Football anomaly a sign of Scotland’s low status in UK broadcasting

Scotland is the only GB country where national games are not free to view 

Scotland’s match against Norway at home was free to view in Norway but not Scotland. But England’s Euro qualifiers were free to view. So were Wales’ games. Scottish fans alone of the GB countries had to shell out for an expensive Viaplay subscription – or go to the pub. That situation excludes youngsters. It creates difficult choices for families in a cost of living crisis.

This scenario is just one detail of a bigger picture. When it comes to broadcasting, Scotland has to make do with the crumbs from England’s table. Most of the TV, radio, newspapers and digital content Scots can access are operated and managed outside Scotland. 

Meanwhile, similar-sized independent countries in Scandinavia have broadcasting sectors many times the size of Scotland’s. 

The situation with Scotland’s games is not the fault of the SFA

Many football fans were angry. Writer and commentator Gerry Hassan tweeted: “England v North Macedonia free on Channel 4. Have to switch to Channel 4+1 for Channel 4 News. A day after Scotland concluded their Euro qualifiers we are the only GB team not on free-to-air TV: England on C4 & Wales S4C. How long do Scottish football fans have to put up with this?” 

Hassan also commented that Viaplay’s slogan “No Scotland, No Party” was rubbing salt in the wound for families who could not afford to watch the games. 

No UK broadcaster bid for the Scotland games

A typical response from Unionists was to blame the SFA. The Scottish Football Association  does hand over the rights to UEFA for a fee but they don’t control how those broadcasting rights are packaged or who bids for them. 

In an off the record briefing, a senior TV executive explained to Believe in Scotland that no UK broadcaster put in any bid at all for the right to show Scotland’s games in the auction for rights to 2028. He explained that was because the rights were packaged with a basket of other UEFA odds and ends – other countries’ games that would have had to be shown. He said there was no way any UK channel could have bought that package. 

That is not the fault of the UEFA rights partner – they package things up to get them out the door. Scotland is an anomaly – an area of the UK with no national status and no national broadcaster clamouring for the rights. 

Scotland has no equivalent of Wales S4C

Wales’ Welsh language channel S4C is much more independent than any Scottish channel. It has an independent board and charter. S4C plays a strong role in getting the rights to show Wales national teams. 

It is also able to play the language card when it comes to UEFA broadcasting rights – it can make a separate bid for non-English rights which are cheaper and easier to acquire.

If Scotland had a truly independent Gaelic channel they could bid for the right to show Scotland games. As it is, BBC Alba is managed and controlled by the BBC in London and it does not have the budget, remit or authority to do this. 

Broadcasting is not devolved 

Scotland’s MPs did their best to find a legal route to getting Euro qualifiers free to air – the Scottish Affairs Select Committee at Westminster produced a report and lobbied the UK Government to change the legal status of these games, which would mean they would have to be free to view. But the UK Government just said no.

Only 7% of UK TV programme-making budget is spent in Scotland 

Scotland’s broadcasting sector is anaemic when compared to that of an independent country. Scotland does much better when it comes to film – it has a strong sector with capable people. Scotland punches above its weight in that area. 

Yet when it comes to broadcasting, only 7% of spending is allocated to programmes made in Scotland – millions below a population share of 8.3%. Why would there be this distinction? It suggests that the UK’s terrestrial channels are heavily skewed towards England. 

The UK’s terrestrial broadcasters are focused on England

In 2021, for the first time in several years the BBC managed to spend a population share of its budget for first run content in Scotland – but given how far Scotland punches above its weight in film, that is disappointing.  

Spend by STV/ITV on first-run content for Scotland was less than £10 million. Channel Four managed to spend less than 6% of its first run programme budget in Scotland – a whopping 25% below the population share. 

The broadcasting situation is mirrored in other media

The situation with broadcasting is similar when it comes to radio, newspapers and digital content. Most of the media that Scots consume is produced by organisations based in England. Many Scots are aware of how few news titles on the newsstands support independence, for example.

Recently, a Scottish Parliamentary Working Group delivered a report making recommendations on Public Interest Journalism and how that could be supported. A similar initiative in Wales has now achieved funding. 


Scotland is being short-changed when it comes to broadcasting. The fact that it is the only GB nation where important national football games are not free to air is a symptom of a wider problem.

Broadcasting regulation is controlled by Westmisnter. The UK’s terrestrial broadcasters are far too focused on England. Scotland does not have an independent Gaelic language channel like S4C. The situation is very similar when it comes to the wider media landscape. 

Scotland is producing significantly less TV and media than would be expected of an independent country that is able to make the most of its talent, resources and international reputation