach bidh sibh gam chluinntinn bho àm gu àm a’ faighneachd cèist mu sheirbhisean slàinte no mu Bhrexit anns a’ Ghàidhlig cuideachd.
Following is the simultaneous interpretation:
I, too, thank Mr Cameron for securing the debate and giving Parliament the opportunity to mark 10 years of BBC Alba. I remember when the channel was launched, 10 years ago: I was at the official ceilidh. I also saw the channel’s first programme, which was about Elvis. Since that day, BBC Alba has grown and surpassed many milestones.
The channel started on Freeview but, as Mr Cameron said, the iPlayer is more important nowadays. The younger generation has grown up without differentiating between the internet and television, which BBC Alba recognises.
In a way, it is difficult to imagine that BBC Alba did not exist 10 years ago; nowadays, it broadcasts all sorts of programmes, from those on history, Scottish culture, world culture, sports, news and drama to those for children. Programmes such as “Eòrpa” deal with international questions in a way that no other programme in Scotland does—in any language. BBC Alba also deals with lighter topics, however: I remember taking part in a programme that was researching prejudice against people with red hair.
BBC Alba has a huge economic impact, not just in the Highlands and Islands but throughout Scotland. The Scottish Government puts in £12 million-worth of funding a year, and it is time that the BBC contributed more to make sure that there are 10 hours of programmes a day, as happens on S4C in Wales.
It is thanks to BBC Alba that the people of Scotland know that Gaelic is there; that probably would not be true of the days before BBC Alba. The cross-party political support for BBC Alba is encouraging, but it is disappointing when one or two people in politics or the media go against it from time to time. We still hear people complaining about when they saw or heard a word or two of Gaelic and how that upset them.
Television has played a huge part in the decline of Gaelic; I hope that it will now play a huge part in reawakening the language.
Language, like a puppy, is for life and not just for Christmas. Gaelic is not just there to be talked about in Gaelic—BBC Alba understands that. In that vein, I will certainly be using Gaelic from time to time in Parliament and not just in order to talk about Gaelic as I am doing now. Members will hear me asking questions, perhaps about health services or Brexit, in Gaelic.
No is dòcha ceistean mu mhaoineachadh nuair a tha mi fhìn a’ freagairt nan ceist?
Following is the simultaneous interpretation:
Will you be asking questions about funding?
Tha mi cinnteach gum bi mi a’ togail cheistean mu mhaoineachadh BBC Alba no mu mhaoineachadh sheirbheisean eile ann an Alba air fad. Tha e cudromach gu bheil sinn a’ cleachdadh na Gàidhlig chan ann dìreach airson bruidhinn air a’ Ghàidhlig, mar a thuirt mi, ach airson a h-uile seòrsa rud.
Following is the simultaneous interpretation:
I am sure that I will raise questions about funding for BBC Alba and for other services in Scotland. It is important that, as I have said, we use Gaelic not just when we are talking about it but for everything.
The member continued in Gaelic:
Co-dhiù, leis a h-uile duine eile, guidhidh mi meal-a-naidheachd do BhBC Alba agus a h-uile deagh dhùrachd son an àm ri teachd.
Following is the simultaneous interpretation:
Once again, and along with everyone else, I congratulate BBC Alba and offer the channel every good wish for the future.
Tapadh leibh, Oifigear-riaghlaidh. Tha mi glè thoilichte gun tug Dòmhnall Camshron an deasbad seo air adhart.
Thank you, Presiding Officer. I am very pleased that Donald Cameron brought forward this debate.
It gives me great pleasure to wish BBC Alba happy birthday. It feels as though BBC Alba has been around for ever, but 10 years is a relatively short space of time for it to have had the impact that it has had. It has been at the forefront of promoting the Gaelic language. Its carrying of sport—not just shinty, but football and rugby—has promoted the channel to a much wider audience than the one that it might originally have been set up to serve, but that encourages others to listen to and gain an interest in our language.
It could be argued that the coverage of shinty has promoted the game and led to more young people becoming interested in playing it. The more people who watch BBC Alba, the more who will be interested in learning our language and keeping it alive.
BBC Alba has a broad range of programmes for young viewers, including “Padraig Post”, through which it works in tandem with Gaelic-medium education to help young people to learn. As we have heard, its news and current affairs programmes are excellent, too. Historically,
“Eòrpa” was recognised for its journalist content even before BBC Alba started broadcasting. For learners like me, “Speaking Our Language” never goes out of date. Sadly, Rhoda MacDonald does not seem to have aged at all, albeit that her hairstyle has changed a number of times over the series.
As well as serving our Gaelic speakers, the channel helps learners and promotes interest in Gaelic. As someone whose first language was Gaelic and who has now returned to it as a learner, BBC Alba offers me an extra connection to the language and a way of keeping up my practice between classes through a wide range of programmes. It enables learners young and old to have Gaelic embedded in more aspects of their lives, instead of it being confined to the classroom. I have often heard people say that they know that we are keeping the language alive when it becomes the language of the playground rather than the language of the classroom.
