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Independent Scotland 'would lose BBC services and mean higher licence fee'

SNP plans are 'not credible' deputy leader of the Scottish Labour Party Anas Sarwar claims.

Broadcaster: BBC.
© STV

SNP proposals for establishing a new public service broadcaster in an independent Scotland would lead to a higher licence fee, fewer programmes and fewer channels, the deputy leader of the Scottish Labour Party has warned.

Anas Sarwar, MP for Glasgow Central, argued it was "simply living in a fantasy world" to suggest the current range of BBC TV, radio, website and iPlayer content would be available to viewers in an independent Scotland.

Mr Sarwar told MPs during a Westminster Hall debate on Scottish separation and the future of the BBC that First Minister Alex Salmond intended to break up the BBC and establish a separate licence fee-funded public service broadcaster in Scotland.

Mr Salmond, he added, had asserted that Scottish viewers would see no change and enjoy the same access to existing BBC output.

If everyone paid the full amount for their licence fee in Scotland, Mr Sarwar said, it would generate £320m, but allowing for discounts it was close to £300m — compared with the current UK wide BBC budget for all platforms of approximately £3.5bn.

Sport spending alone by the BBC he said currently stood at £479m a year.

Programmes potentially under threat in the advent of a separate Scotland and the break-up of the BBC, Mr Sarwar warned, included ratings hits Strictly Come Dancing, Frozen Planet, Holby City and Match of the Day.

He added: "It is inconceivable that the quality, quantity and breadth of output could be maintained with just 10% of the current available resource."

Mr Sarwar said 910,000 Scottish people watched Strictly Come Dancing every week, 39% of the audience share in Scotland, while Frozen Planet received 750,000 Scottish viewers, 28% of the audience share in Scotland.

He said: "Why on earth would you want to break up the BBC and then spend money buying the exact same programmes back again?"

Mr Sarwar warned this ability to purchase programmes from the rest of the BBC, with funding being available was "yet another assertion, not fact".

He said it was "ridiculous and fanciful" to make the claim that nothing would change, adding the position being followed by the SNP was "not only not credible, it is downright misleading".

Minister for Culture, Communications and Creative Industries Ed Vaizey said the Government believed that Scotland was stronger in the UK and the UK was stronger with Scotland in it.

He said: "This Government is not making any plans for independence because we are absolutely confident that the Scottish people will continue to support being part of the UK in any referendum."

The Government, he added, had not had any discussions with the BBC Trust about the devolution of broadcasting or the outcome of a referendum on Scottish independence.

The country as a whole, he said, benefited from the pooling of the licence fee and there was "absolutely no basis" for supporting the SNP's proposals on establishing a new public service broadcasting channel for Scotland.

He said: "The BBC quite rightly remains independent from Government and from politicians. The BBC remains a broadcaster for the whole of the UK and we as a Government ... believe it is important not to devolve broadcasting matters so we continue to provide a broadcasting system for the whole of the UK."

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