Although keeping Gaelic alive must be the main aim, the channel has other, unforeseen benefits. It has created jobs in the media, n ot just for Gaelic-speaking presenters but for people with all the other skills that are required in sound, film and production. It means that young people from the Gaidhealtachd now have a range of careers to choose from and the ability to stay at home to pursue them. One of the big problems in my region is depopulation, which happens for economic reasons. People leave because there are few jobs and even fewer careers. BBC Alba provides young people with a career to pursue that keeps them in our communities and gives them choices.
Our language is also important in keeping our history and culture alive. The history and culture of communities in the Highlands and Islands is handed down through poetry, song and storytelling. If we lose the language, we will lose that aspect of our heritage. BBC Alba also promotes those traditional arts, as well as contemporary arts. What is sad is that Gaelic was much more widely spoken in the past across much of Scotland and in parts of northern England. It has been lost from those areas and, with it, their culture and heritage has been lost.
BBC Alba’s programming is of a really high standard, and it holds its own against English-speaking channels and provides excellent value for money. However, with more investment, BBC Alba could do so much more, and I urge the BBC to have a balance in funding to make sure that it gets a fair share of the cake. As Donald Cameron said, when money is available, the bids to produce new and innovative programming far exceed the cash that is available to pay for it. We must urge the BBC to make sure that BBC Alba gets a fair share.
Last new year, my husband had the flu, so I was at home in front of the TV, taking in the new year on my own. I tried a number of channels before settling down to a wonderful concert on BBC Alba, which was very like a traditional ceilidh, rather than the forced kitsch that can sometimes be found on other channels.
As well as recognising the channel’s worth, we need to make sure that we support it. Recently, Duncan Ferguson wrote that BBC Alba had done more to promote and protect Gaelic than the Gaelic Language (Scotland) Act 2005, and he might be right. However, having a Gaelic language act might help us to protect and promote BBC Alba, because if we take it for granted, we do so at our peril.
I am delighted to support the motion, and I hope that I will be wishing BBC Alba many happy returns for many years to come.
Co-Ià breith math! Happy birthday!
A chionn gu bheil taic làidir agam airson na Gàidhlig, b’ fheàrr leam a bhith a’ toirt seachad na h-òraid agam sa Ghàidhlig am feasgar seo, ach a dh’aindeoin tighinn à Steòrnabhagh chan eil Gàidhlig gu leòr agam. Mar sin, le duilichinn, feumaidh mi tionndadh air ais dhan Bheurla.
Following is the simultaneous interpretation:
Given my strong support for Gaelic, I would dearly love to make my speech in Gaelic this evening. However, despite coming from Stornoway, I do not have enough Gaelic to do that, so I will continue in English.
Angus MacDonald continued in English.
I thank Donald Cameron for lodging his motion for debate today. I was pleased to sign it to ensure that there was cross-party support to allow the debate to take place, as the more Gaelic-related debates we have in Scotland’s Parliament, the better.
I am glad that I was at the official launch of BBC Alba here in Edinburgh 10 years ago, which was attended by the great and the good of the Gaelic world and the BBC, and by others. It was a double celebration for me because of my role as the convener of the organising committee of the Royal National Mod, which was being held in Falkirk that year, which meant that the Falkirk Mod was the first to enjoy wall-to-wall coverage of the competitions and concerts through BBC Alba.
As well as providing excellent coverage of the Mod over the past decade, MG Alba is an incredibly important piece in our diverse cultural jigsaw through its partnership with the BBC. Tasked with ensuring that Gaelic is accessible in our day-to-day lives with its creative content, factual documentaries and drama series that are available through broadcasts and online platforms, BBC Alba is vital to the promotion, preservation and normalisation of the culture that is the Gaelic language and lifestyle and all that comes with that. It gives me great pleasure to celebrate the 10th anniversary of BBC Alba here this evening.
BBC Alba was first launched 10 years ago tonight at 9 pm with “Òran Alba”, which is a special version of the song “Alba”. We have watched the channel grow, expand and diversify. It has changed with the times and made use of emerging platforms for content to be shared far and wide.
At the time of the channel launch, MG Alba’s commissioning strategy consisted of long-term volume deal commissions that brought the channel low-cost, high-volume original hourage and allowed the independent sector to enjoy the security of guaranteed funding over a number of years, which allowed for investment and long-term planning, gained favourable deals with suppliers and provided employee security. The strategy also consisted of seasonal commissioning rounds that brought higher-production-value bespoke programming to the channel. There were three tendering rounds each year at the time of the launch of the channel.
Ten years on, MG Alba still has the volume deals, which provide 89 per cent of the channel’s original funded hourage for 75 per cent of the programme budget. Sadly, MG Alba cannot now accommodate three commissioning rounds per year due to financial constraints. It currently has two seasonal commissioning rounds at a lower level of individual funding than the original three. Worryingly, those two rounds are in jeopardy due to the lack of assurance that MG Alba has regarding its annual core funding. The commissioning rounds are heavily dependent on the £1 million pressure funding that has been received over the past three years. Worryingly, again, that sum is not guaranteed, which causes uncertainty and insecurity in the independent sector and for the supply of programming.
As a result, a channel with a 74 per cent repeat level is in danger of losing not only its core audience but the wider Scottish audience without a supply of high-quality originations.
Another issue of concern is the plan to launch a new Scottish channel, which we all welcome. The head of BBC Scotland intimated that BBC Alba would get the benefit of up to 100 hours of new programming as a direct result of the new channel.
I am not sure how far down that road BBC Scotland is, but one thing is for sure: we need to safeguard the current appreciation for and consumption of BBC Alba by the wider Scottish audience, and ensure that the two channels work in partnership with each other and not in competition. I genuinely hope that the arrival of the new channel is not to the detriment of BBC Alba, and that we can get an assurance about that from the BBC.
As always, time prevents me from raising other salient points. Suffice to say, let us celebrate all that MG Alba and BBC Alba have done for Gaelic and sport in Scotland over the past 10 years, and let us all ensure that we protect it for the next 10 years and beyond.
Gabhaibh mo leisgeul. Chan eil ach beagan Gàidhlig agam. Mar as àbhaist, feumaidh mi Beurla a bhruidhinn.
John Finnie continued in English.
I am sorry, but that is my usual opening. I have only a little Gaelic, so I will have to speak in English.
I congratulate my colleague Donald Cameron, who talked about BBC Alba going from strength to strength. That is evident from the contributions that we have heard. There is tangible evidence of that with a new television gallery in Inverness. Donald Cameron also talked about “An Là”. The fact that that entire production could take place from there is a sign of the progress that has been made.
News is very important, of course, so I also welcome the weekend bulletins on Radio nan Gàidheal. Like others, I very much welcome the new jobs, particularly the six new journalism jobs in Inverness.
As has been said, BBC Alba operates throughout the Gàidhealtachd. Its jobs and its spread are welcome, and it has always been very outward looking—as, I hope, the Highlands is always seen to be.
There are many things to be positive about, such as the revamp of the children’s output and particularly the utilisation of the CBBC and CBeebies brands. That is about the normalising of the use of the language in connection with everything that goes on.
Job creation is, of course, not just about creative jobs. Other members have alluded to that. There are positive contributions from technicians and other supports. That is part of the wider progress that has been made and the result of the role that BBC Alba has played in moving things forward.
The motion mentions joint working. With resources always being finite, collaboration is very important.
I do not wish to appear to be negative, but it is important to talk about the BBC charter review and the significant support for Gaelic that was indicated during the public consultation. Others have touched on that. Donald Cameron talked about the “modest” budget. Others would say that there was an inequitable outcome from the charter review. S4C is guaranteed £74.5 million per annum until 2022.
An email that I received from a constituent this afternoon says:
“Expecting BBC ALBA to survive, never mind thrive, on something like £8.2m (from the BBC) while it has become clear the new BBC Scotland is to have four times that budget, to broadcast for fewer hours, has highlighted further the inequity of the situation.”
I am sure that I was not the only recipient of that email. It calls on supporters of BBC Alba to renew the call for the BBC and politicians to commit to a minimum of 10 hours of new programming per week and to providing the resources that are required to enable BBC Alba to fulfil its role of offering a diverse range of high-quality programmes in Gaelic.
On a positive note, people have talked about the dynamic nature of the media industry and about not making exclusively cultural programmes. Who knows? “Eòrpa” is often cited as an excellent example of a programme that contains very strong investigative journalism not just in Scotland; it takes a broad outlook. Maybe in years to come, people will view “DIY le Donnie” as pivotal. For those who—like me—do not do DIY, it is nonetheless entertaining to watch and I commend it to members. I also commend the sports coverage.
It is very important that we do not politicise the language. Language has a powerful role to play—we know that with our sisters and brothers in Wales, Catalonia and the Basque Country. The motion mentions Celtic language output and the recent partnership agreement. That could contribute to positive progress and respect for the Irish language in the north of Ireland, for instance.
There are many positive things to say about BBC Alba, and I am sure that the next decade will be the same.
I thank all the speakers for what has been an excellent debate, and I thank Donald Cameron for lodging the motion.
It is a pleasure to have this opportunity to express the Scottish Government’s gratitude to all who are involved in BBC Alba, on its 10th birthday. First, I thank BBC Alba producers, presenters and commissioners and, of course, the BBC and the Gaelic Media Service, MG Alba, which between them run the channel, for the creative work that they have produced over the past decade, which has made the channel such a resounding success, as others have emphasised. Là breith sona dhut—happy birthday.
BBC Alba has consistently been inventive, and it continues to be so with its exciting autumn schedule and new developments in comedy and international productions.
The Scottish Government is a strong supporter of Scotland’s indigenous languages. We recognise their cultural, economic and social value and we want the relevant bodies to work together as closely as possible to support and promote their use.
Although there is still work to do to reverse the decline in the overall numbers of Gaelic speakers, it is encouraging that the rate of decline nationally seems to be slowing down. A point was made earlier about growth in urban areas. I think of bun-sgoil Taobh na Pàirce, the primary school in my constituency, whose roll and numbers are going from strength to strength. The Government’s Gaelic education strategy is helping to promote uptake at school age.
Growth and the slowing down of decline suggest that our targeted investment as a Government is paying off and that the strategy of introducing children to the language as early as possible in order to make it an integral part of their lives, their schooling and the way they communicate is working. BBC Alba is an important part of that process in children’s programming, in its digital content and in providing a common frame of reference for the Gaelic community in its widest sense.
In 10 short years, BBC Alba has become an accepted part of the Scottish broadcasting landscape, and a celebrated part, with strong audience approval ratings and audience reach of more than 10 per cent nationally and more than 65 per cent among users of Gaelic. As others have said, that is good for the economy as well. The commissioning of programmes in 2016-17 from 20 different production companies illustrates that. BBC Alba is especially important in economically fragile areas. Indeed, of the 280 full-time equivalent jobs that MG Alba has been estimated to have generated across Scotland in 2016-17, more than 100 were in island communities.
The channel has also demonstrated that its innovative partnership model with MG Alba and the BBC can work successfully. In that regard, I believe that the channel is showing the way to other broadcasters, which are now realising the mutual benefits of partnership models. As our new dedicated screen agency, Screen Scotland, gets up and running, one of its priorities is to promote a more co-ordinated approach to resources and more co-operation between broadcasters in the interests of audiences.
The Scottish Government will continue to support BBC Alba, although broadcasting is reserved, so that the channel is able to meet the challenges of competition and funding in the years ahead, because competition will be stronger than ever. All broadcasters face a challenge from new media giants such as Netflix, as the BBC director-general Lord Hall reminded us earlier this week, when he said that British TV, including the BBC, needs a more level playing field in order to be able to compete against global broadcasters.
Closer to home, as others have mentioned, there is a newly invigorated STV, and from next February there will be a new BBC Scotland channel. We will urge the BBC to stand by the promise that was held out in its proposal for the new channel to co-commission 100 hours of programming with BBC Alba.
As others have mentioned, funding is another key issue. We in the Scottish Government remain committed to funding MG Alba. With £12.8 million from the devolved settlement, £8 million from the BBC and a further £1.2 million that was announced earlier this year, replacing the £1 million that was withdrawn by the United Kingdom Government, MG Alba funding now totals approximately £22 million.
The Scottish Government was delighted to announce in February a £500,000 grant to develop the studio facilities at Seaforth Road in Stornoway, to improve facilities for programme making and offer training opportunities for young people interested in the media.
However, public funding of the Welsh channel S4C is approximately £120 million and, following a recent UK Government review of S4C, from 2022 that is almost all expected to come through the licence-fee settlement. The role of the BBC is therefore critical. We have argued that the disparity in funding between Welsh and Gaelic TV is disproportionate, and we urge the UK Government and the BBC to take action to ensure that Gaelic TV audiences get a fair deal.
Gaelic is one of the UK’s indigenous languages—not just one of Scotland’s—and as such it is reasonable to expect support from the UK Government. We believe that there is scope for the BBC to spend more on Gaelic on the ground of equity. Even allowing for its recent enhanced commitments, the BBC still spends considerably less in Scotland than it raises through the licence fee. We urge all to get involved—the UK Government, the BBC and the communications regulator, Ofcom—and to work together to ensure that BBC Alba gets a fair share of the licence fee.
We are also asking for BBC Alba to be regulated through a service licence of its own, as we have argued that the BBC in Scotland should be in general, so that the specific needs of audiences and the sector here can be identified and considered. The needs and circumstances of audiences in the various UK nations differ and they should be addressed individually. Overall, we will continue to do what we can to stimulate the TV sector in Scotland and argue for a fairer deal from the UK.
We are grateful to MG Alba and the BBC for the unique and highly valuable contribution that is made to the Scottish media and to Gaelic and Scottish culture through BBC Alba. We will continue to support it in years to come and look forward to working with those partners to make the next 10 years as successful as the last, so that in 10 years’ time we can have another debate such as this evening’s, with even more strength to BBC Alba.
Meeting closed at 17:52.